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Deviance C

Deviance C Week 5 - Heretics

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  1. Please reply to this thread with a brief summary/key points of the text you have read from the general reading list for this week's topic on heretics.
  2. Mark Pegg in his article, ‘On Cathars, Albigenses and Good Men of Languedoc’, proposes a reevaluation and a rethink of the studies of the ‘Cathars’. He critiques the stillness of Edwardian historiography, in particular, Paul Daniel Alphandéry and Frederick Coneybeare, and, as a result, criticizes two key historiographical assumptions in the history of heresy (or the Cathars): intellectual bias and idealist bias. By referencing the testimonies of the inquisitions at Languedoc, Pegg tries to, instead, propose an alternative approach: the analysis of specific communities. In doing so, he undermines the idea of a continuous, organised and threatening ‘Cathar church’ and the usability of the term ‘Cathar’ in the medieval period. He criticises the understanding of all heresies as being nothing more than similar, distinctive ideas that stand out from the rest of society. He accentuates that historiography suggests heresy stays the same, no matter what the geographical, cultural or time differences in different societies. Pegg uses the example of the conceived influence of the Bogomil preachers on ‘Cathars’ in western Europe because of similar ideas to undermine this ‘intellectual bias’ argument. The idealist approach, the idea that heresy was an expression of social class or discontent, he argues is just as limited. Pegg criticises this Marxist-Leninist approach that filters into historian’s thinking of heresy in the Medieval period. As an alternative he proposes looking into specific communities, the places where heretics actually lived. The inquisitions in Languedoc are used to undermine any assumptions in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. From these, it is evident the term ‘Cathar’ is never used to identify certain heretics at this time, instead they referred to eachother as good men and good women if heretical or not: ‘friends of God.’ Pegg uses the example of the largest inquisiton in the Middle Ages of 6000 men and women from the Toulousain and Lauragai in 201 days to illustrate how the term ‘Cathar’ was not used, but instead historians have attached it to many people in many places, wrongly giving the ‘Cathar Church’ an existence. This, he then argues, has lead modern historians to incorrectly use the Cathars as analogy for the systematic destruction of European Jews during the Holocaust and Yugoslavian genocide, because heretics were believed to have a distinct church and ethnicity. By revealing the weaknesses in current historiography, Mark Pegg attempts to stimulate new approaches to the history of heretics, in particular the ‘Cathars.’
  3. Shannon McSheffrey; Heresy, Orthodoxy and English Vernacular Religion 1480-1525, ‘Past and Present’ Vol. 186 In this article, McSheffrey explores the role of vernacular language in heresy, with a particular focus on the Lollards. She opens with a historiographical overview of heresy, delineating the traditional and modern views. The traditional view, she suggests, is that heresy is a conscious choice, an informed willingness to deviate from official views (See: Robert Grossesteste). The other position, according to McSheffrey, is that the notion of heresy is not a result of a conscious decision to deviate in the ‘heretic’, but rather that it comes about as a result of authorities’ desire to define what correct belief is. McSheffrey herself subscribes to a portion of both of these arguments, suggesting that while the definition of heresy is not solely based on theological difference, there is, to some extent, a conscious choice made by the ‘heretic’ to reject the authority of the Church. She tries to elucidate her ideas about the permeable/situational nature of the border between heresy and orthodoxy through an examination of the use of common language in religious discussion and the translation of religious texts into the vernacular. She observes that use of the vernacular in religious matters was often used to differentiate heretics. Indeed, in 1409 Archbishop Arundel introduced strict limitations on use of common language in religious discussion and articles, motivated by a concern over the proliferation of heretical ideas. However, McSheffrey notes that knowledge of the pater noster or the Decalogue in English was actually quite common in this period, and that by 1500 plenty of religious texts were being disseminated in the vernacular eg. The festial, the Kalendar. It wasn’t the use of the vernacular, but rather ‘the rejection of authority that was the real crux of the matter’ (p.61). This argument is supported by the fact that the Lollards themselves saw the possession and dissemination of texts in their own language as a rejection of the church, despite the fact that there was not usually much difference in content from orthodox texts. Thus, she concludes that these texts were not themselves ‘lollard’, but were controversial because they were used to spark debate on other issues like the legitimacy of the church, or the importance of good deeds. McSheffrey’s argument is corroborated by David Lawton, who argues that the heresy debate was not about use of the vernacular, or even specific theological disputes, but ‘authority and who has access to it’ (p.68). ‘In late medieval England, heresy resided more in intention than doctrine, more in contests about authority than in the minutiae of belief’ p.80
  4. Gabriel Audisio, The Waldensian Dissent In this book, Audisio traces the Waldensian over the course of what he defines as their four century long history. He first discusses the multiple histories that have been written on the topic, and outlines how he aims to present a new perspective. He also presents two 'tendencies' that the Waldensians can be seen in: firstly, a religious community little removed from the church, and secondly as real 'heretics' and harbingers of the Reformation. In these two contrasting views, he shows how the Waldensians as a group have been difficult to define and place into the religious groups. He then talks about the way that labels are used to define heretics, as they are usually labelled by those who are persecuting them, rather than having self-defined labels. This discussion of labels continues when he questions how to define the Waldensians as a group, as 'naming means identifying' and that this is also problematic when discussing what type of religious group they were, as neither church nor sect entirely reflects the group. He also argues that the behavioural characteristics of the Waldensians were linked to their status as a minority grip throughout their existence, and that there was a consciousness of them being sufficiently different from Christians who were faithful to Rome. This resulted in them being seen as a unique group, whose endurance was unique in medieval and early modern heresy. Audisio sees them as a unique group whose existence can be traced coherently with an underlying consistency of thought throughout this period.