Peter De Bruys

d. c.1131. Heretical preacher. Beginning in the insignificant French village of Bruys, he preached against the church of the day. During twenty years he gained a considerable influence in S France, and toward the end of his life he joined forces with Henry of Lausanne.* His teaching is known largely from the hostile abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable,* who points to five heretical doctrines. Peter taught that infant baptism was not valid, as only personal faith could bring salvation; that churches are unnecessary, as God hears according to the worthiness of the individual and not of the place; that the cross should not be an object of veneration but rather of execration, as it pointed to Christ's torture; that there is not a Real Presence in the Sacrament; and that sacrifices, prayers, and good works on behalf of the dead have no effect. Underlying this teaching is the belief that the Christian should be prepared to interpret the gospels even against the church (other Scripture he evidently regarded as inferior to the gospels), and a remarkable emphasis upon personal faith as the sole means of salvation.

His following was part of the widespread evangelical ferment of the period, but the iconoclasm of his followers and his own burning of crosses enraged the conservative devotions of the mob, and he was burnt at St. Gilles. Attempts to identify him with the Cathari* fail to do justice to his distinctive teaching which relates faith to salvation more clearly than almost anybody before Luther. His followers were known as “Petrobusians.”

See J.C. Reagan, “Did the Petrobusians Teach Salvation by Faith Alone?” in Journal of Religion VII (1927), pp.81ff.; and W.L. Wakefield and A.P. Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (1969), pp.118ff.