Heretical movements

In centuries which saw so much ferment in the religious life of Western Europe, it is not surprising that movements arose which could not be reconciled with the Catholic Church. We shall probably never learn even the names of all of them. Of those which we know, we must take the space to mention only the more prominent. We hear of heresies in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but in the twelfth century they reached more formidable dimensions.

As we enter upon their description it is well to note a feature which most of them had in common. The leadership and the bulk of the membership were not from the aristocracy but were primarily from the urban populations, merchants and artisans, and, to a less extent, from the peasants. In contrast, most of the monastic movements were initiated and led by members of the landed aristocracy. The striking exception was the Brothers Minor, who, as we have more than once reminded ourselves, were begun by a scion of the city merchant class. Yet it will be remembered that the extreme wing of the Franciscans, composed of those who deemed themselves most loyal to the ideals of their founder, tended to be critical of the Catholic Church and many of them broke with it. In this contrast is possibly to be seen the beginning of the rootage of the Christian faith among the masses and the consequent stimulation to independent thought and action. The governing groups, on the other hand, as is true of most aristocracies, were conservative and held to the established order.

One of the movements which was frowned upon by the Catholic Church had as its leader Tanchelm. He began to preach in the diocese of Utrecht and early in the twelfth century his views had fairly wide currency in the Low Countries and the Rhine Valley. He attacked the entire structure of the Catholic Church, denied the authority of the Church and of the Pope, and held that at least some of the sacraments were valueless. He was accused of teaching that irregular relations between the sexes affect only the body and not the soul and so are permissible, but this may have been a complete misrepresentation by his enemies. For a time he was imprisoned by the Archbishop of Cologne. In 1115, after his escape, he was killed, allegedly by a priest.

Not far from the same time, early in the twelfth century, Peter of Bruys, himself following a strictly ascetic way of life, rejected the baptism of infants, the Eucharist, church buildings, ecclesiastical ceremonies, prayers tor the dead, and the veneration of the cross. He held that the cross, as the instrument of Christ's death, should be despised rather than honoured. He burned crosses and himself is said to have been burned by an infuriated mob. His followers are sometimes called Petrobrusians. They re-baptized those who joined them, profaned churches, burned crosses, and overthrew altars.

Sometimes classed with Peter of Bruys, but perhaps mistakenly, was Henry of Lausanne. Like the former he preached in what is now France and in the first half of the twelfth century. Before his death in 1145 he is said to have attracted a wide following, called Henricians. He taught that the sacraments were valid only when administered by priests who led a life of asceticism and poverty. He condemned the clergy of the day for their love of wealth and power. He was a contemporary of Bernard of Clairvaux. The latter, quick to attack all that he regarded as heresy and so endangering the salvation of souls, preached against Henry and his views in the areas in which they had gained currency.

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