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History
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Flagellation and Flagellants

  1. Flagellation.
    Corporal Punishment as a Penalty of the Church (§ 1). Self-scourging or Flagellation (§ 2).
  2. Flagellants.
    The Flagellants of 1200. Venturinus of Bergamo, 1334 (§i 1).
    The Flagellants of 1348-49 (§i 2).
    The Albati or Bianchi of 1309 (§ 3).
    Flagellants in Thuringia about 1360. Konrad Schmid (§ 4).
    Later Italian Brotherhoods (§ 5).
    Later Manifestations and Developments (§ 6).

I. Flagellation.

1. Corporal Punishment as a Penalty of the Church.

Corporal chastisement as an ecclesiastical corrective penalty for clerics appears in the Western Church as early as the fifth century transferred from the Roman penal law, but resorted to only in rare instances. From the Merovingian times onward, it became more widely diffused, and so late as the seventeenth century was appointed as a punishment in cases of blasphemy, aimony, concubinage, and other offenses committed by the clergy. In corrective establishments of the Church, corporal chastisement has continued in practise against clerical delinquents confined in the same, down to the present time. Flagellation as a monastic punishment for misdeeds of monks dates back to the earliest period of inonasticism, and the rule of Benedict of Nursia makes extensive use of corporal chastisement. The congregations which had their origin in the Benedictine Order, as well as the other monastic orders, sisterhoods, and knightly orders founded in the twelfth century and later, adopted flagellation; but various orders which arose after the Council of Trent did not include this penalty in their rules. For certain offenses of laymen, too (desecration of Sunday, fortune-telling, etc.), the Church from the sixth century prescribed corporal chastisement as the penalty, and flogging in particular was threatened against such offenses until the eighteenth century. Lastly, the Inquisition applied flogging and flagellation as one of the lightest penalties in case of the voluntary recantation of heresy. In penitential discipline, corporal chastisement and particularly flagellation came to have a rapidly increasing importance after the beginning of tho tenth century. Corporal ohastisements in this connection are first mentioned (evidently as something newly in vogue) in the collection of canons of Regino of Prüm (c. 960); they appear as a substitute for public penance, audi at first were doubtless always executed by some outside hand, mostly by the priest. The sermons of the well-known crusade-preacher Fulco of Neuilly (q.v.) so intensified ascetic zeal in Paris about 1196 that great throngs of tho penitent submitted their bared bodies to Fulco's chastising.

2. Self- Scourging or Flagellation.

The beginnings of ascetic self-scourging, or flagellation proper, are still obscure. It is supposed to have originated about 1000 among certain Italian hermits, whose glowing penitential fervor became heightened into visionary and ecstatic enthusiasm, and started a religious movement which spread throughout all Italy. Tho hermit Marinus, who lived on an island of the Po, and his pupil Romuald (d. 1027),  as well as the latter's disciples on Monte Sitrio, mutually chastised one another with rods and lashes. Flagellation at their own hands was a customary practise, in the first half of the eleventh century, among tho monks of Fontavellana (near Faenza) in Umbria, a foundation of the miracle-working hermit and penitential preacher Dominic of Foligno (d. 1031); likewise among the hermits of Luceoli in Umbria, who styled themselves disciples of St. Romuald. In both places the monk Dominicus Loricatus (d. 1030) distinguished himself by his severe self-castigations, and they found an enthusiastic admirer and imitator in Peter Damian (q.v.), who entered the cloister of Fontavellana about 1035. To the far-reaching influence of Peter Damian, who also became prominent as the literary apologist of flagellation, its rapid extension then and afterward is preeminently due.

Tho monastic reform movement which emanated from Cluny with the more acute sense of sin awakened by Bernard of Gairvaux, and especially the ascetic enthusiasm propagated among the people by the mendicant orders and their preaching of Christ's Passion speedily made flagellation a most widely extended and impressive means of penance and expiation. Many of tho monastic orders and sisterhoods adopted the provision of systematic self-castigation, or flagellation, in their rules. No doubt, mainly through the influence of the two great mendicant orders, this ascetic practise was then further popularised in the ranks of the laity. With most of the stricter orders (among others tho Trappists, Carthusians, Priests of the Oratory, Fathers of Christian Doctrine, Discalced Carmelites, Capuchins, Redemptorists, Brothers of Charity), flagellation has continued in practise down to this day. It is exercised for the most part as a devotional act, usually once or several times in the week, according to a definitely prescribed ritual. Tho opposition to the practise incited by tho monastic reformer Jan Busch (q.v.) is an incident without parallel.

II. Flagellants.

1. The Flagellants of 1260. Venturinus of Bergamo, 1334.

The great flagellant pilgrimage of the year 1260 was tbo first of its kind. A significant prelude thereto was the powerful religious movement called forth in Italy in 1223 by the preaching of repentance and pardon by a number of mendicant monks, particularly the the Dominican Giovanni da Vicenza.

Deeper causes of both movements were the religious excitement and penitential disposition of the populace of Bergamo, consequent upon the phenomenal activity of St. Francis; the extreme tension of feeling because of the passionate conflicts between papacy and empire; and the general disorder and ruin induced by these factional contests. The situation, again, was aggravated in 1269 by the outbreak of a violent epidemic; and above all by the expectation that was widely propagated by the adherents to the teaching of Joachim of Fiore (q.v.) that in the year 1260 there would occur a general revolution of things, especially a purification and renovation of the Church. The direct occasion for the flagellant crusades of that year was furnished by the advent of the venerable hermit Raniero Fasani, who as early as 1258 is alleged to have founded the first flagellant fraternity in Perugia, proclaiming that an impending visitation of judgment had been revealed to him. In the autumn of 1260 the movement overflowed all of Central and Upper Italy, still in the same year crossed the Alps and spread itself over Upper Germany and the neighboring Slavic domains. In Germany, however, both spiritual and temporal powers, as they perceived in the movement elements hostile to ecclesiastical and civil order, very decidedly opposed it as early as 1261; and with the exception of Southern France, public flagellations and flagellant crusades north of the Alps in the period between 1261 and 1349 manifested themselves only in quite isolated instances. In Upper Italy, however, the penitential sermons of the Dominican Venturinus of Bergamo gave occasion, in 1334, to an extextensive new flagellant movement which came to a standstill in the very next year.

2. The Flagellants of 1348-49.

Tho great flagellant movement of the years 1348-1349 is very closely connected with tho apparition of the terrible pestilence known as the black death. Originating in the East, by 1347 the plague had found entrance into Dalmatia. Upper Italy, and Southern France, and from these three centers of contagion it spread toward Central Europe in 1348. Probably attempts to avert the threatening disaster by organizing flagellant processions were first made in Italy. From Upper July the movement tben took its course, as precursor of the plague, by way of Hungary into Germany, then into Holland, Bohemia, Poland, Denmark, and even England, and reached its climax in the summer of 1349. The populace was already highly stirred up by apocalyptic expectations, and the plague was regarded as the premonitory sign of the great revolution of all things. Flagellation seemed the fitting preparation for the coming kingdom of God, and a substitute for tho clergy, grown faithless to their charge. An apocalyphal letter of Christ, originating in a much earlier age, and purported to have fallen to the earth at Jerusalem, which with menace of frightful vindictive judgment called men to repentence, was everywhere read aloud by the wandering flagellants, and appears to have been one of the most effective instruments in their hands for extending their doctrine of penance by flagellation. In more than one instance the flagellants took a hostile stand against the clergy. They also were active in the persecutions of the Jews in 1348-49, though these, indeed, were already incited before the flagellants' appearance. Probably here also apocalyptic anticipations of a general convulsion were a contributing factor.

As in 1260, so again in 1348-49 the flagellants formed themselves into fraternities, which usually bound their members to a penitential season of thirty-three days and a half. At auch times they gnerally wandered far away from their homes in extended processions. Admission to the brotherhood had to be preceeded by an act of confession, reconciliation with enemies, and formal promise of unconditional obedience to the fraternity superior. All intercourse, even all conversation, with women was forbidden in most of the fraternities. The flagellants generally wore  white undergarments, with mantles and hats marked with red crosses; whence they were commonly known in Germany as Kreuzbrüder ("Brethren of the Cross"; Crucifratres, Cruciferi). Self-castigation was performed twice a day, preferably in public squares, amid the intonation of hymns and according to a definitely prescribed ceremonial. Their hymns especially attracted the attention of their contemporaries. Quite a number of those of the German flagellants are recorded in the chronicles of Hugo von Reutlingen and Fritsche Closener, as well as in the Limbuger Chronik (cf. P. Runge and H. Pfannenschrnied, Die Lieder under Melodien der Geissler des Johns 1349, Leipsic, 1900). There does not appear to have been a very close connection between the hymns of the Italian flagellaants and those of their German brethren; but the German flagellant hymns became the basis of the hymns of the Bohemian, Polish, and Walloon flagellants, Beside the pilgrim flagellants, there also arose penitential associations which bound their members to the act of self-castigation at the brotherhood's above. In the Netherlands there were penitential associations, organized according to parishes, which practised flagellation on Sunday and festivals, and attended to the burial of the dead (see Alexiants).

The effect of the movement of 1348-49 was powerful. Ini many towns for several weeks running, and almost daily, there would appear new companies of pilgrims to the number of several hundred persons. At last processionis of flagellant women and children appeared. For the Church, whose influence over the multitudes for the time being was completely paralyzed by the flagellation movement, it became a simple act of self-defense to oppose the movement with the sharpest weapons. On Oct. 20, 1349, Pope Clement VI. issued a bull, condemning the Flagellants and their cause in the severest terms and demanding their suppression; self-castigatioin was to be tolerated only within bounds of ecclestiastical regulation. The popular ferment subsided as suddenly as it had risen. By the early fifties of the same century, flagellation in Germany was nearly everywhwere suppressed, and such as remained loyal to the cause were driven back into privacy as proscribed sectaries.

3. The Albati or Bianchi of 1399.

In 1399, a new flagellation movement of wide extent broke out in the Romance countries in the appearance of the so-called "Whites" (Albati, Bianchi); from Provence the movement spread over France, Spain, and Italy. The impulse in this case was given by fictitious revelations of future divine judgments, and the alleged command of the Virgin Mother. The movement waa much enhanced by the avent of the well-known Spanish Dominican and popular saint, Vincent Ferrar (q.v.), who prophesied the immediate approach of the end of all things. Endless throngs of flagellants followed him in the wanderings through France, Spain. and Upper Italy in the years betweeu 1400 and 1417. These flagellant crusades filled the Council of Constance with no small anxiety; Jean Gerson, in 1417. presented to the Council a memorial in which he pronounced decidedly not only against the flagellant processions, but also against the self-castigation for the laity in general.

4. Flagellants in Thuringia about 1360. Konrad Schmid.

The procedure of the Church against the German flagellant brotherhoods in the period after 1349 had its equal in the fact that out of these associations there grew up a heretical flagellant sect, the combating of which occupied the Church till the end of the Middle Ages. This sent possessed an especially strong organization in Thuringia about 1360 through the apocalyptical Konrad Schmid. He calculated the date of the final judgment as the about 1369, and his numerous adherents Konrad undertook to prepare themselves for the event by penitential flagellation. It is probable that Schmid and his followers were also strongly influenced by the doctrines of the Waldenses, which were widely disseminated in Thuringia. The Thuringia flagellants are alleged to have rejected all sacraments and the entire ceremonial and hierarchical system of the Church; there was to arise instead a chiliastic kingdom, to whose government Schmid believed himself called. In 1369 many flagellants, among them Schmid himself, were burned at the stake. But his followers thenceforth identified him with Enoch and Elijah, and expected him shortly to hold the final judgment in place of Christ. From the close of the fourteenth century the Church repeatedly interposed with sanguinary severity against the Thuringian flagellants; but they furtively held their ground until the end of the fifteenth century.

5. Later Italian Brotherhoods

The Italian flagellant associations, after their first appearance in 1260, complied in all points with the rules of the Church, and experienced no small measure of Church favor. Flagellant associations were organized in nearly all the cities of Italy; in many cities, as for instance, in Gubbio, Perugia, and Fabriano, no fewer than three, in Padua six, existed side by side at the same time. The direction of a number of these brotherhoods, though not of all, was vested in the mendicant orders. A good many of them devoted themselves also to the care of the poor and the sick, and maintained hospitals. The Italian llagellants occupy an important position in the history of Italian literature as creator of the popular religious lyric and the spiritual drama. Even the early flagellants of 1260 had sung religious hymns in tbe popular speech (lauds), Subsequently the vernacular spiritual song was religiously cultivated in the flagellant brotherhoods, more and more crowding out the Latin hymns, and soon becoming the most richly developed literary form in the Italian language. At. an early period certain dramatic elements found their way into tlie spiritual popular song, the singers, for instance, turning with appeals and questions to Christ or Mary, and receiving answers from them. From this point it was but a slight step to complete dramatisation of the laude, and the creation of tbe popular religious play. The stage presentation of these dramatic laude, whose them, of course, purported to be first and foremost the history of the life and Passion of Christ, is to be rated henceforth among the principal services of the Italian flagellant brotherhoods. See Religious Dramas.

5. Later manifestations and Developments.

From the sixteenth century onward, the Society of Jesus wrought with impassioned seal toward the diffusion of self-castigation, especially in the Marianite sodalities under Jesuit direction. In close touch with the Jesuits were also the French penitential and flagellant brotherhoods of the sixteenth century, which had much influence in the political life of France under King Henry III (1574-89). In Germany, too, owing mainly influence of the Jesuits and Capuchins, the self-castigation of laymen was again widely espoused in the sixteenth century. The most notable German scholar of the Jesuit Order, Jacob Gretachcr (q.v.), compiled (1606-13) a comprehensive history history and vindication of self-castigstion, with a view to promoting its diffusion as widely as possible. Thanks again to the Jesuits' propaganda, flagellation celebrated brilliant triumphs, after the sixteenth century, in parts beyond Europe; especially in India, Persia, Japan, the Philippines, and particularly in the American provinces of Spain. Indeed even to the present day flagellation has stoutly asserted itself in South America, Mexico, and in the southwestern portion of tho United States; tlie brotherhoods (Hermanos penitentes) of New Mexico and Colorado recently numbered their members by thousands, and pushed their fanaticism to the point of crucifying their members, insomuch that Leo XIII. felt prompted to interpose against their processions. In South America, flagellation of laymen is still in many places a customary and regular practise, in specified churches, and according to ritual forms. In like manner the practise of nlf-castigation in public maintained itself to the nineteenth century and in some cases to quite recent date, in East India, the Asores and the Canary Islands, Italy, md the southern Tyrol. Flagellation of laymen u private at present is confined to somewhat narrow circles; thoroughgoing directions with regard to the most suitable kind of flagellation and the instruments to be applied are givien by C. Capelirmann in his Pastoralmendicin (12th ed., Aachen, 1898, p. 175). In the Greek Church flagellation has appeared only here and there in certain monastic circles. Some Russian sects, however, are said to practice it in their so-called services after a fashion reminding of the dervishes.

Herman Haupt

Bibliography:

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Source:

  • New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by Samuel Macauley Jackson, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan (1952). Vol. IV: "Draeseke - Goa", p. 323-326. - http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc04/Page_323.html

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