The Condemnation of the Amalricians
The Council of Bishops and Masters of Theology, which was convened in Paris by Pierre de Corbeil, the Archbishop of Sens, judged the teachings of the Amalricians, and condemned them as heretical. This meant that the Amalricians were considered to be extremely harmful, – as dangerous as an infectious disease, – because what they taught did not conform to the doctrine that was accepted by those in power, in church and state, at the time. Church and state were indeed so frightened by anything that they did not understand, that they had no qualms about putting even academics and mystics to death, in order to protect themselves and others from spiritual danger.
The Decree issued at the end of the Council of Paris listed the 14 names of clerics found guilty of spreading heretical views. Caesarius von Heisterbach also listed their names, although he only mentioned 13 of them. Both texts were written in Latin but, whereas the Decree used the academically correct Latin names of the places from which they came, Caesarius usually tried to transliterate the vernacular names that were in use locally (presumably after a detailed oral briefing).
The first group: condemned to the harshest punishment
These thirteen (or fourteen) heretics can be divided into two groups. Nine (or ten) were condemned by the Council of Paris to be defrocked (degraded from their clerical orders, and thereby deprived of the protection of the Church) and handed over to the secular authority to be punished. The Decree and the chronicle of Robert d’Auxerre put ten people in this group; the written report of the Council and Caesarius’ long narrative, in his Dialogue of Miracles, gave the number as nine.
The man whose name comes first in the Decree, and second in Caesarius’ list, is Magister Bernardus, a sub-deacon and Master of Arts. In the Third Continuation of the Royal Chronicles of Köln (Chronica Regia Coloniensis), there is a short paragraph on the heresy in Paris, in which only one person is named, the “heresiarch Bernardus”. He is also the only individual named in the Report of the Council: it quotes his words of encouragement to his colleagues that, since their being is divine and eternal, it cannot be threatened by any mortal punishment. It is probable that he was at the centre of the Paris group.
The name that comes first on Caesarius’ list is that of Magister Wilhelmus Pictaviensis (Guillaume de Poitiers), a sub-deacon and Master of Arts, who had lectured in Paris, and who for the last three years had been studying theology. As there is no other text that singles him out for special mention, it is probable that Caesarius has put him first because, as a teacher, he might be more widely recognised. He may have been a colleague of Amaury’s.
The next figure on both lists is, not surprisingly, Wilhelmus Aurifex, the missionary preacher whose high-profile ‘prophesying’ led to the uncovering of the group. In the Decree, he is said to come from Aire (Arria). This is presumably the Aire that lies just to the east of Thérouanne in the Artois. He is also said to be a goldsmith (aurifaber) by trade, although this is unlikely, as he was a cleric and had studied theology. His connection with gold is more likely to denote an interest in alchemy. He seems to have been a bit of a religious ‘pedlar’ who delighted in spreading doom-laden forecasts, and who ended up ascribing to himself a special prophetic role, in a movement to which he was probably only loosely linked. His populist recruiting and flamboyant style seem to be at odds with the earnest study and pastoral care that characterised many of the other Amalricians. This may help to explain why Bishop Eudes de Sully, who may have installed some of the Amalricians into their parishes, nevertheless banned the troublemaker ‘W.’ from his diocese (but that is making an assumption, which cannot be proved, that W. was Wilhelmus).
Next, in both lists, come the names of three parish priests, Stephanus, priest of Vieux-Corbeil, Stephanus, priest of la Celle and Johannes, priest of l’Ursine. The second Stephanus, the priest of la Celle, can be glimpsed in the fragment of the record of a preliminary investigation, explaining the three Trinitarian ages of religious development, and his interpretation of the concepts of heaven and hell as internal states of mind. The fragment unfortunately breaks off at the point where he started to give them his views on resurrection. The priest who figured most prominently in that fragment was Johannes, the priest of l’Ursine, when he was questioned about some of his pantheist beliefs. Johannes is also important in showing that at least one Amalrician did try to pass on some of his own insights to his flock because, when he was taken away, he told his parishioners not to trust anyone who came and contradicted what they had been taught.
The final three are: Dudo, a priest, who had formerly been secretary to Amaury de Beynes and a theology student for nearly 10 years, plus two of the lesser clergy at the church of Saint-Cloud, deacon Odo, and acolyte Elinans (or Elinandus). (Had the last two been inspired by ‘W.’ during his imprisonment in the Bishop’s prison in Saint-Cloud?)
The tenth man
According to the report of the Council, the nine were made up of 4 priests, 2 deacons and 3 sub-deacons. The 4 priests must be: Stephanus de Vieux-Corbeil, Stephanus de la Celle, Johannes and Dudo; the 3 sub-deacons are: Bernardus, Wilhelmus Pictaviensis and Elinans; and one of the two deacons is Odo. It would therefore seem that the second deacon must be Wilhelmus Aurifex. This would seem to preclude him from being the priest called W. in the September 1209 letter from Jean le Teutonique and Jean de la Chandeleur. However, there is the complication that the Decree mentions a tenth man, Dominicus de Triangulo (from Trainel in the diocese of Sens and in the County of Champagne) whose name occurs, between Dudo and Odo, in the list of those defrocked and handed over to the King. (A choice of speculations about him will be found in the next piece, on Amalrician parishes and personnel.)
The second group: condemned to be imprisoned
The final four names are of those who were defrocked and condemned to perpetual imprisonment. Two were sexagenarians: Ulricus, priest of Loury, in the diocese of Orléans, who had studied theology for a long time, and Petrus de Sancto Clodoaldo (Pierre de Saint-Cloud), also an elderly student of theology, who had become a monk at Saint-Denis, when the search for the Amalricians was instigated. The other two were connected with Vieux-Corbeil: Stephanus was deacon there; Garinus, a Master of Arts who had attended theology lectures given by Stephen Langton, later Archbishop of Canterbury, was said, by the Anonymous of Laon, to be the chaplain in a castle at Corbeil. Altogether, nine out of the thirteen (or 14) had gone on to make a deeper study of theology.
The Decree of the Council of Paris
The Council decreed, in the first place:
“Let the body of Master Amalric be removed from the cemetery and cast into unconsecrated ground and the same be excommunicated by all the churches of the entire province.”
How could this be justified, when Amaury had publicly confessed that his interpretation must be wrong, when the Pope had condemned it? To be damned as a heretic, one must do more than challenge or criticise orthodox doctrine; one must persist in such views after their unacceptability has been pointed out by the Church; and Amaury had bowed before the greater authority of the Pope.
The historian J.M.Thijssen notes that Robert de Courçon, who was involved throughout the investigation and trial, had already considered, in his Summa composed between 1204 and 1208, the difficulty of excommunicating an individual who was already dead, and who could not therefore make, or deny, any statements at his trial. Robert had concluded that heresy was such a heinous offence that such scruples could just be ignored.
Next the Council decreed that ten of those they had just investigated were to be degraded from their orders and handed over to the secular court, and that the remaining four were to be degraded and imprisoned for life.
Finally, the Council’s decree required that a number of books should be banned. First among these were the Quaternuli of another suspect Master, David de Dinant. These must have been considered to be particularly dangerous, because anyone who was found still harbouring David’s work after Christmas would, by that fact alone, have proved himself to be a heretic.
Also to be destroyed were any theological works, apart from saints’ lives, written in the vernacular. In particular the Decree condemned a vernacular Credo and Pater Noster. People had until the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (i.e. Candlemas, 2nd February) to get rid of these. Such aids to worship could have been distributed among less educated – and therefore less threatening – laymen, who would need longer to be chased up.
The Council also decreed that
“neither the books of Aristotle on natural philosophy, nor their commentaries, are to be taught at Paris, in public or in private, and this we forbid under penalty of excommunication.”
The books of Aristotle, – newly recovered, as far as the West was concerned, by the recent Latin occupation of Greece after the 4th Crusade, – had been of critical importance in the work of David de Dinant. Many contemporaries linked David’s name to that of the Amalricians, as an important contributor to their ideas: he will need to be studied in a later chapter. What the Council meant by commentaries on Aristotle is not so clear, but may refer to the new knowledge of Greek philosophy and science which was coming into Latin Europe at the time from the translators working in Spain and Sicily.
The women and simpler folk were spared, but the clerics who had been convicted were, on 14th November, degraded from their orders before a large crowd in front of the church of Saint Honoré, a new foundation next to one of the city gates. The King of France, whose advisors had probably worked closely with the Church authorities to complete the investigation, was absent from Paris at the time of the judgement. As soon as he returned to his capital, the nine (or ten) mystics who had been judged to be the most dangerous, were handed over to him for punishment.
On the 20th November they were burned on enormous pyres of wood and straw on the open fairground of les Champeaux. Staked into the fairground, the mystics suffered their physical agonies, while no doubt being loudly derided and insulted by the malicious rabble that would watch such punishment. As the wind rose, fanning the flames, let us hope that they were able to concentrate in prayer on their premature union with the eternal light in which they believed. It is very unlikely that any spectator saw the symbolism of the light blazing in those fires. The King could be pleased that he had been able to show himself as the defender of the French Church, – maintaining the Capetian tradition of mutual support between the royal family and the Church, – while ridding himself of a potential embarrassment.
The Amalricians all met their death calmly and without any sign of repentance. This was seen by the chroniclers of the time as an indication of their hopeless stupidity.
“So obdurate were they in their obstinacy, that even in the flames they uttered not the faintest sound.”
“Of so obstinate a mind did they show themselves, that they would give no reply to any questions, nor would they vouchsafe any sign of penitence, even in the agony of death.”
As had been decreed by Pierre de Corbeil, Archbishop of Sens, Amaury de Beynes was posthumously excommunicated as the instigator of their heresy. His remains were removed from Saint-Martin-des-Champs and tossed on to a rubbish heap.
According to the chronicle of the Cistercian Abbey of Melrose in Scotland (it is interesting how closely many Cistercians seem to have followed this story), Master Robert de Courçon, who had persecuted these heretics from the outset, divided them into two categories, one called Amalrician after Amaury, and one called Godinus, after another leader, Godinus. One might expect a follower of Godinus to be called a Godinite, but not just to be given the same name: a follower of Marx is called a Marxist, not a Marx; a follower of Wesley is called a Wesleyan, not a Wesley. Perhaps Godinus was not the name of a leader, nor a name invented by their persecutors, but a name used, by some of the mystics, to describe themselves. As a self-given name, it could have been an affirmation of their conviction that God was in them. For this name to be meaningful, the group must have had a Teutonic language, like Flemish, as their vernacular, and one might expect to find these Godini near the north-eastern borders of France.
A Magister Godinus was arrested in Amiens and burned at the stake as a heretic. This may have happened in about 1212, because the chronicle of the Anonymous of Laon interrupts its account of 1212 events, in order to look back and summarise the story of the Council of Paris. It gives brief notices on Amaury de Beynes, David de Dinant, and a third religious ‘bandit’, Gautier de Mussy (who will be considered shortly). It ends by saying that the most recent event in this sorry tale was the conviction and execution of Magister Godinus at Amiens. It was presumably his burning that prompted the intercalation of the whole Amalrician story. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that Godinus was thought to be a heretic in the same tradition as the Amalricians. It will be recalled that the tract Against the Amalricians mentioned a certain Godinus. Magister Godinus may not have come from Amiens, but that was where he was picked up. Amiens, an important industrial and commercial centre on the Somme, had recently (in 1185) been removed from Flemish influence to come under the direct control of the King of France.
Gautier de Mussy-sur-Seine
Who was the third ‘bandit’, Gautier the priest of Mussy? He is described by the Anonymous of Laon as a Master of Arts, a canon of Langres, and a man with a great name, who had tried to seduce the formidable Countess of Champagne, Blanche de Navarre, in both soul and body. He had been summoned to appear before the Bishop of Langres to answer charges of heresy, but had escaped punishment by appealing to the Pope. Pope Innocent III certainly wrote, in 1211, to the Archbishop of Sens, the Bishop of Nevers and Robert de Courçon, and to the first two again, in 1213, together with the Dean of Salisbury, asking them to investigate Gautier on suspicion of heresy; but he had disappeared.
Could a heresy charge just be a convenient way of dealing with a local trouble-maker? There had been constant tension between the Chapter (i.e. the canons of the cathedral) and the Bishop at Langres for at least a decade. Garnier de Rochefort, when he was Bishop of Langres, had had to answer accusations, which had been sent by the canons to the Pope in 1198; and he had stepped down soon afterwards. The bishops who succeeded Garnier in this post did not last long either. In 1212, the Pope wrote to the chapter, permitting them to enjoy property, which had been taken away from them by the bishops. This antagonism may just be local church politics, or it may be part of wider Burgundian politics, as Gautier de Mussy is described (in a letter from the Duke of Burgundy, dated 1207) as the brother of Lambert de Châtillon, hereditary mayor of Châtillon-sur-Seine, which had always tried to gain advantage by setting its two feudal lords, the Duke of Burgundy and the Bishop of Langres, against each other. In 1208, for instance, the Duke gave the burghers of Châtillon a charter without the consent of the Bishop, who placed the town under interdict (the withdrawal of most church services) to get it revoked.
It is conceivable that Gautier de Mussy was only involved in local quarrels with the bishop, and that the latter’s retaliation was a charge of heresy; but why, then, should the Anonymous of Laon have linked that to the story of the Amalricians? It may be significant that three of the four investigators commissioned by the Pope for this case – the three who came from outside the area: Pierre de Corbeil, Robert de Courçon and the Dean of Salisbury – had already been involved in the prosecution of the Amalricians. If Gautier de Mussy, canon of Langres, was connected with the Amalricians, it could explain why Garnier de Rochefort, as the former Bishop of Langres, may have become interested in the movement, and how he could have acquired the detailed knowledge for the polemic Against the Amalricians.
If Gautier de Mussy was connected with the Amalricians, and if he thought that he was influencing the powerful Countess Regent of Champagne, that could have made another reason why some members of the group felt bold enough to prophesy about political changes in their favour in the near future.
A few years later, a heretic was burned at Troyes for proclaiming that he was the Holy Spirit. He may well have been an illuminist in the Amalrician tradition. Certainly, Caesarius connected him to the Paris heresy. This is the last case for which the epithet Amalrician can still be suggested; but it is not the end of this particular radical and mystical tradition.
The illuminism which inspired the Amalricians, – their certainty that the Holy Spirit was present as the ultimate authority within every Christian who took the trouble to understand his own self, – would go on to inform other illuminist mystics in the later Middle Ages. Some of them would be accepted as orthodox, some would inspire doubt, anxiety or condemnation, and some would be loosely categorised as brethren of ‘the Free Spirit’. Any Amalrician legacy to later historical developments, however, is beyond the scope of my research, which will concentrate instead on possible sources. Since the Amalricians were the first group in the medieval West to promote a radical interpretation of Christianity, based as much upon personal religious experience as upon Church tradition and New Testament teaching, the question of their sources is particularly intriguing.
The prohibitions and condemnations of 1215
In August 1215, Robert de Courçon, now Cardinal-Legate, proclaimed the new statutes and regulations for the nascent university of Paris, and repeated the prohibition by the Council of Paris on the reading of certain books:
“They shall not lecture on the books of Aristotle on metaphysics or natural philosophy, or on summaries of them, or concerning the doctrines of Master David of Dinant or the heretic Amaury or Mauricius of Spain.”
In addition to studying David’s teachings, this study will need to investigate what was implied by summaries of Aristotelian philosophy, and to find out who was Mauricius of Spain.
Also in 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council, convened by Pope Innocent III, added its condemnation of the teachings of Amaury, in a sentence of damnation appended to the chapter censuring the Trinitarian errors of the Abbot Joachim:
“We also reject and condemn the most perverse opinion of the impious Amaury, whose mind was so blinded by the father of lies, that his teaching is to be reckoned not so much heretical as mad.”
Joachim’s possible influence will also have to be considered.
Who handed on to Amaury, or the Amalricians, the coherent, radical, mystical tradition, which was so far removed from what their contemporaries could understand, that it has been dismissed as unworthy of study, even by ecclesiastical historians, until modern times? It is probable that no definitive answer will be found, but the investigation of possible sources for their remarkable theology may at least place the Amalricians against a background that makes some sense of their position.
May I stress that I am more interested in understanding the radical thinkers who may have contributed ideas to the Amalricians, than I am in trying to prove that particular possible sources must have been used by them. I will mention evidence that may suggest links, but it is not my purpose to prove any particular filiation of ideas.
Next in this section comes a piece giving more information about certain Amalrician individuals and parishes, and after that there is a note dealing with the identity of the “decanus Salebergiensis”.