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The Brethren Of The Free Spirit and Their Relationship with Other Religious Groups (PDF)


# Brethren of the Free Spirit: A Heretical Movement in Medieval Europe ## Introduction - What are the Brethren of the Free Spirit? - When and where did they emerge? - Why are they considered heretical by the Catholic Church? - What are the main sources of information about them? ## The Origins and Development of the Free Spirit Movement - The first appearance of the Free Spirit beliefs in the Compilatio de novo spiritu by Albert the Great - The association of the Free Spirit with the Beguines and Beghards - The spread of the Free Spirit across Europe in the 14th century - The persecution and condemnation of the Free Spirit by the Church and secular authorities ## The Core Beliefs and Practices of the Free Spirit - The concept of autotheism or becoming one with God - The rejection of Christ, the Church, and the sacraments as necessary for salvation - The use of erotic language to describe union with God - The antinomian attitude and moral freedom of the Free Spirit - The anticlerical sentiment and criticism of the Church hierarchy ## The Influence and Legacy of the Free Spirit - The connection between the Free Spirit and other mystical movements such as Meister Eckhart and Marguerite Porete - The impact of the Free Spirit on social and political movements such as the Hussites and the Peasants' War - The reception and reinterpretation of the Free Spirit by modern scholars and thinkers such as R. H. Blyth and Norman Cohn ## Conclusion - A summary of the main points of the article - A reflection on the significance and relevance of the Free Spirit for today's world - A call to action for further research and exploration of this topic ## FAQs - What is the difference between the Brethren of the Free Spirit and other Christian mystics? - How did the Brethren of the Free Spirit view women and gender roles? - How did the Brethren of the Free Spirit practice their spirituality in daily life? - How did the Brethren of the Free Spirit relate to other religious groups such as Jews and Muslims? - How did the Brethren of the Free Spirit influence art and literature in their time? Now that I have created an outline, I will start writing based on it step by step. Here is my article: # Brethren of the Free Spirit: A Heretical Movement in Medieval Europe ## Introduction Have you ever heard of a group of Christians who believed that they could become God, that they did not need Jesus or the Church to be saved, that they could enjoy sensual pleasures without sinning, and that they could challenge the authority and corruption of the clergy? If not, then you are about to learn about one of the most fascinating and controversial religious movements in medieval Europe: the Brethren of the Free Spirit. The Brethren of the Free Spirit were adherents of a loose set of beliefs that were deemed heretical by the Catholic Church but held (or at least believed to be held) by some Christians, especially in the Low Countries, Germany, France, Bohemia, and Northern Italy between the 13th and 15th centuries. The movement was first identified in the late 13th century by Albert the Great, a Dominican theologian who wrote a treatise against them called *Compilatio de novo spiritu*. It was not a single movement or school of thought, but rather a diverse and fluid phenomenon that varied across time and space. It caused great unease among Church leaders at the time, who feared that it threatened their doctrine, authority, and morality. The movement was officially condemned by Pope Clement V at the Council of Vienne (131112), where a decree called *Ad nostrum* listed a number of errors attributed to them. However, this did not stop their influence from spreading and persisting until the late 15th century, when they gradually disappeared from history. The main sources of information about the Brethren (as they will be called henceforth) are the writings of their opponents (such as Albert, Bernard Gui, Nicholas Eymeric, Jean Gerson), the records of their trials and inquisitions (such as those of Marguerite Porete, John of Brünn, and the Taborites), and the testimonies of some of their followers or sympathizers (such as Meister Eckhart, Jan van Ruusbroec, and the anonymous author of *The Mirror of Simple Souls*). However, these sources are not always reliable, accurate, or impartial, as they often reflect the biases, misunderstandings, and agendas of their authors. Therefore, it is important to approach them with caution and critical thinking. In this article, you will learn more about the origins and development, the core beliefs and practices, and the influence and legacy of the Brethren of the Free Spirit. You will also find a table that summarizes their main characteristics, a conclusion that highlights their significance and relevance for today's world, and five FAQs that answer some common questions about them. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of this fascinating and controversial movement that challenged the Christian orthodoxy and authority in medieval Europe. ## The Origins and Development of the Free Spirit Movement The first appearance of the Free Spirit beliefs can be traced back to the Compilatio de novo spiritu by Albert the Great, who wrote it in the 1270s after investigating a group of persons in the Swabian Ries area of Germany. In this treatise, Albert denounced a number of errors that he attributed to these people, such as claiming to be God, rejecting Christ and the Church, using erotic language to describe union with God, and disregarding moral laws. He also associated them with the Beguines and Beghards, who were unregulated religious groups of lay men and women who lived in voluntary poverty and devoted themselves to prayer and charity. Albert accused them of being influenced by the Cathars, who were dualist heretics who rejected the material world as evil and denied the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. The association of the Free Spirit with the Beguines and Beghards became more common in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, when these groups increased in number and popularity in the Low Countries (especially Flanders and Brabant), where they enjoyed some support from local authorities and nobility. However, they also faced opposition from some Church officials and theologians, who saw them as a threat to their doctrine and discipline. One of the most famous cases was that of Marguerite Porete, a French Beguine who wrote a mystical book called *The Mirror of Simple Souls*, in which she expressed some Free Spirit ideas such as becoming one with God, transcending the law, and being free from sin. She was arrested by the Inquisition in Paris in 1308, tried for heresy, and burned at the stake in 1310. The spread of the Free Spirit across Europe continued in the 14th century, especially in Germany, where it was influenced by the Rhineland mystics such as Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, Henry Suso, and John of Ruysbroeck. These mystics taught about the union of the soul with God through detachment from creatures, but they also emphasized the importance of Christ, the Church, and the virtues. Some of them were accused of holding Free Spirit beliefs by their critics, such as Eckhart, who was condemned by Pope John XXII in 1329. However, they also tried to distance themselves from the radical elements of the Free Spirit movement, such as Ruysbroeck, who wrote a treatise against them called *The Book of the Twelve Beguines*. The Free Spirit movement also reached other parts of Europe in the 14th century, such as France, where it was linked to the Spiritual Franciscans, who were a radical branch of the Franciscan order that advocated for absolute poverty and opposed the papacy; Bohemia, where it was connected to the Hussites, who were followers of Jan Hus, a reformer who challenged the corruption and authority of the Church; and Italy, where it was associated with the Fraticelli, who were another radical branch of the Franciscan order that rejected the papal bull *Quorundam exigit* (1317), which regulated their way of life. In all these regions, the Free Spirit movement faced persecution and condemnation by both Church and secular authorities, who saw them as heretics, rebels, and anarchists. ## The Core Beliefs and Practices of the Free Spirit The Brethren of the Free Spirit did not have a uniform or systematic doctrine, but rather a set of beliefs and practices that varied according to their personal experiences, cultural contexts, and theological influences. However, some common themes can be identified among them, such as: - The concept of autotheism or becoming one with God. The Brethren believed that they could achieve a state of perfection and union with God that transcended all distinctions and differences between creator and creature, human and divine, subject and object. They claimed to have reached a point where they could say "I am God" or "God is I" without any qualification or limitation. They also used the term *indistinction* or *annihilation* to describe this state of identity with God, where they lost their individuality and personality and became nothing but God. This belief was considered heretical by the Church, which taught that there was an essential difference between God and his creatures, and that only Christ was both human and divine. - The rejection of Christ, the Church, and the sacraments as necessary for salvation. The Brethren believed that they did not need any external means or mediators to reach God, since they had direct access to him through their inner light and spirit. They considered Christ to be only an example or a teacher, not a savior or a redeemer. They also dismissed the Church as a corrupt and oppressive institution that hindered their spiritual freedom and growth. They rejected the sacraments as useless rituals that did not confer any grace or benefit on them. They believed that they only needed austerity and reliance on the Holy Spirit to be saved. - The use of erotic language to describe union with God. The Brethren often expressed their mystical experiences in terms of love, desire, pleasure, and intimacy with God. They used metaphors such as marriage, embrace, kiss, bed, womb, breast, and genitals to convey their spiritual relationship with God. They also sometimes engaged in sexual acts as a way of symbolizing or celebrating their union with God. They did not see any contradiction between their eroticism and their spirituality, since they regarded everything as holy and divine. - The antinomian attitude and moral freedom of the Free Spirit. The Brethren believed that they were above the law, both human and divine, since they had become one with God who was the source of all law. They argued that nothing was a sin except what was thought to be a sin, and that they could do whatever they wanted without any guilt or remorse. They also claimed that they could not be harmed by anything or anyone, since they had become invulnerable and immortal in God. They often defied the norms and expectations of society by living in poverty, wandering from place to place, begging for alms, dressing in rags, preaching in public, criticizing the clergy, and performing miracles. - The anticlerical sentiment and criticism of the Church hierarchy. The Brethren were opposed to the authority and power of the Church, especially the pope and the bishops, whom they accused of being greedy, hypocritical, ignorant, and abusive. They challenged their claims to infallibility, legitimacy, and supremacy over the faithful. They also denounced their lavish lifestyles, their involvement in politics and wars, their exploitation of the poor and the women, and their persecution of dissenters and heretics. They called for a reform of the Church that would restore its original purity and simplicity. - The difference between the Brethren of the Free Spirit and other Christian mystics. The Brethren of the Free Spirit were similar to other Christian mystics in that they sought for union with God through detachment from creatures. However, they were different from other Christian mystics in that they claimed to have achieved a state of perfection and identity with God that transcended all distinctions and differences between creator and creature, human and divine, subject and object. They also rejected Christ, the Church, and the sacraments as necessary for salvation, and disregarded moral laws and social norms. They used erotic language to describe their union with God, and sometimes engaged in sexual acts as a way of symbolizing or celebrating it. They were considered heretical by the Church, which taught that there was an essential difference between God and his creatures, and that only Christ was both human and divine. - How did the Brethren of the Free Spirit view women and gender roles? The Brethren of the Free Spirit had a more egalitarian and positive view of women and gender roles than the mainstream Church and society at their time. They believed that women could also achieve union with God and become one with him, just like men. They also believed that women could be leaders, teachers, preachers, and prophets in their movement, just like men. They did not impose any restrictions or regulations on women's dress, behavior, or roles, but rather respected their freedom and dignity. They also valued women's sexuality and sensuality as expressions of their spirituality and love for God. Some of their most prominent figures were women, such as Marguerite Porete, who wrote a mystical book called *The Mirror of Simple Souls*, in which she expressed some Free Spirit ideas. - How did the Brethren of the Free Spirit practice their spirituality in daily life? The Brethren of the Free Spirit practiced their spirituality in daily life by living in poverty, wandering from place to place, begging for alms, dressing in rags, preaching in public, criticizing the clergy, and performing miracles. They did not follow any fixed rules or rituals, but rather relied on their inner light and spirit to guide them. They did not belong to any organized church or institution, but rather formed loose communities or networks of like-minded individuals. They did not seek any worldly goods or honors, but rather sought only God and his will. They did not fear any earthly dangers or enemies, but rather trusted in God's protection and power. - How did the Brethren of the Free Spirit relate to other religious groups such as Jews and Muslims? The Brethren of the Free Spirit did not have any formal or official relations with other religious groups such as Jews and Muslims, but they may have had some contacts or influences with them. Some scholars have suggested that some of their ideas may have been derived from Jewish Kabbalah or Islamic Sufism , which are mystical traditions that also teach about union with God. Some scholars have also suggested that some of their practices may have been inspired by Jewish or Muslim ascetics , who also lived in poverty and detachment from the world. However, these suggestions are not conclusive or widely accepted by all scholars. - How did the Brethren of the Free Spirit influence art and literature in their time? The Brethren of the Free Spirit influenced art and literature in their time by inspiring some artists and writers to express their mystical visions and experiences in creative ways. Some examples are: - The anonymous author of *The Cloud of Unknowing*, an English mystical treatise that teaches about contemplation and union with God through a cloud of darkness and ignorance. - The anonymous author of *The Mirror of Simple Souls*, a French mystical book that teaches about becoming one with God through annihilation of self. - Meister Eckhart , a German Dominican theologian and mystic who wrote sermons and treatises that teach about detachment from creatures and identity with God. - Jan van Ruysbroeck , a Flemish Augustinian canon and mystic who wrote works that teach about the stages of spiritual growth and union with God. - Alphonse Mucha , a Czech Art Nouveau painter who depicted scenes from Hussite history in his series *The Slav Epic*. ## Table: The Main Characteristics of the Brethren of the Free Spirit Category Description --- --- Origin and Development - A heretical movement that emerged in medieval Europe and followed the teachings of Jan Hus. - First identified in the late 13th century by Albert the Great, who associated them with the Beguines and Beghards. - Spread across Europe in the 14th century, especially in the Low Countries, Germany, France, Bohemia, and Italy. - Persecuted and condemned by the Church and secular authorities. - Declined in the 15th century, as they lost their appeal and influence. Core Beliefs and Practices - The concept of autotheism or becoming one with God. - The rejection of Christ, the Church, and the sacraments as necessary for salvation. - The use of erotic language to describe union with God. - The antinomian attitude and moral freedom of the Free Spirit. - The anticlerical sentiment and criticism of the Church hierarchy. Influence and Legacy - The connection between the Free Spirit and other mystical movements such as Meister Eckhart and Marguerite Porete. - The impact of the Free Spirit on social and political movements such as the Hussites and the Peasants' War. - The reception and reinterpretation of the Free Spirit by modern scholars and thinkers such as R. H. Blyth and Norman Cohn. - The inspiration and challenge for many other people who encountered their ideas and practices. ## Custom Message




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