During the decades surrounding the pivotal pontificate of Innocent III two distinct but clearly related phenomena shook the earth under the church. Neither doctrinal dissent nor the establishments of new religious orders was new, but, when they appeared at this time, they came from quite a different source. Both now emerged from a laity disturbed by the blatant affluence of the church and suspicious of the motives and sincerity of churchmen wearing silken vestments and using golden chalices. It was a laity yearning for a simpler spiritual life. The Christ they knew had been born in a manger and, as an adult, had no place to lay his head. When he sent out his apostles and disciples to preach his message, he told them, ‘Take nothing with you, neither staff nor pack, neither bread nor money, not even a second coat’ (Luke 9, 3). Essentially there was a quest for a new model for the Christian life. Many felt that it was not necessary to abandon the world for the shelter of a monastery to be a good Christian nor was it necessary to try to live monk-like or nun-like in the world. The Jesus they worshipped lived a holy life in the world, but it was a life of simplicity and poverty: these became the central elements of a new piety. Their attractions touched deep the souls of thousands of Christians, like Waldès and the heretical Waldensians and Francis of Assisi and the orthodox Franciscans. While other elements also helped to shape these and similar movements, at base they all exhibited the desire for a more personal form of religion, one shorn of its accidentals and excesses and centred on the imitation of Christ. Official suspicion greeted almost every expression of this desire, a suspicion leading occasionally to acceptance but frequently to outright condemnation and even to the spilling of blood.
Heresy was nothing new to the church. What was new in the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries was the form which it took. Heresy, by its nature, was a departure from accepted orthodoxy, and in the high Middle Ages it was a dissent espoused not by bishops and scholars but largely by lowly priests and unlettered laymen and laywomen, their emphasis, at least at first, not so much on matters