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Politics and Heresy in Italy: Anti-Heretical Crusades, Orders and Confraternities, 1200–1500

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011


One of the most important weapons in the armoury of the Church during its struggle with heresy in the later Middle Ages was the militant and outward-looking piety of the lay faithful. There were two main ways in which the Church could employ the religious zeal of the laity in the defence of the faith, especially during the critical battle with catharism in the thirteenth century. One was the issue of crusade indulgences and privileges to all who took up arms in, or otherwise contributed to, the struggle against the heretics and their protectors (in technical terms, their fautors). The crusading army which such a move could create was a powerful and relatively inexpensive instrument, but it had its disadvantages. The crusade against the Albigensians showed that it was very difficult to control in the field, while that against the Hussites demonstrated that its failure had serious effects on the enthusiasm of the faithful. The second way of employing lay piety was the establishment of permanent religious organisations, orders and confraternities, which would be at the service of the papal inquisition against heresy. In contrast to the temporary legal obligation of the crucesignatus, membership of such an organisation expressed a permanent commitment to the defence of the faith, a commitment rewarded only in articulo mortis by the grant of the plenary indulgence. My intention here is to examine some political aspects of both the use of the crusade indulgence, together with its associated privileges, and the functioning of anti-heretical orders and confraternities in Italy, mainly in the thirteenth century. Events in Italy deserve study for two reasons.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1982

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1 H. C. Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, London 1888, ii. 191.

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18 I follow Meersseman (Études... IV, 295) in describing the Militia as a religious order rather than a confraternity, despite the omission of the oath of chastity. For a different interpretation see Jordan, E., Les Origines de la domination angevine en Italic, Paris 1909, 364Google Scholar n. 1.

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39 This was an argument frequently and forcefully employed in the justification of crusades against Christian lay powers. See my ‘Angevin kings of Sicily', chap. 2.

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60 Inferno, xxiii. 82–108.

61 Salimbene, 468. For the order's character and history, see Federici, Istoria, passim.

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66 Meersseman, ‘Études...II', 71ff, 141–61, esp. 146–7 (the rite for taking the cross).

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