Secret Societies of All Ages - Charles Heckethorn

Book V—Heretics

"The heretic foxes have various faces, but they all hang together by their tails."
—Pope Geegoky IX.

I. Antiquity

168. Transition from Ancient to Modern Initiations.—An order of facts now claims our attention which in a certain manner signalises the transition from ancient to modern initiations. An extraordinary phenomenon in social conditions becomes apparent, so strikingly different from what we meet with in antiquity, as to present itself as a new starting-point. Hitherto we have seen the secret organising itself in the higher social classes, so as to deprive the multitude of truths, whose revelation could not have taken place without injury and danger to tbe hierarchy. At the base we find polytheism, superstition; at the summit, deism, rationalism, the most abstract philosophy.

169. Spirit of Ancient and Modern Secret Societies.—The secret societies of antiquity were theological, and theology frequently inculcated superstition; but in the deepest recesses of the sanctuary there was a place, where it would laugh at itself and the deluded people, and draw to itself the intelligences that rebelled against the servitude of fear, by initiating them into the only creed worthy of a free man. To that theology, therefore, otherwise very learned and not cruel, and which promoted art and science, much may be forgiven, attributing perhaps not to base calculation, but to sincere conviction and thoughtful prudence, the dissimulation with which it concealed the treasures of truth and knowledge, that formed its power, glory, and, in a certain manner, its privilege.

In modern times the high religious and political spheres have no secrets, for they have no privilege of knowledge, nor initiation which confer on those higher in knowledge the right to sit on the seat of the mighty, and no one, without being guilty of an anachronism and preparing for himself bitter disappointments, can seek the truth where there is but a delusive show of it. Whoever persists in making any fictitious height the object of his ambition, removes his eyes from the horizon which, lit up by the dawn, casts light around his feet, while his head is yet in darkness. Henceforth secret societies are popular and religious, not in the sense of the constituted and official church, but of a rebellious and sectarian church; and since at a period when the authority of the church is paramount, and religion circulates through all the veins of the state, no change can be effected without heresy so this must necessarily be the first aspect of political and intellectual revolt. This heresy makes use of the denial and rejection of official dogmas, in order to overthrow the hated clerocracy, and to open for itself a road to civil freedom.

170. The Circumcellians.—The Papacy was necessarily the first cradle of the new conspirators, who at an early date arose out of it. In the second century the Adamites became conspicuous. They asserted that by Christ's death they were as innocent as Adam before the Fall, and were accused of praying naked in their assemblies. We may incidentally mention that the sect was renewed in the fifteenth century by one Picard, a native of Flanders. But a more important sect which arose in the first century of Christianity was that of the Circumcellians, who were a branch of the Donatists the followers of Donatus, the schismatic Bishop of Carthage (a.d. 311), who at that early age already preached against the corruptions of the Romish Church. By the violent persecution they experienced, some of the Bishop's adherents were turned into fanatics, and bands of them roamed about the country (hence their name, compounded of circum cellos), preaching reformation and redressing grievances, setting free slaves, and remitting debts, without consulting the parties most interested, and occasionally committing greater crimes. Some of these fanatics, in a mistaken zeal for martyrdom, threw themselves down precipices, leaped into the fire, or cut their own throats. The sect existed some thirteen or fourteen years, when it was suppressed by the magistracy. A heretical sect, bearing the same name, existed also in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Germany, denying the authority of popes, bishops, and priests, and the legality of ecclesiastical interdicts.