Flora Gusmão – Response Paper

Response to Visigothic Symposium I, Panel 1: Theology (pdf)

(*En Portugués aquí; En Español aquí; En français ici)

First of all, I would like to thank the team involved in the Visigothic Symposium for the excellent work and for the incredible initiative to create a virtual space allowing the dialogue of different professionals on the Visigothic Kingdom. I believe it will be, and to me it already is, extremely useful for all research on this topic.

This first symposium, about laws and theology, provides a fruitful dialogue between the essays of the participants, from different points of view. Dolores Castro deals with theological issues present in the works of Isidore of Seville, especially how the bishop conceived the creation of man and its consequences based on patristic and biblical sources. The author points out how Isidore selected, organized and adapted these sources according to his contemporary goals, such as the need for an educated clergy to guide the Christian community to salvation and the challenge of a heterogeneous reality that could threaten the limits of ecclesiastical control. Thus, the bishop relied on patristic teachings, especially from Augustine, to provide his readers, especially the Visigothic clergy, with an appropriate orthodox education.

In this sense, we can also think of a point addressed by Eleonora Dell’Elicine, that the great majority of sources that became available were written by Christian authors, in the Visigothic case, by members of the higher ranks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Therefore, the interests of this group are clearly present in these sources, as we see in Isidore’s case, in his choice to use earlier Christian patristic writings and biblical passages to educate the clergy in orthodoxy, as well as to use certain theological questions to emphasize the need for and importance of this clergy to the Christian community.

In the essay of Isabel Velázquez we also find this question, but mainly about the Visigothic monarchs. The author emphasizes, just as I try to emphasize in my essay, that the relations, conflictual or cordial, between the church and the monarchy in Visigothic Hispania are narrow. Velázquez rightly argues that the two institutions should not be thought of separately, and that the history of the seventh century cannot be understood without considering the relationship between monarchy and ecclesiastical institution. In her article, she works with what she regards as evidence of this complex relationship, the leges in confirmatione concilii. Those laws were promulgated by Visigothic kings in council assemblies, where they were to be sanctioned by ecclesiastical authorities.

We can again observe that the sources that we explore today exhibit the vision and interests of a specific portion of the Visigothic Kingdom, composed essentially by the ecclesiastical body, important members of the aristocracy and members of the monarchy. This is what we also see in the Liber Iudiciorum’s production process, which, despite being legislation that should be followed by all the inhabitants of the kingdom, was significantly composed by these characters, who were also present in the councils.

Velázquez’s article deals with issues very close to what I deal with in my research. The author works with the laws promulgated by kings in councils to be sanctioned by members of the episcopacy, while I try to show in my essay the role of the bishop in the Visigothic kingdom from the analysis of a legislative corpus that we associate more frequently with the civil sphere. What we can notice in both proposals is the direct dialogue between monarchy and Visigothic church figures, the presence of ecclesiastical questions in the civil legislative code, and the presence of laws and interests of the Visigothic monarchy in a religious legislative corpus.

Velázquez, furthermore, draws attention to the fact that many times the role of the church in Visigothic Hispania has been treated, in relation to the legislative and conciliar aspects, as autonomous and independent of royal legislation. What we can perceive in analyzing the legislative processes of the Visigothic kingdom is that this is not confirmed, but rather that both monarchy and Visigothic church participated in some way in the legislative efforts of one another.

Another aspect that we can note in this symposium’s essays is the theme of power relations, which must always be considered a key part of the Visigothic period. Not only the already well-mentioned relationship between the church and the monarchy, which, although close, was not free from conflict, but also internal problems in both institutions were connected with the relations of power in the kingdom. This aspect is very much present in the essay written by Eleonora Dell’Elicine, who questions the repression of pagan practices and their direct relation to power disputes. The author deals specifically with the case of King Ervig, who came to power through the overthrow of Wamba and hence needed measures that would reinforce his role as a Christian king.

Jacques Elfassi’s essay brings us once again to reflect on the sources we use for the study of the Visigothic Kingdom. In his article, the author presents a new vision of Isidore of Seville’s Sententiae chapter I in order to address a question that I think is extremely relevant for researchers of the kingdom: even with a chapter that already has been well studied – in this case by a philologist and a theologian – there are always new discoveries to be made.

What caught my attention in this symposium was, as mentioned above, the production of the sources that we have access to for researching the Visigothic Kingdom, the relation between monarchy and church that cannot be ignored when working with the Visigoths, and how much we can still learn and research about them. As Elfassi shows in his article, it is still necessary to conduct studies on the documents that have come to us, to discuss and debate with researchers from different fields about these sources, and to take certain care in analyzing them, as always to take into account their processes of production, their author or authors, and everything it took to get to us.

I believe what the development of this incredible symposium has shown us, as Jacques Elfassi says, is that there are always new discoveries to be made, that is, we can always present new points of view from different perspectives and professional fields on the sources of the Visigothic Kingdom. And we must explore these discoveries with other researchers, to converse and share our knowledge about this important, rich and complex conjuncture that was the Visigothic Kingdom.


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