Reviewed by Lutz KAELBER, University of Vermont, BURLINGTON, VT 05405
For the last fifty years, Heinrich Fichtenau has been one of Austriaís most distinguished medievalists. Two of his previous books, on the Carolingian empire and on living in the tenth century, have been translated into English and were well received. Now a translation of this book, whose original title is Ketzer und Professoren: Häresie und Vernunftglaube im Hochmittelalter (literally Heretics and Professors: Heresy and Reason in the High Middle Ages; note the differences in the titles), is available. It stands in the tradition of the work of Herbert Grundmann, whose path-breaking study Religious Movements in the Middle Ages set the tone for this book. Its audience is, as is to be expected, medievalists who specialize in scholasticism and in heresy, but philosophers, scholars in religious studies, and sociologists of religion will also benefit from reading it.
Fichtenau begins by sketching out the religious landscape of the eleventh century. Based on a thorough mastery of primary and secondary sources, he describes both the belief systems and the social organization of heretical groups. In doing so, he treads on fairly familiar ground. Before 1050, there was a sprinkling of dissent in various countries in Europe, soon to be overshadowed by the politics of papal reform and the Investiture conflict. Dissent returned, however, in full force in the twelfth century. It was embodied by apostolic movements, among which the Cathars and the Waldensians figured prominently.
In the main chapters that deal with heresy, Fichtenau focuses on the early Cathars; he has less to say about the Waldensians. The Catharsí belief system, Fichtenau posits, is rooted in mythósimilar to currents of Platonism prevalent among orthodox scholars, but different from orthodox lay Christianity and older forms of monastic spirituality, which Fichtenau views as based on mystery. However, whereas the Cathars ultimately stressed rituals rather than learning, and embraced, together with other religious movements such as the Humiliati, a religious fundamentalism akin to early apostolic communitiesí, orthodox intellectuals had a different fate. These intellectuals, who were mostly teachers at universities, or Professoren (hence the German title), were successful in shedding the mantle of intellectual heretics if not nonconformists, and had a major influence on later forms of rationalism in medieval philosophy and theology.
In reading through the sections that deal with the Professoren and their social and intellectual contexts, one cannot but admire the depth and breadth of Fichtenauís knowledge. Throughout, Fichtenauís book is concisely argued, and the translation by Denise A. Kaiser is impeccable. Yet some problematic issues arise from Fichtenauís treatment of lay heterodox dissent. Since the German original came out in 1992, some of the newest scholarship on medieval heresy is not included. In particular, one could have wished for a more extensive treatment of the early Waldensians, for whose account the bookís cut-off point of around 1200 is particularly unfortunate. For the Waldensians as well as the Cathars, it would have been interesting to see how Fichtenau evaluated evidence of the hereticsí belief system, social organization, and patterns of behavior derived from Inquisition records. Based on my own studies of such records in Schools of Asceticism (which, I submit, appeared the same year and with the same press as Fichtenauís), I am less inclined than Fichtenau to emphasize ritualism over learning in the major heretical groups. This emphasis is perhaps the result of the focus of the book: Fichtenau might have altered his judgment if he had focused on writing less of an Ideengeschichte of religious non-conformism and more of a social history of the Cathars and the Waldensians. But these quibbles should not detract from the scholarly qualities of this study. I highly recommend it.