Amaury de Beynes and the Amalricians
Amaury de Beynes, an inspirational teacher
The schools of the Paris of King Philippe-Auguste were well organised and flourishing at the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. By this time, Paris had become the leading centre of learning in Europe, and was attracting great numbers of masters and students, ready to question and debate every issue of interest, particularly in religion and philosophy.
Etienne de Tournai was horrified at the freedom of theological debate to be found there in his time (probably a little before 1192). He wrote a warning letter to the Pope, about the way Scripture was being studied in Paris, in which he decried the perverse enthusiasm of both students and teachers for novelty at any price, and in particular:
“There is public disputation as to the incomprehensible deity and concerning the incarnation of the Word. The indivisible Trinity is cut up and wrangled over in the trivia, so that now there are as many errors as there are doctors, as many scandals as there are classrooms, as many blasphemies as there are public squares.”
To understand this, it should be noted that debates could be conducted as well outside as inside; that, in Latin, doctor is a teacher; and that the trivium is a crossroads (plural: trivia), while the word trivia also refers to the three basic subjects of the curriculum, i.e. grammar, rhetoric and logic. A scholastic pun! (Is Etienne really so scandalised by the situation, or is he equally as interested in showing off his scholastic wit?)
One of these teachers of novel opinions in Paris at the turn of the century may have been Magister Amalricus, known in the vernacular as Amaury de Beynes. He was a magister, in other words a master in the schools, and he came from the village of Beynes, situated in the diocese of Chartres and in the territory of Gui de Montfort.
The contemporary chronicler, who is known to historians as the Anonymous of Laon, said of Amaury de Beynes:
“that in whatever subject he was studying, he was always found to take a position that was opposed to the rest.”
Such an open and critical mind no doubt impressed the students; and it was not long before his growing reputation came to the notice of the King, who made him a tutor to his heir to the throne, the future Louis VIII.
Amaury at court, as tutor to the King’s son
Louis’ mother had been married – at the age of 10 – to King Philippe II of France (later known to history as Philippe-Auguste) to further the political ambitions of her powerful uncle, Philippe d’Alsace, Count of Flanders. She had conceived Louis at the age of sixteen. And then, at age 19, when her son was only two, she had died. As Louis was, perhaps not surprisingly, a sickly child, his father organised an intellectual education for him. Did the lessons cease in 1200, when the 13-year-old prince was married, at his father’s command, to Blanche de Castille, also aged 13? If not, they would certainly have ended by 1205, when Louis and Blanche became, in their turn, teenage parents.
At the French royal court, Amaury would have come into contact with the King’s chaplain, Guillaume le Breton, who was an intimate of the household from at least 1200 onwards, and who later became tutor to the King’s illegitimate son (by a young lady from Arras) Pierre Charlot. Guillaume became one of the historians of the reign of Philippe-Auguste, and therefore had to narrate the story of his colleague, Amaury. He is our closest witness to what happened.
Guillaume was very proud of the schools of Paris. He thought that never in history had a city attracted more students, not even ancient Athens or Alexandria. Although this was, partly, due to Paris’ good situation and prosperity, Guillaume thought that it was, mostly, thanks to the encouragement and protection which had been offered by Louis VII, and which was being continued by his son, Philippe II. Not only was Paris the pre-eminent place to study the seven liberal arts, it was also the place where the study of theology was most eagerly and earnestly pursued.
Amaury as teacher of theology
According to Guillaume’s chronicle, one of the cleverest minds engaged in the teaching of theology was that of Amaury de Beynes. Although Guillaume was aware, when he was writing, of the trouble that his colleague had caused, he never made any personal criticism of Amaury (although he was prepared to believe anything of those who were later called his followers). This is Guillaume’s paragraph on him:
“Having proved himself a particularly brilliant teacher of logic, and having led the study of that and the other liberal arts, he transferred his attention to the cultivation of the study of Scripture. He always had his own particular ways of teaching and his own individual opinions and judgements, which were different from those around him. For which reason, he dared constantly, in his theology classes, to assert that every Christian must believe that he is a member of Christ. Anyone, who did not believe that, would not be saved.”
This insistence on Christians being “members of Christ” apparently led to his downfall.
How could this well-known New Testament message, which is repeated many times throughout Paul’s Epistles, have led Amaury into trouble? Paul felt that Christians should act as if they were united in one body, the body of Christ, because they all had the same spirit, the spirit of Christ, inside to guide them:
Romans 12:5: “So we, being many, are one body in Christ.”
1 Cor. 6:15-17: “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? […] He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.”
1 Cor.12:12: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”
Guillaume does not say why this belief caused trouble, but it may be conjectured that Amaury gave it a more mystical interpretation, suggesting either a pantheist union of the believer with God or, at least, an illuminist union of the spiritual Christian with the spirit of Christ. It was serious enough for his colleagues to condemn his opinions as erroneous.
Amaury, who was confident of the scriptural authority of his position, went to Rome to appeal to Pope Innocent III. The Pope had already been made aware of the anxieties of some other teachers of theology in Paris, and he pronounced against Amaury. Some of the academics who had turned the Pope’s mind against Amaury may have belonged to the Paris school of Saint-Victor, which certainly showed itself to be eager to pursue Amaury’s followers. The Prior of Saint-Victor, Jean le Teutonique, was one of their principal persecutors; and he later preached a most virulent attack on them. In the early years of the 12th century, Saint-Victor had helped to put Paris at the forefront of Christian education in France, and had nurtured some exceptional teachers and scholars; but by the beginning of the 13th century, it had lost that pre-eminent position. On his return to Paris, Amaury was forced to deny, in public, what he had believed to be not only true, but essential, for Christians. Humiliated and ashamed, he became ill and died. He was buried in the Cluniac monastery of Saint-Martin-des-Champs outside Paris, in about 1205-6.
Hunting the Amalricians
In 1207, presumably as a result of the Amaury case, the Pope wrote a letter to Eudes de Sully, the Bishop of Paris, regulating the teaching of theology there, by restricting the number of masters of theology to eight. This may seem to be a minor restriction, a small matter of little import; but it clearly signalled, to those wishing to teach theology, that they were now utterly dependent on the church hierarchy, and must be careful not to accept anything that might be considered as a theological innovation.
The new situation was almost immediately tested, when the help of a number of these eight masters of theology was enlisted, for the defence of the church, in the hunt for those who were thought to be spreading dangerous religious ideas. As these ideas were said to be derived from Amaury, their exponents were described as Amalricians.
Their capture is well documented. According to the detailed story, as told by the Cistercian monk, Caesarius von Heisterbach, an Amalrician called Wilhelmus Aurifex had approached a certain Magister Raoul de Namur, hoping to convert him to the new teachings. Raoul and another priest then went to the priory of Saint-Victor to seek advice from Prior Jean le Teutonique, Master Robert (who must be Master Robert of Flamborough) and Brother Thomas. With this support, Raoul obtained authority from Pierre de Nemours, the new Bishop of Paris (1208-1219), and three of the eight masters of theology there, Robert de Courçon, Etienne de Reims (referred to as Magister Stephanus) and a decanus Salebergiensis (thought to be a dean of Salisbury), to infiltrate the new group. Then, for three months, Raoul and the other priest travelled with Wilhelmus Aurifex on his missionary journeys, mainly in the province of Sens, particularly around Paris and Troyes, but also as far as the diocese of Langres.
According to another contemporary Cistercian, who was writing his chronicle in the Scottish Abbey of Melrose, Robert de Courçon was the key figure in the investigation of the heretics (called papelards by this chronicle):
“Master Robert de Courçon, a man of venerable life and illustrious in every branch of learning (to whom our lord the Pope had entrusted the chief office of preaching in France) heartily persecuted these false prophets from the outset.”
Robert de Courçon is thought to have been an Englishman from Kedleston in Derbyshire. He seems to have been a papal ‘trouble-shooter’, investigating disputed elections and ecclesiastical conflicts. There were many complaints about his high-handed judgements and at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, the Pope was forced to annul several of his excommunications and suspensions. The book that collects together his studies, his Summa, may be typical of the man: it starts with penance and considers in great detail various misdemeanours and their punishment; then he gives a brief survey of the other sacraments and goes no further. He later concentrated on crusading, against Cathars at home and Muslims abroad. He was made a cardinal in 1212 and a papal legate in 1213.
That it was, in fact, the Church in France that took the initiative, and sent Raoul to Wilhelmus Aurifex, is borne out by the earlier accounts of Guillaume le Breton and another contemporary chronicler, Robert d’Auxerre. According to Robert, agents were sent “on the advice of the bishops” to get information about this dangerous gang. According to Guillaume’s version, Raoul, who is described, without any attempt at irony, as
“an articulate and cunning man and a true catholic,”
was commissioned, as a spy, by Pierre de Nemours, the new Bishop of Paris, working in concert with Brother Guérin of the Order of the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem.
Church and state: Guérin’s responsibilities
Guillaume le Breton should be a particularly reliable witness in this regard, as he worked under Guérin at the French court. Guérin, the Knight Hospitaller, had trained as a fighter as well as a cleric; his combination of truculence and intelligence had made him an indispensable administrator in Philippe-Auguste’s government. By 1202, he had become one of the two counsellors in charge of the kingdom’s finances (Philippe II always divided roles that could become too powerful). In 1205, he had been given charge of the royal seal. He was one of the King’s top five ministers, and dealt, among much else, with church matters.
The recently appointed Bishop of Paris, Pierre de Nemours, was also close to the centre of power: he came from a family that was known for its loyal support of the Capetians; and his brother was Gautier le Jeune, another of the King’s five principal ministers. It is therefore very likely that the King’s ministers were advised early on about the investigation into the Amalricians.
The historian Gérard Sivéry thinks that Guérin and the King pursued the Amalricians as a way of imposing obedience upon sections of the church and the schools, which had been horrified by the King’s obnoxious treatment of his second wife, and his attempt to enter into a bigamous marriage with a third, Agnès. The Pope had reacted by putting the kingdom under an interdict (the withdrawal of many church services). A Parisian cleric, called Gilles le Parisien, had written a poem, the Carolinus, which urged the heir to the throne, Louis, to take, as his model, his famous ancestor on his mother’s side, Charlemagne, who was considered to have been an exemplary Christian ruler. As his father, the King, was also mentioned at some length in the poem, the reader would not need to use much imagination to infer that Louis should reject the example of his father, in favour of that of Charlemagne.
In a difficult period for French churchmen, torn between their loyalties to the church and to the monarchy, some of them may have seen Louis as their hope for the future. In the G.Sivéry theory, Amaury de Beynes had been close to Louis and so, by implicating the former in heresy, Guérin and the King’s advisors could intimidate any clerics who might be tempted to support Louis against his father.
The interdict had indeed been a crisis for Church leaders, – the Abbots of Saint-Denis and Sainte-Geneviève had stayed loyal to the King, while the Bishop of Paris at the time, Eudes de Sully, had followed the instructions of the Pope; – but the crisis had been short-lived. It was not in Pope Innocent III’s wider political interests to antagonise the King of France, and he had lifted the ban at the earliest possible moment, before the King’s repudiation of Agnès, and long before the end of Philippe’s persecution of his unloved Queen. Agnès herself had died, abandoned by the King in 1201. Innocent III had gone on to accept the King’s nominee for Bishop of Paris in succession to Eudes de Sully.
There were no doubt political reasons for Guérin’s interest in the Amalricians. He may have been settling some old scores; but more probably, he saw that the situation provided a wonderful opportunity to strengthen the bonds between the King and the Church, by showing how strong the government could be in the Church’s defence. There is nothing like a shared fear, a common enemy, to accelerate the growth of a shaky relationship.
Since the bishops and masters of theology organised the investigation to find evidence of heresy and, once it had been gathered, they prosecuted the accused and they sat in judgement, the historian, J.M.M.H.Thijssen, has categorised the judicial process used against the Amalricians as an early instance of an inquisition, a new (and extreme) procedure used by Robert de Courçon, as encouraged by Pope Innocent III.
The evidence of ‘presbyter W.’
A document, which may have a bearing on the capture of the Amalricians, is a letter, written by Jean le Teutonique, Prior of Saint-Victor, and Jean de la Chandeleur, one of the eight masters of theology in Paris. The subject of the letter was a priest, referred to only as ‘W’, who had been banished from Paris in the time of Bishop Eudes de Sully (i.e. before 1208), and had then been imprisoned by his successor, Bishop Pierre de Nemours, when ‘W’ returned to Paris without episcopal permission. The letter proclaimed that ‘W’ had now been released from the Bishop’s prison at Saint-Cloud, after he had suffered an assault there from one of the prison guards. Jean le Teutonique and Jean de la Chandeleur ended by saying that ‘W’ had now been restored to the Bishop’s confidence at their request. The letter was witnessed by one canon of Paris and three from Saint-Victor, including Robert of Flamborough. It will be remembered that Robert and Jean le Teutonique were two out of the three instigators from Saint-Victor of Raoul de Namur’s investigation into the Amalricians. Robert of Flamborough was a close colleague of Robert de Courçon, and had been a papal investigator with him between 1205 and 1207.
If ‘W’ is the Amalrician, Wilhelmus Aurifex, as the circumstantial evidence suggests, then it would seem that Jean le Teutonique and Jean de la Chandeleur interceded on his behalf and obtained his release, in order that he could lead the spy, Raoul de Namur, to others who shared his Amalrician views, with the purpose of exposing them all. The letter is dated September 1209.
The identification of ‘W. presbyter’ with Wilhelmus has to remain in doubt, however, as it is not known whether Wilhelmus, who was certainly a cleric, was ever a priest. If ‘W’ is Wilhelmus, then he was released in the late summer of 1209, travelled with Raoul for three months, before being betrayed in the autumn of 1209. Whether or not ‘W’ is Wilhelmus, it is known that Raoul de Namur succeeded in his task of exposing Wilhelmus and his contacts to the Paris authorities.
The Council of Paris
When various associates of Wilhelmus had been betrayed, they were questioned about their beliefs, and a fragment of one of these examinations has survived. The Archbishop of Sens, Pierre de Corbeil, – a former Paris master, who had been promoted to this post in 1199, after his grateful former pupil had become Pope Innocent III, – had to convene a special ecclesiastical council in Paris to deal with the matter. Fourteen leading figures, – of whom thirteen were certainly clerics, – were accused of heresies, which were summarised in an unofficial report of the council’s work. This report has also been preserved.
The Council of Bishops and Masters of Theology met in Paris in November. Most scholars have accepted without question that the year was 1210, although the best witness, Guillaume le Breton, put his report into his history between the years 1209 and 1210. Since the Anonymous of Laon mentioned that it all happened in winter, and the report of the council dated itself in November, one would assume that the date was November 1209. Albéric des Trois-Fontaines, following Guillaume’s account closely, did date it in 1209.
News of this winter council would probably not have spread far until after the New Year, and so it is not surprising that Robert d’Auxerre, the Chronicle of Melrose and the third continuation of the Chronica Regia Coloniensis (the Royal Chronicles of Köln) put their narratives under the year 1210. It must also be recorded that one chronicle, the second continuation of the Chronica Regia Coloniensis, actually gave the year as 1211. My preference is to trust the closest witness, Guillaume le Breton.
Those suspected of heresy
At this council, “several priests, clerics and lay men and women” were accused of involvement in the Amalrician heresy. The Chronicle of Melrose saw it as a case of the learned preying on the innocent:
“Those superstitious heretics who had crept into widows’ houses, by their perverted interpretation of Holy Scripture, had secretly seduced a very great multitude of the simple.”
This sentence is almost entirely derived from a text, in Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, about hypocrites corrupting simple women in the last days: this must have suggested itself to the chronicler as apposite, because of the juxtaposition, in this story, of women and of clergymen who prophesied about future changes and who went on to be convicted of heresy: they were therefore not to be trusted.
It is not surprising that women were important supporters of the Amalricians. Women could not learn Latin or study theology, because that was only available to clerics, but the Amalricians – for whom religion was a personal experience based upon an intellectual, as well as an emotional, commitment, as will become clear later, – translated or summarised key texts in the vernacular for those who wanted to understand what they practised. This could certainly have been appreciated by many thoughtful women who took a deeper interest in their religion. Women were specifically mentioned by Guillaume le Breton as having been spared any punishment by the investigators. The presence of female supporters may have led some contemporaries to call the Amalricians papelards; this name was usually associated in the 13th century with beguines, pious lay women dedicated to a public Christian life of good works, and also sometimes to an interior life of mystical experience: many later came to be viewed with hostile suspicion.
The Melrose chronicler was right to stress that the leaders were well educated: three were known to be masters of arts at Paris, and of the thirteen listed by Caesarius, nine were said to have studied theology. The leaders were all clerics, remarkable for their piety and good life (a feigned decency in the eyes of the orthodox). It was their
“counterfeit appearance of probity and their overlay of respectable living”
which, according to Robert d’Auxerre, had helped to secure them such a large following. The Council of Paris was tasked with the investigation of their beliefs. What they found out will form the subject of the next part of this study.