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Petrobrusians

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Heretics of the twelfth century so named from their founder Peter of Bruys. Our information concerning him is derived from the treatise of Peter the Venerable against the Petrobrusians and from a passage in Abelard. Peter was born perhaps at Bruis in south-eastern France. The history of his early life is unknown, but it is certain that he was a priest who had been deprived of his charge. He began his propaganda in the Dioceses of Embrun, Die, and Gap probably between 1117 and 1120. Twenty years later the populace of St. Gilles near Nîmes, exasperated by his burning of crosses, cast him into the flames. The bishops of the above-mentioned dioceses suppressed the heresy within their jurisdiction, but it gained adherents at Narbonne, Toulouse, and in Gascony. Henry of Lausanne, a former Cluniac monk, adopted the Petrobrusians' teaching about 1135 and spread it in a modified form after its author's death. Peter of Bruys admitted the doctrinal authority of the Gospels in their literal interpretation; the other New Testament writings he probably considered valueless, as of doubtful apostolic origin. To the New Testament epistles he assigned only a subordinate place as not coming from Jesus Christ Himself. He rejected the Old Testament as well as the authority of the Fathers and of the Church. His contempt for the Church extended to the clergy, and physical violence was preached and exercised against priests and monks. In his system baptism is indeed a necessary condition for salvation, but it is baptism preceded by personal faith, so that its administration to infants is worthless. The Mass and the Eucharist are rejected because Jesus Christ gave his flesh and blood but once to His disciples, and repetition is impossible. All external forms of worship, ceremonies and chant, are condemned. As the Church consists not in walls, but in the community of the faithful, church buildings should be destroyed, for we may pray to God in a barn as well as in a church, and be heard, if worthy, in a stable as well as before an altar. No good works of the living can profit the dead. Crosses, as the instrument of the death of Christ, cannot deserve veneration; hence they were for the Petrobrusians objects of desecration and were destroyed in bonfires.


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