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Heresies of the High Middle Ages (Records of Western Civilization Series) Paperback – 20 May 1991

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Product details

  • Paperback: 865 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; New Ed edition (20 May 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231096321
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231096324
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 15.2 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 639,759 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


The best single introduction to European heresy.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Using this for my dissertation on medieval heresy and it's perfect! Sources from the whole time period, grouped usefully, with particularly useful introductions which explain the context well without going into ridiculous amounts of detail.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x92994fcc) out of 5 stars 5 reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93172a2c) out of 5 stars Ian Myles Slater on: Just the Facts (and Some Old Lies) 22 Aug. 2004
By Ian M. Slater - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Given the variety of best-selling novels based on real or invented medieval heresies and "secret doctrines," from the well-informed and ingenious "The Name of the Rose" (Umberto Eco, 1980), to the more recent, intellectually negligible (among other problems), "Da Vinci Code," not to mention supposedly non-fiction accounts of the Cathars and Templars (see below), a book like "Heresies of the High Middle Ages," absolutely stuffed with such things, ought to have been flying off the shelves. Right?

Well, that logic doesn't seem to apply. One good reason (there are bad ones) is that so many real medieval heresies seem to be mind-numbingly boring to moderns not already committed to a specific religious view -- noticed any big fights between secularists over receiving Communion from unworthy priests lately? And that is an issue moderns can grasp, without understanding the theological implications. Other heretical positions and movements are just plain weird and unattractive to most of us. The Catholic Church wanted celibate clergy, and regular fasting for lay people; the often-romanticized Cathars disapproved of food, sex, and just about everything else, for everyone, at any time (to over-simplify a bit).

And some still well-known and sensational "heresies" seem to have been invented as a convenient, non-refutable, accusation. The "blasphemies" and "crimes" of the Templars, despite a stream of lurid accounts and recent "discoveries," were made up for political and financial reasons; the King of France owed them a lot of money, and, like Saddam Hussein, figured that eliminating creditors was better than paying up, and a good way to acquire their wealth. Philip IV was furious to find their treasuries empty; perpetually short of cash, like most medieval monarchs, he had failed to grasp that the one-time military order of monks had been lending him, and others, a lot more than their spare change. So much for coded messages and maps to their secret vaults. Nothing to do, really, with demon-worship, or (as more recently alleged) possession of the Holy Grail (!), but a good example of what can be done with torture and propaganda. The Templars don't make an appearance in the index of this book, for good reason.

Another reason for relative obscurity: this is a massive anthology -- seventy-some pages of general historical introduction are followed by 560 of translations of medieval texts, with short introductions in smaller print, with over 200 pages of notes and bibliography, and a final nineteen pages of index. It was originally intended (by Austin P. Evans) as part of a larger project, setting religious dissension in the Middle Ages, and the operations of the Inquisition, in their social and political settings. The actual book (as completed by Wakefield after Evans' death) is instead a well-organized mine of material on beliefs, reactions, and personalities, with no real parallel in English on anything like the same scale. (Edward Peter's 1980 "Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe: Documents in Translation" is less than half the length, and has a different focus.)

Broken up into sixty main readings, many with sub-sections, "Heresies of the High Middle Ages" is a solid, responsible, unsensationalized, source-book, and not something to take to the beach (unless you are trying to keep up with course work).

It is, at a minimum, an invaluable companion to such long-standard books as Runciman's "The Medieval Manichee: A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy" (1955) and Norman Cohn's "The Pursuit of the Millenium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages" (1960; several revised editions), and more recent studies, such as Cohn's "Europe's Inner Demons" (1975, revised 1993; on the conceptual overlapping of heresy and sorcery). It can, of course, stand by itself.

Certain chronological and theological aspects can be supplemented, on the generally (more) orthodox side, by Bernard McGinn's short anthology of "Apocalyptic Spirituality" in the "Classics of Western Spirituality" series (1979), which runs from the Church Fathers in the third century to Savonarola in the late fifteenth, instead of being limited to the "High Middle Ages."

The range of the term "High Middle Ages" varies from historian to historian. In this case, it includes Western Europe in the late tenth and eleventh centuries, with slender documentation for heretical movements; the slightly more detailed sources for the twelfth century; and the turbulent, and well-documented, thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, which are covered in considerable detail. Anyone not familiar with the Church History and dogma, and the main political events, of this period, should probably find and read a good standard textbook or two before plunging in. The editors did a good job, but they had to assume some prior knowledge.

Whenever possible, the quite varied unorthodox movements are allowed to speak for themselves. They range from merely dissenting from the practices of the hierarchy of the Church, to frankly anti-Church, to committed holders of actual theological differences, both obvious and (to modern ideas) amazingly esoteric. The historically prominent Cathars, or Albigensians, are well-represented (with a complete section, #56-60, pages 447-630; and frequent mentions in earlier portions), as are the Waldensians, with whom they are often grouped (see especially #30-38). (The Cathars were out-and-dualists in the Gnostic tradition, and took their alternate name from their one-time domination of the Albi region of southern France; they are historically connected to the Bogomil dualists of the Balkans in the earlier Middle Ages, and, just conceivably, to the actual Manicheans of St. Augustine's time. The Waldensians, when slander, rumor, and later Protestant approval are discounted, seem to have been more conventional critics of the wealth of the Church and its hierarchy.) But so are more obscure groups and individuals, such as the Amalricians (#44A & B), as surviving documentation allows.

Where their own documents are lacking, care is given to include the most responsible hostile reports (such as James Capeli, #49), as well as the more sensational accusations of ill-informed or simply malicious heresy-hunters, such as Guibert of Nogent (#9). The quality of these sources vary, since some writers drew on both their own experience and on rumors and earlier accounts, a clear example being Bernard Gui, an important inquisitor in the first three decades of the fourteenth century (#55, pages 373-445).

An invaluable book for the serious inquirer.
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93172a80) out of 5 stars Crucial primary source material on Cathars, Waldensians, others 4 Sept. 2006
By Gnostic Path - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This has not only reports of the heresy hunters on various 'heresies' of the middle ages, it has what remains of the literature of the Cathars: the version of the Ascension of Isaiah that they circulated amongst themselves, the Secret Supper of John which they had from the Bogomils, the bestowing of the Lord's Prayer and rites of consolatum, and the entire Book of the Two Principles which is a theological defense of radical dualism.

The Book of Two Principles is the only such work I have found that has attempted to provide a systematic, detailed, consistent, and well thought out philosophical and theological argument for dualism against one-source theories of 'mitigated' dualists, monotheists, or monists.

The work itself contains a much more developed and sophisticated philosophical/theological argument than what is found in the Zoroastrian Shkand-gumanig Vizar (Doubt-dispelling exposition)

A student of comparative religion who refers to dualism at all, in any way, really should read the Cathar Book of Two Principles, along with The Samkhya Philosophy translated by Nandalal Sinha, which is the other important Eastern dualist Philosophy that I have found, which is similarly thorough and well-thought out, well developed, well argued.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93006528) out of 5 stars Why the High Middle Ages are called the Age of Faith 29 Aug. 2007
By Cynthia I. Browning - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent resource material providing source documents for anyone interested in knowing what all the fuss was about. However, do take the editorials with a grain or two of salt. For example, two documents attributed to the Cathars (a vindication of their beliefs and another concerning the Lord's Prayer) do not proove they were Manachians, or dualists of any type, although Wakefield and Evans take several pages to try to tell us why they were. The fact that these documents have very little references from Old Testament scriptures, or none at all, means only that the Old Testament was not relavent to these two subjects. Heresies of the High Middle Ages is a most important book for any one interested in the "age of faith."
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93172d08) out of 5 stars Very good source 10 Dec. 2012
By Michael J. Boyle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
this was very helpful in my research of the Waldensians. The book
was very well put together and included translated writings I have not
discovered anywhere else.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93172ca8) out of 5 stars great source book 5 May 2014
By leticiamillanalfaro - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
a really great source book! got it for a history seminar on heresies. this book contains a lot of interesting primary sources.
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