Between 1000 and 1250, the Catholic Church confronted the threat of heresy with increasing force. Some of the most portentous events in medieval history-the Cathar crusade, the persecution and mass burnings of heretics, the papal inquisition established to identify and suppress beliefs that departed from the true religion-date from this period. Fear of heresy molded European society for the rest of the Middle Ages and beyond, and violent persecutions of the accused left an indelible mark. Yet, as R. I. Moore suggests, the version of these events that has come down to us may be more propaganda than historical reality.
Popular accounts of heretical events, most notably the Cathar crusade, are derived from thirteenth-century inquisitors who saw organized heretical movements as a threat to society. Skeptical of the reliability of their reports, Moore reaches back to earlier contemporaneous sources, where he learns a startling truth: no coherent opposition to Catholicism, outside the Church itself, existed. The Cathars turn out to be a mythical construction, and religious difference does not explain the origins of battles against heretic practices and beliefs.
A truer explanation lies in conflicts among elites-both secular and religious-who used the specter of heresy to extend their political and cultural authority and silence opposition. By focusing on the motives, anxieties, and interests of those who waged war on heresy, Moore's narrative reveals that early heretics may have died for their faith, but it was not because of their faith that they were put to death.
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About the Author
R. I. Moore is Professor Emeritus of Medieval History at Newcastle University.
What People are Saying About This
Beautifully written, measured, searching, and sublimely free from jargon. We are presented with eye-witness accounts that are not knocked into pre-conceived patterns. The effect is to draw the reader into not just the story but into how the story became a story in the first place. Inevitably this affords a double-take perspective, in which history and stories excitingly grow together and the reader becomes a participant.
René Weis, University College London
This is a jaw-dropping book – a brilliant demonstration of how Catharism, far from existing as an independent phenomenon, was in truth a phantasm conjured up from the nightmares and ambitions of those who went looking for it. Thrilling, unsettling, revelatory.
Tom Holland, author of Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom
Fierce competition for power produces fierce discursive competition. In this grand and sane book, armed with many lights (intelligence, narrative skill, learning) R. I. Moore re-enters the territory of Europe's ferocious medieval competition for theological orthodoxy; wherever he ventures, he illumines what had been dark.
James Simpson, Harvard University
The War on Heresy is social and religious history at its best, the fruit of many decades of intense engagement with one of the most complex and difficult problems of medieval history. With admirable clarity, R. I. Moore tells the deeply troubling story of how heretics became a persecuted minority, not so much because of their beliefs, but because of the anxieties, needs, and ambitions of their persecutors. This is a masterfully researched and deeply thought book that tells its exciting and still relevant story with verve and with sympathy for the victims of the war on heresy.
Anders Winroth, Yale University