"Let it be known that you seriously hold a tabooed belief, and you may be perfectly sure of being treated with a cruelty less brutal but more refined than hunting you like a wolf."

Charles Pierce
The Fixation of Belief
Collected Papers Harvard Univ Press 1934


"......learning has brought disobedience and heresy, and sects into the world; and printing has divulged them...."

-Sir William Berkeley, 1671


"Scholar Leonard George has nicely defined heresy as "a crime of perception-an act of seeing something that, according to some custodian of reality , is not truly there." The word originates in the Greek hairesis, the noun formed from the verb haireomai (to choose). At base, heresy means consciously opting for a set of beliefs, and thus a heretic is-the anachronism is irresistible-pro-choice. It then came to mean choosing an incorrect belief system. Given the shifting sands of doctrine, finding the officially approved path to salvation frequently took deft spiritual footwork..."

Stephen O'Shea

The Perfect Heresy


"The questions that make people heretics are. Where does humanity come from and how? Where does evil come from and why?"



"No one can bring an influential heresy into being unless he is possessed by nature of an outstanding intellect and has gifts provided by God. Such a man was Valentinus."

St. Jerome


"Although firmly anchored in the politics and society of its era, the story of the Cathars also forms an important-and harrowing-chapter in the history of ideas. The heresy hinged upon the question of Good and Evil. Not that one side in the struggle over Languedoc was good and the other bad, even if propagandists for both sides claimed that such was the case. Rather, the fundamental disagreement between Catholic orthodoxy and Cathar heterodoxy, their irreducible bone of contention, concerned the role and power of Evil in life."

Stephen O'Shea

The Perfect Heresy


"But this (evil existing without a cause) would seem to be impossible, that is, that anything can begin without a cause, as it is written: "For whatever happens, it is impossible for it not to have a cause." And again: "Everything that goes from potency to effect needs a cause by which it is drawn to the effect." And even that which was, according to them (the Catholics) its cause, that is, good, needs it less than that which was not, that is , evil, as it is certainly written: "It is necessary for something to be before it can act."

-On the Two Principles ( The only Cathar text that survives intact)


"They asked for a day to be fixed on which they might bring forward men from among their followers who were expert in their faith. They promised that if they saw their masters refuted in argument they would be willing to rejoin the church, though otherwise they would rather die than abandon their views. After this they were urged for three days to come to their senses, and refused , and then were seized by the people, who were moved by great enthusiasm, (though we were against it), put to the stake, and burnt. The amazing thing was that they entered and endured the torment of the flames not merely courageously but joyfully. I wish I were with you, holy father, to hear you explain how such great fortitude comes to these tools of the devil in their heresy as is seldom found among the truly religious in the faith of Christ."

report by 'Eversin of Steinfeld" a Cistercian monk in 1144 A.D. writing to his Superior 'Bernard of Clairvaux)


...In Languedoc, the homeland of the heresy, successive waves of highly trained inquisitors, aided by informers and torturers, fired by a totalitarian creed, and instructed by detailed manuals and ever-expanding registers, slowly ground Catharism into oblivion. Thousands of private dramas ended in the darkness of a dungeon. By century's end only the truly heroic dared to say aloud that the world was evil."

Stephen O'Shea

The Perfect Heresy


“He is a heretic who does not believe what the Roman Hierarchy teaches….A heretic merits the pains of fire…..By the Gospel, the canons, civil law, and custom, heretics must be burned…..For the suspicion alone of heresy , purgation is demanded…..Magistrates who refuse to take the oath for defense of the faith shall be suspected of heresy…..Wars may be commenced by the authority of the Church….Indulgences for the remission of all sin belong to those who signed with the cross for the persecution of heretics….Every individual may kill a heretic. Persons who betray heretics shall be rewarded….Heretics may be forced to profess the Roman faith….A heretic, as he sins in all places, may everywhere be judged…..Heretics must be sought after, and be corrected or exterminated…..Heretics enjoy no privileges in law or equity….The goods of heretics are to be considered as confiscated from the perpetration of the crime….The pope can enact new articles of faith….Definitions of popes and councils are to be received as infallible…..Inquisitors may torture witnesses to obtain the truth….It is laudable to torture those of every class who are guilty of heresy. …..The Pope has power over Infidels….The Church may make war with infidels….Those who are strongly suspected are to be reputed as heretics…..He who does not inform against heretics shall be deemed as suspected….Inquisitors may allow heretics to witness against  heretics, but not for them…..Inquisitors must not publish the names of informers, witnesses, and accusers….Penitent heretics may be condemned to perpetual imprisonment. ….Inquisitors may provide for their own expenditures, and the salaries of their officers, from the property of heretics….Inquisitors enjoy the benefits of a plenary indulgence ( a full papal forgiveness of sin) at all times in life, and in death.”

                                      Directorium Inquisitorum (1584)


   "There we have it. The heretics exploited the simple. This will become a familiar pattern of accusation. It is strange to read the accusation today when many would argue that it is the Church which has and does exploit 'the simple' with gratifying fantasies and simplistic sermonizing. I suppose that it is a tendency of all those who regard themselves as authorities to regard the 'others' as either simple or dangerously pernicious. Indeed, a Church which makes peace with its enemies has already lost authority. The simple need to be protected from the pernicious-is this not the noble purpose of authority? But did not Jesus enjoin his apostles to feed his sheep-and not to put them on a diet?"

Tobias Churton

The Gnostics



"The Quakers are today perhaps the most widely respected 'heretics' of all. Their basic belief is that each person should worship God in his or her own way; the authority of the Church-any church-is rejected; Priests and sacraments, including baptism and the Eucharist are irrelevant. There is no creed, and not really any theology; the only authority is the Inner Light of Christ, or 'that of God', in the heart of each individual believer. Like the Unitarians and the Salvation Army, the Quakers are perhaps respected by outsiders more for their commitment to social issues-including prison reform and the abolition of slavery-than for their spiritual beliefs, though this social commitment stems from their inner spirituality."

David V. Barrett

The New Believers


"We shall prove that they are weak, that they are mere pitiable children, but that the happiness of a child is the sweetest of all. They will grow timid and begin looking up to us and cling to us in fear, as chicks to the hen. They will marvel at us and be terrified of us and be proud that we are so mighty and so wise as to be able to tame such a turbulent flock of thousands of millions. They will be helpless and in constant fear of our wrath, their minds will grow timid, their eyes will be always shedding tears like women and children, but at the slightest sign from us they will be just as ready to pass to mirth and laughter. Oh, we shall permit them to sin, too, for they are weak and helpless, and they will love us like children for allowing them to sin."

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Grand Inquisitor, The Brothers Karamazov


   "By labeling as heresy all views of which it disapproved the Church successfully passed its orthodoxy off as a unique scale for weighing the true meanings of words, beings and things. It nevertheless felt inadequate and disarmed in the face of certain attitudes that it deemed "meaningless and demented." With some unease the Inquisition attached the words "free spirit" and "madness" to men and women who renounced all spiritual and temporal authority, seeking no more than to live in accordance with their own desires."

Raoul Vaneigem

The Movement of the Free Spirit


Book: "Out of the Flames" by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone

Book: "The New believers" by David V. Barrett

Book: "Crimes of Perception" by Leonard George

Book: "The Perfect Heresy…The revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars" Stephen O’ Shea

Book: "The Albigensian Crusade" by Jonathan Sumption

Book: "Massacre At Montsegur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade" by Zoe Oldenbourg

Book: "Early Christian Heresies" by Joan O’Grady

Book: "A History of Heresy" by David Christie-Murray

Book: "The Pope & The Heretic" by Michael White

Book: " The Tailor-King: The Rise and Fall of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster" by Anthony Arthur

Book: "Dictionary of Heresy Trials in American Christianity" Ed. by George H. Shriver

Book: "The Gnostics" by Tobias Churton

Book: "God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism" by Jonathan Kirsch

Book: "Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity" by Walter Bauer (English translation eds. Robert A. Kraft and Gerhard Krodel

Book: "Adam, Eve, and the Serpent" by Elaine Pagels

Book: "The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate and the Death of the Ancient World" by Adrian Murdoch


© 2001




Back to Chrestomathy             Next Page