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The Great Medieval Heretics: Five Centuries of Religious Dissent [Paperback]

Michael Frassetto

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The Great Medieval Heretics Replete with terror, passion, and hope, this gripping narrative history explores the intricate mysteries of medieval Europe through the lives of the great heretics whose beliefs and practices challenged the teachings of an all-powerful church. Five centuries of social and spiritual turmoil are covered through a vivid and telling mix of events, personalities, and ideas. A host of figures are discus... Full description

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploration of Medieval Heresies 26 Dec 2009
By J Martin Jellinek - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The medieval period is largely cloaked in darkness and mystery to most of us in the twenty-first century. However, in his book The Great Medieval Heretics, author Michael Frassetto takes us below this veneer into the world of the early centuries of the second millennium, when church and state were closely intertwined and rebellion was not tolerated. But that did not prevent rebellion from occurring. On the church side, rebellion was largely based on a return to apostolic simplicity. The church's excesses were challenged and seen as evidence of the appearance of the antichrist. Those who challenged were branded with the broad brush of heresy.

From our modern eyes, some of these rebels were true heretics. They preached a faith based on dualism, where all earthly things were of the devil. These people denied the totality of all creation by God and saw only the spiritual as created by God. As a result, they eschewed property, marriage, the Eucharistic elements, and (of course) sex.

Other groups which were branded as heretics were opposed to corruption within the Church hierarchy, opposing the selling of indulgences, simony, and many other abuses within the Church. Because of the close relationship between Church and state, many of these heretics also challenged the existing secular system. Many of the beliefs of these heretics foreshadowed the Protestant Reformation.

The Great Medieval Heretics does a great job in discussing ten of the more prominent heresies. Frassetto opens our eyes to the great diversity of thought and belief during these Dark Ages.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful and riveting read, highly recommended 3 Sep 2008
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
To go against the church was once an act worthy of the death penalty. "The Great Medieval Heretics: Five Centuries of Religious Dissent" tells the stories of the figures who dared to stand against the Catholic Church for their countless reasons, be it the desire to survive, for greed, or even out of disagreement of the churches policy and the forming of the protestant reformation. Telling the stories of these individuals, it grants a picture of dissent from the all knowing fist of the Catholic Church. "The Great Medieval Heretics" is an insightful and riveting read, highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heretic Today, Gone Tomorrow 8 Sep 2010
By A Certain Bibliophile - Published on Amazon.com
More than perhaps any other time, the average person of the European middle ages found their identity bound up in religious and moral norms. In this book, Michael Frassetto discusses what can happen when some thinkers pushed the boundaries of traditional religious understanding, and were eventually branded as "heretics." What is particularly special about this text is that the author does not present the heresies compartmentalized from their social context; rather, he integrates apropos aspects of the cultural and political milieu so that the reader fully understands how they came about, the purposes they serve, and, inevitably, the nature of their demise.

The modern mind ties the word "heretic" to a sort of radical libertinism that flirts with godlessness and amorality. As Frassetto explores the varies heresies of the Church, we found out that most of these vanguards attacked the Catholic Church (I say "Catholic Church" here since all of the heresies explored herein are very much pre-Reformation, though one could argue that they had influences on Luther and Calvin) from "the other side." They claimed the Church was too materialistic, too worldly, that it had lost touch with God and His ways. In a word, many of these heresies were conservative in nature, in the sense that they wished to conserve an older worldview of godly purity, apostolic holiness, and in many cases, vows of extreme poverty. The only change these thinkers wanted to impose was to erase the all-too-worldly influences that the Church had grown complacent in and with.

So, who are the fascinating people that Frassetto talks about? Each chapter tells the story of one or two heretics, or discusses a movement they were tied with. Discussed herein are Bogomil, Stephen and Lisois (leaders of a sect at Orleans), Henry the Monk, Peter Waldo (associated with the Waldensians), Raymond VI of Toulouse and his connection with the Cathars, Pierre Autier, Fra Dolcino, Marguerite Porete, John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus.

Henry the Monk of Lausanne (fl. 1110 - 1148), hardly a heretic by today's standards, preached a return to apostolic poverty, saintliness, and orthodoxy, and spoke out against the Church's worldliness. And while the life of Peter Waldo (c. 1140 - 1218) very much resembled the lives of other now-canonized saints, his emphasis on self-imposed poverty and the importance of lay preaching rendered him a danger in the opinion of the Third Lateran Council. The stories of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus, whose names are probably most recognizable to those interested in the topic, portend the later religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Because each chapter tells the self-contained story of a movement over a relatively short period of time, this book makes for an interesting and handy reference book, as well as fascinating reading for those wishing to gain a rudimentary understanding of heterodox religious thought on the periphery of the Church during the first half of the second millennium. This comes especially recommended for those interested in the historical development of the Catholic Church and anyone interested in medieval history. Nota Bene: As should be deduced from the size of this book (it is a rather slim volume), this is not a scholarly text. It is one that introduces material on the beginner to intermediate level, though a list of more specific monographs are listed in the back in an extensive bibliography.
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic for those interested in contrarian thinking 18 Jan 2013
By Andrew Cunningham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Who would have thought that medieval heretics were many times nothing more than modern day protestants, and or those who stood against the oppresive, robber barron like nature of the medieval catholic church. Some were praticing withcraft, but I think this was more the exception than the rule.

When I was in school it was important to me for my professors to think that I was a good student. As a professional money manager I see why it's important to be a contrarian thinking pain in the a** and not a conformist. One of those book s that can change ones perception.
11 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Kill them all. God will recognize his own." 24 Sep 2008
By Frank J. Konopka - Published on Amazon.com
When you've attended, as I have, Catholic schools from kindergarten through college, you tend to get the Church's view of orthodoxy and heresy. This book tends to balance out that somewhat skewed view I received in my education. The several people, and movements, delineated in this well-written book range from the thoroughly heretical even by lax religious standards, to those wrongly accused, whose views sometimes were later adopted as heterodox by the Church authorities. Reading this book shows how intolerant any church (organization, government, etc.) can become if it feels that it has the ultimate position on truth and righteousness. There may be good people in charge, but they can also be blinded by their view of themselves, and anyone who disagrees with their world view in any way, no matter how insignificantly, is wrong and should be condemned. It's a wake-up call for tolerance to all points of view; we don't have to burn at the stake those who don't agree with us, or even issue religious death pronouncements against them. Everyone is entitled to his or her view of religion, and as long as it doesn't unduly interfere with the free exercise of relgion by others, that view should be, at least, respected.
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