[21-22 oct. 2022] Charisma in the Middle Ages

Charisma in the Middle Ages

Date : 21-22 October 2022
Lieu  : Salle René Crozet CESCM, POITIERS

Friday 21 October


9h30 : Jaume AURELL : “Introduction”

Philosophy and Historiography of a Concept

9h45 : Stephen JAEGER (University Illinois-Urbana) : “The Historical Relevance of the Charisma”

10h30 : António BENTO (University of Beira Interior) : “Charisma and Idolatry in Max Weber and Moses Maimonides”

11h15 Break

11h30 : Alfons PUIGARNAU (Universitat International de Catalunya) : “Shared Charisma: on Ernst H. Kantorowicz Unpublished Paper Synthronos

12h15 : Corinne LAMOUR (Université de Poitiers) : “Is Charisma an Appropriate Concept in Medieval Medical Texts?”

13h Lunch

Royalty and Leadership

14h30 : Sini KANGAS (University of Tampere, Finland) : “Charismatic Leadership in the Sources of the Crusades”

15h15 : Amicie PELISSIE du RAUSAS (Université de La Rochelle) : “Louis IX and Henry III: Charismatic Kings?”

16h : Jaime ELIPE (Universidad de Zaragoza) : “Si su Magestat fuera ynformado: The Complex Election of the Viceroy of Aragon in 1520”


Saturday 22 October


The Strength of Objects

9h30 : Montserrat HERRERO (Universidad de Navarra) : “Charismatic Legitimacy and Relics: an anti-Weberian Thesis”

10h15 : Catalina GIRBEA (Université de Bucarest) : “Armes et charisme dans la fiction des XIIe-XIIIe siècles : le cas du bouclier”

11h Break


11h15 : Edina Bozóky (Université de Poitiers) : “Sainteté ascétique et charisme dans l’hagiographie des XIe-XIIe siècles”

12h : María NARBONA (Universidad de Zaragoza) : “Constructing the Charisma: the Attributed Post-Mortem Sanctity of the Prince of Viana Death in 1461”

13h Lunch

Spirituality and Mysticism

14h30 : Jaume AURELL (Universidad de Navarra) : “Franciscanism in Medieval Catalonia: a Shared Charisma”

15h15 : María del MAR GRANA CID (Universidad Pontificia Comillas) : “Mística y autoridad carismática femenina: las “santas vivas” en la Castilla del Renacimiento”.


16h : Martin AURELL (Université de Poitiers) : “Conclusions”

Contact : martin.aurell@univ-poitiers.fr


Jaume Aurell
Franciscanism in Medieval Catalonia: a Shared Charisma

St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, defines charism as a specific grace transmitted to some members of the Christian community whose function is not conceived for personal enrichment but for the good of the community. Enriched by the theoretical perspectives of scholastic theologians from the thirteenth century, this is the definition that must be applied to medieval society, to the detriment of the modern definitions provided by modern sociology since Max Weber.

This paper aims to apply this concept of charisma to the transformation of the moral and ethics of work in late medieval Barcelona. For this purpose, I am going to use as evidence the last wills and the handbooks of the late medieval merchants of Barcelona, which I will cross-reference with the doctrinal developments of the new economic moral of work expanded by the Franciscans since their first expansion.

The thesis I intend to show is that the change from a feudal society, based on balances of power, to a commercial society, based on commercial exchanges, was brought about, among other factors, by the assimilation of the collective charisma of Franciscan morality. Charisma has been commonly applied to people and, more recently, to objects, as other papers of this conference are showing. In this paper I argue that it can also be projected onto groups, especially those that share a common spirituality, as in the case of the Franciscans. They inherited from their founder St. Francis of Assisi a special charisma for issues connected with poverty which, perhaps less paradoxically than it may seem at first sight, had an essential influence on the development of a new society of merchants as an alternative to the old society of knights.

António Bento
Charisma and Idolatry in Max Weber and Moses Maimonides

This communication seeks, in a first moment, to give an account of the reasons for Max Weber’s (1864-1920) fascination with the repudiation of the divinization and idolatry of the creature (Kreaturvergötterung) in the Puritan radical asceticism. As is well known, it is in the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) that Weber exposes, for the first time, the anti-charismatic and anti-authoritarian, that is, democratic and republican, foundations of Puritanism. Indeed, in Calvinist theology, excessive adoration and disproportionate veneration of the creature are not only a source of errors and illusions, but, above all, a serious sin of the Christian believer. In Puritanism, the hysterical adoration of great men and the belief in the personal authority of a chief endowed with superhuman faculties always fall under the suspicion – and consequent condemnation – of “creature idolatry”, so blind and unconditional submission to authority of a man is sinful and undermines the believer’s duty to obey God and the scriptures alone. The problem of the certitudo salutis in Puritanism, with its sharply utilitarian ethic, was impregnated to the core by the Jewish spirit of the Old Testament. This thesis by Max Weber, more implicit and fragmentary than explicitly and systematically developed, is confirmed after a careful reading of Ancient Judaism (1917-1918).In a second moment, we will seek to recover and recall the fundamental lines of the critique of idolatry in Moses Maimonides (1138-1204). The rabbinical term for the sin of idolatry, avodá zará, which is commonly translated as “idol worship” or “false worship”, first means “strange worship”. This strangeness can be understood in two ways. The first refers to the object of worship and means to worship another god. The second refers to worship itself and means worshiping God – including the true one – in an erroneous way. In short, one thing is to determine the concept of idolatry as the worship of a strange god, another one is to determine the concept of idolatry as a strange worship of God. The entire critique of idolatry in Maimonides is closely linked to the possibility of an “error of substitution” in which the idol ceases to be the representation or symbol of God and is instead worshiped as if it were God himself or part of him. In the cult of idols, there is a “substitution” of the symbol by the thing symbolized, in which some of the features of the symbolized are transferred to the symbolizing element. In a certain way, the idol becomes the body of God, the residence of his soul and an independent object of the ritual worship itself. Maimonides’ purpose is precisely to prevent “errors of substitution” in the representations of God. In other words, the primordial “error of substitution” – the anthropomorphic conception of God that leads to projecting human qualities onto God – consists in the very fact of making an image of what does not have it: God. For Maimonides, idolatry is based on an inadequate conception of God in the mind of the devotee, which leads to an internalization of sin. As the poet Edmond Jabès once puts it: « Ce n’est pas l’image qui est l’objet de l’interdiction divine, mais la ressemblance que toute image inaugure. Dieu se veut sans vis-à-vis ».From the “Judaizing” ethic of Puritanism, according to Max Weber, to the “Puritan” ethic of Judaism, according to Moses Maimonides, stretches a whole complex theological-political filiation whose arcana Max Weber was able to unravel, even if he never read (as far as we know) Maimonides work.

Edina Bozoky
Sainteté ascétique et charisme dans l’hagiographie des XIe-XIIe siècles

Aux XIe et XIIe siècles, apparaissent en Occident des pratiques ascétiques extrêmes, en particulier le port des cuirasses et des chaînes de fer, associé à la pénitence et à la vie érémitique. Les mortifications de ces ascètes suscitent l’admiration des fidèles. Vénérés comme saints de leur vivant, leur charisme particulier est attesté par l’hagiographie. 

Après la présentation des pratiques ascétiques de trois saints « encuirassés » (loricati), Bernard le Pénitent († 1182), Wulfric de Haselbury († 1154/55) et Godric de Finchale († 1170), cette communication traite les particularités de la manifestation de leur charisme ainsi que sa transmission par leurs reliques. 

Peter Scott Brown
Charisma and Spectacle in Canonical and Religious Reform in Eleventh-Century France

A small golden reliquary survives in the ruined abbey of Saint-Sauveur de Charroux, inscribed with the awesome declaration, Hic caro et sanguis Christi continetur. In 1082, at the council of Charroux convened by the papal legate Amatus of Oloron, this same vessel was discovered hidden within the church. The legate and his companions opened it to reveal a second, more ancient Byzantine reliquary medallion, which in turn contained the so-called Saint Vertu, the prepuce of Christ, which the astonished witnesses in 1082 observed to be miraculously spotted with fresh blood. This spectacular miracle and marvelous reliquary hold implications for our understanding of charismatic strategies of religious reform in France in the era of pope Gregory VII. Gregory’s use of standing legates with regional mandates, like Amatus and Hugh of Die, was a novelty in papal administration, but the legates, though empowered as proxies of the pope, were often weak lieutenants. When the legates could not induce or coerce cooperation, they frequently confronted the impotence of their legal-canonical mandates. The miracle at Charroux, I will show, exemplifies an alternative charismatic strategy, harnessing liturgical art and spectacle to magnify the legate’s stature as an authority in the context of the Eucharistic controversy and canonical, clerical, and monastic reform.

Catalina Girbea
Armes et charisme dans la fiction des XIIe-XIIIe siècles : le cas du bouclier

En vertu de la fascination ancestrale que le fer exerce sur les hommes les armes suscitent depuis la nuit des temps à la fois la crainte et l’admiration. La fiction du Moyen Âge central reprend et réinvestit cette admiration en perspective chrétienne, tout en gardant des traces des mythes préchrétiens. Le bouclier constitue un exemple abouti d’objet « charismatique » dans les deux sens du terme. Personnifiant le guerrier, il peut être publiquement diffamé ou, au contraire, honoré en absence de son porteur. C’est par exemple le cas de l’écu de Lancelot suspendu à un arbre dans le Lancelot en prose et recevant l’hommage des passants. De même, les romans médiévaux mettent en scène des écus reliques qui manifestent des pouvoirs thaumaturgiques, comme l’écu de Joseph d’Arimathie qui traverse le cycle du Graal jetant un pont de sacralité entre les temps bibliques et les temps arthuriens.

María del Mar Graña
Mysticism, hagiography and charisma: Juana de la Cruz, a “living saint” in Renaissance Castile

One of the most impressive phenomena of the Renaissance Church was that of the so-called “living saints”. Among its most outstanding protagonists in Castile was Juana de la Cruz, a religious of the Franciscan Third Order who promoted the ecclesiastical reform. She lived a mystical spirituality that constituted one of the bases of her charismatic authority. With this work, I intend to investigate the construction of that authority in her first biography, Vida y fin de la santa Juana de la Cruz, written by her sisters in the convent of Santa María de la Cruz in Cubas de la Sagra (Madrid). Where does Juana’s charisma reside in the story of her life? How did the Franciscans of Cubas understand it? What kind of information do all these questions give us about Spanish spirituality at the origin of the Modern Age?

Montserrat Herrero
Charismatic Legitimacy and Relics: an anti-Weberian Thesis

As Edina Bozóky has shown in detail in her book La politique des reliques, in the Middle Ages relics played an essential role in the representation and staging of political power. Indeed, relics were for political power one of the most appreciated symbolic instruments. With this in mind, the present paper attempts to answer the following questions: what kind of power acts through relics? Which semiotic power is embodied in them? To what extent can we speak of charismatic legitimation of power through relics? The hypothesis this paper deals with is that the philosophical-political reflection on relics leads to a resignification of the idea of charisma following its origins in the writings of Paul of Tarsus, which understands power as a gift far removed from Weber’s authoritarian twist on the idea of charismatic power.

Stephen Jaeger
Charisma and the transformation of culture (12th-13th century)

The academic discussion of charisma tends to take two major voices as the point of departure: Max Weber and St. Paul, sociology and religion. In both areas charisma is seen as a quality of persons. I will approach it conceptually, drawing on a remarkable passage in Goethe’s autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit. The force that Goethe calls “the demonic” is clearly charisma conceived as a force that can penetrate, unpredictably, either natural phenomena or persons. My argument is that entire cultures can be suffused by this force, and that, social life, education, modes of expression, can be bearers and transmitters of charismatic force. Charismatic cultures have a life-cycle, charisma in its cultural structuring being as unstable as in its personal embodiment. The idea opens cultural transformations to analysis. (Clifford Geertz has given good examples). The sea changes that transformed western European culture from the twelfth to the thirteenth century show us the end of a life-cycle of charismatic culture, and the transition to intellectual or textual culture. Charisma moved out of the realm of the real, and into art and artifice, abandoning philosophy, theology, liturgy and other forms of Christian discourse (sermons).

Sini Kangas
Charismatic Leadership in the Sources of the Crusades

The crusades (1096-1291) generated a wealth of historical sources as well as semi-historical and fictional narratives. These texts hold in common the notion of the crusade as a manifestation of the will of God, the omnipotent authority and leader of the chosen people, largely consisting of knights and clerics. Besides the claim for the universal supremacy of the Roman Church and its members, the authors and compilers promulgate the military excellence of the warrior elites of the west.

It is hardly surprising that within the framework of religious and military propaganda, charismatic leadership stems from martial prowess and purity of faith. The sources include several types of charismatic personalities, that is, people able to inspire awe, reverence and willingness to submit in others. In the majority of cases, inherited power and wealth offer an incomplete explanation for the following these figures gained among their contemporaries.

In the first place, charismatic behaviour is attached to people who from their first emergence onwards were depicted as making active attempts to affect their peers and larger crowds. They sought opportunities to gather people around them in public (Bohemond of Taranto, Peter the Hermit) or display their military abilities in front of others (Tancred of Hauteville). They understood the importance of written history for the accumulation of authority and had texts produced to propagate their exploits. In addition to the mainly approving notions, these “naturally charismatic” characters were also criticized for manipulative behaviour and unwillingness to co-operate with others.

In case of women, references to charismatic authority are often ambivalent or bear negative stigma. The crusading context mostly discouraged female leadership (Alice of Antioch, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Sibylla of Jerusalem) with the partial exception of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem (c. 1105-1160), and categorically excluded women from the fields of war. Fictional Calabra, the invented mother of the Turkish atabeg Kerbogha, though clearly an influential and charismatic figure, was added to the sources to underline the corruption of the enemy.

Personal charisma could build up posthumously and over time. Godfrey of Bouillon seems to have been originally chosen as the advocate of the Holy Sepulchre and the leader of the crusaders staying in the Holy Land because he did not provoke negative response among his peers, not because they would have preferred him for his charismatic qualities. A good two hundred years after his death he was counted with the Nine Worthies and seen as the personification of the ideals of chivalry. Calabra, an old hag, even if wiser than the sultan and thoroughly trained in astrology and black arts, returns in Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata as the beautiful sorceress Armida, who prevents the crusader armies from capturing Jerusalem by the power of her spells. For the memory of the crusades, it was the work of historians and narrators to develop, add and perhaps create charisma, and also refute and deny its existence.

Corinne Lamour
Is Charisma an Appropriate Concept in Medieval Medical Texts?

The use of the term charisma has not ceased since Antiquity and throughout the Middle Ages in the theological and literary field, allowing medieval physicians to know the theological concept of charisma which took on a particular meaning in surgical practice, and especially for Henri de Mondeville. The treatise of Philip IV the Fair’s surgeon shows the interest in the vocation and medical training which, by making the doctor the object of a charismatic qualification, makes him evolve from a status of personal charism to that of functional charism. The notion of divine grace remains central to the act of care of medieval literate surgeons who behave as charismatic bearers of healing power, cultivating their talent for the common good and in fear of divine judgment. The practice of these surgeons, however, puts at a distance the theological issues of the body and the soul, which do not appear as a preoccupation or a constraint in their daily practice. At the dawn of the fourteenth century, we witness the shift from an ethic of conviction based on the Christian faith, the charism of healing, to an ethic of responsibility where the surgeon assumes his acts and their consequences, claims free will and decision making in spite of divine grace, where the choice is not automatic but reasoned in favour of a consequentialist approach.

Anna-Maria Moubayed
The Charisma of Fruits: From Greek Mythology to Genesis

Concerned with the representations of fruits in mythological, biblical, and fairy tale narratives, “The Charisma of Fruits: From Greek Mythology to Genesis,” first focuses on the various meanings of charisma and their embodiments. It then addresses object agency, before questioning the possible propriety of certain fruits in visual and textual narratives to emanate and/or appropriate charisma. To do so, the paper presents a discussion of the linguistic and conceptual mutability and malleability of the term charisma and its possible manifestation or translation in fruits, thus transforming them into (accidental) actors. Finally, this study provides an exploratory reflection around the ambiguity and metamorphic aspect of “charismatic” fruits in the context of myths and narratives represented in visual arts, more precisely in the story and medieval representations of the Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve. 

María Narbona
Construire le charisme : la sainteté post-mortem
attribuée au prince de Viana († 1461)

Au cœur de notre exposé, se trouve la question du charisme post-mortem de Carlos de Viana, prince héritier du royaume de Navarre (1421-1461). Bien que sans réputation de sainteté de son vivant, des miracles sont attribués à son intercession dès sa mort. La dévotion à “San” Carlos de Viana devient même un phénomène de masse. La prétendue sainteté du prince de Viana fait partie d’un processus politique complexe dans lequel des agents des différents États péninsulaires ont été impliqués au cours de la seconde moitié du xve siècle. Il a même été entamé un procès de canonisation qui n’aboutira cependant pas. Il s’agit d’un bel exemple de la notion de personnage charismatique, le miracle étant l’une des manifestations les plus claires du charisme, et de la manière dont il est possible de “construire” un charisme post mortem.

Amicie Pélissié du Rausas
Sanctity and suffering: the problematic charisma of Louis IX (1216-1270)

By attributing the term ‘charismatic’ to Saint Louis, Jacques Le Goff identified two sources of charisma: sacred kingship and the personal holiness of Louis IX. Without denying these aspects of the holy king’s reputation, we should investigate the nature of the charismatic relationship that linked Louis IX to his contemporaries. The sacrality of Louis IX pre-existed him, his sanctity is a post-death construction. What are the attributes of the living character that would allow us to recognize a charismatic personality? This paper proposes to find the symptoms of Louis IX’s living charisma in the reactions of his contemporaries, based on the re-examination of classical sources on the life of the king, carefully contextualized.

Alfons Puigarnau
Shared Charisma. On Ernst H. Kantorowicz concept of Synthronos

Study of the ancient concept of “Synthronos” theorized by Ernst Kantorowicz in his paper “Synthronos. On Throne-Sharing of Gods and Men” (1963). Exploration of the concept of charisma in his published and unpublished writings (Leo Baeck Institute Archives, New York City). Study of iconographic medieval examples of Synthronos as eventual shared charisma. The hypothesis of this paper is that Synthronos may help to explain the way in which charisma is not only linked to Max Weber’s notion on “Charismatic domination” (1922).