The Early Inquisition (1000 – 1300)

Will Durant says on page 784, The Age of Faith, “intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith; tolerance grows only when faith loses certainty; certainty is murderous.”

I must agree with Durant that certainty can be murderous.  But to say that intolerance is the natural concomitant of strong faith is to misunderstand faith. Faith is not certainty of ideas, philosophies, theologies or beliefs. The great Seventeenth Century mathematician, scientist and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, said, “Faith declares what the senses do not see, but not the contrary of what they see.”  The reason that “faith” can become murderous is that such a faith too often assumes a superiority over matter and reality, bearing bad fruits; Jesus would expose such profession of faith with the practical test: “by their fruits you will know them.”

The Renaissance is named for the rebirth of the classical arts in  society. As with all life, the rebirth quired a period of gestation in preparation fothat rebirth.  Part of that preparation for the Renaissance was the rise of vernacular in the vrious regions of Europe,  first in  its spoken word and then in it’s writing. About 1170 A.D., a rich merchant by the name of Peter Waldo organized some scholars to tanslate the Bible into the vernacular of his own region in southern France. Previously, any writing of scholarly significance would have been written in the formal language of Latin. In this era, riches were beginning to be accumulated beyond the Church, the lords, and generally the aristocracy. His following became known as the Waldenses. In a manner, it would seem, that with the rise of the merchant class, old social structures began to soften.  Waldo gathered a group called the “poor man of Lyons,” who, for all purposes, except formal training recognized by the church, were monks. Gradually, the group became critical of the priesthood and of sinful priests who were administering the sacraments. In some ways, I see it as an early version of modern fundamentalism, in which every one who can read the Bible does so, taking it literally and thereby stripping it of its mystery  which transcends mere human  experience,  and maof Christian precepts an equation for “salvation.”  The Church responded to their anti-clerical and anti-Church positions by condemning this act in 1184. To restrict Bible study outside of the guidance of an ordained priest, the Church in the Council of Toulouse in 1229 prohibited lay persons from having Scripture, except, essentially, the Psalms and that only in Latin, not in the low vernacular of the region.

Will Durant, in Volume, The Age of Faith, pages 770 – 771 speaks of the sects that arose in the middle of the 13th century as “honeycombing” Western Europe, notand that: the most powerful of the heretical sects was variously named Cathari from the Greek for “pure”; Bulgari, from the Balkan provenance (whence, the abusive term bugger); and Albigenses, from the French town of Albi, where they were especially numerous.  It appears to me that it is by no accident that these sects arose contemporaneous with the rise of the middle class in preparation for the Renaissance. “There French medieval civilization had reached its height; the great religions mingled in urbane amity, women were inperiously beautiful, morals were loose, troubadours spread gay ideas, and, as in Frederick’s Italy, the Renaissance was ready to begin.”

Again, not unlike the often uniquely personalized fundamentalism of today, the theologies of the late medieval sects reflected middle-class values. white contrary to the privileges of orthodoxy associated with the Church.  Indeed, not only were these sects returning to many early Christian concepts, such as Arianism or Gnosticism, but many have been precursers, whether intentional or not, for various fundamental Christian concepts of today. Will Durant, in The Age of Faith, at page 771 notes, “The theology of the Cathari divided the cosmos Manichaeanly into Good, God, Spirit, Heaven; and Evil, Satan, matter, the material universe.  Cathari teachings further conflicted with Catholic doctrine holdings that there was no hell or purgatory, and that every soul would be saved.  Will Durant at  Ibid, page 772, concludes that this attack on the Church was the sect’s undoing : “The Church might have allowed this sect to die of its own suicide had not the Catheri criticized the Church. They denied that the Church was the church of Christ; St. Peter had never come to Rome, had never founded the papacy; the popes were successors to the emperors, not to the apostles. . . . The Roman Church, they were sure, was the Whore of Babylon, the clergy were a synagogue of Satan, the Pope was Antichrist.”

It seems clear that not only was the rise of the middle class in the late medieval period a necessary precursor to the Renaissance, but likewise it preparied the way for the Reformation. Particularly, the Cathari sect was primarily located in southern France, where both secular and sacred powers not only tolerated it, but even encouraged it by holding public debates between it and Church authorities.  Not only did the Cathari sect arise in a segment of society that was gaining power among the rising merchant class as feudalism was waning, but the nobility, jealous of the Church’s riches, including much land, found the sect to be an ideological ally and an effective tool to challenge the Church’s power which too often curtailed their own.  The Church saw these heretical sects as a threat not only to there ecclesiastical authority, but also to the state, its own ally . The rise of these sects may have, in addition to laying the foundation for both the end of the Crusades and the beginning of the Renaissance, prepared European Society for the Protestant Reformation.

No more than two months into Pope Inocent’s papacy in 1198 , he wrote to an archbishop,

We give you a strict command that, by whatever means you can, you destroy all these heresies, and retell from your diocese all who are polluted by them. … If necessary, you may cause the princes and the people to suppress them with the sword.

The churcReorientedhe powers of its Crusades from the Middle East to its own territory. With similar inducements, the Crusaders attacked  the town of Beziers, France and demanded that it turn over all heretics. The town resisted, the Crusaders took the town and killed 20,000 men, women, and children. Will Durant at page 775 reports a story that the papal legate was asked who might be spared, there apparently being Catholics among the population. The legate answered, “Kill them all, for God knows His own.”

Thus, the Inquisition saw the Church turn from focus on “infidels” abroad to “infidels” within.

Elsewhere, Will Durant notes that the Christian Church has, in its history, slaughtered more of its own than it has those of other religions in other places.  That hardly is comfort for Muslims, Jews, and those of other religions who have experienced harassment, murder or otherwise been harmed by nominal Christians, but perhaps it demonstrates the unfortunate truism that we tend to reserve our greatest anger, rage and vengeance for those most like ourselves. For some reason, we have the tendency and capacity to make the slightest fissure the greatest chasm.  I have elsewhere noted that the story of Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac, can be interpreted to say that Jews and Arabs are family, they ought to recognize that, and they ought to act as a loving family. But as noted here, it often seems that the greatest hatred is often reserved for family.

For the purposes of understanding the setting of the arts produced during this time, the details of Inquisitional torture and murder are not necessary and are available to any who wish to in inquire. Will Durant at page 781 notes the general character of the tools of the Inquisition, which is consistent with my earlier observation that the punishment was intended as torture for the purpose of eliciting a confession as well as getting the message to its members that heresy has dire consequence for the heretic.  To that confession, Durant would add that the heretic name other heretics.

It took the form of flogging, burning, the rack, or solitary imprisonment in dark and narrow dungeons. The feet of the accused might be slowly roasted over burning coals; or he might be bound upon a triangular frame, and have his arms and legs pulled by cords wound on a windlass.


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