Saturday 1 January 2000

The Albigenses (1925)

From The Philosopher, Volume. III, 1925


By J.P Arendzen

2000 - the Editor adds:

The Philosopher, in its early years especially, reflected a curiousity and interest in the religous and philosophical practices of other cultures. In this paper, the lecturer makes some fascinating observations on one of those sub-cultures so beloved of anthropologists - and ethical relativists: a group that believe children are evil.

Mrs Grenside, in her interesting lecture on Tarot Cards, as reported in your issue of July-September, [the paper was not published though - Ed.] refers to the Albigenses, 'a sect of the 14th century which, owing to their secret doctrine, endured much ecclesiastical persecution." I am afraid Mrs. Grenside unconsciously leaves upon her readers an impression with regard to the Albigenses which is historically incorrect. Their doctrine was not really secret, and the persecution they suffered was not 'ecclesiastical," it was rather the opposite, it was the outcome of popular indignation, they suffered more from the anger of the people than from the opposition of the clergy. The clergy seem to have exercised a considerable moderating influence on the rough and ready justice of the populace and to have substituted in most cases legal procedure for the lynch law of the infuriated mob.

The fact is that the Albigenses believed indeed "in the existence of dual forces - good and evil - neither being necessarily triumphant", but they believed in a great deal more, and they vigorously applied their beliefs to practical life. They believed in the existence of dual forces, good and evil, but they conceived these forces as matter and spirit. In consequence matter and especially the human, body - the flesh as they called it - was intrinsically evil. Thus earthly life was evil, and above all, marriage, the' perpetuation of life was intrinsically evil. Their "perfect people", their " good people", were those who abstained from marriage. Now, celibacy was of course largely practised in the Catholic Church, but marriage was never regarded as evil in itself. Marriage was regarded as something holy; it was in fact - and still is today among Catholics - one of the Seven Sacraments with baptism, confirmation, penance, communion, last anointing and, Holy Orders. It was - and still is - celebrated before the altar and solemnly blessed during the Sacrifice of the Mass. The vow of chastity of priests, monks and nuns was a matter of free choice, of voluntary self-denial of a good thing for the sake of a higher motive.

The Albigenses stood on a totally different standpoint. The procreation of children was for them the supreme sin. A woman with child was described as having a devil, as possessed by the evil one. No one could be saved unless he renounced marriage. Even sins between unmarried folk, or unnatural crimes were looked upon as of less malice than marriage, for marriage was held to be the shameless flaunting of evil under the cover of legality, and there was less hope of repentance for so-called "wedded" folk.

As human nature was too strong to be overcome by Albigensian tenets, only the perfecti submitted to the full rigourism of this unnatural superstition, the bulk of their followers lived the ordinary human life. These people regarded the perfecti with a veneration bordering on worship and they lived in the hope that sometime before death they would also renounce all gratification of the flesh and receive "the consolamentum." When they had undergone this rite of complete renunciation, when in fear of death or in moments of fanaticism and there seemed danger of their returning to the ordinary ways of the world they often went on hunger strike and starved themselves to death. This death was often forced upon them by their Albigensian brethren, who refused all food and drink to the unfortunate victim, thereby thinking save him or her from eternal damnation. It is not contended that the perfecti were all people who were leading sinful, hypocritical lives, no doubt many were honest fanatics.

However, human nature being human nature, Albigensian tenets led to horrible depravity in many instances. Human nature cannot be thus violently outraged, without taking terrible revenge. The designation of les Bourges for the Albigenses registers the loathing of horror-struck Europe. The crusade proclaimed against them may in some cases have outstepped the limits of justice, but it was preferable to the irregular murders and lynchings in districts where the Albigensian fanaticism had wrought havoc in the home and destroyed family life together with marriage.

Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, the generalissimo of the crusade, was a brave and noble figure. Saint Dominic and the first Friars Preachers in the thirteenth century (for it was in thirteenth not the fourteenth that the Albigensians flourished), were no cruel persecutors, on the contrary they lessened the horrors of the civil war in the south of France to the best of their power. Their word brought more people back from their monstrous superstition to common sense than the world ever did.

We must, however, never forget that Albigensianism was not really a heresy, against Christianity and the Catholic Church, it was a revolt against nature, a pestilential perversion of human instinct. If this abhorrence of marriage had spread, Europe would not indeed have died our for want of children, for after all nature is unconquerable and children would have been born notwithstanding the terrors of the consolamentum and the tyranny of the Algibensian hierarchy of elect. But Europe would have been filled with a race of degenerates, it would have become a sink of iniquity, The Albigensian Crusade was in the last instance a war of defence against the insidious force of a ghastly form of insanity masquerading under the cloak of religion.

That some of these fanatics were sincere, that some of "the elect" really led chaste lives, that they preached against immorality and commended purity, does not alter the question, it only made their influence the stronger for evil.

To picture the Albigenses as a sort of primitive Protestants, a kind of early Puritans, loving their Bible, stern but strict and upright, may have been the fashion in evangelical circles fifty years ago. but historical studies have dispelled that strange myth in more enlightened times.

Mrs. Grenside is, of course, better informed, she knows that Albigensianism is the antithesis to Christianity. Christianity is based on monotheism, the existence of one good and almighty God who created all things out of His power.

Albigensians looked upon this material world as the product of the spirit of darkness. Moreover, even amongst men, Albigensians taught a fundamental distinction. Some men derived their origin from the Evil One they could never become virtuous or gain happiness, they were simply creatures of the spirit of Evil, others were created by the Good God and, once they adopted Albigensian tenets and received the consolamentum they were indefectible in grace.

Although the Albigensians were radically opposed to Christianity and monotheism, they adopted some Christian terminology. The Son of the Evil Principle, Lucifer, seduced a host of celestial spirits and these spirits became incarnate in evil men and these were destined to eternal damnation. Even the new-born child, if dying immediately after birth, might be instantaneously damned, if his soul were an evil spirit. Christ, however, the Son of the good God, came on earth in a phantasm-body, not of course in a real body made of cursed matter, and Christ came to save the spirits of the good imprisoned in human bodies.

The practical working of these weird doctrines in the conduct of he masses can best be studied in the reports of the Christian officials charged with the conversion or the punishment of the offenders. It is almost a standing formula for their conversion to say: "He (of she) married." To acknowledge wedlock was the equivalent to cease to be an Albigensian, iniit matrimonium meant the man or woman returned to Christianity. The word endura was a term used by the Albigensians for hungerstrike of death, or the opening of the veins, or excessive bleeding to hasten death. This will explain the following words:

Dictus Hugo (Rubei) in quadam infirmitate, [is this really necessary - Ed.] de qua convaluit, fuit haereticatus per Petrum haereticum, et receptus est ad sectam et ordinem dicti haeretici, quam aliquibus diebus in dicta infirmitate tenuit et servavit, stans in endura, sed post modum ad instantiam matria suae comedit et convaluit. Item isto anno Petru Saneti haereticus invitavit ipsum, quod vellet se ponere in endura et facere bonum finem, sed ipse non consensit tunc, sed quando esset in ultimo vitae suae (Lib, sent. Ing., Tolos, p138 as quoted in Lunborch Historia, Inq, Amsterdam, 1610)

i.e. [surely 'id est' - Ed.]

"The aforesaid Hugh Rubei was received into heresy by Peter, a heretic, when he (Hugh) was on his sickbed, from which sickness, however, he recovered. He was received into the sect and order of the aforesaid heretic (Peter) and for some days during the aforesaid illness, persevered therein and observed it, by keeping the endura, but afterwards at the persistent imploring of his mother, he took food and recovered from his illness. This year again Peter Sancti, a heretic solicited him that he should put himself under endura and make a good end, but he (Hugh) did not consent to do it then, but when he would be at the end of his life."

The wild fanaticism wrought anarchy in the South of France. Some people unable to bear the total abstention of marriage held that it was permissible if the bride was a virgin and if the couple separated after the birth of the first child. Others again argued that since the material body was the creation of the Evil One and not of the good God, it did not matter what one did with the body, and thus gave way to all their passions. Others thinking flesh evil abstained from all animal food except fish and so on, and so on. The supreme act of heroism, suggested by the leaders of the sect was to starve oneself to death and so to have done with matter altogether.

To designate the attempt to stem this evil as " ecclesiastical persecution" is not fair to history. The great Innocent III, one of the soundest, sanest, most enlightened men of his time, was about he last man in the world to countenance persecution. At first the greatest leniency was used, only when the Albigenses had assassinated the Papal legate were stricter measures used. Secular princes rather than ecclesiastical leaders favoured the forcible suppression of the movement, though at last they persuaded the Pope to call it a crusade.

No doubt crimes were committed, but a true historian must never lose as sense of proportion. To suppress the endura was no more persecution than the suppression of suttee in India by the British. Church and State in the thirteenth century fought not mere abstract principles but a vigorous propaganda for practices incompatible with the peace and welfare of mankind.

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