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The War on Heresy

The War on Heresy

R. I. Moore

ISBN 9780674416895

Publication date: 10/06/2014

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Between 1000 and 1250, the Catholic Church confronted the threat of heresy with increasing force. Some of the most portentous events in medieval history-the Cathar crusade, the persecution and mass burnings of heretics, the papal inquisition established to identify and suppress beliefs that departed from the true religion-date from this period. Fear of heresy molded European society for the rest of the Middle Ages and beyond, and violent persecutions of the accused left an indelible mark. Yet, as R. I. Moore suggests, the version of these events that has come down to us may be more propaganda than historical reality.

Popular accounts of heretical events, most notably the Cathar crusade, are derived from thirteenth-century inquisitors who saw organized heretical movements as a threat to society. Skeptical of the reliability of their reports, Moore reaches back to earlier contemporaneous sources, where he learns a startling truth: no coherent opposition to Catholicism, outside the Church itself, existed. The Cathars turn out to be a mythical construction, and religious difference does not explain the origins of battles against heretic practices and beliefs.

A truer explanation lies in conflicts among elites-both secular and religious-who used the specter of heresy to extend their political and cultural authority and silence opposition. By focusing on the motives, anxieties, and interests of those who waged war on heresy, Moore's narrative reveals that early heretics may have died for their faith, but it was not because of their faith that they were put to death.


  • An intellectual thriller… An absolute page-turner. R. I. Moore’s The War on Heresy is ostensibly about the roots of Catharism, and the attempts by the medieval Church to extirpate it. A well-trodden path of enquiry, you might think—except that Moore’s thesis is as jaw-dropping as it is original. Far from existing as an independent phenomenon, he argues, Catharism was in truth a phantasm conjured up from the nightmares and ambitions of those who went looking for it. The true begetters of the heresy were not Manicheans mysteriously transplanted from the ancient Middle East to medieval Languedoc, but rather the very men committed to its destruction. The relevance of this for today’s world, haunted as it is by its own paranoias and anxieties, hardly needs pointing out. Startling, unsettling and revelatory, The War on Heresy is Homeland in cowls.

    —Tom Holland, Globe and Mail


  • R. I. Moore is Professor Emeritus of Medieval History at Newcastle University.

Book Details

  • 416 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press