chapter  XVII
16 Pages


The popular attitude to heresy in the middle ages was quite alien from the modern. It was universally accepted that religious certitude, that truth, was in the possession of the church by revelation, and that she was its guardian by divine commission. Two opposing religious beliefs could not both be true, and that which was untrue should be rooted out and purged away. Heresy was, by definition, an individual choice in religious matters, whereby some aspects of truth were stressed at the expense of others, or alien beliefs grafted upon the whole body of Christian truth. The Christian faith was a balanced and complex whole, guaranteed by the acceptance of Christendom. There was an antecedent improbability, apart from divine revelation, that in matters of faith the whole body of Christians would be wrong, and the leader of a small sect of heretics right. Neither heretic nor orthodox believed religious toleration desirable: the heretic, like the orthodox, believed himself in possession of the whole Christian truth, and wished to convert all men to it. The orthodox masses resented his existence not only as an insult to truth, but as an anti-social menace. Christendom was one state, the city of God, and heresy involved not merely religious division, but social upset and political strife. Only

baptized Christians could be heretics, and heresy was a rejection of an accepted relationship, a rebellion against spiritual authority, a revolt which in feudal times seemed to undermine the foundations of society. Except in Provence, and later in Bohemia, the heretic was always an object of hatred to the masses, and the crowd delighted to seize and burn him before the procedure was authorised by the church.