APOSTOLICI, Apostolic Brethren, or Apostles, the names given to various Christian heretics, whose common doctrinal feature was an ascetic rigidity of morals, which made them reject property and marriage. The earliest Apostolici appeared in Phrygia, Cilicia, Pisidia and Pamphylia towards the end of the 2nd century or the beginning of the 3rd. According to the information given by Epiphanius (Haer. 61) about the doctrines of these heretics, it is evident that they were connected with the Encratites and the Tatianians. They condemned individual property, hence the name sometimes given to them of Apotactites or Renuntiatores. They preserved an absolute chastity and abstained from wine and meat. They refused to admit into their sect those Christians whom the fear of martyrdom had once restored to paganism. As late as the 4th century St Basil (Can. 1 and 47) knew some Apostolici. After that period they disappeared, either becoming completely extinct, or being confounded with other sects (see St Augustine, Haer. 40; John of Damascus, Haer. 61).
Failing a more exact designation, the name of Apostolici has been given to certain groups of Latin heretics of the 12th century. It is the second of the two sects of Cologne (the first being composed very probably of Cathari) that is referred to in the letter addressed in 1146 by Everwin, provost of Steinfeld, to St Bernard (Mabillon, Vet. Anal. iii. 452). They condemned marriage (save, perhaps, first marriages), the eating of meat, baptism of children, veneration of saints, fasting, prayers for the dead and belief in purgatory, denied transubstantiation, declared the Catholic priesthood worthless, and considered the whole church of their time corrupted by the "negotia saecularia" which absorbed all its zeal (of. St Bernard, Serm. 65 and 66 in Cantic.). They do not seem to have been known as Apostles or Apostolici: St Bernard, in fact, asks his hearers: "Quo nomine istos titulove censebis?" (Serm. 66 in Cantic.). Under this designation, too, are included the heretics of Perigueux in France, alluded to in the letter of a certain monk Heribert (Mabillon, Vet. Anal. iii. 467). Heribert says merely: "Se dicunt apostolicam vitam ducere." It is possible that they were Henricians (see Henry of Lausanne). During his mission in the south-east of France in 1146-1147 St Bernard still met disciples of Henry of Lausanne in the environs of Périgueux. The heretics of whom Heribert speaks condemned riches, denied the value of the sacraments and of good works, ate no meat, drank no wine and rejected the veneration of images. Their leader, named Pons, gathered round him nobles, priests, monks and nuns.
In the second half of the 13th century appeared in Italy the Order of the Apostles or Apostle Brethren (see especially the Chron. of Fra Salimbene). This was a product of the mystic fermentation which proceeded from exalted Franciscanism and from Joachimism (see Fraticelli and Joachim). It presents great analogies with groups of the same character, e.g. Sachets, Bizocchi, Flagellants, etc. The order of the Apostles was founded about 1260 by a young workman from the environs of Parma, Gerard Segarelli, who had sought admission unsuccessfully to the Franciscan order. To make his life conform to that of Christ, his contemporaries say that he had himself circumcised, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a cradle, and that he then, clad in a white robe and bare-footed, walked through the streets of Parma crying "Penitenz agite!" ("Poenitentiam agite!"). He was soon followed by a throng of men and women, peasants and mechanics. All had to live in absolute poverty, chastity and idleness. They begged, and preached penitence. Opizo, bishop of Parma, protected them until they caused trouble in his diocese. Their diffusion into several countries of Christendom disturbed Pope Honorius IV., who in 1286 ordered them to adhere to an already recognized rule. On their refusal, the pope condemned them to banishment and Opizo imprisoned Segarelli. The councils of Würzburg (1287) and Chichester (1289) took measures against the Apostles of Germany and England. But in 1291 the sect reappeared, sensibly increased, and Pope Nicholas IV. published anew the bull of Honorius IV. From that day the Apostles, regarded as rebels, were persecuted pitilessly. Four were burned in 1294, and Segarelli, as a relapsed heretic, went to the stake at Parma in 1300.
They had had close relations with the dissident Franciscans, but the Spirituals often disavowed them, especially when the sect, which in Segarelli's time had had no very precise doctrinal character, became with Dolcino frankly heterodox. Dolcino of Novara was brought up at Vercelli, and had been an Apostle since 1291. Thrice he fell into the hands of the Inquisition, and thrice recanted. But immediately after Segarelli's death he wrote an epistle, soon followed by a second, in which he declared that the third Joachimite age began with Segarelli and that Frederick of Sicily was the expected conqueror (Hist. Dulcini and Addit. ad Hist. Dulcini in Muratori, Scriptores, vol. ix.). He gave himself out as an angel sent from God to elucidate the prophecies. Soon he founded an Apostolic congregation at whose head he placed himself. Under him were his four lieutenants, his "mystic sister," Margherita di Franck, and 4000 disciples. He taught almost the same principles of devotion as Segarelli, but the Messianic character which he attributed to himself, the announcement of a communistic millennial kingdom, and, besides, an aggressive anti-sacerdotalism, gave to Dolcino's sect a clearly marked character, analogous only to the theocratic community of the Anabaptists of Münster in the 16th century. On the 5th of June 1305 Pope Clement V., recognizing the impotence of the ordinary methods of repression, issued bulls for preaching a crusade against the Dolcinists. But four crusades, directed by the bishop of Vercelli, were required to reduce the little army of the heresiarch, entrenched in the mountains in the neighbourhood of Vercelli. Not till the 23rd of March 1307 were the sectaries definitively overcome. The Catholic crusaders seized Dolcino in his entrenchments on Mount Rubello, and the pope at once announced the happy event to King Philip the Fair. At Vercelli Dolcino suffered a horrible punishment. He was torn in pieces with red-hot pincers - the torture lasting an entire day - while Margherita was burned at a slow fire. Dante mentions Dolcino's name (Inferno, c. xxviii.), and his memory is not yet completely effaced in the province of Novara. The Apostles continued their propaganda in Italy, Languedoc, Spain and Germany. In turn they were condemned by the councils of Cologne (1306), Treves (1310) and Spoleto (1311). The inquisitor of Languedoc, Bernard Gui, persecuted them unremittingly (see Gui's Practica Inquisitionis). From 1316 to 1323 the condemnations of Apostles increased at Avignon and Toulouse. They disappeared, however, at a comparatively late date from those regions (council of Lavaur, 1368; council of Narbonne, 1374). In Germany two Apostles were burned at Lübeck and Wismar at the beginning of the 15th century (1402-1403) by the inquisitor Eylard.
Several controversialists, including Gotti, Krohn and Stockmann, have mentioned among the innumerable sects that have sprung from Anabaptism a group of individuals whose open-air preaching and rigorous practice of poverty gained them the name of Apostolici. These must be carefully distinguished from the Apostoolians, Mennonites of Frisia, who followed the teachings of the pastor Samuel Apostool (1638-beginning of 18th century). In the Mennonite church they represent the rigid, conservative party, as opposed to the Galenists, who inclined towards the Arminian latitudinarianism and admitted into their community all those who led a virtuous life, whatever their doctrinal tendencies.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)