Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit
BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF THE FREE SPIRIT
A name given in the 13th century to certain followers of idealistic pantheism. This ancient inheritance had received a rejuvenating impetus from the works of the Neoplatonist proclus and of john scotus erigena, and found adherents in practically every Christian country throughout the Middle Ages. The name in the above title was widely used by pantheistic groups in Central Europe between the 12th and 15th centuries. In Italy, too, the name was known, as is evident from the early 14th-century investigation conducted by ubertino of casale in Tuscany, Spoleto, and Ancona. The link sometimes indicated between the "brethren" and the followers of amalric of bÈne and Ortlieb of Strasbourg (see ortli barii) is doubtful. However, they shared in common the central idea of the "Free Spirit," i.e., a licentious intellect, incapable of any wrong, and bearing the spark of an all-pervading divinity. albert the great, while serving as bishop of Regensburg, compiled a list of the main tenets of the group; all creatures are identical with the Creator; man is capable of becoming God; there is no resurrection from the dead; man transformed into God is incapable of sin. They were opposed by J. tauler, henry suso, J. ruysbroeck, G. groote, and Jean gerson. The doctrines of the brethren were never extinguished in some parts of the Netherlands, Germany, and Bohemia, and they may have been the origin of the teachings of the anabaptists in Germany in the early 16th century.
Bibliography: r. allier, Les Frères du libre esprit (Paris 1905). h. grundmann, Religiöse Bewegungen im Mittelalter (Berlin 1935). f. vernet, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 6.1:800–809. g. mollat, Catholicisme 4:1630. o. rÜhle, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart 1:1433–34.