The Albigensian Crusade (1)

August 06, 2021
Source: FSSPX Spirituality
St. Bernard preaching the Crusade

This text is an extract from the apologetic work Histoire partiale, histoire vraie, by Jean Guiraud, (Beauchesne editions, 1912). At a time when the textbooks of the Third Republic were beginning to display a partial explanation of the history of the Church and  everything related to it, Jean Guiraud began to dismantle piece by piece the false arguments of anticlericalism.

In his work Histoire partial, historie vraie, [Partial History, True History], he devoted a chapter to each theme. In each chapter, he began by quoting questionable excerpts from textbooks before delivering the rebuttal.

Aulard et Debidour (Cours Supérieur, p. 91).

“The Cathars (or pure) sect... condemned the corruption and excesses of the Church and wanted, while simplifying worship, to bring Christian morality back to a perfect purity. ... Pope Innocent III ordered a crusade against them in 1208 that lasted more than twenty years and was only a long robbery. … Large towns were burned down, entire populations were massacred without sparing women and children: the whole of the South of France was looted, set on fire and stained with blood.”

(Middle course, p. 29)

“The Albigensians, the population of the South of France who did not understand the Christian religion in the same way as the Catholics, were exterminated in the thirteenth century by the will of Pope Innocent III.”

(Récits familiers, p. 71)

“The clergy had become very corrupt, so part of the people demanded that the Church be subjected to a reform whose supporters, many especially in the south of France, were generally called Albigensians.… The Crusaders from the North behaved with ferocity; they burned their prisoners by the hundreds.

Brossolette (Middle Course, p. 22).

“The Albigensians no longer fully practiced the Catholic religion.… Béziers, Narbonne, Toulouse were sacked.”

Four images: 1. The heretics of the South flouting St. Dominic; 2. the Count of Toulouse doing penance and beaten by priests; 3. the sac of Béziers; 4. the Ombrives cave where Albigensians were walled up.

Devinat (Elementary course, p. 58).

“At the call of the pope who could not convert them, the knights of northern France rushed on the Albigensians.”

(Middle Course, p. 14).

“The Pope first had monks preach, especially a Spanish monk called Dominic; but the heretics …did not submit. So the Pope resorted to the sword.”

Calvet (Middle Course, p. 42).

“It was a horrible slaughter.”  p. 36. “The inhabitants of Languedoc were suspected of heresy.”(Cf. Preparatory course, p. 36).

(Elementary course, p. 58). “In the South of France the Church was not loved; thus it was said that the priests hid their tonsure so as not to be insulted.… The inhabitants were indeed heretics. … Pope Innocent III sent a legate to the Count of Toulouse Raymond VI, to recall him to the faith. The legate was assassinated. .… Indignant, he preached a crusade.”

Gauthier and Deschamps (Cours Supérieur, p. 34).

"(The Albigensians)... simple people, of peaceful but not austere customs, who lived outside the Church. At the call of Innocent III, thousands of looters from the North rushed into the beautiful country of the troubadours.…The leader of the looters, Simon de Montfort, as a price for his exploits, received from the pope the estates of the unfortunate Count of Toulouse…. Those who resisted were tortured, then buried alive in a dungeon.... This monstrous, inexcusable war, which destroyed the brilliant civilization of the South, ... brought together Occitan France and France oïl.”

(Middle course, p. 12). “Louis VIII made the mistake of participating in the abominable crusade.”

Guiot and Mane (Cours Supérieur, p. 86).

"The Albigensians, happy population, peacefully addicted to commerce, who cultivate poetry, the harmonious and sonorous language of the troubadours. … Death to them! … They had ideas reputed to be heretical.”

(Middle course, p. 52).

“The prosperity of the towns of Languedoc excited the envy of the lords of the North; the inhabitants of the South were accused of heresy.”

Rogie and Despiques (Cours Supérieur, p. 131)

“The doctrine of the Albigensians wanted to restore the purity and simplicity of the customs of the first men.”

The crusade against the Albigensians is one of the great historical facts for which textbook writers and “secular” historians blame the Church most bitterly. To accentuate their grievances, they charge the Holy See with all the responsibility, while on the other hand they paint an idyllic picture of the beliefs and customs of the Albigensians.

Before examining the sincerity of the arguments they used in both cases, a preliminary observation is in order.

Anticlerical contradictions concerning the Albigenses

Let us note first of all that our authors sometimes contradict each other so well that we only have to pit them against each other to cast doubt on their accounts.

If we believe Aulard and Debidour and Rogie and Despiques, the Albigensians would have liked to reform the mores of the clergy. Austere, enamored with virtue and holiness, they would have been scandalized by the easy life led in the South of France by the Catholic Church, and would have liked to remedy it by bringing it back to the pure practices of primitive Christianity.

On the contrary Gauthier and Deschamps write that the Albigensians were simple people, of peaceful and not very austere customs. What was the origin of this struggle and who should bear the responsibility? It is the Church, which out of fanaticism unleashed war on peaceful and harmless men, say Aulard and Debidour, Devinat, Gauthier and Deschamps.

It was the lords of the North who, driven by greed, took the defense of orthodoxy as a pretext and set on the populations whose fortunes and lands they coveted, say Guiot and Mane.

And when the Church preached the crusade against the Albigensians, what was her motive? Fanaticism, the most “secular” authors insinuate. Being annoyed at not being able to convert the South, writes Devinat. The desire to avenge his legate murdered by order of the Count of Toulouse, says Calvet.

These contradictions prove to us that the problems raised by the Albigensian crusade were multiple and delicate; most historians have seen only one side of the question, the others have avoided them. The friend of scientific truth must consider them all.

When he does, he will realize that the facts are more complex than our simple-minded historians generally think and that the responsibilities are very much shared in a war that was both religious and political, whose combatants had been set in motion by the most disparate motives: faith and ambition, the service of God and the love of plunder, and which, finally, was directed both by the chiefs of lay feudalism and the representatives of the Church.

To blame Catholicism for events that were inspired by feudal politics, acts of cruelty and spoliation dictated by greed and ambition, would be supremely unjust, especially if it is shown that the Church protested against those events and condemned those acts. It is therefore with the greatest precautions that we must approach this most delicate question involving all of them, freeing ourselves from party prejudices and passions, to let only the texts speak.

The most contradictory judgments are made by anti-Catholic historians on the beliefs and customs of the Albigensians.

Calvet tells us that they were only “suspected of heresy,” Guiot and Mane that they had “ideas deemed heretical,” and Brossolette “that they did not fully practice the Catholic religion.”

The conclusion these authors want to suggest is that the repression was as barbaric and odious as it was weak and the nuance that distinguished the Albigenses from the Catholics was almost imperceptible.

Gauthier and Deschamps, on the contrary, tell us that the Albigensians “remained outside the Church.” Of these two statements, contradictory or at least quite different from each other, that of Gauthier and Deschamps is the true one.

In reality, the metaphysics and theology of the Cathars were at odds with Christian metaphysics and theology. The Church teaches that God is one, the Cathars that there are two gods, the good god and the bad god, both eternal, equally powerful, and constantly fighting against each other. The Church says that our world was created by God under the action of His love and that man received existence from his Creator for his good.

The Cathars preached that nature and man are the work of the evil god, of whom they are the plaything and victims on whom he constantly exercises his malignancy. For Christians, Christ is God Himself, coming into this world to expiate the original sin of humanity, through the work of Redemption. For the Cathars, it was an eon [spiritual power] or distant emanation of the divinity, that came to bring to man the knowledge of his origins and thereby to remove him, not by virtue of his blood, but only by his doctrine, from his miserable servitude. So on all counts, it was a declared antagonism between Christianity and Albigensism.