Heresy and Heretics in the Thirteenth Century: The Textual Representations

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Heresy and Heretics in the Thirteenth Century: The Textual Representations. By L. J. Sackville. [Heresy and Inquisition in the Middle Ages, Vol. 1.] (Rochester, NY: York Medieval Press in association with Boydell & Brewer. 2011. Pp. xii, 224. $90.00. ISBN 978-1-903-15336-9.)

In this concise work, L. J. Sackville has offered us a comprehensive overview of the anti-heretical literature of the central Middle Ages. Without becoming bogged down in various debates, Sackville has made available an exceptionally useful descriptive guide that takes the reader on a tour among inquisitional literature, registers, legal texts, and antiheretical tracts. All of this is bound together with an interesting textual study of various themes found in these works.

Her introduction is a good and up-to-date account of recent heresy scholarship. After making the obligatory nods to R. I. Moore and Mark Pegg- who see only power relations and artificial constructions of heresy in church-affiliated texts- she then proceeds to treat the sources themselves. In her first chapter, Sackville offers a lively overview of antiheretical literature; and she traces the new sobriety in thirteenth-century texts, as they move away from tired tropes about heresy and into the field of serious analysis. She perhaps makes too much of the distinction between lay and clerical antiheresy tracts, since even the clerical ones, especially that of St. Peter of Verona, can get very polemical.

She next moves into a brief presentation of conciliar and legal texts, which is quite useful. Especially interesting is her roundup of legal opinions and consultations about the various canonical and civil issues that crop up with regard to heresy. In most cases, legal opinions seemed to conform with lay feelings toward heresy. What was important was not what a person believed, but rather how he acted. The interaction with the community gave the necessary clues for implication in a heretical movement.

Although her examination of inquisitorial registers themselves is brief, her investigation of inquisition manuals is far more extensive, with a systematic breakdown of their various approaches to heresy. …