Voltaire on the Wars against the Cathars of the Languedoc

The following is a translation of a French work of 1756 by Voltaire 1 , one of the greatest figures of the Enlightenment, and arguably the most effective champion of liberty the world has ever known. It recounts some of the main points of the wars against the Cathars of the Languedoc instigated and lead by the Roman Catholic Church.

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De la Croisade Contre les Languedociens

Of the Crusade against the People of the Languedoc.

Les querelles sanglantes de l'empire et du sacerdoce, les richesses des monastères, l'abus que tant d'évêques avaient fait de leur puissance temporelle, devaient tôt ou tard révolter les esprits et leur inspirer une secrète indépendance. Arnaud de Brescia avait osé exciter les peuples jusque dans Rome à secouer le joug. On raisonna beaucoup en Europe sur la religion, dès le temps de Charlemagne. Il est très certain que les Francs et les Germains ne connaissaient alors ni images, ni reliques, ni transsubstantiation. Il se trouva ensuite des hommes qui ne voulurent de loi que l'Évangile, et qui prêchèrent à peu près les mêmes dogmes que tiennent aujourd'hui les protestants. On les nommait Vaudois, parce qu'il y en avait beaucoup dans les vallées du Piémont; Albigeois, à cause de la ville d'Albi ; bons hommes par la régularité dont ils se piquaient ; enfin manichéens, du nom qu'on donnait alors en général aux hérétiques. On fut étonné, vers la fin du douzième siècle, que le Languedoc en parût tout rempli.

The bloody quarrels of the Empire and the priesthood, the wealth of the monasteries, the abuse their temporal power by so many bishops, was sooner or later bound to revolt people and inspire a secret independence in their minds.Arnald of Brescia2 had dared to incite people - even in Rome itself - to shake off their yokes. Religion had been much thought about in Europe from the time of Charlemagne. It is quite certain that the Francs and the Germans knew neither icons, nor relics, nor transubstantiation. Furthermore, there were men who wanted no law but the gospels, and who preached ideas almost the same as those held today by the Protestants. They were called Vaudois3 because they were numerous in the valleys of Piedmont; Albigensians4 , from the town of Albi; Goodmen, from the consistent goodness of their lives; and finally Manicheans, the name then given to heretics in general5 It was astonishing that, towards the end of the twelfth century, the Languedoc seemed full of them.
Dès l'an 1198, le pape Innocent III délégua deux simples moines de Cîteaux pour juger les hérétiques. " Nous mandons, dit-il, aux princes, aux comtes et à tous les seigneurs de votre province, de les assister puissamment contre les hérétiques, par la puissance qu'ils ont reçue pour la punition des méchants, en sorte qu'après que frère Rainier aura prononcé l'excommunication contre eux, les seigneurs confisquent leurs biens, les bannissent de leurs terres, et les punissent plus sévèrement s'ils osent y résister. Or nous avons donné pouvoir à frère Rainier d'y contraindre les seigneurs par excommunication et par interdit sur leurs biens, etc. " Ce fut le premier fondement de l'inquisition.

In the year 1198 Pope Innocent III delegated two simple monks to judge the heretics. "We command", he says "to the Princes, to the Counts, and to all Lords of your lands, to aid them against the heretics, by the authority that they have been given to punish the evil-doers, so that when Brother Rainier has excommunicated them, the Lords should seize their property, banish them from their lands, and punish severely those who dare to resist. Now, we have given authority to Brother Rainier to compel the Lords to do this, on pain of excommunication and interdiction of their property, etc." This was the first foundation of the Inquisition6

Un abbé de Cîteaux fut nommé ensuite avec d'autres moines pour aller faire à Toulouse ce que l'évêque devait y faire. Ce procédé indigna le comte de Foix et tous les princes du pays, déjà séduits par les réformateurs, et irrités contre la cour de Rome. An abbot of Cîteaux was then nominated with other monks to go to Toulouse to do what the bishop was supposed to do. This procedure infuriated the Count of Foix and all the Princes of the land, already seduced by the reformers, and set against the Court of Rome.

La secte était en grande partie composée d'une bourgeoisie réduite à l'indigence par le long esclavage dont on sortait à peine, et encore par les croisades. L'abbé de Cîteaux paraissait avec l'équipage d'un prince. Il voulut en vain parler en apôtre; le peuple lui criait: Quittez le luxe ou le sermon. Un Espagnol, évêque d'Osma, très homme de bien, qui était alors à Toulouse, conseilla aux inquisiteurs de renoncer à leurs équipages somptueux, de marcher à pied, de vivre austèrement, et d'imiter les Albigeois pour les convertir. Saint Dominique, qui avait accompagné cet évêque, donna l'exemple avec lui de cette vie apostolique, et parut alors souhaiter qu'on n'employât jamais d'autres armes contre les erreurs (1207). Mais Pierre de Castelnau, l'un des inquisiteurs, fut accusé de se servir des armes qui lui étaient propres, en soulevant secrètement quelques seigneurs voisins contre le comte de Toulouse, et en suscitant une guerre civile. Cet inquisiteur fut assassiné. Le soupçon tomba sur le comte de Toulouse.

The sect was to a large extent composed of a merchant class reduced to helplessness by the long servitude and more by the crusades from which it was possible to emerge only with difficulty. The Abbot of Cîteaux appeared, with the entourage of a prince. In vain he spoke as an Apostle; the people shouted at him "Abandon either your luxury or your sermon". A Spaniard, Bishop of Osma, a very good man who was then in Toulouse, advised the Inquisitors to give up their luxurious entourages, to walk on foot, to live austere lives, and to imitate the Albigensians in order to convert them. This bishop, along with Saint Dominic7 who had accompanied him, provided an example of this apostolic lifestyle, and appeared then to wish that no other means should ever be employed against these errors. But Pierre de Castelnau, one of the Inquisitors, was accused of using other weapons, which to him were quite appropriate, in secretly encouraging neighbouring lords to rise up against the Count of Toulouse8 , and in inciting civil war (1207). This Inquisitor was assassinated. Suspicion fell on the Count of Toulouse.

Le pape Innocent III ne balança pas à délier les sujets du comte de Toulouse de leur serment de fidélité. C'est ainsi qu'on traitait les descendants de Raymond de Toulouse, qui avait le premier servi la chrétienté dans les croisades.

Pope Innocent III did not hesitate to release the subjects of the Count of Toulouse from their oaths of fidelity. This is how the descendents of Raymond of Toulouse9 , the first to serve Christianity in the Crusades, were treated.
Le comte, qui savait ce que pouvait quelquefois une bulle, se soumit à la satisfaction qu'on exigea de lui (1209). Un des légats du pape, nommé Milon, lui commande de le venir trouver à Valence, de lui livrer sept châteaux qu'il possédait en Provence, de se croiser lui-même contre les Albigeois ses sujets, de faire amende honorable. Le comte obéit à tout: il Parut devant le légat, nu jusqu'à la ceinture, nu-pieds, nu-jambes, revêtu d'un simple caleçon, à la porte de l'église de Saint-Gilles ; là un diacre lui mit une corde au cou, et un autre diacre le fouetta, tandis que le légat tenait un bout de la corde; après quoi on fit prosterner le prince à la porte de cette église pendant le dîner du légat. The Count, who knew the power that a papal bull could have, submitted and did what was demanded of him (1209). One of the papal legates, named Milon, ordered him to go to Valence, to surrender seven castles that he held in Provence, to join the crusade against the Albigensians - his own subjects, and to make due apology. The Count obeyed every requirement: he appeared before the legate, stripped to the waist, bare foot and bare legged, clothed in simple breeches, at the door of the Church of Saint-Gilles10; there, a deacon placed a noose around his neck. Another deacon flogged him while the legate held the free end of the noose; after which the prince was obliged to prostrate himself at the door of this church while the legate ate his supper.

On voyait d'un côté le duc de Bourgogne, le comte de Nevers, Simon, comte de Montfort, les évêques de Sens, d'Autun, de Nevers, de Clermont, de Lisieux, de Bayeux, à la tête de leurs troupes, et le malheureux comte de Toulouse au milieu d'eux, comme leur otage; de l'autre côté, des peuples animés par le fanatisme de la persuasion. La ville de Béziers voulut tenir contre les croisés : on égorgea tous les habitants réfugiés dans une église ; la ville fut réduite en cendres. Les citoyens de Carcassonne, effrayés de cet exemple, implorèrent la miséricorde des croisés : on leur laissa la vie. On leur permit de sortir presque nus de leur ville, et on s'empara de tous leurs biens.

On one side of him were to be seen the Duke of Burgundy, the Count of Nevers, Simon Count of Montfort, the Bishops of Sens, of Auytun, of Nevers, of Clermont, of Lisieux, and of Bayeux, all at the head of their troops, and the miserable Count of Toulouse like a hostage in their midst: on the other side a mob animated by fanaticism of their faith. The city of Béziers tried to hold out against the crusaders; all the inhabitants who sought refuge in a church had their throats cut and the city was reduced to ashes11 . The citizens of Carcassonne, frightened by this example, begged for mercy from the crusaders and their lives were spared. They were permitted to leave their city, almost naked, and all their goods were seized.

On donnait au comte Simon de Montfort le nom de Macchabée. Il se rendit maître d'une grande partie du pays, s'assurant des châteaux des seigneurs suspects, attaquant ceux qui ne se mettaient pas entre ses mains, poursuivant les hérétiques qui osaient se défendre. Les écrivains ecclésiastiques racontent eux-mêmes que Simon de Montfort ayant allumé un bûcher pour ces malheureux, il y en eut cent quarante qui coururent, en chantant des psaumes, se précipiter dans les flammes. Le jésuite Daniel, en parlant de ces infortunés dans son Histoire de France, les appelle infâmes et détestables. Il est bien évident que des hommes qui volaient ainsi au martyre n'avaient point des mœurs infâmes. Il n'y a sans doute de détestable que la barbarie avec laquelle on les traita, et il n'y a d'infâme que les paroles de Daniel. On peut seulement déplorer l'aveuglement de ces malheureux, qui croyaient que Dieu les récompenserait parce que des moines les faisaient brûler.

Simon de Montfort12 was given the name Maccabee13. He made himself master of a great part of the country, securing the castles of suspects lords, besieging those that did not put themselves under his control, and attacking heretics who dared to defend themselves. The ecclesiastical chroniclers recounted themselves that, Simon de Montfort having lit a pyre for these unhappy people, one hundred and forty of them ran forward, singing psalms, to throw themselves into the flames. The Jesuit Daniel, in speaking of these unfortunates in his History of France, calls them "infamous" and "detestable".It is patently obvious that these men who desired their martyrdom did not have infamous morals. There was nothing detestable about them other than the barbaric way in which they were treated, and nothing infamous other than the words of Daniel. One can criticise only the blindness of these miserable people, who believed that God would reward them because the monks were going to have them burned.
L'esprit de justice et de raison, qui s'est introduit depuis dans le droit public de l'Europe, a fait voir enfin qu'il n'y avait rien de plus injuste que la guerre contre les Albigeois. On n'attaquait point des peuples rebelles à leur prince ; c'était le prince même qu'on attaquait pour le forcer à détruire ses peuples. Que dirait-on aujourd'hui si quelques évêques venaient assiéger l'électeur de Saxe ou l'électeur Palatin, sous prétexte que les sujets de ces princes ont impunément d'autres cérémonies que les sujets de ces évêques ? The spirit of justice and reason, which has been introduced into European civil law since then, has finally made clear that there was never anything as unjust as the war against the Albigensians. The people were not attacked for rebelling against their prince: it was the prince who was attacked to force him to destroy his own people. What would we say today if some bishops came to lay siege to the Elector of Saxony or of the Palatine, under the pretext that the subjects of these princes had favoured ceremonies different from those of the subjects of these bishops?

En dépeuplant le Languedoc, on dépouillait le comte de Toulouse. Il ne s'était défendu que par les négociations (1210). Il alla trouver encore dans Saint-Gilles les légats, les abbés qui étaient à la tête de cette croisade ; il pleura devant eux : on lui répondit que ses larmes venaient de fureur. Le légat lui laissa le choix ou de céder à Simon de Montfort tout ce que ce comte avait usurpé, ou d'être excommunié. Le comte de Toulouse eut du moins le courage de choisir l'excommunication : il se réfugia chez Pierre II, roi d'Aragon, son beau-frère, qui prit sa défense, et qui avait presque autant à se plaindre du chef des croises que le comte de Toulouse.

In depopulating the Languedoc, the Count of Toulouse was dispossessed. He was able to defend himself only by negotiation (1210). He went again to St-Gilles, to meet the legates and abbots who had led the crusade; he wept before them; they claimed that his tears were tears of fury. The legate offered him a choice: either to cede to Simon de Montfort everything that Montfort had already usurped, or to face excommunication. The Count of Toulouse at least had the courage to choose excommunication: he sought refuge with his brother-in-law, Peter II, King of Aragon14, who came to his defence, and who had almost as much reason to complain about the leader of the Crusade as the Count of Toulouse.

Cependant l'ardeur de gagner des indulgences et des richesses multipliait les croisés. Les évêques de Paris, de Lisieux, de Bayeux, accourent au siège de Lavaur : on y fit prisonniers quatre-vingts chevaliers avec le seigneur de cette ville, que l'on condamna tous à être pendus ; mais les fourches patibulaires étant rompues, on abandonna ces captifs aux croisés, qui les massacrèrent (1211). On jeta dans un puits la sœur du seigneur de Lavaur, et on brûla autour du puits trois cents habitants qui ne voulurent pas renoncer à leurs opinions.

However, the enthusiasm to gain Indulgences and wealth multiplied the crusaders. The Bishops of Paris, of Liseux, of Bayeux, hastened to the siege of Lavaur. Eighty knights were taken prisoner along with the lord of this town; they were all condemned to be hanged, but the gallows broke under the weight and the captives were abandoned to the crusaders who massacred them (1211). The sister of the Lord of Lavaur was thrown down a well, and around the well, three hundred inhabitants who would not renounce their faith were burned.

Le prince Louis, qui fut depuis le roi Louis VIII, se joignit à la vérité aux croisés pour avoir part aux dépouilles ; mais Simon de Montfort écarta bientôt un compagnon qui eût été son maître.

Prince Louis, later King Louis VIII, joined the crusaders, hoping to share in the spoils, but Simon de Montfort would soon send packing this companion who would also be his master.

C'était l'intérêt des papes de donner ces pays à Montfort; et le projet en était si bien formé, que le roi d'Aragon ne put jamais, par sa médiation, obtenir la moindre grâce. Il paraît qu'il n'arma que quand il ne put s'en dispenser.

It was in the interests of the popes to give these lands to Montfort, and the plans were so well underway that the King of Aragon could never, through his mediation, obtain any concession. It seems that he resorted to arms only when there was no other choice.
(1213) La bataille qu'il livra aux croisés auprès de Toulouse, dans laquelle il fut tué, passa pour une des plus extraordinaires de ce monde. Une foule d'écrivains répète que Simon de Montfort, avec huit cents hommes de cheval seulement, et mille fantassins, attaqua l'armée du roi d'Aragon et du comte de Toulouse, qui faisaient le siège de Muret ; ils disent que le roi d'Aragon avait cent mille combattants, et que jamais il n'y eut une déroute plus complète ; ils disent que Simon de Montfort, l'évêque de Toulouse, et l'évêque de Comminge, divisèrent leur armée en trois corps en l'honneur de la sainte Trinité. (1213) The battle that he joined against the crusaders, near to Toulouse, in which the king was killed, appears to have been one of the most extraordinary in this world. A crowd of writers repeat that Simon de Montfort, with eight hundred cavalry and a thousand infantry, attacked the army of the King of Aragon and the Count of Toulouse who where besieging Muret; They said that the King of Aragon had fielded a hundred thousand combatants, and that there had never been a more complete rout; they said that Simon de Montfort, the Bishop of Toulouse and the Bishop of Comminges divided their army into three parts in honour of the Holy Trinity.

Mais quand on a cent mille ennemis en tête, va-t-on les attaquer avec dix-huit cents hommes en pleine campagne, et divise-t-on une si petite troupe en trois corps ? C'est un miracle, disent quelques écrivains ; mais les gens de guerre, qui lisent de telles aventures, les appellent des absurdités.

But when one faces a hundred thousand enemies, is one going to attack them with eight hundred men in open country, and would one divide such a small troop into three divisions? It was miracle, say some writers; but seasoned fighters who read of such adventures call them absurdities.

Plusieurs historiens assurent que saint Dominique était à la tête des troupes, un crucifix de fer à la main, encourageant les croisés au carnage. Ce n'était pas là la place d'un saint; et il faut avouer que si Dominique était confesseur, le comte de Toulouse était martyr.

A number of chroniclers assure us that Saint Dominic was at the head of the troops, an iron crucifix in his hand, encouraging the crusaders into the carnage. It was not the position for a saint; and it must be admitted that if Dominic was a confessor15 , then the Count of Toulouse was a martyr.
Après cette victoire le pape tint un concile général à Rome. Le comte de Toulouse vint y demander grâce. Je ne puis découvrir sur quel fondement il espérait qu’on lui rendrait ses États; il fut trop heureux de ne pas perdre sa liberté. Le concile même porta la miséricorde jusqu’à statuer qu’il jouirait d’une pension de quatre cents marcs ou marques d’argent. Si ce sont des marcs, c’est à peu près vingt-deux mille francs de nos jours; si ce sont des marques, c’est environ douze cents francs: le dernier est plus probable, attendu que moins on lui donnait d’argent, plus il en restait pour l’Église. After this victory, the pope held a General Council in Rome. The Count of Toulouse came to ask for pardon. I have not been able to discover on what basis he hoped that his lands would be restored; he was too happy not to lose his liberty. The same council carried mercy as far as declaring that he would enjoy a pension of four hundred marcs or marques of silver. If these are marcs, this equates to almost 22,000 francs in today's money16 ; if they are marques, it equates to around 1,200 francs: the latter is more probable, given that the less silver he was given, the more would be left for the Church.

Quand Innocent III fut mort, Raymond de Toulouse ne fut pas mieux traité (1218). Il fut assiégé dans sa capitale par Simon de Montfort : mais ce conquérant y trouva le terme de ses succès et de sa vie ; un coup de pierre écrasa cet homme, qui, en faisant tant de mal, avait acquis tant de renommée.

When Innocent III was dead, Raymond de Toulouse received no better treatment (1218). He was besieged in his capital by Simon de Montfort; but here this conqueror came to the end of his success and his life; a blow from a stone crushed this man17 , who in doing so much harm had won such renown.
Il avait un fils à qui le pape donna tous les droits du père ; mais le pape ne put lui donner le même crédit. La croisade contre le Languedoc ne fut plus que languissante. Le fils du vieux Raymond, qui avait succédé à son père, était excommunié comme lui. Alors le roi de France, Louis VIII, se fit céder, par le jeune Montfort, tous ces pays que Montfort ne pouvait garder ; mais la mort arrêta Louis VIII au milieu de ses conquêtes. He had a son, to whom the Pope gave all the rights of the father; but the Pope could not credit him the same ability. The crusade against the Languedoc languished. The son of the old Raymond18 , who had succeeded his father, was also excommunicated. Then the young Montfort ceded to the King of France, Louis VIII, all of the lands that he could no longer control; but death put a stop to Louis VIII in the middle of his conquests.

Le règne de saint Louis, neuvième du nom, commença malheureusement par cette horrible croisade contre des chrétiens ses vassaux. Ce n'était point par des croisades que ce monarque était destiné à se couvrir de gloire. La reine Blanche de Castille, sa mère, femme dévouée au pape, Espagnole, frémissant au nom d'hérétique, et tutrice d'un pupille à qui les dépouilles des opprimés devaient revenir, prêta le peu qu'elle avait de forces à un frère de Montfort, pour achever de saccager le Languedoc : le jeune Raymond se défendit (1227). On fit une guerre semblable à celle que nous avons vue dans les Cévennes. Les prêtres ne pardonnaient jamais aux Languedociens, et ceux-ci n'épargnaient point les prêtres (1228). Tout prisonnier fut mis à mort pendant deux années, toute place rendue fut réduite en cendres.

The reign of St Louis, the ninth of the name, started unfortunately with a crusade against these Christians, his own vassals. It was not at all by these crusades that this monarch was destined to cover himself in glory. The queen, Blanche of Castile, his mother, a woman devoted to the pope, Spanish, quaking at the word heretic, and guardian of the child on whom the spoils of the oppressed would vest, lent the small forces that she had to a brother of de Montfort, to complete the sacking of the Languedoc: the young Raymond defended himself (1227). The war that was waged was similar to the one we have seen waged in the Cevennes19. The priests never forgave the people of the Languedoc, and they in turn never spared the priests (1228). For two years, every prisoner was put to death, ever place surrendered was reduced to ashes.
Enfin la régente Blanche, qui avait d'autres ennemis, et le jeune Raymond, las des massacres, et épuisé de pertes, firent la paix à Paris. Un cardinal de Saint-Ange fut l’arbitre de cette paix; et voici les lois qu’il donna, et qui furent exécutées. Finally, the Regent, Blanche, who had other enemies, and the young Raymond, tired of massacres and exhausted by his losses, signed a peace treaty in Paris. A cardinal of Saint-Ange was the mediator of this Peace, and here are the laws that he laid down and which were put into effect.
Le comte de Toulouse devait payer dix mille marcs ou marques aux églises de Languedoc, entre les mains d’un receveur dudit cardinal; deux mille aux moines de Cîteaux, immensément riches; cinq cents aux moines de Clervaux, plus riches encore, et quinze cents à d’autres abbayes; il devait aller faire pendant cinq ans la guerre aux Sarrasins et aux Turcs, qui assurément n’avaient pas fait la guerre à Raimond; il abandonnait au roi, sans nulle récompense, tous ses États en deçà du Rhône, car ce qu’il possédait en delà était terre de l’empire. Il signa son dépouillement, moyennant quoi il fut reconnu par le cardinal Saint-Ange et par un légat, non seulement pour être bon catholique, mais pour l’avoir toujours été. On le conduisit, seulement pour la forme, en chemise et nu-pieds devant l’autel de l’église de Notre-Dame de Paris: là il demanda pardon à la Vierge; apparemment qu’au fond de son coeur il demandait pardon d’avoir signé un si infâme traité.


The Count of Toulouse had to pay ten thousand marcs or marques to the churches of the Languedoc, into the hands of the Receiver of the said cardinal; two thousand to the immensely rich monks of Cîteaux; five hundred to the still richer monks of Clairvaux, and fifteen hundred to other abbeys; he was obliged to go off for five years to wage war against the Saracens and Turks20 , who assuredly had not waged war against Raymond; he abandoned to the king all of his estates near the Rhone, without any compensation, because all of his estates there belonged to the [Holy Roman] Empire. He assented to this stripping, in consideration of which he was recognised by the Cardinal Saint-Ange and by a legate, not only as a good Catholic but also as having always been a good Catholic. He was led, just for the form, bare foot and dressed only in a shirt in front of the high alter of the Church of Notre Dame of Paris: there he asked pardon of the Virgin. At the bottom of his heart he must have asked pardon for having signed such an infamous treaty.

Rome ne s’oublia pas dans le partage des dépouilles. Raimond le Jeune, pour obtenir le pardon de ses péchés, céda au pape à perpétuité le comtat Venaissin, qui est en delà du Rhône. Cette cession était nulle par toutes les lois de l’empire; le comtat était un fief impérial, et il n’était pas permis de donner son fief à l’Église, sans le consentement de l’empereur et des états. Mais où sont les possessions qu’on ne se soit appropriées que par les lois? Aussi, bientôt après cette extorsion, l’empereur Frédéric II rendit au comte de Toulouse ce petit pays d’Avignon, que le pape lui avait ravi; il fit justice comme souverain, et surtout comme souverain outragé. Mais lorsque ensuite saint Louis et son fils, Philippe le Hardi, se furent mis en possession des États des comtes de Toulouse, Philippe remit aux papes le comtat Venaissin, qu’ils ont toujours conservé par la libéralité des rois de France. La ville et le territoire d’Avignon n’y furent point compris; elle passa dans la branche de France d’Anjou qui régnait à Naples, et y resta jusqu’au temps où la malheureuse reine Jeanne de Naples fut obligée enfin de céder Avignon pour quatre-vingt mille florins, qui ne lui furent jamais payés. Tels sont en général les titres des possessions; tel a été notre droit public.


Rome was not forgotten in sharing the spoils. The young Raymond, to obtain forgiveness of his sins, ceded to the pope in perpetuity the county of Venaissin beyond the Rhone. This gift was null by all the laws of the Empire; the county was an imperial fief, and he was not permitted to give it to the Church without the consent of the Emperor and of the States. But what possessions have ever been appropriated only through legal means. Also, soon after this extortion, the Emperor Frederick II reassigned the small territory of Avignon, which the pope had stolen, to the Count of Toulouse. He did justice as sovereign, and above all as an outraged sovereign. But while Saint Louis and then his son, Philippe le Hardi, exercised possession of the lands of the counts of Toulouse, Philippe restored to the popes the County of Venaissin, which they still retain by the liberality of the kings of France21 The town and the territory of Avignon was not included; it passed through the Anjou branch of the French royal line that reigned in Naples, and stayed there until the time when the unfortunate Jeanne of Naples was forced to cede Avignon in exchange for eighty thousand florins, which were never paid. Such in general are the titles to possessions; such has been our civil law.

Ces croisades contre le Languedoc durèrent vingt années. La seule envie de s'emparer du bien d'autrui les fit naître, et, produisit en même temps l'inquisition (1204). Ce nouveau fléau, inconnu auparavant chez toutes les religions du monde, reçut la première forme sous le pape Innocent III ; elle fut établie en France dès l'année 1229, sous saint Louis. Un concile à Toulouse commença dans cette année par défendre aux chrétiens laïques de lire l'ancien et le nouveau Testaments. C'était insulter au genre humain que d'oser lui dire : Nous voulons que vous ayez une croyance, et nous ne voulons pas que vous lisiez le livre sur lequel cette croyance est fondée. These crusades against the Languedoc lasted for twenty years. The desire to seize the property of others gave birth to them, and at the same time the Inquisition (1204). This new plague, unknown until then among all the religions of the world, received its first form under Pope Innocent III; it was established in France from the year 1229 under Saint Louis. A council at Toulouse in this year began by prohibiting lay Christians from reading the Old and the New Testament. It was an insult to human kind to dare to say to people: "We want you to believe, and we do not want you to read the book on which this belief is founded".

Dans ce concile on fit brûler les ouvrages d'Aristote, c'est-à-dire deux ou trois exemplaires qu'on avait apportés de Constantinople dans les premières croisades, livres que personne n'entendait, et sur lesquels on s'imaginait que l'hérésie des Languedociens était fondée. Des conciles suivants ont mis Aristote presque à côté des pères de l'Église. C'est ainsi que vous verrez dans ce vaste tableau des démences humaines, les sentiments des théologiens, les superstitions des peuples, le fanatisme, variés sans cesse, mais toujours constants à plonger la terre dans l'abrutissement et la calamité, jusqu'au temps où quelques académies, quelques sociétés éclairées ont fait rougir nos contemporains de tant de siècles de barbarie.

In this council the books of Aristotle were burned, that is to say two or three examples that had been brought back from Constantinople during the first crusades [to the Holy Land], books that no-one understood, and on which it was imagined that the heresies of the people of the Languedoc had been founded. Subsequent councils have placed Aristotle almost along side the Fathers of the Church. So it is that you will see in this vast tableau of human madness, the sentiments of theologians, the superstitions of the people, the fanaticism, infinitely varied, but always constant enough to plunge the land into horror and calamity, up until the time when some academies, some enlightened societies have caused our contemporaries to blush at so many centuries of barbarity.
(1237) Mais ce fut bien pis quand le roi eut la faiblesse de permettre qu’il y eût dans son royaume un grand inquisiteur nommé par le pape. Ce fut le cordelier Robert qui exerça ce pouvoir nouveau, d’abord dans Toulouse, et ensuite dans d’autres provinces. (1237) But it was much worse when the king had the weakness to permit into his kingdom a Grand Inquisitor appointed by the pope.It was the leather-worker Robert who exercised this new power, first in Toulouse and later in other provinces.
Si ce Robert n’eût été qu’un fanatique, il y aurait du moins dans son ministère une apparence de zèle qui eût excusé ses fureurs aux yeux des simples; mais c’était un apostat qui conduisait avec lui une femme perdue, et pour mettre le comble à l’horreur de son ministère, cette femme était elle-même hérétique: c’est ce que rapportent Matthieu Pâris et Mousk, et ce qui est prouvé dans le Spicilegium de Luc d’Acheri. If this Robert had been only a fanatic, there would have been, at least during his ministry, an appearance of zeal which might have excused his fury in the eyes of the simple people; but he was an apostate who travelled with an abandoned woman, and to complete the horror of his ministry, this woman was herself a heretic: this is what Matthew Paris and Mousk report, and which is confirmed by the Spicilegium of Luc d'Acheri.
Le roi saint Louis eut le malheur de lui permettre d’exercer ses fonctions d’inquisiteur à Paris, en Champagne, en Bourgogne, et en Flandre. Il fit accroire au roi qu’il y avait une secte nouvelle qui infectait secrètement ces provinces. Ce monstre fit brûler, sur ce prétexte, quiconque, étant sans crédit et étant suspect, ne voulut pas se racheter de ses persécutions. Le peuple, souvent bon juge de ceux qui en imposent aux rois, ne l’appelait que Robert le B…... Il fut enfin reconnu: ses iniquités et ses infamies furent publiques; mais ce qui vous indignera, c’est qu’il ne fut condamné qu’à une prison perpétuelle; et ce qui pourrait encore vous indigner, c’est que le jésuite Daniel ne parle point de cet homme dans son Histoire de France. The king Saint Louis had the misfortune to allow him to exercise his functions of Inquisitor in Paris, in Champaign, in Burgundy and in Flanders. He led the king to believe that there was a new sect which was secretly infecting his provinces. On this pretext, the monster caused to be burned any suspects without credit who were not prepared to ransom themselves from his persecutions. The people, often good judges of those imposed upon them by the king, called him only by the name Robert le B.. 22 He was finally recognised for what he was: his iniquities and infamous behaviour became public; but what will shock you is that he was merely condemned to perpetual imprisonment; and what will shock you more is that the Jesuit Daniel does not mention him at all in his Histoire de France.
C'est donc ainsi que l'inquisition commença en Europe: elle ne méritait pas un autre berceau. Vous sentez assez que c'est le dernier degré d'une barbarie brutale et absurde de maintenir, par des délateurs et des bourreaux, la religion d'un Dieu que des bourreaux firent périr. Cela est presque aussi contradictoire que d'attirer à soi les trésors des peuples ut des rois au nom de ce même Dieu qui naquit et qui vécut dans la pauvreté. Vous verrez dans un chapitre à part ce qu'a été l'inquisition en Espagne et ailleurs, et jusqu'à quel excès la barbarie et la rapacité de quelques hommes ont abusé de la simplicité des autres. So it was that the Inquisition started in Europe. It would not be worthy of any other cradle. You will see that it is the ultimate degree of an absurd and brutal barbarity to support by informers and executioners the religion of a God who himself perished at the hands of executioners. This is also almost as contradictory as for anyone to take for himself the treasure of peoples and kings in the name of this same God who was born into poverty and who lived in poverty. You will see in another chapter what the Inquisition was like in Spain and elsewhere, and to what excess the barbarity and rapacity of some men have abused the simplicity of others.23



Footnotes


[1]   Essai sur les mours et l'esprit des nations, ch LXII, (1756) (Reprinted: Éditions sociales, 1962, Paris, 304 pages).

[2]    Arnald was a lector at Brescia, he opposed infant baptism and the mass. He was persecuted by the Roman Church and burned alive in Rome in AD 1145.

[3]    The reference is to the area and local dialect. In English they are called Waldensians, Waldes or Valdensians after their founder Peter Waldo who came from Lyon. They were also called the Poor Men of Lyon. Their ideas later gave rise to what we now call Protestantism. Waldensians were most certainly not Cathars, though the Catholic Church often bracketed them together.

[4]    Catholic sources tend to favour the name Albigeois or Albigensians, both derived from the town of Albi, which was imagined (apparently falsely) to be the main centre of what we would now call Cathar belief.

[5]    It is true that almost all "heretics" during this period were called Manicheans, and it is also true that Cathars were not strictly Manicheans (ie followers of Mani). They were however dualists, believing in two divine principles, one the god of goodness, light and spirits, the other the god of evil, darkness, and this material world.

[6]    There had been earlier Episcopal Inquisitions, but this was the first Papal Inquisition - even if its formal foundation dates from a few years later.

[7]    Dominic Guzman, a Spanish cannon, later to found the Dominican order which would administer the Roman Church's papal Inquisitions. He was canonised in 1234, some time after the period Voltaire is referring to here.

[8]    This is Raymond VI of Toulouse.

[9]    This is Raymond VII of Toulouse.

[10]   Saint-Gilles was the original home town of the Ramondines. The Counts we generally know as Raymond of Toulouse were in their own time more likely to be called Raymond of St-Gilles, Count of Toulouse

[11]    The Church where the massacre took place is the Church of Mary Magdalene in the centre of Béziers. Voltaire avoids mentioning the most famous words of the Crusade, spoken by Arnaud, Abbot of Cîteaux, the leader of the Crusade and recorded by a fellow Cistercian. When he was asked how to distinguish Cathar from Catholic he answered "Kill them all. God will know his own".

[12]    This Simon de Montfort is not the one familiar as the first English parliamentarian. That Simon was a younger son of this one.

[13]    The term Maccabee is ironic. The suggestion is that Simon was the liberator of an oppressed people - something that even his own allies did not believe.

[14]    Peter II or Pedro II King of Aragon was the Liege Lord of Raymond VI of Toulouse

[15]    Confessor as in "Edward the Confessor" - ie standing up for the mainstream brand of Christianity. As Voltaire and his readers would have known Christian confessors and martyrs were candidates for crowns of sainthood.

[16]    ie in 1756

[17]    According to local legend the stone came from an engine of war such as a trebuchet mounted on the walls of Toulouse and operated by the women of the city.

[18]    This is Raymond VII of Toulouse.

[19]    In Voltaire's day, and for a long time afterwards, Protestants (Huguenots) were being hunted, persecuted and killed in the Languedoc. Many fled to the remote areas of the Cevennes where the terrain and a sympathetic populace made it sometimes possible to survive.

[20]    This did not happen - Raymond never went on Crusade to the Holy Land, where his cousins were counts of Tripoli.

[21]    Avignon, although belonging to the Holy Roman Emperor, fell well within the de facto control of the Kings of France, which made it an ideal site to keep a series of French Popes under control for over eighty years - the famous so-called Babylonian Captivity.

[22]    He was known as Robert le Bougre: Robert the Bugger. Voltaire may be being a little disingenuous here as Robert had been a Cathar believer before his re-conversion to Roman Catholic belief. As Cathars were thought to practice sodomy they were known to the more credulous Roman Catholic authors as buggers. (In fact the word had originally meant "bulgar". The sequence of events is: Cathars in Europe are called "Bulgars" because they are thought to come from the Balkans and particularly from Bulgaria. Roman Catholic propaganda associates with Cathars with Sodomy so the word "bougre" comes to mean sodomite. Hence our modern words bougre (French) and bugger (English).

[23]    This text is a chapter of a book that goes on to outline other atrocities perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church.

 



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