Robert E. Lerner
Since its original publication in 1972, The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages has been widely recognized as the standard work on the subject in any language.
The heresy of the Free Spirit is often considered to have been the most important continental European heresy of the fourteenth century. Many historians have described its membership as a league of anarchistic deviants who fomented sexual license and subversion of authority. Free Spirits are supposed to have justified nihilism and megalomania and to have been remote precursors of Bakunin and Nietzsche and twentieth-century bohemians and hippies. This volume examines the Free-Spirit movement as it appeared in its own age, and concludes that it was not a tightly-organized sect but rather a spectrum of belief that emphasized voluntary poverty and quietistic mysticism. Overall, the movement was far more typical of the late-medieval search for God and godliness than is commonly supposed.
“This is a most important book, both for the completeness of its survey of the available primary sources and for the innovative and persuasive interpretations Robert Lerner brings to his work.” — Speculum
“This is a good book, witty, lucid, and convincing.” — History
“The clarity, honesty, and directness of the author’s style is admirable. From the book emerges the most enlightening and credible picture we as yet have of the ‘free spirits’ of the late Middle Ages.” — Review for Religious