Statement of Intent

This website is aimed at people who are interested in the history of radical religious ideas.  It will attempt to study the religious experience of a number of radical medieval thinkers in all three monotheist religions, whose mystical traditions might have influenced the exceptionally well educated group of churchmen, working in and around Paris at the beginning of the 13th century, who are known as the Amalricians. The latter were so far ahead of their contemporaries in their understanding of religion that they were persecuted as heretics.

I think my own motivation for all this work has been threefold.  Firstly, I am keen to find out about radical mystics, as a way of understanding religion in its primary impulse, in personal spiritual experience.  I am one of those people who find it easier to understand something, if I can study a part of its historical development.

Secondly, I am as fascinated by medieval history as I am by religion, and so I am hopeful that this website can make an academically worthy contribution, however minor, towards extending our knowledge of that period.

Thirdly, it seems to me to be time for some justice to be given to the Amalrician heretics in particular, who not only suffered persecution in their lifetime, but have been dismissed as unimportant, weird and probably stupid, ever since.  For example, the medieval expert, Etienne Gilson, writing in a preface to Germaine Capelle’s book on the Amalricians, made the condescending remark, that it was permissible to study such foolishness (he used a plural Latin word stultitiae), since it formed part of the historical background to the work of Aquinas.

I am indebted to a huge number of scholars.  They are all listed in Bibliography B, together with their books and articles, which I have plundered for the information that has gone into these studies.  Please consider Bibliography B to be a very long list of grateful acknowledgements, a multitude of thanks for all the help I have received.  Since all these writers have thrown light on historical facts and ideas, I refer to them as historians: I trust that no-one will object to such an honourable title.

I must also record my thanks to a large number of ever-helpful librarians in the British Library in London, in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, in the libraries of Sussex University, the University of Reading, Sarum College Salisbury, and St. Anne’s College Oxford, at the municipal libraries in Corbeil and Rambouillet, and at the library that I have used most – and all parts of which are a joy to work in – the magnificent Bodleian Library in Oxford.  I am indebted to the Institut Britannique de Paris for the opportunity to pursue my research in Paris, funded by a Nathan Award, and to St. Catherine’s College and the Faculty of Theology at Oxford for accepting my original request to do this research.  I am grateful to Dr. Gary Dickson, Emeritus Fellow at Edinburgh, for help and advice; and I must thank both my sons for their help, Alasdair for academic help, and Hamish for making the Joachim illustrations and for designing and constructing the website.

Finally, and most importantly, it is both a duty and a pleasure to praise the memory of two very special academic ladies, now deceased, without whom this work would not have been started.  I was privileged to begin these studies many decades ago under the supervision of Dr. Marjorie E. Reeves, a brilliant Oxford academic, a careful historian, a principal authority on the 12th-century abbot and prophet, Joachim, and above all, a very kind and sincere Christian.  There would have been no reason to start, without the work of that erudite scholar, prolific medievalist, and principal authority on Latin Avicennism, Mademoiselle Marie-Thérèse d’Alverny, of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, who published both of the key texts that led to this study: the fragments of the episcopal investigation into the Amalricians, and the Avicennist mystical work, The Journey of the Soul.

I ought to state my own religious position, since that could intrude upon my historical judgement.  Brought up as a Nonconformist Protestant, I would characterise myself as a student of religion, an attender who belongs to no denomination, a seeker who tries to understand theology in universally applicable, human terms, through unfettered and open-minded study.

I am aware that scholarly rigour and historical method have often been lacking in studies of both mysticism and medieval heresy; but it is my intention to make my work academically sound, to give references to back up any statements of historical fact and, if some connections are mentioned as possibilities, to make it clear that they are only suggestions.

Angus J. Braid M.A. D.Phil.

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