The Brethren of the Free Spirit - divine amorality.

A history of pantheism and scientific pantheism by Paul Harrison.

Rejoice with me, for I have become God. I am made eternal in my eternal blessedness.

In the early thirteenth century, a number of theologians at Paris were preaching a pantheistic Christianity. David of Dinant taught that God was identical with primary matter: "It is manifest that there is only one substance, not only of all bodies, but also of all souls, and that this substance is nothing else but God himself… It is clear, then, that God and Matter and Mind are one substance.'

Amalric of Bena (also known as Amaury de Bene) held that God was the formal principle of all things, and that every single person was as much God as was Christ.

The works of both men were condemned as heretical and burned. In 1215 Amalric's bones were exhumed and reburied in an unconsecrated field.

After Amalric's death in 1207 a group of fourteen clerics, which included Amalric's secretary, began to profess pantheistic beliefs. They held that `all things are One, because whatever is, is God.' They believed that, just as the time of the Patriarchs was the age of the Father, and the Christian era to date the age of the Son, so now a new age of the Holy Spirit was dawning, and they were its heralds. One of the ringleaders proclaimed that he was God, and therefore he could not be burned by fire or hurt by torture.

If everything is God, then everything is also good. It follows that there can be no such thing as sin. Hence the Amaurians indulged in (or at least they were accused of indulging in) sexual pleasures and crimes of all kinds. "They committed rapes and adulteries and other acts which gave pleasure to the body. And to the women with whom they sinned, and to the simple people whom they deceived, they promised that sins would not be punished."

The Amalricians were betrayed by one Master Ralph, who joined them and travelled with them for some months, but in reality was working as an agent for the Bishop of Paris. In 1210 the Amalricians were arrested and tried. Nine of them refused to recant. They were publicly disgraced, and burned at the stake.

Later followers of the Free Spirit took the same principles even further, saying that for all those who realized their identity with God, any action whatsoever was permitted, including theft, rape, incest and murder. As with Tantric Buddhism, the sex act was regarded as the delight of Paradise and the ascent to mystical ecstasy.

In the early fourteenth century the Beghards of Cologne enacted naked masses in which participants rejoiced that they had returned to the state of Adam and Eve before the fall. Denounced by the husband of one of the women, the leader, Walter of Cologne, and fifty of his followers were executed by burning and drowning.

The heresy of the Free Spirit spread widely in Champagne, Thüringen, Brussels, Cologne, Bavaria and other areas, disseminated by wandering weavers and mendicant religious travellers known as Beghards and Beguines. This was a time of population growth and rapid social change, and there were many other religious social movements such as Catharism, flagellants, and people's crusades. The followers of the Free Spirit were the hippies of the day.

The texts that follow are in the words of contemporaries, cited in Norman Cohn's classic The Pursuit of the Millennium, Secker and Warburg, London, 1957; and in Walter Wakefield and Austin Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages, Columbia University Press, New York, 1991.

Selected statements.

God is in every stone.

God is in every stone and in each limb of the human body as surely as in the eucharistic bread.

Every created thing is divine.

`They say they are God by nature, without distinction.'

The divine essence is my essence and my essence is the divine essence… . From eternity man was God in God… . .From eternity the soul of man was in God and is God.

One of the ringleaders `dared to affirm that, in so far as he was, he could neither by consumed by fire nor tormented by torture, for he said that, in so far as he was, he was God.'

They say they are God by nature, without any distinction… They believe that all divine perfections are in them, that they are eternal and are in eternity.

Rejoice with me, for I have become God.

The Spirit of Freedom or the Free Spirit is attained when one is wholly transformed into God. This union is so complete that neither the Virgin Mary nor the Angels are able to distinguish between man and God. In it one is restored to one's original state, before one flowed out of the Deity. One is illumined by that essential light, beside which all created light is darkness and obfuscation.

Rejoice with me, for I have become God… . I am made eternal in my eternal blessedness. [Schwester Katrei]

Paradise is within ourselves.

They denied the resurrection of bodies and said that there was no paradise or hell; one who possessed the knowledge of God … had paradise within himself, but one who was in mortal sin had hell within himself.
[Condemnation of the Amalricians]

They say that the Holy Spirit, incarnate in them, revealed all things to them, and this revelation was no other than the resurrection of the dead; whence they declare that they themselves are now risen from the dead.
[The errors of the Amalricians]

Nameless wildness and untrammelled freedom.

With most dangerous deceit they strive secretly to persuade people that sinners shall not be punished, saying that sin is nothing… . . But the supreme madness and the most impudent falsehood is that such men should not fear nor blush to say that they are God. Oh what boundless folly, what abominable presumption, that an adulterer, a male concubine, one weighed down with infamy, a vessel of iniquity, should be called God!"
[John the Teuton, Abbot of St Victor.]

What is your name?
Nameless wildness
Where does your insight lead to?
Into untrammelled freedom.
Tell me, what do you call untrammelled freedom?
When a man lives according to all his caprices without distinguishing between God and himself, and without looking before or after.
[Heinrich Suso of Cologne]

Nothing is sin.

If anyone was "in the Spirit", they said, even if he were to commit formication or to be fouled by any other filthiness, there would be no sin in him. [Condemnation of the Amalricians.] When a man has truly reached the great and high knowledge, he is no longer bound to observe any law or command, for he has become one with God. God created all things to serve such a person, and all that God ever created is the property of such a person… . He shall take from all creatures as much as his nature desires and craves, for all created things are his property… . A man whom all heaven serves, all people and all creatures are indeed obliged to serve and obey; and if any disobeys, it alone is guilty.
[A Beguine reciting her catechism.]

Nothing is sin except what is thought of as sin.

He who attributes to himself anything that he does, and does not attribute it all to God, is in ignorance, which is hell.

It would be better that the whole world should be destroyed and perish utterly than that a `free man' should refrain from one act to which his nature moves him… . The truly free man is king and lord of all creatures. All things belong to him, and he has the right to use whatever pleases him. If anyone tries to prevent him, the free man may kill him and take his goods. [Johann Hartmann]

Whatever the eye sees and covets, let the hand grasp it. [John of Brünn]


is the belief that the universe and nature are divine.
It fuses religion and science, and concern for humans with concern for nature.
It provides the most realistic concept of life after death,
and the most solid basis for environmental ethics.
It is a religion that requires no faith other than common sense,
no revelation other than open eyes and a mind open to evidence,
no guru other than your own self.
For an outline, see Basic principles of scientific pantheism. Top.

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Pantheist pages: index.
Basic principles of scientific pantheism.
The divine cosmos.
History of pantheism.

Suggestions, comments, criticisms to: Paul Harrison, e-mail: pan(at)(this domain)
© Paul Harrison 1996.