Perceptions of the origins and causes of heresy in medieval heresiology
Bosworth, Lucy E.
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This thesis examines perceptions of the origins and causes of heresy in the polemical literature of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. It touches on two areas of academic interest. The first is the medieval concept of heresy, a subject which has received little attention from either historians or theologians. The second is the question of the historical origins of heresy, a problem which has received a considerable amount of attention. The thesis has two aims: one is to analyse the concept of heresy itself, the other is to set this concept within the context of the debate about the historical origins of heresy in the medieval west by examining what medieval polemicists themselves considered to be the origins of heresy. Ch. 1 examines the formal definitions of heresy contained in polemical texts and other relevant literature, showing how the definitions moved away from concentrating on theological error, and thus 'heresy', towards contumacy and the authority of the Church, and thus the 'heretic'. Ch. 2 outlines the basic characteristics of the heretic and the ways in which these were conceived and discussed by orthodox contemporaries. Ch. 3 considers the causes of heresy as perceived by polemicists, setting these against the present-day debate, and argues that polemicists' analysis of the origins and causes of heresy was fundamentally incorrect. Ch. 4 analyses polemicists' accounts of the origins of particular heretical sects, highlighting the differences in approach between various polemicists. Ch. 5 examines the mindset which provides the underlying unity to these different approaches and reconsiders the concept of heresy in the light of the evidence presented in Ch. 4. The central argument of this thesis is that polemicists' analysis of the origins and causes of heresy was distorted by their concept of 'the heretic'. First, their concept of heresy focused exclusively on the heretic as a particular kind of person. This separated heretics from merely sinful people and 'demonized' them to an extent which meant that they were deemed to have a supernatural nature transcending their earthly existence - a nature which was irredeemably evil, utterly inimical to the true Church and ultimately created and sustained by the Devil. Polemicists viewed this nature as uniting not only all medieval heretics, but all heretics throughout time. The heretics with which they were dealing were seen as the descendants of the first heretic - universally agreed to be Simon Magus - through a diabolical succession which mirrored the Church's apostolic succession. This sense of the 'otherness' of the heretic reflects the Augustinian civitas dei/diaboli typology - translated by medieval polemicists into a two-churches typology - which was the foundation of the conceptual framework within which the medieval concept of heresy operated. The thesis concludes that, almost without exception, polemicists - the very people who were disseminating information to be used in the intellectual fight against heresy - fundamentally misunderstood the origins and causes of heresy. The two-churches typology and the diabolical archetype to which all heretics were subsumed ensured that the intellectual fight against heresy was directed away from the Church itself, and towards a many-headed heretical demon which did not in reality exist.