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“Argument, Proof, and the Judgment of God: The Ordeal in Medieval Theory and Practice” – Michael Heil
November 1, 2016 @ 7:00 pm
Irrational, violent, cruel: few phenomena seem to embody the pejorative sense of the word “medieval” better than the judicial ordeal (trial by fire, by water, by battle, and the like). But in medieval Europe the ordeal was intimately bound up with modes of thought and legal processes the are more recognizable to us. The first part of this talk will explore medieval theories of the efficacy of the ordeal (called the “judgment of God”) as well as medieval criticisms of it. The second part of the talk will explore the ordeal in practice: the kinds of cases in which the ordeal was used, the frequency with which it was used, and, especially, the ways in which the ordeal-or the threat of the ordeal-could be deployed alongside other, more “rational” modes of proof and argumentation.