by Laura Knight-Jadczyk
“'Kill them all, God will know His own.' A chronicler reported that Arnold Amaury, the monk who led the Albigensian Crusade, uttered this catchphrase outside the city of Beziers on July 22, 1209. His crusaders had asked him how to tell the Catholic believers from the Cathar Heretics. Arnold's instructions were followed, and the entire population of Beziers - some 20,000 men, women and children - were indiscriminately murdered.
No one really knows if Arnold really said what was reported, but what is known is that such an ideology was the essence of the crusade against the Cathars, and such ideology has arisen among human beings again and again throughout history, even to the present day in the halls of government of the United States. The consequences are always and ever the same - something that the current administration does not seem to realize - proving the saying that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. There are many parallels between those times and the present that might serve us well to examine.
On the 10th of March 1208, Pope Innocent III issued a summons to all Christian nations to take up arms against fellow Christians. He declared that the destruction of these heretics was not only justified, but that it was a dire necessity because the heretics who inhabited an ostensibly Christian land were "worse than the very Saracens." This appeal came four years after a Crusader army had captured and pillaged Constantinople, still another Christian land, though one which claimed to be the true seat of original Christianity. The Eastern church considered the church at Rome to be an upstart, a Frankish invention of Northern Germanic invaders that had nothing at all to do with the Christianity of the historical Jesus.
The new enemy of the church at Rome was one of the greatest princes in Christendom, Count Raymond VI of Toulouse. Raymond was a feudal sovereign whose authority extended over a very large section of what is now known as France, but was then known as Languedoc. Raymond's crime was that he ruled a country where the authority of the church was in decline, and he wasn't doing anything about it.
The declared aim of the crusade was to overthrow a prince of unquestioned legitimacy, who was more inclined to support his people than the church. The church in Rome saw that its continued existence in the Midi of France depended upon putting the country under the control of an alien, external government that would crush rebellion and would not rebel against the church itself. In short, the Church's aims were Imperialistic. Imperialism is always a bad sign. The chief characteristic of pathological deviants, psychopaths in particular, is that they always want to pull the "big con," to take what belongs to others, has been rightfully earned or worked for by others, and do it without working themselves, by psychologically and emotionally manipulating others to get it for them.
The Cathars were pacifists who embraced tolerance in a period when tolerance was not what the church needed in its overweening ambition to rule the Western World. The heresy grew during a period of change and experimentation and expansion of horizons. Crusaders to the Holy Land had returned bringing new ideas, understandings that life could be organized differently and that those who lived or worshiped differently were human beings too - and interesting and valuable to an eclectic society at that. The spread of such ideas led to extreme dissatisfaction with the Medieval Catholic Church which was erected on a foundation of large corporate monasteries and churches lording it over huddled masses of cold and hungry peasants and even aristocrats desirous of making it to heaven. The Catholic Church was basically a large corporation selling salvation and everybody else was supposed to be cogs in the wheel of this great mechanical "control of salvation" organization.
Catharism began to thrive in those areas that were growing democratic: merchant cities of Italy, and trading centers of Champagne and the Rhineland, and independent cities of the Languedoc in France. Catharism was ideally suited to the tolerant, protective feudalism of Languedoc, and for that reason, it had to be destroyed.
In the north, women were excluded from inheritance, and everything went to the eldest son. Younger sons and daughters who were unable to marry heiresses or heirs, were grist for the Catholic monastic factories, a system designed to incrementally increase the power of the Church. In the Languedoc, women had rights, could inherit and manage their own properties, and fiefs were divided among children. This naturally led to a more democratic spread of property, and prevented enormous power from being gathered into the hands of any one person or group of persons. It also, in a way, weakened the Languedoc because no one person or small group of persons could mobilize all the men of a region to go to war for personal ambition or greed. This is always and ever the weakness of a real democracy.
It was in the Occitan language that troubadour poetry flowered. In the fertile lands of Languedoc, love of a spiritual kind was revealed. Troubadours sang of courtly love, games of deferred pleasure, exalted sublimation of physical desires to spiritual goals, and even, in some cases, what seemed to be adulterous fulfillment. The ethos of amorous longing, of exalted spiritual women revealed the different mold of the Languedoc mind. At the same time, beyond the Loire and the Rhine, the northern nobles were singing about swords dripping with blood, and viscera being scattered and exulted over, all the while masking this barbarity in a strange mix of rapacious piety rather like the present day Christians who backed George Bush.
The towns of the Languedoc were governed by consuls and Roman law formed the basis of all local legislation. The consuls were elected from among the city nobility and bourgeoisie, and the burgher was the knight's equal. The Count of Toulouse lacked any legal authority in his own city, and was only obeyed so long as he respected and upheld the local common law. Every burgher had the right to buy, sell, or engage in barter without paying any duties or taxes on such transactions. There were no restrictions placed upon marriages and resident aliens enjoyed full citizens' rights regardless of their nationality or creed. Such free towns were the centers of the country's social life and the election of a consul was a great public event with processions, pomp and circumstance.
The Rhone and Garonne rivers carried merchandise and raw materials through the land, and Marseilles, Toulouse, Avignon and Narbonne were major seaports. There was a relaxation of the traditions of caste, and Jews and Arabs mixed freely in the melting pot towns of Languedoc. The spirit of independence from princely power was strong in the Midi.
Being predominantly commercial cities, the towns of the Languedoc were quite opulent and modern compared with the cities of the North such as Paris, Troyes or Rouen. The cities of the south had universities that taught medicine, philosophy, mathematics, astrology, and more. The works of the Arab philosophers were censored in Paris, but available in Toulouse. Arab doctors and merchants came to Languedoc, and the "infidel" was not regarded as a "natural enemy." Jews were fully integrated into public life and were held in high regard by the general populace. In some towns, Jews were consuls or magistrates.
One thing is certain, life in the Languedoc was more secular than anywhere else, and as a result, life in general flourished to a higher degree than in those places under the jackboot of religious intolerance. The cities of the Languedoc were centers of culture and great industry and prestige. Poetry, literature, and music also flourished and became a part of daily life as much for the bourgeoisie and the common man as for the nobility. The Poetry of the Languedoc is not only the most ancient in European history, but also the most sublime in terms of inspiration. It seems that the Occitan language was the tongue par excellence of literature. Even today, no one can think of the South of France without recalling the troubadours. The phenomenon of an aristocracy passionately devoted to spiritually inspirational poetry, that dedicated their lives to living out the ideals of that age and milieu, is unmatched by any other group or period of history. The prosaic northerners might have thought the Southerners had gone off their rockers, but then the northern nobility's highest ambition was to help their king put on his underwear.
The nobility of the Languedoc had a different idea of honor than sacrificing his life for his king, or tying his shoes. In spite of the opulence of their surroundings, the southern aristocrat had a certain disdain for the material things of life, combined with a high regard and even exaltation of personal virtues that was possessed of a great and noble WILL. The adoration of the Lady was a declaration of free will; a proof that, even though one is giving, and giving all, it is being given to a private deity of one's own free choice. It is very likely that the Lady of the Languedoc was merely a symbol of something much deeper and was directly related to the knowledge that was held by the Cathar perfecti. One thing for certain is this: the nobility of the Languedoc were not only permitting heresy, but were its most famous and dedicated supporters and defenders.
Although mystery surrounds the origin of Catharism, recent research indicates that it was connected to the Gnosticism of the Bogomils of the Byzantine Empire. This tradition may relate directly to the Esoteric Christian tradition revealed by Georges Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky, and Boris Mouravieff, and may actually be a conduit of legitimate transmission of the original teachings of the man around whom the Jesus myth was formed. It is suggested that he was only another in a long line of followers of this ancient tradition that was also present in the Megalithic societies.
The fact is, the so-called Cathar Heresy was really a rival religion that was rapidly gaining ground in Europe, and it claimed to be the original Christianity. These believers were not dissidents; they were fully conscious of belonging to a faith that was more ancient than the Church at Rome itself. Some modern historians have theorized that Catharism was not a heresy due to the simple fact that it was a completely different religion that had nothing at all in common with Christianity as we know it. The so-called Cathar heresy was predicated upon the question of Good and Evil. The irreducible bone of contention between the Cathars and the Catholic Church was the role and power of Evil in the life of human beings. For the Cathars, the god of Judaism was an evil Archon of Darkness. They rejected entirely the Old Testament as being the work of this evil god. The Cathars considered worldly authority, based on so-called Divine Sanction such as the Church claimed, to be a fraud.
The Cathar God was a god of light who ruled invisible consciousness and did not meddle in human affairs. The God of the Cathars simply didn't care if you got into bed before getting married, associated with or intermarried with Jews or Arabs, black or white, and whether or not you were a woman or a man. For the Cathars, it was material life, pursuit of material things, money, power and possessions, that was the hallmark of Idolatry.
The Cathars believed that it was a free choice for every person as to whether or not they wanted to renounce the materialistic life for a life of self-denial so as to purify oneself of material desires and thus "ascend" to a different world - an Edenic like state of purity. The only "hell" the Cathars admitted was that if a person did not choose to purify themselves, they would reincarnate over and over again until their material desires and passions were burned away in the sufferings of material life. In short, to be damned was to live again and again in this vale of tears we call Earthly life. Good grief! What kind of religion doesn't try to control people with fears of hellfire and damnation?
Such Gnostic Dualism isn't new; it is a notion that has been shared by other creeds throughout history. For the Cathars, however, the unique crossroads of choice lay within each and every human being. It was in the human consciousness that the divine spark was found - the "Kingdom of Heaven within" - and this spark was a remnant of an earlier, angelic state of existence that had the potential to be redeemed. It was there, in everyone, waiting to be set free from the cycle of reincarnation.
Now, what was so evil about this? It should be obvious. If such ideas were true, the sacraments of the Catholic Church were null and void, and the Church itself was a fraud, a cruel hoax played by those who were only seeking power (what a concept!). If such ideas were true, the status of human beings could never be looked at the same way again. If everybody believed, as the Cathars did, that a king in one life could be a serving wench in the next, a Jew in one life could be an Arab in the next, and that women could be highly evolved spiritual beings - even leaders - it put a whole different spin on how humans ought to behave toward one another.
One of the more serious charges against the Cathars was their repugnance against swearing oaths. It's hard to understand this now, but it can be compared to the idea that a modern earthly contract has no binding power when issues of morality and ethics come into the picture. The swearing of oaths, especially oaths of fealty, was the contractual underpinning of a feudal society. It gave a "sacred weight" to the controllers of the hierarchy, the Catholic Church. If an individual broke an oath, he could be condemned by the authority of the Church to Hell. Kingdoms, estates, bonds of service, all were created, transferred, and maintained by the mediation of the Church. You could say that "swearing oaths" was medieval Corporatism.
The Cathars believed that linking the activities of business and government to the Divine was an exercise in Wishful Thinking if not out and out blasphemy. From their point of view, god was detached from such things and any idea that he was either interested, or cared about the business and government doings of human beings was a fanciful house of cards. For anyone to claim that they had the power to control human dealings by threatening the wrath of God just on their say-so was hubris in the extreme.
Catharism taught that man and woman were one. A human being was reincarnated over and over again - as peasant, king, boy, girl, master, servant - but what really mattered was one's divine, immaterial, androgynous - or rather, sexless - spiritual self. That did irreparable damage to the Catholic church's teachings about the sinful state of women, the exclusion of women from inheritance, the "fall of man" via the temptation of Eve, and so on.
In short, Catharism was one of the greatest threats to the Powers That Be that has ever existed - then and since. The church, and kings and rulers who relied on the Church to control people and to give weight to their contracts, could not allow such a heresy to spread. Spurred on by the Catholic Church in its unholy alliance with power-seeking aristocrats, the might of Feudal Europe fell upon Languedoc in a righteous fury. In a certain sense, you could say that it was a war between spiritual freedom and spiritual corporatism. Western Civilization had reached a crossroad similar to the crossroad that the Cathars taught existed within the hearts of individual humans: a return to consciousness of Angelic realms, or a new cycle of repeating again and again the pain and suffering of existence in this vale of tears we call Earth.
Historian R. I. Moore has noted that the years around 1200 were a turning point that led to the "formation of a persecuting society". Choices were made then that are still reverberating in human society. And it is clear what choice was made then. We are facing a similar choice today.
When the Corporatist Church and Nobility went after the Democratic Cathars, the people of the Languedoc did not go down without a fight. But, as it is in all times, those who fight for the rights of free will for all are hindered by their very humanity; they are unable to achieve the single-minded rapacity that denies humanity to others so as to be able to mercilessly destroy them. (This, of course, is where accurate psychological knowledge would come in very handy. One cannot treat a genetic psychological deviant as a human with a soul, but one should, of course, treat them with the consideration that one gives to a rare species of animal.)
Pope Innocent III needed an explosive incident that would fire the public imagination and justify a declaration of war. The Pope had no army, and crusades were, essentially, volunteer operations. The Pope couldn't force anyone to fight, and so the idea was to persuade the landed nobles with their retinues of soldiers to agree to join in. This incident was provided by the murder of Peter of Castelnau which was blamed on Count Raymond. There are very good grounds, according to the historical experts, to think that Raymond had nothing to do with the murder of the Papal Legate, that it was s set-up just like the alleged "Muslim extremist" attack on the World Trade Center in our own times has been used to launch a war against Islam.
A propaganda campaign was launched. Papal emissaries, carrying Peter's bloodstained habit from place to place, expiated on the tragedy of a country abandoned to the ravages of heresy. This was the equivalent of showing the falling of the Twin Towers on television over and over again accompanied by inflammatory rhetoric against Islam. Just as we see in the present day - and so it has been throughout history - fantastic slanders were created and spread about the Cathars as they were about the Jews and later the Templars and now the Muslims. They were said to consume the ashes of dead babies and to indulge in incestuous orgies. The Cathars were accused of homosexuality and sodomy. The heretics were said to desecrate communion chalices and to declaim blasphemies against the saints, declaring they were all damned. You might call it Medieval Psy-ops and COINTELPRO. The propaganda efforts were so successful that volunteers to "kill 'em all" streamed in from all quarters. Not only knights with no lands, and hopes of acquiring a fief of their own, but also peasants and burghers.
Crusades in general had long formed a part of the social structure of the Western European aristocracy. It was a way to grab land and plunder. The thing that made Crusades so popular was the approval of the Church. Those who went to war "for the Church," were convinced that, by practicing a profession - that of warrior and murderer - that, under different circumstances would contribute nothing to their salvation, they were not only serving God, but were saving their own souls. Crusaders enjoyed indulgences, privileges, and could win forgiveness for the most heinous sins while grabbing property, plunder, fame and fortune. What a deal! Sounds like the Christian backed Bushies and Halliburton in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another lure to the Crusades was that it was a handy way of getting out of debt. A Crusader's goods and property were sacrosanct for the whole period of his absence, and his creditors could touch nothing no matter how much he might owe them. Sounds like the deals offered to the Bush cronies who stood behind him, eh? Too bad he wasn't as generous to the average foot soldier.
The faith of the Crusaders who could exterminate fellow human beings for the Glory of God may seem contemptible to us now, but is what America is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan any different? It seems that, to such minds, ordinary human morality cannot be considered when God's interests are at stake. Never mind that "god's interests" are surprisingly blood-thirsty and similar to the interests of whoever happens to be in power. Thus it is when a religion is based on a construct of human imagination.
Catholic Faith among the masses in the Middle Ages was deep, sincere, and violent in its attachment to external manifestations. It was a period of "mundane religions," since the urge to perceive God as more or less human and concrete with a special interest in his chosen human beings was a vigorous movement. When the Church had outlawed the sublime mysticism of the ancient Celts (which was surprisingly similar to the beliefs of the Cathars, by the way), they also took over the related myths and legends, transforming them into Saints and stories of martyrdom for Christianity rather than the other way around which it actually was, in many cases.
The world of the Medieval Christian was filled with the lives of Saints and readings from sacred books which took the place of theatre, cinema, magazines, and what we would call best sellers. Literature that was NOT religious in character, was almost unknown, and generally reserved for the pleasure of a small elite. The creative energy of the entire society was wholly focused on religious life. The frantic urge to incarnate the Divine, to make it concrete, suggests a very deep materialism; a high regard for the values of the physical world mixed with contempt for human life. Those who were listeners to the words of the envoys of the popes undoubtedly thought that a mutilated crucifix was more distressing than a mutilated human body.
And so, a heresy that was opposed to the massive Corporate constructions of faith - cathedrals, churches, monasteries, and royal power granted by that faith - was opposed most strenuously by those who clung most frantically to their religious customs as though they were a national heritage. In short, the papal emissaries had little trouble working up the anger and indignation of large audiences, and the Cathars became "God's Enemies."
The war against the Cathars, then, was a war that symbolized a particular view of God and the Universe that was held by those whose motives of sentiment and passion were peculiarly brutal and Corporatist. Throughout the merciless Crusade against the Cathars, it seems that it became more and more clear that the presence of heretics in Languedoc was merely an excuse. The real aim of the Church, the French Crown, the Crusaders, was genocide and grabbing of plunder via the destruction of the entire country and its aristocracy. The destruction of Catharism was only achieved by the obliteration of everything that made up the living traditions of the Languedoc.
The story of the crusade against the Cathars is a terrible story of the triumph of the Evil Archon of Darkness over the Light of the Spirit and Freedom. We have lived, ever since, in that persecuting society that was formed by Western Christendom at that time."