Law and History Review


“Apply to Muslims What Was Said of the Jews:” Popes and Canonists Between a Taxonomy of Otherness and Infidelitas

Stefan K. Stantchev 

This article analyzes the targets of papal policies on Christians' relations with non-(Roman)Christians contained in canon law's On Jews, Saracens, and Their Servants in a historical period that has attracted comparatively little attention: the mid-thirteenth to the late fifteenth century. It argues the inherent ambiguity of the normative discourse on “proper” relations with “infidels.” On the one hand, popes and canonists faithfully preserved a taxonomy of otherness inherited from the church's ancient past. On the other hand, they often reduced all difference to the pastoral distinction between flock and “infidels.” The conflation of non-Christians occurred in multiple ways: through the explicit extension of a specific policy's targets, overt canonistic discussion, the tacit application of the law to analogous situations, or its simplification for use in the confessional. As a result, a number of policies aimed originally at a specific target were applied to all non-Christians. In the course of the later Middle Ages, a whole group of policies meant to define Christians' proper relations with others became potentially applicable against all non-Christians. In the words of a widely, if regionally disseminated, penitential work, all that was said of the Jews applies to the Muslims and all that was said of heretics, applies to schismatics.


Stefan K. Stantchev is an Assistant Professor of History in the School of Hummanities, Arts, and Cultural Studies at New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University <>.


  The author thanks James Muldoon for his encourgement, support, and comments on different aspects of the author's work on this subject; Richard Helmholz, Jonathan Rose, David Freidenreich, Thomas A. Green, and the anonymous reviewers of Law and History Review for their comments and suggestions; Laurent Mayali for a Robbins Collection fellowship, which was essential in its preparation; and the staff at the Robbins Collection, UC Berkeley School of Law; the Newberry Library, Chicago; the Hispanic Society of America, New York; and Princeton Libraries for their cooperation. All errors and omissions remain the sole and full responsibility of the author. A note on transcriptions: except for extended standard abbreviations, the Latin, Italian, and Spanish texts herein appear exactly as they do in the manuscripts, incunables, and modern editions consulted; this includes undifferentiated words.