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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 1 — Progress From the First to the Fourteenth Century

Chapter 9 — Crusades against the Albigenses

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Rome founded on the Dogma of Persecution — Begins to act upon it — Territory of the Albigenses — Innocent III. — Persecuting Edicts of Councils — Crusade preached by the Monks of Citeaux — First Crusade launched — Paradise — Simon de Montfort — Raymond of Toulouse — His Territories Overrun and Devastated — Crusade against Raymond Roger of Beziers — Burning of his Towns — Massacre of their Inhabitants — Destruction of the Albigenses.

THE torch of persecution was fairly kindled in the beginning of the thirteenth century. Those baleful fires, which had smoldered since the fall of the Empire, were now re-lighted, but it must be noted that this was the act not of the State but of the Church. Rome had founded her dominion upon the dogma of persecution. She sustained herself "Lord of the conscience." Out of this prolific but pestiferous root came a whole century of fulminating edicts, to be followed by centuries of blazing piles. It could not be but that this maxim, placed at the foundation of her system, should inspire and mold the whole policy of the Church of Rome. Divine mistress of the conscience and of the faith, she claimed the exclusive right to prescribe to every human being what he was to believe, and to pursue with temporal and spiritual terrors every form of worship different from her own, till she had chased it out of the world. The first exemplification, on a great scale, of her office which she gave mankind was the crusades. As the professors of an impure creed, she pronounced sentence of extermination on the Saracens of the Holy Land; she sent thither some millions of crusaders to execute her ban; and the lands, cities, and wealth of the slaughtered infidels she bestowed upon her orthodox sons. If it was right to apply this principle to one pagan country, we do not see what should hinder Rome — unless indeed lack of power — from sending her missionaries to every land where infidelity and heresy prevailed, emptying them of their evil creed and their evil inhabitants together, and re-peopling them anew with a pure race from within her own orthodox pale.

But now the fervor of the crusades had begun sensibly to abate. The result had not responded either to the expectations of the Church that had planned them, or to the masses that had carried them out. The golden crowns of Paradise had been all duly bestowed, doubtless, but of course on those of the crusaders only who had fallen; the survivors had as yet inherited little save wounds, poverty, and disease. The Church, too, began to see that the zeal and blood which were being so freely expended on the shores of Asia might be turned to better account nearer home. The Albigenses and other sects springing up at her door were more dangerous foes of the Papacy than the Saracens of the distant East. For a while the Popes saw with comparative indifference the growth of these religious communities; they dreaded no harm from bodies apparently so insignificant; and even entertained at times the thought of grafting them on their own system as separate orders, or as resuscitating and purifying forces. With the advent of Innocent III., however, came a new policy. He perceived that the principles of these communities were wholly alien in their nature to those of the Papacy, that they never could be made to work in concert with it, and that if left to develop themselves they would most surely effect its overthrow. Accordingly the cloud of exterminating vengeance which rolled in the skies of the world, whithersoever he was pleased to command, was ordered to halt, to return westward, and discharge its chastisement on the South of Europe.

Let us take a glance at the region which this dreadful tempest is about to smite. The France of those days, instead of forming an entire monarchy, was parted into four grand divisions. It is the most southerly of the four, or Narbonne-Gaul, to which our attention is now to be turned. This was an ample and goodly territory, stretching from the Dauphinese Alps on the east to the Pyrenees on the south-west, and comprising the modern provinces of Dauphine, Provence, Languedoc or Gascogne. It was watered throughout by the Rhone, which descended upon it from the north, and it was washed along its southern boundary by the Mediterranean. Occupied by an intelligent population, it had become under their skillful husbandry one vast expanse of corn-land and vineyard, of fruit and forest tree. To the riches of the soil were added the wealth of commerce, in which the inhabitants were tempted to engage by the proximity of the sea and the neighborhood of the Italian republics. Above all, its people were addicted to the pursuits of art and poetry. It was the land of the troubadour. It was further embellished by the numerous castles of a powerful nobility, who spent their time in elegant festivities and gay tournaments.

But better things than poetry and feats of mimic war flourished here. The towns, formed into communes, and placed under municipal institutions, enjoyed no small measure of freedom. The lively and poetic genius of the people had enabled them to form a language of their own — namely, the Provencal. In richness of vocables, softness of cadence, and picturesqueness of idiom, the Provencal excelled all the languages of Europe, and promised to become the universal tongue of Christendom. Best of all, a pure Christianity was developing in the region. It was here, on the banks of the Rhone, that Irenaeus and the other early apostles of Gaul had labored, and the seeds which their hands had deposited in its soil, watered by the blood of martyrs who had fought in the first ranks in the terrible combats of those days, had never wholly perished. Influences of recent birth had helped to quicken these seeds into a second growth.

Foremost among these was the translation of the New Testament into the Provencal, the earliest, as we have shown, of all our modern versions of the Scriptures. The barons protected the people in their evangelical sentiments, some because they shared their opinions, others because they found them to be industrious and skillful cultivators of their lands. A cordial welcome awaited the troubadour at their castle-gates; he departed loaded with gifts; and he enjoyed the baron's protection as he passed on through the cities and villages, concealing, not unfrequently, the colporteur and missionary under the guise of the songster. The hour of a great revolt against Rome appeared to be near. Surrounded by the fostering influences of art, intelligence, and liberty, primitive Christianity was here powerfully developing itself. It seemed verily that the thirteenth and not the sixteenth century would be the date of the Reformation, and that its cradle would be placed not in Germany but in the south of France.

The penetrating and far-seeing eye of Innocent III. saw all this very clearly. Not at the foot of the Alps and the Pyrenees only did he detect a new life: in other countries of Europe, in Italy, in Spain, in Flanders, in Hungary — wherever, in short, dispersion had driven the sectaries, he discovered the same fermentation below the surface, the same incipient revolt against the Papal power. He resolved without loss of time to grapple with and crush the movement. He issued an edict enjoining the extermination of all heretics. [1] Cities would be drowned in blood, kingdoms would be laid waste, art and civilization would perish, and the progress of the world would be rolled back for centuries; but not otherwise could the movement be arrested, and Rome saved.

A long series of persecuting edicts and canons paved the way for these horrible butcheries. The Council of Toulouse, in 1119, presided over by Pope Calixtus II., pronounced a general excommunication upon all who held the sentiments of the Albigenses, cast them out of the Church, delivered them to the sword of the State to be punished, and included in the same condemnation all who should afford them defense or protection. [2] This canon was renewed in the second General Council of Lateran, 1139, under Innocent II. [3] Each succeeding Council strove to excel its predecessor in its sanguinary and pitiless spirit. The Council of Tours, 1163, under Alexander III., stripped the heretics of their goods, forbade, under peril of excommunication, any to relieve them, and left them to perish without succor. [4] The third General Council of Lateran, 1179, under Alexander III., enjoined princes to make war upon them, to take their possessions for a spoil, to reduce their persons to slavery, and to withhold from them Christian burial. [5] The fourth General Council of Lateran bears the stern and comprehensive stamp of the man under whom it was held. The Council commanded princes to take an oath to extirpate heretics from their dominions. Fearing that some, from motives of self-interest, might hesitate to destroy the more industrious of their subjects, the Council sought to quicken their obedience by appealing to their avarice. It made over the heritages of the excommunicated to those who should carry out the sentence pronounced upon them. Still further to stimulate to this pious work, the Council rewarded a service of forty days in it with the same ample indulgences which had aforetime been bestowed on those who served in the distant and dangerous crusades of Syria. If any prince should still hold back, he was himself, after a year's grace, to be smitten with excommunication, his vassals were to be loosed from their allegiance, and his lands given to whoever had the will or the power to seize them, after having first purged them of heresy. That this work of extirpation might be thoroughly done, the bishops were empowered to make an annual visitation of their dioceses, to institute a very close search for heretics, and to extract an oath from the leading inhabitants that they would report to the ecclesiastics from time to time those among their neighbors and acquaintances who had strayed from the faith. [6] It is hardly necessary to say that it is Innocent III. who speaks in this Council. It was assembled in his palace of the Lateran in 1215; it was one of the most brilliant Councils that ever were convened, being composed of 800 abbots and priors, 400 bishops, besides patriarchs, deputies, and ambassadors from all nations. It was opened by Innocent in person, with a discourse from the words, "With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you."

We cannot pursue farther this series of terrific edicts, which runs on till the end of the century and into the next. Each is like that which went before it, save only that it surpasses it in cruelty and terror. The fearful pillagings and massacrings which instantly followed in the south of France, and which were re-enacted in following centuries in all the countries of Christendom, were but too faithful transcripts, both in spirit and letter, of these ecclesiastical enactments. Meanwhile, we must note that it is out of the chair of the Pope — out of the dogma that the Church is mistress of the conscience — that this river of blood is seen to flow.

Three years was this storm in gathering. Its first heralds were the monks of Citeaux, sent abroad by Innocent III. in 1206 to preach the crusade throughout France and the adjoining kingdoms. There followed St. Dominic and his band, who traveled on foot, two and two, with full powers from the Pope to search out heretics, dispute with them, and set a mark on those who were to be burned when opportunity should offer. In this mission of inquisition we see the first beginnings of a tribunal which came afterwards to bear the terrible name of the "Inquisition." These gave

themselves to the work with an ardor which had not been equaled since the times of Peter the Hermit. The fiery orators of the Vatican but too easily succeeded in kindling the fanaticism of the masses. War was at all times the delight of the peoples among whom this mission was discharged; but to engage in this war what dazzling temptations were held out! The foes they were to march against were accursed of God and the Church. To shed their blood was to wash away their own sins — it was to atone for all the vices and crimes of a lifetime. And then to think of the dwellings of the Albigenses, replenished with elegances and stored with wealth, and of their fields blooming with the richest cultivation, all to become the lawful spoil of the crossed invader! But this was only a first installment of a great and brilliant recompense in the future. They had the word of the Pope that at the moment of death they should find the angels prepared to carry them aloft, the gates of Paradise open for their entrance, and the crowns and delights of the upper world waiting their choice. The crusader of the previous century had to buy forgiveness with a great sum: he had to cross the sea, to face the Saracen, to linger out years amid unknown toils and perils, and to return — if he should ever return — with broken health and ruined fortune. But now a campaign of forty days in one's own country, involving no hardship and very little risk, was all that was demanded for one's eternal salvation. Never before had Paradise been so cheap! The preparations for this war of extermination went on throughout the years 1207 and 1208. Like the mutterings of the distant thunder or the hoarse roar of ocean when the tempest is rising, the dreadful sounds filled Europe, and their echoes reached the doomed provinces, where they were heard with terror. In the spring of 1209 these armed fanatics were ready to march, [7] One body had assembled at Lyons. Led by Arnold, Abbot of Citeaux and legate of the Pope, it descended by the valley of the Rhone. A second army gathered in the Agenois under the Archbishop of Bordeaux. A third horde of militant pilgrims marshaled in the north, the subjects of Philip Augustus, and at their head marched the Bishop of Puy. [8] The near neighbors of the Albigenses rose in a body, and swelled this already overgrown host. The chief director of this sacred war was the Papal legate, the Abbot of Citeaux. Its chief military commander was Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester a French nobleman, who had practiced war and learnt cruelty in the crusades of the Holy Land. In putting himself at the head of these crossed and fanatical hordes he was influenced, it is believed, quite as much by a covetous greed of the ample and rich territories of Raymond, Count of Toulouse, as by hatred of the heresy that Raymond was suspected of protecting. The number of crusaders who now put themselves in motion is variously estimated at from 50,000 to 500,000. The former is the reckoning of the Abbot of Vaux Cernay, the Popish chronicler of the war; but his calculation, says Sismondi, does not include "the ignorant and fanatical multitude which followed each preacher armed with scythes and clubs, and promised to themselves that if they were not in a condition to combat the knights of Languedoc, they might, at least, be able to murder the women and children of the heretics." [9]

This overwhelming host precipitated itself upon the estates of Raymond VI., Count of Toulouse. Seeing the storm approach, he was seized with dread, wrote submissive letters to Rome, and offered to accept whatever terms the Papal legate might please to dictate. As the price of his reconciliation, he had to deliver up to the Pope seven of his strongest towns, to appear at the door of the Church, where the dead body of the legate Castelneau, who had been murdered in his dominions, lay, and to be there beaten with rods. [10] Next, a rope was put about his neck, and he was dragged by the legate to the tomb of the friar, in the presence of several bishops and an immense multitude of spectators. After all this, he was obliged to take the cross, and join with those who were seizing and plundering his cities, massacring his subjects, and carrying fire and sword throughout his territories. Stung by these humiliations and calamities, he again changed sides. But his resolution to brave the Papal wrath came too late. He was again smitten with interdict; his possessions were given to Simon de Montfort, and in the end he saw himself reft of all. [11]

Among the princes of the region now visited with this devastating scourge, the next in rank and influence to the Count of Toulouse was the young Raymond Roger, Viscount of Beziers. Every day this horde of murderers drew nearer and nearer to his territories. Submission would only invite destruction. He hastened to put his kingdom into a posture of defense. His vassals were numerous and valiant, their fortified castles covered the face of the country; of his towns, two, Beziers and Carcassonne, were of great size and strength, and he judged that in these circumstances it was not too rash to hope to turn the brunt of the impending tempest. He called round him his armed knights, and told them that his purpose was to fight: many of them were Papists, as he himself was; but he pointed to the character of the hordes that were approaching, who made it their sole business to drown the earth in blood, without much distinction whether it was Catholic or Albigensian blood that they spilled. His knights applauded the resolution of their young and brave liege lord.

The castles were

garrisoned and provisioned, the peasantry of the surrounding districts gathered into them, and the cities were provided against a siege. Placing in Beziers a number of valiant knights, and telling the inhabitants that their only hope of safety lay in making a stout defense, Raymond shut himself up in Carcassonne, and waited the approach of the army of crusaders. Onward came the host: before them a smiling country, in their rear a piteous picture of devastation — battered castles, the blackened walls and towers of silent cities, homesteads in ashes, and a desert scathed with fire and stained with blood.

In the middle of July, 1209, the three bodies of crusaders arrived, and sat down under the walls of Beziers. The stoutest heart among its citizens quailed, as they surveyed from the ramparts this host that seemed to cover the face of the earth. "So great was the assemblage," says the old chronicle, "both of tents and pavilions, that it appeared as if all the world was collected there." [12] Astonished but not daunted, the men of Beziers made a rush upon the pilgrims before they should have time to fortify their encampment. It was all in vain The assault was repelled, and the crusaders, mingling with the citizens as they hurried back to the town in broken crowds, entered the gates along with them, and Beziers was in their hands before they had even formed the plan of attack. The knights inquired of the Papal legate, the Abbot of Citeaux, how they might distinguish the Catholics from the heretics. Arnold at once cut the knot which time did not suffice to loose by the following reply, which has since become famous; "Kill all! kill all! The Lord will know His own. [13] "

The bloody work now began. The ordinary population of Beziers was some 15,000; at this moment it could not be less than four times its usual number, for being the capital of the province, and a place of great strength, the inhabitants of the country and the open villages had been collected into it. The multitude, when they saw that the city was taken, fled to the churches, and began to toll the bells by way of supplication. This only the sooner drew upon themselves the swords of the assassins. The wretched citizens were slaughtered in a trice. Their dead bodies covered the floor of the church; they were piled in heaps round the altar; their blood flowed in torrents at the door. "Seven thousand dead bodies," says Sismondi, "were counted in the Magdalen alone. When the crusaders had massacred the last living creature in Beziers, and had pillaged the houses of all that they thought worth carrying off, they set fire to the city in every part at once, and reduced it to a vast funeral pile. Not a house remained standing, not one human being alive. Historians differ as to the number of victims. The Abbot of Citoaux, feeling some shame for the butchery which he had ordered, in his letter to Innocent III. reduces it to 15,000; others make it amount to 60,000." [14]

The terrible fate which had overtaken Beziers — in one day converted into a mound of ruins dreary and silent as any on the plain of Chaldaea — told the other towns and villages the destiny that awaited them. The inhabitants, terror-stricken, fled to the woods and caves. Even the strong castles were left tenantless, their defenders deeming it vain to think of opposing so furious and overwhelming a host. Pillaging, burning, and massacring as they had a mind, the crusaders advanced to Carcassonne, where they arrived on the lst of August. The city stood on the right bank of the Aude; its fortifications were strong, its garrison numerous and brave, and the young count, Raymond Roger, was at their head. The assailants advanced to the walls, but met a stout resistance. The defenders poured upon them streams of boiling water and oil, and crushed them with great stones and projectiles. The attack was again and again renewed, but was as often repulsed. Meanwhile the forty days' service was drawing to an end, and bands of crusaders, having fulfilled their term and earned heaven, were departing to their homes. The Papal legate, seeing the host melting away, judged it perfectly right to call wiles to the aid of his arms. Holding out to Raymond Roger the hope of an honorable capitulation, and swearing to respect his liberty, Arnold induced the viscount, with 300 of his knights, to present himself at his tent. "The latter," says Sismondi, "profoundly penetrated with the maxim of Innocent III., that 'to keep faith with those that have it not is an offense against the faith,' caused the young viscount to be arrested, with all the knights who had followed him."

When the garrison saw that their leader had been imprisoned, they resolved, along with the inhabitants, to make their escape overnight by a secret passage known only to themselves — a cavern three leagues in length, extending from Carcassonne to the towers of Cabardes. The crusaders were astonished on the morrow, when not a man could be seen upon the walls; and still more mortified was the Papal legate to find that his prey had escaped him, for his purpose was to make a bonfire of the city, with every man, woman, and child within it. But if this greater revenge was now out of his reach, he did not disdain a smaller one still in his power. He collected a body of some 450 persons, partly fugitives from Carcassonne whom he had captured, and partly the 300 knights who had accompanied the viscount, and of these he burned 400 alive and the remaining 50 he hanged. [15]


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