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Against Witchcraft and Heresies

Into the Middle Ages, Christians still viewed paganism and Judaism as evil, and under Christian Visigoth rule on the Iberian peninsula in the early 600s, all Jews were ordered to become baptized as Christians, and Jews were expelled from Christian communities.

Meanwhile, many rural people in western Europe who were considered Christian had maintained pagan beliefs in herbal magic, holy trees, holy springs, fairies and the like. The Church didn't feel threatened by this. The Church in the early years of the Middle Ages was focused on ritual: if people had been baptized and attended church at least once a year they were considered Christian.

Common Christians were viewing disease, floods, famines and other disasters as the punishments of God, and they were attacking neighbors they thought guilty of prompting God's anger. Common Christians were also attacking non-conformists they considered guilty of witchcraft or heresy. Mob leaders tortured people into confessing and then punished them in the manner they believed that God preferred: burning at the stake. The Church became involved in these events when it felt its influence threatened. The Church moved against heretics with the cooperation of kings. The first execution for heresy is said to have occurred at Orleans in 1022, ordered by King of the Franks, Robert the Pious. In 1034, heretics were burned to death in Italy, in the diocese of Milan. In 1051 the Holy Roman Emperor Henry III, had heretics executed. note44

Intellectualism was on the rise in Europe in the 1100s, and the Church reacted defensively, the Church for example declaring Abelard a heretic.

It was around this time that the Church of Rome moved to help the emperor at Constantinople with his expanding Seljuk Turk problem. The crusade against Muslim rule in the Middle East extended to Church attempts to eradicate heresy in what today is southeastern France. The king of France, Philip Augustus, was eager to extend his authority into southern France, and he lent his power to the crusade against those called the Cathars, and people devoted to the Church joined in. Pope Innocent III had already declared heresy as a capital offense, and some of the crusaders took it upon themselves to be executioners.

Attempts to wipe out the Cathars would take most the 1200s, while the Church remained at the center of people's lives. It controlled education, including the universities, with all teachers being members of the clergy.

Dissent continued, but the Church was dominant in matters of proper throught. Europe's princes frequently went to the papacy to settle their disputes. During the plague, the Church was on guard against innovative religious proclamations. In 1349 Pope Clement VI condemned the movement of wandering mobs, the Flagellants. Mobs were killing Jews, and Pope Clement VI threatened excommunication for those Christians who harmed Jews.

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