4.2.3. The burst of mysticism

4.2.3. The burst of mysticism

The conflict between the decadent Papacy of Avignon and the German emperor, the Hundred Years’ War, the famine and the plague, the beginning of the Inquisition, the fall of the Knights Templar and the insatiable greed of the clergy shattered the faith of the masses. Spirituality and the salvation of man became an acute problem; and where religious dogmas became unsatisfactory, dissident movements rose to preach an alternative point of view. While the prelates extorted the parishioners and fought for positions and wealth, the interest in mysticism experienced a phenomenal growth. (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)



The Apostolic project in itself was harmless; but it had the misfortune to resemble the famous French Cathar sect.320 The Cathars were very widespread and very powerful. They violently protested against the corruption of the Catholic Church, they claimed an apostolic succession from the founders of Christendom and accused Rome for being treacherous and corrupter of the apostolic message, especially after the acceptance of Donatio Constantini by Sylvester I.321 In reaction, the Papacy founded the Inquisition, an institution meant to suppress the pandemic of heresy. It is interesting that in the battle between dissidents and the dominant church apocalyptic messages were used as weapons by both sides. Dissidents accused the Catholic Church of being the Whore of Babylon. On the other side of the barricade, the prelates attempted to maintain order and obedience through material and spiritual threats. At a time when Catharism was still troubling the region of Languedoc, the fortress-cathedral Sainte-Cécile in the city of Albi was built as a bastion against heresy. On the interior walls of the edifice terrifying scenes of Hell and Judgment Day are depicted – a clear message which showed the fate of those who did not obey the precepts of Catholicism. This was no longer only a religious warfare, but also a psychological one; the institution of the church assured its success by using the instrument of fear: fear of stake, fear of death, fear of torture and especially fear of the eternal torments of Hell.

Catharism was born from ascetic movements and mendicant orders, being a transition from a passive protest manifested through isolation and a simple lifestyle, to an active protest manifested through open sermons and violence. The prelates feared that other groups might follow the example. Consequently, the Second Council of Lyon in 1274 banned all mendicant orders established without papal approval and a period of persecution followed. In 1300 Segarelli was found guilty of heresy and burned at stake by the Inquisition in Parma, after he had been imprisoned for six years. This thing allowed Fra Dolcino of Novara to take the leadership of the Apostolic Brethren and to define the new doctrine of Dulcinianism. Inspired by Joachimism, Fra Dolcino divided the history of mankind into four ages:

(1) The period of the Old Testament, when man multiplied.

(2) The period of Jesus Christ and the apostles, characterized by chastity and humbleness.

(3) The period that began with Constantine the Great and Pope Sylvester I, characterized by the decadence of the church due to personal ambitions and excessive wealth (Cathar influence).

(4) The eternal period of the Apostolics, led by Segarelli and Fra Dolcino, characterized by an apostolic lifestyle, modesty, chastity and the absence of a government.

The Dulcinians rejected the hierarchy of the church and the feudal order, calling instead for the return to humbleness and modesty, freedom and the organization of an equal society, of mutual aid, with all property held in common. The Joachimites, and not Joachim himself, condemned the Catholic Church after Celestine V because it turned into the Whore of Babylon, the persecutor of the saints. Fra Dolcino preached that the authority was transferred from the Catholic Church to them, and the pope and the clerics were going to be exterminated by the forces of the Last Emperor in a legendary battle that would mark the beginning of the Age of the Spirit. Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen was twice excommunicated, he was slandered in the Catholic chronicles, his empire was in permanent conflict with the Papal States and Pope Gregory IX even called him the Antichrist. But the Joachimites deified Frederick, being seen as the one who would lead the people into the Millennium. The “Sun King” – as he was called – declared himself to be a successor of the Roman emperors, went alone in the Sixth Crusade and even managed to crown himself King of Jerusalem in 1229.322 When he died in 1250, a prophecy that copied the Tiburtine Sibyl about Constantine the Great lamented the end of the Roman Empire. Others refused to believe that he was gone. A German pagan myth said that Frederick was sleeping in a cave hidden in the mountains of Bavaria or Thuringia. He was supposed to come back when the ravens ceased to fly above the mountains, a sign that it was the time for the final battle against the corruption of the state and the church.323 This myth gave the rebels the opportunity to use it to their advantage, two pseudo-Fredericks being burned at the stake by his successor to the throne.324

In reaction to the Catholic attacks, the Dulcinians turned into a paramilitary group, plundering, devastating and killing everyone who opposed them. Fra Dolcino justified the violence by citing from Paul the Apostle: “To the pure all things are pure: but to them that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15).325 Dulcinianism was finally destroyed in 1307, when the crusaders managed to conquer the fortification in Mount Rubello, in the Italian Alps.326 Fra Dolcino did not recant his apocalyptic beliefs even before the executioners; before being burned at the stake he announced that the end would come in three years’ time and he would return together with Christ.327

In Inferno (XXVIII:55-60), written in fact after the death of Fra Dolcino, but expressed as if it was written before, Muhammad requests Dante to warn Fra Dolcino of what expects him for committing heresy. At first sight Muhammad’s gesture seems to be a subtle admonishment to the readers to unconditionally obey the Catholic precepts, but in the next canto the poet condemns the church for the corruption and the love of money of the prelates.

Mysticism found the most favorable land in the French and German regions, the future battlefield between Catholicism and the Protestant Reformation. The Brethren of the Free Spirit – a Joachimite sect ... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)



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