Resistance to Christianity

Chapter 31: The Movement of the Free Spirit


In opposition to the religious system that captured beings and things so as to “bind” [relier] them (in accordance with the meaning of religio) to a temporal power that drew its justification from a heavenly transcendence, the movement of the free spirit (active from the Thirteenth to the Seventeenth Centuries) was an ensemble of options that were more individual than collective and were determined to privilege relations with the earth, the body, desire and the flux of life that nature ceaselessly regenerates.

Only the theses of Simon of Samaria, reported by the Elenchos, resembled this effort, which discovered in natural irreligion the primary matter of desire, which can be refined to attain a veritable humanity.

The conception of a relational unity with nature, perfectible on earth and in the individual, not by the paths of asceticism and renunciation but, on the contrary, through pleasure in oneself and in others, escaped from the syzygy of orthodoxy and heterodoxy.

In its radical form, the attitude called “free spirit” by the Inquisitors, who were hampered in their effort to situate it, did not easily enter into the classification of the heresies, but belonged to the project of the total man, as old in its hopes as the wanderings of mankind separated from itself by an economy that exploits it.

Penetrating into the [Catholic] convents, the Beguine convents, and the Franciscan orders, and seducing the clergy attached to Christianity or Catholicism, the spirit of freedom [also] affected the appearances of those who were more in conformity with the dominant discourse; [in such cases] the refinement of desire gave way to the good caprices of those who, identifying themselves with God, engaged in the attempt to appease that is common to all tyrants.


The Amalricianism

The ecclesiastic concern with identifying the behaviors that escaped the control of the Catholic Church with a particular heresy grouped together, under the name Amalricians or the disciples of Amalric of Bena, various clerics, many of whom were parish priests in villages situated not far from Paris (Vieux-Corbeil, La Celle, Ursines, Lorris, and Saint-Cloud).

Originally from Bena, near Chartres, Master Amalric taught in Paris, where one of his assertions stirred up controversy at the heart of the university. In 1204, his theses that all Christians were members of Christ and actually suffered the torture of the cross with him were submitted to the Pope, who condemned them. Amalric abjured and died around 1207. Struck by a simple pontifical reprobation, Amalric’s conceptions did, in themselves, not presented anything subversive, that is, if they did not translate into theological jargon the reality more concretely lived by the simple people or if they did not express what was said quite brutally by those accused in the trials of 1210 and 1211: if Christ died for the sins of humanity, their redemption exempted each person from having to pay them off a second time through suffering, renunciation, contrition, guilt, penitence and submission to the Church.

Ten of the accused perished on the pyre; four were condemned to prison in perpetuity. In 1211, Master Godin, cleric of Amiens, was burned for having propagated Amalrician ideas, which the Council of Lateran condemned by judging them to be “much more senseless than heretical.” A revealing formula: beyond heresy, the negative province of orthodoxy’s territory, there existed only what was “beyond sense.”

Among the eighty victims executed by fire in Strasbourg in 1215, there were Waldensians and Cathars who were accused of affirming that “the crudest sins are permitted by nature and are in conformity with nature.”[1]


In 1216, there appeared in Alsace and Thuringia “a new and shameful heresy. Its partisans were assured that it is permitted and in conformity with nature to eat meat and other foods at any time and on any day, and even to devote oneself to any sensual pleasure without the need for any atonement.”[2]

An unknown person was burned in Troyes in 1220 for claiming that the Holy Spirit was incarnated in him. He shared the conviction of the knight who fought Thomas Aquinas and had declared to him: “If Saint Peter was saved, I will be also, because in him, as in me, the same spirit lives.”

It isn’t useless to recall that, at a time when the comportment of the majority of people was not affected by the mixture of terror and controlled hope that was propagated by the Church of Rome, nor by the ascetic rigor extolled by the Cistercian missionaries, the Cathars and the Waldensians, most people [instead] rallied around the most popular and summary credo: “Enjoy life and mock everything else.”

The Goliards (wandering clerics) mocked the Church, parodied the evangelical texts, and sang the Mass of the God Bacchus: “Introibo ad altarem Bacchi, ad deum qui laetificat cor hominis.”[3]

In the Eleventh Century, Guibert of Nogent (1053-1124) vituperated one of the nobles who was unconcerned with religion. This nobleman, called the Count Jean de Soissons and a friend of the Jews – note that Guibert had written a work called Against the Jews – treated the Passion of the Christ as if it was a lie; he affirmed that he only frequented the church to amuse himself by watching the beautiful women who came there to pass the night. According to the Count, there was no sin in making love. On the point of death, he declared to the confessor: “You want, I can see, that I give my goods to parasites, that is to say, to the priests. They will only get a pittance.”[4]

In the Thirteenth Century, speaking of students who were contemporaries of Amalric, Petrus Comestor wrote: “In drinking and eating they had no equals. They were devourers at the table, but were not devoted to the Mass. At work they yawned; at a feast they feared no one. They abhorred meditation upon sacred books, but they loved to see wine sparkle in their glasses and they swallowed intrepidly.”[5]

Such a discovery, which was applicable to all strata of society, only ended up [in certain quarters] authenticating the native weakness of mankind and ratifying the resolution of the Church to shoulder and absolve mankind’s sins in exchange for gratuities and obedience.

The Waldensians and Cathars, who did without the Church’s services, were formidable competition; but what could one say of the people who pushed insolence as far as proclaiming that each person had the right to follow his or her desires, without bearing in mind anything else and without experiencing the least guilt?

What did John, priest of Ursine, teach his parishioners? God made everything, evil as well as good. What good was it to be concerned when both evil and good emanated from him?

A certain Garnier de Rochefort summarized the Amalrician doctrine in his Contra Amaurianos. In this work he made it clear that, according to the Amalricians, whoever has understood that God accomplished everything by himself can make love without sinning. God being in each person, it was sufficient to attain inward revelation to behave according to his intentions in whatever one does. Such was the pantheism that – perceived in its philosophical implications – caused the condemnations of Scotus Eriugena, David of Dinant and Aristotle in 1215.

William the Goldsmith, designated the group’s master thinker, advanced the idea that, “five years from today all men will be Spirituals, to the extent each one will be able to say: ‘I am the Holy Spirit’ and ‘I existed before Abraham,’ just like Christ when he said, ‘I am the son of God’ and ‘I existed before Abraham was born.’”[6]

For the first time, it seemed, the doctrine of Joachim of Fiore found its subversive utilization.

In his Chronicle, William the Breton indicated the point at which the time of the saints announced by Joachim was – at the beginning of the Thirteenth Century – mixed with the freedom of spirit that was identical to the consciousness that each person can have of the divine presence acting within him or her and tracing out the path of perfection and impeccability (note that the idea of the Sophia or the divine spark enclosed in each person was, after more than a millennium, still tied to the Gnostic conception):

“They thus say that in our epoch the sacraments of the New Testament have ended and that the time of the Holy Spirit has come; there is no longer a place for confession, baptism, the Eucharist and the other guarantees of salvation. Hereafter, there will only be salvation through the inward grace of the Holy Spirit, without any outward work. And they understand the virtue of charity in such a wide sense that they are assured that all actions considered to be sinful have ceased to be so if they were accomplished by virtue of charity. This is why, in the name of charity, they deliver themselves up to debauchery, adultery and other pleasures of the body. And they promise impunity (the uselessness of penitence) to the women with whom they sin and to the simple people they deceive, preaching that God is a being of goodness, not a judge.”[7]

A sermon by Johannes Teutonicus, the Abbot of Saint-Victor in Paris from 1203 to 1229, insisted on the traits that were most shocking to Christians and Catholics:

“Here there are profane novelties, propagated by people who are disciples of Epicurus, rather than Christ. With daunting guile, they secretly devote themselves to making it believed that one can sin with impunity. They are assured that there is no sin and that as a result there is no one who, for having erred, must be punished by God. Capable of affecting on their faces and in their remarks the appearance of piety, they inwardly reject virtue, in their minds and in their occult works.

“The height of the most extreme folly and the most impudent lie: they do not fear, they do not blush to affirm that they are God! Infinite extravagance! Abominable presumption! They call God the adulterous man, the bed-companion of other men, the creature soiled by all infamies, the receptacle of all crimes. Here are those who surpass the amorality [l’égarement] of the gentiles, who lie with more modesty by claiming that the greatest of their princes, once dead, became gods. Assuredly, he is deranged in his heart who says ‘God doesn’t exist.’ But the individual who claims ‘I am God’ is even more senseless.

“Ah! at least such a plague does not pollute this town, the source of all the sciences and the true flowering of wisdom!”[8]

If pantheism could be summarized by the formula “Deus sive natura” [God or nature], the free spirit implied the identification “Deus sive homo” [God or man]. The question(s), “Which God and which all-powerful [force]?” required a preliminary clarification: “Which behavioral choices should the thus-justified individual obey?”

Is not the thirst for power of the sovereigns and princes authorized by a divine will that legitimates it? There was an often-discerned tendency in the free spirit to legalize through self-deification a similar power or something that was claimed to be one. Nevertheless, a radically different tendency was expressed by the doctrines of “pure love” or “refined love.”


Fin Amor

Hadewijch of Antwerp – whose exegetes, more concerned with religion than with history, have improperly annexed her to their pantheon of devotees – mentioned in her List of Perfect Ones the Beguine Aleydis, who was condemned to the pyre by Robert the Bulgarian for her [concept of] “just love.” Unlike the Waldensians burned at Cambrai in 1236 by that sinister hunter of heretics, Aleydis was alleged to have professed Amalrician ideas, which were found in the towns along the Rhine (Cologne, Mainz, and Strasbourg) and the northern cities (Valenciennes, Amiens, Cambrai, Tournai, Brussels, and Antwerp).

The doctrine of pure love – which, fifty years later, Marguerite Porete identified with the life force in which human nature liberated itself from its alienation from nature [sa dénaturation] in order to mix itself with the will of a Good God – haunted the poems and visions of Hadewijch of Antwerp and several Cistercian Monials in the north, without one being able to decide with certitude if pure love was spiritual ecstasy, an amor extaticus, or an exaltation of amorous pleasure, or a combination of the two, as in the diverse paths of Tantrism.

The bawdiness of the times, from which only a part of the bourgeoisie and several defenders of clerical austerity escaped, was enjoyed – as was attested to by various fables, [works of] literature and [historical] chronicles – with an equal attraction in the cottages, convents, chateaux and churches. The ordinary obstacles to such bawdiness were feelings of guilt, contrition and remorse, which fed the coffers of penitential redemption and the market in indulgences.

Thus, the union with the Spirit, or with its Christian form, the Christ, alias the pneuma or Sophia, was revealed in the eyes of the adepts of the free spirit as identical to the union of man and woman, the koinos [the shared-in-common] that was evoked by the Hermetic work by Asclepios and the Gospel attributed to Philippe. Amorous pleasure, identified with the finally renewed unity between the body and the spirit, regenerated the Adamite state, the state of innocence in which there existed neither sin nor guilt. This was why, from the poorest people to the aristocracy, the free spirit gained adhesion – an adhesion that was most often above suspicion, to the great disappointment of the inquisitorial police. Because they were little interested in sacrifice, the supporters of the free spirit obeyed prudence and, with rare exceptions, neither preached nor issued propaganda.


The New Spirit in Swabia

A text titled Determinatio de novo spiritio, attributed to Albert the Great, and intended for use by the Inquisitors, sounded the alert about a current that, though neither Catharist nor Waldensian, did not (for all that) represent any less of a threat to religion, whether in Rome or elsewhere.

The denunciation made by Albert implicated several convents in the Riess, the region neighboring Augsburg, Nordlingen, Olmutz and Tubingen.

In 1245, at the time of the first Council of Lyon, the Bishop of Olmutz deplored the presence in his diocese of wandering agitators of both genders, dressed like religious people but hostile to the ecclesiastic hierarchy and estimating that God availed himself of an absolute freedom.[9]

Such reformers, who were closer to courtly ideas than to Cistercian asceticism, easily won over to their teachings a number of ecclesial communities that had been split between guilty debauchery and puritanical hysteria.

Did not they offer the peace of the heart and the grace of the spirit to the amorous inclination that carried men and women, naturally passionate, towards each other?

Among the articles in the list of charges set out by Albert, many left no doubt about the loudly proclaimed innocence of the relations saddled with guiltiness by the Church, the various ascetic heterodoxies, and lay morality.

“Man can find himself united with God, with the result that he no longer commits a sin, no matter what he does.

“According to them, there are no other angels than human virtues, no other demons than the vices and sins of men. There is no hell. All creation is God in his plenitude. The angels would not have fallen if they had acted as they should have in their union with Lucifer.

“Men united with God, whom they claimed themselves to be, did not have to render honor or respect to the saints, nor to observe fasts nor similar things on the Lord’s day.

“He who is united with God can satisfy his carnal desires with impunity in any fashion, with one or the other gender, and even by reversing the roles.

“It isn’t necessary to believe in the resurrection.

“[...] They affirmed that, during the elevation of Christ [the raising aloft of the Host and the Chalice], they are elevated; that, standing or sitting, it is to themselves that they address these signs of reverence, but they make them in order that others are scandalized.

“People prevent or delay their own perfection of their qualities when they yield themselves to fasting, flagellation, discipline, vigils and other things of the same type.

“It is fitting not to apply to oneself to work, but to take the leisure to taste how sweet the Lord is. Prayers have no value when they are [made] under the yoke of manual labor.

“[...] Those among them who want to become perfect need not think of the Passion of the Christ.

“It is not necessary to be concerned, either in sorrow or bitterness, with the mistakes made and the days lost. Such suffering delays access to a more complete grace in them.

“They believe that the blood of good men – like themselves – or their plenitude must be venerated in the same way as the body and blood of Christ on the altar. They are assured that freedom, evil, rest and corporeal wellbeing create in mankind a place and habitation for the Holy Spirit.

“They say that Christ knew them carnally, that a woman can become God, that a mother of five children can be a virgin, that one of them breastfed the baby Jesus with his mother until exhaustion and fainting.”[10]

Love was at the center of the debate that agitated the most evolved minds of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. The privileged place of women, recognized for the first time in history, posed the question of the refinement of morals, an approach to sexuality other than one confined to the ordinary rule of repression, with its morbid and mortifying visions [on the one hand], and desublimation, with its parade of rape and cruelty [on the other]. The dolce stil nuovo and the erotica of the troubadours, so uncertain in their daily practices, suggest a preoccupation that the end of the Twentieth Century has barely begun to rediscover and that was mythologically sketched out by Dante’s path of initiation to Beatrice.[11] Thus it is fitting to strip away the theological clutter and the falsifications that encumber the works of Hadewijch of Antwerp and Marguerite Porete, which the religious prejudices of the scholars have remained content to bury under the moth-eaten cover of mysticism.


Marguerite Porete

Originally from Hainaut, Marguerite Porete probably belonged to a comfortable and cultivated milieu, perhaps the court of Bourgogne, a resident of Mons, where the Countess Philippa de Hainaut – the daughter of Guillaume d’Avesnes – was considered to be a refined spirit, attached to courtly ideas.

Perhaps Marguerite was a Beguine before breaking with the entirety of the clergy: “Beguines say I am in error, (as do) priests, clerics and preachers, Augustinians and Carmelites and the minor brothers.”[12]

At the end of the 1290s, her work on “the person of refined love” was burned at Valenciennes on the orders of Gui II de Colmieu [aka Guido of Collemezzo] (the Bishop of Cambrai from 1296 to 1306), who prohibited the author from diffusing other books or doctrines.

Nevertheless, she relapsed and – as a provocation or in innocence? – transmitted a [copy of a] book entitled The Mirror of Simple Souls to the bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne. Denounced to the Inquisition, she appeared in 1307 before Guillaume Humbert, the Inquisitor General of France, who was the confessor of Philippe the Beautiful and the future accomplice of Philippe de Marigny in the extermination proceedings against the Templars.

Marguerite refused to take an oath, not in the manner of the Waldensians or the Cathars, but because the “free soul does not respond to anyone if it does not want to.”[13]

On 11 April 1310, she was judged to be a heretic and recidivist. Fifteen extracts from her book, which was condemned, served in the redaction of the Ad nostrum that listed – at the time of the Council of Vienna of 1311 – the principal charges against the Beghards and Beguines who were blemished by the free spirit. She was delivered to the flames in Paris on 1 June 1310. Her companion or lover, Guion de Cressonaert, a cleric of the Cambrian diocese who called himself the angel of Philadelphia, was apprehended and condemned to prison in perpetuity for having tried to save her. (Note that, in the name “angel of Philadelphia,” there might have been a reference to the Church of Philadelphia, one of the Bogomil Churches, still active in the Balkans.).

The text of The Mirror of Simple Souls, which is preserved in the library of the Condé Museum in Chantilly and published by Romana Guarnieri,[14] reveals [the presence of] interpolations of a great stylistic triteness. The orthodoxy of these interpolations presented an advantage over the original (lost) in that they facilitated the book’s diffusion during the eras in which the mystical speculations of people like [Jan van] Ruysbroeck and Gerhardt Groote removed the subversive character of Marguerite’s propositions.

On the other hand, it is undeniable that the most audacious theses of The Mirror reflected a common mindset that existed in Germany and even in the region of Langres, where the Franciscan Inquisitor Nicholas of Lyra, one of Porete’s accusers, fulminated against the heretics who, by supporting the idea that one need not listen to the prophets but only to live freely according to the flesh, “maintained their own filthiness under the mantle of devotion.”[15]

Marguerite did not identify God with nature such as it reigns in the wild state among mankind and the animals, but with a refinement of human nature that, stripped of its envelop, accedes to the state of perfection or purity comparable to that of the philosopher’s stone.


Although stuffed with interpolations prescribed by the orthodox milieus, the text of The Mirror is one of the rare testimonies of the free spirit that was spared – perhaps due to the canonical revisions [made to it] – from the destructive zeal of the Church. Moreover, in its initial iteration, Marguerite’s doctrine did not differ from the mysticism of Eckhart, Beatrice of Nazareth or Mechthild of Magdeburg: “The soul touched by grace is without sin.” According to a scala perfectionis [a ladder of perfection], seven initiatory graces conduct the pneuma to the pleasure of God, [to] the afterglow of the seven planets of the Hebdomad, beyond which the Ogdoad or Pleroma begins.

Annihilated in God, the soul loses its will, its desires and its essence, and identities itself with the totality, the Pleroma. Here Porete went beyond the limits of ecstatic love, of the beatific vision in which the mystics sank. Because that effusion, erected in the pleasure of God, conferred freedom to the love that was the divine presence of life, acting in the multiplicity of its desires.

“And so, why should such souls worry about what is necessary for them when necessity demands it? For such souls, this would be a lack of innocence and would be troubling to the peace in which the soul recoils from all things. Who is he who must worry about needing the four elements, such as the brightness of the sky, the warmth of fire, the dew of the water and the earth that supports us? We make use of the four elements in all the ways that Nature requires, without the reproach of Reason; [these are] gracious elements made by God, like all other things; and thus such souls use all things made and created of which Nature has need, with the same peace of heart they use the earth upon which they walk.”[16]

One has to create a nature in which the God of goodness is reincarnated [after being] obliterated by the avatar of the Demiurge Ialdabaoth, who perpetuated the God of the Roman Church, which Marguerite called the Small Church. The one who, through the grace of love, fits into himself the manifestation of such a God possesses the megale dynamis of which Simon of Samaria spoke. It falls to this person to develop it so as to found a new Edenic innocence on earth.

To the antiphysis of Catholicism, Marguerite opposed a rehabilitation of the state of nature before the fall, before the intervention of sin and guilt. To awaken in oneself the sleeping God was to emancipate oneself from all social constraints in order to give desire the freedoms of nature.

To describe Porete as a quietist is to read her with the spectacles of a theologian. Horror of sexuality was [successfully] propagated everywhere in the Seventeenth Century, but in the Thirteenth Century it was only a dead letter and vain chatter in the sermons of the clerics who were openly living with their lovers and in a state of debauchery. The grimacing and terrible face of sin only truly began to impose itself in the Fifteenth Century, at the service of the market in death and promotional morbidity. Unlike Teresa of Ávila, [Antoinette] Bourignon and [Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte] Guyon,[17] Porete pressed into the annihilation of the soul a reinvention of the body to which love conferred the mark of its all-powerfulness.


Heilwige Bloermardinne

In Brussels in the first years of the Fourteenth Century, Marguerite’s doctrine and “fin amor” were illustrated by the mysterious preeminence of a woman whose reputation held in check an Inquisition that was, it is true, often discouraged by the liberal politics of the opulent cities.

Of [Heilwige] Bloermardinne[18] there only remains the popular legend of a thaumaturge revered by the people and the notables, a few biographical references and the pages that her enemies devoted to her.

The daughter of an alderman named Guillaume Bloemart (he died sometime between 1283 and 1287) and a member of a family that was among the most influential in Brussels, Heilwige must have been born between 1250-1260 or 1283-1287; her death certificate carried the date 23 August 1335.

While still a parish priest at Sainte-Gudule, the mystic Jan van Ruysbroeck – later suspected of [having] free spirit [sympathies] by [Jean Charlier de] Gerson – engaged in a lively polemic against Heilwige. Tradition assures us that such animosity forced her to flee Brussels under popular pressure, and seek refuge in Groenendael Abbey (Vaux-Vert), in which she passed the rest of life.

In his Life of Jan Ruysbroeck, Henri Pomerius[19] collected the testimonies of Jan van Schoonhoven, Ruysbroeck’s companion and successor:

“There was in Brussels, during the time that the servant of God (Jan Ruysbroeck) was a secular priest, a woman of perverse beliefs, called Bloermardinne by the people. She acquired such a reputation that, during sacred communion, when she approached the altar, collective opinion had it that she walked between two seraphs.

“She had written a lot on the spirit of freedom and on infamous carnal love, which she called seraphic love. Many disciples, who shared her convictions, venerated her as the creator of a new doctrine.

[“]To teach and to write, she sat, one is assured, in a silver chair. After her death, this seat, one says, was offered to the Duchess of Brabant because of Bloermardinne’s thought, the permeation of which the Duchess guarded. Likewise, cripples touched her dead body, hoping to recover their health.

“A man full of piety and pained by the spread of the error [Ruysbroeck] soon set himself against the perversity of this doctrine, and his disciples were so numerous that – in the name of truth – he unmasked the writings that only contained heresies under the cover of truth and that, in contempt of our faith, Bloermardinne had long attributed to divine inspiration. In this campaign, he proved to have wisdom and courage, because he did not fear the dangers of Bloermardinne’s disciples, and he did not let himself be deceived by the appearance and truthful perfume of these false doctrines. I can attest, having had the experience, that these harmful writings were at first clothed in the veil of truth, so well that no one detected [in them] the germ of error, that is, if it wasn’t by the grace and with the help of the One who teaches all truth.”[20]

Though he didn’t name her, Bloermardinne was the one who affirmed the unity of carnal and seraphic love, which was rejected by Ruysbroeck in The Adornment of Spiritual Marriages:

“They believe themselves elevated above all the choirs of saints and angels, and above all recompense that might be merited in some way. Thus they think that they can never grow in virtue, nor merit more, nor commit sin; because they no longer have will, they have abandoned to God their spirits devoted to rest and idleness; they are one with God and, as far as they themselves are concerned, they are reduced to nothingness. The consequence is that they can consent to any desire of inferior nature, because they have returned to innocence and the laws no longer apply to them. From then on, if Nature is inclined towards what gives them satisfaction, and if resisting means that one’s idleness of spirit must be distracted or hindered, they obey the instincts of nature, so that their idleness of spirit remains unimpeded. They also have no esteem for fasting, feasts or any other precepts, and they only observe them for the esteem of men: because in all things they lead their lives without conscience.”[21]

William Cornelius of Antwerp, Voluntarily Poor Man and Adept of the Free Spirit

When they were not oppressing the people in the name of a power emanating from Rome, the members of the lower clergy willingly made common cause with the oppressed. Among the agitated population of weavers in Antwerp, William Cornelius seems to had have the reputation of a man of integrity whose advice was valued because he was less concerned with the Church’s interests than with the lot of the simple people that the Church wanted to rule. His title “Master” appeared in a grant issued by the Cathedral of Notre-Dame of Antwerp in 1243. According to his slanderer, Thomas de Cantimpré, William benefited from a prebend that he later renounced to found a movement of voluntary poverty.

Cornelius added to Waldensian asceticism a program that sought to reform the indulgences and, working against oppression by the dominant class, he propagated the idea that poverty washed away all sin. The [official] charges against him summarized his doctrine this way:

“The indulgences of the prelates do not serve souls.

“No one can give alms (by deducting them) from his surplus.

“No rich person can be saved and all rich people are avaricious.

“It is permitted to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

“No one who is poor can be damned, for all [of them] will be saved.

“There will be no hell after the Day of Judgment.

“As rust is consumed by fire, all sin is consumed by poverty and annulled in the eyes of God.

“Simple fornication is not a sin for those who live in poverty.

“There are only three mortal sins: envy, avarice and ostentatious prodigality; also knowing your wife when she is pregnant.

“What one calls sin against nature is not a sin.

“No man should know his wife more three times a week.[22]

The last article calls for a remark. To the freedom that ruled in matters of sexual relations among the weavers, Cornelius attempted to add respect for women, which was the very principle of the refinement of love. Against the misogyny shared by the bourgeoisie and its fabliaux, he proposed a code of courtesy in which women were neither the objects of rape nor spiritualized subjects. The state of poverty, voluntary or not, accorded them the right to give themselves to whomever pleased them (the crime characterized as “fornication” by the clerical police) and to refuse if they judged it good to do so. Thus this parish priest made himself the spokesman of the [female] workers exhausted by labor at the workshops – the same ones whose miserable existence was evoked by Chrétien de Troyes – to the point of feeling the occasional inopportuneness of the constant solicitations of the men infatuated with their virile prowess.

Such ideas, which were propagated from 1240 to the end of the Thirteenth Century in Antwerp and Brabant, illuminated the writings of Hadewijch and her international group, which she called “The New Ones” (De Nuwen).


Around 1243, Cornelius’ agitation took advantage of a conflict that opposed the people of Antwerp to the Bishop of Cambrai (upon whom the town depended), who were accused of embezzlement and tyranny.

In 1248, at the instigation of the Dominicans who reproached him for his lack of zeal in the struggle against heresy, Guyard de Laon, the Bishop of Cambrai, resolved to crack down on William’s partisans. On 23 June, sickness over took Guyard at the Abbey of Affligem, where he died on 16 September. Bishop Nicolas des Fontaines, who succeeded him in 1249, organized and personally financed the repression.

The natural death of William around 1253 did not discourage the ardor of his partisans. Nicolas des Fontaines did not succeed in doing so, despite exhuming and burning, in 1257, the body of the man who was a priest-worker before they were priest-workers. In 1280, the Dominicans still roamed the Brabant, where Duke John ordered his subjects and officers to put themselves at the service of the Dominicans when they required it.


[1] Johannes Nauclerus, Chronica, Cologne, 1544, p. 912. [Translator: cf. Raoul Vaneigem, Le Mouvement du libre-espirit, translated as The Movement of the Free Spirit by Randall Cherry and Ian Patterson (New York: Zone Books, 1994, p. 100].

[2] Livarius Oliger, “De secta operitus libertatis” in Storia e Letteratura Reccolta di Studi et Testi, Rome, 1943, p. 101. [Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 100.]

[3] Translator: Latin for “I will go to the altar of Bacchus, to the God who gladdens a person’s heart.”

[4] B. Monod, Le Moine Guibert et son temps, op. cit., p. 202.

[5] Ibid. [Translator: in Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 102, this passage ends with a footnote that credits Petrus Comestor, Scholastica historia Magistri Petri Comestoris sacre Scripture seriem breuem nimis et expositam exponentis, Paris, 1513-19. Note that Petrus Comestor (Pierre le Mangeur) means “Peter the Eater.”]

[6] R. Vaneigem, Le Mouvement du libre-espirit, op. cit., p. 103. [Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 109, which via a footnote refers the reader to Garnius von Rochefort, in Clems Baeumker (ed.) “Contra Amaurianos,” Beitrage zur Geschicte zur Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters (Munster: Aschendorff, 1926), vol. 24.]

[7] Ibid. [Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 109-110, which via a footnote refers the reader to William the Breton, “Gesta Philippi Augusti,” in H. Francois Delaborde (ed.), Oeuvres de Rigord et de Guillaume le Breton, Paris, 1882-1885, vol. 16, p. 175.]

[8] Ibid., pp. 104 and 105. [Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 110-111, which via a footnote refers the reader to Joseph de Guibert, Documenta ecclesiastica christianae perfectionis, Rome, 1931.]

[9] Ibid., p. 113. [Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 116, which via a footnote refers the reader to Herbert Grundmann, Religiose Bewegungen in Mittelalter, Berlin, 1935, p. 400.]

[10] Ibid., pp. 115 and 116. [Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 118-120, which refers the reader to Herman Haupt, “Beitrage zur Geschichte der Sekte vom freien Geiste und des Beghartentums,” in Zeitschrift fur Kirchengeschichte, Gotha, 1885, vol. 7.]

[11] Translator: for the “sweet new style,” see Dante Alighieri, Vita Nuova (1295), and, for the path to Beatrice, Divina Commedia (1321).

[12] M. Porete, Le miroir des simples âmes, in Guarnieri, Il movimento del libro spirito, Rome, 1965, p. 617. [Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 129.]

[13] R. Vaneigem, op. cit., p. 127. [Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 130, which via a footnote refers the reader to Guarnieri, Il movimento del libro spirito, p. 586.]

[14] R. Guarnieri, op. cit.

[15] R. Vaneigem, op. cit., p. 128. [Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 131.]

[16] Ibid., p. 129. [Translator: here Vaneigem is quoting from Marguerite Porete’s The Mirror of Simple Souls. See The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 132).]

[17] Translator: mystics of the Sixteen or Seventeenth Centuries.

[18] Translator: alternate spellings of her last name include Bloemart, Bloermardine, Bloemards, and Bloemaerts.

[19] Translator: born Hendrik Utenbogaerde and sometimes known as Henricus Pomerius (1382-1469). The title of his work about Ruysbroeck was De origine monasterii Viridisvallis una cum vitis B. Joannis Rusbrochii primi prioris hujus monasterii et aliquot coaetaneorum ejus.

[20] Translator: Cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, pp. 144-145, which via a footnote refers to Paul Frédéricq, Corpus documentorum Inquisitionis haereticae pravitatis Neerlandicae, Ghent, 1889-1900, vol. I, p. 186.

[21] Translator: see The Movement of the Free Spirit, p. 147, which via a footnote on p. 149 refers to J. Ruysbroeck, L’ornement des noces spirituelles, Brussels, 1928, p. 200 and sq.

[22] Translator: cf. Vaneigem, The Movement of the Free Spirit, pp. 114-115, which via a footnote refers the reader to Paul Frédéricq, Corpus., vol. I, pp. 119-120. Note that The Movement of the Free Spirit went on to list one more charge: the idea that “If a woman is poor and indigent, she can give herself without sin.”


(Published by Fayard in 1993. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! May 2013. All footnotes by the author, except where noted. Please note that in the original, though they were only 14 footnotes embedded in the text itself, the end of the volume listed a total of 18 of them. I believe that, by providing footnotes of my own, I have fixed the problem.)



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