The first of June 1310, in Paris, the heart of medieval culture, to the mill the Saint-Antoine, after the burning of 54 Templars sentenced for heresy, Margherite la Porète was burnt alive as heretic together with his book "The miroir des simples âmes" (the mirror of simple souls), of which the Church ordered the destruction.
"Le miroir des simples ames anienties et qui seulement demeurent en vouloir et desir d'amour" today represents one of the vertices of religious thought speculative, a manifesto of the nobility of the soul.
Marguerite of Hainault, called "la Porete", was a beguine, or member of a female urban religious order that practiced charity and good works in medieval cities. Marguerite, a woman of the leisure class and of great culture, knew the Scriptures, the theory of humors of Galen, was born in the region of Hainaut in Belgium, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, and between 1296 and 1306 she wrote his book translated into four languages. It was initially attributed to St. Margaret of Hungary (1242-1270), but in 1306, Marguerite was named as the true author.
Accused of heresy for its content by the Inquisition, the text was burned in his presence. Sentenced to silence of his ideas, she was later found "Relapsa" (relapse) in 1308, and again accused of heresy. Tried in Paris by the Bishop of Cambrai, Philip de Marigny, was sentenced in June 1310 and the First was burned at the stake, on the Place de Greve. Witnesses report the time of his courage and his dignity in front of the gallows.
The Book of Marguerite, whose full title was "Le Miroir des simples ames here anienties et seulement demeurent en Vouli et d'amour desire" is the most ancient mystical text in vernacular French.
The literary genre is that of the mirror, very popular during the Middle Ages. The "Mirror" says the growth of the spirit in its desire for union with God through seven stages in the dialogue between Love, Reason and Soul. The danger of the ideas of Marguerite, for 'Inquisition, is apparent in particular in some passages of his work. The notion that the soul undone by love of the Creator can give nature all you want, coincides with the precepts of the Brethren of the Free Spirit.
These, in the sense of being filled with the Holy Spirit, believed to be perfect, and therefore in a position to commit any action without having to incur the sin, following the dictates of St. Paul: "Everything is pure to the pure" (Letter to Titus 1:15).
The originality of the "Mirror" is to devise a new form of self-consciousness, inconceivable for a woman in this dark period, which inevitably will lead to individual freedom, characteristic of modern culture.
Marguerite proclaim with force and not give up his ideas, thereby sacrificing his own life at stake June 1, 1310.
The following passages have been translated from the Latin by Richard Barton from Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition in the Middle Age, 3 vols. (NY: Macmillan, 1922), 2:575-578; and from Corpus documentorum inquisitionis haereticae pravitatis Neerlandicae, ed. Paul Fredericq, Hoogeschool van Ghent, Werken van den pratischen leergang van vaderlandsche geschiedenis, 5 (Ghent: J. Vuylsteke, 1896), 156-160.
The University of Paris Provides Consultation in the Case of Marguerite In the name of Christ, Amen. Let it be made known to everyone through the present public instrument [ie., public document], that we, the below-written notaries, had gathered together at St-Mathurin de Paris at the request and command of that religious man, Brother William of Paris, inquisitor into heretical depravity in the kingdom of France by apostolic authority; we were namely, venerable and discrete men Simon the dean, Thomas of Belliaco, William Alexander and John of Ghent, all canons of Paris; Peter of St Denis, Gerard of St Victor, James abbot of Carolocus, Gerard the Carmelite, John of Poilly, Laurence the prior of Vallis Scolarium, Alexander Henry the German, and Gregory of Lucca, all of the Order of Hermits of St Augustine; John of Mont Saint-Eloi, Ralph de Hoitot, and Berengar, all of the Dominican Order; John of Claromarisco, Nicholas of Lyra, and James of Esquillo, all Franciscans; James the Cistercian and Roger of Roseto, masters of Theology.
Having gathered us all together in the same place, the same inquisitor asked advice from the masters concerning what was to be done about a certain book which he displayed there and from which many articles had been extracted, put on display, and demonstrated to the masters, in the manner that follows:
The first of these articles was this: "That the annihilated soul gives licence to the virtues and is no more in their servitude, since it does not have use for them, but [rather] the virtues are subject to the will."
Item, the fifteenth article was this: "That such a soul [ie., one annihilated in love of God] does not care about the consolations of God nor does it care for His gifts; and it neither ought to care for nor is able to care for [such things], because it is wholly intent upon God; and thus its intention towards God can be impeded."
Having first held deliberation with the other masters listed above, Simon the Dean of Paris, in the name of and with the will, assent and concord of all the above said masters, made a response to the request for consultation that had been directed to them. He stated that it was and is their advice that such a book, in which the said articles are contained, ought to be exterminated as heretical, erroneous, and contemptuous of heresies and errors. Done in the aforementioned place, in the year of the Lord 1309, on the 11th day of April. [this date actually gives the year 1310, April 11]
The Inquisitor Consults Canon Lawyers on the Case of Marguerite la Porete, May 30 1310. To all those who will inspect the present letters, William called Brother, archdeacon of Laudonie in the church of Saint-Andrew in Scocia, Hugh de Bisuncio canon of Paris, John de Tollenz canon of Saint-Quentin in the Vermandois, Henry de Bitunia canon of Furne, and Peter de Vaux curate of Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois of Paris, all ruling Paris according to canon Law, give greetings in the name of the author of salvation.
You ought to know that the venerable, devout and discrete man, Brother William of Paris, of the Order of Preachers, who was deputed by the authority of the Apostolic See to be inquisitor into heretical depravity within the kingdom of France, communicated to us [the facts of] the case which follows, and consulted with us about it as is described below. The case truly was such: when Marguerite called Porete, who was suspected of heresy, remained disobedient and rebellious, not wanting to respond to questions nor swear an oath before the inquisitor concerning those matters which pertain to the office of inquisitor (which office had been granted legally to William), the same inquisitor nevertheless held an inquiry concerning her and, through the deposition of many witnesses, found that the said Marguerite had composed a certain book containing heresies and errors.
Moreover, this book had been solemnly and publicly condemned and burned as such [ie., as heresy and error] by the order of the reverend father, lord Guy, the late bishop of Cambrai; in his pronouncement Bishop Guy had also ordained that if she should again attempt such things as were contained in the book either in writing or in speech, he condemned her and relinquished her to the secular justice for judgment. The same inquisitor [William] also found that she had confessed, first before the inquisitor of Lotharingia and then before the reverend father lord Philip, then bishop of Cambrai, that [even] after her initial condemnation she had retained the said book and other books; he also found that the said Marguerite had sent the said book (containing in its similitude the same errors) after its condemnation to the reverend father lord John, bishop of Chalons by the grace of God.
He also found out that she had sent the book not only to the said bishop, but also to many other simple people, to Beghards, and to others of similar status. The consultation resulting from these matters that the aforesaid inquisitor made with us was done in this way: namely, he asked us whether on account of such things the aforesaid Beguine ought to be judged to have relapsed? [this was an important distinction; anyone could fall by mistake or ignorance into heresy, but if, once warned, you returned to that heresy (ie., relapsed), then the authorities could be sure of your evil intentions] We, moreover, responding canonically to the aforesaid consultation as lovers of the Catholic faith and as those professing the truth, decided that the same Beguine [Marguerite] was condemned by the truth of the facts listed above, and that she thus ought to be judged a relapse and as such ought to be handed over to the secular court.
As testimony for this matter, we affixed our seal to the present document. Done in the year of the Lord 1310 on the Sunday after the feast of St John [ie., on May 30 1310] before the Latin Gate.
Prof. Camillo Di Cicco, MD American Association for the History of Medicine