8 J. Comp. L. 141 (2013-2014)
On Buddhism and Natural Law

handle is hein.journals/jrnatila8 and id is 479 raw text is: REBECCA FRENCH

On Buddhism and Natural Law
SUNY Buffalo School of Law *
In the mid 13th century, a Flemish Franciscan missionary named William of Rubruck,
who was in attendance with Louis IX, the King of France, in Constantinople on the
Seventh Crusade, was ordered by the King on a special mission. With a small caravan,
he left Constantinople and embarked on a thousand mile trip east, across Central Asia,
to Karokorum in central Mongolia, the capital of the Imperial Mongol Court of Mongke
Temur, called the Fifth Khan of the Golden Horde. Historians have presented at least two
reasons for this trip: first, the desire of the French King to have Mongol support against
the Muslims in the Crusades, and second, the conversion of the Khan and the Mongols
to Christianity. This trip is interesting for our purposes because he was travelling just
as Thomas Aquinas had been ordained a Dominican friar and returned to the theology
faculty in Paris. The beginning of the drafting of the Summa Theologicae, which was to
consolidate and redefine Christian theology and create the basis for our present inquiry,
Natural Law, was barely ten years off.
Thomas Aquinas probably knew of Rubruck's trip and of other travelers to Asia in his
time, such as Giovanni of Monte Corvino and Marco Polo. Like other educated intellectuals,
Aquinas was also probably aware of the threat to Europe in the form of invasion from
the East. Just fifteen years before, the Mongols, with huge mounted crossbow armies
under Batu and Subutai Khan, had attacked what are now Poland and Hungary. Mongke
Temur Khan had ridden with Batu Khan in the siege of Kiev in 1240, and attacked and
laid waste to the Caucasuses and Ukraine. In several different battles starting in 1241, the
Mongols defeated Duke Henry II in Liepsitz, Poland, routed King Bela IV of Hungary at
the battle of Mohi, crossed the Danube and ravaged central Hungary, then moved south
into Transylvania and within striking distance of Vienna. Then, in 1246, the entire Mongol
army retreated back to Mongolia due to internal politics: all of the warrior Khans were
grandsons of Genghis Khan, and with the death of Ogodei Khan, his successor had to
be chosen in a meeting of all the family members. What this series of events meant was
that King Louis IX of France, sitting in Constantinople on the Seventh Crusade, was very
concerned about the allegiances of the Mongol Emperors. As the religious and political
positions of the Mongol Khans were understandably a very serious concern for major
political leaders in all of Europe at the time, the King decided to send a small special
mission to the Mongol court.
William of Rubruck's trip took three years and resulted in one of the most famous
documents on medieval travel besides Marco Polo's record of his trip with his father and
* I would like to thank Josh Coene and Katie Grennell for their research for this article, Linda Kelly and Josh
Coene for editing and Russell Wilcox for organizing the conference at which this was presented.
JCL 8:2     141

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