The guilt of heresy is measured not so much by its subject-matter as by its formal principle, which is the same in all heresies: revolt against a Divinely constituted authority.
“Why Is Contemporary Scholarship So Enamored of Ancient Heretics?”
Perhaps it could be a historical imperative? In Religious Wars millions of people have been slaughtered . During these wars, there was/is always the charge of “heresy” often leveled by one side against another as a sort of propaganda or rationalization for the undertaking of such wars.
In short, I see Historical Heresy as a privileging of the rational over faith. i.e. challenging or ignoring Dogma.
St. Thomas (II-II:11:1) defines heresy: “a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas”
The Roman Catholic Church had always dealt harshly with strands of Christianity that it considered heretical, but before the 11th century these tended to centre around individual preachers or small localised sects, like Arianism,Pelagianism, Donatism, Marcionism and Montanism. These local outbreaks of critics of dogma were easily quenched.
In the year 358, Priscilliam, was the first person to have the distinction of being burned at the stake for Heresy.
Then in the 11th and 12th century came the famous heresies of Western Europe. The first one was that of Bogomils in modern-day Bosnia, a sort of sanctuary between Eastern and Western Christianities. By the 11th century, more organised groups such as the Patarini, the Dulcinians, the Waldensians and the Cathars were beginning to appear in the towns and cities of Northern Italy, Southern France and Flanders. Heretics abound.
Heresy was a major justification for the Inquisition (Inquisitio Haereticae Pravitatis, Inquiry on Heretical Perversity) and for the European wars of religion associated with the Protestant Reformation.
In the following three books, we can see that despite the fact that the rationalization of torture and burning at the stake is the main point, there is an uneasiness about discussing the particular facts and the tree authors expound on the ‘abstract’ conditions which deem ‘real’ people guilty of Heresy.
It is saddening to see more than 1400 years ( in 382 Theodosius made Heresy a capital offense (Vide “Codex Theodosianus”, lib. XVI, tit. 5, “De Haereticis”) of people creating a myth of authority encouraging the “persecution of every religion other than their own, and even went so far as to persecute all sects that claimed to be Christian, except the one officially approved by the State -” (http://egregores.blogspot.com/2010/10/meaning-of-heresy-and-its-significance.html) From the beginning with Theodosius heretical teachers were forbidden to propagate their doctrines publicly or privately; to hold public disputations; to ordain bishops, presbyters, or any other clergy; to hold religious meetings; to build conventicles or to avail themselves of money bequeathed to them for that purpose. Slaves were allowed to inform against their heretical masters and to purchase their freedom by coming over to the Church. The children of heretical parents were denied their patrimony and inheritance unless they returned to the Catholic Church. The books of heretics were ordered to be burned.”
The literature below makes it clear that the identification and naming of ‘the other’, once systematically done gives permission and even demand brutal torture and execution.
166g Vincent, of Lérins, , Saint, (d. ca. 450) (edited with notes by Baluze, Etienne, 1630-1718)
Cantabrigiæ: ex officinæ Joh. Hayes, celeberrimë Academië typographi; impensis Guiliel. Graves, Bibliop. Cantab, 1687 & 1689* $1,100
Duodecimo, 3 X 5 inches a-c¹² a2-a⁶ A-N¹².(both title pages are bound in the front) This is a beautiful copy and is bound in early full vellum. with the stamp of Sinclair on the spine (?).
The “Commonitorium” which survives today is a book on identifying ‘Heretics and Heretical tendencies, from the beginning of the book Vincent develops (chapters i-ii) a practical rule for distinguishing heresy from true doctrine, namely Holy Writ, and if this does not suffice, the tradition of the Catholic Church. Here is found the famous principle, the source of so much discussion particularly at the time of the Vatican Council, “Magnopere curandum est ut id teneatur quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est”. Should some new doctrine arise in one part of the Church, Donatism for example, then firm adherence must be given to the belief of the Universal Church, and supposing the new doctrine to be of such nature as to contaminate almost the entirety of the latter, as did Arianism, then it is to antiquity one must cling; if even here some error is encountered, one must stand by the general councils and, in default of these, by the consent of those who at diverse times and in different places remained steadfast in the unanimity of the Catholic Faith (iii-iv). Applications of these principles have been made by St. Ambrose and the martyrs, in the struggle with the Donatists and the Arians; and by St. Stephen who fought against rebaptism; St. Paul also taught them (viii-ix). If God allows new doctrines, whether erroneous or heretical, to be taught by distinguished men, as for example Tertullian, Origen, Nestorius, Apollinaris, etc. (x-xix), it is but to test us. The Catholic admits none of these new-fangled doctrines, as we see from 1 Timothy 6:20-21 (20-22, 24). Not to remove all chance of progress in the faith, but that it may grow after the manner of the grain and the acorn, provided it be in the same sense, eodem sensu ac sententia; here comes the well-known passage on dogmatic development. “crescat igitur. . .” (xxiii).
The fact that heretics make use of the Bible in no way prevents them from being heretics, since they put it to a use that is bad, in a way worthy of the devil (xxv-xxvi). The Catholic interprets Scripture according to the rules given above (xxvii-xxviii). Then follows a recapitulation of the whole “Commonitorium” (xxix-xxx).
All this is written in a literary style, full of classical expressions, although the line of development is rather familiar
and easy, multiplying digressions and always more and more communicative. The two chief ideas which have principally attracted attention in the whole book are those which concern faithfulness to Tradition (iii and xxix) and the progress of Catholic doctrine (xxiii). The first one, called very often the Canon of Vincent of Lérins, which Newman considered as more fit to determine what is not then what is the Catholic doctrine, has been frequently involved in controversies. According to Vincent, this principle ought to decide the value of a new point of doctrine prior to the judgment of the Church. Vincent proposes it as a means of testing a novelty arising anywhere in a point of doctrine. This cannon has been variously interpreted; some writers think that its true meaning is not that which answered Vincent’s purpose, when making use of it against Augustine’s ideas. It is hardly deniable that despite the lucidity of its formula, the explanation of the principle and its application to historical facts are not always easy; even theologians such as de San and Franzelin, who are generally in agreement in their views, are here at variance. Vincent clearly shows that his principle is to be understood is a relative and disjunctive sense, and not absolutely and by uniting the three criteria in one: ubique, semper, ab omnibus; antiquity is not to be understood in a relative meaning, but in the sense of a relative consensus of antiquity. When he speaks of the beliefs generally admitted, it is more difficult to settle whether he means beliefs explicitly or implicitly admitted; in the latter case the canon is true and applicable in both senses, affirmative (what is Catholic), and negative or exclusive (what is not Catholic); in the former, the canon is true and applicable in its affirmative bearing; but may it be said to be so in its negative or exclusive bearing, without placing Vincent completely at variance with all he says on the progress of revealed doctrine? ( C.E.)
The “Commonitorium” has been frequently printed and translated, the first edition was 1528 by Sichardus and then that of Baluze(our edition) (1663, 1669, 1684, 1687,1689 ), the latter being the best of the three, accomplished with the help of the four known manuscripts; these have been used again in a new accurate collation by Rauschen, for his edition (“Florilegium patristicum”, V, Bonn, 1906);, and by Hurter (Innsbruck, 1880, “SS. Patrum opuscula selecta”, IX) with useful notes. (C.E.)
In about 1667, Baluze entered Colbert’s service, and until 1700 was in charge of the invaluable library belonging to that minister and to his son, Marquis de Seignelay. Colbert rewarded him for his work by obtaining various benefices for him, and the post of king’s almoner (1679). Subsequently Baluze was appointed professor of Canon law at the Collège de France on December 31, 1689, and directed it from 1707 to 1710.
Wing (2nd ed.), V454A [In this issue, leaf M3r has catchword “Appen-” and leaves M4-5 are present. Another issue has catchword “STE-” and lacks leaves M4-5.]
342G Hermant, Jean . 1650-1726
La storia delle eresie, nella quale si descrive con ordine Alfabetico il nome, e la Vita degli Eresiarchi che hanno turbata la Chiesa dalla Nascita di Gesucristo fino a nostri tempi, e gli errori che vi hanno disseminati. Con un Trattato tradotto dal Latino di Alfonso de Castro, Il quale risolve molte Questioni generali intorno all’Eresia
Venezia, Appresso Francesco Pitteri, in Merceria all’Insegna della Fortuna Trionfante, 1735 $2,300
3 Duodecimo volumes, . pp. 448, 432 .450 . Provenance: there is a handwritten inscription to the first fly-leaf of volume I (partially erased), Continet hoc liber xxxx Delle Hesie (sic) Tom Primo | Pro Medarum Biblioteca | Pater Conradus | a | Castro S.ti Joannis | Dicavit | Amodo Rev.di Patres | Mon(a)st(e)ri | permissu. II. On the verso of the front fly-leaf of each volume, handwritten inscription Ad uso del P. Corrado di Castel S. Gio. dedicato alla Lit.a di S. Fra.sco di Medes con licenza del Sup.e Pro.le.
Each of the three volumes are bound in full matching vellum binding, handwritten title at spine, marbled edges . Hermant’s work on the heresies, was printed in Rouen for the first time in 1712 by the printer G. B. Besongne: after publishing the first book by the same author, Histoire des conciles (1695), Besogne realized that such a work had just partially satisfied the demand of the several priests scattered throughout the French countryside and decided to exploit the potential of the matter starting a association with Jean Hermant. This way, the French curate produced many works forming an out and out encyclopedia on the history of the Church that spread over France and the rest of Europe, as this actual edition testifies.
This concise handbook on heresy collects the etymology of the word, its definition for the Catholic Church, the means for fighting against it and the description of many kinds of perversions from the first centuries till the end of 1600.
As Hermant writes in the first chapter of his work, the term heresy comes from a Greek utterance αἵρεσις meaning I choose: I choose with my own human reason, basing my decisions just on my logical faculty. According to the Catholic Church, this is the first mistake made by heretics, who think that their own mind is capable of discriminating between truth and untruth, while instead this is possible only for God, who gives men the grace of the revelation.
Assuming this, Hermant affirms that the right interpretation of the Scriptures can only be given by the Church and its ministers, and that heresy had spread so much recently also because of the translation and personal reading of the Bible, promoted by Martin Luther and practiced by the followers of the Protestant Church. Indeed, after the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent, several “free thinkers” had uttered their disenchantment and outrage towards the Catholic customs and doctrine, suggesting new interpretations of the Holy Scriptures and different behaviours for the ministers of the Church.
Among them, Cornelius Jansen, commonly known as Jansenius, that suggested in his Augustinus a new vision of the nature of grace and its link to human salvation. The case of the Jansenism was faced by Hermant with particular fervour, due to the direct experience that he had gained in France where this doctrine was extremely popular; its supporters, in fact, numbered personalities like the mathematician Antoine Arnauld, the scholar Pierre Nicole and Blaise Pascal who, anonymously, wrote and published Lettres provinciales, a fake-recount of a man visiting Paris that describes the Jesuits’ use of casuistry as a means for justifying moral laxity.
Besides the most recent forms of heresy, Hermant’s Storia delle Eresie gathers information on hundreds of cults and deviations that the Christendom had faced from the first centuries, like the Ebionites, that refused the preaching of St. Paul, or the Gnosticism, passing through the sects born in the Middle Age, to reach the XVI century and the famous reformers that led to the Protestant Reformation: Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and Martin Luther.
Jean Hermant (Caen, 1650- Diocèse de Bayeux, 1725) was the curate of the little town of Maltot situated in the Basse-Normandie region, in the Northwestern France, land where he spent presumably all his life. Very little is known about his life, except that he was the author of a series of religious texts forming a complete and renowned encyclopedia of the history of the Church.
341G Bernini, Domenico. fl. 1685-1722 Historia di tutte l’heresie
Venezia : Presso Paolo Baglioni, $4,800
Four quarto volumes, (, 600, ; , 598, ; , 642, ; , 754,  p.) ; 23 cm complete
This Set is bound in full vellum binding, with name of the author, title and a decoration handwritten in brown ink, sprinkled blue edges.
On title-page of the first volume, handwritten ownership note Bibliotheca Patrum Minimorum Conventus Verona Anno 170X (the note seems to indicate that the book was bought a year before the publication date; maybe it is a mistake, or this title-page was printed and sold at the end of 1710, even if the editor had decided to print on the title-page the following year as on the other volumes) On the title-page of the third and the fourth volume, handwritten ownership note Bibliotheca Patrum Minimorum Conventus Verona Anno 17XI; II. on the inside covers, C.13:4; C.14:4; C.15:4; C.16:4 (classification numbers); IV. Among the pages of the third volume, handwritten papers with early notes about the book;
“The heresies are necessary to the exercise of good people, to the segregation of the bad ones and to the purity of Christianity,”
f. a3r]. The Historia di tutte l’Heresie, aimed to warn the reader about the danger of the heresy, is not merely a list of the different kinds of deviation. This work detaches itself from all the other books of this genre for its approach: analyzing all the heresies from pontificate to pontificate, from San Peter apostle to the end of the 17th century, it is focused on the heretical ideas proposed in contrast with the dogmas of the Church and how the Church acted against them. ”
“Esporremo come in mostra tutte l’Heresie antiche e nuove, e tutte le riprove, che di esse han fatto li Sommi Pontefici, li Concilii, e li Sacri Dottori per mantener╒ esente dalla contagione degli Heretici la puritê della Fede, e per rendere tanto pi¥ obbrobriosa la menzogna, quanto pi¥ fondata, e chiara la Veritê”
[We will show like in a exhibition all the ancient and new heresies, and all the Popes, Councils, and Holy Doctors proofs to keep the purity of Faith out of the Heretics contagion, and to make more infamous the lie, as more founded, and clear the Truth. Introduzione all opera].
Giving just a brief space to the life of each sinner, Bernino outlined a comparison of the Popes╒ different reactions against the problem: someone commanded harsh persecutions, some other created hospices for the reformed heretics, someone else banished books and punished their authors.
“Sempre vedremo cozzar l╒Inferno col Cielo, la finzione col Vero, l╒ostinazione con l╒Evidenza, sempre vinta, e non mai abbattuta l╒Heresia, sempre combattuto, e non mai vinto il Pontificato Romano.”
[We will always see the Hell clashing against the Heaven, the fiction against the Truth, the obstinacy against the Evidence, always defeated and never exhausted the Heresy, always opposed and never defeated the Roman Pontificate].
From the Adamites to the Anabaptists, from Simon Mago to the Hussites, all the heretic doctrines are equally condemned, because only one is the real Belief, and just the real one leads to God. The Church’s fight against seventeen centuries of deviation from the right religious path and big faith’s mistakes has given more strength to the Christian faith, that still fights in the name of the Truth, always unfavorable to the false beliefs.
Many are the heresies analyzed in Bernino’s work; among them there is that of the Valentinians. Valentinus was an Egyptian priest who, disappointed for not being ordained bishop, decided to create a new doctrine that had a great success. It admitted 30 gods, called Secoli who generated other minor gods. Jesus was composed by the perfection of this Secoli, being completely divine. It denied not only the humanity of Jesus, but also his death and resurrection and, hence, also the final resurrection of the souls which, after the death, in Valentinus’ opinion, pass from a body to another.
Among the false tales created by the heretics, Bernino tells, as well, in few words the story of a Popess (yes Female!) whose name is not certain, elected after the death of Pope Leo IV. The author defines it as an intolerable lie, which has already been unmasked and strongly contradicted. Nevertheless, the myth of the Popess has fascinated people and writers for a long while, becoming the topic of novels, dramas and, recently, a movie.
Domenico Bernino, son of the famous artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, was born in Rome in 1657. He started a career as a Jesuit, but he gave it up after a brief period and he decided to get married. He is often confused with his brother who was canonic of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome and he wrote many works on the history of the Catholic Church. Domenico Bernino’s, is also remembered for the publication of his father’s biography Vita del Cavalier Gio. Lorenzo Bernini (The life of Gian Lorenzo Bernini), a very important source for the life and works of the artist, which has helped also to create the ‘Bernini myth’. He died in Rome in 1723.
A. Hessayon, D. Finnegan, Varieties of seventeenth and early eighteenth century English radicalism in context, Surrey, Ashgate, 2011.
- iDocumentary – Inquisition, historical basis (maybeilackneurons.wordpress.com)
- 15 major heresies and the people who fought them (ascentofcarmel.blogspot.com)