A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom (Pivotal Moments in World History)
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The seductive appeal of these heretics is understandable, as they seemingly represent an alternative, more tolerant Christianity to that of the medieval Catholic Church. Catharism is usually cited as a form of Christian dualism in which the universe was split by a vast cosmic chasm where an active, malign Devil (or bad God) manipulated the earth, and a passive, good God quietly dwelt in heaven. Body and soul, matter and spirit, were irreconcilably divided. Day-to-day existence was an unrequited yearning for an indifferent God, and, if such longing was to be endured, then equanimity in mind and ...more
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Daniel Moore
or somewhat misguided, it has been breathtakingly wrong. As much as I disavow this learned tradition of misreading and misprision, I do admire it. What I most deplore are the popular attempts to exploit it. I enjoy page-turners—they distract during turbulence, they go with summer holidays—except when they pretend to historical truth. My bookshelves groan with novels and histories dedicated to the “secret history” of the Cathars—which leads directly to the “secret history” of Western civilization itself. The Da Vinci Code is the most widely known retelling of this untold story. This sub-rosa history usually goes something like this: Jesus survives the cross; He and Mary Magdalene have kids; they all go to southern Gaul; the medieval Church hates this bloodline because it fizzes with the Holy Feminine; the Cathars know the truth; and the Albigensian Crusade was the reactionary, repressive attempt to expunge that knowledge from the world. Swirling around this esoteric tale are troubadours, every dualist heresy under the sun, the Holy Grail, the Templars, the Inquisition, Montségur, Rennes-le-Château, the Priory of Sion, Masonic Lodges, and enigmatic incunabula. What is so astonishing about this unlocking, decoding narrative is that it resembles the standard history to be found in many academic studies. Both accounts argue from silence (the Church suppressed all the evidence); see continuities where none exist (a nod’s as good as a wink); rely on documents of dubious provenance (or rather copies of copies of missing documents); and accept a priori a Cathar Church.
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A contemporary twist on these idealist assumptions is a high-minded empathy about past beliefs. Analysis isn’t based on the interpretation of historical evidence but on the emotional authenticity of a judgment. This posturing easily slips into claiming that only the religious can truly understand religion—and more stridently into insisting that only Christians can fathom Christianity, Jews unravel Judaism, Cathars decode . . . . This blurring of thinking and feeling (and morality) surrounds us nowadays. Historians must forgo this consoling confusion, for it means taking sides, it means getting ...more
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Any meditation on the past that starts with the presumption that some things are universal in humans or in human society—never changing, inert, immobile—is to retreat from attempting a historical explanation about previous rhythms of existence. Studies are lauded that argue that there is, say, a pervasive male manner (with other men, with women, with meat) imprinted into masculine genes over a month of prehistoric Sundays. Or that minds always respond in similar ways to tragedy. Or that hereditary behavioral traits impose habits (and occasionally beliefs) from one generation to the next. Or ...more
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Daniel Moore
about authenticity.
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The Albigensian Crusade is one of the great pivotal moments in world history, if for no other reason than the fact that a very distinct Christian culture in the lands of the count of Toulouse was accused of being heretical by the Catholic Church, accused of being an apocalyptic plague threatening to destroy Christianity, and that these accusations led to an irrevocable moral obligation for mass murder. The crusade ushered genocide into the West, changing forever what it meant to be Christian, what it meant to be like Christ.
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Innocent III (Lotario di Segni) (1160/61–1216): Elected pope in 1198 and exhorted Christian knights to expunge the Provinciales heretici, “Provençal heretics,” from the lands of the count of Toulouse in a mighty crusade in 1208. He envisioned himself “below God but above man, less than God but greater than man, who judges all things but who no one judges.” The greatest (for good and bad) pope in the Middle Ages.
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Philip II Augustus, king of France (1165–1223): Vapidly campaigned with Richard the Lionheart in the Holy Land during the Third Crusade in 1191. In 1208 he was reluctant to commit himself to the crusade against the count of Toulouse, despite repeated appeals from Innocent III. He did allow his son Louis to go on crusade into the south in 1215 and 1219. He efficiently reorganized the bureaucratic structures of France and reconquered Normandy from John, king of England, in 1204. Toward the end of his life he took more interest in the holy war on heresy.
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Louis VIII, king of France (1187–1226): As a prince he undertook two holy expeditions, and as king he led a great army into the “Albigensian lands” in 1226. During the siege of Avignon he became ill and died journeying back to France. Louis was mostly a mediocrity (and he was certainly a rather hapless commander), but his royal crusades between the Garonne and the Rhône helped transform the kingdom of France into the kingdom of Christ.
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Louis IX, king of France (1214–1270): He was twelve years old when his father died and his mother, Blanche of Castile, became the regent of France. In 1229 (and only two weeks before his fifteenth birthday) he accepted the surrender of the thirty-one-year-old Raimon VII, count of Toulouse. He grew to be a man obsessed with imitating Christ (which frequently made him something of a pious prude). In 1248 (after extraordinary preparations) he went on crusade to the eastern Mediterranean; he failed miserably...
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Pere II, count of Barcelona and king of Aragon (1174–1213): He was crowned king by Innocent III in Rome in 1204, promising “to defend the Catholic faith and persecute heretical depravity” as a vassal of the Church. Charismatic, talented in war, and something of a ladies’ man, he won a great Christian victory over the grand army of the Almohad Caliph Muhammad al-Nasir on the Andalusian plain of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. A year later he crossed the Pyrénées with “the flower of Catalonia and great noble warriors...
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John, king of England (1167–1216): His sister was the mother of Raimon VII and he was always sympathetic (if indolent) to his nephew’s plight. He too distrusted Simon de Montfort as the crusade was fought right up to (and sometimes just over into) the lands belonging to the English crown in the Agen and Périgord. He promised to aid Pere II and Raimon VII in 1213, but “a great quantity ...
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The Anonymous Troubadour (d. 1229): In the final years of the crusade this unknown troubadour started singing where Guilhem de Tudela ended his song. He was most likely a soldier of Toulouse or Foix and, after twenty years of holy war, was furious. He hated the “French from France” and, less impressed with fate as a despot, saw all terror emanating from Simon de Montfort. He was intensely nostalgic about the world destroyed by the crusade. This rage and sentimentality were transformed into sublime and moving poetry. He ended the song just before Prince Louis besieged Toulouse in 1219. Guilhem ...more