The Adamites: Hippy Heretics of the Middle Ages

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The Middle Ages saw many religious movements emerge, including ones that had radical views of Christianity. Groups such as Flagellants, Beguines, Waldensians and the Brethren of the Free Spirit were often viewed with suspicion by the Papacy and the Catholic hierarchy and in many cases it led to them being condemned as heretical.

Adamites

When Jan Hus, the Czech priest and reformer, was found guilty of heresy and executed in 1415, his followers grew even more discontent with the Catholic church and rejected its authority. By the 1420s the Hussites had become even more radicalized, with some calling for the end of many Catholic doctrines, such as veneration of saints or transubstantiation (that communion was the real body and blood of Christ). Some also wanted to establish a communal society where there were no lords and servants, but rather equality among the people.

When the Hussites were not at war with Crusaders (the Papacy launched five crusades against them between 1419 to 1434, all of which were defeated) they were often fighting themselves, as various splinter groups emerged. Among them one could find the Taborites, Orebites, Utraquists and, perhaps the most radical of them, the Adamites, who took their name from the Biblical character Adam.

We know very little of the Adamites, but the picture that emerges of them – one that comes primarily from their enemies – was of a people more like the Hippie subculture of the 20th century rather than the Middle Ages.

For example, the chronicler Laurence of Brezova writes:

Wandering through forests and hills, some of them fell into such insanity that men and women threw off their clothes and went nude, saying that clothes had been adopted because of the sin of the first parents, but that they were in a state of innocence. From the same madness they supposed that they were not sinning if one of their brethren had intercourse with one of the sisters, and if the woman conceived, she said she had conceived of the Holy Spirit.

The scholar Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who later became Pope Pius II (1458-1464) also noted their supposed sexual activities:

They indulged in promiscuous intercourse, but no one might take a lover without the consent of Adam, their chief elder. When one of these brethren ardently desired a sister, he took her by the hand, and, going with her to the chief elder, said, ” My soul is afire with love of this woman.” Whereupon the elder would reply, ” Go, be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.”




Jan Žižka leading the HussitesThese views of Adamites were not necessarily new – in the early centuries of Christianity there was a sect called Adamites and that St. Augustine even mentions they practiced nudism while rejecting marriage. Some of their ideas may have survived into the Middle Ages and helped to establish the theology of these Czech peoples.

The activities of this group proved to be too radical for the Taborites, and in 1421 the Adamites and their leader, a priest named Peter Kanis, were expelled from the Taborite community. The 200-300 followers of the Adamites would establish their own community a few miles away, but soon the Taborites were accusing them of raiding and attacking their people.

During the summer and fall of 1421 the Taborite military commander Jan Žižka launched attacks against the Adamites, killing and capturing almost all their followers, with the captives being burned as heretics. While there were reports of Adamites still roaming around Czech lands in the following years, this small movement was destroyed. The Taborites themselves were later viewed as too radical as well and much of their power was destroyed at the Battle of Lipany thirteen years later.

The Czech lands continued to be a ‘hot-bed’ of religious movements during the fifteenth-century, and many scholars see them as a precursor to the Protestant Reformation.

To learn more about this topic, see The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages, by Robert Lerner and A History of the Hussite Revolution, by Howard Kaminsky.

Sharan Newman