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Heresy Lies In the Eye of the Beholder
essay [ ]
Three Importnat Heretics

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by [lavacaloca ]

2003-12-13  |     | 

“A heretic is a man who sees with his own eyes” said Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. This phrase characterizes the actions and beliefs of heretics all throughout history. In the past the Church wronged the people, the clergy no longer where spiritual leaders, but rather avaricious men. No longer was the Church the center of European life, the citizens became aware of the wrongs that where being done to them. Many people chose to become heretics out of intellectual haughtiness or as a form of confrontation against Church authority and organization. Heresy was much more than the defiance of the Church; it was a cry for reform and change. Heresy, in those times, was a desire to return to the teachings of Jesus Christ, and a need to free man from the binding ropes of Christian doctrines.
The Albigenses were a neo-Manichæan sect, which prospered during the twelfth and thirteen centuries or the Late Middle Ages. The name Albigenses, was given to them by the Council of Tours (1163), which prevailed towards the end of the twelfth century, and was applied to all the heretics of the south of France. The rise and spread of the new doctrine in southern France came about because of the following circumstances. It was both fascinating and easy for the French to accept the principle of good and evil; their contempt for the Catholic clergy; the protection of an overwhelming majority of the nobility, and the intimate local blending of national aspirations and religious sentiment. The Albigenses defended the co-existence of two mutually opposed principles, one good, and the other evil. The former is the creator of the spiritual, the last of the material world. The dualism of the Albigenses was also the basis of their moral teaching. They educated man as a living contradiction. Thus, the liberation of the soul from its captivity in the body is the true end of our being. To achieve this, suicide is commendable; it was customary among them in the form of the endura or starvation. The Albigensians were radically opposed to Christianity and monotheism. Pope Innocent III, was very lenient with them, but when the Albigenses assassinated the Papal legate much stricter measures were used against them. Secular Princes rather than ecclesiastical leaders wanted the forcible suppression of the movement, and they persuaded the Pope to call it a crusade. The Albigenses like all other heretics, where persecuted incessantly and burned at the stake.
Girolamo Savonarola, a Florentine friar, caused much controversy during the Renaissance. He painted horrific pictures of hell and damnation, and he raged at the people. His followers or “his children” were called The Weepers. Lorenzo de Magnificent and his family always looked at Savonarola with suspicion and disbelief. When Lorenzo was on his deathbed in 1492, he called for Savonarola. Savonarola agreed on the condition that Lorenzo would grant him three wishes; Lorenzo granted all but one wish. The final wish was for the Medici family to renounce claim or rule in Florence, of course Lorenzo absolutely refused. Savonarola wanted to be in control of Florence, he got his wish after the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The Weepers were urged to make bonfires of books, paintings, and material possessions that could drive them away from God. Savonarola wanted the people to live a life of simplicity, and renounce material possessions that made their spirits wicked. Savonarola said that “Popes and prelates speak against pride and ambition and they are plunged into it up to their ears.” There seemed to be an apparent hostility and disgust towards the Pope and clergy. Savonarola called the Vatican “a house of prostitution where harlots sit upon the throne of Solomon and signal to passersby: Whoever can pay enters and does what he wishes.” It is obvious by this statement that Savonarola believed that the Popes, bishops and clergymen, got to the Vatican by buying their position. Savonarola in 1498 was found guilty of heresy, and of seeing false visions. He was convicted and was sentenced to death.
The Reformation brought about the growth of many different religions and cults, like the Lutherans. The founder of the Lutherans, Martin Luther, is the man who “started” the Protestant Reformation, by nailing his “95 Thesis” to the door of a castle Church. Luther himself saw the Reformation as something far more important than a revolt against ecclesiastical abuses. He believed it was a fight for the gospel. At the heart of the gospel, in Luther's estimation, was the doctrine of justification by faith--the teaching that Christ's own righteousness is imputed to those who believe, and on that ground alone, God accepts them. Luther attacked the issue of indulgences, which in reality he was attacking the whole structure of the Church. Lutherans believe that faith alone without the necessity of good work, would bring salvation.
Vanity, riches, greed and a lack of spirituality, is what made the Church decline so drastically. The Albigenses, Savonarola, and the Lutherans, have one very important belief in common, the shunning of the clergy. There is an overshadowing of the spiritual life of the clergy, it seems that the clergymen were more interested in the pleasures of life. The moral idea of being a representative of the Church was dead; no longer was the guidance of the people to a higher spiritual level important. As Savonarola was trying to tell the masses, the Vatican was more interested in leading the splendorous life of the noble men and the embellishment of their lives. Savonarola, the Albigenses, and the Lutherans were all charged as heretics, and burned at the stake. Of all three, the Albigenses were the most strict and brutal to themselves. Compared to Savonarola, the Albigenses seemed like monsters, they exerted such physical torture on themselves. Savonarola confronted the Church in a harsh matter, by trying to “purify” the state of Florence. Savonarola was probably the most strict and merciless of the three. He seemed to think that God spoke through him, he imposed his beliefs on all in Florence, it seems they had no choice but to follow. It is clear that those who converted to Lutherans did this for two reasons, one because it gave them the freedom they wanted form the Church, and two, for political reasons. The religious groups, Albigenses and Lutherans, did not exert as much pressure as Savonarola. The Albigenses were a reserved group; they did not directly confront the Church, but defied its doctrines and beliefs. The Lutherans did confront the Church head on, they told the people exactly what they wanted to hear, Lutheranism, appeared as an alternative to the Church. There is a basic difference between the Albigenses, Savonarola, and the Lutherans, the way they approached they confronted the Church as a whole, the Albigenses did it in a reserved way, Savonarola in a dictatorship type of takeover of Florence to “purify”, and Luther or the Lutherans to make change and reform for the better of the people and the Church in general. There is also a basic similarity, all of them had a feeling of contempt towards the clergy and the Vatican, they all wanted change, no longer was the Roman Church enough for them, they needed more.
Heresy lies in the eye of the beholder. What we chose to believe or not believe is a very personal choice based on our own belief system, morals, and convictions. In some instances even life’s circumstances can play an important role in our decision. Yes, we are our brother’s keeper, but God gave us free will. We cannot shun or despise a person because of what he chooses to believe in or in the case of a heretic not to believe in. As stated before “a heretic man is a man who sees with his own eyes,” a man who no longer has the bed sheets covering his face, he can think and rationalize for himself. Man is capable of reaching his own conclusions, making him the thinking and superior being that God intended him to be.

Cristiana, Msgr.Léon. Heresies and Heretics. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1959. Editor
Henri Daniel Rops.
Ridolfi, Roberto. The Life of Girolamo Savonarola. New York: Alfred A. Knoff, 1952.
Kreis, Steven. The History Guide. Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History:
Lecture 5 The Medieval Synthesis Under Attack: Savonarola and the Protestant
Reformation. July 25, 2002.
Kreis, Steven. The History Guide. Lectures on Early Modern European History: Lecture
3: The Protestant Reformation. June 23, 2003.

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