- Latin: flagella, scourge
Fanatical and heretical sect which flourished in Europe in the 13th and succeeding centuries. It appeared first at Perugia, Italy in 1260, and spread rapidly to other countries, its members marching in procession and scourging themselves for their sins and the sins of the world. Because of excesses they were suppressed by the pope, but reappeared, 1349, after the devastation of Europe by the Black Plague. In the northern countries they became an organized sect with severe discipline and extreme claims, a ceremonial was developed, and a specialized doctrine, which soon degenerated into heresy, taught. The leaders began to cast doubts on the necessity and desirability of the sacraments and pretended to absolve one another, to cast out evil spirits, and to work miracles. They were condemned by the pope in letters sent to the bishops of France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, and England, and their numbers gradually diminished. They had not died out, however, and throughout the 14th and 15th centuries there were recrudescences of this heresy. Their practises were later revived as a means of orthodox public penance, flagellant processions being encouraged by the Jesuits in Austria, the Netherlands, the East Indies, and South America. These, however, were under ecclesiastical authority and are not to be confused with the heretical outbursts of the Middle Ages.