The crusades against the Albigenses of Southern France were widely successful.
The principalities of Raymond VI., Count of Toulouse, and Raymond Roger the Viscount of Beziers, once "purged", were given to that faithful son of the Church, Simon de Montfort. The neighbouring Count of Foix similarly lost his provinces in the common desolation. The Viscount of Narbonne avoided the crusaders at the price of becoming Grand Inquisitor of his own dominions. Sadly his rigour eventually exceeded even Rome's demands.
The twenty years that followed were devoted to the cruel work of rooting out any seeds of heresy possibly remaining. Annually, parties of monks deserted Citeaux‘s convents preaching further crusades from pulpits that they had forcibly requisitioned. Their reward - Paradise.
Every year a new wave of fanatics besieged the devoted provinces. Villages and woods were searched to supply victims for the dismal gibbets that covered the face of the country. The first instigators of these horrors - Innocent III, Simon de Montfort and the Abbot of Citeaux - passed from the scene. But the tragedy once begun was not to be extinguished. Lands, which the all but annihilated Albigenses once peopled and enriched by their industry, now saw a ceaseless flow of blood and endless pyres of destruction.
Innocent III and St Dominic
The foundation of the Inquisition had already been laid by Innocent III. and St. Dominic who share between them the merit of this work. The fourth Lateran Council, commencing November 1215, had seen St. Dominic receive the Pontiff's commission to judge apostate heretics and deliver punishment to the obstinate and relapsed.. This was the Inquisition, though lacking as yet its full organization and equipment. That St. Dominic died before it was completed alters not the question touching his connection with its authorship, though of late a vindication of him has been attempted on this ground, only by shifting the guilt to his Church. The fact remains that St. Dominic accompanied the armies of Simon de Montfort and delivered the Albigenses to the secular judge to be put to death. In short he lead the rudimentary Inquisition of the day.
Perfecting the Inquisition
We must now notice the year 1229. A Council was held at Toulouse with Papal legate Cardinal of St. Angelo representing the pope to perfect the tribunal. The foundation of the Inquisition had already been laid. Innocent III and St. Dominic share between them the merit of this good work. The Council of Toulouse simply further perfected the terrible tribunal. Every city now had a council of Inquisitors consisting of one priest and three laymen forsworn to search out heretics in towns, houses, cellars, caves, woods, and fields, and then denounce them to the bishop and lords, or their bailiffs. Once discovered, a summary but dreadful ordeal conducted heretics to the stake. Moreover their houses were also confiscated and condemned to burning to destroy the leprous contagion of the very stones , timber, and soil. Lords were held responsible for the orthodoxy of their own estates and their neighbours. If remiss, the sharp admonition of the Church soon quickened their diligence. A last will and testament was invalid unless a priest had overseen its making. Suspected physicians were forbidden to practice. All above the age of fourteen were required on oath to abjure heresy, and aid the search for heretics.
Tyrannically the same Council condemned the reading of the Holy Scriptures. "We prohibit", says the fourteenth canon, "the laiety from having the books of the Old and New Testament, unless it be at most that any one wishes to have, from devotion, a psalter, a breviary for the Divine offices, or the hours of the blessed Mary; but we forbid them in the most express manner to have the above books translated into the vulgar tongue". In 1233, Pope Gregory IX. issued a bull entrusting the working of the Inquisition to the Dominicans. His legate the Bishop of Tournay obediently completed organisation of that tribunal, now the terror of Christendom dooming countless human beings. Two Dominicans were appointed in Toulouse, and two in each city of the province, to form the Tribunal of the Faith. Shortly Saint Louis (Louis IX.) of France extended it to the whole kingdom. An Inquisitor's instruction manual enumerating the errors of the heretics was held in each locality. The document bears unwitting testimony to the Scriptural faith of those the newly-erected court was to root out. "In the exposition made by the Bishop of Tournay, of the errors of the Albigenses," says Sismondi, "we find nearly all the principles upon which Luther and Calvin founded the Reformation of the sixteenth century."
Worse than the Crusades
In effect the crusades continued under the more dreadful form of the Inquisition. Not so terrible was the crusader's swift sword as the Inquisitor's rack. To die fighting in the open field or upon beleaguered ramparts was a fate less horrible than expiring amid prolonged and excruciating tortures in the dungeons of the "Holy Office". Crusades had intermissions - not so the Inquisition. It worked on and on, day and night, century after century, with appalling regularity. With steady march it eventually embraced almost all Europe, piling up its dead year by year in ever ghastlier heaps. This tragedy was the sole and deliberate act of the Church of Rome. She planned it in solemn council, she enunciated it in dogma and canon, and executed it as vicegerent of Heaven with power to save or to destroy nations.
Rome was in the noon of her power; free from all coercion whether by force or of fear. She could afford to be magnanimous and tolerant were it possible, yet she ever blew the trumpet of vengeance, summoning the armies of Europe upon her own behalf. The Church of Rome possesses the supremacy of both powers, spiritual and temporal. She has the right to employ both swords. What she has done aforetime she may do in time to come. The decree of Infallibility now officially confirms what the Popes officially planned ordered and executed were infallibly guided by inspiration. The plea that customs of the 13th century cannot be compared to today becomes inadmissible. An infallible Church has no need to wait for illuminating philosophy and science. Her sun is always in the zenith. The thirteenth and the nineteenth century are the same to her, for she is just as infallible in the one as in the other.
Smitten by this terrible blow, 13th Century Protestantism fell to rise no more in that people and age. It did not perish alone. All the regenerative forces of a social and intellectual kind which Protestantism even at that early stage had evoked were rooted out along with it. Letters had begun to refine, liberty to emancipate, art to beautify, and commerce to enrich the region. All were pitilessly swept away by a vengeful power bent upon the extirpation of Protestantism. How changed the region from what it once was! The gospel reciting troubadours were silent. Chaos replaced order. The rich harvests of the region were trodden into the dust. Fruitful vines and flourishing olive-trees were torn up. Hamlet and city alike were ruined. Blood, and ashes covered the face of this now "purified" land.
But Rome was unable to arrest the movement of the human mind. Instead of Albigensianism, Scholasticism now arose in France, which, after flourishing for some centuries in the schools of Paris, passed into the Skeptical Philosophy, and that again, in our day, into Atheistic Communism. It will be curious if in the future the progeny should cross the path of the parent. Wider diffusion of the Divine principle, when next it should show itself, would be amongst more robust and capable stock than the Romanesque (Southern Europe). For meanwhile the Teutonic (the German princes), destined to receive the heavenly graft and to shoot forth on every side larger boughs, to cover Christendom with their shadow and solace it with their fruits, was already silently growing.
Taken from Wylie's History of Protestantism and edited by Dr Clive Gillis.
Note : This chapter is uncharacteristically short in the original. The content could have easily been redistributed thus dispensing with it. One senses Wylie insisted upon it . Hence we have taken out our section headed Innocent II and St Dominic, buried in the original's subsequent section, to give it the prominence it warrants. Wylie clearly saw the crucial Albigensian effect on the developing Dominic, a view not popular in his day. As the Albigensian's more isolated strongholds, continued to hold on for decades after Carcassonne, so was enraged Dominic's vision fuelled by their example. He must found an ascetic dedicated order of monks with Albigensian qualities. Dominic saw Albigensian asceticism and tenacity a pre-requisite to run a tribunal as awful and enduring as the inquisition both efficiently and dispassionately. He despised the monks of Citeaux as soft and worldly, perhaps a presage of the enduring rivalry between Jesuits and Dominicans.
CAPTION Montsegur : The Last Albigensian Stronghold. "The twenty years that followed were devoted to the cruel work of rooting out any seeds of heresy possibly yet remaining".
Montsegur was the last of a string of isolated mountain fastnesses that held out in the region. The cruelty of Rome in crushing the Albigenses can be no better illustrated than by this evocative image. The castle ruin is much as Rome left it after slaughtering the last Albigenses over eight centuries ago. The telephoto lens brings up what in reality is a tiny isolated speck paradoxically invisible nearby. The author was deeply moved on the steep trek up to the ruins and when resting back by the simple memorial at the bottom next to a field where 225 Albigensians were burned alive. The scene of Rome's bloody slaughter again echoed in the imagination as men women and children were herded like animals into a specially built enclosure in the early morning of 16th March 1244. "They included three generations of one family - Grandmother, Mother and Daughter". Wylie hands on the baton of Protestantism to Teutonic knights. Some Albigensians escaped Montsegur. They occasionally feature in today's bizarre Holy Grail mystery literature, escaping with a precious secret. Perhaps reality is that they linked up with the Waldenses of Provence and returned to a truer Gospel?