Apostolic Brethren

A medieval heretical Christian movement, challenging the wealth and practices of the Catholic Church with radical egalitarian views.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Apostolic
Founded: Late 13th century
Ended: Early 14th century
Location: Northern Italy

The Apostolic Brethren, also known as the Apostolics or Apostolici, was a Christian sect that emerged in northern Italy during the late 13th century. Founded by Gerard Segarelli, an uneducated laborer from Alzano in the Parma region, this movement aimed to revive the apostolic lifestyle of simplicity, poverty, and preaching, as portrayed in the New Testament. Segarelli, initially inspired by the Franciscans and unable to join their order, sought to live a life mirroring the direct teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, focusing on fasting, prayer, and living off charity or the labor of their hands​​​​.

The sect’s members dedicated themselves to a strict life of penitence, a concept that became synonymous with their identity, often encapsulated in their maxim “Poenitentiam agite” (Make penitence). Their practices included preaching, invoking repentance, and a deliberate choice to live in poverty, which they believed brought them closer to the ideals of the early Christian community​​.

Their doctrine of apostolic poverty reflected a broader movement within the 13th-century Catholic Church towards reform. This movement was characterized by the formation of mendicant orders that embraced poverty, itinerancy, and preaching, living without ownership of land or accumulation of money, thus relying on the goodwill of the people to whom they ministered. The Apostolic Brethren’s approach to Christian living was radical for its time, rejecting property and marriage in favor of a communal lifestyle based on the teachings of Jesus and his disciples as detailed in the Gospel of Luke​​.

The founder, Gerard Segarelli, met a tragic end, being burned at the stake in 1300 for his beliefs and actions, which were deemed heretical by the Catholic Church. Despite—or perhaps because of—their radical interpretation of Christian doctrine and their founder’s martyrdom, the Apostolic Brethren’s legacy contributed to the ongoing discussions about poverty, wealth, and the nature of true Christian living that continued to challenge and shape the Church’s development in subsequent centuries​​.

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