The suppression of the heresies

One of the striking features of the movements of these centuries which the Catholic Church branded as heresies was that they either completely died out or, in the case of the Waldensees, dwindled to small groups. This disappearance appears to have been due in part to inherent weakness and the lack of an effective organization and in part to measures adopted by the Catholics.

It is of the actions taken by Catholics of which we hear most. In spite of the corruption within its ranks, the Catholic Church possessed striking advantages, In its system of parishes and dioceses directed from one common centre, Rome, reinforced by monastic orders and supported by secular rulers, it had a comprehensive structure which could operate on a wide front and from varied angles. Several Popes and councils of the Church formally condemned the heretics. Numbers of preachers, among them, as we have seen, Bernard of Clairvaux, Dominic, and the original group which the latter gathered about him, used eloquence and persuasion. The ecclesiastical combined with the civil arm to arrest heretics and punish them. In 1179 the Third Lateran Council proclaimed a crusade against them. This is said to have been the first occasion in which that device was employed against those who called themselves Christians. Recruited and led by a Papal legate, in 1181 a crusading army appeared to have some success, but it was soon disbanded and the Cathari once more raised their heads. In the ensuing quarter of a century, both the Cathari and the Waldensees multiplied, especially in Southern France.

It was Innocent III who initiated measures which dealt the decisive blows against the dissidents. At first his efforts seemed to meet with as little success as had those of his predecessors. The outstanding lord in Southern France, Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, evaded Papal efforts to induce him to take positive action and Philip Augustus, the King of France, hesitated further to complicate his own difficult problems, including his chronic troubles with England, by risking a prolonged internal war to enforce the Papal commands. Then, in 1208, the Papal Legate, Peter of Castelnau, was murdered in Raymond's domains and perhaps at his court. Innocent took advantage of the widespread hor ror evoked by the crime to call forth a crusading army. Religious zeal represented in an outstanding leader of the crusading armies, Simon de Montfort, combined with quite secular motives, sectional jealousies, and the desire of the nobles of Northern France to reduce the power of the South and to profit by its wealth.

Years of warfare followed, with wholesale destruction. It is said that when one of the first cities to be taken, Beziers, was entered, and the Papal Legate was asked whether the Catholics should be spared, the latter, fearing that the heretics would feign orthodoxy to save their lives, commanded: "Kill them all, for God knows His own." Louis VIII of France (reigned 1223-1226), the son of Philip Augustus, pressed the crusade against the Albigenses. He was followed by Louis IX, who reigned from 1226 to 1270. Deeply religious, esteemed by the Middle Ages the ideal Christian monarch, Louis IX regarded himself as the champion of the Catholic faith and was quite willing to press the campaigns against heretics.

By the Treaty of Paris, in 1229, Count Raymond VII of Toulouse promised loyalty to the Catholic Church and to give his daughter in marriage to one of the king's brothers. This ended the crusade. In that same year, to make certain that the peace was effective, an ecclesiastical council at Toulouse outlined a stern procedure for the eradication of heresy in the South. Among other measures, the council forbade to the laity the possession of copies of the Bible, except the Psalms and such passages as were in the breviary, and condemned vernacular translations. It thus sought to remove one of the prevalent sources of heresy.

To aid in the suppression of the heresies resort was had not only to crusades but also to the Inquisition. In principle the Inquisition was not new. The very words inquisitio and inquisitor came from Roman law and, like so much else in canon law, were taken over from the Roman Empire. Now and again in earlier centuries persons accused of heresy had been tried by ecclesiastical or secular authorities and on some the death penalty had been inflicted. In theory the bishops had jurisdiction in detecting and punishing heretics, but in practice many, perhaps most, had been lax or indifferent. Opinion within the Church was not uniform nor were all civil rulers content to commit to the Church full jurisdiction over their subjects on such issues. To complete the work begun by the crusades and to eradicate whatever heresy remained, the Council of Toulouse of 1229 systematized and elaborated the inquisitorial process. Further developments were due to the then reigning Pope, Gregory IX, and additions and modifications were made by later Pontiffs. In other words, the trend, then marked, of strengthening the administrative and judicial control of the Papacy over the entire Western Church was extended to the systematic eradication of heresy. Early inquisitors were chosen largely from the Dominicans. Soon members of other mendicant orders, especially the Franciscans, were used.

In contrast with what had been the custom under the Roman civil law, in the practice of the Inquisition the accused was regarded as guilty until proved innocent and was not confronted with the witnesses against him. Torture might be employed. Eventually the system spread to most countries in Western Europe and usually had the support of the kings as well as of the ecclesiastical authorities.

As a result of the internal weaknesses and lack of cohesion of the heretical movements and of the action of the Catholics through the state, crusades, the preaching and teaching of the mendicant orders, the activities of some of the bishops, and the measures taken by the Inquisition, by the middle of the fourteenth century the heresies which had flourished in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries had largely died out.

We shall see how in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and especially in the sixteenth century fresh bursts of life in Western Europe led to the emergence of other movements which could not be contained within the Catholic Church. At the appropriate place we must raise and seek to answer the question why, in contrast with the earlier dissenting movements, those of the sixteenth century persisted and for the most part increased until in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a major spread of the Christian faith was through them. To enter into that problem at this point would be premature, but we must not pass on from the "heresies" of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries without pausing to note it and to call attention to its importance.

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