Caesarius of Heisterbach: Medieval Heresies
From Dialogue on Miracles V
CHAPTER XX. Of the Waldensian heresy in the city of Metz.
CHAPTER XXI. Of the heresy of the Albigenses.
CHAPTER XXII.Of the heretics burned at Paris.
Of the Waldensian heresy in the city of Metz.
A few years ago, under the learned bishop Bertram, the Waldensian heresy sprang up in
the city of Metz in the following way. On a certain feast the bishop was preaching to the
people in the cathedral, when he saw two of the devils servants ftanding in the crowd and
cried: " I see the devil's messengers among you. See, the there are the men,"
pointing to them with his finger," who in my presence were condemned at Montpellier
and cast out of the city for their heresies." They replied bodly to the bishop, and
they had in their company a scholar, who barked at him like a dog attacking him with every
kind of insult. When they left the church, they gathered a crowd round them and preached
their errors to them. Some of the clerks present said to them: " Sirs, does not the
Apostle say, How shall they preach, except they be sent (Rom. x. 15)? We should
like to know who sent you hither to preach," and they replied: " The Holy
Spirit." Now the bishop was unable to use force against them, owing to certain
powerful citizens, who befriended them in hatred of the bishop, because he had expelled
from the church a certain dead usurer, their relative. In truth they had been sent out by
the spirit of error, and by their preaching the Waldensiann heresy was planted in that
city, this day is not wholly extinguished.
Novice.-Alas I that there should be even to-day so many heresies in the
Monk.-They are the fruit of the fury and malice of the devil.
Of the heresy of the Albigenses.
In the time of pope Innocent [III], the predecessor of the present pope, Honorius,
during the strife between Philip and Otto, the rival kings of the Romans, the envy of the
devil caused the Albigensian heresy to sprout forth, or to speak more strictly, to ripen.
So great was its strength, that all the wheat of the faith of that nation seemed changed
into the tares of error. Abbots of our Order with certain bishops were despatched -to root
up the tares with the harrow of Catholic teaching; but by the resistance of the
enemy who had sown those tares they had little success.
Novice.-What was their error?
Monk.-Their leaders had collected some points from the Manichaean dogma, and
some of the errors which Origen is said to have written against Periarchon, and very-many
which they had fashioned out of their own heads. They follow Manichaeus in believing that
there arc two sources of life, a good God and a wicked, i.e., the devil and they say
that the wicked God created all bodies and the good God all souls.
Novice,- Moses makes it certain that God created both soul and body, when he
says: The Lord God formed man, i.e. the body, of the dust of the ground, and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 11.- 7) i.e. the soul.
Monk.- If they received Moses and the prophets, there would be no heretics. They
deny the ressurrection of the body; they mock at any bencfit coming to the dead from the
living ; they say that there is no profit in going to church, or in praying there; and in
these things they are worse than Jews or Pagans, who believe them all. They have
repudiated baptism, and blaspheme the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Novice.- Why do they endure such severe persecutions from the faithful, if
they expect no recompense for them in the future?
Monk.- They say that they look forward to the glory of the spirit. One of the
aforesaid abbots, who was a monk, seeing a certain knight sitting on a horse and
talking to his ploughman, and thinking him to be a heretic, as indeed he was, drew near to
him and asked: " Will you tell me, good Sir, whose field this is? " and when the
other answered that it was his, he continued: " And what do you do with its
fruits?" "Both my family," he said, "and I live upon them, and I
bestow so , me part of them upon the poor." When the monk went on: " What
advantage do you hope to gain from such alms? " the knight made this reply: "
That my spirit may walk in glory after death." The monk asked '" Where will it
go? " and the knight said: " In accordance with its merit. If it has lived a
good life, and won this reward from God, it will, when it leaves my body, enter into that
of some future prince or king,. or of some other illustrius personage, in which it will
find happiness; or if it has lived ill it will enter the body of someone both poor and
wretched, in which it will find suffering." The fool believed, as the other
Albigenses do, that, in accordance with its merit, the soul will pass through different
bodies, even those of animals and reptiles.
Novice.- What a foul heresy I
Monk.- Thc errors of the Albigenses spread to such an extent that in a short
time it had infected more than a thousand towns, and if it had not been cut back by the
swords of the faithful I think it would have corrupted the whole of Europe. In the year of
our Lord 1210, a crusade was agairist the Albigenses throughout Germany and France,
and in the following year there arose against them from Germany, Leopold, Duke of Austria,
Engilbert, then provost, and afterwards archbishop of Cologne, and his brother Adolphus,
Count of Altcnberg, William, Count of Juhch, and many others of all ranks and dignities.
The same thing took place in France, Normandy and Poitou; and the preacher and leader of
them all was Arnold, abbot of Citcaux, afterwards bishop of Narbonne.
When they came to the great city of Beziers; which is said to have contained more than
a hundred thousand men, they laid siege to it ; and in the sight of them all the heretics
defiled in an unspeakable manner the book of the sacred gospel; and then cast it from the
wall towards the Christians, and sending arrows after it, cried: " There is your law,
miserable wretches!" But Christ, the author of the gospel, did not suffcr such an
insult to be hurled at Him unavenged. For some of His followers, burning with zeal for the
faith, placed ladders against the wall, and like lions, after the example of those of whom
we read in the book of the Maccabbees (2 Macc.xi.ii), fearlessly climbed the walls, and
while the hcretics were stricken with panic from on high and fled, they opened the gates
to the others, and so gained possession of the city.
When they discovered, from the admissions of some of them, that there were Catholics
mingled with the heretics they said the toeh abbot "Sir, what shall we do, for we
cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics." The abbot, like the
others, was afraid that many, in fear of death, would pretend to be catholics, and after
their departure, would return to their heresy, and is said to have replied "Kill them
all for the Lord knoweth them that are His (2 Tim. ii. 19) and so countless number in that
town were slain.
By the Divine favour, they also gained possession of another large town, near Toulouse,
called The Beautiful Valley, from its position. When the people there were examined, and
all the rest had professed themselves willing to return to the faith, there remained four
hundred and fifty, whom the devil hardened in their obstinacy; and of these four hundred
were burnt at the stake, and the others hanged Fin on the gallows. The same thing took
place in other cities and forts, the wretched folk often giving themselves up to death of
their own accord. When the people of Toulouse were brought into the same straits, they
promised all satisfaction, but not honestly as was afterwards clear. For the treacherous
count of S. Egidius, the prince and leader of all the heretics," after surrendering
all his property to the Lateran Council, to wit his lands and his farms, his towns and
castles, and after most of them had been occupied by right of war by the good Catholic
Simon dc Montfort. betook himself to Toulouse, from which City he still harasses and
attacks the faithiul even to this day.
It was only this year that Dom Conrad, cardinal Bishop of Porto, who was sent as legate
against the Albigenses, wrote to the chapter of Citeaux that one of the Toulousan nobles
had perpetrated so horrible a crime in hatred of Christ and in an attempt to bring
confusion upon our faith, that it ought assuredly to anger even the very enemies of Christ
He had committed an abominable and disgusting outrage by the high altar of the
cathedral, and others, heaping madness upon madness, insulted the Crucifix
upon the altar with indescribable villainy; and after this they dragged down the sacred
image itself, and cut off the arms, showing themselves far worse than the soldiers of
Herod, who spared the dead Saviour, and would not break His legs.
Novice.- Who would not fland stupified before the amazing patience of God!
Monk.- For the Lord is long suffering, but He will in no wise let thee go (Ecclus v.4). He, who punished so terribly in the neck and throat the people of Damietta,
because after their victory they had tied a rope round the neck of a crucifix and dragged
it through the strects, will by no means clear such blasphemers as these. Before the hosts
of the Lord came against the Albigenes- as we have related above, they had invitcd Miralimomelinus,
the king of Morroco, to come in to their help: and he crossed over from Africa into
Spain with so incredible a host that he looked to overrun the whole of Europe. He even
sent a message to pope Innocent that he intended to stable his horses in the portico of S.
Peter's, and to plant his standard on the church. This indeed was partly carried out,
though not at all in the way he had intended. For because God abases the proud, at that
very time, in the year of grace 1212, on the 16th day of July, 40,000 fighting men of his
arm were slain ; while he himself fled to Seville, and died there of grief. His principal
standard was captured in the fight, and sent to Innocent, who set it up in S. Peter's to
the glory of Christ.
Let this be enough about the Albigenses.
Novice.- If there had been learned men among these heretics, perhaps they
would not have strayed so far.
Monk.- When learned men begin to fall into error, they are driven by the devil
to display even greater amd more grievious folly than the illiterate.
Of the heretics burned at Paris.
At the same time as this outbreak of the Albigensian heresy, it happened in the city of
Paris, which is the fountain of all knowledge and the well of the Holy Scriptures, that
persuasion of the devil instilled a strangc perversity of intellect into several learned
men. se were their names: Master William of Poitou, a subdeacon who had read the classics
in Paris and had studied theology there for three years, Bernard, a subdeacon, William, a
goldsmith, who was their prophet, Stephen, a priest of Corbeil, Stephen, a priest of Chelles,
John, a priest of Uncinis ; all of them students except Bernard ; Dudo, the private
secretary of Master Almeric, a priest, Elmand, an acolyte, Odo, a deacon, Master Garinus,
who had come to Paris for the classics, and who, as a priest, had studied theology under
Master Stephen, archbishop of Canterbury; Ulrich, a priest of Liré, who was more
than sixty years old, and had been a student of theology for a long time, Peter of S.
Clodowald, another sexagenarian priest and theological student, and Stephen, a deacon of
Old Corbeil. At the instigation of the devil these men had elaborated many heresies, and
had already preached them in many places.
Novice.- What were the main points on which these men of ripe age and
learning fell into error?
Monk.- They said that the Body of Christ was in the Bread of the altar only in
the same way as it was in all bread and in eveything; and that God had spoken through Ovid
in the same way as through Augustine. They denied the resurrection of the body,
saying that there was was no Paradise nor hell, but that he had Paradise within himself
who possessed the knowledge of God, as they did, while he who was in mortal sin had hell
within himself just as a man has a rotten tooth in his mouth. They said it was idolatry to
set up altars to the saints, or to burn incense before the sacred images, and that he who
kissed the bones of the martyrs did it with his tongue in his cheek. But the worst
blasphemy that they dared to utter was against the Holy Spirit, from Whom is derived all
purity and holiness. They said that if anyone were in there spirit, even if he were to
commit fornication or any other defilement, yet there would be no sin in him, because that
Spirit, who is God, being altogether separate from the flesh, cannot sin, and the man, who
is nothing, cannot sin, so long as that Spirit, who is God, is in him ; for it is the
same God that worketh all in all (I Cor. xii. 6). From whence they admitted that each
one of them was both Christ and the Holy Spirit ; and them was fulfilled that saying of
the gospel: False Christs and false prophets shall arise etc. (Matt. xxiv.24).
These most unhappy men had utterly worthless arguments of their own with which they strove
to support their errors. Their theological perfidy was discovered in the following way.
The above mentioned William the goldsmith went to Master Rudolph of Nemours saying that he
had been sent by the Lord, and laying before him the ensuing articles of unbelief: "
The Father has operated in the Old Testament under certain forms, namely, those of the Law
; in a similar way, the Son under certain forms, such as the Sacrament of the Altar,
baptism and so forth. As the forms of the Law fell at the first coming of Christ, so now
all the forms, under which the Son has worked, will fall and the Sacraments come to an
end, because the Person of the Holy Spirit will clearly declare Himself in those in whom
He has been incarnated, and chiefly will He speak by seven men, one of whom will be
William himself." Also he prophesied that within five years these four great plagues
must come: the first upon the people, who will be consumed by famine; the second will be
the sword, by which the kings will slay each other; in the third the earth will open and
swallow up the townsfolk ; and in the fourth fire will come down from heaven upon the
prelates of the church, who are the members of Antichrist. For he said that the pope was
Antichrist, and Rome was Babylon; for the pope sits upon Mount Olivet, i.e., in the
plenitude of power. Now already, thirteen years have passed and yet none of these things
have happendd, which the false prophet foretold must come to pass within five years.
Further, that he might win the favour of Philip of France, he added this "All
the kingdoms of the earth will be subjed to the king of the Franks and to his son, who
will live under the dispensation of the Holy Spirit and will never die ; and there that
will be given to the king of France twelve loaves, i.e. the knowledge and power of the
When he heard this, Master Rudolph asked him if he had any associates to whom these
things had been revealed. When he replied that he had many, and gave the names we have
mentioned above, this prudent man, considering the danger that hung over the church, and
that he alone could not investigate their wickedness or convince them, practised a certain
dissimulation, and said that he had received a revelation from the Holy Spirit
concerning a certain priest who was to aid him in preaching their doctrine. Then that he
might keep his reputation unsullied, he told the whole story to the abbot of S. Victor,
and to Master Robert and to Brother Thomas, and went with them to the bishop of Paris, and
to three masters learned in theology , namely the dean of Salzburg, Mafter Robert of
Kortui, and Master Stephen and told everything to them. They were greatly terrified and
ordered Rudolph and the priest, on pain of damnation, to pretend to be in sympathy with
these men, until they had heard all their teaching, and had fully explored all the
articles of their unbelief. Whereupon, to carry out this design, Master Rudolph and
his ally joined the heretics in their missionary journey of three months round the
dioceses of Paris, Lyons Troyes, and the archepiscopate of Sens, and found out, as far as
possible, all those that adhered to their secl.
In order to gain more fully the confidence of the heretics, Master Rudolph used to put
on a rapt expression and pretend that he had been caught up to heaven in the spirit, and
in their conventicles afterward would relate to them what he had seen, and promise that he
would publicly preach their faith unceasingly. At last he went back to the bishop, and
told him what they had seen and heard. Then the bishop sent throughout the province to
summon them all, for none were in the city except Bernard; and when they were in safe
custody, he convened the neighbouring bishops and masters of theology to examine them; the
aforesaid articles were laid before them, which some of them upheld in the presence of
all, and others, while willing to withdraw and recognising that they had been wrong, yet
stood firm with the rest in the same obstinacy, and refused to recant.
After this display of hopeless perversity, they were taken, by the advice of the bishop
to the Campus, and there, in the presence of all the clergy and people, degraded from
their sacred offices, and on the return of the king, for he happened to be absent at that
time, they were burnt at the stake. Of so obstinate a mind did they show themselves, that
they would give no reply to any queftions, nor would they vouchsafe any sign of penitence,
even in the agony of death. When they were taken out to punishment, there arose so mighty
a tempest, that no one doubted that it had been raised by those who had instilled these
mortal crrors into dying men.
That night he who had been held their leader knocked at the door of a certain recluse,
and too late confessed his error, telling her that he held an important place in hell, and
was doomed to eternal fires. Four of them had been examined but were not burnt ; to wit,
Mafter Garinus, the prieft Ulrich, and the deacon Stephen : these were all sent to prison
for lif ; but Peter, before he was arrested, took fright and became a monk. The body of
Almeric [or Amaury, of Bene]. who had been the leader of this wickedness, was cast out the
cemetery and buried in the open field. At the same time it was enjoined in Paris that no
one should read any books on physical science for the next three years; and a perpetual
ban was laid upon the books of Master David [of Dinant] and the Gallic books of
theology and they were publicly burnt; and thus by the grace of God, this herest was
rooted out in its beginning.
Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogue on Miracles V: 20-22
This text is part of the Internet
Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and
copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright.
Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational
purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No
permission is granted for commercial use.
© Paul Halsall, July 1998