Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Christianity at War

I have heard some Catholics say that the crusades were done for the benefit of "god." I use that term loosely because really, if you study it in depth, you realize that the crusades, while they may have had a whitewashing of Christianity over them, were really just vile, underhanded acts of property confiscation in the name of religion. On that note, many modern Catholics dismiss the crusades as having nothing to do with religion, and instead only to do with property. But there is a flaw to that logic, because as much as it had to do with property, it had to do with the fact that the people they were taking property from were not Catholic. So therefore, it does indeed boil down to religion.

In fact, if you want an interesting read, you should really check out the Catholic Encyclopedia online. They refer to the Albigensian Crusade as accomplishing "the extermination of the Albigensian heresy." What they really mean is that it was the extermination of people, but let's not nitpick words. Between the heretics that were burned, the people who starved to death because the army ate or destroyed their crops, and the people who were caught in the crossfire, in the sieges and killed because they harbored people who decided they could think for themselves, hundreds of thousands died. And to this day, the Catholic church defends their actions. They defend the Inquisition, saying that it was a necessary evil. And there are people who still think that the Inquisition was a good thing, including many who support modern day torture.

As I mentioned in the first post, I'm reading The Occitan War. I've learned a lot of interesting things that I didn't know before. I had read a lot of books on the Cathar heresy itself but they don't really go in depth about the war itself. I'm not finished with the book yet, but so far the only issue I have with it is that the author seems to justify the atrocities that the crusaders committed because the southern defenders did much the same on some occasions. Perhaps it is not intended but this is how he comes across at points. Of course, some of the things done by the southern side were not right, but in a way, I can't say I blame them. They weren't the ones that ran off somewhere and invaded another person's land over religion.

One of the interesting things I learned is that the Pope had suspended the indulgence for the crusade in early 1213. Indeed, Arnaud Amaury, the Pope's legate who history has made famous by his supposed words, "Kill them all, god will know his own" at the massacre of B├ęziers (I wouldn't even call it a siege) was replaced by another legate, Peter of Benevento, who reconciled all of the southern lords with the Church. And what did Simon de Montford do? He carried on the crusade as if nothing had happened. He also lied, or at least didn't tell the crusaders who arrived to help their cause, that they were no longer eligible for an indulgence because the Pope had canceled the crusade. You know, from what I had read before, I always had this idea in my head that Simon was an underhanded bastard. Well, I think this confirms it. Simon was in it for the property, the loot, and his own pride, and that's about it. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia admits he was an ass, but goes on to say he was a great man anyway because of his Catholic zeal, because really, that surely excuses all of the atrocities he carried out.

"It is ever to be deplored that Simon stained his many great qualities by treachery, harshness, and bad faith. His severity became cruelty, and he delivered over many towns to fire and pillage, thus involving many innocent people in the common ruin. This is the more to be regretted, as his intrepid zeal for the Catholic faith, the severe virtue of his private life, and his courage and skill in warfare marked him out as a great man."

At any rate, The Occitan War has made me want to read some of the primary sources that the author uses, like the account by Vaux de Cernay. The only problem is that all but one of the primary sources were written by those sympathetic to the Catholic church. The only source we have that is written from a pro-Southern stance is the latter half of the Chanson de la Croisade Albigeoise, of which said latter half was written by an anonymous person who may have been part of the clergy in Toulouse and loyal to Raymond VI or his son. But even this isn't really a history, as much as it is an epic poem. Sure it probably has a lot of truth to it, but in the end, it was meant to entertain and so we can never be sure that the author didn't take poetic license or exaggerate what happened. Also, he's not very sympathetic to the heretics, as he himself was obviously a loyal Catholic.

And reading the Catholic accounts of the crusade is the equivalent of reading a Gestapo report on the Jews. The picture is obviously slanted. Indeed, almost all we know of Catharism is taken from later Inquisition records, which were written from oral interviews in the vernacular, and then translated into Latin and put into the third person. Now, ignoring all the problems that could cause for knowing what these people thought, it should be obvious that the Inquisitorial scribes could have written almost anything, and there is no way to refute it.

I will do a review of The Occitan War when I am finished with it. I do recommend reading it, if you can't afford to purchase it, go to your local library and ask the reference librarian to inter-library loan it for you.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and insightful post. There's so much I have learned and so much yet to learn. The Roman Church has from time immemorial justified its outrageous behavior by saying the ends justify the means.

    Not so, of course.

    The section were you mentioned that they should "kill them all, God will know his own", is not that much different than American soldiers shooting innocents claiming that "Allah will sort them out." That has become a common cry of the far right, and derives ultimately from the Bush/Cheney doctrines of a "war on terror."

    Nonsense, all of it. You can't have a war on terror. But it shows we haven't come very far over all these centuries.