And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

søndag 13. februar 2011

The Heresy of Amalric

Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.
- John 9:41

What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture.

- Urne Buriall, Sir Thomas Browne 

In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council was held and it is widely considered the most important foundation for papal legislation throughout the 13th century. Among the various issues addressed in its 71 constitutions, the matter of heresy is treated in a severe manner, and it must be considered in view of the Albigensian crusade which lasted from 1209 to 1229. In this blogpost - which is basically a trimmed edition of my Friday presentation in Saving the Sinners - I will take a closer look at one of the many heresies at the turn of the 12th century.

 Innocent III

It is interesting to note that Innocent III did not consider all heresies equally dangerous. In Lateran IV we find the names of two individuals: Joachim of Fiore (ca. 1132-1202) and Amalric of Bena (d. ca. 1206). The former was a cleric who devoted himself to unravelling the mysteries of Scripture, and who was rebuked in Lateran IV on the grounds that he had misunderstood the Sentences of Peter Lombard and thus distorted what the Papal See held to be a sound interpretation of the Trinity. This is merely an admonition and although criticised by several popes he was never persecuted by the Papacy. Instead he was given an opportunity to submit his writings to the judgement of the Pope and although his opinions on the Trinity were outlawed, it would not have repercussions for the monastery where Joachim had resided.

"If anyone therefore ventures to defend or approve the opinion or doctrine of the aforesaid Joachim on this matter, let him be refuted by all as a heretic. By this, however, we do not intend anything to the detriment of the monastery of Fiore, which Joachim founded, because there both the instruction is according to rule and the observance is healthy; especially since Joachim ordered all his writings to be handed over to us, to be approved or corrected according to the judgment of the apostolic see. He dictated a letter, which he signed with his own hand, in which he firmly confesses that he holds the faith held by the Roman church, which is by God's plan the mother and mistress of all the faithful. "
- Lateran IV, constitution II

Lateran IV's treatment of Amalric is also quite interesting. Amalric was a master at the university of Paris where he lectured in logic and later ventured into the field of theology. He accumulated a retinue called the Amalricians and his teachings were to a much greater extent in opposition to the faith expressed by the Church. Most likely inspired by John Scotus Eriugena and quite possibly Joachim of Flores - just to mention a few sources - Amalric advocated a kind of pantheism. Most of what is known about his teachings, however, comes from the Amalricians rather than Amalric himself, and it is therefore hard to determine which principles can be traced back to Amalric and which principles issued forth from the Amalrician community. The main idea of the Amalricians was that the Holy Spirit was incarnate in every living human, and that they themselves were so touched by the Spirit that nothing they did could ever be deemed sinful. It should not be difficult to understand why the Papacy reacted with disgust to this notion.

Although the Amalricians were persecuted and their leaders put to death by fire executed by secular authorities and Amalric himself was exhumed and cast on unconsecrated soil, it is interesting to notice how Amalric is described in Lateran IV:

We also reject and condemn that most perverse doctrine of the impious Amalric, whose mind the father of lies blinded to such an extent that his teaching is to be regarded as mad more than as heretical.
- Lateran IV, constitution II

The tone is severe, yet perhaps tasting more of indignance than horror. In Constitution III heretics in general are described as having "different faces indeed but their tails are tied together inasmuch as they are alike in their pride." Earlier in the same constitution the fiendish imagery is prevalent, describing heresies as raising - or rearing, depending on the translation - themselves against the true fath. Regardless of the translation the imagery pertains to Satan, either in his rebellion against God or in the tempting of man. Amalric, on the other hand, is said to have been blinded by Satan and is therefore less to blame than other heresies, an interpretation rendered all the more plausible if we consider the passage from John 9:41, quoted in the epigraph.

The question is therefore, why is Amalric treated so lightly. Can it be that Innocent III himself, as a student in Paris, encountered Amalric and judged from personal experiences in Lateran IV? Can it be due to an incredulity as to the seriousness of the Amalrician impact? Or perhaps there is a different reason altogether. This is, sadly, to paraphrase Sir Thomas Browne, a question beyond all conjecture. 

 Cathars expelled from Carcassonne, 1209.

2 kommentarer:

  1. Treated lightly? He was exhumed and his remains removed from consecrated ground - wouldn't that imply expulsion from the Community of Christ, with everything that comes with it? How could they have treated a dead man more harshly?

    Or am I, being the godless ignoramus that I am, simply misinformed on the consequences of that sort of treatment?

    And in light of this, if it is correct, cannot the Lateran IV rhetoric be severe enough?

    If, however, exhumation wasn't that big of a deal, perhaps Amalric was treated with leniency because he didn't go as far as his "followers"? Conjecture, true, but it seems probable enough. (And obvious, so you probably thought of it yourself.)

  2. Exhumation of this kind obviously has severe ramifications, it is true, but what I meant to say is that in his lifetime he was not burned to death or violently persecuted and thus treated far more lightly than what was the case of the Albigensians and similar groups. I'm not sure as to how severe the exhumation really was and how it would effect his afterlife, but it is of course highly probably he was exhumed either in order to not be able to enter into Heaven, or not being able to be resurrected at the Day of Judgement.

    However, I'm not sure any of this would make the words of Lateran IV more severe, as he is written off as a madman and perhaps by implication not entirely responsible for his own action. But again, to paraphrase you, this is conjecture.

    As for your last paragraph I strongly concur and I find the point of his - to my knowledge - peaceful death to be a strong suggestion of the difference between Amalric and Amalricians. As is the case with Marx and many other thinkers throughout history, his shadow extends further than himself.