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§ 78. Feuds and Private Wars. The Truce of God.


A. Kluckhohn: Geschichte des Gottesfriedens. Leipzig 1857.

Henry C. Lea: Superstition and Force. Essays on the Wager of Law—the Wager of Battle—the Ordeal—Torture. Phila. 1866 (407 pages).


Among all barbarians, individual injury is at once revenged on the person of the enemy; and the family or tribe to which the parties belong identify themselves with the quarrel till the thirst for blood is satiated. Hence the feuds346346    Saxon Faehth, or Faeght, Danish feide, Dutch veede, German Fehde, low Latin faida or faidia. Compare the German Feind, the English fiend. Du Cange defines faida: ”Gravis et aperta inimicitia ob caedem aliquam suscepta, and refers to his dissertation De Privatis Bellis. and private wars, or deadly quarrels between families and clans. The same custom of self-help and unbridled passion prevails among the Mohammedan Arabs to this day.

The influence of Christianity was to confine the responsibility for a crime to its author, and to substitute orderly legal process for summary private vengeance. The sixteenth Synod of Toledo (693) forbade duels and private feuds.347347    Hefele III. 349. The Synod of Poitiers, a.d. 1000, resolved that all controversies should hereafter be adjusted by law and not by force.348348    IV. 655, 689. The belligerent individuals or tribes were exhorted to reconciliation by a sealed agreement, and the party which broke the peace was excommunicated. A Synod of Limoges in 1031 used even the more terrible punishment of the interdict against the bloody feuds.

These sporadic efforts prepared the way for one of the most benevolent institutions of the middle ages, the so-called “Peace” or “Truce of God.”349349    Treuga Dei, Gottesfriede. See Du Cange sub. “Treva, Treuga, seu Trevia Dei.” The word occurs in several languages (treuga, tregoa, trauva, treva, trêve). It comes from the same root as the German treu, Treue, and the English true troth, truce, and signifies a pledge of faith, given for a time to an enemy for keeping peace. It arose in Aquitania in France during or soon after a terrible famine in 1033, which increased the number of murders (even for the satisfaction of hunger) and inflicted untold misery upon the people. Then the bishops and abbots, as if moved by divine inspiration (hence “the Peace of God”), united in the resolution that all feuds should cease from Wednesday evening till Monday morning (a feriae quartae vespera usque ad secundam feriam, incipiente luce) on pain of excommunication.350350    Rodull Glaber, a monk of Cluny, gives a graphic account of this famine and the origin of the Peace movement, in his Historia sui Temporis, lib. IV. c.4 and 5 (in Migne’s Patrol. Tom. 142, fol. 675-679). Hefele, IV. 698, traces the movement to Provence and to the year 1040 with a “perhaps,” but Rodulf Glaber makes it begin ”in Aquitaniae partibus anno incarnati Christi millesimo tricesimo tertio,” from whence it spread rapidly ”per Arelatensem provinciam, atque Lugdunensem, sicque per universam Burgundiam, atque in ultimas Franciae partes ” (Migne, l. c. fol. 678). Comp. lib. V. 1 (fol. 693): ”primitus inpartibus Aquitanicis, deinde paulatim per universum Galliarum territorium,” etc. He also reports that the introduction of the Peace was blessed by innumerable cures and a bountiful harvest. ”Erat instar illius antiqui Mosaici magni Jubilaei.” Balderich, in his Chronicle of the Bishops of Cambray, reports that in one of the French synods a bishop showed a letter which fell from heaven and exhorted to peace. The bishop of Cambray, however, dissented because he thought the resolution could not be carried out. In 1041 the archbishop Raimbald of Arles, the bishops Benedict of Avignon and Nitard of Nice, and the abbot Odilo of Clugny issued in their name and in the name of the French episcopate an encyclical letter to the Italian bishops and clergy, in which they solemnly implore them to keep the heaven-sent Treuga Dei, already introduced in Gaul, namely, to observe peace between neighbors, friends or foes on four days of the week, namely, on Thursday, on account of Christ’s ascension, on Friday on account of his crucifixion, on Saturday in memory of his burial, on Sunday in memory of his resurrection. They add: “All who love this Treuga Dei we bless and absolve; but those who oppose it we anathematize and exclude from the church. He who punishes a disturber of the Peace of God shall be acquitted of guilt and blessed by all Christians as a champion of the cause of God.”

The peace-movement spread through all Burgundy and France, and was sanctioned by the Synods of Narbonne (1054), Gerundum in Spain (1068), Toulouse (1068), Troyes (1093), Rouen (1096), Rheims (1136), the Lateran (1139 and 1179), etc. The Synod of Clermont (1095), under the lead of Pope Urban II., made the Truce of God the general law of the church. The time of the Truce was extended to the whole period from the first of Advent to Epiphany, from Ashwednesday to the close of the Easter week, and from Ascension to the close of the week of Pentecost; also to the various festivals and their vigils. The Truce was announced by the ringing of bells.351351    See further details in Mansi XIX. 549 sq.; Kluckhohn; Hefele (IV. 696-702, 780); and Mejer in Herzog2V. 319 sqq.



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