Post-classical history


Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as a lamb among wolves. Carry neither purse nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way.

Luke 10: 3–4

At a council at Fritzlar in 1118 Norbert of Xanten was accused of ‘claiming that he was entitled to wear the religious habit though he had not entered the religious life properly, and was living in the world wearing the skins of sheep and goats’. He replied with an apostolic quotation: ‘he who causeth a sinner to be converted from the error of his ways shall save his soul from death and shall cover a multitude of sins’ (James 5: 20). The essence of religion, Norbert argued, lay in personal purity – had not John the Baptist and St Cecilia worn hair shirts? – and in service to others, visiting widows and children and helping them in their tribulations.1

Norbert became one of the most admired preachers of his time and founder of the spectacularly successful religious order of Premonstratensians, the ‘White Canons’. As befitted his high birth – he was probably related to the German emperor – he had been destined for an eminent place in the church. He was brought up in the household of Archbishop Frederick of Cologne, a notable sympathiser of reform, and became at an early age one of the wealthy and worldly canons of Xanten. In 1110–11 he went with the great expedition to Italy that Henry V mounted for his coronation as emperor. It was intended to secure a settlement of the long-running conflict between empire and papacy, and ended with the arrest of the pope and a number of cardinals. Three years later Norbert was nearly killed by a fall from his horse and resolved to dedicate himself to the religious life. He joined the Black Monks at the abbey of Siegburg but found their way of life insufficiently arduous and returned to Xanten to persuade his fellow canons to share his conversion. When they declined, he sold his goods, gave the money to the poor and embraced the life of a hermit preacher. The accusation at Fritzlar was probably the canons’ retaliation for Norbert’s criticism of them. Its outcome is unclear, but it was apparently unsatisfactory to Norbert, since he made his way, on foot, to St Gilles-du-Gard, where Pope Gelasius II, in exile after excommunicating the emperor, was happy to grant him permission to preach in the emperor’s territories. This he did with the supporting warranty of abstinence so extreme that it killed the three loyal companions who had accompanied him.

Pope Gelasius died soon afterwards, however, and in 1119 Norbert appeared once again at a great church council, at Reims, before the new pope, Calixtus II. His licence to preach was renewed, but only on the condition that he placed himself under the direction of Bishop Bartholomew of Laon, ostensibly to moderate the dangerous rigour of his way of life. Bartholomew persuaded him to found a religious community for his followers in the forest of Prémontré, which was established in 1121. In 1126 Norbert became, reluctantly, archbishop of Magdeburg and narrowly escaped assassination when he tried to reform his cathedral by introducing canons from Prémontré. He became a conspicuous supporter of Innocent II during the papal schism that divided Europe throughout the 1130s, and an influential adviser of the emperor. By the time of his death in 1134 his order numbered more than a hundred houses and had become the principal instrument of reform and of the provision of pastoral services in the German lands.


These elementary facts contain a pattern very common among the many religious movements that began around this time under the inspiration of charismatic preachers of the apostolic life. We saw it in the career of Robert of Arbrissel. The success of the preachers in gathering around them devoted and often unruly followers, wandering through the countryside united by a vision of the common life and disenchantment with the existing state of the church, its services and its ministers, presented acute problems even to their admirers. Sooner or later they had to be fitted into the social order, found settled places to live and an orderly way of life, generally in the form of a monastery or religious house. This meant compromise, the acquisition of property and of worldly responsibilities, and the acceptance of hierarchy and authority. The architects of such settlements were seldom the original preachers. Typically the second generation of leaders were sterner, less inspiring figures who enforced rules, secured land and revenues, and established relations with the local clergy and aristocracy – often at the expense of dissension within the community from those who saw all this as a betrayal of the movement and the legacy of the founder.

In Norbert’s case the foundation of Prémontré was such a crisis.2 It was obviously insisted on by the Council of Reims (1119), ‘in his own best interests’, as it were, as a condition of the preaching that remained his chief activity. Beyond laying down that its rule should be based on that of the Cistercians, including the white (that is, undyed) habit, Norbert seems to have taken little interest in the new foundation, whose numbers grew rapidly, and to which further houses were soon added: there were said to be nearly a hundred of them in the first thirty years. When Norbert was elected to the archbishopric of Magdeburg some of the community wanted to go with him, but most preferred to remain at Prémontré and with Norbert’s agreement elected Hugh de Fosses as abbot. It was Hugh who shaped the development of the order, and under him that the White Canons soon accepted the care of parishes, and the tithes and wordly contacts and responsibilities that went with it.

From the outset the bishops saw a distinctive role for the new order as a vehicle of reform and pastoral care. This was bound to be in tension with the ascetic ideal of withdrawal from the world. Norbert enjoined his followers ‘to fear the company of men as a fish shuns dry land’, but as early as 1121 Archbishop Frederick of Cologne ordered the canons of Steinfeld, the first Premonstratensian house in his province, to undertake the service of two parishes from a chapel at their gate, where the laity could come to receive the sacraments. Even more unacceptably, from an apostolic point of view, he endowed them with the tithes of two parishes to enable them to do so. Two years later Pope Calixtus II permitted the canons of Springiersbach to preach, administer the sacraments and visit the sick. Many similar arrangements were made in the following decades for Premonstratensian houses in Germany and the Low Countries, though not in France or England. This development was a source of division not only within the order but also between the Premonstratensians and other religious, since those who accepted it not only departed from the strictest understanding of apostolic poverty but also took over substantial sources of revenue from older institutions, including cathedral churches and Black Monk monasteries.

Another fundamental departure from Norbert’s apostolic legacy followed soon after his death in 1134. His disciples had included women as well as men, and, like those of several other great evangelists of his generation his foundation and its many daughter houses were mixed communities. In the late 1130s the general chapter – the group of abbots that constituted the ruling body of the order – decreed segregation, which usually meant that the nuns were moved out. Little is known of the manner in which this policy was carried out – of how, for example, endowments were divided – but that it became progressively harsher towards the women is suggested by the removal of the nuns 4 kilometres from Prémontré itself in 1141, and then to Bonneuil, 33 kilometres away, in 1148. Most of the nunneries formed by this separation soon disappeared. This was part of a general movement against double communities in these years, largely born of the traditional ascetic sensitivity to sexual temptation so keenly felt by leaders such as Bernard of Clairvaux.

To many of these apostolic communities banishing all worldly distinctions of rank, wealth and previous life, including that of gender, was of fundamental spiritual importance. Further, many husbands and wives had embraced the new life together and might justly resent enforced separation. There is another reason for suspecting that segregation was particularly resisted among the Premonstratensians. All their early houses were double communities. This corresponded to a distinctive family structure, regarded by modern scholars as characteristic of northern Europe, which had already become apparent in the area where the order was established and experienced its extremely rapid early growth. In the Mediterranean regions, where historically Christian teaching and spirituality had been shaped, households normally comprised several siblings and their spouses, and women were married at puberty to much older men. In northern Francia, the Low Countries and the Rhineland couples were usually more equal in age and married later, when they could afford to set up an independent household. The much greater equality and independence of women that this implies is confirmed by abundant records of property transactions, especially from Cologne, which show that land was held equally by both spouses and inherited by their children of both sexes, and that women regularly appeared in court and in business deals as full participants. The prominence and equality, or near equality, of women in the religious movements of this region, and the willing acceptance of it by their male companions, therefore reflected everyday life and expectations.


Bitter struggles over appointments in the church, especially of cathedral canonries, were commonplace in the Rhineland and the Low Countries at least until the 1170s. The wealthy dioceses of Liège and Cologne, like pre-Patarene Milan, were ruled by great noble families who treated the lands and offices of the church as support for their sons and rewards for their followers. Marriage was normal among their higher as well as lower clergy. The bishops of Liège were chosen by an assembly of the cathedral and collegial clergy of the city, the abbots of the diocese, territorial princes and nobles, and even some bourgeois. The archbishops of Cologne were always among the emperor’s most powerful supporters and closest advisers, their appointment an issue of the highest political importance and favour. In short, the higher clergy of both cities constituted solid, worldly and conspicuous ruling elites exactly designed to arouse the fury and scorn of the reformers, all the more since they naturally sided with the emperors, and with the imperially appointed anti-popes, against the Roman papacy in the long series of conflicts and schisms that dominated the twelfth century. On the other hand, those who considered themselves reformers were divided, sometimes bitterly, among the adherents of different traditions and understandings of the demands of the apostolic life and the acceptability of compromise with authority in its various aspects.

The reverberations of these conflicts surfaced from time to time in the form of accusations and counter-accusations of heresy, sometimes ending in burnings, whose relation to the actual beliefs and habits of the accused is hard to discern. This was the background to a letter written in 1147 to Bernard of Clairvaux by Eberwin, prior of the Premonstratensian house at Steinfeld, whose establishment had set the pattern for many more. Bernard had just completed a tour of preaching in the Rhineland, best known for its primary purpose of gathering support for the projected Second Crusade. In Cologne, however, he had also turned his attention to reform, and to the morals and lifestyle of the cathedral clergy, whom he denounced with all his usual eloquence, backed up by a slew of miracles. He had particularly attacked the private property that the rule currently followed by the canons permitted, and which he saw as the prime cause of their deviation from their apostolic heritage. Some of Bernard’s admirers were anxious for him to return to the lands of the count of Toulouse, to spearhead a continuing campaign against heresy there. Eberwin’s letter was ostensibly designed to encourage him to do so by alerting him to the scale of the danger that heresy now presented to the church. It also, however, tactfully implied that over-zealous criticism of the Cologne clergy might have dangers of its own. To this end Eberwin presented a lively account not of one group of heretics but of two, who had come to the attention of the authorities by quarrelling among themselves.3

Eberwin’s story is that ‘a group of heretics was found recently near Cologne, some of whom readily returned to the church’, but that two of them – ‘one who was called their bishop, with his companion’ – refused to do so, defended their views for three days before ‘a meeting of clerks and laymen, at which the archbishop and some great nobles were present’, and, refusing to recant, were burned at the stake. They described themselves as ‘wandering men, fleeing from city to city like sheep in the midst of wolves’. There were also ‘other heretics in our area who are always quarrelling with them. It was through their perpetual wrangling and discord that we discovered them.’

Both of these groups claimed to live the apostolic life strictly in accordance with the gospels and the Acts, rejecting every innovation for which they found no warrant there. ‘They say that all observances of the church which are not laid down by Christ or by the apostles after him are superstitions.’ They were agreed in their contempt for the church and its ministers. As the second group put it,

the body of Christ is not made on the altar because none of the priests of the church has been consecrated … the apostolic dignity has been corrupted by involvement in secular affairs, and the throne of St Peter by failing to fight for God as Peter did, has deprived itself of the power of consecration which was given to Peter. Since the church no longer has that power, the archbishops who live in a worldly manner within the church cannot receive it and cannot consecrate others.

This is a stark proclamation of the Donatist position so common among reformers who made the fatal transition from denouncing clerical corruption or immorality and avoiding those guilty of it to holding that the orders and sacraments of such clergy were invalid. ‘Thus they empty the church of priests, and condemn the sacraments, except for baptism’, says Eberwin. ‘Even that must be for adults, and they say that it is conferred by Christ and not by the minister of the sacraments.’ Hence, it followed logically enough:

they do not believe in the intercession of saints, and hold that fasts and other penances which are undertaken because of sin are unnecessary, because whenever the sinner repents all his sins will be forgiven … They will not admit the existence of the fires of purgatory … Consequently they condemn the prayers and offerings of the faithful for the dead.

The cult of saints was a sensitive point for both churchmen and heretics. Like every city in Europe, and even more spectacularly than most, Cologne was growing fast. It had become an important rendezvous, a natural point of convergence between the burgeoning markets of the north, from London to Novgorod, and those of the Mediterranean and Byzantine worlds, as well as of neighbouring Flanders and Champagne and the rapidly developing German east. In 1106 the area enclosed by its Roman walls was almost doubled, from 122 to 203 hectares. In 1180 it would double again. Migrants flooded in from the countryside to work the forges that produced widely exported swords and harnesses and the looms whose cloth, though less fine than that of Flanders, was in great demand, and to service the prosperous merchant community. In such conditions the cult of the dead, the penitential Masses, anniversaries and commemorations, the establishment of burial grounds, the veneration of relics, were not simply sources of profit to the clergy, though certainly they were that. They were also means by which a world in flux could find order, by which notables could display their ranks and dignities, neighbourhoods settle their status and assert their solidarities, and rich men find their places at the table, poor men theirs at the gate – and outsiders outside it.

Even change that is useful to many is seldom welcome to all. The extension of the church’s services also made its role in the lives of families and communities more intimate. The organisation of burial grounds and the elaboration of services for the dead also made priests, rather than families, mediators between the living and the dead, and controllers of memory. The bones uncovered in vast quantities when a Roman cemetery was disturbed by the extension of the walls in 1106 were acclaimed as those of the princess Ursula, martyred by the Huns on her way to be married to a converted English prince, and the eleven thousand virgin companions who shared her fate. The new cult afforded splendid opportunities for the affirmation of civic pride and inspired many private devotions, but it also provided powerful ammunition for those who derided the booming cult of relics as a source of fraud, superstition and exploitation.


The spokesmen of Eberwin’s first group of heretics insisted above all on their poverty:

We are the poor of Christ, wandering men; fleeing from city to city like sheep in the midst of wolves we suffer persecution with the apostles and martyrs. We lead a holy life, fasting, abstaining [from meat and milk in their diet, and from sex], working and praying by day and night, seeking in these things the necessities of life.

By contrast with the clerics who questioned them, their poverty was not only personal but collective: ‘You join house to house and field to field and seek the things of this world. Those who are thought most perfect among you, monks and canons regular, possess things not individually, but in common: nevertheless they do possess all of these things.’

On this rested their claim to be the true followers of the apostolic life, in whom alone the heritage of Christ survived, in contrast to the ‘false apostles [who] have corrupted the word of Christ for their own ends, and have led you and your fathers astray’. They went veiled to Mass but made their own communion by consecrating every meal with a recital of the Lord’s prayer.

Eberwin does not say what the quarrels that had led to the arrests were about, but he describes somewhat differently the attitudes of the two groups to sexuality, and their forms of baptism. The first, which produced the martyrs, ‘have women among them who are – so they say – chaste, widows or virgins, or their wives, alleging that they follow the apostles who permitted them to have women among them’. The second ‘hold that all marriage is fornication, unless it is between two virgins, both the man and the woman’, implying that on that condition they did not insist absolutely on sexual abstinence. This group insisted on adult baptism to satisfy the requirement that ‘He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved.’ The first group baptised by a laying-on of hands, not with water but in the fire and the spirit, as described in the gospels and the Acts. The greatest difference, however, as Eberwin saw it, was that the first group, distinguishing between leaders and followers, had a hierarchical organisation, and one that linked it to a wider heretical movement.

As a snapshot of the development of religious dissent in the most advanced parts of northern Europe in the turbulent three-quarters of a century since Gregory VII ascended the throne of St Peter, Eberwin’s letter is revealing, if not always precise. The spokesmen for his first group insisted that they alone were the true followers of the apostolic life and emphatically rejected the possession of houses, property or land by monks and canons, even when held in common. This suggests strongly that they were followers of Norbert in his most radical phase, who had rejected the compromises entailed in the acceptance of parish responsibilities and revenues. In other words, they denounced as a betrayal the development in the Premonstratensian movement of which Eberwin himself and his house at Steinfeld had been the first example. The place of women among them shows that they were equally opposed to the separation of women from men and their expulsion from Premonstratensian houses, which had been pushed forward since around 1140. The description of some of these women as wives may have been no more than the truth, for (as Bernold of Constance had observed) it was not uncommon for married couples to join these movements together.

The fate of the losers in struggles like these can hardly be more than guesswork, but the satirist Walter Map, writing in the early 1180s, offers an unexpected hint. Commenting on a group of wandering Flemings condemned as heretics at Oxford in 1165, he remarks that the ‘Publicans or Patarines’, as he calls them, ‘at first had single houses in the villages they lived in … Men and women live together, but no sons or daughters result from their union.’4

The chronicle of Rolduc, another Premonstratensian house and originally a hermit community, albeit written some forty years later, seems to reflect this bitter division in the 1120s and ’30s between advocates of the apostolic life and of the revised rule as a context for events at Liège in 1135. It says that some heretics were found who

while appearing to observe the catholic faith and lead a holy life, denied legitimate matrimony, held that communities of women ought to be available to all, forbade infant baptism and maintained that the prayers of the living are of no use to the souls of the dead. When they could not deny these heresies the people wanted to stone them, but they were frightened and took flight during the night. Three of them were captured and imprisoned, of whom one was burned at the stake, while the other two made a confession of faith and returned to the church.5

There is nothing to point so clearly to a specific origin for the second group that Eberwin described at Cologne, except that they do not seem to have been itinerants and that their acceptance of sex in marriage suggests that they were lay people not under specific vows of chastity, or indeed of poverty, who had nevertheless been strongly influenced by reform preaching and anticlerical sentiment.

Eberwin’s account raises questions about the evolution of apostolic communities over time, and about the internal development of what was, perhaps, becoming a sect. When the Cologne group was arrested, ‘the one who was called their bishop and his companion’ not only undertook to defend their beliefs but also

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.

It does not seem that the masters appeared, but the challenge confirms that this was not an entirely isolated group – and that they were entirely willing to enter into reasonable debate.

Finally, Eberwin describes the form of baptism that this group used:

Anyone who is baptised among them in this way is called electus [chosen], and has power to baptise others who are worthy of it, and to consecrate the body and blood of Christ at his table. But first he must be received by the laying-on of hands from among those whom they call auditores [hearers] into the credentes [believers]; he may then be present at their prayers until he has proved himself, when they make him an electus. They care nothing for our baptism.

He does not make it clear, however, whether he is quoting the heretics directly, as he has done previously, or whether this is his gloss on what they said, based on Augustine’s description of the Manichees, whose terminology it uses, and which would have been familiar to Eberwin (as it was to Guibert of Nogent), and the obvious text for him to consult. Either way, it confirms that the group had evolved a hierarchy and the rituals necessary to sustain and perpetuate itself. How had this come about? Eberwin offered his own conclusion in a peroration designed to confirm Bernard’s worst fears:

Those who were burned told us while they were defending themselves that their heresy had been hidden until now ever since the time of the martyrs, and persisted in Greece and other lands, and these are the heretics who call themselves apostles and have their own pope.

In 1143 a group of monks in Constantinople had been accused of being followers of the Bulgarian Bogomil heresy, which was said (also possibly by derivation from Augustine) to have a hierarchical organisation like that described by Eberwin, and which rejected the sacraments and authority of the church, embraced poverty and, on the basis of a dualist theology, prohibited procreation and the consumption of its products. Burnings and expulsions followed, and it is not impossible that some of the victims found their way to the west, along the well-established trade routes, and ended up in Cologne.

Eberwin, however, does not suggest any such exotic personal origin for the people he describes. His report permits a different conclusion, at least equally probable. It is perfectly consistent with the possibility that these were former Premonstratensians who had left or been expelled from the order as opponents of the changes that had overtaken it since Norbert’s early preaching. As uncompromising devotees of the apostolic life driven to an itinerant existence by conflicts over many years with their religious superiors, whom they denounced as corrupt and traitors to the vision of their founder, including Eberwin himself, they would indeed have been members of a wider community. It would be perfectly natural that they should have masters among them – that is, men who had been educated in cathedral schools – whom they regarded as more learned or skilled in debate than themselves, and that leaders had emerged or been chosen (electi). It is in no way remarkable that such a group should have evolved ritual forms appropriate to their needs or that they should have looked to the Gospels for the means of doing so. These, after all, were people who had (or believed they had) been instructed by the pope to boycott the services of the regular clergy, the bishops and priests of their regions. What did the pope expect them to do instead? Preachers who had been mandated to issue such instructions must also have been authorised to give assurances that God would not punish those who obeyed them if in consequence their children, or the babies they were carrying, should die unbaptised, or they unshriven, without having received the eucharist or the last rites. That is at least a common reason, if possibly not the only one, why those who were described as heretics believed, or were thought by the clerics who examined them to believe, that the sacraments were not necessary to salvation.


Eberwin’s letter was written against the background of two sets of religious conflicts, both of long standing, both extremely bitter and in both of which he was directly involved. The Premonstratensians, of one of whose senior houses Eberwin had been superior for more than thirty years, were the spearhead of the reform movement in the Low Countries and the Rhineland that had been launched by the reform papacy. One of its spectacular successes, in which Bernard of Clairvaux had played a prominent part, was the deposition as a simoniac of Bishop Alexander of Liège, at the Council of Pisa in 1135. After Bernard’s visit some of the canons of Cologne levelled the same charge against their archbishop, Arnold, at the Council of Reims in 1148. In writing this letter to Bernard, however, Eberwin was reminding him that the unreformed clergy were not the only threat to the church. On the other side, and no less dangerous, were those among the hermit preachers and their followers and converts who believed that the reform had been betrayed by leaders such as Eberwin himself, leaders who had reached an accommodation not with the Alexanders of Liège and the Arnolds of Cologne, to be sure, but with the institutions and the ways of the world that in truly apostolic eyes were little better.

In these circumstances it is easy to imagine or to understand how regularly and vehemently accusations of heresy must have been traded in all directions during this half-century. Another surfaces in a much later source, the Annals of Brauweiler, under the year 1143, but written after 1179:

In this year an accusation was brought against heretics at Cologne, in the church of St Peter, in the presence of Archbishop Arnold. Most of them, captured and in chains, were cleared by the judgement of the water, but the others, conscious of their guilt, tried to escape. Three of them were burned at Bonn in the presence of Count Otto, preferring death to acceptance of the catholic faith.6

It is not obvious why some of those accusations ended in trials and burnings while others did not. We do not even know how many, but it does not seem to have been a very large number. We know almost nothing of the many that did not, but it is worth noting that Eberwin does not suggest that the second of his two groups had been persecuted or disciplined.


It may now be easier to see why among the many preachers and holy men considered in this and the last three chapters, who shared so much in their ideals, their inspiration, their way of life and their popular appeal, some came to be regarded as heretics while others were and still are venerated as saints of the church. Certainly the difference did not lie simply in loathing of clerical hypocrisy, avarice or corruption, which nobody denounced more passionately than Bernard of Clairvaux. His treatise De consideratione, a scathing denunciation of the shortcomings of the papal court, was composed during these same years when he was preaching against heresy and pursuing heretics both in the lands of the count of Toulouse and in the Rhineland. Nor does any of those we have considered seem initially to have been separated from the church by a question of doctrine. There were many, however, whether they ended as heretics or not, whose teachings became more radical in the face of the stubborn worldliness of the old guard. For such men a great deal must have depended on the sympathy and support that they found among their superiors. We have no way of knowing whether a Henry of Lausanne or a Peter of Bruys might have remained in the church if they had been handled as patiently or skilfully as were Norbert of Xanten and Robert of Arbrissel – or whether, when it came to it, Robert and Norbert were temperamentally prepared – as Henry and Peter were not – to submit to ecclesiastical authority.

Without denying the significance of personal qualities and circumstances, however, one crucial issue faced them all. We saw it most clearly in the choice that Robert of Arbrissel had to make between the traditions and values of his family and the world in which he grew up and those that he met as a student in Paris, ‘at the time when Gregory VII held the papacy in Rome’. Robert chose the new world and suffered for it, but his sympathy for many of the victims of the changes that he himself was helping to bring about, his insistence on identifying with them, go a long way to explain the continuing ambivalence of his life and of his reputation. This reflects a contradiction in the business of reform that long remained unresolved. It owed both spiritual respectability and intellectual coherence to a universal ideal derived from the neoplatonist spirituality of the late Carolingian schools, expressed in the apostolic life and given programmatic form and Europe-wide circulation by the Gregorian papacy and its agents. But for practical support in local conflicts it appealed to popular indignation arising from grievances that, although very widely shared, were nonetheless to each community peculiarly its own – demands for tithes and payments for services, the fitness of priests for their positions and so on.

In the long run this alliance between the cosmopolitan and the local was bound to run into difficulty, not only or necessarily through a clash of material interests but because reform of its nature was centralising. ‘Hang your reforms’, says Mr Chichely in George Eliot’s Middlemarch; ‘You never hear of a reform but it means some trick to put in new men.’ And not only new men, a subtler critic might have added, but new measures, new ways of doing things, new values. Hildebert of Le Mans and Henry of Lausanne, Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter of Bruys may have been united in their detestation of the entanglement of the church and churchmen in the structures of local power and the abuses that resulted, but the alternatives that they proposed were wholly different. And just as Hildebert the poet and Bernard the mystic were in their very different ways eloquent prophets of a new Jerusalem, so Henry and Peter were formidable spokesmen for the little community. They possessed an articulate and consistent theology, characterised by stark individualism and an uncompromising rejection of large and abstract structures of authority in favour of those firmly rooted in the community itself. They denounced clerical vice and avarice, and repudiated most sources of clerical income and power. They denied the authority of the church fathers to interpret the scriptures and insisted on their own right to do so. They maintained that marriage was a matter for those concerned and not a sacrament of the church. They advocated the baptism of adults, not of infants, and confession in public before the community, not in private to priests. In short, the faith they preached plainly affirmed the values of a world in which small groups of men and women stood together as equals, dependent on each other, suspicious of outsiders and hostile to every external claim on their obedience, allegiance or wealth. They represented a challenge increasingly difficult for the reformers to ignore.

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