High Middle Ages (1000-1200)

Christianity, 1130-1244: Spiritual Invigoration, the Papal Monarchy, and Heresy

Even more ominous was the spread of clearly heretical doctrines in Europe. The two most prominent heresies were the Waldensians and the Cathari. The first started out innocently enough under Peter Waldo in 1173 in Lyons. He collected a group of reforming preachers, yet the Popes Alexander III and Lucius III were not yet of the frame of mind to support such Francis-like movements, and refused Waldo the right to preach the gospel, as he was no priest. Waldo and his associates went on preaching however, based on the biblical admonition to do so. He and his group was thus anathamized at the Third Lateran Council, and were driven from Lyons. Waldensianism soon spread to Lombardy, Provence, France, the Rhineland, and even Poland, becoming more radicalized along the way. Including extreme elements of antisacerdotalism, they came to believe that no one should have a monopoly on the Bible's reading, discussion, or preaching. Anyone sufficiently inspired could preach the Gospels. Further, the sacraments were invalidated by their administration by a morally sinful priest--basically anyone not supporting their views. Finally, they were ultra-pacifistic. More extreme attitudes held that indulgences and prayers for the dead were useless, as there was no purgatory; that officials of the Church, including the Pope, had no special authority, as only God could command obedience; and tithes were meant for the poor and not for the clergy. That almost all of this would offend the Church at every level is clear; that Waldensians were excellent scripturalists able to defeat Catholic clergy in disputations was even more galling, prompting St. Dominic's emphasis on learning.

The second heretical movement was perhaps more dangerous, as it departed from Christianity altogether. It was called Catharism, or Albigensianism, based on the Languedoc-Toulouse area town called Albi, which became its center. It was actually imported from Byzantine lands, where it had been harshly persecuted as Paulicanism. Fleeing the region, its adherents were known as Bogomils in Bulgaria, and its migration to France is somewhat of a mystery, but is assumed to have followed trade routes. Betraying its eastern origins, it postulated a somewhat Manichean dualism. In its conception, there were two Gods, one of good and one of evil. Jehovah, an angel of the God of good, was assigned the task of creating humanity, but decided that his creation should worship him, and thus organized a church focused on him--Judaism. God then sent Christ to redeem men and bring them the truth, but Jehovah foiled him, having Christ crucified. Thus, for the Cathari, the Cross symbolizes defeat. More perniciously in their minds, Jehovah went on to subvert Christ's message to state that only through an organized ecclesiastical structure--the Catholic Church--could Christ's work be done. Thus, the clergy were in essence servants of the Devil, as Jehovah had in the meantime been cast out of Paradise and was Hell's master. Proceeding from this initial postulate, they rejected everything the Church and organized Christianity represented. Also rejected in the extreme was materialism and temporalism. All elements of flesh were evil. The Virgin Mary was not a material being, but a spirit; as all flesh came from the devil, an adherent of Catharism could eat no meat or animal products, and could not undertake sexual intercourse. Woman, of course, were snares set by the devil to entice men into sins of the flesh. As this extreme doctrine was rather difficult to live by on a daily basis, two categories of adherents existed: the prefecti, who observed all strictures and served as the movements clergy; and the credentes, who believed in all aspects of the faith, yet lived a regular life. Most people took on the sacraments and ascended to the prefecti level only when near death or very ill.

The Albigensian heresy caught on in the comparatively more highly cultured regions of southern France--Toulouse and Languedoc--which were more wealthy, better connected to international trade routes, and with more time for spiritual speculation. At times the count of Toulouse protected them, and excommunication as well as the interdict were useless, as the Cathari felt the Church to be an evil irrelevance at best. The only solution seemed to be their physical extermination. In the 1210s, then Pope Innocent III preached a Crusade--not for the East, but for southern France. The Albigensian crusade did not attract any monarchical adherents, but Philip-Augustus allowed its preaching in his domains, and Simon de Montfort was its leader. The fight was very difficult in the 1210s-1220s--the Cathari were not pacifists, and their doctrines had found support among the southern French knights. It also took on the character of a general north-south conflict, with cultural and political undertones. De Montfort captured Beziers, Narbonne, and eventually Toulouse, at which point Pedro of Aragon intervened on his kinsman Raymond's behalf, but was defeated in 1213. De Montfort took the ducal titles of all areas he conquered and the Pope supported this. Raymond made a comeback, however, and Toulouse rebelled in 1218, at which point Montfort died fighting. The conflict did not peter out until 1229. Raymond had reclaimed his regions, so that the Papacy called upon French King Louis VIII to pacify the region. He came south and proclaimed Languedoc annexed to the crown. After he died, his officials carried on, and the Treaty of Meaux (1229) officially united Languedoc to the French monarchy. By its terms Raymond retained the lands until his death.

The thirteenth century, therefore, was an eventful one for the Church. As the Albigensian Crusade indicates, the Pope was increasingly ready to use temporal power as much as possible, even diverting a Crusade from its original purpose. Administratively, politically, and materially, the Papacy was reaching the zenith of its power; spiritually, however, it was forced to recognize the abilities of those emerging from outside its ambit. Furthermore, the Papacy was running the increasing risk of becoming simply a secular power focused on material goals, and out of touch with the European flock.

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