Part 1: Augustine as Conduit to the Inquisition
Part 2: How Confession became a Divinely Instituted Sacrament
Part 3: The Origins of Payment for Penance
Part 4: Crusading and Other Indulgences
Part 5: The Great Schism of the Fifth Century
Part 6: “Deliver us from the hands of the Romans”
Part 7: “Impetus for the Crusades”
Part 8: “Babies roasted on spits”
Part 9: The Insecurity of the Medieval Church
Continuing with Johnson:
Yet returned crusaders undoubtedly brought back heresy with them…
'Cathar' was first applied to heretics in northern Europe about 1160. They were also called Publicans, Paterines (in Italy), Bougres or Bulgars in France, or Arians, Manichaeans or Marcionites. Around Albi the Cathars were termed Albigensians. The confusion over names reveals a confusion over ideas. But basically all these heresies were the same. They aimed to substitute a perfect elite for the corrupt clergy.
Where they were numerous enough, as in southern France, they organized churches and bishoprics, and constituted an alternative Church. Very few of the sect were 'perfected' - perhaps 1,000 to 1,500 in the whole of Languedoc in c. 1200. The majority were 'believers', who married, led normal lives, and 'received the consolamentum' only on their deathbeds, thus dying 'in the hands of the Good Men'. The Cathars were well-organized and orderly people. They elected bishops, collected funds and distributed them; led admirable lives. Unlike most Charismatics, they could not be broken up by a sharp cavalry charge. They got on well with the local authorities. The only effective evangelizing against them came from equally poor groups, like the Poor of Lyons, founded by a former Lyonnais merchant, Waldo, around 1173-6. These men were strictly orthodox in their beliefs, but they took apostolic poverty literally and were outside the Church's organizational structure. The clergy thus regarded the Waldensians as a threat. As Walter Map put it, when he saw some in Rome in 1179: 'They go about two by two, barefoot, clad in woolen garments, owning nothing, holding all things in common like the Apostles ... if we admit them, we shall be driven out.' They were excommunicated three years later.
There was, indeed, no shortage of men prepared to defend orthodoxy. But they set standards which exposed the existing structures and personnel of the church, and thus formed a remedy more serious than the disease. Innocent in, despite his many limitations, did grasp the essence of this problem very clearly, and was the only pope to make a systematic attempt to solve it. His creation of the Franciscan and Dominican orders - the first to beat the heretics at their own game of apostolic poverty, the second to preach orthodox concepts in popular terms - sought to harness volcanic Christian forces to institutional objectives. But the dilemma could not be solved by a once-and-for-all operation. It was permanent; it was endemic in Christianity. If the Franciscans, for instance, were allowed to pursue their idealism, they got out of control; if they were controlled, they promptly lost their idealism and became corrupt. Within two generations, the whole friar experiment was a failure; within three it was a liability.
There remained the Augustinian solution: force. It was, in a way, a recapitulation of the fourth and fifth centuries. The Church was terrified by the rapid disintegration of Christianity in southern France. There was no question of peaceful coexistence of orthodoxy and heresy: orthodox bishops could not function and there was imminent danger that the collapse would soon be extended to other areas. It is notable that where there was strong, centralized royal power, to back up the organized Church, heresy was weak or even non-existent (as, for instance, in England at this time). Heresy took root in areas where the ultimate source of secular authority was obscure, and where secular power was divided or remote.
Thus the Church, in its fear, tended to appeal to secular power outside the infected area. Suppressing a heresy became a crusade, promising tangible benefits, and bringing into play differences of language and culture, the forces of racism and the spur of greed for land. The Albigensian crusades, organized from 1208 onwards, the precursors of many other 'internal' papal crusades, were preached by upper-class Cistercians, the great disciplinarians of peasants. Heretics were either rabble or, if not, forfeited their privileged class status. Conversely, a crusade was an opportunity to rise in the social scale, for younger sons, would-be knights, and any kind of professional soldier with genteel aspirations. These crusaders got a plenary indulgence for forty days service, plus a moratorium on their debts and any interest payable; if they had lands, they could tax both their vassals and clergy. The Church reserved to itself the right to redistribute among the more faithful crusaders the confiscated lands of the defeated heretics.
Thus the crusade attracted the most disreputable elements in northern France, and the result was horror. In 1209, Arnold Aimery exulted to the Pope that the capture of Beziers had been 'miraculous'; and that the crusaders had killed 15,000, 'showing mercy neither to order, nor age nor sex'. Prisoners were mutilated, blinded, dragged at the hooves of horses and used for target practice. Such outrages provoked despairing resistance and so prolonged the conflict. It was a watershed in Christian history. Of course it aroused much criticism even at the time. Peter Cantor asked: 'How doth the church presume to examine by this foreign judgment the hearts of men? Or how is it that the Cathari are given no legitimate respite for deliberation but are burned immediately?
... Certain honest matrons, refusing to consent to the lust of priests ... were written in the book of death and accused as Cathari ... while certain rich Cathari had their purses squeezed and were let go. One man alone, because he was poor and pale, and confessed the faith of Christ faithfully on all points, and put that forward as his hope, was burned, since he said to the assembled bishops that he would refuse to submit to the ordeal of hot iron unless they could first prove to him that he could do this without tempting the Lord and committing mortal sin.'
A few years later, Innocent III abolished the ordeal on precisely these grounds. More generally, it was the type of criticism voiced by Cantor which led to the organization of a regular inquisition system, which would be effective yet less open to the abuses developed under the haphazard methods hitherto employed.
Paul Johnson, History of Christianity, © 1976 Athenium, pgs. 251-253.