John Arnold

title.none: Frassetto, ed., Heresy and the Persecuting Society (John Arnold)

identifier.other: baj9928.0701.011 07.01.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John Arnold, Birkbeck College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Frassetto, Michael, ed. Heresy and the Persecuting Society in the Middle Ages: Essays on the Work of R. I. Moore. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, vol. 129. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006. Pp. xii, 338. $139.00 978-9004-150-98-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.01.11

Frassetto, Michael, ed. Heresy and the Persecuting Society in the Middle Ages: Essays on the Work of R. I. Moore. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, vol. 129. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2006. Pp. xii, 338. $139.00 978-9004-150-98-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

John Arnold
Birkbeck College

The title of this collection of essays highlights what is probably R.I. Moore's most influential book--The Formation of a Persecuting Society (1985)--but most of the essays in fact grapple more with his first work, The Origins of European Dissent (1977), and are focussed less on the wide-ranging implications of persecution than specific issues around the nature and context of heresy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The papers arose from sessions held at Kalamazoo, with other additions (a complete list is given below). A number of the contributions have the feel of consolidations of existing positions, rather than the breaking of utterly new ground: the solid chapters given here by Mark Gregory Pegg and Claire Taylor do not supersede their recent monographs, other than that Pegg has (I think) very slightly reined back some of his argument about the non-existence of Cathars.[1] Bernard Hamilton's contribution--diametrically opposed to Pegg's viewpoint, and indeed Moore's-- reiterates in careful, methodical fashion the really quite large amount of evidence supporting links between eastern Bogomil heretics and western "Cathar" dualists (a link that, for Hamilton, can very largely be depicted as "successful proselytisation" and hence the "explanation" for western dualism). Malcolm Barber similarly gathers together much of the available material for a dualist presence in northern France, although argues (against a few writers, most recently and notably Peter Biller) that the reason for there being little evidence is that there were few heretics.[2] The contributions of Michael Frassetto (beyond his editorial duties), and that of his collaborator Daniel Callahan, highlight some interesting elements in the sermons of Adhemar of Chabannes, but essentially function as calling-cards for their forthcoming books. One hopes that this is similarly the case with Susan Snyder's chapter which, although perhaps a bit keen to identify all scepticism and unbelief as clearly "Cathar," does a wonderful job in demonstrating the complexity of lay religiosity, spanning the orthodox and heretical.

In all these articles, apart from Pegg's and the one on Italy by Arthur Siegel, the direction is essentially anti-Moore: rather than focussing on the construction of heresy by authority, and the wider ideological and sociological purposes to which it was put, these historians attempt to reconstruct something of the reality and fabric of medieval heresy, within its social contexts. At times, this depends upon what Taylor would describe as a "post-revisionist" approach to the orthodox source material: not taking it at face value, but not dismissing its distinctions and diagnoses either. Some essays here (Taylor, Hamilton) demonstrate the best of a careful, essentially empiricist methodology. Others, whilst remaining stimulating, are less persuasive: Siegel's desire to place early Italian heresy firmly in the context of wider indigenous socioreligious movements depends rather extensively on suppositional argument about the semiotics of his sources. I don't think he's necessarily wrong in his conclusions, I'm just less persuaded by the path taken to get there. A similar, but much stronger, response is called up by Marvin's chapter, a "revisionist" look at the massacre at Béziers in 1209. Marvin's desire is to call into question the idea that 7000 people were killed there by the crusaders. One could accomplish this fairly simple task by noting (as he briefly does) that medieval chroniclers' relationship to numbers is more symbolic than mathematical: a claim of "7000" essentially means "a lot," and that sense of "a lot" can and should be preserved even if the specific figure drops massively (say by a factor of ten, to 700). Marvin however approaches the issue with a military-historical methodology, questioning each aspect of the case, drawing upon the 1994 Rwandan massacres as a useful comparator for "pre-modern" mass murder, and lumpenly examining and then discarding different degrees of efficiency in killing. His conclusion is that the massacre at Béziers was bad, but "no worse" than other acts of barbarity of the period. If so, one is left with no idea why several of the sources of the period clearly thought it beyond what was usual, whether approving (the papal legates) or disapproving.

I should conclude however with the highest points of the collection. Edward Peters looks at Bob Moore's most recent book--The First European Revolution--and provides a stunning exegesis and gloss upon it, demonstrating its links back to Moore's earlier work, and highlighting the conceptual underpinnings to his analyses. It is a tremendously useful piece in various ways; and combined with Moore's own "Afterthoughts" to this volume, one is provided with a fascinating and useful diptych of historiographical contextualisation. Both James Given and Carol Lansing engage particularly with Moore's Persecuting Society, the former in regard to early fourteenth-century France, the latter in Italy from the same period. Given is persuaded by the degree of "phantasm" in orthodox power's representation of heresy and similar "Others"; what he provides here is a brilliantly imaginative idea about the political function of such phantoms. For Philip IV, Given argues, effective rule was difficult. Whilst royal ambitions and ideology were high, the limits on effective statecraft could be great. Actions against fantastical enemies--or rather, people positioned as enemies and allegedly inspired by demonic desire--were however of a different order. "[I]n the realm of fantasy, he [Philip] was invincible" (289). Lansing, meanwhile, presents an exciting piece of microhistory, a case of idolatry and magic (or rather, a case of fraud based upon people's expectations of idolatry and magic) found in the civil court at Bologna. The story is such a good one that I feel honour bound, as if reviewing an M. Night Shyalaman movie, not to divulge the details and give away its twists. I can say, however, that Lansing not only shares the story with us, but provides an excellent and insightful analysis of its potential meanings and implications, particularly in regard to possibilities over how we view apparently outlandish elements in other medieval sources. Because, as she shows, people did lie and make things up and deceive; all accusations of "fraud" in terms of religious experience were not necessarily orthodox projections.

It's difficult to provide any kind of "overall" statement in conclusion; the collection, whilst interesting, is a rather curious mix of elements, purposes and directions. Peters' and Moore's contributions would be of use to graduate students working in the area, though probably a bit too high-level for undergraduates. Frassetto's introduction does a reasonable job in positioning Origins of European Dissent, but is less sure-footed in its representation of the wider historiography that engages with later periods. In addition to their innate insights, Hamilton's and Barber's essays would be useful for teaching purposes, as they provide a helpful summary of past positions from which (or against which) subsequent debate can be launched. As indicated, various other chapters provide useful analyses on a variety of topics, and some pieces are work of a very high standard. But variety is the key word: in parts of Heresy and the Persecuting Society one feels that one is at a summative point in a particular conversation about eleventh/early-twelfth-century heresy; in other parts that the conversation is mid-flow or a turning tide; and elsewhere that it's a different conversation all together.

List of contents and contributors:Michael Frassetto: IntroductionEdward Peters: Moore's Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries: Travels in the Agro-Literate PolityDaniel F. Callahan: Ademar of Chabannes and the Bogomils> Arthur Siegel: Italian Society and the Origins of Eleventh-Century Western HeresyMichael Frassetto: Pagans, Heretics, Saracens, and Jews in the Sermons of Ademar of ChabannesBernard Hamilton: Bogomil Influences on Western HeresyMalcolm Barber: Northern CatharismClaire Taylor: Authority and the Cathar Heresy in the Northern Languedoc Laurence W. Marvin: The Massacre at Béziers July 22, 1209: A Revisionist LookMark Pegg: Heresy, Good Men, and NomenclatureSusan Taylor Snyder: Cathars, Confraternities, and Civic Religion: The Blurry Border between Heresy and OrthodoxyCarol Lansing: Idolatry and Fraud: The Case of Riperando and the Holy ManagliaJames Given: Cahsing Phantoms: Philip IV and the FantasticR. I. Moore: Afterthoughts on The Origins of European Dissent


[1] See Mark Gregory Pegg, The Corruption of Angels (Princeton, 2001) and Claire Taylor, Heresy in Southern France (Royal Historical Association, 2005).

[2] See P. Biller, "Northern Cathars and Higher Learning," in P. Biller and B. Dobson, eds. The Medieval Church: Universities, Heresy, and the Religious Life. Essays in Honour of Gordon Leff, Studies in Church History subsidia 11 (Boydell and Brewer, 1999), 25-54.