Hugo von Sankt Viktor - Institut
für Quellenkunde des Mittelalters

Christlich-muslimischer Dialog in Spanien, 12.-15. Jahrhundert

Manners of literary behaviour in the Christian-Islamic approaches
on the Iberian Peninsula, 12th to 15th centuries

This paper is the first overview and the starting point of my research program of the next five years to come. On the following pages I will present three major topics: 1st I’ll give an introduction into the necessity and relevance of an project of alterity nowadays. 2nd I want to exemplify my methods of research for solving the problems to come. 3rd I’ll try to transfer this methodological knowledge with the aid of two central Latin texts of 12th century Iberian Christianity.

1. The situation: Christian-Islamic approaches in the European history between the Middles Ages and Today

We are living in an era of politicized and politicizing religions. Within the present process of religious globalization we detect not only the actual thread of specific religious and cultural identities but also a strong return to geographically or even locally limited religious orientation. There has been in the last years an ever growing revival of cultural, social, ethnic and religious conscience. This very often individual revival of sacrament and religion is the answer to the perception of our World as “global village”. If this political and religious diagnosis will be right, we are obliged to question the possibilities of peace or conflict within the globalization of world religions like Christianity and Islam. We won’t find satisfying answers to this very complex question by describing and explaining the intercultural and interreligious relationship between these two religions at present time alone. Questioning the readiness and conditions for peace or conflict within the word religions means questioning the historical patterns of peace or conflict as well. We won’t be able to pull down our artificial constructions of cultural and religious prejudices without analizing their historical process of construction, and without exploring the vast landscape of manners of historical and literary behaviour in the Christian-Islamic approaches:
    Once being in contact with Islam, have Christians, in certain times and regions, been ready to conflict or have they also been capable of peace, tolerance and convivence? When, why and to which degree one position has been prefered to the other one? And: Can we, Europeans, tolerate the widely diffused opinion of a “clash of civilizations/religions” because of our more close and complex perspective and experience of European history of intercultural and interreligious conflict?
    For answering these questions, the Iberian Peninsula of the High and Late Middle Ages is the very best model to analyze. South-Western Europe is a particular geographical unit with a more or less separate history of transformation and homogenization of Church and Society between the 12th and 15th centuries. Although this region between Western and Central Europe and Nothern Africa has been a space of permanent cultural and religious contacts, approaches, exchanges and conflicts between Christians and Muslims during the whole Middle Ages, the phase of transformation in the 14th and 15th centuries are less intensively investigated than the central period of the 12th and 13th centuries. Here, we have the very rare chance to describe the process of a Christian nation-building via theoretical and practical conflict with the “other” religion – the case of a selfdefining and selfconstructing Christian society by means of defeating and destroying the former prevailing religion and culture.

2. The situation of research

Until now, the international European and American research on Iberian Islam in the Middle Ages is dominated by three fields of work: 1st we have the traditional historiography of the Latin Christian image of Islam and his development. These attempts to reconstruct the alterity of Islam can be of historical, social, cultural, theological or philosophical nature. 2nd we can mention the studies on the scientific, technical and artistic, but also on the philosophical and theological influences of the Arabic-Islamic culture on the Occident coming especially from Spain. These processes of transfer are described either in a Mozarabic or in a Mudejar perspective. 3rd in the last twenty-five years we state a growth of sociological studies on convivence and conflict between Spanish Christianity and Islam in a “frontier society” working with categories like “cultural barrier”, “parallel societies”, “proper and foreign”, “minorities and majorities” or “violence and sex”.

3. The task of a new generation of research – developping more adequate methods

It is only in the last ten oder fifteen years that the Iberian Christian literature on Islam has been appreciated in a more suitable philosophical, theological, historical and philological way. But this – nevertheless important – research is methodologically deficient because there has been, to a certain degree, a lack of theoretical reflexion on the multiple contextuality of medieval texts, their changing, their functionalism and their variable publics. Furthermore, we can observe a shortcoming of consideration of the complicated interdependence between Christian literature on Islam and its structural potential of peaceful or conflictual behaviour. The history of the interreligious communication or non-communication, its processuality, its conditions, responsibles, and effects on the Iberian Peninsula from the 12th to the 15th centuries has still to be written. The base of my research will be a multilayered concept of contextuality which regards Latin and popular texts on Islam from the Peninsula of all literary genres (theology, philosophy, history, and literature), forms (letters, treatises, dialogues, chronicles, biographies, and poems), characters (learned, popular, real, and imaginary), and with different publics (scholars, noblemen, laymen, real or fictitious readers and listeners). The different intellectual and religious milieus of authors, periods, and forms of production and reception, will be respected like their influences on the interpretation of texts in manuscripts. Given that, the contextuality of my literature will be at least a double one because it focusses on external and internal criteria of handwritten transmission.
    With this concept of a morefold interpretation of handwritten text tradition I hope to develop a theory of intercultural and interreligious discursivity in the field of traditional and innovative methods of dialogue or non-dialogue which contributes to explain the success or failure of dialogical literature dealing with culture and religion.

4. The exemplification. Two Spanish sources of the 12th century in comparison

Both examples, I will now present, have their origin in the French-Iberian culture of Latin Christianity, both authors are (probably) of French origin, both aim at a specific public of Iberian readers, and both testify a certain stage of development in the Christian Latin image of Islam in the 12th century (“from heresy to new religion”) which is interdependently related to a dramatic change of strategy in the confrontation with Islam.

a. Pseudo-Turpin

The first important text to analyze is perhaps something unexspected in the eyes of the majority of the scientific readers: It is the so-called Pseudo-Turpin, one of the most famous and successfull Latin legends of Charlemagne and Roland whose primary purposes have been to promote the international pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (with all its implications on the contemporary struggle of the Galician diocese against Toledo to become the metropolitan see of Spain) and to develop a Christian antiislamic crusaders’ identity among the pilgrims to and among the priesthood of Compostela. The legend tells the campaigns of the most victorious Charlemagne on the Iberian Peninsula, his total defeat of the Mulims of al-Andalus. Within this curious, very knightly story, you will find two chapters of direct confrontation between Christians and Muslims, modelled firstly as duels of arms, but secondly as duels of words as well. To my knowledge at the moment, these two scenes are the earliest literalizations of (fictitious) interreligious dialogues between Christianity and Islam in Spain. First, there is the dialogue between Charlemagne and Aigoland, the African king and warlord who occupied again large parts of the Peninsula after Charlemagne’s return to France (ch. 12). Then, there is a second duel of words between the young Christian hero Roland and the Islamic giant Ferracut (ch. 17). Everyone who reads this second encounter will be impressed by the typological writing of Pseudo-Turpin using the well-known image of David and Goliath to characterize this interreligious confrontation. Evidently, this is a perfect literary contrefacture embeded in the rich antique and medieval tradition of Jewish and Christian exegesis of I Sm 17. In the patristic and medieval continuum of typological thinking and biblical exegesis since at least St. Augustine this duel – by the way the most important motif of the Davidian iconography – is the best prefiguration of the victorious fight of Christ against the Devil. But in the ecclesiastical tradition of the Church of Martyrdom in Late Antiquity this is as well the key story for the fight of the earliest Christian martyrs struggling without weapons against their pagan enemies. David, prefiguration of the Lord, fights without sword and spear as the Lord is the unweaponed Saviour of mankind. In the imagination and iconography of the Latin Church David is the bold and cunning warrior as well. On the contrary, Goliath, the Philistine, impresses by his gigantic frame and heavy armour. He challenges Israel to the decisive duel. But despite all expectations the young David overcomes him by means of his catapult aiming at the only vulnerable part of the body (I Sm 17, 49–51). Like Goliath, the giant perishes by his own weapon. This is the image of overcoming the seemingly invincible by the supposedly weak. So, Goliath’s tenure symbolizes the arrogance of the heretics which will be overcome by the orthodox believers.
    Pseudo-Turpin’s manner of literary behaviour fits perfectly in the strategies of passed and contemporary chronical tradition on the Iberian Peninsula between the 9th and 11th centuries: The conflict between Christians and Muslims is nothing else than Holy War, the Christian kings are compared with their ancestors of the Old Testament, and the story of the Iberian Christianity is part of the story of Divine Providence planning and realizing the salvation of mankind.
    Let me now summarize the main points of literary performances realized by the author:

- he adapted the traditional patristic or medieval exegesis within the new frame of legendary or hagiographical narration
- he seems to be the earliest author who used the authoritative image of David and Goliath as biblical argument to explain the relationship between Christianity and Islam
- he transposed the contemporary idea of duel into a new sphere of argumentation.

In this remarkable process of intellectual transfer he shifted from juridical or moral guilt to the theological inferiority of the wrong religion: the duel is understood as a form of theological trial by ordeal: victory or defeat are indicators of the divine will – the defeated is guilty (wrong), but the unguilty (right) is helped by God. Despite the fictitious or unreal scenery of dialogue the literalization of interreligious communication is the first step to real dialogue. Furthermore, this virtual shift from the duel of arms (arms as arguments; crusade; war) to the duel of words (arguments as arms; dialogue) is an indicator of change of mentality in the Christian-Muslim approach on the Iberian Peninsula, because for the first time the possible use of reason and reasoning instead of the already missing physical superiority appears.
    Let my now analyze the structural concept of dialogue in Pseudo-Turpin. You will see that this concept is truely a Christian one, but it is situated on the mental threshold between physical confrontation, that means refusal of rational argumentation, and oral confrontation, that is denial of physical violence. The most important Christian aspect in both dialogues is the, by all means, general Christian dominance: it is clear that only the true Christian faith possesses the more convincing arguments (contents of faith) in contrast to the diabolic vanity of Islam. And therefore, it is also true that the Christian partner of dialogue becomes the teacher of his creed so that the dialogue is nothing else than a real and successful (!) catechumenical preparation to baptism. Being so, the Muslim is the typical asking catechume, the Christian his answering and explaining teacher who develops the kernel of Christian faith with the three main topics of religious disagreement between Muslims and Christians: Christ, the Son of God, trinity and incarnation (furthermore: crucification, resurrection, and ascension). It is obvious that in this program of dialogue, even in the eyes of the Muslim, conversion and baptism is possible.
    But this concept allows some very interesting insights into a more realistic view of contemporary interreligious confrontation as well: 1st the dialogue is the consequence of the undecided situation of physical confrontation without decisive success or victory on either side, and it is another form of confrontation before the always following duel of arms as a new form of theological trial by ordeal. 2nd it is thinkable that the initiative of dialogue is taken by the Muslim. 3rd we find explicit presuppositions of communication in the two mentionned chapters: It must be the same language (Arabic or Romance/Spanish). 4th further presupposition is the equality of rational arms between the two partners. Both sides are expected to use rational argumentation to convince. 5th although convinced by arguments, both opponents are persuaded to seek definite decision by arms. 6th the Christian position is a very aggressive one. This tone is typical for epic and popular literature because of its particular illiterate public.

b. Peter the Venerable

Within a single generation there has been a fundamental change in attitude and method of intellectual confrontation with Islam. This change was connected with an exorbitant growth of knowledge about Muslim religion fostered by the first Latin translation of the Koran and other important traditions about Islam. The context of this revolutionary shift to a more intellectual or even scientific explanation and refutation of Islam was a diplomatic voyage of Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, to Spain in 1141 with the purpose of negotiations of peace between the kings of Castile and Aragon. In 1142 he came in contact with professional translators of Arabic scientific (astronomical) literature. So, he was able to persuade a group of prolific translators – not without massive financial arguments – of his project of translating Koran and other authentic sources of Islam. It is interesting to see that this quantum leap in Christian-Islamic approaches was made in a seemingly traditionalistic monastic benedictine milieu, not in the meanwhile highly esteemed progressive clerical or canonical circles of the new intellectual schools. Certainly, there aren’t any strong differences between the more theoretical and literary manner of behaviour of Pseudo-Turpin and the more practical one of Peter the Venerable: The abbot’s aim was as well to abolish the heretical errors of Islam by detecting with reason and rational argumentation the Christian truth, and this presupposition is expected from the Islamic side as well. And he got the same problems of definition of Islam and its prophet Muhammed (heresy vs. new religion as an established rival of Christianity) as his patristic ancestors confronted with the heresies and pagan movements of Late Antiquity. In this perspective, Peter was a self-confidential traditionalist of his Church in articulating the voice of orthodoxy in the case of heresy. The real achievement of Peter was to understand that his intended virtual dialogue with Muslims who should read his apologetical treatise in a translated Arabic version had to be based on the profound knowledge of the authentic text (tradition) of Islam. In comparison with other contemporary manners of behaviour (cf. Bernard of Clairvaux) this was a dramatic change of attitude.
    Even more realistic was his strategic concept of a double-sided work and linguage for refutation of Islam: Whereas the Summa totius haeresis Saracenorum was a short phenomenological abbreviation of Islam, written in a very polemical tone for the French and Spanish Cluniac monks, the proper refutation of Islam, his Liber contra sectam sive haeresim Saracenorum, the principal work of the so-called Collectio Toletana (or: Corpus Toletanum), was intended for the Muslim readers in Spain and was therefore written in a very sensible and reasonable way. In ch. 19 sq. of his prologue to this work, Peter even realized the possibility of non-reception by the Muslim side. In this case, his work could be used as an aid of argumentation for Christians who were involved in interreligious conflict or dialogue.

5. Conclusion

It would be a very interesting task now to make this very hastily painted picture of beginning Christian-Islamic approaches on the Iberian Peninsula in the mentionned period more precise (cf. Petrus Alfonsi, Dialogi contra Iudaeos). In lack of time and space we unfortunately have to renounce and wait for the certainly fruitful discussion with the world-wide scientific public reading this paper.



Peter the Venerable, Collectio Toletana (Corpus Toletanum)
ed. by JAMES KRITZECK: Peter the Venerable and Islam, Princeton/N. J. 1964, 204–211 and 220–291.
ed. by REINHOLD GLEI: Petrus Venerabilis, Schriften zum Islam (Corpus Islamo-Christianum. Series Latina 1), Altenberge 1985, 2–238.

Pseudo-Turpin, Historia Karoli Magni et Rotholandi
ed. by ADALBERT HÄMEL: Der Pseudo-Turpin von Compostela. Aus dem Nachlaß herausgegeben von André de Mandach (Sitzungsbericht der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse 1965, 1), Munich 1965, 37–102.
ed. by KLAUS HERBERS/MANUEL SANTOS NOIA: Liber Sancti Jacobi. Codex Calixtinus, Santiago de Compostela 1998, 199–229.

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© by Dr. Matthias M. Tischler