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Western Middle Ages

The medieval period produced elaborations of Augustine's idea of peace within the context of crusade and feudal politics. The fall of Rome in the late fifth century led to the foundation of numerous bellicose Germanic kingdoms, which struggled to create a new basis for social and political order while adopting gradually much of the culture of antiquity, especially as the Germanic peoples converted to Christianity. The Western Church in the early Middle Ages required exacting penances for the shedding of blood, which were enhanced in early Carolingian laws (eighth century). In this context it was often difficult to distinguish between war and peace, and peace came to be viewed mostly in practical terms as simply a respite from fighting, sometimes even being depicted as the goddess of victory. The Peace of God (pax Dei) movement around the turn of the first millennium attempted to regulate warfare through strict papal restrictions on times of fighting and types of weaponry used, violations of which could lead to excommunication or interdict. As feudal relationships came to provide a new negotiated basis for order and peace by the twelfth century, the emerging chivalric code incorporated just-war theory, and set as one of its objectives the perpetuation of order or peace. The inclusion of the Augustinian motivation of love as necessary in any just war helped to ensure that the Christian spiritual ideal regarding peace would remain the goal even if in practical terms it would always remain elusive. The Crusades became the ultimate expression of the just war in continental Europe, but the barbarous actions of the knights who journeyed to the Holy Land compromised the church's credibility in fostering peace, since plenary indulgences seemed to excuse all kinds of violence and manslaughter in this supposedly sacred cause. This situation also created the intellectual climate for the first real investigation of peace as an idea, coming as it did on the heels of charges of corruption against the clergy.

While there were new investigations of peace in continental Europe—such as Dante's (1265–1321) vision of a Christian emperor in Monarchia (c. 1315), who established a one-world government that would provide true peace and order—the concept of peace itself underwent little change. Only in England during the Hundred Years' War (1337–1453) is there found a protracted military enterprise provoking extensive criticism of warfare as an institution and, subsequently, suggesting a more complicated notion of what peace itself means. By the 1380s, writers such as John Gower (1330?–1408), Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1342–1400), William Langland (c. 1330–c. 1400), Thomas Hoccleve (1368 or 1369–c. 1450), John Bromyard (d. c. 1390), John Lydgate (c. 1370–c. 1450), and John Wyclif (c. 1330–1384) all were attacking the justifications for wars, and the insincerity behind the putative goal of restoring order and peace. A new typology of peace emerged from this crucible of war and critique that would remain the basis for understanding peace right up until the modern period. First, the original Augustinian idea of personal, spiritual peace remained, along with its association with mercy, love, and patience. But for the critics of war, it was no longer enough to expect spiritual renewal to end the killing on a one-to-one basis. Relying on personal forbearance did not seem to reduce incidence of war at all. The other, older view of peace as order, including its affiliates—quiet, rest, concord, and law—now took on new resonance as writers excoriated the behavior of knights who supposedly followed a strict, peace-loving code of arms.

Two new elements of peace, however, which had been introduced by the early fifteenth century, proved to be more practical. First, Wyclif and the Lollards, who could easily be termed pacifists, emphasized the un-Christlikeness of war, and thus attempted to return to an early Christian ideal of peace as reflecting the image of Christ (imago Christi), demonstrated through acts of love. Unlike the Augustinian concept, here, to live like Christ is to work to stop war and to promote peace, not just in one's spiritual journey, but in society at large. The idea is that Christ believed that peace was possible, and in fact the Gospels say the angels proclaimed peace at his birth. Regardless of whether a cause seems just or not, war is always wrong and it must be a matter of conscience for all Christians to oppose it. By undercutting just-war arguments as inimical to God's way of peace, the concept for the first time emerged from the cloak of impossibility and became an obligatory pursuit. Issuing from this was the related idea that peace offered many practical benefits, thereby stressing its pragmatic nature. Lydgate, Hoccleve, and works such as The Libelle of Englyshe Polycye (c. 1436) equated temporal peace with economic well-being, personal security, and the growth of learning. From the late fifteenth century the value of peace was located increasingly in the language of political economy with its complex associations to the public good, which war was less likely now seen to promote.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Overdamped to PeatPeace - Ancient And Early Christian West, Western Middle Ages, Renaissance And Reformation, The Modern West