Thomas Aquinas: Treatment of Heretics

Church History
The Treatment of Heretics, 1229-1235

Selection A from Conciliengeschichte, trans. by Brother Conrad Zimmermann, O.S.B. (Freiburg im Breisgau: B. Herder, 1886), V, 980-986; selection B from Original Sources of European History, edited by Edward P. Cheyney (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1902), III, 14-15; 17-18; selection C from Summa Theologica, trans. by Fathers of English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Brothers, Inc., 1947), II, 1226-1227.


1. BISHOPS must bind under oath when necessary in each parish, within and outside a city, a priest and two or more lay people of good reputation to diligently, faithfully, and often search out heretics in their parishes, individual suspicious houses, subterranean rooms and additions to houses, and other hiding places. If they discover a heretic, follower, patron, or protector of heretics, they must, taking precaution that they do not escape, quickly notify the bishop and mayor of the place or his bailiff so they will be duly punished (command of the episcopal inquisition according to the practice of the synods of Verona, Bourges, Narbonne, and the twelfth general synod).

2. Exempt abbots, who are not subject to episcopal jurisdiction, must act in the same way as the bishops.

3. The governors of the respective districts should order diligent search of country residences, houses, and forests for heretics and destroy their hiding places.

4. Whoever, allowing a heretic to stay on his property either for money or any other cause, if he confesses or is convicted, loses his property forever and his body is handed over to the civil authority for punishment.

5. He also is subject to legal punishment whose property, although without his knowledge but by negligence, has become an abode of heretics.

1. The house where a heretic is found must be torn down and the property must be confiscated.

2. The bailiff who lives in a suspicious place and is not diligent in searching for heretics loses his office and is not permitted to be employed either there or in any other place.

3. In order to prevent an innocent person from being punished or slanderously accused of heresy we command that no one shall be punished as a heretic or follower of heresy before he is so declared by a bishop or other clerical persons.

4. All are permitted to search for heretics in others' territories, and the bailiffs must help them. The king can, accordingly, search for heretics in the territory of the count of Toulouse, and the count of Toulouse in the king's land.

5. If one who is tainted with heresy voluntarily gives up the heresy he is not allowed to remain in the house where he formerly lived in case the house was under suspicion of heresy. He must be moved into a Catholic house which is free from suspicion. Besides, he must wear two crosses on his coat; the one on the right and the other on the left, and of a different color from his coat. Such persons cannot hold public office or be admitted to legal actions unless they are fully re-instated after due penance by the pope or his legate.

11. Whoever has involuntarily returned to the Church, through fear of death or for any other reason, must be imprisoned by the bishop so he can perform his penance or not be able to seduce others. Whoever retains his property must, by order of the prelate, provide for his own necessities. If he possesses nothing, then the prelate must provide for him.

12. All members of a parish shall vow to the bishop under oath that they will preserve the Catholic faith and will persecute heretics according to their power. This oath must be renewed every two years.

13. Males and females who have attained the use of reason must confess their sins to a priest three times a year, or with their priest's permission to another priest. They must perform the imposed penances humbly and according to their strength and receive the holy sacrament of the Eucharist three times a year. Whoever does not do this is under suspicion of being a heretic.

14. Lay people are not permitted to possess the books of the Old and New Testament, only the Psalter, Breviary, or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, and these books not in the vernacular language.

15. Whoever is accused of heresy or is only suspected of heresy is not permitted to practice his profession as a doctor. When a sick person has received Holy Communion from his priest he must be careful that no heretic or one suspected of heresy visit him, for terrible things have already happened through such visits. . . .

17. No prelate, baron or other superiors shall entrust the office of bailiff or steward to any heretic or follower of heresy, nor keep in his service one who has been condemned or suspected of heresy.

18. He is accused of heresy or is suspected of heresy who has been legally proved by good and honorable people before a bishop of having a bad reputation. .. .

42. Women who own castles or fortresses are not permitted to marry enemies of the faith and the peace. ...

44. Whoever is too poor to employ a lawyer has to be provided with one if necessary by the curia.

45. Pastors must explain these regulations to their parishioners four times a year.