Thursday, March 31, 2016

Peter de Bruys - The Rebel

One of the results of building a powerful and rigid organizational structure to carry out your purposes is that people will rebel against it. Pope Gregory VII and those who followed his principles tried to build a strong and well-organized papacy to fight against the civil government. One person who rebelled against it was Peter de Bruys. Now there were various types of rebellions. There were those who were of the old Manichean beliefs that there were two Gods, a good God and an evil God, and that matter was the product of the evil God. There were those, such as Tanchelm and Eudo de l'Etoile, who claimed to be themselves the Son of God. And there were others who wanted to overthrow the whole medieval government and societal classes and form a new system where goods were shared in common and everyone was equal. Peter de Bruys and his follower Henry of Lausanne represent the more positive sort of rebel.

It does not help that the only account we have of Peter is from his opponents. This makes it harder to see what his basic ideas were. He was accused of opposing infant baptism, claiming consecrated buildings and altars were meaningless, stating crosses should be destroyed (probably because they were objects of worship), opposing the Mass (he was clearly against transubstantiation and may have wanted to throw out the Lord's Supper entirely), and opposing all prayers and works for the dead. He seems to have been generally going the right way in advocating heart worship over institutionalized worship. He may have gone too far, especially if he really did advocate abandoning the Lord's Supper. There is a danger here of over-reacting. In opposing an external, by-the-motions form of worship, one can so spiritualize things as to make all physical actions irrelevant. But there is a  point where it is clearly necessary to rebel against putting all the emphasis on the external. In this, Peter de Bruys was followed by Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and John Hus, and ultimately the Protestant Reformation. There is more to genuinely following God than just going through the motions of being part of the organization.   

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