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The War on Heresy: Faith and Power in Medieval Europe available in Hardcover
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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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Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One: The Avenging Flames
In 1022 the allegation of heresy among the canons of Orléans was not in itself sufficiently remarkable or shocking to account for the violence of the outcome. Although the threat of heresy was extremely dangerous in principle it did not in practice inspire widespread or urgent anxiety. Accusations were not uncommon, and not usually particularly serious. They were part of the currency of debate, and especially of disputes over property and office like those in the diocese of Orléans which lay behind the trial in 1022. They generally went no further. The label was used and intended for rhetorical effect, neither alleging nor implying specific errors of doctrine. Abbo of Fleury often likened his opponents (including the bishop of Orléans) to ancient heretics, especially when he was accusing them of usurping revenues which he thought rightfully belonged to his church. Fulbert of Chartres called a layman, Count Raginard of Sens, a heretic for the same reason. Sometimes it was used simply as a term of general abuse, as when (in the 1040s) Archbishop Adalbert of Hamburg-Bremen became unpopular for despoiling his diocese to fund his political ambitions and ‘everyone hissed him and his followers as though they were heretics.
The repercussions of the Orléans affair are attributable to the high social standing of the accused, the roots of the accusation in the royal court, and the prominence of the king himself in the proceedings. The combination is typical of another kind of accusation, less common than of heresy, but in practice much more serious – that of sorcery. In 1028, for example, Count William of Angoulême died after a lingering and mysterious wasting illness. Before he died his eldest son, Alduin, accused a woman of having caused the illness by witchcraft and had her tortured to extract a confession. She resisted, but three of her friends, tortured in their turn, did not. Acting on the information thus secured Alduin’s men dug up from various places of concealment figures of the count which the women confessed to having buried. Count William from his sickbed ordered the women pardoned, but Alduin, engaged in a bitter succession dispute with his younger brother, had them burned as soon as his father was dead. Alduin succeeded his father, but his sons did not succeed him. A fine modern analysis confirms the obvious suspicion that the witchcraft (which later rumors attributed to Alduin’s wife) was fabricated to cover up Alduin’s own part in his father’s death. Such episodes cropped up intermittently throughout the middle ages, especially when ambitious newcomers sought to discredit and displace courtiers of traditional status and influence, or the old hands to disparage the upstarts. In 834, for example, Lothar, rebellious son of the Emperor Louis the Pious, had Gerberga, sister of Count Bernard of Septimania, tortured and thrown into the river Saône in a barrel, to be drowned as a witch. It was a time, like the aftermath of the Capetian succession in 987, when factional rivalry was particularly intense and political legitimacy vulnerable to challenge.
The resemblance of the Orléans affair to a sorcery trial is one more confirmation that the tensions and motives that lay behind it were essentially political. But there was a crucial difference. To accuse a ruler’s servants or intimates of sorcery did not implicate the ruler himself. On the contrary, by suggesting that he had been deceived or himself attacked by the sorcerer’s magic it cast him as an innocent victim, allowing him to accept without losing face what was in fact a political reverse. This was the function of the sorcery-like elements, the secrecy and the orgies, with which Paul of St. Père, so long after, the event embellished his account of the activities of Stephen and Lisois.
Table of Contents
List of Maps ix
List of Illustrations x
Prologue: Death arid a maiden 1
Part 1 Cry Havoc
1 The avenging flames 13
2 The gift of the Holy Spirit 32
3 The apostolic life 45
4 Monks, miracles and Manichees 56
5 The simoniac heresy 71
6 Routing out these detestable plagues 87
7 Sowers of the word 104
8 Sheep in the midst of wolves 127
9 Making enemies 143
Part 2 The Dogs of War
10 Exposed to contumely and persecution 165
11 Sounding the alarm 184
12 Drawing the lines 204
13 Speaking of principles 215
14 The enemy at the gate 228
15 To war and arms 241
16 Politics by other means 264
17 The sleep of reason 274
18 The vineyard of the lord 298
Epilogue: A winter journey 327
Afterword: The war among the scholars 332
Further Reading 343
Biographical Index of Names 358