First Advisor

John Ott

Date of Publication

Winter 4-19-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Christian heresies -- Europe -- History -- Middle Ages (600-1500), Religion -- History -- 13th century, Inquisition -- Europe -- History -- 13th century



Physical Description

1 online resource (iii, 104 pages)


The fight against heresy in medieval Europe has fascinated scholars for centuries. Innumerable books, movies, and even video games have been made about this struggle to combat heresy in the Middle Ages. Despite this apparent fascination with the subject, our understanding of medieval heretics and the inquisitors who prosecuted them remains murky. What we do know is that many medieval people lost their lives, while others were punished with imprisonment or excommunication. We also know that many others dedicated their lives to rooting out what they believed was the evil of heresy among the populace. And we know that fear of the spread of heresy was rampant within the later medieval Church. But what constituted heresy? Who were the people accused as heretics? And why were they accused? These are questions that are still debated and discussed within the scholarly community.

As a contribution to the study of heresy, I have chosen to analyze one particular document and its author. This document, the Compilatio de Novu Spiritu, written by Albertus Magnus around 1273, consists of a list of ninety-seven heretical beliefs attributed to heretics in the Swabian Ries. It has been previously studied as marking the beginning of the "Free Spirit" heresy. However, many of the previous assumptions about the heresy of the Free Spirit have been questioned by more recent scholarship, including whether the sect existed at all. Instead, the heresy of the Free Spirit is now generally acknowledged to be closely related to medieval mysticism, and practiced by only a few individuals or possibly small groups. Therefore, the significance of the Compilatio has changed. I will re-examine the document, analyzing it not as a precursor to a later religious movement that preached that souls united with God can act with moral impunity, but as a window into the mind of its inquisitorial author, Albertus Magnus.

The intent of this study is to better understand the thinking of the inquisitors who fought against heresy, focusing particularly on the Compilatio and its author, Albertus Magnus (c.1200 - 1280). The methodology of the study of heresy has elicited significant debate among historians, and these issues need to be addressed prior to an analysis of this document. Therefore, I will discuss the historiography of medieval heresy and address the major disagreements within the field in this introduction. In Chapter 1, I set forth as historical background the religious situation in medieval Europe at the time the Compilatio was written. The medieval Church spent considerable time and resources in the struggle against heresy, so I will also examine the Church's response to heresy in this chapter. In the second chapter, I address how Albertus responded to the statements enumerated in the document and in particular, the manner in which he cites early church heresies. Lastly, in the final chapter, I explore how Albertus Magnus used early church writers such as Augustine and Gregory for substantiation throughout the document. Specifically, I analyze how Augustine, Gregory, and Albertus treat the sin of pride.


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