Heresy was about the worst thing you could be accused of in the Middle Ages. It was a guaranteed death sentence and the punishment could be burning at the stake – a horrific way to die!
So – what was heresy? Put simply, a heretic denied the teachings of the Roman Catholic church and denied the authority of the Pope. Tough for us to understand now – but the church was all-powerful in the Middle Ages. Its tentacles stretched into every area of life and its wealth was vast. Any questioning of its power was the worst kind of treason.
And there was a difference between rebelling against a king and rebelling against the church. Taking on the king was just about grabbing power. But taking on the church had to involve destroying its spiritual as well as its temporal power. You had to undermine its claim to be the voice of God on Earth. And you had to reject the claim of the Pope to be the Vicar of Christ.
Despite the terrible consequences of taking on the church – there were brave people who did exactly that. The video below lists some of the heresies that terrified bishops and priests in the Middle Ages. And the church itself wasn’t averse to accusing people of heresy simply because they wanted them out of the way.
This was probably the fate of the Knights Templar. It wasn’t enough to accuse them of corruption and steamy sexual practices. Both Pope Clement V and King Philip IV of France resorted to framing charges of heresy against the knights. Even though the Templars had spent two hundred years fighting for the Catholic church – they were now accused of being heretics – all of them!
FIND OUT MORE: Were the Knights Templar secretly Cathar heretics?
So let’s have a look at some early heresies against church teaching…