Making Enemies: Latin Christendom in the Age of Reform

Making Enemies: Latin Christendom in the Age of Reform

By R.I. Moore

Historien, Vol.6 (2006)

Introduction: In the district of Toulouse a damnable heresy has lately arisen, which, after the nature of a cancer, gradually diffusing itself over the neighbouring places, has already infected vast numbers throughout Gascony and other provinces; and while, serpent-like, it is concealed beneath its folds, in proportion to its unseen advances, so it injures more grievously the Lord’s vineyard in the persons of the simple-hearted. Therefore, we command the bishops, and all God’s priests resident in those parts, to be vigilant, and to inhibit, under pain of anathema, all persons from sheltering in their territories or presuming to protect the known followers of such heresy. Nor may they have intercourse with such followers either in selling or buying, in order that the benefits of society being denied them, they may be compelled to renounce the errors of their ways. And whosoever shall attempt to contravene this injunction, shall be included under their curse as a partaker of their crime. But if they shall be discovered by Catholic princes, let them be taken into custody and incur the forfeiture of all their goods. And since they frequently assemble from different places at one hiding-place, with no reason for coming together except agreement in heresy, let all such hiding places be diligently sought out, and, when discovered, forbidden under canonical censure.

This, the seventh canon of the Papal Council of Tours in 1163, marked the beginning of the long campaign against the Cathar heresy in the County of Toulouse. In the course of the following half century or so its description was gradually elaborated: in 1165 at Lombers, near Toulouse, the leaders of the heresy, described as bons homs, publicly excoriated the abuses and repudiated the authority of the Catholic hierarchy; in 1178 they were found to include some of the leading men among the citizens of Toulouse, and to espouse a theology based upon belief in the separate creation and creators of matter and spirit; in 1179 they were given the name (among others) of Cathars by the Third Lateran Council, and in 1201 said to have originated in Bulgaria; by 1250 they were shown to comprise a group of hierarchically organised sects, with their own theology and ritual, their own bishops and even their own pope (who lurked in the Balkans), and by 1270 they had been given a history which asserted, among other things, that the heresy had been brought to the west by “Franks who went to Constantinople to conquer the land and discovered this sect”. The story is not consistent in all its details, which in the later part of the twentieth century were subjected, along with their sources, to increasingly rigorous and sceptical criticism, but until very recently almost all the historiography of heresy and inquisition in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Europe has been based on the acceptance of these assertions more or less at face value.

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