Lilian R.G. Diniz
in “IV Ciclo di Studi Medievali”, Atti del Convegno, Firenze 4-5 Giugno 2018, Arcore (MB) 2018, pp. 147-153.
It is not a new observation that Christianity was extremely successful since its origins in the process of converting individuals and communities. However, the process of religious conversion is not as simple as the striking success of the new religion apparently demonstrates. There were some cases of explicit resistance and refusal to receive the Christian faith, but there was also a different form of resistance, more subtle yet remarkably diffused, that is characterised by religious hybridity.
The term hybridity is borrowed from biological and botanical studies and implies that two or more individuals after a process of interaction produce what is known as a hybrid, which carries characteristics from all the elements involved in the interaction, yet it cannot be identified as one of the original individuals, but as something different. Thus, religious hybridity is understood here as a religious crafting that mix practices and religious perceptions with the intention of adapting the new religious system to a personal and traditional framework, creating a new interpretation. It means resistance against the imposition of a religious worldview that, more often than not, does not take into consideration particular cultural backgrounds and traditions. Such behaviour is apparently, most of the time, involuntary, and although it represents a sort of insubordination to the imposed norms, it is put into action due to the usefulness of such practices, to respond to everyday necessities and even because such behaviour is for some people considered a natural way of thinking.
In the sources studied here, hybridity is seen in the reprimands made by clerics regarding what they consider to be the persistence of traditional practices that are often grouped under the comprehensive term “paganism”. The practices and gestures described by them are in reality a mixing of religious interpretations, not a resistance to traditional beliefs or a lack of religious conviction of the converted people. Nonetheless, it is important to stress that the reading of these documents must be done very carefully, with a constant awareness of their tendency to generalize, manipulate, exaggerate for excess or paucity the information regarding traditional practices, or even invent such descriptions to serve to a certain purpose. Furthermore, when dealing with ecclesiastical canons for example, it is important to be aware that they sometimes give a specific description of cases in order to illuminate a particular ruling, but lack of contextual details.
Ecclesiastical authorities were very often not keen to accept religious crafting, and frequently, their refusal to admit compromises is evident in the sources. However, we should bear in mind that we are not dealing with a conception of a monolithic church. Numerous religious interpretations are possible, and Christianity could take several shapes. Indeed, examples in documentation attest to the existence of this multiplicity, which is seen not only in the high levels of official interpretation (councils and general rules), but also among individual clerics, who are the subject of this paper.
Most of the documentation analysed here comes from a period from the fourth to the tenth century in Western Europe, with a predominance of documents from the Iberian Peninsula and Gaul. This choice is due solely to the abundance of sources from these geographical areas that serve the purpose of this study. It is worth mentioning, however, that an exhaustive study of a wider spread origin of sources is impractical given the limitations of this article. Through the analysis of the documentation I will then trace the reasons why clerics where cooperating with people into shaping their own religious interpretations, acting in this way as mediators between Christian religion and people’s expectations.
1. A few references on the topic of conversion to Christianity are R. Fletcher, The Conversion of Europe. From Paganism to Christianity. 371–1386 AD, London 1998; G. Armstrong and I.N. Wood (eds.), Christianizing Peoples and Converting Individuals, Brepols 2000; P. Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom. Triumph and diversity. A.D. 200–1000, Revised edition 2013.
2. In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of The English people we can find several examples of noblemen who refused to be baptised. An account of all these cases can be found in A. Angenendt, The Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons Considered against the Background of the Early Medieval Mission, in Angli e Sassoni al di qua e al di là del mare, Settimane di studio del CISAM, Spoleto 1986, p. 749 ss. See also S. Lebecq, Le baptême manqué du Roi Radbod, in O. Redon and B. Rosenberger (eds.), Les assises du pouvoir: temps médiévaux, territoires africains, 1994, pp. 141-150.
3. See P. Burke, Cultural Hybridity, Cambridge 2009.
4.For a study of the term and its uses in scholarship see R. Young, Colonial Desire. Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race, London 1995. See also H. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London 1994.
5. On the concept of cultural hybridity see also P. Stockhammer (ed.) Conceptualizing Cultural Hybridization. A Transdisciplinary Approach, Heidelberg 2012.
6. P. Chuvin, Chronique des derniers païens, Paris 2009; C. Sotinel, La disparition des lieux de culte païens en Occident, in M. Nancy, E. Rebilard (eds.), Hellénisme & christianisme, Villeneuve d’Ascq 2004, pp. 35-60.
7. J. Wood, Elites and baptism: religious strategies of distinction in Visigothic Spain, in Studies in Church History, vol. 42, 2006, pp. 3-17, at 7. See also A. Nascimento, A “religião dos rústicos”, in Religiões da Lusitânia, Lisboa 2002, p. 325.
8. A notorious exception is the letter of Pope Gregory the Great sent to his missionaries in Britain, instructing to a tolerant approach. See R. Markus, Gregory the Great and his world, Cambridge 1997, and R. Flechner, Pope Gregory and the British: mission as a canonical problem, in H. Bouget, M. Coumert (eds.), Histoires des Bretagnes 5. Brest 2015, pp. 47-65.
9. Or, as stated by Peter Brown, we can talk about Micro-Christendoms, pockets of Christian interpretations that can differ from each other in doctrine and practices. See P. Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, p. 355 ss. See also J.H. Arnold, Belief and Unbelief in Medieval Europe, London 2005.
In foto: Iniziale “O” contenente il clero (Auxerre, Cath., ms. 0006, tome II, f. 50).