Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain

Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain

by Seth Kimmel

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Parables of Coercion: Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain by Seth Kimmel

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, competing scholarly communities sought to define a Spain that was, at least officially, entirely Christian, even if many suspected that newer converts from Islam and Judaism were Christian in name only. Unlike previous books on conversion in early modern Spain, however, Parables of Coercion focuses not on the experience of the converts themselves, but rather on how questions surrounding conversion drove religious reform and scholarly innovation.
            In its careful examination of how Spanish authors transformed the history of scholarship through debate about forced religious conversion, Parables of Coercion makes us rethink what we mean by tolerance and intolerance, and shows that debates about forced conversion and assimilation were also disputes over the methods and practices that demarcated one scholarly discipline from another.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226278315
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 10/12/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Seth Kimmel is assistant professor of Latin American and Iberian cultures at Columbia University. He lives in New York.

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Parables of Coercion

Conversion and Knowledge at the End of Islamic Spain

By Seth Kimmel

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-27831-5


Legible Conversions

In December 1499, Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros wrote to Pope Alexander VI to report baptizing three thousand Muslims from Granada and the surrounding region in an enormous public ceremony. Wearing his habit and sporting the customary tonsure of a Franciscan friar, Cisneros cast holy water from the baptismal cup upon the Muslim throng. These mudéjares, as peninsular Muslims living under Christian political authority were called, had little choice but to attend the mass conversion. Since his return to Granada with the court of King Fernando and Queen Isabel several months prior, Cisneros had taken an increasingly provocative stance toward the city's Muslim residents. With tacit consent of the reyes católicos, Cisneros had begun patrolling the Albaicín, Granada's sprawling Muslim neighborhood, in order to interrogate women and children about their beliefs and practices. He unsettled the local population with his imposing personal guard of two hundred men. And in a direct affront to Archbishop Hernando de Talavera's dedication to language study, he had begun publicly burning thousands of Arabic books. Some potential converts undoubtedly were intrigued by the patient example set by Talavera during his seven-year tenure as Granada's first archbishop, and others may have been keen on the economic advantages that conversion afforded, but the majority attended the mass baptism ceremony because of Cisneros's program of intimidation.

Cisneros's return to Granada at the dawn of the sixteenth century signaled a shift in peninsular approaches to evangelization. Signed in late 1491 and ostensibly marking the conclusion of the centuries long reconquista, as Christian rulers' expansion into peninsular territory controlled by Islamic sovereigns has become known, the Capitulations of Granada guaranteed the vanquished population the right to practice Islam freely. Nevertheless, King Fernando and Queen Isabel quickly appointed Talavera, then confessor to the queen, as archbishop of the newly conquered city. Charged with transforming Granada from an Islamic capital to a Christian "frontier city," to borrow the historian David Coleman's phrase, Talavera began an intensive missionary campaign. As his early modern biographer José de Sigüenza recalled in a history of the Hieronymite order, first published in 1600, Talavera encouraged the participation of the conquered population in the life of the Church by allowing Arabic language and traditional Moorish music during Christian prayer. He also tried to incorporate the local population into the Christian community by regularly inviting influential Muslims to dine at his Granadan residence. And according to the Morisco negotiator Francisco Núñez Muley, whose late sixteenth-century treatise I examine in more detail below, he traveled to recondite villages in the region's Alpujarras Mountains to perform mass. This economy of hospitality and persuasion had practical as well as symbolic aims. Canon law might not prohibit the Arab and Berber custom of feasting on rug-covered floors rather than seated at tables, for instance, but encouraging Muslims to pick up the eating habits of Old Christians, Talavera reasoned, would facilitate both religious education and social assimilation. Talavera treated accommodatio as a two-way street, urging Christians and Muslims to adapt to each other's modes of eating, bathing, working, and speaking. For Talavera and his fellow clergy, this flexibility constituted the essence of pastoral charity, and for the defeated Muslims it was a sign of political and religious goodwill. Talavera was willing to allow the pedagogical process of conversion to run its circuitous course.

Talavera's forbearance, however, did not yield results. Accommodation had worked for Paul, the most famous and effective of early Christian missionaries and a model for Talavera and his crew of evangelizers, but the new archbishop of Granada was not successful at luring the conquered Muslim population to Christianity during the crucial first seven years of his tenure. Granada's Muslims may very well have admired the archbishop's perseverance and integrity, as Sigüenza and other late sixteenth-century hagiographers maintained, but the majority did not convert to Christianity. When King Fernando and Queen Isabel returned to Granada in 1499, they found the still unassimilated Muslim population that they had conquered more than a half decade earlier. As a result, upon departing the city that same year, they left Cisneros to help jump-start the evangelization effort. Recognizing Talavera's pastoral failure and his own royal mandate, Cisneros sought the formal victory of swift, mass conversions. At least in the short term, that is, Cisneros and the reyes católicos were less concerned with encouraging the indigenous Muslim population to embrace the Christian faith than with establishing the Muslims' legal status as Christian subjects bound by canon law. Provoked by this new approach, Muslims from Granada and the surrounding Alpujarras Mountains revolted. After this First Alpujarras War in 1501, the Crown insisted that the uprising had voided any previous guarantee of religious freedom. The entire Granadan Muslim population was compelled either to embrace Christianity as the price of royal pardon or to leave the peninsula altogether. A year later, Muslims throughout the Kingdom of Castile faced the same grim choice of conversion or emigration.

Other major centers of peninsular Islam eventually went the way of Castile. Stung by the sarcastic barbs of his French rival King Francis I, Carlos V decided to apply the Castilian mandate to Valencian and Aragonese Muslims in December 1525 and January 1526, respectively. Having been captured in the Battle of Pavia in February 1525 by imperial troops and imprisoned in the Valencian Castillo de Benisano, Francis I had wryly wondered aloud why men dressed like Muslims were working the land outside his cell window on a Christian day of rest. This was not exactly what one would have expected in territory ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor, quipped the jailed rex Francorum christianissimus, the most Christian King of the Franks. Despite the efforts of the churchman and humanist Antonio de Guevara, who boasted of baptizing no less than twenty-seven thousand Muslim households in Valencia alone during the 1520s, Valencian and Aragonese mudéjares, as well as their already-converted Morisco countrymen, continued to enjoy a great deal of local cultural and religious autonomy well into the sixteenth century. Mudéjares and Moriscos lived in shared neighborhoods, dressed and spoke similarly, and remained connected by myriad blood and social bonds. In both Granada and Valencia, two cities frequented by foreign tourists and diplomats, this confusion of demographic boundaries belied the crusader rhetoric employed for centuries to inspire and justify Christian occupation of Islamic lands. Although there had existed large communities of mudéjares since the thirteenth century, when Christian expansion began to gather steam — King Jaume I of Aragon conquered Valencia in 1238 and King Fernando III of Castile and Leon took Cordoba in 1236 and Seville in 1248 — after the surrender of Granada in 1492, religious diversity in traditional centers of peninsular Islam became a geopolitical embarrassment first to Fernando and Isabel and then to Carlos V. The coerced conversions of the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century were in part an effort to protect the image of peninsular piety.

Yet these conversions were not immediately enforced. Under pressure from regional nobility seeking to safeguard the rents paid to them by Morisco tenant farmers, the Crown granted New Christians from Granada, Valencia, and Aragon temporary or partial reprieves from inquisition, along with delayed implementation of prohibitions on Arabic language, traditional garb, and other markers of Morisco distinctiveness. Subsequent lobbying and bribes by Morisco negotiators and their noble allies resulted in the postponement of at least six successive edicts whose goals were to regulate the minority community more rigidly. This policy of dispensation, which lasted well into the 1560s, prompts the fundamental question: What did the mass conversions like those celebrated by Cisneros and Guevara accomplish?

The inability to nurture Christian orthodoxy among the Moriscos after their conversion may have been a pastoral failure, but it was an unmitigated professional victory. For specialized legal disputes about the efficacy of the sacraments and the orthodoxy of dissimulation, examined over the first half of this chapter, influenced the terminology of imperial apologetics. By insisting upon the binding nature of the dubious Muslim baptisms, the churchmen who served in the Holy Office and advised the Crown presented the case for their own role in political affairs. In this way, I argue, Augustinian discourses of coercion and ritual efficacy became a lingua franca. This was true not only among Old Christian scholars with or without formal scholastic training and writing in Spanish as well as Latin, but also, as we will see in the second half of the chapter, among Moriscos too. From the forced conversions of the early sixteenth century to the Morisco expulsions of the early seventeenth century, these juridical disputes shaped peninsular paradigms of spiritual discipline and religious reform. However logical as a point of departure, to examine the legacy of Cisneros and Guevara's juridical sleight of hand is nevertheless not only to study the professional motivations of peninsular churchmen. It is also to trace the medieval precedents for such pragmatism and to reconstruct the available critical responses to it. These learned disputes about the acceptability of coercion and the feasibility or desirability of assimilation entailed a renewed consideration of the relationship between belief and ritual, the meaning of conversion, and the power of the law in a transatlantic empire.


By muddling the clarity of conventional categories of religious difference, the mass conversions of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century confused an already complicated taxonomy of legal authority. Were these converts, many of whom continued to participate in Islamic rituals and subscribe to their old beliefs, actually Christians? If so, what measure of compulsory participation in the Christian community and obligatory adherence to canon law was licit, and how should resistance to such compulsion be measured? Alternatively, had this population been baptized illegally? Were these apparent converts to Christianity in fact still Muslims who merely lived under Christian rule? If so, to what extent were these mudéjares obliged to listen to peaceful preachers of the gospels but free to believe and practice as they pleased? These were the questions before King Carlos V and recently named inquisitor-general Cardinal Alonso Manrique in late 1524 and early 1525. After Manrique requested a series of inquiries into the recent Valencian baptisms, he and the Crown organized a meeting of leading peninsular theologians and political advisors to consider both the newly collected Valencian evidence and established Church precedent relevant to the previous three decades' suspect baptisms. As Henry Charles Lea demonstrated, the objective of the resulting Council of Madrid, which met for twenty-two days in the Franciscan convent of Madrid in the spring of 1525, was to provide a sense of closure and legitimacy to the recent Muslim conversions. Carlos V had already applied to Pope Clement VII to release him from his oath not to compel Muslims to accept Christianity, and Manrique, an erstwhile erasmista who sought to consolidate his new peninsular-wide authority and reputation, could scarcely abide limitations on the Holy Office's jurisdiction. In hindsight, the council's decision was overdetermined from the outset.

This decision drew on ample medieval precedent. Collecting arguments that prohibited the compulsory conversion of nonbelievers was, of course, no great challenge. In a discussion of coercion and baptism in his encyclopedic thirteenth-century commentary the Summa theologica, Thomas Aquinas argued, for example, that nonbelievers "by no means should be compelled to the faith [ad fidem compellendi] in order that they may believe." Aquinas did not, however, offer a comprehensive ban on religious coercion. The Church may justifiably submit Christians to "bodily compulsion" (corporaliter compellendi) so that, in Aquinas's allusion to the baptism ceremony, "they may fulfill what they have promised and hold what they at one time received." Both Aquinas and the delegates at the Council of Madrid three centuries later drew on the arguments approved by the Council IV of Toledo, convened in 633 and probably headed by the famous grammarian and theologian Isidore of Seville. In Isidore's seventh-century Visigothic Spain, Christian clerics were concerned about apostatizing converts to Christianity from Judaism rather than Islam, whose first followers had only recently begun to cohere around the Prophet Muhammad, but the core question of how to foster the integration of new converts while still clearly defining Christian orthodoxy paralleled the concerns of the Madrid delegates. The scholars at Toledo hewed a middle way, agreeing to discipline New Christian apostates while separating Jews and Christians in the cultural sphere. Although this latter, anti-Jewish aspect of the Toledo opinion was part of a decades-long trend toward peninsular balkanization, Isidore and his interlocutors nevertheless did seem, at least at first glance, to prohibit the forced baptism of Jews: "Therefore not by violence but by the free faculty of persuasion they may be converted," declared article 57 of the council's tractate. "They may not be impelled." In this reading, the medieval sources prohibited the coercion of nonbelievers and permitted the coercion of Christians.

The challenge in the seventh and sixteenth centuries alike was to determine the course of pastoral action when the line between nonbelievers and Christians was blurry. Acknowledging this dilemma, the Toledo delegates qualified their prohibition on the coercion of nonbelievers. Although "long ago" baptized Jews were "forced to Christianity," the fact remained that they "were anointed with the cross, and received the body and blood of our Lord." There could be no undoing of such sacramental efficacy, however dubious or remote. The delegates argued that the ban on compulsory conversions applied only to future baptisms: "No one shall hereafter force them to belief" (nemini deinceps ad credendum vim inferre) (emphasis mine), reads a passage shortly following the apparently comprehensive prohibition mentioned above. Technically a ban on future violence, the crucial "hereafter" also validated prior violence. Echoing Augustine's fifth-century assessment that even baptisms performed by heretical priests were binding, the delegates at the Council IV of Toledo thus underscored both the temporal dilemma of the theologian's ex post facto analysis and the physical nature of the baptism ritual. Neither priestly nor New Christian insincerity, Augustine and the seventh- and sixteenth-century delegates all insisted, could nullify a properly performed sacrament. Given their presupposition that the coerced baptisms of the past were binding, it is no surprise that the Toledo representatives, like their Madrid counterparts nearly a millennium later, contended that it was the solemn responsibility of the baptized not to disrespect their new co-religionists. If the converts' legitimate complaint of coercion did not negate the juridical force of past baptisms, it went without saying that the failure to fulfill the ensuing Christian responsibilities was just cause for punishment. Emphasizing the efficacy of ritual in order to widen the ramparts of the Church, Augustine had employed Luke's parable of the banquet to defend coercive inclusion.

One of the major stumbling blocks to answering this Augustinian line of reasoning was the legally contentious issue of rebaptism. The sacrament of baptism was effective, but rebaptism risked appearing as farce. That is, by pretending to accomplish previously completed work, a second baptism called into question the legitimacy of the first. Medieval canon lawyers fretted about this issue, devising ritual workarounds that in retrospect may seem comical but were deadly serious at the time. For example, this was the formula suggested by the early thirteenth-century pope Gregory IX to clergy celebrating a baptism but uncertain about the status of the baptized: "If you are baptized, then I do not baptize you," the celebrant was supposed to say upon pouring the holy water, "but if you are not baptized, I baptize you, & etc." Bishop of Guadix Martín Pérez de Ayala and his fellow participants in the 1554 Synod of Guadix, which addressed the continuing failure of Morisco assimilation two decades after the Council of Madrid, reiterated this sort of dramaturgical legalese. Here was an attempt to protect the integrity of the sacraments while forestalling the accusation of institutional inconsistency or indifference. Forced baptism and rebaptism were parallel in this sense. On the one hand, the Church was eager to avoid the needless loss of souls. On the other hand, more flexible baptismal practice risked undercutting the Church's claim to efficacy. It is no coincidence that Gregory titled his commentary on baptism "On Baptism and Its Effects," for these debates about baptism were proxies for the display of canon law's power and reach. Despite the protests of some attendees, including the prominent canon lawyer Jaime Benet, the sixteenth-century Council of Madrid presented all nonbelievers of the past as potential apostates of the future. In so doing, they followed their predecessors at the Council IV of Toledo in seeking to justify conversion, like reconciliation, as a punitive ordeal, even as they also attempted to guarantee the freedom of faith and cogency of judicial reason. In sum, to historicize the relationship between compulsion and ritual was theological pragmatism with eminent orthodox precedent.


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Table of Contents

Contents Introduction: To Join the Banquet Chapter One. Legible Conversions Chapter Two. Glossing Faith Chapter Three. Polyglot Forms Chapter Four. Heterodoxy in Translation Chapter Five. War Stories Chapter Six. Archives of Failure Conclusion: Excavating Islamic Spain Acknowledgments Notes Bibliography Index

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