Retroactive Heresy: The influence of early Christian heresies on the identification and reaction to heretical sects during the High Middle Ages
Farhan, Hannah Marie
Undergraduate Thesis, Georgia Institute of Technology, May (2011)
The medieval Church viewed itself as Defender of the Faith, the destroyer of the unbelievers, the wrong believers. The culminate opposition to heresy, the Inquisition, was the embodiment of an overall sentiment that had been building in all aspects of medieval society. The enemy of the Inquisitor was a singular heretic, as the medieval Church had by
then formed a single identification and the doctrinal differences between heretics had ceased to be considered relevant. The central issues of this essay shall be what influenced various spheres of medieval society – the theologians, the papacy and episcopates, and the populace at large – to seek the identification of a single heretic and prompt the ensuing reaction. By comparing the identification of
heresy in the Middle Ages to that of early Christianity, or the Patristic era, the influences upon medieval theologians can therefore be examined in parts. First, this essay analyzes the similarities between Scholastic anti-heretical polemics and Patristic refutations to illustrate how medieval theologians were influenced by a legacy of anti-heretical fervor. Then it examines, from the legacy of fear started by Patristic authors, the impacts on the state of the increasingly literate middle class and how this compares to increasingly drastic accounts of popular anti-heretical fervor. Finally, this essay ascertains how, between the theologians and population, anti-heretical fervor pushed towards a single, universal heretic. In particular, how the Church sought to use titular labels to help mitigate the huge discrepancies between scholarly and popular names for the various so-called heresies spanning regions.