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Chapter 19

CHAPTER XIX: RELIGIOUS SECTS AND PARTIES

While the popes were thus trying to lord it over all men, from the
emperor downwards, there were many who hated their doctrines and
would not allow their authority. The Albigenses and Waldenses,
although persecuted as we have seen, still remained in great
numbers, and held the opinions which had drawn so much suffering on
them. The Albigenses, indeed, were but a part of a greater body, the
Cathari, who were spread through many countries, and had an
understanding and fellowship with each other which were kept up by
secret means. And there were other sects, of which it need only be
said here that in general their opinions were very wild and strange,
and unlike, not only to the papal doctrines, but to the
Christianity of the Bible and of the early Church. Whenever any of
the clergy, from the pope downwards, gave an occasion by pride or
ambition, or worldly living, or neglect of duty, or any other fault,
these sects took care to speak of the whole Church as having fallen
from the faith, and to gain converts for themselves by pointing out
the blemishes which were allowed in it.

On the other hand, as I have mentioned (p 225), the Inquisition was
set on foot for the discovery and punishment of such doctrines as
the Roman Church condemned; and it was worked with a secrecy, an
injustice, and a cruelty which made men quake with fear wherever it
was established. It is a comfort to know that in the British islands
this hateful kind of tyranny never found a footing.

There were large numbers of persons called Mystics, who thought to
draw near to God, and to give up their own will to His will, in a
way beyond what ordinary believers could understand. Among these was
a society which called itself the Friends of God; and these friends
belonged to the Church at the same time that they had this closer
and more secret tie of union among themselves. There is a very
curious story how John Tauler, a Dominican friar of Strasburg, was
converted by the chief of this party, Nicolas of Basel. Tauler had
gained great fame as a preacher, and had reached the age of
fifty-two, when Nicolas, who had been one of his hearers, visited
him, and convinced him that he was nothing better than a Pharisee.
In obedience to the direction of Nicolas, Tauler shut himself up for
two years, without preaching or doing any other work as a clergyman,
and even without studying. When, at the end of that time, he came
forth again to the world, and first tried to preach, he burst into
tears and quite broke down; but on a second trial, it was found that
he preached in a new style, and with vastly more of warmth and of
effect than he had ever done before. Tauler was born in 1294, and
died in 1361.

In these times many were very fond of trying to make out things to
come from the prophecies of the Old Testament and of the Revelation,
and some people of both sexes supposed themselves to have the gift
of prophecy. And in seasons of great public distress, multitudes
would break out into some wild sort of religious display, which for
a time carried everything before it, and seemed to do a great deal
of good, although the wiser people looked on it with distrust; but
after a while it passed away, leaving those who had taken part in
it rather worse than better than before. Among the outbreaks of this
kind was that of the "Flagellants", which showed itself several
times in various places. The first appearance of it was in 1260,
when it began at Perugia, in the middle of Italy, and spread both
southwards to Rome and northwards to France, Hungary, and Poland. In
every city, large companies of men, women, and children moved about
the streets, with their faces covered, but their bodies naked down
to the waist. They tossed their limbs wildly, they dashed themselves
down on the ground in mud or snow, and cruelly "flagellated" (or
flogged) themselves with whips, while they shouted out shrieks and
prayers for mercy and pardon.

Again, after a terrible plague called the Black Death, which raged
from Sicily to Greenland about 1349 (p 191), parties of flagellants
went about half naked, singing and scourging themselves. Whenever
the Saviour's sufferings were mentioned in their hymns, they threw
themselves on the ground like logs of wood, with their arms
stretched out in the shape of a cross, and remained prostrate in
prayer until a signal was given them to rise.

These movements seemed to do good at first by reconciling enemies
and by forcing the thoughts of death and judgment on ungodly or
careless people. But after a time they commonly took the line of
throwing contempt on the clergy and on the sacraments and other
usual means of grace. And when the stir caused by them was over, the
good which they had appeared to do proved not to be lasting.