Posts Tagged ‘Anne Brenon’

Anne Brenon: Les Cathares

December 11, 2016

51pp-bkvpyl-_ac_us160_After my visit to Cathar country in September, I allowed myself some in-depth reading about this mediaeval Church, exterminated in the fourteenth century by Rome and its secular allies. Anne Brenon‘s book was just what I needed by way of further history, and more importantly, explanation of Cathar beliefs, theology and religious practice.

Much has been uncovered about the Cathars over the last fifty years or so, including ritual books, and much has been unravelled from the detailed records kept by the Inquisition: the church was much more widespread, longer-lasting and more deeply rooted in the south of France, northern Spain and northern Italy than had previously been known. It was a properly organised and run church, not secretive, hidden or lurking.

It was a very different church from the official Catholic Church of the times: it rejected violence, allowed equality between men and women, was against the taking of oaths, believed that its members were the church, rather than any buildings or property. Cathars denied the humanity of Christ – he was purely divine – and they held a dualist view of creation: God was only good, and the sinful world we lived in was the creation and work of the devil; we aspired to and could return to God’s world after death. But this was not a belief in two Gods; it did solve the problem about the origins of evil in the world, which traditional Catholics have always had problems explaining. However, it did do away with the notion of free will, too. And if there was hell, it was only the place of the devil and his crew: in many ways the Cathar picture of God was more human and more merciful than the traditional one.

It’s a fascinating slice of the past, of what could have been; it’s an indictment of the Catholic Church and its temporal obsessions, maybe an indication of the problems all religions face when they become widespread in their influence and following. Certainly George Orwell would have been proud of the job the Church did in disappearing history and evidence for the Cathars and their beliefs: everything into the memory-hole, books and people burnt alike.

Anne Brenon: Les Cathares

September 19, 2016

51vsnpcj3tl-_ac_us160_Anne Brenon is one of the foremost experts on the history and theology of the Cathars, so I took her book to re-read on my recent trip to the Aude department of southern France as I set off to visit some of the sites where they lived and were ultimately wiped out by the Church in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It’s one in an excellent and long-running series from the publishers Gallimard, where a topic, theme or idea is explored in depth in a copiously illustrated main section, which is supported by a supplementary document and bibliography section at the end. Some of their titles were taken up and translated by Thames and Hudson a couple of decades back, but that enterprise seems to have petered out.

The Cathars formed a sizeable and widespread alternative to the official church in southern France, northern Italy and other adjoining areas; they rejected the authority of the pope, the sacraments and rituals of the Roman Church, and sought to return to the basics of early Christianity; men and women were of equal status. More seriously, they spurned the cross, the passion of Christ and the crucifixion, and focused on the Holy Spirit and Pentecost. This earned them condemnation as heretics, the launching of the crusade against the Albigensian heresy (as the Cathar beliefs were labelled) and the setting up of the Inquisition. Of course, it wasn’t just about religion: power politics were in play as always, as the French throne sought to spread its borders and emasculate a powerful rival in the Languedoc. It is a truly shameful episode in the history of the official church: the 5000 in habitants of the city of Beziers were slaughtered, heretics and Catholic alike on the orders of a bishop who said: ‘Kill them all; God will recognise his own’…

The Aude department is encouraging tourism to the areas where the Cathars lived and died; there are museums and exhibitions, and they are careful to de-mystify the untruths which have grown up over the years, that the ruined castles such as Queribus and Peyrepetuse, perched impossibly on their rocky crags, were the sites of Cathar last stands: those castles were built in those places by the French throne after the Cathars had been evicted and massacred, as part of the pacification and securing of the frontier with the throne of Aragon to the south…

Fascinating places which I really enjoyed visiting, and very interesting episode of mediaeval history. Brenon’s book was a very useful companion: there’s sufficient information to make one feel informed properly without being overloaded, it’s well-organised and illustrated.

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