The Medieval Review 16.01.03

Bollermann, Karen, Thomas M. Izbicki, and Cary J. Nederman, eds. Religion, Power, and Resistance from the Eleventh to the Sixteenth Centuries: Playing the Heresy Card. The New Middle Ages. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. pp. xviii, 242. £55.00 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1-137-43104-2 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

John Arnold
Birkbeck College, University of London

This interesting volume of essays arose originally from sessions at the Leeds IMC in 2009, but with a number of additional pieces subsequently gathered to enlarge the project. The focus here is mostly not on what is sometimes called "popular heresy"--that is, the areas and movements of unorthodox religious enthusiasm that were systematically persecuted by inquisitors and bishops, such as the Waldensians, Cathars and Lollards--but rather the intersection between heresy and politics of various kinds (though mostly Politics with a capital P, as it were). As such, it brings usefully together discussions which have previously sat in separate seminar rooms.

Several chapters deal with the intersection of theology, the history of ideas, and the politics of ecclesiastical condemnations. Karen Bollermann and Cary J. Nederman provide a detailed reading of the sources that recount accusations against Gilbert of Poitiers (for alleged errors regarding the nature of the Trinity), particularly those of Otto of Freising and John of Salisbury. The authors wish to present their analysis as a rebuttal of sorts to R. I. Moore's "persecuting society" thesis--Nederman here reiterating his earlier claims for medieval discourses of "toleration"--and although it does not really function very persuasively in that regard, the chapter does nonetheless provide a useful and insightful analysis of the detail surrounding this particular case, occurring (as their title notes) in the "shadow" of Abelard's slightly earlier condemnation. Moving a few centuries forward, Andrew Larsen continues the theme of academic/intellectual condemnation, placing the famous condemnation of Wyclif into a deeper chronological frame in terms of politics, processes and ideas. He identifies eleven academic condemnations that took place at Oxford, making it clearer that things became more serious--in terms of process and potential outcomes--when the issues and people involved intertwined with secular politics. Thomas Fudge's chapter is a brief account of Jan Hus's trial--something he has subsequently explored in much greater detail in The Trial of Jan Hus: Medieval Heresy and Criminal Procedure (Oxford, 2013)--but useful nonetheless in his attempt to provide a nuanced account of how much of what transpired was conspiracy against the reforming cleric, and how much was to some degree Hus's own fault for stubbornness and legal naivety. As he notes, "There is a profound irony in the prosecution of Hus by men like [Jean] Gerson and [Pierre] d'Ailly whose views on the church, the papacy and reform were very similar to Jan Hus" (71). The gulf that separated them was, he argues quite convincingly, a different view on the importance of obedience (a reminder that "heresy"--as an accusation that sticks--always ultimately rests upon the question of whether or not someone is willing to fall into line).

Henry Ansgar Kelly's chapter on the trial of Joan of Arc, whilst also obviously dealing with a "political" trial, is nonetheless engaged with rather a different situation. Joan was not burnt for theological ideas in themselves, but because she was a key political figure in the Hundred Years' War. Kelly (critiquing in part Daniel Hobbins' work on the trial) takes a characteristically close and careful look at the material and finds--as he does with every trial he examines--that due process was not strictly carried out, both in the specifics of what happened and in the lineaments of inquisitorial procedure in general. Inquisitio is for Kelly a model legal process conceived and perfected by the fair-minded Innocent III at the Fourth Lateran Council, and then horribly distorted (as he sees it) by inquisitors using "illegal means" (83) ever after. This is not a hugely persuasive position, and depends upon reading the Corpus iuris canonici rather as "originalists" read the American constitution, without any sense of the extensive legal consultations, overseen by a number of papal legates and highly influential jurists, via which inquisitors drew up their procedures. It depends on seeing canon law as a kind of programme of dispositive law; but as most in the field would recognise, the Corpus is better understood as a set of flexible, sometimes contradictory, precedents, aspirations, inheritances, and responses to specific petitions. But no mind: as ever, whilst wrongheaded in regard to the general conceptual framework, Kelly's close readings always pay dividends, and he is fairly persuasive here over the very particular case of Joan's trial, and in particular the utter lack of clarity over what exactly she was eventually condemned for.

Thomas Turley's chapter starts a new section to the volume, where the focus moves to the appearance of "heresy" as a charge made within wider political rhetoric, rather than legal process. In a lengthy and learned chapter, Turley discusses the fourteenth-century Carmelite theologian (and bishop of Majorca) Guido Terreni's Summa de haeresibus, completed in 1342. The chapter is interesting not only for the specific issue at its heart--the representation of Joachim of Fiore as a heresiarch--but for providing one of the first detailed studies of Terreni's Summa. This was, Turley argues (109), the first revival of the classic "handbook to (all) heresies" format that had been established in antiquity by Augustine's De haeresibus--an interesting point, that would bear further discussion in a wider context. In a brief but useful chapter, Frank Godthardt then turns our attention to the condemnation of Marsilius of Padua's Defensor Pacis, examining how the papal curia produced a preliminary list of "errors," which it then adjusted in the bull Licet iuxta doctrinam, and in the process ended up (Godthardt argues) fundamentally misrepresenting Marilius's original text (133), doing so for wider political purposes (134). Thomas Izbicki's chapter performs a similar kind of analysis on the political uses of "heresy" as an accusation, looking at how Juan de Torquemada (Dominican theologian and papal apologist) provided a "suspect genealogy" (139) to conciliarism as a way of undermining its legitimacy.

The chapter by Takashi Shogimen takes us into a slightly different setting, as he examines how William of Ockham's conceptual treatment of "heresy" was taken up and adapted by Jacques Alamain (a leading Paris theologian in the early sixteenth century). Shogimen demonstrates that in Part I of his Dialogus, Ockham noted the tradition that a heretic was defined as someone who pertinaciously clung to their own opinion (i.e. failed to be intellectually obedient), but "reconsidered and reconfigured what 'pertinacity' meant" (156), by questioning whether theological "truth" necessarily automatically belongs to the person "correcting" the alleged "heretic." Ockham argued that pertinacity was better understood as "unreadiness to correct errors that are contrary to catholic truths one is not bound to believe explicitly, as well as failure to assent to the catholic truths one is bound to believe explicitly" (157) --which, if I have understood Shogimen correctly, both constricts the sense of pertinacity in one way (as ordinary lay people were not bound to assent to as many explicit truths as, say, senior ecclesiastics) but expands it in another (those who were higher up the hierarchy would be held potentially to a higher standard, including the necessity of offering fraternal correction, and more instantly "pertinacious" if they failed to recognise the truth of various positions). The point in comparing this with Alamain is that the latter theologian misses out much of the subtlety of Ockham's argument--a failure to which my brief précis here doubtless also succumbs; I recommend the chapter itself, which is a very strong and interesting contribution to the history of ecclesio-political thought.

The final three chapters turn to other occasions on which political contexts have deployed "heresy" either as a means of propaganda or legitimation. John Phillip Lomax examines the propaganda battle between pope and emperor in the mid thirteenth century, usefully viewing their claims and counterclaims as public positions that they adopted in the hope of rallying political allies, and noting that for both sides, the central notion of "fidelity"--or rather, accusations of their opponent's lack of fidelity--was the recurrent theme, one which they hoped would "resonate with every magnate in Christendom" (185). Jerry B. Pierce provides a chapter on the crusade against Fra Dolcino, a topic he has covered in greater depth in his monograph on the subject; I am not hugely persuaded there or here by his attempt to read all accusations of violence on the part of Dolcino's sect as mere propaganda (and I would suggest that we can feel sympathy for the victims of ecclesiastical repression without having to turn them into pious martyrs). Finally, Bettina Koch discusses religious dissent in Islam, arguing that in contrast to the Christian notion of "heresy,", the key concept for Muslims was riddah, "apostasy" or a "turning away" from the faith. She notes however that some of the stereotypical western ideas about heretics--particularly the focus on 'pride' and an emphasis on a superficial piety--do find close parallels in some Islamic texts. Overall she emphasizes that the differences between the two religions "does not mean that there is no 'orthodoxy' in Islam (or rather islams). Rather, the sources that generate orthodoxy are different [from those of Christianity]" (229).

Overall, this is an interesting collection of pieces, aimed really at specialists, and with the bulk of the interest falling more in the field of the history of political thought (broadly writ) than, say, lived religion.

(It should be noted that, in the copy I had for review at any rate, Palgrave's usually fairly high production standards were sadly not met--not through any fault of the editors, I should emphasize--in that the print is small, pale, and cramped.)


Karen Bollermann, Thomas M. Izbicki and Cary J. Nederman, "Introduction"

Karen Bollermann and Cary J. Nederman, "Standing in Abelard's Shadow: Gilbert of Poitiers, the 1148 Council of Rheims, and the Politics of Ideas"

Andrew E. Larsen, "Secular Politics and Academic Condemnation at Oxford, 1358-1411"

Thomas A. Fudge, "'O Cursed Judas': Formal Heresy Accusations against Jan Hus"

Henry Ansgar Kelly, "Questions of Due Process and Conviction in the Trial of Joan of Arc"

Thomas Turley, "Making a Heresiarch: Guido Terreni's Attack on Joachim of Fiore"

Frank Godthardt, "The Papal Condemnation of Marsilius of Padua's Defensor Pacis: Its Preparation and Political Use"

Thomas M. Izbicki, "Tarring Conciliarism with the Brush of Heresy: Juan de Torquemada's Summa de ecclesia"

Takashi Shogimen, "Ockham, Almain and the Idea of Heresy"

John Phillip Lomax, "Hints and Allegations: The Charge of Infidelity in Papal and Imperial Propaganda, 1239-1245"

Jerry B. Pierce, "Autonomy, Dissent and the Crusade against Fra Dolcino in Fourteenth-Century Valesia"

Bettina Koch, "Religious Dissent in Premodern Islam: Political Usage of Heresy and Apostasy in Nizam al-Mulk and Ibn Taymiyya"

Copyright (c) 2016 John Arnold

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