Pre-reformation medieval sects, gnostic and otherwise

This is an interesting topic not only for purely historical study but also because it illustrates so many of the issues today. There were numerous sects that emerged after 1000 AD some leaning more towards Gnosticism perhaps direct descendants and some more in line with various Protestant movements of later centuries. A list:
Gnostic: Cathari, Albigensian, bogomils, henricians, paulicians, Manichaeans and a panoply of earlier sects.

More Protestant: waldensians, petrobrusians, Lollards, Hussites

This is a discussion thread: you can discuss these sects in their historical context or how their ideas and the struggles the church and these sects had. This can be compared to modern intractable conflicts between Protestants and Catholics and with regards to Catholics and Gnostics/Manichaeans/New agers/ Neopagans etc…
With specific focus on catholic vs Protestant/pre-Protestant if Rome is truly Christ’s bride why have so many left Her with nothing but vile to say regards to her and why have so many even before 361 AD protested against her? In conclusion who is God leading to victory? Are the anti-catholic Protestants right and Rome is the pit of abominations or is church right that she is a faithful virgin to her husband and those who condemn her condemn her husband? This isn’t the question the question is who will God vindicate? And who will he chastise?

IMHO, we should trust God’s mercy more than fear His chastisement over this issue :shrug:

You are Protestant no? If that is so then wouldn’t you believe or wouldn’t you hope every day to have your church stand and be counted as faithful. The reason why I posted this thread is that if you look beyond all the ecumenical rhetoric and handshaking you find that convicted Protestants and convicted Catholics have throughout there whole histories believed themselves to have God truly on their side. Sectarianism is part of the faith-Jesus said He would bring a sword and would cause nations and families to go to war? If that is the case then wouldn’t both sides be eternally and diametrically against the other accept from conversions either from Catholicism to Protestantism, or vice versa yet still holding the same true opinion.

“With specific focus on catholic vs Protestant/pre-Protestant if Rome is truly Christ’s bride why have so many left Her with nothing but vile to say regards to her and why have so many even before 361 AD protested against her? In conclusion who is God leading to victory? Are the anti-catholic Protestants right and Rome is the pit of abominations or is church right that she is a faithful virgin to her husband and those who condemn her condemn her husband? This isn’t the question . . .”

Please forgive me if I am wrong, but I think you’re trying to be deliberately provocative.

“. . . the question is who will God vindicate? And who will he chastise?”

 "Who are you to judge the servant of another?  To his own Master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand."   Rom 14:4

The answer to your question is outside the scope of our authority.

Well I am impressed by your humility and yes it was intended to be provocative- sometimes that is what gets people thinking does it not?

Why would you believe it is either, or? The Catholic Church does not teach Protestants are all going to Hell and that Protestant Churches are anti Christ. That is only a view held by some in Protestantism about Catholicism, the view that one is diametrically opposed to the other.

Obviously, as Catholics we believe we have the fullness of truth and represent the Church Christ established. However, God clearly has permitted schism to occur. He will use it to His glory. However, that is not to say that the schisms that occurred necessarily represented the truth they thought they were presenting. In fact some of the early heresies you cite as pre or proto Protestantism taught beliefs that most Protestants would abhor. For example, the Cathars and Albigensins had some degree of Manichaeism in which they saw a dualism of god, one good and one evil. This is NOT Protestantism. Some also forbade marriage among the entire population, not just the clergy. In other words, Im not so sure Protestants really want to attach their wagons to any of these early heretical sects.

So, such schism really speaks more to the truth of Catholicism than the veracity of truth found in early schismatic groups. Perhaps there are is one or two groups that are not clearly heretical but why not simply look to the writings of the Early Church Fathers, those that directly followed the Apostles to see what the early Church looked like?

In those records, including such documents as the Didache, the record speaks to Catholicism. Perhaps not as the fully revealed doctrine that we have today. But, the record does not contradict the teachings of the Church and served as the foundation to what exists today. The early Church Fathers talk of sacraments- Confession to the priest, the “sacrifice of the Eucharist” or Mass, a Petrine Authority, sacred Tradition, Purgatory and a communion of saints in heaven and on earth, and the ever virginity of the Blessed Mother, among other unique traits of Catholicism not found in Protestantism.

So, there really is no need to even consider some of early heretical groups to consider whether pro or pre Protestantism groups developed only to be then squashed by the Roman Church. The truth can be found in the writings of the earliest church Fathers and they were clearly in line with unique Catholic doctrine not with heretical features of pre or proto Protestant schisms.

Just my take on the matter. Let me know where you think I am wrong. Thanks!

Many have left because some of the teachings are hard. Living as a Catholic is not easy it has lots of joy but lots of pain caused by the enemy and dying to the flesh. Also many people hate the Catholic Church because what they think it is rather than what it actually teaches.

Yes, we are meant to understand what we believe, but we are both Christians, and there is enough horror in the world to keep us busy without tearing each other down. If there are distinctions, they are God’s to make.

St Paul continuously exhorts us not to divide ourselves, that we are to be of the same mind. We believe that Christ is the second person of the Trinity, that He is our Redeemer, and that we will have to answer to God for our thoughts, words, and deeds, or lack thereof. That’s all we need to know about each other.

Arguments about Sola Scriptura or faith vs works or predestination or who made God angrier serves no purpose. Let’s assume that in one thing or another, we are both wrong about something. I will cover the multitude of your sins with my love. Please cover the multitude of my sins with your love. K?

I don’t know much about the Petrobrusians and I’m not sure there’s a whole lot to know.

I think that you’re right that there were two broad groupings, and I get why you call the second “more Protestant,” but this can be misleading (especially to Protestants:p), because on one very important point these groups do not appear to have been Protestant: justification by faith alone. The Waldenses and similar groups were intensely moralistic and were closer to the Anabaptists than to “magisterial Protestantism.” In fact, when the Waldensians became Protestants in the sixteenth century there was quite a bit of tension and conflict between the new Reformed clergy and their congregations. The books of the Bible that the Waldensians copied most often were the “General Epistles” and “Pastoral Epistles” with their moral admonitions. They seem to have been completely uninterested in Romans.

The other group, which you describe as “Gnostic” and which their contemporaries called “Manichees,” also had a strong moral emphasis, but in their case it was tied to a denial of the goodness of creation. Also, the moral emphasis (at least according to their enemies) tended to be confined to the inner circle of “perfect,” while the broader group of “hearers” could live as they wished until they came close to death. Something like this, in a less exaggerated form, was also true of medieval Catholicism, of course. So one could argue that this more clearly heretical group was more of an alternative to Catholicism, whereas the Waldenses were really a rigorist group who wanted to live ascetic, devoted lives as laypeople and found the existing structures of the Catholic Church unsatisfactory means to that end. The founder, Peter Waldo, actually returned to the Church, in fact, and he’s often been compared to St. Francis in his initial goals and attitudes.

With the Lollards and Hussites you have the further addition of hyper-Augustinian scholastic theology, which brought them closer to magisterial Protestantism, but still not too close, since “sola fide” was still not present. That was, as far as I can see, Luther’s invention.


What is ‘magisterial Protestantism’?

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To learn more about brother Dimond, his Monastery and the true teachings of our Lord, Jesus Christ, then please visit or **

Good question? Also you obviously didn’t pay attention to my first post, I did make the distinction between gnostic, semi-gnostic, and oriental gnostic groups and proto-Protestants.I am referring to the poster who pointed out the dualistic beliefs of the Gnostic sects. The Forum Elder made the distinction this was not aimed at him.

Luther, Calvin, etc. The “mainstream” Reformers who taught sola fide, predestination, infant baptism, etc., and retained the basic state-church structure (in fact frequently tightened links between church and state). It’s a term intended to contrast with the “radical Reformers” who on the whole have more similarities to the medieval dissenting groups (not necessarily a direct historical connection–and as far as I know the medieval groups did not reject infant baptism per se).


Oh I see. Thanks for the explanation.

Yes, the Radical Reformation – such as the Anabaptists (ancestors of the modern-day Amish) were among the first to promote separation of church and state, not for reasons of secularism but rather because they felt that use of the sword was “outside the perfection of Christ.” A state needs, by definition, to bear arms in order to assert its authority, and they refused to bear arms or to serve as magistrates (one reason being that a magistrate could be called to sentence someone to death).

Luther and the Magisterial Reformers thought the Anabaptists to be “off their rocker,” fanatics and extremists – after all, they reasoned, without the support of powerful princes and magistrates, their own Reformation would have been crushed. The idea of a separation of church and state was a scandalous idea (and, I suppose, brought back the accusation that the Romans leveled at the early Christians, that they were “bad citizens”). There were indeed many thousands of Anabaptist martyrs who fell at the hands of both Protestant and Catholic authorities (whose accounts are memorialized in a book called “Martyr’s Mirror,” which is said to sit on virtually every Amish bookshelf next to the Bible).

Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation in general were something of a “third way” between Catholicism and Protestantism – like Caholics, they emphasized both faith and works (as opposed to Sola Fidei) and, like Catholics, made more allowance for free will; however, they held to believers’ baptism (for them, baptism was more like what Catholics would consider Confirmation to be, a conscious and deliberate choice) and, as mentioned above, rejected wielding of the sword for any purpose (“use of the sword is outside the perfection of Christ”, the implication being that this echoed Christ’s words, “be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” in terms of a call to non-violence in all circumstances, just as can be seen in the modern-day Amish culture). Rather than their professing the Nicene Creed, the centerpiece of Scripture – for them – was the Sermon on the Mount.

The book, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is full of heresies. I read it with a website on heresies open to find out what the different beliefs were. The book was made into an equally excellent movie starring Sean Connery.

And Christian Slater.

Were Catholics fair to the Waldensians? What happened to them?

As I think Contarini may have mentioned, the Waldensians ended up jointing the Reformed (Calvinist) fold – in northern Italy, I believe.

It was rough-going for the Waldensians up to that point, to the say the least – in fact, no less a personage than John Milton – who, as an English Puritan of the early modern period, was rather anti-Catholic in his opinions–composed a poem in commemoration of the “massacre of the Waldensians in Piedmont.”

It’s a great poem, whatever one thinks of the political-religious message!

Actually this took place about a century after the Waldensians became Protestants. The best author on this is Euan Cameron, who has written two books on the Waldenses. Gabriel Audisio, who I believe is from a Waldensian heritage himself, has also written a couple of very good books on the subject (though sometimes I think his critical judgment can be questioned).

For centuries the Waldensians were basically “Italian Presbyterians,” but they have now federated with the Methodists as well, and I think have an agreement with the Baptists also. They certainly still exist (my advisor told a story once of a Dominican friend of his who visited a Waldensian church which had frescos of Dominicans massacring Waldensians, and was horrified).


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