A Submissive Movement: Fear or Devotion?
The flagellant movement consisted of groups of people who would partake in extreme measures to atone for their sins. It was known as the “Brotherhood of the Flagellants or Brethren of the Cross” (Ziegler. It was a movement that emerged greatly in the 13th and 14th centuries. These extreme measures included whipping, fasting and wearing hair shirts. These groups would move from town to town publically chanting, praying and beating themselves. The members were seen as people who had extreme faith and devotion to God and His Church. The exact cause of the flagellant uprising is unknown and will probably never be discovered; however, could the uprising have been caused by fear? The members of these groups used pain as a form of submission to God; a submission that believers thought was necessary because of the fear that God instilled in his followers. The pain was used as a way to atone for one’s sins in the same manner Jesus was persecuted.
The members of these groups were mainly men with no official political affiliation. Most flagellants in either of the two major waves, the first being in 1260 and the second occurring in 1348, were made up of mostly lay people, with some clerical members. This was a grass-root movement, one that while influenced by monastic practices, arose from the people themselves. It was purely voluntary. The flagellant movement became a lay spiritual expression, a movement motivated and driven by the laity, with minimal direction from the Church. Additionally, all accounts of the flagellant movement seem to point to an uprising of people in the same area because of the people’s need for it. The members were idealized for their devotion and since the movement was voluntary people truly wanted to participate; however, what made them join?
There is evidence that supports the opinion that the Flagellant movement emerged after natural disasters. In the years leading up to the first wave of the flagellant movement were a time of various natural disasters. In 1258, there was a famine that spread over central Italy, and the following year there was a severe outbreak of the plague, and interspersed with periods of warfare between various city-states (Kroll and Bachrach, p. 36). The natural disasters spread fear throughout the land. This fear was caused by the belief that God was responsible for the natural disasters and plague that cursed the area. The catholic belief at that time was that God created the world and was still heavily influenced by Him (Byrne p. 86). With his belief then it is easy to say that the disasters at the time were believed to be brought upon the population by God. The reason why God caused these disasters was also believed to be because his followers’ sins were far too many and thus he needed to purge the population of sinners (Article p. 273). The numerous amount of death that occurred during the Black Death made people think that the disease was not inconsistent...