Saturday, June 16, 2007

The accusation of heresy

Back in April, I posted on the anniversary of the death of Edward Wightman. The accusation of heresy in Wightman's day usually ended in cruel punishment. In modern times (in most places), it is much more subtle. We have upgraded it with more sophistication and hidden cruelty, but the results of the accusation can be cruel nevertheless.*

"...upon the wicked heresies of Ebion, Cirinthus, Valintian, Arrius, Macedonius, Simon, Magnus, of Manes, Manichees, Photinus, and of the Anabaptists, and other arch-heriticks; and moreover of other cursed opinions, belched by the instance of Satan, excogitated and here-to-for unheard of; the aforesaid Edward Wightman...stands adjudged and pronounced a heritick, and therefore as a diseased sheep out of the flock of the Lord, lest our subjects he do infect by his contagion, he hath decreed to be cast out, and cut off. Whereas, the holy mother church hath not further in this part what it ought more to do and prosecute, the same reverend father hath left to our secular power the same Edward Wightman as a blasphemous and condemned heritick to be punished with the condign punishment as by the letters patent of the aforesaid reverend father, the bishop of Coventry and Litchfield, in this behalf thereupon made, as certified unto us in our Chancery. We, therefore, as the zealot of justice and the defender of the Catholick faith, and williing the holy church, and the rights and liberties of the same, and the Catholick faith to maintain and defend, and such like heresies and errors everywhere, so convict and condemn to punish with consign punishment, holding that such a heritick in the aforesaid form convicted and condemned, according to the customs and laws of this our Kingdom of England in this part accustomed, out to be burned with fire. We command thee that thou cause the said Edward Wightman, being in thy custody, to be committed to fire in some publick and open place below the city aforesaid, for the cause aforesaid before people; and the same Edward Wightman in the same fire cause really to be burned in destation of said crime, and for the manifest example of other Christians, that they may not fall into the same crime. And this no ways omit, under the peril that shall follow thereon." -- from
Twice Baked, by Sam Behling

Some of Wightman's contemporaries said that if Edward actually held all the opinions of which he was accused, he would have been either an idiot or a madman. If so, he needed the prayers of his persecutors rather than to have them put him to death.

*I recognize, nevertheless, that there are some who are religious heretics.

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