For §58. — For the Brethren of the Free Spirit, Fredericq: Corpus doc. haer. pravitalis, etc., vols. I-III. — Haupt, art. in Herzog, III. 467-473, Brüder des Freien Geistes. See lit., vol. V., I. p. 459. — For the Fraticelli F. Ehrle: Die Spiritualen. Ihr Verhältniss zum Francis-kanerorden u. zu d. Fraticellen in Archiv f. K. u. Lit. geschichte, 1885, pp. 1509-1570; 1886, pp. 106-164; 1887, pp. 553-623. — Döllinger: Sektengesch., II. — Lea: Inquisition, III. 129 sqq., 164-175. — Wetzer-Welte, IV, 1926-1985. — For the Waldenses, see lit., vol. V., I. p. 459. — Also, W. Preger: Der Traktat des Dav. von Augsburg fiber die Waldenser, Munich, 1878. — Hansen: Quellen, etc., Bonn, 1901, 149-181, etc. See full title below. — For the Flagellants, see lit., vol. V., I. p. 876. Also Paul Runge: D. Lieder u. Melodien d. Geissler d. Jahres 1349, nach. d. Aufzeichnung Hugo’s von Reutlingen nebst einer Abhandlung über d. ital. Geisslerlieder von H. Schneegans u. einem Beitrage über d. deutschen u. niederl. Geissler von H. Pfannenschmid, Leipzig, 1900.
§59. Witchcraft. — For the treatments of the Schoolmen and other med. writers, see vol. V., I. — Among earlier modern writers, see J. Bodin: Magorum Daemonomania, 1579. — Reg. Scott: Discovery of Witchcraft, London, 1584. — P. Binsfeld: De confessionibus maleficarum et sagarum, Treves, 1596. — M. Delrio: Disquisitiones magicae, Antwerp, 1599, Cologne, 1679. — Erastus, of Heidelberg: Repititio disputationis de lamiis seu strigibus, Basel, 1578. — J. Glanvill: Sadducismus triumphatus, London, 1681. — R. Baxter: Certainty of the World of Spirits, London, 1691. — Recent writers. — * T. Wright: Narrative of Sorcery and Magic, 2 vols., London, 1851. — G. Roskoff: Gesch. des Teufels, 2 vols., Leipzig, 1869. — W. G. Soldan: Gesch. der Hexenprocesse, Stuttgart, 1843; new ed., by Heppe, 2 vols., Stuttgart, 1880. — Lea: History of the Inquisition, III. 379-550. — *Lecky: History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism in Europe, ch. I. — Döllinger-Friedrich: D. Papstthum, pp. 123-131. — a.d. White, History of the Warfare of Science and Theology in Christendom, 2 vols., New York, 1898. — *J. Hansen: Zauberwahn, Inquisition und Hezenprocess im Mittelalter und die Entstehung der grossen Hexenverfolgung, Munich, 1900; *Quellen und Untersuchungen zur Gesch. des Hexenwahns und der Hexenverfolgung im M. A., Leipzig, 1901. — Graf von Hoensbroech: D. Papstthum in seiner sozialkulturellen Wirksamkeit, Leipzig, 2 vols., 1900; 4th ed., 1901, I. 380-599. — J. Diefenbach: Der Hexenwahn, vor u. nach Glaubenspaltung in Deutschland, Mainz, 1886 (the last chapter — on the conciones variae — gives sermons on the weather, storms, winds, dreams, mice, etc.); also, Besessenheit, Zauberei u. Hexenfabeln, Frankfurt, 1893; also, Zauberglaube des 16ten Jahrh. nach d. Katechismen M. Luthers und d. P. Canisius, Mainz, 1900. Binz: Dr. Joh. Weyer, Bonn, 1885, 2d ed., Berlin, 1896. A biography of one of the early opponents of witch-persecution, with sketches of some of its advocates. — Baissac: Les grands jours de la sorcellerie, Paris, 1890. — H. Vogelstein and P. Rieger, Gesch. d. Juden in Rom, 2 vols., Berlin, 1895 sq. — S. Riezler: Gesch. d. Hexenprocesse in Baiern, Stuttgart, 1896. — C. Lempens: D. grösste Verbrechen aller Zeiten. Pragnatische Gesch. d. Hexenprocesse, 2d ed., 1904. — Janssen-Pastor: Gesch. d. deutschen Volkes, etc., vol. VIII., 531-751. — The Witch-Persecutions, in Un. of Pa. Transll. and Reprints, vol. III.
§60. The Spanish Inquisition. — See lit., V. I. § 78. Hefele: D. Cardinal Ximines und d. Kirchl. Zustände in Spanien am Ende d. 15 u. Anfang d. 16. Jahrh., Tübingen, 1844, 2d ed., 1851. Also, art. Ximines in Wetzer-Welte, vol. XII. — C. V. Langlois: L’inq., d’après les travaux récents, Paris, 1902. — H. C. Lea: Hist. of the Inquisition of Spain, 4 vols., New York, 1906 sq. Includes Sicily, Sardinia, Mexico and Peru, but omits Holland. — E. Vacandard: The Inquisition. A criticism and history. Study of the Coercive Power of the Church, transl. by B. L. Conway, London, 1908. — C. G. Ticknor: Hist. of Spanish Literature, I. 460 sqq. — Pastor: Gesch. d. Päpste, III. 624-630.
Dr. Lea’s elaborate work is the leading modern treatment of the subject and is accepted as an authority In Germany. See Benrath in Lit-Zeitung, 1908, pp. 203-210. The author has brought out as never before the prominent part the confiscation of property played in the Spanish tribunal. The work of Abbé Vacandard, the author of the Life of St. Bernard, takes up the positions laid down in Dr. Lea’s general work on the Inquisition and attempts to break the force of his statements. Vacandard admits the part taken by the papacy in prosecuting heresy by trial torture and even by the death penalty, but reduces the Church’s responsibility on the ground of the ideas prevailing in the Middle Ages, and the greater freedom and cruelty practised by the state upon its criminals. He denies that Augustine favored severe measures of compulsion against heretics and sets forth, without modification, the unrelenting treatment of Thomas Aquinas.
58. Heretical and Unchurchly Movements
In the 14th and 15th centuries, the seat of heresy was shifted from Southern France and Northern Italy to Bohemia and Northern Germany, the Netherlands and England. In Northern and Central Europe, the papal Inquisition, which had been so effective in exterminating the Albigenses and in repressing or scattering the Waldenses, entered upon a new period of its history, in seeking to crush out a new enemy of the Church, witchcraft. The rise and progress of the two most powerful and promising forms of popular heresy, Hussitism and Lollardy, have already been traced. Other sectarists who came under the Church’s ban were the Beghards and Beguines, who had their origin in the 13th century, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the Fraticelli, the Flagellants and the Waldenses.
It is not possible to state with exactness the differences between the Beghards, Beguines, the Brethren of the Free Spirit and the Fraticelli as they appeared from 1300 to 1500. The names were often used interchangeably as a designation of foes of the established Church order. The court records and other notices that have come down to us indicate that they were represented in localities widely separated, and excited alarm which neither their numbers nor the station of their adherents justified. The orthodox mind was easily thrown into a panic over the deviations from the Church’s system of doctrine and government. The distribution of the dissenters proves that a widespread religious unrest was felt in Western Christendom. They may have imbibed some elements from Joachim of Flore’s millenarianism, and in a measure partook of the same spirit as German mysticism. There was a spiritual hunger the Church’s aristocratic discipline and its priestly ministrations did not satisfy. The Church authorities had learned no other method of dealing with heresy than the method in vogue in the days of Innocent III. and Innocent IV., and sought, as before, by imprisonments, the sword and fire, to prevent its predatory ravages.
The Brethren of the Free Spirit were infected with pantheistic notions and manifested a tendency now to free thought, now to libertinism of conduct. At times they are identified with the Beghards and Beguines. The pantheistic element suggests a connection with Amaury of Bena or Meister Eckart, but of this the extant records of trials furnish no distinct evidence. To the Beghards and Beguines likewise were ascribed pantheistic tenets.
To the general class of free thinkers belonged such individuals as Margaret of Henegouwen, usually known as Margaret of Porete, a Beguine, who wrote a book advocating the annihilation of the soul in God’s love, and affirmed that, when this condition is reached, the individual may, without qualm of conscience, yield to any indulgence the appetites of nature call for. After having several times relapsed from the faith, she was burnt, together with her books, in the Place de Grève, Paris, 1310. Here belong also the Men of Reason, — homines intelligentiae, — who appeared at Brussels early in the 14th century and were charged with teaching the final restoration of all men and of the devil.
The Fraticelli, also called the Fratricelli, — the Little Brothers, — represented the opposite tendency and went to an extravagant excess in insisting upon a rigid observance of the rule of poverty. Originally followers of the Franciscan Observants, Peter Olivi, Michael Cesena and Angelo Clareno, they offered violent resistance to the decrees of John XXII., which ascribed to Christ and the Apostles the possession of property. Some were given shelter in legitimate Franciscan convents, while others associated themselves in schismatic groups of their own. They were active in Italy and Southern France, and were also represented in Holland and even in Egypt and Syria, as Gregory XI., 1375, declared; but it would be an error to regard their number as large. In his bull, Sancta romana, issued in 1317, John XXII. spoke of “men of the profane multitude, popularly called Fraticelli, or brethren of the poor life, Bizochi or Beguines or known by other names.” This was not the first use of the term in an offensive sense. Villani called two men Fraticelli, a mechanic of Parma, Segarelli and his pupil Dolcino of Novara, both of whom were burnt, Segarelli in 1300 and Dolcino some time later. Friar Bonato, head of a small Spiritual house in Catalonia, after being roasted on one side, proffered repentance and was released, but afterwards, 1335, burnt alive. Wherever the Fraticelli appeared, they were pursued by the Inquisition. A number of bulla of the 14th century attacked them for denying the papal edicts and condemned them to rigorous prosecution. A formula, which they were required to profess, ran as follows: “I swear that I believe in my heart and profess that our Lord Jesus Christ and his Apostles, while in mortal life, held in common the things the Scriptures describe them as having and that they had the right of giving, selling and alienating them.”
In localities they seem to have carried their opposition to the Church so far as to set up a hierarchy of their own. The regular priests they denounced as simonists and adulterers. In places they were held in such esteem by the populace that the Inquisition and the civil courts found themselves powerless to bring them to trial. Nine were burnt under Urban V. at Viterbo, and in 1389 Fra Michaele Berti de Calci, who had been successful in making converts, met the same fate at Florence. In France also they yielded victims to the flames, among them, Giovanni da Castiglione and Francese d’Arquata at Montpellier, 1354, and Jean of Narbonne and Maurice at Avignon. These enthusiasts are represented as having met death cheerfully.
Early in the 15th century, we find the Fraticelli again the victims of the Inquisition. In 1424 and 1426, Martin V. ordered proceedings against certain of their number in Florence and in Spain. The vigorous propaganda of the papal preachers, John of Capistrano and James of the Mark, succeeded in securing the return of many of these heretics to the Church, but, as late as the reign of Paul II., 1466, they were represented in Rome, where six of their number were imprisoned and subjected to torture. The charges against them were the denial of the validity of papal decrees of indulgence other than the Portiuncula decree. In Northern Europe the Fraticelli were classified with the Lollards and Beghards or identified with these heretics. The term, however, occurs seldom. Walter, the Lollard, was styled “the most wicked heresiarch of the Fraticelli, a man full of the devil and most perverse in his errors.”
Of far more interest to this age are the Flagellants who attracted attention by the strange outward demonstrations in which their religious fervor found expression. Theirs was a militant Christianity. They made an attempt to do something. They correspond more closely to the Salvation Army of the 19th century than any other organization of the Middle Ages. There is no record that the beating of drums played any part in the movement, but they used popular songs, a series of distinctive physical gestures and peculiar vociferations, uniforms and some of the discipline of the camp. Their campaigns were penitential crusades in which the self-mortifications of the monastery were transferred to the open field and the public square, and were adapted to impress the impenitent to make earnest in the warfare against the passions of the flesh. The Flagellants buffeted the body if they did not always buffet Satan.
An account has already been given of the first outbreak of the enthusiasm in Italy in 1259, which, starting in Perugia, spread to Northern Italy and extended across the Alps to Austria, Prag and Strassburg. Similar outbreaks occurred in 1296, 1333, 1349, 1399, and again at the time of the Spanish evangelist, Vincent Ferrer.
From being regarded as harmless fanatics they came to be treated as disturbers of the ecclesiastical peace, and in Northern Europe were classed with Beghards, Lollards, Hussites and other unchurchly or heretical sectarists.
The movement of 1333 was led by an eloquent Dominican, Venturino of Bergamo, and is described at length by Villani. Ten thousand followed this leader, wearing head-bands inscribed with the monogram of Christ, IHS, and on their chests a dove with an olive-branch in her mouth. Venturino led his followers as far as Rome and preached on the Capitoline. The penniless enthusiasts soon became a laughing-stock, and Venturino, on going to Avignon, gained absolution and died in Smyrna, 1346.
The earlier exhibitions of Flagellant zeal were as dim candlelights compared with the outbursts of 1349, during the ravages of the Black Death, which in contemporary chronicles and the Flagellant codes was called the great death — das grosse Sterben, pestis grandis, mortalitas magna. Bands of religious campaigners suddenly appeared in nearly all parts of Latin Christendom, Hungary, Bohemia, Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands. John du Fayt, preaching before Clement VI., represented them as spread through all parts — per omnes provincias — and their numbers as countless. The exact numbers of the separate bands are repeatedly given, as they appeared in Ghent, Tournay, Dort, Bruges, Liége and other cities. Even bishops and princes took part in them. There were also bands of women.
Our knowledge of the German and Lowland Flagellants is most extensive. While the accounts of chroniclers differ in details, they agree in the main features. The Flagellants clad themselves in white and wore on their mantles, before and behind, and on their caps, a red cross, from which they got the name, the Brothers of the Cross. They marched from place to place, stopping only a single day and night at one locality, except in case of Sunday, when they often made an exception. In the van of their processions were carried crosses and banners. They sang hymns as they marched. The public squares in front of churches and fields, near-by towns, were chosen for their encampments and disciplinary drill, which was repeated twice a day with bodies bared to the waist. A special feature was the reading of a letter which, so it was asserted, was originally written on a table of stone and laid by an angel on the altar of St. Peter’s in Jerusalem. It represented Christ as indignant at the world’s wickedness, and, more especially, at the desecration of Sunday and the prevalence of usury and adultery, but as promising mercy on condition that the Flagellants gather and make pilgrimages of penance lasting 33 1/2 days, a period corresponding to the years of his earthly life.
The letter being read, the drill began in earnest. It consisted of their falling on their knees and on the ground three times, in scourging themselves and in certain significant gestures to indicate to what sin each had been specially addicted. Every soldier carried a whip, or scourge, which, as writers are careful to report, was tipped with pieces of iron. These were often so sharp as to justify their comparison to needles, and the blood was frequently seen trickling down the bodies of the more zealous, even to their loins. The blows were executed to the rhythmic music of hymns, and the ruddy militiamen, milites rubicundi, — as they were sometimes called, believed that the blood which they shed was one with Christ’s blood or was mixed with it. They found a patron in St. Paul, whose stigmata they thought of, not as scars of conscience but bodily wounds. At each genuflection they sang a hymn, four hymns being sung during the progress of a drill. The first calling to the drill began with the words: —
Nun tretet herzu wer büsen welle
Fliehen wir die heisse Hölle.
Lucifer ist bös Geselle
Wen er habet mit Pech er ihn labet.
Darum fliehen wir mit ihm zu sein.
Wer unser Busse wolle pflegen
Der soll gelten und wieder geben.
Now join us all who will repent
Let’s flee the fiery heat of hell.
Lucifer is a bad companion
Whom he clutches, he covers with pitch.
Let us flee away from him.
Whoso will through our penance go
Let him restore what he’s taken away.
In falling flat on the ground, they stretched out their arms to represent the arms of the cross. The fourth hymn, sung at the third genuflection, was a lament over the punishment of hell to which the Usurer, the liar, the murderer, the road-robber, the man who neglected to fast on Friday and to keep Sunday, were condemned, and with this was coupled a prayer to Mary.
Das Hilf uns Maria Königin,
Dass wir deines Kindes Huld gewin.
Mary, Queen, help us, pray,
To win the favor of thy child.
Each penitent indicated his besetting sin. The hard drinker put his finger to his lips. The perjurer held up his two front fingers as if swearing an oath. The adulterer fell on his belly. The gambler moved his hand as if in the act of throwing dice.
During the ravages of the Black Death a contingent of 120 of these penitential warriors crossed the channel from Holland and marched through London and other English towns, wearing red crosses and having their scourges pointed with pieces of iron as sharp as needles. But they failed to secure a following.
It was inevitable that the Flagellants should incur opposition from the Church authorities. The medieval Church as little tolerated independence in ritual or organization as in doctrine. In France, they were opposed from the first. The University of Paris issued a deliverance against them, and Philip VI. forbade their maneuvres on French soil under pain of death. A harder blow was struck by the head of Christendom, Clement VI., who fulminated his sweeping bull Oct. 20, 1349. Flagellants starting from Basel appeared in Avignon to the number, according to one document, of 2000. Before issuing his bull, Clement and his cardinals listened to the sermon on the subject preached by the Paris doctor, John du Fayt. The preacher selected 13 of the Flagellant tenets and practices for his reprobation, including the shedding of their own blood, a practice, he declared, fit for the priests of Baal, and the murder of Jews for their supposed crime of poisoning the wells, in which was sought the origin of the Black Plague. Clement pronounced the Flagellant movement a work of the devil and the angelic letter a forgery. He condemned the warriors for repudiating the priesthood and treating their penances as equivalent to the journey to the jubilee in Rome, set for 1350. The bull was sent to the archbishops of England, France, Poland, Germany and Sweden, and it called upon them to invoke, if necessary, the secular arm to put down the new rebellion against the ordinances of the Church.
Against such opposition the Flagellants could not be expected to maintain themselves long. Sharp enactments were directed against them by the Fleming cities and by archbishops, as in Prag and Magdeburg. Strassburg forbade public scourgings on its streets. As late as 1353, the archbishop of Cologne found it necessary to order all priests who had favored them to confess on pain of excommunication.
We are struck with four features of the Flagellant movement during the Black Death, — its organization, the part assumed in it by the laity, the use of music and, in general, its strong religious and ethical character. In Italy, before this time, these people had their organizations. There was scarcely an Italian city which did not have one or more such brotherhoods. Padua had six, Perugia and Fabiano three, but the movement does not seem to have developed opposition to Church authority. In some of the outbreaks priests were the leaders, and the permanent organizations seem to have formed a close association with the Dominicans and Franciscans and to have devoted themselves to the care of the poor and sick.
On the other hand, in the North, a spirit of independence of the clergy manifested itself. This is evident from the Flagellant codes of the German and Dutch groups, current at the time of the great pestilence and in after years. The conditions of membership included reconciliation with enemies, the consent of husband or wife or, in the case of servants, the consent of their masters, strict obedience to the leaders, who were called master or rector, and ability to pay their own expenses. During the campaigns, which lasted 33 1/2 days, they were to ask no alms nor to wash their persons or their clothing, nor cut their beards nor speak to women, nor to lie on feather beds. They were forbidden to carry arms or to pursue the flagellation to the limit where it might lead to sickness or death.
Five pater nosters and ave Marias were prescribed to be said before and after meals, and it was provided that, so long as they lived, they should flagellate themselves every Friday three times during the day and once at night. The associations were called brotherhoods, and the members were bidden to call each other not chum — socium — but brother, “seeing that all were created out of the same element and bought with the same price.”
The leaders of the fraternities were laymen, and, as just indicated, the equality of the members before God and the cross was emphasized. The movement was essentially a lay movement, an expression of the spirit of dissatisfaction in Northern Germany and the Lowlands with the sacerdotal class. Some of the codes condemn the worship of images, the doctrine of transubstantiation, indulgences, priestly unction and, in cases, they substituted the baptism of blood for water baptism. One of these, containing 50 articles, expressly declared that the body of Christ is not in the sacrament, and that “indulgences amount to nothing and together with priests are condemned of God.” The 26th article said, “It is better to die with a skin tanned with dust and sweat than with one smeared with a whole pound of priestly ointment.”
The German hymns as well as the codes of the Flagellants urge the duty of prayer and the mortification of the flesh and the preparation for death, the abandonment of sin, the reconciliation of enemies and the restoration of goods unjustly acquired. These sentiments are further vouched for by the chroniclers.
To these religionists belongs the merit of having revived the use of popular religious song. Singing was a feature of the earliest Flagellant movement, 1259. Their hymns are in Latin, Italian, French, German and Dutch. In Italian they went by the name of laude, and in German leisen. The Italian hymns, like the German, agree that sins have brought down the judgment of God and in appealing to the Virgin Mary, and call upon the “brethren” to castigate themselves, to confess their sins and to live in peace and brotherhood. They beseech the Virgin to prevail upon her son to stop “the hard death and pestilence — Gesune tolga via l’ aspra morte e pistilentia. Most of these hymns are filled with the thought of death and the woes of humanity, but the appeals to Mary are full of tenderness, and every conceivable allegory is applied to her from the dove to the gate of paradise, from the rose to a true medicine for every sickness. The songs of the Italian and the Northern Flagellants seem to have been independent of each other.
The cohorts in the North agreed in using the same penitential song at their drills, but they had a variety of scores and songs for their marches. While the most of the words of their songs have been known, it is only recently that some of the music has been found to which the Flagellants sang their hymns. A manuscript of Hugo of Reutlingen, dating from 1349 and discovered at St. Petersburg, gives 8 such tunes, together with the words and an account of the movement. The hearers, in describing the impression made upon them by the melodies, mention their sweetness, their orderly rhythm, — ordine miro hymnos cantabant, — and their pathos capable of “moving hearts of stone and bringing tears to the eyes of the most stolid.”
Altogether, the Flagellant movement during the Black Death, 1349, must be regarded as a genuinely popular religious movement.
The next outbreak of Flagellant zeal, which occurred in 1399, was confined for the most part to Italy. The Flagellants, who were distinguished by mantles with a red cross, appeared in Genoa, Piacenza, Modena, Rome and other Italian cities. A number of accounts have come down to us, now favorable as the account of the “notary of Pistoja,” now unfavorable as the account of von Nieheim. According to the Pistojan writer, the movement had its origin in a vision seen by a peasant in the Dauphiné, which is of interest as showing the relative places assigned in the popular worship to Christ and Mary. After a midday meal, the peasant saw Christ as a young man. Christ asked him for bread. The peasant told him there was none left, but Christ bade him look, and behold! he saw three loaves. Christ then bade him go and throw the loaves into a spring a short distance off. The peasant went, and was about to obey, when a woman, clad in white and bathed in tears, appeared, telling him to go back to the young man and say that his mother had forbidden it. He went, and Christ repeated his command, but at the woman’s mandate the peasant again returned to Christ. Finally he threw in one of the loaves, when the woman, who was Mary, informed him that her Son was exceedingly angry at the sinfulness of the world and had determined to punish it, even to destruction. Each loaf signified one-third of mankind and the destruction of one-third was fixed, and if the peasant should cast in the other two loaves, all mankind would perish. The man cast himself on his knees before the weeping Virgin, who then assured him that she had prayed her Son to withhold judgment, and that it would be withheld, provided he and others went in processions, flagellating themselves and crying “mercy” and “peace,” and relating the vision he had seen.
The peasant was joined by 17 others, and they became the nucleus of the new movement. The bands slept in the convents and church grounds, sang hymns, — laude, — from which they were also called laudesi, and scourged themselves with thongs as their predecessors had done. Miracles were supposed to accompany their marches. Among the miracles was the bleeding of a crucifix, which some of the accounts, as, for example, von Nieheim’s, explain by their pouring blood into a hole in the crucifix and then soaking the wood in oil and placing it in the sun to sweat. According to this keen observer, the bands traversed almost the whole of the peninsula. Fifteen thousand, accompanied by the bishop of Modena, marched to Bologna, where the population put on white. Not only were the people and clergy of Rome carried away by their demonstrations, but also members of the sacred college and all classes put on sackcloth and white. The pope went so far as to bestow upon them his blessing and showed them the handkerchief of St. Veronica. Nieheim makes special mention of their singing and their new songs — nova carmina. But the historian of the papal schism could see only evil and fraud in the movement, and condemns their lying together promiscuously at night, men and women, boys and girls. On their marches they stripped the trees bare of fruit and left the churches and convents, where they encamped, defiled by their uncleanness. An end was put to the movement in Rome by the burning of one of the leading prophets.
The bull of Clement VI. was followed, in l372, by the fulmination of Gregory XI., who associated the Flagellants with the Beghards, and by the action of the Council of Constance. In a tract presented to the council in 1417, Gerson asserted that the sect made scourging a substitute for the sacrament of penance and confession. He called upon the bishops to put down its cruel and sanguinary members who dared to shed their own blood and regarded themselves as on a par with the old martyrs. The laws of the decalogue were sufficient without the imposition of any new burdens, as Christ himself taught, when he said, “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” This judgment of the theologians the Flagellants might have survived, but the merciless probe of the Inquisition to which they were exposed in the 15th century took their life. Trials were instituted against them in Thuringia under the Dominican agent, Schönefeld, 1414. At one place, Sangerhausen, near Erfurt, 91 were burnt at one time and, on another occasion, 22 more. The victims of the second group died, asserting that all the evils in the Church came from the corrupt lives of the clergy.
The Flagellant movement grew out of a craving which the Church life of the age did not fully meet. Excesses should not blind the eye to its good features. Hugo of Reutlingen concludes his account of the outbreak of 1349 with the words: “Many good things were associated with the Flagellant brothers, and these account for the attention they excited.”
A group of sectaries, sometimes associated by contemporary writers with the Flagellants, was known as the Dancers. These people appeared at Aachen and other German and Dutch towns as early as 1374. In Cologne they numbered 500. Like the Flagellants, they marched from town to town. Their dancing and jumping — dansabant et saltabant — they performed half naked, sometimes bound together two and two, and often in the churches, where they had a preference for the spaces in front of the images of the Virgin. Cases occurred where they fell dead from exhaustion. In Holland, the Dancers were also called Frisker or Frilis, from frisch, — spry, — the word with which they encouraged one another in their terpsichorean feats.
To another class of religious independents belong the Waldenses, who, in spite of their reputation as heretics, continued to survive in France, Piedmont and Austria. They were still accused of allowing women to preach, denying the real presence and abjuring oaths, extreme unction, infant baptism and also of rejecting the doctrines of purgatory and prayers for the dead.
With occasional exceptions, the Waldensians of Italy and France were left unmolested until the latter part of the 15th century and the dukes of Savoy were inclined to protect them in their Alpine abodes. But the agents of the Inquisition were keeping watch, and the Franciscan Borelli is said to have burned, in 1393, 150 at Grenoble in the Dauphiné in a single day. It remained for Pope Innocent VIII. to set on foot a relentless crusade against this harmless people as his predecessor of the same name, Innocent III., set on foot the crusade against the Albigenses. His notorious bull of May 5, 1487, called upon the king of France, the duke of Savoy and other princes to proceed with armed expeditions against them and to crush them out “as venomous serpents.” It opened with the assertion that his Holiness was moved by a concern to extricate from the abyss of error those for whom the sovereign Creator had been pleased to endure sufferings. The striking difference seems not to have occurred to the pontiff that the Saviour, to whose services he appealed, gave his own life, while he himself, without incurring any personal danger, was consigning others to torture and death.
Writing of the crusade which followed, the Waldensian historian, Leger, says that all his people had suffered before was as “flowers and roses” compared to what they were now called upon to endure. Charles VIII. entered heartily into the execution of the decree, and sent his captain, Hugo de la Palu. The crusading armies may have numbered 18,000 men.
The mountaineer heretics fled to the almost inaccessible platform called Pré du Tour, where their assailants could make no headway against their arrows and the stones they hurled. On the French side of the Alps the crusade was successful. In the Val de Louise, 70, or, according to another account, 3000, who had fled to the cave called Balme de Vaudois, were choked to death by smoke from fires lit at the entrance. Many of the Waldenses recanted, and French Waldensianism was well-nigh blotted out. Their property was divided between the bishop of Embrun and the secular princes. As late as 1545, 22 villages inhabited by French Waldenses were pillaged and burnt by order of the parliament of Provence. With the unification of Italy in 1870, this ancient and respectable people was granted toleration and began to descend from its mountain fastnesses, where it had been confined for the half of a millennium.
In Austria, the fortunes of the Waldensians were more or less interwoven with the fortunes of the Hussites and Bohemian Brethren. In parts of Northern Germany, as in Brandenburg in 1480, members of the sect were subjected to severe persecutions. In the Lowlands we hear of their imprisonment, banishment and death by fire.
The medieval horror of heresy appears in the practice of ascribing to heretics nefarious performances of all sorts. The terms Waldenses and Waldensianism were at times made synonymous with witches and witchcraft. Just how the terms Vauderie, Vaudoisie, Vaudois, Waudenses and Valdenses came to be used in this sense has not been satisfactorily explained. But such usage was in vogue from Lyons to Utrecht, and the papal bull of Eugenius IV., 1440, refers to the witches in Savoy as being called Waldenses. An elaborate tract entitled the Waldensian Idolatry, — Valdenses ydolatrae, — written in 1460 and giving a description of its treatment in Arras, accused, the Waldenses with having intercourse with demons and riding through the air on sticks, oiled with a secret unguent.