Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Truce of God

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The Truce of God is a temporary suspension of hostilities, as distinct from the Peace of God which is perpetual. The jurisdiction of the Peace of God is narrower than that of the Truce. Under the Peace of God are included only:

  • consecrated persons — clerics, monks, virgins, and cloistered widows;
  • consecrated places — churches, monasteries, and cemeteries, with their dependencies;
  • consecrated times — Sundays, and ferial days, all under the special protection of the Church, which punishes transgressors with excommunication.

At an early date the councils extended the Peace of God to the Church's protégés, the poor, pilgrims, crusaders, and even merchants on a journey. The peace of the sanctuary gave rise to the right of asylum. Finally it was the sanctification of Sunday which gave rise to the Truce of God, for it had always been agreed not to do battle on that day and to suspend disputes in the law-courts. The Truce of God dates only from the eleventh century. It arose amid the anarchy of feudalism as a remedy for the powerlessness of lay authorities to enforce respect for the public peace. There was then an epidemic of private wars, which made Europe a battlefield bristling with fortified castles and overrun by armed bands who respected nothing, not even sanctuaries, clergy, or consecrated days. A Council of Elne in 1027, in a canon concerning the sanctification of Sunday, forbade hostilities from Saturday night until Monday morning. Here may be seen the germ of the Truce of God. This prohibition was subsequently extended to the days of the week consecrated by the great mysteries of Christianity, viz., Thursday, in memory of the Ascension, Friday, the day of the Passion, and Saturday, the day of the Resurrection (council 1041). Still another step included Advent and Lent in the Truce. Efforts were made in this way to limit the scourge of private war without suppressing it outright. The penalty was excommunication. The Truce soon spread from France to Italy and Germany; the oecumenical council of 1179 extended the institution to the whole Church by Canon xxi, "De treugis servandis", which was inserted in the collection of canon law (Decretal of Gregory IX, I, tit., "De treuga et pace"). The problem of the public peace which was the great desideratum of the Middle Ages was not solved at one stroke, but at least the impetus was given. Gradually the public authorities, royalty, the leagues between nobles (Landfrieden), and the communes followed the impulse and finally restricted war to international conflicts.

SEMICHON, La paix et la treve de Dieu (Paris 1869); HUBERTI, Gottes und Landfrieden (Ansbach, 1892).

CH. MOELLER