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Caesarius of Heisterbach: Medieval Heresies

From Dialogue on Miracles V

CHAPTER XX. Of the Waldensian heresy in the city of Metz.

CHAPTER XXI. Of the heresy of the Albigenses.

CHAPTER XXII.Of the heretics burned at Paris.



Of the Waldensian heresy in the city of Metz.

A few years ago, under the learned bishop Bertram, the Waldensian heresy sprang up in the city of Metz in the following way. On a certain feast the bishop was preaching to the people in the cathedral, when he saw two of the devils servants ftanding in the crowd and cried: " I see the devil's messengers among you. See, the there are the men," pointing to them with his finger," who in my presence were condemned at Montpellier and cast out of the city for their heresies." They replied bodly to the bishop, and they had in their company a scholar, who barked at him like a dog attacking him with every kind of insult. When they left the church, they gathered a crowd round them and preached their errors to them. Some of the clerks present said to them: " Sirs, does not the Apostle say, How shall they preach, except they be sent (Rom. x. 15)? We should like to know who sent you hither to preach," and they replied: " The Holy Spirit." Now the bishop was unable to use force against them, owing to certain powerful citizens, who befriended them in hatred of the bishop, because he had expelled from the church a certain dead usurer, their relative. In truth they had been sent out by the spirit of error, and by their preaching the Waldensiann heresy was planted in that city, this day is not wholly extinguished.

Novice.-Alas I that there should be even to-day so many heresies in the church.

Monk.-They are the fruit of the fury and malice of the devil.


Of the heresy of the Albigenses.

In the time of pope Innocent [III], the predecessor of the present pope, Honorius, during the strife between Philip and Otto, the rival kings of the Romans, the envy of the devil caused the Albigensian heresy to sprout forth, or to speak more strictly, to ripen. So great was its strength, that all the wheat of the faith of that nation seemed changed into the tares of error. Abbots of our Order with certain bishops were despatched -to root up the tares with the harrow of Catholic teaching; but by the resistance of  the enemy who  had sown those tares they had little success.

Novice.-What was their error?

Monk.-Their leaders had collected some points from the Manichaean dogma, and some of the errors which Origen is said to have written against Periarchon, and very-many which they had fashioned out of their own heads. They follow Manichaeus in believing that there arc two sources of life, a good God and a wicked, i.e., the devil  and they say that the wicked God created all bodies and the good God all souls.

Novice,- Moses makes it certain that God created both soul and body, when he says: The Lord God formed man, i.e. the body, of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 11.- 7) i.e. the soul.

Monk.- If they received Moses and the prophets, there would be no heretics. They deny the ressurrection of the body; they mock at any bencfit coming to the dead from the living ; they say that there is no profit in going to church, or in praying there; and in these things they are worse than Jews or Pagans, who believe them all. They have repudiated baptism, and blaspheme the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Novice.- Why do they endure such severe persecutions from the faithful, if they expect no recompense for them in the future?

Monk.- They say that they look forward to the glory of the spirit. One of the aforesaid abbots,  who was a monk, seeing a certain knight sitting on a horse and talking to his ploughman, and thinking him to be a heretic, as indeed he was, drew near to him and asked: " Will you tell me, good Sir, whose field this is? " and when the other answered that it was his, he continued: " And what do you do with its fruits?" "Both my family," he said, "and I live upon them, and I bestow so , me part of them upon the poor." When the monk went on: " What advantage do you hope to gain from such alms? " the knight made this reply: " That my spirit may walk in glory after death." The monk asked '" Where will it go? " and the knight said: " In accordance with its merit. If it has lived a good life, and won this reward from God, it will, when it leaves my body, enter into that of some future prince or king,. or of some other illustrius personage, in which it will find happiness; or if it has lived ill it will enter the body of someone both poor and wretched, in which it will find suffering." The fool believed, as the other Albigenses do, that, in accordance with its merit, the soul will pass through different bodies, even those of animals and reptiles.

Novice.- What a foul heresy I

Monk.- Thc errors of the Albigenses spread to such an extent that in a short time it had infected more than a thousand towns, and if it had not been cut back by the swords of the faithful I think it would have corrupted the whole of Europe. In the year of our Lord 1210,  a crusade was agairist the Albigenses throughout Germany and France, and in the following year there arose against them from Germany, Leopold, Duke of Austria, Engilbert, then provost, and afterwards archbishop of Cologne, and his brother Adolphus, Count of Altcnberg, William, Count of Juhch, and many others of all ranks and dignities. The same thing took place in France, Normandy and Poitou; and the preacher and leader of them all was Arnold, abbot of Citcaux, afterwards bishop of Narbonne.

When they came to the great city of Beziers; which is said to have contained more than a hundred thousand men, they laid siege to it ; and in the sight of them all the heretics defiled in an unspeakable manner the book of the sacred gospel; and then cast it from the wall towards the Christians, and sending arrows after it, cried: " There is your law, miserable wretches!" But Christ, the author of the gospel, did not suffcr such an insult to be hurled at Him unavenged. For some of His followers, burning with zeal for the faith, placed ladders against the wall, and like lions, after the example of those of whom we read in the book of the Maccabbees (2 Macc.xi.ii), fearlessly climbed the walls, and while the hcretics were stricken with panic from on high and fled, they opened the gates to the others, and so gained possession of the city.

When they discovered, from the admissions of some of them, that there were Catholics mingled with the heretics they said the toeh abbot "Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics." The abbot, like the others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be catholics, and after their departure, would return to their heresy, and is said to have replied "Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His (2 Tim. ii. 19) and so countless number in that town were slain.

By the Divine favour, they also gained possession of another large town, near Toulouse, called The Beautiful Valley, from its position. When the people there were examined, and all the rest had professed themselves willing to return to the faith, there remained four hundred and fifty, whom the devil hardened in their obstinacy; and of these four hundred were burnt at the stake, and the others hanged Fin on the gallows. The same thing took place in other cities and forts, the wretched folk often giving themselves up to death of their own accord. When the people of Toulouse were brought into the same straits, they promised all satisfaction, but not honestly as was afterwards clear. For the treacherous count of S. Egidius, the prince and leader of all the heretics," after surrendering all his property to the Lateran Council, to wit his lands and his farms, his towns and castles, and after most of them had been occupied by right of war by the good Catholic Simon dc Montfort. betook himself to Toulouse, from which City he still harasses and attacks the faithiul even to this day.

It was only this year that Dom Conrad, cardinal Bishop of Porto, who was sent as legate against the Albigenses, wrote to the chapter of Citeaux that one of the Toulousan nobles had perpetrated so horrible a crime in hatred of Christ and in an attempt to bring confusion upon our faith, that it ought assuredly to anger even the very enemies of Christ themselves.

He had committed an abominable and disgusting outrage by the high altar of the   cathedral, and others, heaping madness upon madness, insulted the Crucifix upon the altar with indescribable villainy; and after this they dragged down the sacred image itself, and cut off the arms, showing themselves far worse than the soldiers of Herod, who spared the dead Saviour, and would not break His legs.

Novice.- Who would not fland stupified before the amazing patience of God!

Monk.- For the Lord is long suffering, but He will in no wise let thee go (Ecclus v.4). He, who punished so terribly in the neck and throat the people of Damietta, because after their victory they had tied a rope round the neck of a crucifix and dragged it through the strects, will by no means clear such blasphemers as these. Before the hosts of the Lord came against the Albigenes- as we have related above, they had invitcd Miralimomelinus, the king of Morroco, to come in to their  help: and he crossed over from Africa into Spain with so incredible a host that he looked to overrun the whole of Europe. He even sent a message to pope Innocent that he intended to stable his horses in the portico of S. Peter's, and to plant his standard on the church. This indeed was partly carried out, though not at all in the way he had intended. For because God abases the proud, at that very time, in the year of grace 1212, on the 16th day of July, 40,000 fighting men of his arm were slain ; while he himself fled to Seville, and died there of grief. His principal standard was captured in the fight, and sent to Innocent, who set it up in S. Peter's to the glory of Christ.

Let this be enough about the Albigenses.

Novice.- If there had been learned men among these heretics, perhaps they would not have strayed so far.

Monk.- When learned men begin to fall into error, they are driven by the devil to display even greater amd more grievious folly than the illiterate.




Of the heretics burned at Paris.

At the same time as this outbreak of the Albigensian heresy, it happened in the city of Paris, which is the fountain of all knowledge and the well of the Holy Scriptures, that persuasion of the devil instilled a strangc perversity of intellect into several learned men. se were their names: Master William of Poitou, a subdeacon who had read the classics in Paris and had studied theology there for three years, Bernard, a subdeacon, William, a goldsmith, who was their prophet, Stephen, a priest of Corbeil, Stephen, a priest of Chelles, John, a priest of Uncinis ; all of them  students except Bernard ; Dudo, the private secretary of Master Almeric, a priest, Elmand, an acolyte, Odo, a deacon, Master Garinus, who had come to Paris for the classics, and who, as a priest, had studied theology under Master Stephen,  archbishop of Canterbury; Ulrich, a priest of Liré, who was more than sixty years old, and had been a student of theology for a long time, Peter of S. Clodowald, another sexagenarian priest and theological student, and Stephen, a deacon of Old Corbeil. At the instigation of the devil these men had elaborated many heresies, and had already preached them in many places.

Novice.- What were the main points on which these men  of ripe age and learning fell into error?

Monk.- They said that the Body of Christ was in the Bread of the altar only in the same way as it was in all bread and in eveything; and that God had spoken through Ovid   in the same way as through Augustine. They denied the resurrection of the body, saying that there was was no Paradise nor hell, but that he had Paradise within himself who possessed the knowledge of God, as they did, while he who was in mortal sin had hell within himself just as a man has a rotten tooth in his mouth. They said it was idolatry to set up altars to the saints, or to burn incense before the sacred images, and that he who   kissed the bones of the martyrs did it with his tongue in his cheek. But the worst blasphemy that they dared to utter was against the Holy Spirit, from Whom is derived all purity and holiness. They said that if anyone were in there spirit, even if he were to commit fornication or any other defilement, yet there would be no sin in him, because that Spirit, who is God, being altogether separate from the flesh, cannot sin, and the man, who is nothing, cannot sin, so long as that Spirit, who is God, is in him ; for it is the same God that worketh all in all (I Cor. xii. 6). From whence they admitted that each one of them was both Christ and the Holy Spirit ; and them was fulfilled that saying of the gospel: False Christs and false prophets shall arise etc. (Matt. xxiv.24). These most unhappy men had utterly worthless arguments of their own with which they strove to support their errors. Their theological perfidy was discovered in the following way. The above mentioned William the goldsmith went to Master Rudolph of Nemours saying that he had been sent by the Lord, and laying before him the ensuing articles of unbelief: " The Father has operated in the Old Testament under certain forms, namely, those of the Law ; in a similar way, the Son under certain forms, such as the Sacrament of the Altar, baptism and so forth. As the forms of the Law fell at the first coming of Christ, so now all the forms, under which the Son has worked, will fall and the Sacraments come to an end, because the Person of the Holy Spirit will clearly declare Himself in those in whom He has been incarnated, and chiefly will He speak by seven men, one of whom will be William himself." Also he prophesied that within five years these four great plagues must come: the first upon the people, who will be consumed by famine; the second will be the sword, by which the kings will slay each other; in the third the earth will open and swallow up the townsfolk ; and in the fourth fire will come down from heaven upon the prelates of the church, who are the members of Antichrist. For he said that the pope was Antichrist, and Rome was Babylon; for the pope sits upon Mount Olivet, i.e., in the plenitude of power. Now already, thirteen years have passed and yet none of these things have happendd, which the false prophet foretold must come to pass within five years. Further, that he might win the  favour of Philip of France, he added this "All the kingdoms of the earth will be subjed to the king of the Franks and to his son, who will live under the dispensation of the Holy Spirit and will never die ; and there that will be given to the king of France twelve loaves, i.e. the knowledge and power of the Scriptures."

When he heard this, Master Rudolph asked him if he had any associates to whom these things had been revealed. When he replied that he had many, and gave the names we have mentioned above, this prudent man, considering the danger that hung over the church, and that he alone could not investigate their wickedness or convince them, practised a certain dissimulation, and said that he had received a  revelation from the Holy Spirit concerning a certain priest who was to aid him in preaching their doctrine. Then that he might keep his reputation unsullied, he told the whole story to the abbot of S. Victor, and to Master Robert and to Brother Thomas, and went with them to the bishop of Paris, and to three masters learned in theology , namely the dean of Salzburg, Mafter Robert of Kortui, and Master Stephen and told everything to them. They were greatly terrified and ordered Rudolph and the priest, on pain of damnation, to pretend to be in sympathy with these men, until they had heard all their teaching, and had fully explored all the articles of their unbelief. Whereupon, to carry out this design,  Master Rudolph and his ally joined the heretics in their missionary journey of three months round the dioceses of Paris, Lyons Troyes, and the archepiscopate of Sens, and found out, as far as possible, all those that adhered to their secl.

In order to gain more fully the confidence of the heretics, Master Rudolph used to put on a rapt expression and pretend that he had been caught up to heaven in the spirit, and in their conventicles afterward would relate to them what he had seen, and promise that he would publicly preach their faith unceasingly. At last he went back to the bishop, and told him what they had seen and heard. Then the bishop sent throughout the province to summon them all, for none were in the city except Bernard; and when they were in safe custody, he convened the neighbouring bishops and masters of theology to examine them; the aforesaid articles were laid before them, which some of them upheld in the presence of all, and others, while willing to withdraw and recognising that they had been wrong, yet stood firm with the rest in the same obstinacy, and refused to recant.

After this display of hopeless perversity, they were taken, by the advice of the bishop to the Campus, and there, in the presence of all the clergy and people, degraded from their sacred offices, and on the return of the king, for he happened to be absent at that time, they were burnt at the stake. Of so obstinate a mind did they show themselves, that they would give no reply to any queftions, nor would they vouchsafe any sign of penitence, even in the agony of death. When they were taken out to punishment, there arose so mighty a tempest, that no one doubted that it had been raised by those who had instilled these mortal crrors into dying men.

That night he who had been held their leader knocked at the door of a certain recluse, and too late confessed his error, telling her that he held an important place in hell, and was doomed to eternal fires. Four of them had been examined but were not burnt ; to wit, Mafter Garinus, the prieft Ulrich, and the deacon Stephen : these were all sent to prison for lif ; but Peter, before he was arrested, took fright and became a monk. The body of Almeric [or Amaury, of Bene]. who had been the leader of this wickedness, was cast out the cemetery and buried in the open field. At the same time it was enjoined in Paris that no one should read any books on physical science for the next three years; and a perpetual ban was laid upon the books of Master David [of Dinant] and the Gallic books of theology and they were publicly burnt; and thus by the grace of God, this herest was rooted out in its beginning.


Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogue on Miracles V: 20-22


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