We Anglophone scholars of heresy and inquisition should talk more about the fourteenth century. The eleventh century, usually identified as the era of heresy's "return" in the Latin-Christian West, seems in many ways (at least temporarily) conceptually fixed, and its scant sources are well-trodden. The twelfth century is trolled for evidence of the dualist belief not assuredly present until the thirteenth, and conversations about this period center upon nomenclature, interpretation, and power, particularly in light of the heresy inquisitions established in western Europe after about 1230. For these two centuries, the division in scholarship confusingly termed as "deconstruction" versus "construction"--but better, if not perfectly, described as "skeptics" versus "traditionalists"--has centered upon how we understand the persons whom our clerical sources usually call heretici, sometimes call boni homines, and rarely call Cathari. This debate over the nature and reality of "Catharism," especially in the twelfth century, is unlikely to resolve soon, despite the recent publication of proceedings from a conference that passionately argued the matter.  The fourteenth century is an attractive, and possibly less divisive, scholarly palate-cleanser.
The best-known fourteenth-century "heresy" has perhaps been the beliefs and practices wistfully sketched in Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's Montaillou-- often understood as the last, enervated gasp of those boni homines--and not the poverty movements that were arguably much more significant in that period.  As dramatically compelling and vivid as Montaillou was, its long-term influence on heresy scholarship was in some ways unfortunate. One suspects that it drew many heresy scholars away from the fourteenth century, either by its dazzling success or by its elegiac tone, its evocation of a lost world, its feel of a curtain closing upon the "good men" and their society. Yet one lesson of the skeptics-traditionalists debate is that that power easily subsumes or renames dissent, and places it within expandable theological and legal frameworks. Heresy is phoenix-like, and not just because for purposes of power it must be; high medieval developments and structures generated genuine opposition and disobedience branded as heresy. Certainly several scholars have attended to the fourteenth century, analyzing beguines, Franciscan poverty, and the Dolcinites. Indeed, Bishop of Pamiers Jacques Fournier's inquisition dossier, the source for Montaillou, demonstrates the prominence of poverty movements.  Others have investigated the fourteenth century's sharpening suspicions and darkening descriptions of women's spirituality.  Yet the fourteenth century still offers more. Now that we have rethought (and even in part discarded) the "isms" of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, we might examine the 1300s with new eyes.
For as Irene Bueno remarks--in a book that captures several reasons why we benefit from attention to the fourteenth century--one salutary ramification of the skeptics' debate is its shift to the clerics who fashioned and fought against heresy. What can result is better knowledge of how deeply embedded, and how widely networked, were their inquisitorial mentalities and practices. Defining Heresy--based upon Bueno's doctoral dissertation and translated from Italian--is a refreshing, gaze-shifting, and necessary book. Bueno is pungently correct in observing that scholars have tended to neglect the holistic enterprise of inquisition, losing sight of how both inquisitors and their duties rested within overlapping intellectual, ecclesiastical, political, and social circles. Her subject, Jacques Fournier, is perfect for a correctively broader view, both because his very obscurity in Montaillou encapsulated an earlier scholarly approach, and because his professional rise from Cistercian monk to Pope Benedict XII permitted multiform engagements with the fight against heresy.  Defining Heresy investigates such definitions throughout Fournier's later career. The book, comprising eleven chapters in three sections, moves chronologically, tracking the advancing stages of Fournier's ascent from bishop-inquisitor, to cardinal-theologian, to pope. These successive roles enabled Fournier to shape and to confront "heresy" through different means, whether via questions, treatises, or diplomacy. By bringing Fournier to the center, and through close examination of this churchman's career, Bueno nudges scholars towards greater awareness of inquisitors' many embedments within their different milieux, and the diverse mechanics for defining heresy.
Section One, "At the Crossroads of Justice," examines in four chapters Fournier's inquisitions in Pamiers from 1318 to 1325, which provided the material for Montaillou. Fournier worked with a large staff, and often in collaboration with Dominicans (including the famous Bernard Gui), a small but crucial reminder of inquisition's breadth and complexity. Chapter one sketches the "distinctive characteristics" of Fournier's episcopal court, with its personnel and entanglements with external partners, its contexts and concerns (15). Chapter two tracks an inquisitio from start to finish, uncovering how a bishop's court functioned and how the community responded to it, whether with assistance or obstruction. Chapter three attends more closely to the process of definition, as "heresy" and the heretic were constructed via interrogations and their questions, and changed over time. Bueno here reads Fournier's dossier against Bernard Gui's Practica inquisitionis and other inquisitorial texts, concluding that Fournier could show great curiosity about witnesses' beliefs, weaving together "doctrine and actions" in determining heretical guilt and emphasizing a "heresy of disobedience" (118). The final chapter in this first section analyzes how definitions of "heresy" further expanded within Fournier's inquisitorial practice, encompassing doubt, anticlerical criticism, and sexual behavior.
In Section Two, "The Gospel and the Heretics," Bueno turns to Fournier's theological opinions and Biblical exegesis, writings begun during the papacy of John XXII and so overlapping with Fournier's episcopate and his elevation to the cardinalate in 1327. Chapter five is an overview of the theological counsels Fournier provided to John XXII about several suspect texts and figures (including Ockham, Eckhart, and Olivi) and about the beatific vision. The chapter also introduces his massive Postilla super Matheum, perhaps begun around 1326 and abandoned at his election to the papacy in 1334. The following three chapters tighten the focus upon heresy in the Postilla. Chapter six shows how Fournier's exegesis of Mt 7:15-20 emphasized heresy's falsity, deception, and cruelty, while chapter seven presents his use of the same pericope to consider how to recognize heresy. Chapter eight remains with Fournier's exploration of the pericope, here for the nature of evil and individual will. For Fournier, this exegesis ended in justifying the extermination of heretics who choose evil and refuse to abjure it.
Useful throughout Bueno's discussion in section two would have been synchronous comparison with fourteenth-century writing on heresy and inquisition beyond that explicitly cited by Fournier himself (just as chapter three juxtaposed Fournier's dossier with contemporary and slightly earlier inquisitorial material). The force of Fournier's religious mentality is attenuated by not observing how common it was in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. For example, Titus 3:10, cited by Fournier, was a common Biblical text to justify the death penalty, and wolves and sheep a frequent symbol for heretics' wicked deception (188-189, 198). This is important because of Bueno's remark, citing Edoardo Grendi, that Fournier is useful for her study because he was simultaneously typical and exceptional (9). Did Fournier devise these points as an original, setting a tone that emanated from Avignon, or rather (as I imagine) did the theological writings reflect his immersion within inquisitorial discourse and practice, in which such imagery had long been common and widely broadcast? The directionality here is significant, as inquisitors were theological instructors and mediators to the laity, who--as we know from Fournier's dossier--talked back. What does it mean that a seasoned bishop-inquisitor later disseminated a traditional heresiology, which had been originally built in part from earlier papal pronouncements, from the curia? As Bueno says, "the activity of the theologian-exegete and that of the inquisitor are manifestations of a complementary undertaking deployed by the Catholic Church in defense of orthodoxy," and in Fournier's case they were interpenetrating manifestations, influenced by his experience on the ground with suspect laypeople (186). Unlike a twelfth-century heresiographer-monk, or a righteously thundering pope, for Jacques Fournier (as for, say, Bernard Gui), "defining heresy" was a process in which the laity inevitably played a role.
In Section Three, "The Papacy against Heretics," Fournier is now Pope Benedict XII, positioned both to continue papal precedents for defining heresy, and to establish new ones. Bueno's source base expectedly shifts; as part one was the dossier and complementary inquisitorial texts, and part two the Postilla super Matheum, part three rests upon Fournier's papal letters. Chapter nine concerns the interrelated issues of Franciscan poverty, beguins, and political quarrels with Louis the Bavarian, readily folded by Fournier into that "heresy of disobedience" even as he sometimes sought reconciliation. Chapter ten moves to Fournier's centralizing, supervisory interest in ecclesiastical justice. Bueno identifies areas where Fournier particularly "intervened from above in matters of heterodoxy, identifying his initiatives of supervision and coordination in matters of ecclesiastical justice": managing conflicts between inquisition and secular lords; efforts at inquisitorial reform; and cases of magic and sorcery (277). Chapter eleven expands further to Fournier's papal actions involving non-Christians, including his involvement with the politics and conflicts of the Christian-Muslim frontier in Iberia; his wish to heal the schism with Greeks and to fortify union with (and combat error in) the Armenian church; and failed mission to the Mongols. In this section, what might seem to be terminological slippage in "heresy" conveys how Fournier's papal definitions of it followed in spirit a capacious tradition dating back at least to Innocent III, and were dependent upon his papal predecessors' universalizing visions, even as Bueno argues that the result of these efforts was "the papacy's withdrawal into a Christianity actually limited to Europe" (331).
The difference in mood and style between sections two and three is a bit jarring, with part two's extremely tight focus upon Fournier's Postilla succeeded by part three's extremely detailed chronological narratives. Yet both sections help evoke why Fournier is ideal for an investigation of inquisition's complexity and pervasiveness. He illuminates how key was the papacy's move to Avignon, which deserves more attention as a node of heresiology in the fourteenth century. Indeed, the papal residence in Avignon is one of the most cogent reasons for historians of heresy and inquisition to attend more strenuously to the fourteenth century. As Bueno rightly argues, "additional doctrinal stiffening and new forms of religious exclusion accompanied the papacy's installation in the Provençal stronghold," with "the first decades of the Avignonese Papacy... characterized by a markedly increasing ideological and disciplinary rigidity" (9, 151). It is not just that Fournier's accession demonstrates that issue of directionality mentioned above (that is, earlier papal rhetoric helped shape an inquisitorial mentality that, in Fournier's case, ended up being rebroadcast from Avignon). Rather, the very nature of the Avignonese papacy generated dissent, and it inherently contained and "theologized" both questions of definition, interpretation, obedience, and poverty, and its supposed mastery over them.
Bueno's study returns in its final paragraph to the skeptics/traditionalists debate, which has played little overt role in the rest of the book. Bueno pitches in the middle: "While inspired by deconstructionism, this study has eventually turned toward a constructionist avenue: one aimed at detecting, in empirical fashion what it meant, in all the different circumstances, to 'define' heresy at the end of the Middle Ages" (337). Her point is that "definition" differs from "construction," as reflecting better the people involved in the process, and allowing it more suppleness, responsiveness, and adaptation to circumstance. The study has given us Fournier, in his diverse capacities, encountering real dissent, disagreement, opposition, and mere otherness in different forms and at different levels, drawn by him into the procedural or conceptual nets of "heresy." Yet this book's significance lies not so much in how it contributes to that debate, but in how it suggests future directions as we reap the scholarly rewards of its contentions. Jacques Fournier the inquisitor was easy to lose in Montaillou, as a world to which he presumably didn't belong was woven from the responses he elicited. If we now have him and his colleagues back--a return prompted by that debate--it is now incumbent upon us to locate them in all of their possible, complex worlds. -------- Notes: 1. Cathars in Question, ed. Antonio Sennis (York: York Medieval Press, 2016). On "traditionalists" and "skeptics," see 3 and 258, n. 2. 2. Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324 (Paris: Gallimard, 1975); translated into English as Montaillou: the Promised Land of Error, trans. Barbara Bray (New York: G. Braziller, 1978). 3. The dossier is contained in BAV MS Vat. Lat. 4030. The critical edition is Le Registre d'inquisition de Jacques Fournier, évêque de Pamiers (1318-1325), ed. Jean Duvernoy. 3 vols. (Toulouse: Privat, 1965). 4. E.g. Dyan Elliott, Proving Woman: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004). 5. As Renato Rosaldo observed, amid Ladurie's instrumental approach to the dossier, Fournier became a silent producer: responsible for all of it, but personally remaining offstage. Renato Rosaldo, "From the Door of His Tent: The Fieldworker and the Inquisitor," in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. James Clifford and George E. Marcus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 81.