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Peter of Bruys (also known as Pierre De Bruys or Peter de Bruis; fl. 1117 – c.1131) was a Frenchmarker heresiarch who taught doctrines that were in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church's beliefs. An angry mob killed him in or around the year 1131. Information concerning Peter of Bruys is derived from two extant sources, the treatise of Peter the Venerable against his followers and from a passage written by Peter Abelard.

Life and teachings

Sources suggest that Peter was born at Bruismarker in southeastern Francemarker. The history of his early life is unknown, but it is certain that he was a Roman Catholic priest who had been deprived of his office by the Church hierarchy for teaching unorthodox doctrine. He began his preaching in Dauphiné and Provence probably between 1117 and 1120. The local bishops, who oversaw the dioceses of Embrunmarker, Die, and Gapmarker, suppressed his teachings within their jurisdictions. In spite of the official repression, Peter's teachings gained adherents at Narbonnemarker, Toulousemarker, and in Gasconymarker.

Peter of Bruys admitted the doctrinal authority of the Gospels in their literal interpretation; the other New Testament writings he seems to have considered valueless, as he doubted their apostolic origin. To the New Testament epistles he assigned only a subordinate place as not coming from Jesus Christ, but rather being the work of men.

He rejected the Old Testament as well as the authority of the Church Fathers and that of the Roman Catholic Church itself. His contempt for the Roman Catholic Church extended to the clergy and physical violence was preached and practiced against priests and monks by his followers, known as Petrobrusians. Petrobrusians also opposed clerical celibacy.

Treatise of Peter the Venerable

Peter the Venerable, also known as Peter of Montboissier, was an abbot who became a popular figure in the church, an internationally known scholar, and an associate of many national and religious leaders of his day. He was also an important religious writer and, in the preface to his treatise that attacked Peter of Bruys, he summed up the five teachings he saw as the errors of the Petrobrusians.

The first error was their denial “that children, before the age of understanding, can be saved by the baptism...According to the Petrobrusians not another’s, but one’s own faith, together with baptism, saves, as the Lord says, ‘He who will believe and be baptised shall be saved, but he who will not believe shall be condemned.’” This ran counter to the Church's teaching, where baptism of infants and children played an essential role in salvation. This belief dated back to the teachings and practices of first-century Christians. This was based on the words in the Gospel according to John : "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God."

The second error charged was that the Petrobrusians said, “Edifices for temples and churches should not be erected...The Petrobrusians are quoted as saying, 'It is superfluous to build temples, since the church of God does not consist in a multitude of stones joined together, but in the unity of the believers assembled.'” Orthodox thinkers felt cathedrals and churches were created to glorify God. It was seen as appropriate that those buildings should be as grand and as beautiful as wealth and skill could make them.

The third error enumerated by Peter the Venerable was that the Petrobrusians “command the sacred crosses to be broken in pieces and burned, because that form or instrument by which Christ was so dreadfully tortured, so cruelly slain, is not worthy of any adoration, or veneration or supplication, but for the avenging of his torments and death it should be treated with unseemly dishonour, cut in pieces with swords, burnt in fire.” This was seen as an extreme position. The cross symbol had been associated with Christianity since its early years, indicated by the anti-Christian arguments cited in the Octavius of Minucius Felix written at the end of the second century or beginning of the third.

The fourth error, according to Peter the Venerable, was that the Petrobrusians denied sacramental grace, including the doctrine of transubstantiation. Peter of Bruys taught that Christ had never been born in the flesh and had never truly suffered and died, therefore, the Eucharist was without meaning. “They deny, not only the truth of the body and blood of the Lord, daily and constantly offered in the church through the sacrament, but declare that it is nothing at all, and ought not to be offered to God. They say, 'Oh, people, do not believe the bishops, priests, or clergy who seduce you; who, as in many things, so in the office of the altar, deceive you when they falsely profess to make the body of Christ, and give it to you for the salvation of your souls.'" The belief in transubstantiation, a term used to describe the change from bread and wine to body and blood of Christ, was first used by Hildebert de Lavardin in about 1079. The idea was very quickly becoming accepted as orthodox doctrine at the time of the attacks by Peter of Bruys. In less than two centuries, in 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council used the word "transubstantiated" when speaking of the change that takes place in the Eucharist.

The fifth error was that “they deride sacrifices, prayers, alms, and other good works by the faithful living for the faithful dead, and say that these things cannot aid any of the dead even in the least...The good deeds of the living cannot profit the dead, because translated from this life their merits cannot be increased or diminished, for beyond this life there is no longer place for merits, only for retribution. Nor can a dead man hope from anybody that which while alive in the world he did not obtain. Therefore those things are vain that are done by the living for the dead, because since they are mortal they passed by death over the way for all flesh to the state of the future world, and took with them all their merit, to which nothing can be added.”

Death and legacy

As Peter the Venerable recorded, crosses were singled out for special iconoclasm. Peter of Bruys felt that crosses should not deserve veneration. Crosses became for the Petrobrusians objects of desecration and were destroyed in bonfires. In or around the year 1131, Peter was publicly burning crosses in St Gillesmarker near Nîmesmarker. The local populace, angered by Peter's destruction of the crosses, cast him into the flames of his own bonfire.

Bernard of Clairvaux preached for a return to Roman orthodoxy.
Henry of Lausanne, a former Cluniacmarker monk, adopted the Petrobrusian's teachings about 1135 and spread them in a modified form after Peter's death. The teachings of Peter of Bruys continued to be frequently condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, meriting mention at the Second Lateran Council in 1139.

Henry of Lausanne's followers became known as Henricians. Both the Henrician and the Petrobrusian sects began to die out in 1145, the year St Bernard of Clairvaux began preaching for a return to Roman orthodoxy in southern France. Soon afterwards Henry of Lausanne was arrested, brought before the bishop of Toulouse, and probably imprisoned for life. In a letter to the people of Toulouse, undoubtedly written at the end of 1146, Bernard calls upon them to extirpate the last remnants of the heresy. As late as 1151, however, some Henricians still remained active in Languedoc. In that year, the Benedictine monk and English chronicler Matthew Paris related that a young girl who claimed to be miraculously inspired by the Virgin Mary was reputed to have converted a great number of the disciples of Henry of Lausanne. The sects both disappear from the historical record after this reference.

There is no evidence that Peter Waldo or any other later religious figures were directly influenced by Peter of Bruys. His radical views on the Old Testament and the New Testament epistles disqualify him from even being a spiritual forerunner of later Protestant figures such as Martin Luther or John Smyth. In spite of this, Peter of Bruys is considered a prophet of the Reformation by some evangelical Protestants.


  1. can. 849, CIC 1983
  2. Swaan, Wim. Art and Architecture of the Late Middle Ages, Omega Books, ISBN 0-907853-35-8
  3. Minucius Felix speaks of the cross of Jesus in its familiar form, likening it to objects with a crossbeam or to a man with arms outstretched in prayer ( Octavius of Minucius Felix, chapter XXIX).
  4. Sermones xciii; PL CLXXI, 776
  5. Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 874-876

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