The competition for souls: Sava of Serbia and consumer choice in religion in the thirteenth century Balkans

Roach, A.P. (2006) The competition for souls: Sava of Serbia and consumer choice in religion in the thirteenth century Balkans. Glasnik, 50(1),




SUMMARY The word αίρεσις , heresy means choice and in a world where religious belief was taken for granted the history of Catharism in Europe can be explained through believers exercising many of the criteria they were later to adapt to choosing secular consumer goods. Believers in the west in the C12 and early C13 had a choice of religions. Catharism became popular in France and Italy on the basis of the virtuous lifestyle of its protagonists, its relative cheapness compared with Catholicism and the simplicity of its theology of individual salvation. Its decline was as much to do with Catholicism being ‘re-packaged’ by groups such as the Franciscans, lay guilds and the Beguines as by any persecution. A similar analysis of heresy in eastern Europe would be valuable, despite the relative scarcity of sources. There is some evidence that opposition to the Bogomils focused on the capacity of the Orthodox Church to bring material well being to believers and to provide contact with a world of affluence the lay individual could mostly only dream of. Hugh Eteriano’s Contra Patarenos gives numerous examples of earthly prosperity springing from making the right spiritual choices and both he and later writers against the Bogomils such as Patriarch Germanus II emphasised the physical value and beauty of objects used in Orthodox worship, as opposed to the austerity of Bogomil sermons delivered in private houses. Outside Constantinople the Orthodox Church of the thirteenth century faced the threat of heresy from both Catholic and Bogomil missionaries without the resources available within the capital, and unable to deploy coercion as in the West. Archbishop Sava of Serbia therefore used a variety of methods to maintain the allegiance of the population to Orthodoxy. At the assembly at Žiča in 1221 he outlined gentle courses of repentance for both groups and used his links with his brother, king Stephen Prvovenčani to promise gifts to returning noble heretics. Sava also emphasised the Orthodox Church’s capacity to enrich the life of the laity, sending out ‘exarchs’ or trained priests to preach in Slavonic and encourage the sacrament of marriage, thus targeting families and future mothers. On an inevitably limited scale Sava was also able to stress the sensuous experience of Orthodox worship. His programme of church building included vivid programmes of wall painting to impress the laity. These occasionally conveyed a materialist message, such as the picture of Christ distributing bread from a basket labelled ‘Provider’. In short, Sava combined the responses to heresy of east and west. He deployed the appeal to sensuous experience and material well being of Orthodoxy he had seen in Constantinople and Nicaea, but also emphasised lifestyle, vernacular preaching and facilitating lay access to the sacraments which had been articulated in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council. Insofar as neither Bogomilism or Catholicism regained their potency as threats in the region the strategy seems to have been successful.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Roach, Dr Andrew
Authors: Roach, A.P.
Subjects:D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
D History General and Old World > DR Balkan Peninsula
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Journal Name:Glasnik
Publisher:Institut za Nacionalna Istorija Skopje
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2006 Institut za Nacionalna Istorija Skopje
First Published:First published in Glasnik 50(1)
Publisher Policy:Reproduced with permission of the editor.

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
450711Exploring networks - historical evidence for social networks compared with the operation of network theoriesAndrew RoachArts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)AH/E007139/1HU - HISTORY