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Beyond the Frontiers of Latin Christendom: The Avignon Papacy and the East

Final Report Summary - AVORI (Beyond the Frontiers of Latin Christendom: The Avignon Papacy and the East)

Irene Bueno, Project AvOri
EHESS, Centre de recherches historiques, Paris

Beyond the frontiers of Latin Christendom: The Avignon Papacy and the East

How did different religious, political, and cultural identities interact in the pre-modern Mediterranean? How was the Orient perceived and represented in one of the key cultural hubs of the late medieval West, the papal court? By addressing these key questions, my research on “Beyond the frontiers of the Latin Christendom: The Avignon Papacy and the East” contributes to the fields of intellectual history, Church history, and East-West relations and addresses three main objectives: 1. To shed light on the political and cultural strategies adopted by the Papacy of Avignon towards its various interlocutors overseas; 2. To improve our understanding of the intellectual history of the Avignon Papacy by placing it within a wider, trans-Mediterranean context; and, 3. To enhance the study of East-West cross-cultural interactions at the close of the Middle Ages. In doing so, the research addresses wider methodological questions that can provide a platform for future research on the medieval Papacy from exogenous perspectives and contexts.
1. Through the study of the letters, issued by the Papal Chancellery during the fourteenth century, I have reconstructed the main lines of intervention of the Avignon Popes regarding the Christian East, the Holy Land, and the Mongol Khanates, focusing in particular on the pontificates of Clement V (1305-1314) and Benedict XII (1334-1342). As I demonstrate in my monograph Defining Heresy and in the forthcoming chapter “Benedict XII and the partes Orientis,” papal interventions in the Near and Far East during the fourteenth century adapted to changing interlocutors and thereby took a number of forms: crusading project and Church union negotiations; the flow of legates, diplomats, missionaries, and theologians across the Mediterranean; the promotion of theological debates and preaching; the circulation of letters, books, and pamphlets across geographic and cultural frontiers; the protection of the Armenian and Greek communities in Italy; and, the encouragement of the teaching of languages. Not least, the programme of Latinization designed by the Apostolic See implied a centralized resolution to local controversies, as well as the dissemination of the Church’s normative order. Whereas the understanding of papal policies in the East has often been hindered by the separation of geographic and thematic areas of intervention, the results of my study demonstrate the importance of a comparative and comprehensive approach based on a characterization of the “partes Orientis” as a whole, which allows us to trace continuities and discontinuities in the strategies governing the relations between the papal court and the world beyond its frontiers.
2. Intellectual debates and cross-cultural interactions between the papal court and the Christian East in the late medieval period have been at the core of my research and publications. Drawing on analytical tools sharpened by connected history, I have focused on the processes of cultural interaction and knowledge circulation between the papal court and the East, reconstructing the flow of books, men, and ideas across the Mediterranean and the representations of overseas populations produced by the papal entourage. In particular, the study of a theological consultation on the Armenians, held both at the papal court and in Cilician Armenia in the 1330s and 1340s, allowed me to reconstruct a relevant corpus of texts circulating between Avignon and the East, to highlight the importance of the inedited Summa de haeresibus by Guido Terreni, and to identify an important copy of this text, preserved in Wolfenbüttel and copied for pope Clement VI. Moreover, a comparative analysis of the texts produced by various Armenian and Latin authors at the papal court, such as Nerses Balientz, Daniel of Tabriz, Richard FitzRalph, Alvaro Pelagio, and Guido Terreni, demonstrated the tight interaction and mutual influences of Western and Eastern intellectuals at the papal court. By comparing their different treatments of the notion of papal primacy, I argue that the refutation of Greek and Armenian “heresies” dovetails with papal strategies of self-representation. By dismissing the Christian Other, the intellectuals of the papal entourage variously contributed to reinforcing the Pontiff’s authority during a period of crisis and increasing criticism.
3. The study of the Flos historiarum terrae Orientis (1307), a treatise in four books written for Pope Clement V by Hayton of Korykos, was particularly relevant in tracing patterns of knowledge circulation from East to West through the mediation of the Armenians. This treatise, describing the Mongols and other Eastern populations and based on sources that Westerners did not have access to, brought to the Curia a new and well-organized body of geographic, ethnographic, historical, and military information on the lands lying between the Pacific and the Mediterranean. It soon became very popular in Western Europe and was still well known to an early modern readership. The study of the inclusion of the Flos into different typologies of miscellaneous manuscripts and early-modern prints reveals how the reception of this text changed over time: whereas military considerations soon lost their relevance, Hayton was used especially to gain historical and ethnographic knowledge about the East, or to satisfy a literary fascination and curiosity for exotic lands. The results of this study, presented in various articles and conference papers, demonstrate the importance of an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from the questions and methodologies of connected cultural history, the history of texts, and codicology.
The research questions developed during the fellowship have stimulated discussion with a wider scholarly network, resulting in new collective projects and collaborations. I have coordinated a collective volume on Jacques Fournier/Benedict XII and a special journal issue on intellectual and cross-cultural relations between the Papacy and the Christian East at the close of the Middle Ages. These projects enabled me to receive the input of the most diverse academic environments and to establish a wide network of academic contacts, while developing my skills in leading international scientific projects. Moreover, I co-organized with Camille Rouxpetel a two-day workshop on “Historical writing between East and West, twelfth-fifteenth centuries,” held in Paris in November 2014 and supported by the MC grant and by the partnership of various institutions (EHESS-CRH, Université Paris-Sorbonne and Ecole française de Rome). This event brought together scholars from different backgrounds (Armenian and Byzantine studies; Western Church history; and intellectual history), from Europe and from the US, to discuss from various perspectives and disciplines the cultural and political processes governing East-West relations in the late Middle Ages and the ways they affected the production of a historical narrative. The publication of the proceedings, expected in 2016, will address the opportunity offered by interdisciplinary and comparative approaches for future research on East-West interactions. The Ecole française de Rome has expressed an interest in the book project.

Irene Bueno
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