Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Socialism of the Middle Ages

The Socialist Phenomenon, by Igor Shafarevich

I bet you are thinking “aha, bionic has finally figured out the truth about the European Middle Ages and the role of the Catholic Church and tradition!”  Let’s disabuse you of this notion right off the top; the chapter title in Shafarevich’s book is entitled “The Socialism of the Heresies.”  I will focus only on his sections regarding the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages and the period of the Reformation, doctrines of chiliastic socialism often fomented broad popular movements in Western Europe.

These movements had a common trait:

…the rejection of numerous aspects of the teachings of the Catholic Church and a fierce hatred for the Church itself.

They had other common traits, none of which are conducive to a vibrant and free society.

Let’s examine a few of these popular movements.

The Cathars

Catharism was a Christian dualist or Gnostic revival movement that thrived in some areas of Southern Europe, particularly northern Italy and what is now southern France, between the 12th and 14th centuries.

Catharism may have had its roots in the Paulician movement in Armenia and eastern Byzantine Anatolia and certainly in the Bogomils of the First Bulgarian Empire, who were influenced by the Paulicians resettled in Thrace (Philipopolis) by the Byzantines.

While history remembers them as Cathars, they self-identified with the terms "Good Men" (Bons Hommes) or "Good Christians.”

Returning to Shafarevich, Pope Innocent III counted as many as forty Cathar sects.  The main common contention was the belief in the irreconcilable contradiction between the spiritual world (good) and the physical world (evil).  This was caused, they believed, by two Gods – one good and one evil.  Some sects believed in one God, but that the evil world was created by God’s eldest fallen son, Lucifer.

The Cathars denied free will – the children of evil could not avoid their fate – but, miraculously, those initiated at the highest ranks (the “perfecti,” or perfect, and the “credenti,” or faithful) could escape man’s doomed fate!  The Catholic Church was the Whore of Babylon; pregnant women were under the influence of demons – after all, the child in the womb was the child of evil; the Cross was a symbol of evil; while rejecting Catholic hierarchy and sacraments, they embraced their own.

A believer on his deathbed would receive “consolation.”  If he happened to recover after this, he would be compelled to commit suicide – agreeing beforehand to die being a condition for receiving consolation.

I. Döllinger, who studied the extant archives of the Inquisition in Toulouse and Carcassone, write: “Whoever examines the records of the above-mentioned courts attentively will have no doubt that far more people perished from the ‘endura’ (some voluntarily, some forcibly) than as a result of the Inquisition’s verdicts.”

Their doctrines reveal their socialist leanings: marriage is sinful, but promiscuity outside of marriage is permissible (destruction of the family); they rejected the private holding of property, with all property held in common.  A true Christian life was possible only with common property and common women, apparently.

Of course, not all Cathars were created equal when it came to this idea of holding property in common.  For example, nobles in southern France supported the movement, seeing it as an opportunity to acquire Church lands.

The Free Spirits and Apostolic Brethren

The Heresy of the Free Spirit was originally the name given from the late thirteenth to fifteenth centuries to a set of heretical beliefs believed to be held by some Christians, especially in the Low Countries, Germany, France, Bohemia and northern Italy, which caused great unease among Church leaders at the time.

Man was on the verge of a new age: the age of freedom.  This was due to arrive in 1260.  God’s people would abide in peace, freed from labor and suffering.  People would no longer know the words “mine” and “thine,” as apparently there would be no more scarcity therefore there would be no need for a concept of property.

Transfiguration: man could become God, the complete equal of God!  To have a chance to achieve this state, man must give up property and family.  If he was successful, he would become a “Free Spirit.”

And what a prize! 

Hence his will is the will of God, and to him the notion of sin becomes meaningless.

Look around you today.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, I am sure this would result in a free society.

Here we go with the women in common again.  Once you are God, what do you care? 

What had been blasphemy for him in the past (and remained so for “rude” folk) now became a sign of the end of one historical epoch and the beginning of another – the new Eon.

Violence associated with the Middle Ages and often (erroneously) placed on the Catholic Church can be found in sects such as this:

The entire populations of captured towns were slaughtered; including women and children….Their supreme deity was Satan.

An excerpt from the biography of Dolcino, of the Apostolic Brethren, is offered:

Crowds of penitents led by monks and priests moved half-naked along the roads, scourging themselves and leaving a bloody trail behind.  Singing hymns, the penitents would enter a town and a ceremony of purging would begin.

As is common in all leftist ideologies:

The equality proclaimed between Free Spirits and Christ had the aim of destroying hierarchy, not only on earth but in heaven as well.


The Taborites were a Radical Hussite faction within the Hussite movement in medieval Lands of the Bohemian Crown.

Economically supported by Tábor's control of local gold mines, the citizens joined local peasants to develop a communal society. Taborites announced the Millennium of Christ and declared there would be no more servants and masters, all property would be held in common and there would be no more taxation. They promised that people would return to a state of pristine innocence.

The end of the world would come in 1420.  Since all who were not Taborites were evil, Christ’s mercy was no longer applicable.  The faithful must “wash his hands in the blood of the enemies of Christ.”  This was all a prelude to Christ’s return and His 1000 year reign – utopia!

All houses, churches and monasteries were to be destroyed; no human institutions were to remain standing; money and property were socialized.  Oh…and the women were to be socialized as well – a recurring theme, it seems.  Husbands and wives, if seen together, were dealt with summarily.

“A great multitude of priests were killed, burned and slaughtered, and the greatest joy for them was to seize someone and murder him.”

But all the evil in the Middle Ages was caused by the Catholic Church…at least that is what people tell me.

Forgiveness was a sin.  They killed and they burned towns and villages at night….

If you can’t forgive ‘em, kill ‘em.

Post Reformation

Shafarevich goes on to discuss other sects: Anabaptists, Ranters, Quakers, Diggers, and Levellers.  Each shared several of the same socialistic tendencies as those identified above.


There is no doubt that the Middle Ages provided no less reason than other periods of history for dissatisfaction with life and for protest against its darker aspects. …the heresies that we have discussed did not call for the reform of the Church or an improvement in worldly life….Instead, the doctrine of these sects called for the complete destruction of the Catholic Church, for the destruction of society as it was known, and, until this end could be accomplished, for withdrawal from the world.

It was against the fundamental ideas of the Middle Ages…that all the heresies were cast.

After the Reformation and Renaissance did their work, the nation-state found solid footing; the state was sovereign – it had no competition.  Society was centralized in a manner not known in Europe for 1000 years (more or less, and differing based on region).  Destroying this common culture and tradition did not, in the end, bring man more freedom; it turned him into a slave.

Much the same is happening in the west today.  Call it Cultural Marxism, postmodernism, or Gramsci living large.  Will true freedom flower from this endeavor?

Not likely.


  1. Speaking of religious communism, Murray Rothbard's classic article about the anabaptists during the reformation is a must read.

    Property held in common, women held in common (and of course, somehow the revolutionary leadership got more of what was held in common).

  2. Yet most will say who will protect me from Big Boogeyman A if I don't have my own Big Boogeyman B to protect me.

  3. During the first centuries after Christ, various forms of chiliasm (millennialism) were to be found in the Church, both East and West. It was a decidedly majority view at that time, as admitted by Eusebius, himself an opponent of the doctrine....


  4. Historian Ralph Raico put in a good word for the Llevelers, something like pro private property minarchists, maybe anarchists. They were confused with the Diggers, who were communists.

    Need a natural aristocracy be hierarchical? Couldn't the aristocracy be like the professional class-- you would seek them out when you need their expertise?

  5. "Shafarevich goes on to discuss other sects: Anabaptists, Ranters, Quakers, Diggers, and Levellers. Each shared several of the same socialistic tendencies as those identified above."

    With regard to Levellers as "socialists" I believe Shafarevich has it wrong.

    "In my opinion and judgement, this conceit of levelling of property and magistracy is so ridiculous and foolish an opinion, as no man of brains, reason or ingenuity, can be imagined such a sot as to maintain such a principle, because it would, if practised, destroy not only any industry in the world, but raze the very foundation of generation, and of subsistence or being of one man by another. For as for industry and valour by which the societies of mankind are maintained and preserved, who will take pains for that which when he hath gotten is not his own, but must equally be shared in, by every lazy, simple, dronish sot? Or who will fight for that, wherein he hath no interest, but such as must be subject to the will and pleasurre of another, yea of every coward and base low-spirited fellow, that in his sitting still must share in common with a valiant man in all his brave noble achievements? The ancient encouragement to men that were to defence their country was this: that they were to hazard their persons for that which was their own, to wit, their own wives, their own children, their own estates"
    ---John Lilburne

  6. "Women held in common". This reminds me of an online comment by a feminist,-"Left-wing men believe women are public property, Right-wing men believe women are private property".

  7. How much of the "evidence" we have of the beliefs and practices of these heretics was written by them and how much was written by their enemies? Whom can we trust to report the truth about political or religious opponents.