Flagellants

Flagellants

(Lat.flagellare, to scourge), a name given to certain fanatical sects from the 12th to the 15th century, who used the scourge as a means of purification. SEE DISCIPLINE OF THE LASH. They were also called crucferi, crucifratres, because they held it their duty, as they said, to copy the sufferings of Christ; and acephali, because of their separation from the Roman Church authority. Their excesses were only the natural development of certain features .of the Roman discipline SEE PENANCE; SEE PENITENTIAL DISCIPLINE; especially of the belief, springing from the system of indulgences, that the mercy of God could be propitiated by self-inflicted punishments. It is said that the first society of Flagellants appeared in Padua in the beginning of the 12th century. Amid the contests between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, cruelty and rapine were followed by remorse; and about 1260 public associations sprang up for the purpose of discipline, under the name of Flagellantes. In an edict of the marquis of Este and the people of Ferrara for their suppression, they are termed Le Compagnie de' Rattuti, and Soxalitas Scopex sive Fustigationis. Muratori has given' a plate of the thongs which they employed against themselves (Antiq. Ital. med. cevi, 6:469). Self-scourging was practised in the open streets, and little regard was paid to decency. A hermit named Rainier, of Perugia, is named as the founder of the sect, and his success was wonderful. Vast bodies of men, girded with ropes, marched in procession, with songs and prayer, through the cities, and from one city to another, calling on the people to repent. All hostilities ceased. The momentary impression produced by these movements was profound, but it did not last long. From Italy the contagion passed over the Alps; large bodies wandered over Carniola, Austria, and even as far as Poland. In a few years they disappeared. Under the alarm of the great plague of the following century the Flagellants revived again. The plague reached Italy in 1347, and carried off throughout Europe millions of persons: 1,200,000 in Germany, where, in 1349, the Flagellants "arose afresh, with increased enthusiasm. They wandered through several provinces, whipping themselves, and propagating the most extravagant doctrines, namely, that flagellation was of equal virtue with the sacraments; that the forgiveness of all sins was to be obtained by it, exclusive of the merits of Christ; that the old law of Christ was soon to be abolished, and that a new law, enjoining the baptism of blood, to be administered by whipping, was to be substituted in its place. Clement VI issued a bull against them (Oct. 20,1349), and in many places their leaders were burned. They are again mentioned in the beginning of the 15th century as venting yet stranger and more mystical tenets in Thuringia and Lower Saxony. They rejected every branch of external worship, entertained some wild notions respecting the evil spirit, and held that the person who believes what is contained in the Apostles' Creed, repeats frequently the Lord's Prayer and the Ave Maria, and at certain times lashes his body severely as a voluntary punishment for the transgressions he has committed, shall obtain eternal salvation. The infection spread rapidly, and occasioned much disorder; for, by travelling in such numbers, they gave rise to seditious disturbances and to very many excesses. The shameful exposure of their persons, and their extortion of alms, rendered them so obnoxious to the higher clergy and to the more respectable classes, that several princes in Germany and Italy endeavored to suppress their irregularities, and the kings of Poland and Bohemia expelled them from their territories. A numerous list of these fanatics who were condemned to the flames is preserved by the German ecclesiastical historians. At Sangerhausen, in the year 1414, no fewer than ninety-one were burned" (Encyc. Metrop. s.v.). In the year 1399 a society of this character, the White Brethren (Bianchi), descended from the Alps into Italy, and were everywhere enthusiastically welcomed both by the clergy and the populace; but no sooner had they reached the papal territory than their leader was put to death, and the whole array dispersed. After this processions of Flagellants were led through Italy, Spain, and the south of 'France by the Dominican Vincentius Ferrentius, who may perhaps have. been the secret instigator of the White Brethren. But such' processions having been condemned at the Council of Constance, he also discontinued them (Gieseler, § 120). Gieseler gives extracts from the trial at Sangerhausen, 1414, with many of their articles of doctrine (Church Histosy, § 120). See Boileau, Histoire des Flagellans (Paris, 1700, 12mo); Mosheim, Ch. Hist. cent. 13:pt. ii, ch. iii; cent. 14:pt. ii, ch. v; cent. 15:pt. ii, ch. v; Forstemann, Die christ. Geisslergesellschaften (Halle, 1828); Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 4:726 sq.; Neander, Ch. Hist. (Torrey's), v, 512.

 
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