Frederick II’s Laws Against Heretics – 1238/1239 AD

In 1238 and 1239, Frederick II issued three severe laws against people labeled as heretics by the Roman Church from the city of Padua (which is in northern Italy). The dates are listed as May 14 and June 26, 1238 and Feb. 22, 1239. Among the groups condemned are the Circumcised and Passagini, which were Christian groups known to keep the Sabbath and other commandments of God. We have English translations of these laws below:

First: “Frederick, by the Grace of God, Emperor of the Romans, and always Augustus, King of Jerusalem and Sicily, to his beloved Princes, the venerable Archbishops, Bishops, and other Prelates of the Church; to the Dukes, Marquisses, Earls, Barons,

Governors, Scultets, Burgraves, Advocates, Judges, Ministers, Officials, and all other his faithful subject, throughout the whole Empire, to whom these letters shall come, Greeting and all Happiness.

The Care of the Imperial Government, committed to us from Heaven, and over which we preside, by the Gift of God, and the Height of our Dignity, demand the material Sword, which is given to us separately from the Priesthood, against the Enemies of the Faith, and for the Extirpation of heretical Pravity, that we should pursue, with Judgment and Justice, those Vipers and perfidious Children, who insult the Lord and his Church, as though they would tare out the very Bowels of their Mother. We shall not suffer these Wretches to live, who infect the World by their seducing Doctrines, and being themselves corrupted, more grievously taint the Flock of the Faithful.

We therefore appoint and ordain, that Hereticks, of whatsoever Name, throughout our Empire, being condemned by the Church, and delivered over to the Secular Power, shall be punished according to their Deserts. If any of them, after their being apprehended, shall return to the Unity of the Faith, through the Fear of Death, let them suffer perpetual imprisonment, and do Penance according to the Canons. Farther, whatsoever Hereticks shall be found in the Cities, Towns, or other Places of the Empire, by the Inquisitors appointed by the Apostolick See, or other orthodox Persons zealous for the Faith ; let those who have Jurisdiction there, seize their Persons, at the Inflame of the Inquisitors and other Catholicks, and keep them in Strict Custody, till being condemned by the Censure of the Church, they perish by an accursed Death, for their denying the Sacraments of Faith, and Life.

We condemn also to the same Punishment, all whom the Craft of the deceitful Enemy shall employ as Advocates, unlawfully to defend the Error of these Hereticks, especially since those who are defiled with such Wickedness, are equal in Guilt ; unless they desist upon proper Admonition, and wisely consult the Preservation of their Lives. We subject also to the same just Punishment, those, who being convicted of Heresy in any one Place, fly to another, that they may more safely pour out the Poison of their heretical depravity -, unless in this Instance, they have a Testimony in their Favour from those who have been converted to the Faith from the same Error, or from those who have convinced them of their Heresy, which in this case we allow may lawfully be done.

We condemn also to Death, all such Hereticks, who being brought to Trial, shall abjure their Heresy when in extreme Danger of Life, if afterwards convicted of having dissembled and taken a false Oath, and of having willingly relapsed into the same Error, that thereby their vile Dissimulation may be more definitive to themselves, and their Falsehood meet with its deserved Punishment. We farther deprive Hereticks, their Receivers and Favourers, of all Benefit of Proclamation and Appeal -, being willing that every Seed of this heretical Stain should, by all Means, be extirpated out of our Empire, in which the true Faith ought ever to be preserved.

Moreover, as we have received greater Favours from the Divine Mercy, and are exalted to an higher Dignity than the Children of Men, we ought to pay the more solemn Services of Gratitude. If then we manifest our Displeasure against those who contemn us, and condemn Traitors in their Persons, and by stripping their Children of their Inheritance, how justly shall we be more incensed against those who blaspheme the Name of God, and revile the Catholick Faith, and deprive, by our Imperial Authority, all Hereticks, their Receivers, Abettors and Advocates, and their Heirs and Posterity, even to the second Generation, of their temporal Estates, publick Offices and Honours, that they may continually mourn at the Remembrance of their Fathers Crimes, and certainly know that God is a jealous God, punishing the Iniquities of the Fathers upon their Children. Not that we would exclude from our Mercy those, who keeping themselves free from the Heresy of their Fathers, shall discover their secret Perfidiousness : For whatever Punishment their Guilt may receive, we would not subject their innocent Children to it. We hereby also declare our Pleasure, that we appoint the Friars Predicant of the Order of Predicants, to take Care of the Faith against Hereticks, in all Parts of our Empire. We also take under our special Imperial Protection, all others whatsoever, that shall come to judge Hereticks, and grant them Leave to go, flay or return, except those who are under the Ban of the Empire ; and Will that none shall injure them ; but that they shall have the Assistance and Recommendation of all the Faithful in the Empire. We farther command all, and singular of you, that wheresoever, and to whomsoever of you

they shall come, ye receive them kindly, and keep their Persons safe from all the Attempts of Hereticks, who may lay in wait for them, and grant them your Advice, safe Conduct and Assistance in the Execution of Affairs, so acceptable before God. And as to all Hereticks they shall discover to you in their Jurisdiction, let them be apprehended, and kept in safe Custody, till being ecclesiastically condemned, they shall Suffer the deserved Punishment ; as knowing that info doing, their Obedience will be pleasing to God, and acceptable to us, viz. in assisting, with their utmost Endeavours, the said Friars to root out of all the Parts of our Empire, this new unheard of, and infamous heretical Pravity. And if any one shall be negligent and remiss in this Matter, let him know that he shall be unprofitable before God, and justly incur our highest Displeasure” (English: Limborch (1731), vol. 1, chapter 12, pp 72-74, Latin: MGH, Legum, 2:326-327).

Second: “Frederick, by the Grace of God, &c. The Hereticks are endeavouring to rent the seamless Coat of our God, and raging with deceitful Words, which declare their schismatical Intention, strive to divide the Unity of the indivisible Faith it self, and to separate the Sheep from the Care of Peter, to whom they were committed, by the good Shepherd, to be fed. These are the ravenous Wolves within*, who put on the Meekness of the Sheep, that they may the better enter into the Lord’s Sheepfold. These are the worst Angels : These are Sons of Naughtiness, of the Father of Wickedness, and Author of Deceit, appointed to deceive simple Souls : These are Adders who deceive the Doves : These are Serpents, which crawl in privately and under the Sweetness of Honey, vomit out Poison : So that whilst they pretend to administer the Food of Life, they fling with their Tail, and mingle the most bitter Poison into the Cup of Death. These Sects are not now known by their ancient Names either that they may conceal themselves, or what is yet more execrable, not content to be called by a Name from amongst themselves, as the Arians were from Arius, and the Nestorians from Nestorius ; they call themselves Patarenes, after the Example of the Martyrs, who suffered Martyrdom for the Catholick Faiths as though they themselves were exposed to Sufferings. These miserable Patarenes, who do not believe the eternal Trinity, by their complicated Wickedness offend against Three, viz. God, their Neighbours and Themselves.

Against God, because they do not acknowledge the Son and the true Faith, They deceive their Neighbours, whilst under the Pretence of Spiritual Food, they minister the Delights of heretical Pravity. But their Cruelty to them/elves is yet more Savage ; since, besides the Loss of their immortal Souls, they expose their Bodies to a cruel Death -, being prodigal of their Lives, and fearless of Destruction, which by acknowledging the true Faith they might escape, and which is horrible to express, their Survivors are not terrified by their Example. Against such Enemies to God and Man we cannot contain our Indignation, nor refuse to punish them with the Sword of just Vengeance ; but shall pursue them with so much the greater Vigour, as they appear to spread wider the Crimes of their Superstition, to the more evident Injury of the Christian Faith, and of the Church of Rome, which is adjudged to be the Head of all other Churches ; insomuch that they have propagated their Falsehood from the Borders of Italy, and the Parts of Lombardy, where we are certainly informed their Wickedness doth more especially abound, even to our Kingdom of Sicily. This being most highly offensive to us, we ordain in the first Place, that the Crime of Heresy, and of every condemned Sect, whatever be the Name of it. shall be reckoned amongst the publick Crimes, as the ancient Laws declare.

Yea, let such know that they shall be deemed guilty of High Treason it self For as the Crime of Rebellion reaches to the Loss of the Life and Goods of the Persons condemned, and after they are dead, makes their Memory infamous ; let the fame be observed as to the aforesaid Crime, of which the Patarenes are guilty. And that the Wickedness of those who walk in Darkness, because they are not Followers of God, may be discovered, we Will, that if there be none to accuse them, strict Enquiry be made by our Officials after such who commit these Crimes, as well as after other Malefactors -, and that all who are informed against, if there be but the least Suspicion, be examined by the Ecclesiasticks and Prelates : And if they (hall find them to err in any one Point from the Catholick Faith, we, by this our present Edict, condemn the Patarenes, and all other Hereticks, of every Kind and Name, to suffer Death, committing them to the Punishment of the Flames that they may be buried alive in publick View ; if after being pastorally admonished to forsake the dark Snares of the Devil, they will not acknowledge the God of Light. Nor are we displeased that herein we gratify them, since we are assured they can reap no other Fruit of their Error but Punishment only. For such, let no one

dare to intercede with us ; if any shall presume to do it, let him know he shall justly incur our Indignation” (English: Limborch (1731), vol. 1, chapter 12, pp 74-75, MGH, Leges, 2:327-328).

Third: “Emperor Frederick, always increaser of the empire. We condemn the Receivers, Accomplices, and Abettors of the Patarenes, to Forfeiture of their Goods and perpetual Banishment ; who by their Care to save others from Punishment, have no Fear or Regard for themselves. Let not their Children, be in any wise admitted to Honours, but always accounted infamous ; nor let them be allowed as Witnesses in any Cases, in which infamous Persons are refused. But if the Children of those who favour the Patarenes shall discover any one of them, so that he shall be convicted, let them, as the Reward of their Acknowledgment of the Faith, be entirely restored by our imperial Favour, to their forfeited Honour and Estate. (this section is the same as Frederick’s second law against heresy in the Constitutions of Melfi). We begin with the chapters constitutional against Paterenes issued by lord Frederick illustrious man Roman Emperor, always increaser of the Empire, King of Jerusalem and Sicily.

We do condemn to perpetual infamy, withdraw our Protection from, and put under our Ban, the Cathari, Paterines, Leonists, Speronists, Arnoldists, Circumcised, Passagines, Josephines, Garatenses, Albanenses, Francisci, Begardi, Commissi, Waldenses, Romanuli, Communelli, Varini, Ortuleni, those of the black water, and all other heretics of both sexes, by whatsoever Names they are called; and ordain that their Goods shall be confiscated insuch Manner, that their Children may never inherit them, since ‘tis much more heinous to offend the eternal, than the temporal Majesty.

But if any come under a bare Suspicion, unless by a proper Purgation they shall demonstrate their Innocence, at the Command of the Church, according to the Degree of their Suspicion, and the Quality of their Person, let them be accounted infamous by all, and as under our Ban: And if they remain such by the Space of one Tear, we condemn them as Hereticks. We ordain also, by this our perpetual Edict, that our Officers and Consuls, or Rectors, whatever be their Offices, shall take a publick Oath for the Defence of the Faith; and that they will, bona fide, study to their utmost, to exterminate from all the Lands subject to their Jurisdiction, all Hereticks specified by the Church, so that who so ever shall at any Time henceforward be admitted into any Office, cither perpetual or temporary, he shall be obliged to confirm this Edict by an Oath ; otherwise let them not be owned as our Officers or Consuls, or any Thing like it. We pronounce all their Sentences null and void. But if any temporal Lord, having been cited and admonished by the Church, shall have neglected to purge his Dominions from heretical Pravity, after a Tear elapsed from the Time of his Admonition, let his Country be seized by the Catholicks, .and let them possess it without Opposition, and preserve it in the Purity of the Faith, by the Extirpation of Hereticks saving the Right of the principal Lord, provided that he gives no Impediment or Obstruction. But let those who have no principal Lord be subject to the same Law, Furthermore, we put under our Ban, those who believe, receive, defend, and favour Hereticks; ordaining that if any such Person shall refuse to give Satisfaction within a Year after his Excommunication, he shall be, ipso jure, infamous, and not admitted to any Kind of publick Offices, or the like, nor to choose any Persons to them, nor to be a Witness. Let him also be intestable, and let him not have the Power of making a Will, nor of receiving any Thing by Succession or Inheritance.

Furthermore, let no one answer for him in any Affair, but let him be obliged to answer others. If he should be a Judge, let his Sentence be of no Effect, nor any Causes be heard before him. If an Advocate, let him never be admitted to plead in any ones Defence. If a Notary, let no Instruments made by him be valid. Moreover we add, that an Heretick may be convicted by an Heretick; and that the Houses of the Patarenes, their Abettors and Favourers, either where they have taught, or where they have laid Hands on others, shall be destroyed, never to be rebuilt” (English: Limborch (1731), vol. 1, chapter 12, pp 75-77; Latin: MGH, Legum, 2:328-329; I translated some parts of it that were not listed in Limborch).

The content presented in these constitutions reflected previous papal letters and bulls. Frederick added more force to them and enshrined these ideals as law. This put the full force of the Medieval Roman Empire behind the ongoing battle with heresy. While these laws were draconian, they were usually not enforced by Frederick. This echoed the actions of a previous Roman Emperor, Theodosius I. Later rulers and popes most certainly used them in

a fuller measure.

In Frederick’s third law, several non-conformist groups are mentioned. Among them were the Circumcised and Passagini. As discussed in the last chapter, these were likely different names for the same group just like terms Leonists, Waldenses, and Poor of Lyon each refer to the same group. For this reason, some have suggested that the name of the group could be better worded as “Circumcised Passagines.”

God bless!
Kelly McDonald, Jr
BSA President –


Limborch, Philip A. The History of the Inquisition. Translated into English by Samuel Chandler. London, 1731. Vol. 1: 72-77. Vol. 2: 44-45, 291.

Limborch, Philip A. The History of the Inquisition. Translated into English by Samuel Chandler. Abridged Version. London, 1816. pp 119, 199-201, 201-202, 216-217, 259, 308-309, 462.

Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH). Georgius Heinricus Pertz. Legum, Vol. 2. Hannover, 1837. pp 326-329.