Sunday, October 23, 2016


José Fernández Ubiña, Alberto J. Quiroga Puertas, Purificación Ubric Rabaneda (ed.), La iglesia como sistema de dominación en la Antigüedad Tardía. Historia. Granada: Universidad de Granada, 2015. Pp. 358. ISBN 9788433857637. €23.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Edmund P. Cueva, University of Houston-Downtown (

Version at BMCR home site

There is no doubt that La iglesia como sistema de dominación en la Antigüedad Tardía is a welcome contribution to our knowledge of the development of the Christian church and the impact this development had on Late Antique life and culture. The editors have done a masterful job of assembling a solid set of interesting essays that have their origin in an international conference held at the Universidad de Granada in May of 2014. They note that this collection uses various methodologies in approaching the subject matter and that in some instances these methodologies are contradictory—perhaps as contradictory as the historiographical tradition surrounding the rise of Christianity. The essays take as their starting point the works of Max Weber and Karl Marx; the former is cited as the inspiration for the text. The text has is divided into three sections: 1. La iglesia como sistema de dominación. Propuestas teóricas; 2. Los artífices de la dominación: obispos y monjes; and 3. Instrumentos de la dominación eclesial: Adoctrinamiento, pedagogía y piedad.

The aim of the book is to shed historical and philological light on the texts and testimonies that grapple with the diverse forms of ecclesiastical domination in the Late Antique period. The first part of the book puts into context this domination by juxtaposing it with other hierocratic forms of control and, most importantly, with the ruling power of the Roman Empire (of special concern is the relationship between church and state). The second section examines the people involved in this domination, namely bishops and monks. The last part of the text reviews the mechanisms through which daily ecclesiastical control was spread and maintained.

Part 1: Gonzalo Bravo Castañeda's "Iglesia e imperio como sistemas de dominación: Confrontaciones y compromisos" compares the power of the Roman Empire and that of the Christian Church and analyzes how these two entities manifested themselves, were identified, related to each other, opposed each other, and eventually compromised with each other. Castañeda suggests that when the Christian Church became the basic and central institution of the Roman Empire during the middle of the fourth century, it did so through an evolution that involved clear, distinct, and separate states ("sociedad eclesiástica" and "sociedad romana imperial" [24]) that paralleled each other in the ways in which the religious hierarchies corresponded to civil functionaries of the state. In "Emperadores y reyes herejes: el arrianismo como sistema de dominación política" Andrew Fear examines the role that Constantine played in the clash between differing Christian factions and his attempt to impose a religious concordia among the faithful. Fear notes that it was no easy task to try to settle the struggle between the Arians and those that held to the Nicene Creed, a creed that offered Constantine "todo lo quería: un Imperio unido por la alianza entre la Iglesia y el Emperador" (44). However, this struggle was further complicated by the fact that local nationalisms were involved and that at the root of the problem were the bishops that had ideas that were very different from those of the emperor—notwithstanding Constantine's belief that he, as emperor, had a closer relationship to God than any cleric. This was the first time that the power of the state had to deal with a power outside of the direct control of the emperor. Pedro Castillo Maldonado's "Católicos y arrianos en la Hispania visigoda: la conformación de un sistema único de dominación" continues the examination of Arianism with a narrower focus on Visigoth Spain; the Third Council of Toledo's introduction of the filioque clause brought Visigoth Spain into the Catholic Church—an entry that was accompanied by the conversion of the monarchy. The last essay, Luis A. García Moreno's "La iglesia y el Islam como sistemas de dominación: la experiencia musulmana de al-Andalus," looks at another hierocratic form of control: Islam in Spain. The spoliation of the Muslim Conquest (711-719), Christianity as the legitimating instrument of family structures before the conquest, and Christianity and the Church as legitimators and reproducers of both an ethnic identity and a native calendar are the foci of the essay.

The second section of the text contains essays on the people who were involved in the establishment and expansion of the control that the Church wielded at that time. In "Conformación y poder del sistema episcopal en la iglesia preconstantiniana" José Fernández Ubiña focuses on the "la autoridad y las funciones asignadas a los obispos" (105) that evolved greatly during the first centuries of the Church's existence. This is difficult task, Ubiña notes, due to both the nature of the sources that never "hablan por sí mismas ni permiten generalizar su informacíon" (105) and authorial bias (religiously based) found in the sources and in scholarship on this matter. The author suggests that the greatest challenge to this evolution was neither political nor military but, instead, theological. Alberto Quiroga Puertas' "Un sistema de dominación inestable: el paradigma del cisma de Antioquía en la historiografía eclesiástica del siglo V" uses the schism that involved Meletius of Antioch to demonstrate how dissension among the developing Church caused divisions that tore at the fabric of this new institution both theologically and ecclesiastically. Puertas relies on the writings of the "'historiadores sinópticos' de la Iglesia del Siglo V" (134): Socrates of Constantinople, Sozomen, and Theodoret. All three of these authors agree that Arianism was at fault and the common enemy, and they judge the different emperors based on "su afiliacíon religiosa y grado de ortodoxia con respect al credo niceno" (148). More importantly, the author notes that Christian authors had now, for the most part, switched from writing tracts that fought against paganism or defended Christianity as a religio licita to works that sought to legitimate the internal church hierarchy. This new concern points out that the Church was "un sistema de dominacíon inestable, en constante evolucíon y muy frecuentemente agrietado por disensiones y cismas" (150). In "Forjando una alianza para la dominación. Obispos y bárbaros en el Occidente tardoantiguo" Purificación Ubric Rabaneda emphasizes the roles that the bishops played once the Church had somewhat developed and expanded its control: the relationships, interactions, and alliances between the Christian bishops and the barbarians. After the fall of empire, the bishops took up the responsibilities and tasks that had traditionally been in the purview of the Roman elite. The author includes the deeds of the bishops Maximus of Turin, Exuperius of Toulouse, and Epiphanius of Pavia, among others, as examples of the new responsibilities inherited by the bishops. Among these responsibilities one can find that these men served as the means of communication among local communities, barbarian kings, and the empire, often in matters that related to war and peace. The hierarchical positions and vast authority that these bishops had were attractive to the upper social classes and, in turn, caused a good number of the remnants of ruling elite to become bishops. Nevertheless, it is observed that these bishops ran the risk of making the wrong type of alliances or backing losing sides with the result that some were "concebidos como enemigos y sufrieron persecución, secuestro o exilio, fundamentalmente por cuestiones políticas, no religiosas" (159). Francisco Salvador Ventura's "El monacato como instrumento eclesial de dominación y de asistencia social" builds on the new roles that the Church and its members exercised before and after the fall of the empire. The monks and monasteries began to be chiefly responsible for the social welfare of their communities. According to Saint Basil the Great, this care and concern was based on the perfection of charity at which monasticism aimed: the care for the poor, sick, and elderly; hospitality for guests and travelers; concern and care for the imprisoned and criminals; the education of the young.

The first essay in the last section of the book focuses on the use of public, private, and religious space. Inmacolata Aulisa's "La cristianización de la ciudad tardorromana" attempts to trace how the terms civitas and ecclesia functioned in the light of the establishment of the Church as a controlling power, the creation of an ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the concomitant rise in the influence of the local bishops. The author reviews the relationships between the civitates and the diocesan structures as well as the differences existing between urban and suburban structures; the interaction between bishop and civitas and how this changed over the centuries; the "relación entre espacio urbano y extra-urbano de las áreas cementeriales" (206); and how the urban landscape changed through the Christianization of public spaces as found in the presence of the relics and tombs of saints. Chantal Gabrielli's "El culto a los mártires en el norte de África: devoción y control eclesiástico sobre el pueblo Cristiano" to a certain extent picks up on the theme of the presence of the relics and tombs of saints, especially of those that can be identified, rightly or wrongly, as martyrs. The Ecclesia martyrum, as the Donatists represented themselves, is examined closely by Gabrielli because the Donatists developed their own martyrs. Indeed, martyrs were very important in the Catholic-Donatist schism because it was the martyrs that would guarantee success in this struggle. Separate from the theological debate, the martyrs and their relics also provided prestige and local patriotism. In "Predicación, pedagogía y persuasión: la educación cristiana en Occidente durante la antigüedad tardía" Jamie Wood writes on the formation and development of Christian education from the view of experienced preachers and the advice they gave their fellow preachers. The works of St. Augustine and St. Martin of Braga form the core of this analysis. The former's emphases are on brevity, simplicity, knowing one's audience and one's self, and instruction through history; the latter's are pedagogy, preaching, involving the audience, and instruction on religious matters (but not too complicated instruction). Amparo Pedregal's "Discurso transgresor y cuerpos auto/controlados. La dominación de las mujeres en la Iglesia Antigua" notes that although the religious/patriarchal control over the bodies of women is not original to the Christian Church, Christianity based its control on the supposed second-class status of woman: she was created after man was and had a "carácter inferior y subordinado al hombre en las cosmogonías de las religions del Próximo Oriente, grecorromana judía o cristiana" (255). Christianity, Pedregal argues, progressively adapted and became the heir of a misogynistic and androcentric discourse. The control of women can be found in the forms through which they came under Church domination, but these forms were also used to serve as vehicles for womanly excellence: the first female followers, martyrs, ascetics, wives, and mothers. Céline Martin's "De sacrilegiis extirpandis. Interpretar la legislación contra el paganismo en la Hispania de los siglos VI-VII" grapples with a rather complicated topic that is made more complex by the limited number of sources that focus on paganism in Late Antique Spain. Martin limits the scope of her enquiry by setting these parameters (the definitions of paganism and their implications) and relies on Isidore of Seville as a resource. The last essay in the collection is Raúl González Salinero's "La sinagoga degradada: actitudes y medidas contra una institución ajena a la autoridad de la iglesia," which does a solid job of tracing the transformation of the synagogue from the place in which the seeds of Christianity and Christian proselytizing can be found to it being openly rejected because of its "innumerbales pecados y crímenes" (295). This essay touches upon the rhetoric, artistic imagery, violence, and legislation associated with this drastic change, an excellent way to end a very informative book.

This collection of essays will appeal to all scholars and students of Late Antiquity, the rise and dominance of Christianity, and the internal and external challenges found in this new system of domination. It is a book worth reading and could also serve well as a course text.

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