The Heretic's Apprentice

Style: Good

Attitude: Take Care

This review was contributed by Chris D

Author: Ellis Peters

Series: Brother Cadfael

Age Range: Young Teens+

Period: 13th C

Genres:  DetectiveHistorical


When a certain Elave, attendant to Willian of Lythwood (a local merchant and abbey benefactor) arrives with the dead body of his master from foreign travels and requsts its burial within the abbey walls, a visiting prelate, Gerbert, recalls that William had been reproved for heretical ideas. In an attempt to defend his master, Elave is himself accused by the zealous prelate. These events form the backdrop to a rather exciting and well- constructed murder mystery.


One must conclude that the author has, at the least, over-reached herself in attempting inroads into something so complex and delicate as heresy. Whilst there are points to praise in the attempt (eg it debunks the “burn first, ask questions later” view many would have of mediaeval attitued to heresy) the overall results are unsatisfactory and would clearly confuse someone without very sound doctrinal formation. In particular, at Elave's hearing before the local bishop, at which he is (rightly) accused of denying the doctrine of original sin, and the necessity of infant baptism; and holding that man can attain salvation by his own efforts, and that therefore the number of those to be saved is not “fixed”, the bishop is made summarily to dismiss the doctrinal points at issue, in favour of a judgement over whether Elave is a “good” man (“by their fruits they shall be known”). Perhaps this puts the case rather strongly (within the context of the story the bishop's point is a valid one) but in the mind of someone with poor doctrinal formation, this is what it would boil down to. (CD)

Tuesday 1st January 2002