« PreviousContinue »
THE NONCONFORMIST. No. XXVI.
Mahometan Influence on Christian Literature and Opinions. CCIDENTAL circumstances ity, than the inveterate hostility which
devote considerable attention to the literature, customs and opinions of the inhabitants of the South of France, among whom arose the first blossoms of the modern European, as opposed to the classic school of poetry, and on whom the Arabian spirit of literary enterprise is generally considered to have exerted so much influence. In these inquiries it has often struck me as, at any rate, rather a curious coincidence, that the same people who took the earliest strides in the progress of literary and political civilization, should also be the most prominently fixed with the stigma of heresy for opinions little understood, but certainly in many respects bearing the marks of a very peculiar origin. The result has been an endeavour to draw up a few remarks on the influence which the various connexions of Europe with the Arabian schools of manners and science can at this distance of time be discovered to have exercised; and though the following observations are only put together hastily to meet the present occasion, they may, perhaps, at least, suggest some points of inquiry, and supply a sort of sequel to the remarks which I submitted on a former occasion.
I then briefly noticed the brilliant progress, particularly in Spain, of the Arabian poets, philosophers and metaphysicians, at a period when all Christian Europe was sunk in the lowest depths of ignorant sloth; and it remains for me to call your attention to the influence which they exercised during the early ages on the theological opinions and divisions of their contemporaries and immediate successors, and to the circumstances which seemed to mark that influence with the character of toleration, as well as of freedom in speculative inquiry. These, I think it will be plain, facilitated a much more cordial feeling, on the part of the professors of Christian
sading wars, would, at first sight, induce us to suppose capable of having ever existed between the rival followers of such widely different faiths.
In the earliest period of Mahometan proselytism we may, I think, very safely conceive it possible and probable, that even among many who refused to acknowledge the miraculous mission of the Prophet, the corruptions of the church, and the corrective tendency of the new opinions, would neutralize opposition if they did not conciliate inclination in favour of the Reformer, a character on which it appears that he long rested his claims on public consideration. On the other hand, policy, as well as a congenial feeling of opposition to the vices of the Christian establishment, would dispose the triumphant Mahometan to protect and encourage those sects which it found most widely opposed to the prevailing corruptions. Certain it is, that they tolerated, encouraged, and even zealously fought for sectarians who were in open rebellion to the Greek Church, and particularly those who were stigmatized as favourers of Gnostic and Manichæan heresies, and who, under the later epithet of Paulicians, every where signalized themselves by the purity of their practice, if not by the simplicity of their creed.
The orientalism of the peculiar dogmas of these sectarians would doubtless tend greatly to soften the distinction between them and their protectors, and it would be very easy to point out several obvious coincidences in the results which each deduced from the topics of their most favourite speculations.
With the Jews the same feelings seem to have early operated to produce among the learned professors of the Mahometan faith, during the days of its literary greatness, a courteous reception, a zealous union in the cultivation of common pursuits, and an
unrestrained freedom of speculative inquiry, on a variety of subjects equally interesting to both classes of believers. But without dwelling on points necessarily involved in great obscurity, it is sufficient here to observe, that at the period when the literary greatness of Moorish Spain was in its zenith, when it was exercising its widest influence on Europe, the genius of Arabian cultivation was strikingly, and to an extent never since equalled, tolerant and conciliatory towards the votaries of faiths, apparently most widely and irreconcileably opposedand Christian, Jew and Islamite united in one harmonious effort for the promotion of what was thought science and philosophical inquiry.
From this union resulted a mutual agreement to declare, as neutral ground (open to all, and considered by none as constituting the essentials of their respective faiths) a vast field of speculative inquiry into the deepest theological questions. The European Universities did not consider it inconsistent with their religious faith to unite zealously with them in the same pursuit, and the schoolmen followed it up to the most subtle refinements, subject, however, to the continual protest of the more orthodox supporters of the church. The latter soon saw that these freedoms could not be permitted without danger to the system of absolute ecclesiastical authority, and, in the end, they were justified in their predictions by the excitement to inquiry and resistance which these speculations created.
The external influence of the energetic spirit of Arabian literature and refinement on the neighbouring European courts, need hardly be dwelt upon. Strangers flocked from all sides to the Saracen Universities for instruction. The Arabian geographers, naturalists and philosophers, were in all the Southern courts; and when the Gothic monarchies began to cultivate the sciences for themselves, their teachers and professors were almost all drawn from the Infidels, whom, as yet, they had not grown wise enough to despise and butcher. Those who inspect the scanty evidences which the literary remains of these early ages will afford of the state of political and religious feeling, prior to the Crnsades, will be surprised to find how
little is to be found of that anti-infidel spirit of exasperation which soon afterwards animated the Christian world. Even for some time after, the theologians on either side took little share in the contest. Christian moralists and divines were proud to draw their faith from Averroes, and to expound the Aristotelian philosophy on the principles of the Arabian commentators; and it may not be undeserving of remark, that even the earliest tales of romantic chivalry (those of the Round Table) breathe nothing of the bigoted spirit of religious intolerance towards the Heathen, which distinguishes the similar productions of a later age. If the deadly animosity which afterwards prevailed had existed in the days of Charlemagne, it is not probable that Salernum, the central point of the political warfare of the European and Asiatic powers, would have been selected by him for the foundation of an University where European students might freely resort for the cultivation of science, or that such a spot could have maintained its celebrity for the next three centuries.
Of all European nations, not immediately under the Arabian yoke, the inhabitants of Provence seem, on many accounts, to have been most subjected to its influence, on their opinions, literature and customs. Their poetry is generally allowed to have been modelled on the tender and passionate tone of Eastern luxury. Their institutions were gay, chivalric, liberal and courteous; and even in their courts and parliaments of love, with all their frivolity, we may perceive one useful principle established. Public opinion was brought to bear upon the highest ranks of society, and even lawless power was confined within conventual limitations, which it was not prudent to violate or set at defiance. The earliest efforts of this democratic freedom of the Troubadour poets was manifested in eager satire and invectives against the vices of the church; and the opinions of the speculative heretics, whom the Arabians had protected and brought in their train to seek an asylum from persecution, here found a fruitful soil for propagation. Thus the great principles of literary energy and social cultivation, which the Arabian influence established in the South of Europe,
were from the first associated with rebellion to church authority, with free inquiry, and a spirit of conciliation among rival professors. Nothing is more obvious than that the whole genius of the Arabian policy and literature in Spain, was one of liberality and charity, and one which the church did not till late see the policy of opposing by all its temporal and spiritual authority.
It is singular that the earliest heretics of Europe should be the earliest poets; and if it be (as almost all the writers on the subject contend) clear that the poetry of the South of Europe owed its form and character to the Moorish school, that circumstance alone would lead us to suspect some considerable influence of the same school on the character of their theological speculations.
The literature of the Vaudois, which certainly belongs to the 11th century, will not, perhaps, at first view, be admitted to be very closely connected with that of Provence. Yet the identity of the language, the vagueness with which the terms of Vaudois, Albigeois, &c., were applied, and the obscurity in which their respective histories and opinions are involved, would lead me to suspect a much greater affinity, and antiquity of these sectaries, than is usually allowed. The religious poetry of the Vaudois, which has lately been published by M. Raynouard, would form in itself an interesting subject for examination, particularly as furnishing evidence of the real tendency of the opinions of these heretics, which hitherto we have been compelled to take on credit from their enemies.
During the violent persecutions of the Paulicians in the 9th century, it is certain that a strict alliance existed between them and the Mahometan government; that they afterwards followed its armies; that in various ways they directed their course into Europe, and, apparently, chiefly by way of Spain, through which they followed the Moorish course to the South of France, and were there patronized by the Troubadour courts, and especially by the Counts of Toulouse. Here their followers afterwards acquired the undefined title of Albigeois, and were supposed to be deeply tainted
with Manichæan and other Oriental errors.
But the free spirit of the Troubadour school, and indeed almost every Arabian relation, soon became the object of vehement attack from the church. It will not be necessary for me to dwell here on the details of the blind and bigoted warfare in which the Christian world was engaged, especially during the 12th century, or to point out how effectually the church accomplished its object. The Crusades were the first result of its policy, and the same zeal was soon directed to uprooting the freedom of opinion which the Mahometan spirit had encouraged in the countries immediately subject to its operation. Domestic crusading against free inquiry among Christians, was the proper companion of intolerance towards unbelievers. The gay and smiling plains of Provence and Languedoc were soon deluged with blood; and the gay creations of chivalry and poetry fled from the scene of horror.
But in the midst of all the fury of the Inquisition, which commenced its reign of horrors in the native soil of poetry and romance, we still see the strongest traces yet uneffaced of the peculiar literary spirit which had been impressed upon society. We actually find a mock tribunal, not like the old parliaments of love for the decision of knotty points in amatorial casuistry, but one of the same external form, devoted to the investigation and condemnation of theological heresies. Instead of the Teuson being directed, as before, to the solution of tender difficulties and equivocal obligations, we have Izarn, the Dominican Inquisitor, bringing forth a refractory heretic, to wrestle with him on points of faith, and forcing him, under the pain of burning with more material flames, to confess before the court the blasphemy of his creed, and the superior power of persuasion of his fiery antagonist. I do not mean, however, to place the poetry of these heresy hunters on a footing with that of the objects of their wrath, and that I may not be mistaken, will give a specimen of the holy Inquisitor's style, in which I have attempted neither to elevate nor depress the flight of his muse. After a long argument, which had hitherto
been attended with little success, the orthodox champion throws in the following powerful motive for choice:
As you declare you wont believe,
Of God and of St. Paul,
stigma of favouring the Mahometan faith itself. Frederic Barbarossa, and his successor Frederic II., are both striking instances of this. They were both zealous patrons of literature, and where could they, if they cast their eyes around them, see more competent inodels and instructors than in the Moorish schools? They were
Which ne'er was found within your brave and generous warriors, and un
Nor passed your lips at all
The fire is lit, the pitch is hot,
That thro' these tortures for your sins
This extraordinary piece is particularly worthy of notice, as containing a view of the opinions then generally attributed to the proscribed religionists, and among these the most prominent are those in which Orientalism prevails, and in which a Mahometan and a Christian schoolman would have found little difficulty in agreeing, at any rate, to consider as fair matter of innocent discussion. These chiefly relate to speculations on the principle of evil, the nature of angels, demons, &c., and, what is more extraordinary, a transmigration of the soul.
One peculiar instance, both of the inclination among many Christians to favour the liberal spirit and speculative freedom of the Mahometans, and of the zeal of the church in controuling this spirit, and rendering religious discord as vehement as possible, may be found, I think, in the strange and other wise almost inexplicable persecution of the Templars. Amongst the mass of absurd charges which were brought forward on the trials of the members of this devoted order, it is impossible not to suspect that there must have been some very urgent ground for alarm on the part of their prosecutors, and a great degree of favourable inclination towards their Mahometan opponents, who had, perhaps, in many respects, really a good title to their respect and esteem. For the same reasons, the history of these times records several instances of the most distinguished sovereigns of Europe, (who lead the Christian armies either from political motives, or from deference to the enthusiasm of the age,) at constant variance with the church, and as constantly under the singular
doubtedly those qualities were more strikingly developed in some of the leaders of the Musselmen armies than in the bigoted warriors of Christendom, generally the mere slaves of an ignorant hierarchy. We can therefore little wonder that their fame was through life aspersed by attacks on the orthodoxy of their creeds.
But whatever zeal was displayed in eradicating all traces of Infidel principles and associations, it is impossi ble not to observe great and durable effects upon the opinions and literature of Europe. Its poetry (if, indeed, it be so clearly traced, as is generally supposed, to an Oriental origin,) received, through the medium of the Troubadours, a new and permanent character. Its scientific pursuits, its natural and moral philosophy, were for many ages entirely Arabian; and out of the subtle inquiries of these schools sprung the greater part of the current dreams on dæmonology, magic, witchcraft and astrology.
We shall have occasion to notice hereafter the graver speculations which were borrowed by the labouring learned of the European schools: at present we have only to advert to an acknowledged fact, that all which was in those days dignified by the name of science, whether experimental or occult, took its rise in the speculations of the Arabian Universities. Peter Maurice, the venerable Doctor, the friend of Abeillard, who went to study in Spain in the 12th century, bears testimony to the number of men of learning from England and other countries, whom he there found sedulously applying themselves to the study of such sciences as astrology. In such pursuits the Jew, the Christian and the Islamite, were at all times found cordially united, and that not only in the Mahometan states, but even at the courts of Christian monarchs, of