Neo-Manichaean sect that flourished in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
Albigenses (from Albi, Lat. Albiga, the present capital of the Department of Tarn), a Neo-Manichaean sect that flourished in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The name Albigenses, given them by the Council of Tours (1163) prevailed towards the end of the twelfth century and was for a long time applied to all the heretics of the south of France. They were also called Catharists (Greek: katharos, pure), though in reality they were only a branch of the Catharistic movement. The rise and spread of the new doctrine in southern France was favored by various circumstances, among which may be mentioned: the fascination exercised by the readily-grasped dualistic principle; the remnant of Jewish and Mohammedan doctrinal elements; the wealth, leisure, and imaginative mind of the inhabitants of Languedoc; their contempt for the Catholic clergy, caused by the ignorance and the worldly, too frequently scandalous, lives of the latter; the protection of an overwhelming majority of the nobility, and the intimate local blending of national aspirations and religious sentiment.
I PRINCIPLES..—(a) Doctrinal.—The Albigenses asserted the coexistence of two mutually opposed principles, one good, the other evil. The former is the creator of the spiritual, the latter of the material world. The bad principle is the source of all evil; natural phenomena, either ordinary like the growth of plants, or extraordinary as earthquakes, likewise moral disorders (war), must be attributed to him. He created the human body and is the author of sin, which springs from matter and not from the spirit. The Old Testament must be either partly or entirely ascribed to him; whereas the New Testament is the revelation of the beneficent God. The latter is the creator of human souls, which the bad principle imprisoned in material bodies after he had deceived them into leaving the kingdom of light. This earth is a place of punishment, the only hell that exists for the human soul. Punishment, however, is not everlasting; for all souls, being Divine in nature, must eventually be liberated. To accomplish this deliverance God sent upon earth Jesus Christ, who, although very perfect, like the Holy Ghost, is still a mere creature. The Redeemer could not take on a genuine human body, because He would thereby have come under the control of the evil principle. His body was, therefore, of celestial essence, and with it He penetrated the ear of Mary. It was only apparently that He was born from her and only apparently that He suffered. His redemption was not operative, but solely instructive. To enjoy its benefits, one must become a member of the Church of Christ (the Albigenses). Here below, it is not the Catholic sacraments but the peculiar ceremony of the Albigenses known as the consolamentum, or “consolation”, that purifies the soul from all sin and ensures its immediate return to heaven. The resurrection of the body will not take place, since by its nature all flesh is evil. (b) Moral.—The dualism of the Albigenses was also the basis of their moral teaching. Man, they taught, is a living contradiction. Hence, the liberation of the soul from its captivity in the body is the true end of our being. To attain this, suicide is commendable; it was customary among them in the form of the endura (starvation). The extinction of bodily life on the largest scale consistent with human existence is also a perfect aim. As generation propagates the slavery of the soul to the body, perpetual chastity should be practiced. Matrimonial intercourse is unlawful; concubinage, being of a less permanent nature, is preferable to marriage. Abandonment of his wife by the husband, or vice versa, is desirable. Generation was abhorred by the Albigenses even in the animal kingdom. Consequently, abstention from all animal food, except fish, was enjoined. Their belief in metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, the result of their logical rejection of purgatory, furnishes another explanation for the same abstinence. To this practice they added long and rigorous fasts. The necessity of absolute fidelity to the sect was strongly inculcated. War and capital punishment were absolutely condemned.
H ORIGIN AND HISTORY.—The contact of Christianity with the Oriental mind and Oriental religions had produced several sects (Gnostics, Manichaeans, Paulicians, Bogomilae) whose doctrines were akin to the tenets of the Albigenses. But the historical connection between the new heretics and their predecessors cannot be clearly traced. In France, where they were probably introduced by a woman from Italy, the Neo-Manichaean doctrines were secretly diffused for several years before they appeared, almost simultaneously, near Toulouse and at the Synod of Orleans (1022). Those who proposed them were even made to suffer the extreme penalty of death. The Councils of Arras (1025), Charroux, Dep. of Vienne (c. 1028), and of Reims (1049) had to deal with the heresy. At that of Beauvais (1114) the case of Neo-Manichaeans in the Diocese of Soissons was brought up, but was referred to the council shortly to be held in the latter city. Petrobrusianism now familiarized the South with some of the tenets of the Albigenses. Its condemnation by the Council of Toulouse (1119) did not prevent the evil from spreading. Pope Eugene III (1145-53) sent a legate, Cardinal Alberic of Ostia, to Languedoc (1145), and St. Bernard seconded the legate’s efforts. But their preaching produced no lasting effect. The Council of Reims (1148) excommunicated the protectors “of the heretics of Gascony and Provence”. That of Tours (1163) decreed that the Albigenses should be imprisoned and their property confiscated. A religious disputation was held (1165) at Lombez, with the usual unsatisfactory result of such conferences. Two years later, the Albigenses held a general council at Toulouse, their chief center of activity. The Cardinal–Legate Peter made another attempt at peaceful settlement (1178), but he was received with derision. The Third General Council of the Lateran (1179) renewed the previous severe measures and issued a summons to use force against the heretics, who were plundering and devastating Albi, Toulouse, and the vicinity. At the death (1194) of the Catholic Count of Toulouse, Raymond V, his succession fell to Raymond VI (1194-1222) who favored the heresy. With the accession of Innocent III (1198) the work of conversion and repression was taken up vigorously. In 1205-6 three events augured well for the success of the efforts made in that direction. Raymond VI, in face of the threatening military operations urged by Innocent against him, promised under oath to banish the dissidents from his dominions. The monk Fulco of Marseilles, formerly a troubadour, now became Archbishop of Toulouse (1205-31). Two Spaniards, Diego, Bishop of Osma and his companion, Dominic Guzman (St. Dominic), returning from Rome, visited the papal legates at Montpellier. By their advice, the excessive outward splendor of Catholic preachers, which offended the heretics, was replaced by apostolical austerity. Religious disputations were renewed. St. Dominic, perceiving the great advantages derived by his opponents from the cooperation of women, founded (1206) at Pouille near Carcassonne a religious congregation for women, whose object was the education of the poorer girls of the nobility. Not long after this he laid the foundation of the Dominican Order. Innocent III, in view of the immense spread of the heresy, which infected over 1000 cities or towns, called (1207) upon the King of France, as Suzerain of the County of Toulouse, to use force. He renewed his appeal on receiving news of the assassination of his legate, Peter of Castelnau, a Cistercian monk (1208), which, judging by appearances, he attributed to Raymond VI. Numerous barons of northern France, Germany, and Belgium joined the crusade, and papal legates were put at the head of the expedition, Arnold, Abbot of Citeaux, and two bishops. Raymond VI, still under the ban of excommunication pronounced against him by Peter of Castelnau, now offered to submit, was reconciled with the Church, and took the field against his former friends. Roger, Viscount of Beziers, was first attacked, and his principal fortresses, Beziers and Carcassonne, were taken (1209). The monstrous words: “Slay all; God will know His own”, alleged to have been uttered at the capture of Beziers, by the papal legate, were never pronounced (Tamizey de Larroque, “Rev. des quest. hist.” 1866, I, 168-91). Simon of Montfort, Earl of Leicester, was given control of the conquered territory and became the military leader of the crusade. At the Council of Avignon (1209) Raymond VI was again excommunicated for not fulfilling the conditions of ecclesiastical reconciliation. He went in person to Rome, and the Pope ordered an investigation. After fruitless attempts in the Council of Arles (1211) at an agreement between the papal legates and the Count of Toulouse, the latter left the council and prepared to resist. He was declared an enemy of the Church and his possessions were forfeited to whoever would conquer them. Lavaur, Dep. of Tarn, fell in 1211, amid dreadful carnage, into the hands of the crusaders. The latter, exasperated by the reported massacre of 6,000 of their followers, spared neither age nor sex. The crusade now degenerated into a war of conquest, and Innocent III, in spite of his efforts, was powerless to bring the undertaking back to its original purpose. Peter of Aragon, Raymond’s brother-in-law, interposed to obtain his forgiveness, but without success. He then took up arms to defend him. The troops of Peter and of Simon of Montfort met at Muret (1213). Peter was defeated and killed. The allies of the fallen king were now so weakened that they offered to submit. The Pope sent as his representative the Cardinal-Deacon Peter of Santa Maria in Aquiro, who carried out only part of his instructions, receiving indeed Raymond, the inhabitants of Toulouse, and others back into the Church, but furthering at the same time Simon’s plans of conquest. This commander continued the war and was appointed by the Council of Montpellier (1215) lord over all the acquired territory. The Pope, informed that it was the only effectual means of crushing the heresy, approved the choice. At the death of Simon (1218), his son Amalric inherited his rights and continued the war with but little success. The territory was ultimately ceded almost entirely by both Amalric and Raymond VII to the King of France, while the Council of Toulouse (1229) entrusted the Inquisition, which soon passed into the hands of the Dominicans (1233), with the repression of Albigensianism. The heresy disappeared about the end of the fourteenth century.
III ORGANIZATION AND LITURGY.—The members of the sect were divided into two classes: The “perfect” (perfecti) and the mere “believers” (credentes). The “perfect” were those who had submitted to the initiation-rite (consolamentum). They were few in number and were alone bound to the observance of the above described rigid moral law. While the female members of this class did not travel, the men went, by twos, from place to place, performing the ceremony of initiation. The only bond that attached the “believers” to Albigensianism was the promise to receive the consolamentum before death. They were very numerous, could marry, wage war, etc., and generally observed the ten commandments. Many remained “believers” for years and were only initiated on their deathbed. If the illness did not end fatally, starvation or poison prevented rather frequently subsequent moral transgressions. In some instances the reconsolatio was administered to those who, after initiation, had relapsed into sin. The hierarchy consisted of bishops and deacons. The existence of an Albigensian Pope is not universally admitted. The bishops were chosen from among the “perfect”. They had two assistants, the older and the younger son (filius major and filius minor), and were generally succeeded by the former. The consolamentum, or ceremony of initiation, was a sort of spiritual baptism, analogous in rite and equivalent in significance to several of the Catholic sacraments (Baptism, Penance, Order). Its reception, from which children were debarred, was, if possible, preceded by careful religious study and penitential practices. In this period of preparation, the candidates used ceremonies that bore a striking resemblance to the ancient Christian catechumenate. The essential rite of the consolamentum was the imposition of hands. The engagement which the “believers” took to be initiated before death was known as the convenenza (promise).
IV ATTITUDE OF THE CHURCH.—Properly speaking, Albigensianism was not a Christian heresy but an extra-Christian religion. Ecclesiastical authority, after persuasion had failed, adopted a course of severe repression, which led at times to regrettable excess. Simon of Montfort intended well at first, but later used the pretext of religion to usurp the territory of the Counts of Toulouse. The death-penalty was, indeed, inflicted too freely on the Albigenses, but it must be remembered that the penal code of the time was considerably more rigorous than ours, and the excesses were sometimes provoked. Raymond VI and his successor, Raymond VII, were, when in distress, ever ready to promise, but never to earnestly amend. Pope Innocent III was justified in saying that the Albigenses were “worse than the Saracens”; and still he counselled moderation and disapproved of the selfish policy adopted by Simon of Montfort. What the Church combated was principles that led directly not only to the ruin of Christianity, but to the very extinction of the human race.
N. A. WEBER