Tag Archives: Europe – Medieval

The Mirror of Simple Souls

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Mirror of Simple Souls [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Margaret Porette

Porette The Mirror of Simple Souls

This masterpiece of Christian apophatic mysticism is notable for also containing a high degree of affective content. It includes elements of Boethian allegory and draws on the literary tradition of courtly love, while describing the annihilation and apotheosis of the Soul in a set of visionary conversations. Church authorities considered its contents to be dangerously heretical because of the antinomian idea (sometimes connected with the heresy of the Free Spirit) that the mystic who attains to annihilation has desire free from sin, and thus may exercise his or her will without constraint. 

“And therefore I say to all that no-one who understands as I do will understand this book unless he understands it by the strength of Faith and the Power of Love, who are my mistresses, for I obey them in all things. And then too, says Reason, I want to say this: that whoever has these two strings to his bow, that is the light of Faith and the power of Love, he has permission to do whatever pleases him, and the witness of this is Love herself, who says to the Soul: Beloved, love, and do what you will.” (30) This text thus manifests a link in the germination of Thelema between Augustine’s Dilige et quod vis fac (“Love, and do what you will”) and Colonna’s Trahit sua quemque voluptas (“Let each follow his own pleasure”).

Marguerite was burnt at the stake for heresy in 1310, less than a month after the similar execution of fifty-four Knights Templar. Her book had been incinerated earlier, but she persisted in authorizing its distribution. After her death, it was sufficiently prized by its readers that they continued to circulate it sub rosa, and it was not reconnected to her authorship until the middle of the twentieth century. In the meanwhile it was influential on other mystics including Eckhart and Ruysbroek. 

Porete’s idea of annihilation bears fruitful comparison with the Sufi doctrine of fana. Thelemites will be well-advised to study The Mirror of Simple Souls in connection with Liber CLXVI and its related rituals and attainments.

Repression of Heresy in Medieval Germany

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Repression of Heresy in Medieval Germany [Bookshop, Amazon, Publisher] by Richard Kieckhefer.

Kieckhefer Repression of Heresy in Medieval Germany

Kieckhefer’s Repression of Heresy in Medieval Germany is only incidentally concerned with heresy or heretics; it is focused on the activity and social apparatus of repression. His reason for not calling it Iniquisitors and Inquisition in Medieval Germany was doubtless twofold. On the one hand, he focuses here chiefly on heresy as the object of inquisitional proceedings, as opposed to witchcraft, blasphemy, or or other possible crimes. On the other hand, it is his thesis that while there were instances and episodes of inquisition in Medieval Germany, there was no Inquisition as a durable institution that could either support or constrain individual inquisitors. It is this lack that Kieckhefer foregrounds as the reason for the relative failures of medieval inquisitors to eliminate or control heresy and its spread in Germany. This explanation is counter to the longstanding prior assumption (credited chiefly to Henry Charles Lea’s 1888 History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages) that inquisitors were hampered by local powers jealous of their prerogatives and jurisdictions.

In the absence of a durable institution, inquisitors had two possible sources of authority: bishops or the pope. The former would necessarily be aligned with the diocesan clergy whom they supervised, and the latter typically appointed Dominicans. Still, cooperation between papal inquisitors and local bishops was the rule rather than the exception, according to Kieckhefer’s account. The lack of institutional grounding made inquisitorial proceedings both less effectual and more prone to abuses than they would otherwise have been, and where there was genuine resistance of local authorities, it tended to arise from concern over the fairness and accuracy of the proceedings.

The book is organized chronologically, with different conspicuous heresies serving to characterize its periods: the rise of Waldensianism, the Free Spirit, beghards and beguines, the Waldensian “crisis” of the late fourteenth century, flagellants, and Hussites. Kieckhefer is careful to point out that his treatment of these heretics is far from comprehensive, being limited to the details bearing on his study of the inquisitors and their work, along with some general information for contextual purposes, and he refers the reader to other books for purposes of studying the heretical movements themselves. (Repression of Heresy is a scholarly work with a full apparatus, and the endnotes and bibliography are more than a third of the length of the body text.)

Although this book is now nearly forty years old, I suspect it has yet to be superseded with respect to its central focus. (For one with a somewhat wider geographic and conceptual scope, restricted to the earlier periods treated in Kiekhefer’s study, see Moore’s Formation of a Persecuting Society.) As Kieckhefer remarks at the outset, the study of medieval inquisition has traditionally drawn much of its impetus from “Protestant-Catholic polemics” which have been undermined by Christian ecumenism (ix). The relative lack of inquisitorial achievement in Germany means that it has not been an attractive object for study. The explanation proposed in this book, taking institutional development as its index, is one that might be applied to other historical problems. But in his closing, the author cautions that the relationship is unlikely to be a simple one, and that while too anemic an institution could lead to failure and abuse, overweening institutional development might do so as well, and the latter might be a more fitting consideration for our own time.