Hunters, Inquisitors, and Scholars: The Construction and Demarcation of Expertise in the Manuals of Frederick II and Bernard Gui

At first glance, the practical manual by Emperor Frederick II (1194–1250) and the one by the inquisitor Bernard Gui (1261–1331) do not seem to have any specific features in common. Whereas the first treatise, De arte venandi cum avibus (1240s), deals with the art of falconry,[1] the latter work, Practica officii inquisitionis (1323–24), aims to provide useful knowledge for the inquisitor.[2] Each work has been repeatedly acknowledged as an outstanding example in its particular field of knowledge. Little attention, however, has been given to the specific strategies used in the texts to construct and demarcate expertise.

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Both Frederick and Bernard employed a similar strategy of distinguishing their own practical knowledge from the supposedly useless and inexperienced knowledge of learned university scholars. In doing so, they not only participated in a broader discourse of university critics. They in fact used the demarcation to construct the character and nature of their own expertise. Both the specific content of their knowledge and the particular structures in which it was organized were shaped by their individual endeavors to criticize and dismiss a certain type of scholar, whose learned knowledge they depicted as impractical and superfluous.

In his manual, Frederick repeatedly underscored the impracticality of natural philosophy for the specific challenges of hunting. According to him, Aristotle’s book on animal biology (De animalibus), then taught at the universities, was full of superfluous details, not to mention errors. Since Aristotle had never actually practiced the art of hunting, but only repeated what he had read or heard in schools, Frederick considered many of his judgements worthless for practical application.[3] Precisely when Aristotle had become a “new paradigm” for the profession of the university man,[4] Frederick boldly challenged the authority of “the Philosopher” with his personal experience and powers of observation. By way of this demarcation, however, the emperor created a specific type of know-how or expertise as a practical alternative to the verbal and ‘bookish’ culture of the recently established universities.

In doing so, Frederick in fact freely adapted particular elements of a discourse of criticism that emerged almost simultaneously with the European universities around 1200.[5] From the very beginning, the new scholastic learning was criticized by contemporaries for the supposed failure to serve either personal or social needs. Frederick’s creative adaptation of this criticism, combined with his act of demarcation, in effect contributed to the emergence of alternative types of expertise centered on the idea of utility.

The intellectual dynamics, however, which brought about these concepts of practical expertise were obviously somehow connected to specific media. It can hardly be a coincidence that another work of basically the same type, Gui’s famous manual for the inquisitor, evinces an analogous strategy of criticism and demarcation for the purpose of conceptualizing a specific sort of expert knowledge. Again, a prominent manual author’s barb against the incapability of learned scholars converged with a recent development in the expert cultures of the university. Since the beginning of the fourteenth century, learned theologians were frequently consulted in the context of contentious debates about heretical doctrines and writings. When the French king, Philip the Fair (1285–1314), became involved in several explosive struggles with the papacy, the Order of the Templars, and the French mystic Marguerite Porete, the court repeatedly asked the masters of theology at the University of Paris for their learned opinion.[6] In the process, these communicative practices inevitably attributed the social role or status of expert in a certain field of knowledge to a particular group of university scholars, performatively creating a specific type of institutionalized expertise. Bernard Gui, for his part, was not a university man but had acquired his skills through actual experience as a professional inquisitor. In his treatise, therefore, he continuously emphasized that all his knowledge was based on personal observation and direct interaction with heretics. The theologians of the university, by contrast, could easily be deceived by the frauds of the heretics because they lacked practical experience.[7]

These observations do not mean, however, that the practical hunter and experienced inquisitor rejected the authority of learned experts out of hand. As far as the assessment of _writings _was concerned (whether the general classification of animals in natural philosophy or the evaluation of heretical books), both authors accepted the responsibility of the university men. Nevertheless, when it came to the practical application of knowledge, to the practical requirements of falconry and the inquisition, Frederick and Bernard departed radically from their learned counterparts, the natural philosophers and theologians.

By way of a systematic comparison, it can be shown how these two manuals of knowledge, at first glance entirely unconnected, applied the same textual strategy of demarcation, which in turn helped shape the contents and structures of both treatises and bring about two highly original approaches, in which new types of practical and above all empirical knowledge are developed und organized.

Marcel Bubert is an assistant professor (wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter) in the Department of History, University of Münster.

  1. Frederick II, De arte venandi cum avibus, ed. Carl Arnold Willemsen, 2 vols. (Frankfurt a.M., 1964). See Michael Menzel, “Das ‘Falkenbuch’ und die Natur,” in Kaiser Friedrich II. (1194–1250): Welt und Kultur des Mittelmeerraums, ed. Mamoun Fansa (Mainz, 2008) 258–67; Ragnar Kinzelbach, “Kaiser Friedrichs II. De arte venandi cum avibus: Die Arten der Vögel,” in Kaiser Friedrich II., ed. Mamoun, 268–99; Michael Menzel, “Die Jagd als Naturkunst: Zum Falkenbuch Kaiser Friedrichs II.,” in Natur im Mittelalter: Konzepte—Erfahrungen—Wirkungen, ed. Peter Dilg (Berlin 2003) 342–59; and Johannes Fried, Kaiser Friedrich II. als Jäger oder ein zweites Falkenbuch Kaiser Friedrichs II.? (Göttingen, 1996).  ↩
  2. Bernard Gui, Practica officii inquisitionis heretice pravitatis, ed. Guillaume Mollat (Paris, 2007). See Annette Pales-Gobilliard, “Bernard Gui, inquisiteur et auteur de la Practica,” in Inquisition et société en pays d’Oc, ed. Jean-Louis Biget (Toulouse, 2014) 125–32; Jacques Paul, “La mentalité de l’inquisiteur chez Bernard Gui,” in Inquisition et société, ed. Biget, 133–54; Anne-Marie Lamarrigue, Bernard Gui (1261–1331). Un historien et sa méthode (Paris, 2000); and Marie-Humbert Vicaire, ed., Bernard Gui et son monde (Toulouse, 1981).  ↩
  3. Frederick II, De arte venandi cum avibus, 1, 123, 124.  ↩
  4. Charles Lohr, “The Medieval Interpretation of Aristotle,” in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Disintegration of Scholasticism 1100–1600, ed. Norman Kretzmann et al. (Cambridge, UK, 1982), 91.  ↩
  5. Stephen Ferruolo, The Origins of the University: The Schools of Paris and Their Critics, 1100–1215 (Stanford, CA, 1985); and Frank Rexroth, Wenn Studieren blöde macht: Die Kritik an den Scholastikern und die Kritik an Experten während des späteren Mittelalters (Bern, 2015).  ↩
  6. William J. Courtenay, “Learned Opinion and Royal Justice: The Role of Paris Masters of Theology during the Reign of Philip the Fair,” in Law and the Illicit in Medieval Europe, ed. Ruth Mazo Karras, Joel Kaye, and E. Ann Matter (Philadelphia, PA, 2008), 149–63; William J. Courtenay and Karl Ubl, Gelehrte Gutachten und königliche Politik im Templerprozess (Hannover, 2010).  ↩
  7. Bernard Gui, “Practica officii inquisitionis,” 6.  ↩
Suggested citation: Marcel Bubert, “Hunters, Inquisitors, and Scholars: The Construction and Demarcation of Expertise in the Manuals of Frederick II and Bernard Gui,” History of Knowledge, May 15, 2018,