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17 Heresy as Impurity

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Chapter Summary

Although the theological disputes and conflicts of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages reveal a high degree of reflection and argumentative force, at a second glance, their core conception of heresy and heretics was also always connected to archaic models of purity and impurity, as they were described by Mary Douglas. Since the connection between heresy and impurity had already been underlined at an early stage by reports about sexual perversions, unusual sexual behaviour could be considered intrinsically heretical. Heretics were therefore considered to be intrinsically unworthy to receive the Eucharist (or to distribute it), because they were considered to be in a permanent state of sin. Although their grave offenses were in fact their sinful choices and their sinful actions, as already underlined by the semantic pejoration of the word hairesis, the presumption also arose that heretics were physically impure.



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