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More Information about the Cathars and Catharism: Hilaire Belloc's The Albigensian Attack

The following work is called The Albigensian Attack, Chapter Five of Hilaire Belloc's The Great Heresies.

This work does not present either reliable history or Cathar theology. It is written more as polemic, even invective. Perhaps propaganda is not too strong a word in view of the fact that Belloc omits and distorts facts to support his case. The text is most interesting as a representation of what Roman Catholics were, and sometimes still are, taught about Catharism in the Languedoc.

Among the errors to be found in it are the idea that the bon homines called themselves Cathars; the opinion that their extermination ("extirpation" is the word used) was inevitable, and carried out unwillingly; the idea that the Cathar lands then formed part of Southern France, when in fact these lands were annexed by France after the Crusade. Belloc refers to the King of Aragon, and his forces as "Spanish" as though they were foreigners with no right to interfere in the affairs of the region: in fact the King of Aragon was the suzerain of four of the five rulers of the region in question, and arguably the suzerain of the fifth as well. Belloc asserts that "All the sacraments were abandoned" by the Cathars, apparently unaware that his Church's seven Sacraments were not yet defined when Catharism appeared in the Languedoc and that some of them were defined partially in reaction to Cathar teachings. Belloc mentions imaginary Albigensian attacks and Albigension offensives. He appears to invent freely. From somewhere, he does not say where, he has formed the idea that Cathars believed that "Joy is evil. Beauty is evil. Amusements are evil and so on". Again, he asserts that men were able to win automatic acquital from charges of being Albigensian heretics simply by showing that they were married - an extraordinary proposition since we know from Inquisition records of married people being burned alive for their Cathar beliefs.

He uses medieval language which was still current in his lifetime. Alternative ideas are branded as sicknesses to be wiped out. Catharism is a "disease", an "epidemic", a "devastating plague". He says that Cathar "influence hung like a miasma or poisonous mist". He observes that "The first Inquisition arose from the necessity of extirpating the remnants of the disease". The language is carefully crafted to give no more than a hint that his Church burned alive people for the crime of disagreeing with Catholic theology, and not even so much as a hint that it killed others for the crime of tolerating (ie not persecuting) people who disagreed with Catholic theology.

One interesting observation is that "Anyone who will read the details of the Albigensian story will be struck over and over again by the singularly modern attitude of these ancient heretics, because they had the same root as the Puritans who still, unhappily, survive among us." - a sort of recognition, often denied until recently, of the influence that Catharism had on proto-Protestant and thus Protestant ideas.

Without further ado, here is Belloc's remarkable text:

In the heart of the Middle Ages, just when they were working up to their most splendid phase, the great thirteenth century, there arose and was for the moment completely defeated a singular and powerful attack upon the Catholic Church and all the culture for which it stood.

The words "attack upon" here can only mean "verbal criticism of" - for there was no other form of attack.

This was an attack, not only on the religion that made our civilization, but on that civilization, itself; and its general name in history is "The Albigensian Heresy."

The first assertion represents an opinion not widely shared outside the Roman Church. The second is also questionalble: what Roman Catholics term the Albigensian Heresy is more generally, and more neutrally, known as the Cathar religion.

In the case of this great struggle we must proceed as in the case of all our other examples by first examining the nature of the doctrine which was set up against the body of truth taught by the Catholic Church.

No historian would hold that the Cathar religion "was set up against the body of truth taught by the Catholic Church". The Cathars regarded Catholics as heretics just as Catholics regarded Cathars as heretics. There is a significant body of evidence that Cathar ideas and practices pre-date the distinctive ideas and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.

The false doctrine of which the Albigensians were a main example has always been latent among men in various forms, not only in the civilization of Christendom but wherever and whenever men have had to consider the fundamental problems of life, that is, in every time and place. But it happened to take a particularly concentrated form at this moment in history. It was then the false doctrines we are about to examine stood out in the highest relief and can be most clearly appreciated. By what its effects were when it was thus at its highest point of vitality we can estimate what evils similar doctrines do whenever they appear.

Despite the previous paragraph, there is a sort of recognition here that Cathar ideas predated Roman Catholicism (in fact Gnostic and Dualist ideas predated Christianity itself)

For this permanent trouble of the human mind has swollen into three great waves during the Christian period, of which three the Albigensian episode was only the central one. The first great wave was the Manichean tendency of the early Christian centuries. The third was the Puritan movement in Europe accompanying the Reformation, and the sequel of that disease, Jansenism. The first strong movement of the sort was exhausted before the end of the eighth century. The second was destroyed when the definite Albigensian movement was rooted out in the thirteenth century. The third, the Puritan wave, is only now declining, after having worked every kind of evil.

Why Belloc attempts to bracket Puritans, as opposed to any other Protestants, with Cathars is not obvious.

Click on the following link for more on the Manichean (or Manichaean) religion

Now what is this general tendency or mood which, from its earliest name, was called Manichean, which, in its most clear-cut form with which we are about to deal, is called the Albigensian, and which we know in modern history as Puritanism? What is the underlying motive power which produces heresies of this kind?

Belloc's linkage of Manicheans (or Manichaeans) and Cathars is reasonable enough, but he seems to imagine that Puritans were Gnostic Dualists as well. This is not really credible, and we simply cannot be certain why he tries to link Cathars and Puritans in this way.

To answer that main question we must consider a prime truth of the Catholic Church itself, which has shortly been put in this form: "The Catholic Church is founded upon the recognition of pain and death." In its more complete form the sentence should rather run "The Catholic Church is rooted in the recognition of suffering and mortality and her claim to have provided a solution for the problem they present." This problem is generally known as "The problem of evil."

This seems an odd thing to say. No modern philosophers, even Catholic ones, would assert that the Catholic Church has provided a solution for "The problem of evil"

How can we call man's destiny glorious and heaven his goal and his Creator all good as well as all powerful when we find ourselves subject to suffering and to death?


Nearly all young and innocent people are but slightly aware of this problem. How much aware of it they may be depends upon what fortunes they have, how early they may have been brought into the presence of loss by death or how early they may have suffered great physical or even mental pain. But sooner or later every human being who thinks at all, everyone not an idiot, is faced by this Problem of Evil; and as we watch the human race trying to think out for itself the meaning of the universe, or accepting Revelation thereon, or following warped and false partial religions and philosophies, we find it always at heart concerned with that insistent question: "Why should we suffer? Why should we die?"

Belloc appears to be confounding two different things here. The first is a natural and widespread human interest in questions such as why there is suffering, unfairness and death. The second is a problem specific to religions like Roman Catholicism which posit an all powerful, all knowing, wholy good creator God. The philosophical problem known as the Problem of Evil arises because a wholy good God would not create evil and suffering. So either these things were created without his knowledge, or if with his knowledge then he was unable to stop them coming into being. But these possiblities are incompatible with him being all knowing and all powerfull.

A first attempt at a solution is the concept of Free Will - but for reasons beyond the present scope this turns out not to be a solution at all. A second possible solution is that there is more than one creator god. This is the Dualist solution, but from a philosophical standpoint it only works if the second god is independent of the first. If the first god created the second (mitigated Dualism) then the problem remains.

Various ways out of the torturing enigma have been proposed. The simplest and basest is not to face it at all; to turn one's eyes away from suffering and death; to pretend they are not there, or, when they are thrust upon us so insistently that we cannot keep up the pretence, why then to hide our feelings. And it is part also of this worst method of dealing with the problem to boycott mention of evil and suffering and try to forget them as much as one can.

It is not obvious who or what Belloc can be referring to here.

Another way less base, but equally contemptible intellectually, is to say there is no problem because we are all part of a meaningless dead thing with no creative God behind it: to say there is no reality in right and wrong and in the conception of beatitude or of misery.

This appears to be side swipe against atheists and perhaps modern philosophers. Belloc seems to imagine that people adopt atheism in order to avoid the Problem of Evil. Atheists and most philosophers like many other rationalsts, simply do not have a Problem of Evil to face, since it only arises when one adopts a belief system that contains mutually incompatible axioms.

Another nobler way, which was the favourite way of the high pagan civilization from which we sprang the way of the great Romans and the great Greeks is the way of Stoicism. This might vulgarly be termed "The philosophy of grin-and-bear-it." It has been called by some academic person or other "The permanent religion of humanity," but it is indeed nothing of the sort; for it is not a religion at all. It has at least the nobility of facing facts, but it proposes no solution. It is utterly negative.

Belloc has a more negative and simplistic view of ancient philosophies than have almost all modern philosophers.

As previously indicated the philosophical Problem of Evil did not arise in polytheistic religions - only certain monotheistic religions.

Another way is the profound but despairing way of Asia of which the greatest example is Buddhism: the philosophy which calls the individual an illusion, bids us get rid of the desire for immortality and look forward to being merged in the impersonal life of the universe.

That Buddhism represents a "despairing" way is, of course, Belloc's personal opinion. He caracatures to the point of misrepresenting this and the previous two thought systems he refers to.

What the Catholic solution is we all know. Not that the Catholic Church has proposed a complete solution of the mystery of evil, for it has never been either the claim or the function of the Church to explain the whole nature of all things, but rather to save souls. But the Catholic Church has on this particular problem a very definite answer within the field of her own action. She says first that man's nature is immortal, and made for beatitude; next that mortality and pain are the result of his Fall, that is, of his rebellion against the will of God. She says that since the fall our mortal life is an ordeal or test, according to our behavior, in which we regain (but through the merits of our Saviour) that immortal beatitude which we had lost.

Here Belloc here appears not to understand the nature of the Problem of Evil - although he formulated it well enough a few paragraphs earlier. His observations here are not remotely an answer to the Problem of Evil as they purport to be.

Ironically, the story of the Fall, nowhere mentioned explicitly in the Catholic version of the bible, had its origins in Gnostic gospels and the beliefs of Mitigated Dualists.

Now the Manichean was so overwhelmed by the experience or prospect of suffering and by the appalling fact that his nature was subject to mortality, that he took refuge in denying the omnipotent goodness of a Creator. He said that evil was at work in the universe just as much as good; the two principles were always fighting as equals one against the other. Man was subject to the one just as much as to the other. If he could struggle at all he should struggle to join the good principle and avoid the power of the bad principle, but he must treat evil as an all-powerful thing. The Manichean recognized an evil god as well as a good god, and he attuned his mind to that appalling conception.

Click on the following link for more on the Manichean (or Manichaean) religion. Belloc seems to be deliberately missing the key point here. However much one personally dislikes Absolute Dualism, it does offer an intellectually coherent solution to the Problem of Evil.

As indicated earlier, the problem affects only monotheistic religions which hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenificent. They all find themselves in a logical contradiction which arises from these premisses (which may explain Belloc's observation above when he says "Not that the Catholic Church has proposed a complete solution of the mystery of evil ...". Belloc does not mention that the mainstream Christian Churches have created an academic discipline "Theodicy" concerned exclusively with the Problem of Evil, students of which have spent centuries struggling with the problem without making a single recognised advance in solving it.

By Manichean (or Manichaean), Belloc means Dualist. It is not at all clear why the idea of good god and a bad god should be an "appalling conception", yet the idea of the God and Satan of orthodox Christianity should not be an appalling conception. The only significant difference is in the name tags, at least in the case of Mitigated Dualism compared to mainstream Christianity.

Such a mood bred all sorts of secondary effects. In some men it would lead to devil worship, in many more to magic, that is a dependence on something other than one's own free will, to tricks by which we might stave off the evil power or cheat it. It also led, paradoxically enough, to the doing of a great deal of evil deliberately, and saying either that it could not be helped or that it did not matter, because we were in any case under the thrall of a thing quite as strong as the power for good and we might as well act accordingly.

It is difficult to believe that Belloc is not being disingenuous here. He seems to be referring to various eccentric small Christian sects, but the casual reader could easily assume that he is talking about Albigensians.

But one thing the Manichean of every shade has always felt, and that is, that matter belongs to the evil side of things. Though there may be plenty of evil of a spiritual kind yet good must be wholly spiritual. That is something you find not only in the early Manichean, not only in the Albigensian of the Middle Ages, but even in the most modern of the remaining Puritans. It seems indissolubly connected with the Manichean temper in every form. Matter is subject to decay and is therefore evil. Our bodies are evil. Their appetites are evil. This idea ramifies into all sorts of absurd details. Wine is evil. Pretty well any physical pleasure, or half-physical pleasure, is evil. Joy is evil. Beauty is evil. Amusements are evil and so on. Anyone who will read the details of the Albigensian story will be struck over and over again by the singularly modern attitude of these ancient heretics, because they had the same root as the Puritans who still, unhappily, survive among us.

Click on the following link for more on the Manichean (or Manichaean) religion

The "absurd details" appear to be Belloc's own theoretical extrapolations. They are not supported by evidence from the testimony of actual Albigensians. From surviving Inquisition records (eg from Jacques Fournier's Register) it is clear that Cathar believers enjoyed wine, physical pleasure, joy, beauty and amusements just like anyone else.

It may be that Belloc is confabulating in his mind asceticism and Puritanism.

In any case he avoids mentioning that the contrast between a pure, immaterial, unchanging hevenly realm of God (beyond the orbit of the moon) and a corrupt, material, chageable, evil realm of Satan (within the orbit of the moon) was perfectly orthodox Catholic belief from Medieval times to Belloc's own time.

Hence derive the main lines which were completed in detail as the Albigensian movement spread. Our bodies are material, they decay and die. Therefore it was the evil god that made the human body while the good god made the soul. Hence also our Lord was only apparently clothed with a human body. He only apparently suffered. Hence also the denial of the Resurrection.

Substantially accurate, if missing intermediate steps in the arguments, and so making the arguments look like a series of non-sequiters.

Because the Catholic Church was strongly at issue with an attitude of this kind there has always been irreconcilable conflict between it and the Manichean or Puritan, and that conflict was never more violent than in the form it took between the Albigensians and the organized Catholic Church of their day (the eleventh and twelfth centuries) in the west of Europe. The Papacy, the hierarchy and the whole body of Catholic doctrine and established Catholic sacraments, were the target of the Albigensian offensive.

Click on the following link for more on the Manichean (or Manichaean) religion

The nature of this "Albigensian offensive" is not spelled out. Belloc can only be be referring to intellectual critiques and accusations of hypocrisy. Once again there appears to be a degree of disingenuousness here. When he says "that conflict was never more violent than in the form it took between the Albigensians and the organized Catholic Church" he is avoiding the question of culpability, and of the the fundamental inequality of the two sides. An unworldly reader could not guess that what he is talking about is the Catholic Church exterminating a popular group of pacifists for the crime of disagreeing with Catholic theology.

The Manichean business, whenever it appears in history, appears as do certain epidemic diseases of the human body. It comes, you hardly know whence. It is found cropping up in various centres, increases in power and becomes at last a sort of devastating plague. So it was with the great Albigensian Fury of 800 and 900 years ago. Its origins are therefore obscure, but we can trace them.

Equating alternative belief systems to sickness or illness is a well-established propaganda technique. It rests on the assertion that alternative belief systems are diseased forms of whatever one happens to believe oneself. Belloc, like his medieval predessessors may genuinely have believed this.

The eleventh century, the years between 1000 and 1100, may be called the awakening of Europe. Our civilization had just passed through fearful trials. The West had been harried, and in some places Christendom almost extinguished, by droves of pagan pirates from the North, the at first unconverted and later only half-converted Scandinavians. It had been shaken by Mongol raiders from the East, pagans riding in hordes against Europe from the Plains of North Asia. And it had suffered the great Mohammedan attack upon the Mediterranean, which attack had succeeded in occupying nearly all Spain, had permanently subdued North Africa and Syria and threatened Asia Minor and Constantinople.

Belloc is representing a specific view in which civilization equates to Roman Catholicism.

Most historians would give a different account, in particular of the pagans of northern Europe who were forced to convert to orthodox Christianity at the point of a sword.

Belloc does not mention that many Christian communities preferred to convert to Islam rather than accept assistance from Christians of another denomination.

Europe had been under siege but had begun to beat off its enemies. The Northern pirates were beaten and tamed. The newly civilized Germans attacked the Mongols and saved the Upper Danube and a borderland to the east. The Christian Slavs organized themselves farther east again. There were the beginnings of the kingdom of Poland. But the main battleground was Spain. There, during this eleventh century, the Mohammedan power was beaten back from one fluctuating border to another further south, until long before the eleventh century was over the great bulk of the Peninsula was recaptured for Christian rule. With this material success there went, and was a cause as well as an effect, a strong awakening of the intelligence in philosophical disputation and in new speculations on physical science. One of those periods had begun which appear from time to time in the story of our race, when there is, so to speak, "spring in the air." Philosophy grew vigorous, architecture enlarged, society began to be more organized and the civil and ecclesiastical authorities to extend and codify their powers.

The "newly civilized Germans" were the ones referred to above who accepted forcible conversion rather than death at the point of a sword (or sometimes by drowning).





Belloc does not mention that it was the legacy of intellectual endeavour from the Moslems that fired the intellectual revival in the newly reclaimed Christian lands. The Renaissance in the West was directly linked to Moslem scholarship.

All this new vitality was working for vigour in heresy as well as in orthodoxy. There began to appear from the East, cropping up now here, now there, but in general along lines of advance towards the West, individuals or small communities who proposed and propagated a new and, as they called it, a purified form of religion.


These communities had some strength in the Balkans, apparently before they appeared in Italy. They seem to have acquired some strength in North Italy before they appeared in France, although it was in France that the last main struggle was to take place. They were known by various names; Paulicians, for instance, or a name referring them to a Bulgarian origin. They were very generally known as "The Pure Ones." They themselves liked to give themselves that epithet, putting it in the Greek form and calling themselves "Cathari." The whole story of this obscure advance of peril from the east of Europe has been so lost in the succeeding blaze of glory when, during the thirteenth century, Christendom rose to the summit of its civilization, that the Albigensian origins are forgotten and their obscurity is accentuated by the shade which that later glory throws them into. Yet it was an influence both widespread and perilous and there was a moment when it looked as though it was going to undermine us altogether. Church Councils were early aware of what was going on, but the thing was very difficult to define and seize. At Arras, in Flanders, as early as 1025, a Council condemned certain heretical propositions of the kind. In the middle of the century again, in 1049, there was another more general condemnation issued by a Council held at Rheims, in Champagne.

"a name referring them to a Bulgarian origin" - is a coy reference to the word "bugger". The name bougre in French originally meant "Bulgarian" but Church propaganda converted it to a synonym for "sodomite".


Cathars did not call themselves Cathari, but "Good Christians". Click on the following link for more about the various names the Roman Church used for Cathars.


It is of course unknown whether Catharism would have replaced Catholicism in western Europe if it had not been exterminated by force of arms and the stake. Judging by its increasing popularity, the success of its teachers in open debate with the greatest preachers the Catholic Church could offer, its appeal to the theologically literate (such as Roman Catholic priests and monks) and the fact that the Catholic Church at the time saw the need to wipe it out by force so completely, it does not seem impossible that left to itself, Europe would have become Cathar.

Belloc does not mention that a number of people throughout Europe were burned alive during this period for their Cathar beliefs and Cathar-like beliefs.

The whole influence hung like a miasma or poisonous mist, which moves over the face of a broad valley and settles now here, now there. It began to concentrate and take strong form in southern France, and that was where the final and decisive clash between it and the organized force of Catholic Europe was to take place.

Apart from the bias in words like "poisonous" and avoidance of any suggestion that the "clash" was something akin to genocide, there is a new element here. Belloc's wording leads the innocent reader to suppose that was is now southern France was already southern France at the time. The relevence of this will become apparent later.

The heresy was helped on its way to definition and strength by the effect of the first great crusading march, which stirred up all Europe and let in a flood of new influences from the East as well as stimulating every kind of activity in the West. That march, as we have seen on a previous page, coincided with the very end of the eleventh century. Jerusalem was captured in 1099. It was with the succeeding century, the twelfth (A.D. 1100-1200), that its effect was manifest. It was a time already greatly in advance of its predecessors. The universities were coming into being, so were their representative bodies called parliaments, and the first of the pointed arches arose, the "Gothic." All the true Middle Ages began to appear above ground. In such an atmosphere of vigour and growth the Cathari strengthened themselves, as did all the other forces around them. It was in the early part of this XIIth century that the thing began to get alarming, and already before the middle of the period the northern French were urging the Papacy to act.

It is, as Belloc suggests, more than possible that Dualist Gnostic influences were brought back to Europe by returning crusaders.




When Belloc says "northern French", he can mean only "French". Once again, he is leading the unwary to believe that France was then the size it is now. There are many words that could cover the area where the Albigensian Crusade took place - the Languedoc, the Toulousain, the Midi, the méridional lands, Provencia, Gothia, Occitania to name but seven. None is ideal for the purpose, but all are better and less misleading than "Southern France".

Pope Eugenius sent a Legate into southern France to see what could be done, and St. Bernard, the great orthodox orator of that vital period, preached against them. But no force was used. There was not any true organization arranged to meet the heretics, although already far-seeing men were demanding a vigorous action if society were to be saved. At last the peril became alarming. In 1163 a great Church Council held at Tours fixed a label and a name whereby the thing was to be known. Albigensian was that name, and has been kept ever since.

Note the misnomer "southern France" again.

"no force was used" - on this particular occasion. Belloc does not mention the question of force on the numerous other occasions when force was used.

The name Albigensian was founded on the error that Albi was the focus of Cathar belief. Albi was in fact one of a number of Cathar bishoprics. The name has been kept only by the Roman Catholic Church. Most people now refer to "Cathars" in preference to Albigensians or any of the many alternatives.

It is a misleading title. The Albigensian district (known in French as "Albigeois") is practically the same as the department of Tarn, in the central French mountains: a district the capital of which is the town of Albi. No doubt certain of the heretic missionaries had come from there and had suggested this name, but the strength of the movement was not up here in the ill populated hills, but down in the wealthy plains towards the Mediterranean, in what was called the Langue d'Oc, a wide district of which the great city of Toulouse was the capital. Already a score of years before this Council of Tours had fixed a label and a name on the now subversive movement Peter of Bruys had been preaching the new doctrines in the Langue d'Oc, and with him a companion called Henry had wandered about preaching them at Lausanne, in what is today Switzerland, and later in Le Mans in northern France. It is to be noted that the population were so exasperated with the first of these men that they seized him and burnt him alive.

Peter and Henry are not known to have been Cathars, though they shared with the Cathars many criticisms of the Roman Church and its hierarchy.

Henry is known to history as Henry of Le Mans or Henry of Lausanne. Belloc does not mention one of the few things reported about him, that he was a Catholic monk.

But as yet there was no official action against the "Albigensians" and they were still allowed to develop their strength rapidly for years on years in the hope that spiritual weapons would be enough to meet them. The Papacy was always hoping against hope that there would be a peaceful solution. In 1167 came a turning point. The Albigensians, now fully organized as a counter-church (much as Calvinism was organized as a counter-church four hundred years later), held a general council of their own at Toulouse and by the time the ominous political fact appeared that the greater part of the small nobles, who formed the mass of the fighting power in the centre of France and the south, lords of single villages, were in favour of the new movement. Western Europe in those days was not organized as it is now in great centralized nations. It was what is called "feudal." Lords of small districts were grouped under overlords, these again under very powerful local men who were the heads of loosely joined, but none the less unified, provinces. A Duke of Normandy, a Count of Toulouse, a Count of Provence, was in reality a local sovereign. He owned deference and fealty to the King of France, but nothing more.

The phrase "The Papacy was always hoping against hope that there would be a peaceful solution" sits a little oddly, since all the Papacy needed to do to achieve this aim was nothing at all.


The idea that the Cathars were a "counter-Church" depends on a particular point of view. For the Cathars, of course, the Catholic Church was the "counter-Church". Both Churches believed, apparently genuinely, that it was the real Christian Church and that that the other was the Church of Satan.


The Count of Toulouse actually held his fiefs from the King of Aragon, the Holy Roman Emperor, The King of France, the King of England, and the Pope, and smaller territories from others - including a few bishops.

Now the mass of the smaller lords in the south favoured the movement, as many another heretical movement has been favoured since by the same class of men, because they saw a chance of private gain at the expense of the Church's landed estates. That had always been the main motive, in these revolts. But there was another motive, which was the growing jealousy felt in the south of France against the spirit and character of Northern France. There was a difference in speech and a difference in character between the two halves of what was nominally the one French monarchy. The northern French began to clamour again for the suppression of the southern heresy, and thus fanned the flame. At last, in 1194, after Jerusalem had been lost, and the Third Crusade had failed to recover it, the thing came to a head. The Count of Toulouse, the local monarch, in that year took sides with the heretics. The great Pope, Innocent III, at last began to move. It was high time: indeed, it was almost too late. The Papacy had advised delay in a lingering hope of attaining spiritual peace by preaching and example: but the only result of the delay was that it allowed the evil to grow to dimensions in which it imperilled all our culture.

The first motive cited appears to reflect Belloc's opinion - it is difficult to reconcile with large numbers of faidits and what have been called Cathar martyrs.

The second motive is even more difficult to support. Allowing for Belloc's custom of referring to Occitania as "southern France" one is still at a loss. If it is true that there was "growing jealousy felt in the south of France against the spirit and character of Northern France" then it has been a well kept secret. Most people in Occitania, if they thought about the French at all, considered them to be uneducated intolerant barbarians, an opinion shared with other more advanced civlizations who came into contact with them such as the Byzantines and the peoples of the Levant. The people of the Languedoc were horrified that the French seemed not to honour, understand or even know about important southern cultural concepts as paratge.

Belloc seems to be unaware that a series of popes, including Pope Innocent III had previously tried to call crusades against the Counts of Toulouse, but no-one had taken a lot of notice of them.

How much that culture was imperilled can be seen from the main tenets which were openly preached and acted upon. All the sacraments were abandoned. In their place a strange ritual was adopted, mixed up with fire worship, called "The Consolation," in which it was professed that the soul was purified. The propagation of mankind was attacked; marriage was condemned, and the leaders of the sect spread all the extravagances which you find hovering round Manicheism or Puritanism wherever it appears. Wine was evil, meat was evil, war was always absolutely wrong, so was capital punishment; but the one unforgivable sin was reconciliation with the Catholic Church. There again the Albigensians were true to type. All heresies make that their chief point.

Here again the word "culture" must be read as meaning "the Roman Catholic Church"

Most of this paragraph is a distorted version of the Cathar consolamentum one of several Cathar Ceremonies now widely acknowledged to be much closer to the practice of the early Christian Church than any of the Catholic Church's Seven sacraments (with the possible exception of baptism by water which was an ancient jewish practice). Click on the following link for an explanation of Cathar ideas of Marriage.

Belloc again tries to make out that Cathars regarded wine as evil - could this be an attempt to force a parallel between Cathars and Puritans, who really did regard wine as evil? Note that the sentiments "war was always absolutely wrong, so was capital punishment" are bracketed with other abominable ideas. At the time that Belloc was writing the Roman Church still regarded these two sentiments as unChristian, on the grounds that Holy Wars and the death penalty were both sanctioned - indeed enjoined - by God.

It was obvious that the thing must come to the decision of arms, for now that the local government of the south was supporting this new highly organized counter-church, if that counter-church grew a little stronger all our civilization would collapse before it. The simplicity of the doctrine, with its dual system of good and evil, with its denial of the Incarnation and the main Christian mysteries and its anti-sacramentalism, its denunciation of clerical wealth and its local patriotism all this began to appeal to the masses in the towns as well as to the nobles. Still, Innocent, great Pope though he was, hesitated as every statesman-like man tends to hesitate before the actual appeal to arms; but even he, just before the end of the century, adumbrated the necessity of a crusade.

The need for war was not obvious then, nor is it obvious now, to anyone who does not share Belloc's religious beliefs.

There is no evidence that any Occitan state actively encouraged Catharism - only that these states tolerated it.

Again, Belloc seems to be unaware that Pope Innocent III had previously tried to organise crusades, but without success. Or perhaps the word "adumbrated" is a sort of euphemism.

When fighting came, it would necessarily be something like a conquest of the southern, or rather south-eastern, corner of France between the Rhône and the mountains, with Toulouse as its capital, by the northern barons.

By establishing in the reader's mind that the story concerns northern French crusaders and southern French heretics, Belloc removes any likelihood of his readers realising that Pope Innocent III had engineered a feudal dispossession to be followed by annexation of lands. In fact Innocent established an important precedent here - that the pope sat at the apex of the feudal hierarchy and was free to dispossess princes - even emperors - at will.

Belloc also omits to mention the secret instructions given to Milo (the Papal Legate) at the early stage of the Crusade, the effect of which was that Raymond VI would be destroyed whatever the real facts of the case and whatever Raymond did.

Still the crusade halted. The turn of the century had passed before Raymond Count of Toulouse (Raymond VI), frightened at the threat from the north, promised to change and withdraw his protection from the subversive movement. He even promised to exile the leaders of the now strongly organized heretical counter-church. But he was not sincere. His sympathies were with his own class in the south, with the mass of fighting men, his supporters, the small lords of the Langue d'Oc, who were deep in the new doctrines. St. Dominic, coming out of Spain, became by the force of his character and the directness of his intention, the soul of the approaching reaction. In 1207 the Pope asked the King of France, as sovereign and overlord of Toulouse, to use force. Nearly all the towns of the south-east were already affected. Many were wholly held by the heretics, and when the Papal Legate, Castelnau, was murdered presumably with the complicity of the Count of Toulouse the demand for a crusade was repeated and emphasized. Shortly after this murder the fighting began.

The Cathars were not subversive, except in that they were driven underground by persecution for ridiculing the innovations and abuses of the Roman Church.

Click here for a fuller account of the role of Saint Dominic

Belloc was half French and seems to have imbibed the popular French misconception that the King of France had a feudal right - even a duty - to take up arms against Raymond VI of Toulouse. This is closely tied in with the error of imagining that France has always existed within its present borders - historical nonsense since it had never at any time previously had borders matching it present ones.

There was a theoretical linkage with a time when Toulouse and Barcelona had been part of the Frankish empire, and it is true that appeals to this theoretical linkage were made from time to time. Such appeals could be recognised or ignored according to personal interest. On this occasion Innocent III appealed to it and King Phillip Augustus ignored it.

The man who stood out as the greatest leader in the campaign was a certain not very important, rather poor lord of a northern manor a small but fortified place called Monfort, one long day's march on the way to Normandy from Paris.

Click on the following link for more about Simon de Montfort

Belloc omits all mention of the many Archbishops, Bishops and other senior Churchmen who took an active part in the Crusade's military leadership - including the fact that the Crusader army's first military commander was a Cistercian abbot (Arnaud Amoury)

You may see the ruins of the place still standing in the dense wooded country round about. It lies somewhat to the north of the main road between Paris and Chartres: an abrupt, rather isolated little hill in the midst of tumbled country. To that little isolated and fortified hill the name of "the strong hill," mont fort, had been attached, and Simon took his name from that ancestral lordship.


When the fighting began Raymond of Toulouse was at his wit's end. The king of France was becoming more powerful than he had been. He had recently confiscated the estates and all the overlordship of the Plantagenets in northern France. John, the Plantagenet king of England, French speaking as was the whole of the English upper class of the day, was also (under the King of France) Lord of Normandy and of Maine and of Anjou, and through the inheritance of his mother of half the country south of the Loire: Aquitaine. All the northern part of this vast possession from the Channel right away down to the central mountains had fallen at one blow to the King of France when John of England's peers had condemned him to forfeiture. Raymond of Toulouse dreaded the same fate. But he was still lukewarm. Though he marched with the Crusaders against certain of his own cities in rebellion against the Church, at heart he desired the northerners to be beaten. He had already been excommunicated once. He was excommunicated again at Avignon in 1209, the first year of the main fighting.

Not all English nobles spoke French as their first language. The first language of John's elder brother, Richard I, was Occitan. He was before all else Duke of Aquitaine.


King John actually lost his northern continental territories by military incompetence, not "confiscation" or the machinations of feudal law (the significance of this will become apparent)


Raymond VI of Toulouse did indeed join the crusade, but against the Viscount of Carcassonne and Beziers not his own cities.

That fighting had been very violent. There had been shocking carnage and sack of cities, and there had already appeared the one thing which the Pope most feared: the danger of a financial motive coming in to embitter the already dreadful business. The lords of the north would naturally demand that the estates of the conquered heretics should be carved out among them. There was still an effort at reconciliation, but Raymond of Toulouse, probably despairing of ever being let alone, prepared to resist. In 1207 he was declared an outlaw of the Church, and like John his possessions were declared forfeited by Feudal law.

"the one thing which the Pope most feared: the danger of a financial motive coming in to embitter the already dreadful business" This seems difficult to square with the fact that Innocent III himself specifically legalised the expropriation of property by the Crusaders. In other words the financial motive coming in to embitter the already dreadful business was Innocent's own deliberate innovation.

King John's loss was not a precedent for his brother-in-law Raymond VI of Toulouse. And as indicated above, there was no precedent for expropriating a sovereign prince like Raymond VI. This was a test case and everyone knew it - even senior French noblemen were unhappy about it. A few years later in 1215 King John would submit to the papacy precisely because of this precedent. Belloc has inverted the roles.

The critical moment of the whole campaign came in 1213. It is probable that the forces of the northern French barons would have been too strong for the southerners if Raymond of Toulouse could not get allies. But two years after his final excommunication for forfeiture, very powerful allies suddenly appeared on his side in the field. It seemed certain that the tide would be turned and that the Albigensian cause would win. With its victory the kingdom of France would collapse, and the Catholic Cause in Western Europe. That short group of years therefore, was decisive for the future. It was in those years that a great coalition, led by the now despoiled John and backed by the Germans, marched against the King of France in the north and failed. The King of France managed against great odds to win the victory of Bouvines near Lille (29th of August, 1214). But already, the year before, another decisive victory by the Northern Lords in the South against the Albigensians had prepared the way.

Belloc seems to foster the impression that it was surprising that Raymond VI of Toulouse should find allies. In fact the allies in question had long been trying to contain the French threat - the main ally was Raymond's suzerain King Peter II of Aragon. (Peter had already had four of his feudal fiefs reassigned by the Church without his consent - The Trencavel viscountcies of Carcassonne, Razes, Beziers and Albi.). He also stood to loose Foix, Bearn and Comminges.

King John and the Holy Roman Emperor were also Raymond's suzerains for parts of his threatened territory.

Both King John and King Peter were close relatives of Raymond VI.

The new allies coming to the aid of the Count of Toulouse were the Spaniards from the south side of the Pyrenees, the men of Aragon. There was an enormous host of them led by their king, young Peter of Aragon, the brother-in-law of Raymond of Toulouse. A drunkard, but a man of fearful energy, he was one who was not incompetent at times to conduct a campaign. He led something like one hundred thousand men first and last (a number which includes camp followers) across the mountains directly to the relief of Toulouse.

Aragon was of course still an independent state at this time, stretching hundreds of miles north of the Pyrenees into what is now France.

Belloc fails to mention that Peter was a Catholic hero. He was even surnamed "The Catholic" by the pope. Just a year before Muret he had won a great Catholic Crusader victory against Spanish Moors as Las Navas de Tolosa.

Muret is a little town to the south-west of Raymond's capital, standing on the Garonne above stream, a day's march from Toulouse itself. The huge Spanish host which had no direct interest in the heresy itself but a strong interest in weakening the power of the French, was encamped in the flat country to the south of the town of Muret. As against them the only active force available was one thousand men under Simon de Monfort. The odds seemed ridiculous one to one hundred. It was not nearly as bad as that of course because the thousand men were picked, armed, mounted nobles. The mounted forces in the Spanish host were probably not more then three or four times as great, the rest of the Spanish body being foot men, and many of them unorganized. But even so the odds were sufficient to make the result one of the most astonishing things in history.

The idea that the Aragonese were there to weaken French influence is an inversion of the truth. It was the French who stood to gain territory.



The French victory was so surprising that it was for many centuries attributed to God himself. Voltaire's account of the Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc deals with the allegedly miraculous victory.

It was the morning of the 13th of September, 1213. The thousand men on the Catholic side, drawn up in ranks with Simon at their head, heard Mass in the saddle. The Mass was sung by St. Dominic himself. Only the leaders, of course, and a few files could be present in the church itself where all remained mounted, but through the open doors the rest of the small force could watch the Sacrifice. The Mass over, Simon rode out at the head of his little band, took a fetch round to the west and then struck with a sudden charge at the host of Peter, not yet properly drawn up and ill-prepared for the shock. The thousand northern knights of Simon destroyed their enemies altogether. The Aragonese host became a mere cloud of flying men, completely broken up, and no longer in being as a fighting force. Peter himself was killed.

Perhaps some more disingenuousness here. As Belloc must have known, both armies were overwhelmingly Catholic. The death of King Peter scandalised and horrified western Christendom precisely because of his impeccable Catholic credentials.

Muret is a name that should always be remembered as one of the decisive battles of the world. Had it failed, the campaign would have failed. Bouvines would probably never have been fought and the chances are that the French monarchy itself would have collapsed, splitting up into feudal classes, independent of any central lord.


It is one of the many distressing things in the teaching of history to note that the capital importance of the place and of the action that was fought there is still hardly recognized. One American author has done it full justice in a most able book: I refer to Mr. Hoffman Nickerson's volume The Inquisition. I know of no other English monograph on this subject, though it ought to be in the forefront of historical teaching. Had Muret been lost, instead of being miraculously won, not only would the French monarchy have been weakened and Bouvines never won, but almost certainly the new heresy would have triumphed. With it our culture of the West would have sunk, hamstrung, to the ground.

A conclusion that few moderns historians share - none outside the Catholic fold.

For the country over which the Albigensians had power was the wealthiest and the best organized of the West. It had the highest culture, commanded the trade of the Western Mediterranean with the great port of Narbonne, it barred the way of all northern efforts southward, and its example would have been inevitably followed. As it was the Albigensian resistance collapsed. The northerners had won their campaign and the south was half ruined in wealth and weakened in power of revolution against the now powerful central monarchy in Paris. That is why Muret should count with Bouvines as the foundation of that monarchy and with it of the high Middle Ages. Muret opens and seals the thirteenth century the century of St. Louis, of Edward of England and of all the burgeoning of the occidental culture.

A telling euphemism: "it barred the way of all northern efforts southward".

Whether the French victory at Muret was a Good Thing for Europe and for the world is not quite as clear cut as it is in Belloc's mind.

Belloc seems to be in no doubt that occidental culture is a Good Thing and that it is attributable the the victory of a French Catholic army and the influence of the Roman Church. Others argue that modern occidental culture owes far more to medieval Occitania than to the Catholic Church, and that without the influence of the Church much of what we regard as occidental culture including the Enlightenment would have arrived much earlier. There is a case that the Roman Church acted as a break rather than a spur to the development of occidental culture. For more on the case countering Belloc's view, visit this external website

As for the Albigensian heresy itself, it was attacked politically both by civil and by clerical organizations as well as by arms. The first Inquisition arose from the necessity of extirpating the remnants of the disease. (It is significant that a man pleading his innocence had only to show that he was married to be acquitted of the heresy! It shows what the nature of the heresy was.)

Where Belloc gets the idea that married men were automatically acquitted is something of a mystery. Many Cathar believers were married and many Parfaits (men) and Parfaites (women) could show that they had been married. Many married people, men and women, were tried, tortured and imprisoned or burned alive on the orders of the Inquisition,- as the Inquisition's own records show unambiguously. Click on the following link for an explanation of Cathar ideas of Marriage and an interesting example of a married man being burned alive for Cathar sympathies. Click on the following link for a fuller account of the Inquisition

Under the triple blow of loss of wealth, loss of military organization, and a thoroughly organized political rooting out this Manichean thing seemed in a century to have disappeared. But its roots ran underground, where, through the secret tradition of the persecuted or from the very nature of the Manichean tendency, it was certain to re-arise in other forms. It lurked in the central mountains of France itself and cognate forms lurked in the valleys of the Alps. It is possible to trace a sort of vague continuity between the Albigensian and the later Puritan groups, such as the Vaudois, just as it is possible to trace some sort of connection between the Albigensian and the earlier Manichean heresies. But the main thing, the thing which bore the Albigensian name the peril which had proved so nearly mortal to Europe had been destroyed.

The Vaudois were in fact contemporary with the Albigensian Crusade.

Again, Belloc seems to be confusing asceticism with Puritanism. The Vaudois and Cathars had little time for each other because of their very different doctrines, although they did agree on many criticisms of the Roman Church.

There is no doubt that the Vaudois were proto-Protestants (not proto-Puritans). Whether Cathar ideas influenced the Protestant ideas and thus the Protestant Reformation is still an open question, and Belloc might be right, though he offers no evidence.

Click on the following link for more on the Manichean (or Manichaean) religion which Belloc considers a heresy.

It had been destroyed at dreadful cost; a high material civilization had been half ruined and memories of hatred which lingered for generations had been founded. But the price had been worth the paying for Europe was saved. The family of Toulouse was re-admitted to its titular position and its possessions did not fall to the French crown until much later. But its ancient independence was gone, and with it the threat to our culture which had so nearly succeeded.

Once again, "our culture" in this context can only mean Roman Catholicism.

Belloc fails to give any estimate of the number of people burned to death at the stake, massacred, or otherwise killed during the Crusade. Some of these numbers were reported at the time by the churchmen responsible, as for example at Béziers


Belloc's work is still in print, and available from (£) and from ($).

For Belloc the five great heresies are:

  • Arianism
  • Islam
  • Catharism
  • Protestantism
  • Modernism


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