Vol. 5, Chapter X (Cont’d) – The Waldenses


“O lady fair, I have yet a gem which a purer lustre flings

Than the diamond flash of the jewelled crown on the lofty brow of kings;

A wonderful pearl of exceeding price, whose virtue shall not decay,

Whose light shall be as a spell to thee and a blessing on thy way!”

 — Whittier, The Vaudois Teacher.

Distinct from the Cathari and other sects in origin and doctrine, but sharing with them the condemnation of the established Church, were the Waldenses. The Cathari lived completely apart from the Catholic Church. The Waldenses, leaning upon the Scriptures, sought to revive the simple precepts of the Apostolic age. They were the strictly biblical sect of the Middle Ages. This fact, and the pitiless and protracted persecutions to which they were subjected, long ago won the sympathies of the Protestant churches. They present a rare spectacle of the survival of a body of believers which has come up out of great tribulation.

Southern France was their first home, but they were a small party as compared with the Albigenses in those parts. From France they spread into Piedmont, and also into Austria and Germany, as recent investigations have clearly brought out. In Italy, they continue to this day in their ancestral valleys and, since 1870, endowed with full rights of citizenship. In Austria, they kept their light burning as in a dark place for centuries, had a close historic connection with the Hussites and Bohemian Brethren, and prepared, in some measure, the way for the Anabaptists in the time of the Reformation.

The Waldenses derive their origin and name from Peter Waldus or Valdez, who died before 1218, as all the contemporary writers agree. They were also called Poor Men of Lyons, from the city on the Rhone where they originated, and the Sandalati or Sandalled, from the coarse shoes they wore.

The name by which they were known among themselves was Brethren or the Poor of Christ, based probably upon Mat_5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” According to the Anonymous writer of Passau, writing in the early years of the fourteenth century, some already in his day carried the origin of the sect back to the Apostles. Until recently all Waldensian writers have claimed for it Apostolic origin or gone at least as far back as the seventh century. Professor Comba, of the Waldensian school in Florence, has definitely given up this theory in deference to the investigations of Dieckhoff, Herzog, and other German scholars.

Of Waldo’s life little is known. A prosperous merchant of Lyons, he was aroused to religious zeal by the sudden death of a leading citizen of the city, of which he was a witness, and by a ballad he heard sung by a minstrel on the public square. The song was about St. Alexis, the son of wealthy parents who no sooner returned from the marriage altar than, impressed by the claims of celibacy, he left his bride, to start on a pilgrimage to the East. On his return he called on his relatives and begged them to give him shelter, but they did not recognize who he was till they found him dead. The moral drawn from the tale was: life is short, the times are evil, prepare for heaven.

Waldo sought counsel from a priest, who told him there were many ways to heaven, but if he would be perfect, he must obey Christ’s precepts, and go and sell all that he had and give to the poor, and follow him. It was the text that had moved Anthony of Egypt to flee from society. Waldo renounced his property, sent his two daughters to the convent of Fontevrault, gave his wife a portion of his goods, and distributed the remainder to the poor. This was about 1170.

His rule of life, Waldo drew from the plain precepts of the Bible. He employed Bernard Ydros and Stephen of Ansa to translate into the vernacular the Gospels and other parts of the Scriptures, together with sayings of the Fathers. He preached, and his followers, imitating his example, preached in the streets and villages, going about two by two. When the archbishop of Lyons attempted to stop them, they replied that “they ought to obey God, rather than men.”

Very unexpectedly the Waldenses made their appearance at the Third Lateran council, 1179, at least two of their number being present. They besought Alexander III. to give his sanction to their mode of life and to allow them to go on preaching. They presented him with a copy of their Bible translation. The pope appointed a commission to examine them. Its chairman, Walter Map, an Englishman of Welsh descent and the representative of the English king, has left us a curious account of the examination. He ridicules their manners and lack of learning. They fell an easy prey to his questionings, like birds, as he says, who do not see the trap or net, but think they have a safe path. He commenced with the simplest of questions, being well aware, as he said, that a donkey which can eat much oats does not disdain milk diet. On asking them whether they believed in the persons of the Trinity they answered, “Yes.” And “in the Mother of Christ?” To this they also replied “Yes.” At that the committee burst out laughing at their ignorance, for it was not proper to believe in, but to believe on, Mary. “Being poor themselves, they follow Christ who was poor, — nudi nudum Christum sequentes. Certainly it is not possible for them to take a more humble place, for they have scarcely learned to walk. If we admit them, we ourselves ought to be turned out.” This vivacious committee-man, who delighted so much in chit-chat, as the title of his book indicates, further says that the Waldenses went about barefooted, clad in sheep-skins, and had all things common like the Apostles.

Without calling the Waldenses by name, the council forbade them to preach. The synod of Verona, 1184, designated them as “Humiliati, or Poor Men of Lyons,” and anathematized them, putting them into the same category with the Cathari and Patarines. Their offence was preaching without the consent of the bishops.

Although they were expelled from Lyons and excommunicated by the highest authority of the Church, the Waldenses ceased not to teach and preach. They were called to take part in disputations at Narbonne (1190) and other places. They were charged with being in rebellion against the ecclesiastical authorities and with daring to preach, though they were only laymen. Durandus of Huesca, who had belonged to their company, withdrew in 1207 and took up a propaganda against them. He went to Rome and secured the pope’s sanction for a new order under the name of the “Catholic Poor” who were bound to poverty; the name, as is probable, being derived from the sect he had abandoned.

Spreading into Lombardy, they met a party already organized and like-minded. This party was known as the Humiliati. Its adherents were plain in dress and abstained from oaths and falsehood and from lawsuits. The language, used by the Third Ecumenical council and the synod of Verona, identified them with the Poor Men of Lyons. Originally, as we know from other sources, the two groups were closely affiliated. It is probable that Waldo and his followers on their visits in Lombardy won so much favor with the older sect that it accepted Waldo’s leadership. At a later date, a portion of the Humiliati associated themselves in convents, and received the sanction of Innocent III. It seems probable that they furnished the model for the third order of St. Francis. One portion of the Humiliati early became known as the Poor Men of Lombardy and had among their leaders, John of Roncho. A portion of them, if not all, were treated by contemporaries as his followers and called Runcarii. Contemporary writers treat the two groups as parts of the same body and distinguish them as the Ultramontane and the Lombard Poor Men or as the Ultramontane and Italic Brethren.

A dispute arose between the Humiliati and the Poor Men of Lyons as to their relation to one another and to Peter Waldo, which led to a conference, in 1218, at Bergamo. Each party had six representatives. The two points of discord were the eucharist and whether Waldo was then in paradise. The Lombards contended that the validity of the sacrament depended upon the good character of the celebrant. The question about Waldo and a certain Vivetus was, whether they had gone to heaven without having made satisfaction before their deaths for all their sins. The Lyonnese claimed that Waldo was in paradise and made the recognition of this fact a condition of union with the Lombard party. The controversy at Bergamo points to a definite rejection of Waldo’s leadership by the Lombard Waldenses. Salve Burce, 1235, who ridiculed the Waldensians on the ground of their recent origin, small number, and lack of learning, compared the Poor Men of Lombardy and the Poor Men of Lyons with the two Catharan sects, the Albanenses and the Concorrezzi, and declared the four were as hostile, one to the other, as fire and water. This is an isolated testimony and not to be accepted. But it is the charge, so often repeated since by the Catholic Church, that Protestantism means division and strife.

In the crusades against heretics, in Southern France, the Waldenses were included, but their sufferings were small compared with those endured by the Albigenses. Nor do they seem to have furnished many victims to the Inquisition in the fourteenth century. Although Bernard Guy opened his trials in 1308, it was not till 1316 that a Waldensian was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment and another to death by burning. Three years later, twenty-six were condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and three to death in the flames. In 1498, Louis XII. granted them limited toleration. During the Reformation period, in 1545, twenty-two villages inhabited by the French Waldenses were pillaged and burnt by order of the parliament of Provence.

It was in Italy and Austria that the Waldenses furnished their glorious spectacle of unyielding martyrdom. From France they overflowed into Piedmont, partly to find a refuge in its high valleys, seamed by the mountain streams of the Perouse, the Luserne, and the Angrogne. There, in the Cottian Alps, they dwelt for some time without molestation. They had colonies as far south as Calabria, and the emigration continued in that direction till the fifteenth century. But the time of persecution came. In 1209, Otto IV. issued an edict of banishment and in 1220 Thomas, count of Savoy, threatened with fines all showing them hospitality. But their hardy industry made them valuable subjects and for a hundred years there was no persecution in the valleys unto death. The first victim at the stake perished, 1312.

Innocent VIII., notorious for his official recognition of witchcraft, was the first papal persecutor to resort to rigorous measures. In 1487, he announced a crusade, and called upon Charles VIII. of France and the duke of Savoy to execute the decree. Everything the Waldenses had endured before, as Leger says, was as “roses and flowers” compared with what they were now called upon to suffer. Innocent furnished an army of eighteen-thousand. The Piedmontese Waldenses were forced to crouch up higher into the valleys, and were subject to almost incredible hardship. The most bitter sufferings of this Israel of the Alps were reserved for the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, after they had accepted the Reformation. It was of the atrocious massacres perpetrated at that time that Milton exclaimed,

“Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints,

Whose bones he scattered on the Alpine mountains cold.”

The history of the Waldensian movement in different parts of Germany and Austria has scarcely less interest than the Franco-Italian movement. It had a more extensive influence by preparing the way for other separatist and evangelical movements. It is supposed that a translation of parts of the Scriptures belonging to the Waldenses was in circulation in Metz at the end of the twelfth century. Copies were committed to the flames. It is also supposed that Waldenses were among the heretics ferreted out in Strassburg in 1212, eighty of whom were burnt, twelve priests and twenty-three women being of the number. The Waldenses spread as far north as Königsberg and Stettin and were found in Swabia, Poland, Bavaria, and especially in Bohemia and the Austrian diocese of Passau.

They were subjected to persecution as early as in 1260. Fifty years later there were at least forty-two Waldensian communities in Austria and a number of Waldensian schools. Neumeister, a bishop of the Austrian heretics, who suffered death with many others in 1315, testified that in the diocese of Passau alone the sect had over eighty thousand adherents. In 1318 Dominican and Franciscan inquisitors were despatched to Bohemia and Poland to help the authorities in putting the heresy down. Bohemia had become the most important centre of Waldensianism. With these Austrian heretics the Poor Men of Lombardy kept up a correspondence and they received from them contributions.

In spite of persecutions, the German Waldenses continued to maintain themselves to the fifteenth century.

The Austrian dissenters were active in the distribution of the Scriptures. And Whittier has based his poem of the Vaudois Teacher upon the account of the so-called Anonymous writer of Passau of the fourteenth century. He speaks of the Waldenses as going about as peddlers to the houses of the noble families and offering first gems and other goods and then the richest gem of all, the Word of God. This writer praised their honesty, industry, and sobriety. Their speech, he said, was free from oaths and falsehoods.

We have thus three types of Waldenses: the Poor Men of Lyons, the Poor Men of Lombardy, and the Austrian Waldensians. As for their dissent from the established Church, it underwent in some particulars, in their later periods, a development, and on the other hand there was developed a tendency to again approach closer to the Church.

In their earliest period the Waldenses were not heretics, although the charge was made against them that they claimed to be “the only imitators of Christ.” Closely as they and the Cathari were associated geographically and by the acts of councils, papal decrees, and in literary refutations of heresy, the Waldenses differ radically from the Cathari. They never adopted Manichaean elements. Nor did they repudiate the sacramental system of the established Church and invent strange rites of their own. They were also far removed from mysticism and have no connection with the German mystics as some of the other sectaries had. They were likewise not Protestants, for we seek in vain among them for a statement of the doctrine of justification by faith. It is possible, they held to the universal priesthood of believers. According to de Bourbon and others, they declared all good men to be priests. They placed the stress upon following the practice of the Apostles and obeying the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, and they did not know the definition which Luther put on the word “justification.” They approached more closely to an opinion now current among Protestants when they said, righteousness is found only in good men and good women.

The first distinguishing principle of the Waldenses bore on daily conduct and was summed up in the words of the Apostles, “we ought to obey God rather than men.” This the Catholics interpreted to mean a refusal to submit to the authority of the pope and prelates. All the early attacks against them contain this charge. Alanus sought to refute the principle by adducing Christ’s submission to the authority of Pilate, Joh_19:11, and by arguing that the powers that be are ordained of God. This was, perhaps, the first positive affirmation of a Scriptural ground for religious independence made by the dissenting sects of the Middle Ages. It contains in it, as in a germ, the principle of full liberty of conscience as it was avowed by Luther at Worms.

The second distinguishing principle was the authority and popular use of the Scriptures. Here again the Waldenses anticipated the Protestant Reformation without realizing, as is probable, the full meaning of their demand. The reading of the Bible, it is true, had not yet been forbidden, but Waldo made it a living book and the vernacular translation was diligently taught. The Anonymous writer of Passau said he had seen laymen who knew almost the entire Gospels of Matthew and Luke by heart, so that it was hardly possible to quote a word without their being able to continue the text from memory.

The third principle was the importance of preaching and the right of laymen to exercise that function. Peter Waldo and his associates were lay evangelists. All the early documents refer to their practice of preaching as one of the worst heresies of the Waldenses and an evident proof of their arrogance and insubordination. Alanus calls them false preachers, pseudo-praedicatores. Innocent III., writing, in 1199, of the heretics of Metz, declared their desire to understand the Scriptures a laudable one but their meeting in secret and usurping the function of the priesthood in preaching as only evil. Alanus, in a long passage, brought against the Waldenses that Christ was sent by the Father and that Jonah, Jeremiah, and others received authority from above before they undertook to preach, for “how shall they preach unless they be sent.” The Waldenses were without commission. To this charge, the Waldenses, as at the disputation of Narbonne, answered that all Christians are in duty bound to spread the Gospel in obedience to Christ’s last command and to Jam_4:17, “to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” The denial of their request by Alexander III., 1179, did not discourage them from continuing to preach in the highway and house and, as they had opportunity, in the churches.

The Waldenses went still further in shocking old-time custom and claimed the right to preach for women as well as for men, and when Paul’s words enjoining silence upon the women were quoted, they replied that it was with them more a question of teaching than of formal preaching and quoted back Tit_2:3, “the aged women should be teachers of good things.” The abbot Bernard of Fontis Calidi, in contesting the right of laics of both sexes to preach, quoted the Lord’s words commanding the evil spirit to hold his peace who had said, “Thou art the Holy One of God,” Mar_1:25. If Christ did not allow the devil to use his mouth, how could he intend to preach through a Waldensian? In one of the lists of errors, ascribed to the Waldenses, is their rejection of the universities of Paris, Prague, and Vienna and of all university study as a waste of time.

It was an equally far-reaching principle when the Waldenses declared that it was spiritual endowment, or merit, and not the Church’s ordination which gave the right to bind and loose, to consecrate and bless. This was recognized by their opponents as striking at the very root of the sacerdotal system. They charged against them the definite affirmation of the right of laymen to baptize and to administer the Lord’s Supper. No priest, continuing in sin, could administer the eucharist, but any good layman might. The charge was likewise made that women were allowed the function also, and Rainerius says that no one rose up to deny the charge. It was also charged that the Waldenses allowed laymen to receive confessions and absolve. Differences on this point among the Waldenses were brought out at the conference at Bergamo.

As for the administration of baptism, there were also differences of view between the Waldenses of Italy and those of France. There was a disposition, in some quarters at least, to deny infant baptism and to some extent the opinion seems to have prevailed that infants were saved without baptism. Whatever the views of the early Waldenses were at the time of the Reformation, according to the statement of Morel, they left the administration of the sacraments to the priests. The early documents speak of the secrecy observed by the Waldenses, and it is possible more was charged against them than they would have openly acknowledged.

To the affirmation of these fundamental principles the Waldenses, on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount, added the rejection of oaths, the condemnation of the death penalty, and some of them purgatory and prayers for the dead. There are but two ways after death, the Waldenses declared, the way to heaven and the way to hell.

The Waldenses regarded themselves, as Professor Comba has said, as a church within the Church, a select circle. They probably went no further, though they were charged with pronouncing the Roman Church the Babylonian harlot, and calling it a house of lies. As early as the thirteenth century, the Waldenses were said, as by de Bourbon, to be divided like the Cathari into the Perfect and Believers, but this may be a mistake. In the beginning of the fourteenth century, in Southern France they elected a superintendent, called Majoralis omnium, whom, according to Bernard Guy, they obeyed as the Catholics did the pope, and they also had presbyters and deacons. In other parts they had a threefold ministry, under the name of priests, teachers, and rectors.

From the first, the Lyonnese branch had a literature of its own and in this again a marked contrast is presented to the Cathari. Of the early Waldensian translation of the Bible in Romaunt, there are extant the New Testament complete and the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. A translation in French had preceded this Waldensian version. The German translation of the Bible found at Tepl, Bohemia, may have been of Waldensian origin.

The Nobla Leyczon, dating from the early part of the thirteenth century and the oldest extant piece of Waldensian literature next to the version of the Bible, is a religious poem of four hundred and seventy-nine lines. It has a strictly practical purpose. The end of the world is near, man fell, Noah was spared, Abraham left his own country, Israel went down to Egypt and was delivered by Moses. Christ preached a better law, he trod the path of poverty, was crucified, and rose again. The first line ran “O brothers, listen to a noble teaching.” The poem closes with the scene of the Last Judgment and an exhortation to repent.

Through one channel the Waldenses exercised an influence over the Catholic Church. It was through the Waldensian choice of poverty. They made the, “profession of poverty,” as Etienne de Bourbon calls it, or “the false profession of poverty,” as Bernard Guy pronounced it. By preaching and by poverty they strove after evangelical perfection, as was distinctly charged by these and other writers. Francis d’Assisi took up with this ideal and was perhaps more immediately the disciple of the obscure Waldensians of Northern Italy than can be proved in so many words. The ideal of Apostolic poverty and practice was in the air and it would not detract from the services of St. Francis, if his followers would recognize that these dissenters of Lyons and Italy were actuated by his spirit, and thus antedated his propaganda by nearly half a century.


Note: Literature Bearing on the Early Waldenses

For the titles, see §79. — A new era in the study of the history and tenets of the Waldenses was opened by Dieckhoff, 1851, who was followed by Herzog, 1853. More recently, Preger, Karl Müller, Haupt, and Keller have added much to our knowledge in details, and in clearing up disputed points. Comba, professor in the Waldensian college at Florence, accepts the conclusions of modern research and gives up the claim of ancient origin, even Apostolic origin being claimed by the older Waldensian writers. The chief sources for the early history of the sect are the abbot Bernard of Fontis Calidi, d. 1193; the theologian Alanus de Insulis, d. about 1200; Salve Burce (whose work is given by Döllinger), 1235; Etienne de Bourbon, d. 1261, whose work is of an encyclopedic character, a kind of ready-reference book; the Rescriptum haeresiarcharum written by an unknown priest, about 1316, called the Anonymous of Passau; an Austrian divine, David of Augsburg, d. 1271; and the Inquisitor in Southern France, Bernard Guy, d. 1331. Other valuable documents are given by Döllinger, in his Beiträge, vol. II. These writers represent a period of more than a hundred years. In most of their characterizations they agree, and upon the main heresies of the Waldenses the earliest writers are as insistent as the later.

The Waldensian MSS., some of which date back to the thirteenth century, are found chiefly in the libraries of Cambridge, Dublin (Trinity College), Paris, Geneva, Grenoble, and Lyons. The Dublin Collection was made by Abp. Ussher who purchased in 1634 a number of valuable volumes from a French layman for five hundred and fifty francs. The Cambridge MSS. were procured by Sir Samuel Morland, Cromwell’s special envoy sent to Turin to check the persecutions of the Waldenses.


85. The Crusades against the Albigenses

The medieval measures against heretics assumed an organized form in the crusades against the Albigenses, before the institution of the Inquisition received its full development. To the papacy belongs the whole responsibility of these merciless wars. Toulouse paid a bitter penalty for being the head centre of heresy. According to Innocent III., the larger part of its nobility was infected with heretical depravity, so that heresy was entrenched in castles as well as professed in the villages. The count of Toulouse, the first lay peer of France, — owing fealty to it for Provence and Languedoc, — brought upon himself the full wrath and punishments of the Apostolic see for his unwillingness to join in the wars against his own subjects. A member of the house led one of the most splendid of the armies of the first Crusade to Jerusalem. At the opening of the Albigensian crusades the court of Toulouse was one of the gayest in Europe. At their close it was a spectacle of desolation.

Councils, beginning with the synod of Toulouse, 1119, issued articles against heresy and called upon the secular power to punish it. Mild measures were tried and proved ineffectual, whether they were the preaching and miracles of St. Bernard, 1147, or the diplomatic address of papal legates. Sixty years after Bernard, St. Dominic entered upon a tour of evangelism in the vicinity of Toulouse, and some heretics were won; but in spite of Dominic, and synodal decrees, heresy spread and continued to defy the Church authorities.

It remained for Innocent III. to direct the full force of his native vigor against the spreading contagion and to execute the principles already solemnly announced by ecumenical and local councils. To him heretics were worse than the infidel who had never made profession of Christianity. While Christendom was sending armaments against the Saracens, why should it not send an armament to crush the spiritual treason at home? In response to papal appeals, at least four distinct crusades were set on foot against the sectaries in Southern France. These religious wars continued thirty years. Priests and abbots went at the head of the armies and, in the name of religion, commanded or justified the most atrocious barbarities. One of the fairest portions of Europe was laid waste and the counts of Toulouse were stripped by the pope of their authority and territory.

The long conflict was fully opened when Innocent called upon Louis VII. to take the field, that “it might be shown that the Lord had not given him the sword in vain,” and promised him the lands of nobles shielding heresy. Raymund VI., who was averse to a policy of repression against his Catharan subjects, was excommunicated by Innocent’s legate, Peter of Castelnau, and his lands put under interdict. Innocent called him a noxious man, vir pestilens, and threatened him with all the punishments of the future world. He threatened to call upon the princes to proceed against him with arms and take his lands. “The hand of the Lord will descend upon thee more severely, and show thee that it is hard for one who seeks to flee from the face of His wrath which thou hast provoked.”

A crisis was precipitated in 1208 by the murder of Peter of Castelnau by two unknown assassins. Again, the supreme pontiff fulminated the sentence of excommunication against the Tolosan count, and made the expulsion of all heretics from his dominions the condition of withdrawing suspicion against him as the possible murderer of Peter. Nowhere else was the intrepid energy of Innocent more signally displayed! A crusade was announced. The connections of Raymund with France through his uncle, Louis VII., and with Aragon through Pedro, whose sister he had married, interposed difficulties. And the crusade went on. The Cistercians, at their General Chapter, decided to preach it. Princes and people from France, Flanders, and even Germany swelled the ranks. The same reward was promised to those who took the cross against the Cathari and Waldenses, as to those who went across the seas to fight the intruder upon the Holy Sepulchre.

In a general epistle to the faithful, Innocent wrote: — 

“O most mighty soldiers of Christ, most brave warriors; Ye oppose the agents of anti-Christ, and ye fight against the servants of the old serpent. Perchance up to this time ye have fought for transitory glory, now fight for the glory which is everlasting. Ye have fought for the body, fight now for the soul. Ye have fought for the world, now do ye fight for God. For we have not exhorted you to the service of God for a worldly prize, but for the heavenly kingdom, which for this reason we promise to you with all confidence.”

Awed by the sound of the coming storm, Raymund offered his submission and promised to crush out heresy. The humiliating spectacle of Raymund’s penance was then enacted in the convent church of St. Gilles. In the vestibule, naked to the waist, he professed compliance with all the papal conditions. Sixteen of the count’s vassals took oath to see the hard vow was kept and pledged themselves to renew the oath every year, upon pain of being classed with heretics. Then holding the ends of a stole, wrapped around the penitent’s neck like a halter, the papal legate led Raymund before the altar, the count being flagellated as he proceeded.

Raymund’s submission, however, did not check the muster of troops which were gathering in large numbers at Lyons. In the ranks were seen the archbishops of Rheims, Sens, and Rouen; the bishops of Autun, Clermont, Nevers, Baseur, Lisieux, and Chartres; with many abbots and other clergy. At their side were the duke of Burgundy, the counts of Nevers, St. Pol, Auxerre, Geneva, and Poitiers, and other princes. The soldier, chosen to be the leader, was Simon de Montfort. Simon had been one of the prominent leaders of the Fourth Crusade, and was a zealous supporter of the papacy. He neglected not to hear mass every day, even after the most bloody massacres in the campaigns in Southern France. His contemporaries hailed him as another Judas Maccabaeus and even compared him to Charlemagne.

In spite of the remonstrance of Raymund, who had joined the army, the papal legate, Arnold of Citeaux, refused to check its march. Béziers was stormed and horrible scenes followed. The wild soldiery heeded well the legate’s command, “Fell all to the ground. The Lord knows His own.” Neither age nor sex was spared. Church walls interposed no protection and seven thousand were put to death in St. Magdalen’s church alone. Nearly twenty thousand were put to the sword. According to the reports of the papal legates, Milo and Arnold, the “divine vengeance raged wonderfully against the city. …Ours spared neither sex nor condition. The whole city was sacked, and the slaughter was very great.”

At Carcassonne the inhabitants were allowed to depart, the men in their shirts, the women in their chemises, carrying with them, as the chronicler writes, nothing else except their sins, nihil secum praeter peccata portantes. Dread had taken hold of the country, and village after village was abandoned by the fleeing inhabitants. Raymund was again put under excommunication at a council held at Avignon. The conquered lands were given to Montfort. The war continued, and its atrocities, if possible, increased. New recruits appeared in response to fresh papal appeals, among them six thousand Germans. At the stronghold of Minerve, one hundred and forty of the Albigensian Perfect were put to death in the flames. The ears, noses, and lips of prisoners were cut off.

Again, in 1211, the count of Toulouse sought to come to an agreement with the legates. But the terms, which included the razing to the ground of all his castles, were too humiliating. The crusade was preached again. All the territory of Toulouse had been overrun and it only remained for the crusaders to capture the city itself.

Pedro of Aragon, fresh from his crushing victory over the Moors at Novas de Tolosa, now interceded with the pope for his brother-in-law. The synod of Lavaur, 1213, appointed referee by Innocent, rejected the king’s propositions. Pedro then joined Raymund, but fell at the disastrous defeat of Muret the same year, 1213. It was a strange combination whereby the king of Aragon, who had won the highest distinction a year before as a hero of the Catholic faith, was killed in the ranks of those who were rebels to the papal authority. The day after, the victor, Montfort, barefoot, went to church, and ordered Pedro’s battle-horse and armorial trappings sold and the proceeds distributed to the poor. By the council of Montpellier, 1215, the whole land, including Toulouse, was granted to Montfort, and the titles conferred on him of count of Toulouse, viscount of Béziers and Carcassonne, and duke of Narbonne.

The complications in Southern France were one of the chief questions brought before the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215. Raymund was present and demanded back his lands, inasmuch as he had submitted to the Church; but by an overwhelming majority, the synod voted against him and Montfort was confirmed in the possession of his conquests. When Raymund’s son made a personal appeal to Innocent for his father, the pope bade him “love God above all things and serve Him faithfully, and not stretch forth his hand against others’ territory” and gave him the cold promise that his complaints against Montfort would be heard at a future council.

The further progress of the Albigensian campaigns requires only brief notice here, for they were converted into a war of territorial plunder. In 1218, Montfort fell dead under the walls of Toulouse, his head crushed by a stone. In the reign of Honorius, whose supreme concern was a crusade in the East, the sectaries reasserted themselves, and Raymund regained most of his territory. But the pope was relentless, and again the sentence of excommunication was launched against the house of Toulouse.

In 1226, Louis VIII. took the cross, supported by the French parliament as well as by the Church. Thus the final chapter in the crusades was begun, a war of the king of France for the possession of Toulouse. Louis died a few months later. Arnold of Citeaux, for nearly twenty years their energetic and iron-hearted promoter, had preceded him to the grave. Louis IX. took up the plans of his royal predecessor, and in 1229 the hostilities were brought to a close by Raymund’s accepting the conditions proposed by the papal legate.

Raymund renounced two-thirds of his paternal lands in favor of France. The other third was to go at his death to his daughter who subsequently married Louis IX.’s brother, and, in case there was no issue to the marriage, it was to pass to the French crown, and so it did at the death of Jeanne, the last heir of the house of Toulouse. Thus the domain of France was extended to the Pyrenees.

Further measures of repression were directed against the remnants of the Albigensian heresy, for Raymund VII. had promised to cleanse the land of it. The machinery of the Inquisition was put into full action as it was perfected by the great inquisitorial council of Toulouse, 1229. The University of Toulouse received papal sanction, and one of its chief objects was announced to be “to bring the Catholic faith in those regions into a flourishing state.” In 1244, the stronghold of Montségur was taken, the last refuge of the Albigenses. Two hundred of the Perfect were burned.

The papal policy had met with complete but blighting success and, after the thirteenth century, heresy in Southern France was almost like a noiseless underground stream. Languedoc at the opening of the wars had been one of the most prosperous and cultured parts of Europe. At their close its villages and vineyards were in ruins, its industries shattered, its population impoverished and decimated. The country that had given promise of leading Europe in a renaissance of intellectual culture fell behind her neighbors in the race of progress. Protestant generations, that have been since sitting in judgment upon the barbarous measures, conceived and pushed by the papacy, have wondered whether another movement, stirred by the power of the Gospel, will not yet arise in the old domain that responded to the religious dissent and received the warm blood of the Albigenses, the Waldenses, and of Peter de Bruys and his followers.

The Stedinger. While the wars against the Albigenses were going on, another people, the Stedinger, living in the vicinity of Bremen and Oldenburg, were also being reduced by a papal crusade. They represented the spirit of national independence rather than doctrinal dissent and had shown an unwillingness to pay tithes to the archbishop of Bremen. When a husband put a priest to death for an indignity to his wife, the archbishop Hartwig II. announced penalty after penalty but in vain. Under his successor, Gerhard (1219-1258), the refractory peasants were reduced to submission. A synod of Bremen, in 1230, pronounced them heretics, and Gregory IX., accepting the decision, called upon a number of German bishops to join in preaching and prosecuting a crusade. The same indulgence was offered to the crusaders in the North as to those who went on the Church’s business to Palestine. The first campaign in 1233 was unsuccessful, but a second carried all the horrors of war into the eastern section of the Stedingers’ territory. In 1231 another army led by a number of princes completely defeated this brave people at Altenesch. Their lands were divided between the archbishop of Bremen and the count of Oldenburg.


86. The Inquisition. Its Origin and Purpose

The measures for the repression and extermination of heresy culminated in the organized system, known as the Inquisition. Its history presents what is probably the most revolting spectacle in the annals of civilized Europe. The representatives of the Church appear, sitting as arbiters over human destiny in this world, and in the name of religion applying torture to countless helpless victims, heretics, and reputed witches, and pronouncing upon them a sentence which, they knew, involved perpetual imprisonment or death in the flames. The cold heartlessness, with which the fate of the heretic was regarded, finds some excuse in the pitiless penalties which the civil tribunals of the Middle Ages meted out for civil crimes, such as the breaking of the victim on the wheel, burning in caldrons of oil, quartering with horses, and flaying alive, or the merciless treatment of princes upon refractory subjects, as when William the Conqueror at Alençon punished the rebels by chopping off the hands and feet of thirty-two of the citizens and throwing them over the walls. It is nevertheless an astounding fact that for the mercy of Christ the Church authorities, who should have represented him, substituted relentless cruelties. In this respect the dissenting sectaries were infinitely more Christian than they.

It has been argued in extenuation of the Church that she stopped with the decree of excommunication and the sentence to lifelong imprisonment and did not pronounce the sentence of death. And the old maxim is quoted as true of her in all times, that the Church abhors blood — ecclesia non sitit sanguinem. The argument is based upon a pure technicality. The Church, after sitting in judgment, turned the heretics over to the civil authorities, knowing full well that, as night follows day, the sentence of death would follow her sentence of excommunication. Yea, the Church, through popes and synodal decrees, again and again threatened, with her disfavor and fell spiritual punishments, princes and municipalities not punishing heresy. The Fourth Lateran forbade priests pronouncing judgments of blood and being present at executions, but at the very same moment, and at the pope’s persistent instigation, crusading armies were drenching the soil of Southern France with the blood of the Albigenses. A writer of the thirteenth century says in part truly, in part speciously, “our pope does not kill nor condemn any one to death, but the law puts to death those whom the pope allows to be put to death, and they kill themselves who do those things which make them guilty of death.”

The official designation of the Inquisitorial process was the Inquisition of heretical depravity. Its history during the Middle Ages has three main chapters: the persecution of doctrinal heretics down to 1480, the persecution of witches in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the Spanish Inquisition organized in 1480. The Inquisition with its penalties had among its ardent advocates the best and most enlightened men of their times, Innocent III., Frederick II., Louis IX., Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas. A parallel is found in the best Roman emperors, who lent themselves to the bloody repression of the early Church. The good king, St. Louis, declared that when a layman heard the faith spoken against, he should draw his sword and thrust it into the offender’s body up to the hilt.

The Inquisition was a thoroughly papal institution, wrought out in all its details by the popes of the thirteenth century, beginning with Innocent III. and not ending with Boniface VIII. In his famous manual for the treatment of heresy the Inquisitor, Bernard Guy, a man who in spite of his office elicits our respect, declares that the “office of the Inquisition has its dignity from its origin for it is derived, commissioned, and known to have been instituted by the Apostolic see itself.” This was the feeling of the age.

Precedent enough there was for severe temporal measures. Constantine banished the Arians and burned their books. Theodosius the Great fixed death as the punishment for heresy. The Priscillianists were executed in 385. The great authority of Augustine was appealed to and his fatal interpretation of the words of the parable “Compel them to come in,” justifying force in the treatment of the Donatists, was made to do service far beyond what that father probably ever intended. From the latter part of the twelfth century, councils advocated the death penalty, popes insisted upon it, and Thomas Aquinas elaborately defended it. Heresy, so the theory and the definitions ran, was a crime the Church could not tolerate. It was Satan’s worst blow.

Innocent III. wrote that as treason was punished with death and confiscation of goods, how much more should these punishments be meted out to those who blaspheme God and God’s Son. A crime against God, so he reasoned, is surely a much graver misdemeanor than a crime against the secular power.

The calm discussion, to which the eminent theologian, Thomas Aquinas, subjects the treatment due heretics, was made at least a quarter of a century after the Inquisition was put into full force. Leaning back upon Augustine and his interpretation of “compel them to come in,” he declared in clearest terms that heretics deserved not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but to be excluded from the earth by judicial death. Errors in geometry do not constitute mortal guilt, but errors in matters of faith do. As falsifiers of coin are put to death, much more may they justly be put to death who perform the more wicked act of corrupting the faith. The heretic of whose reclamation the Church despairs, it delivers over to the secular tribunal to be executed out of the world. The principle was that those who were baptized were under the immediate jurisdiction of the Church and the Church might deal with them as it saw fit. It was not till the fourteenth century, that the jurisdiction of the Church and the pope was extended to the heathen by Augustinus Triumphus, d. 1328, and other papal writers. Sovereigns were forbidden by the council of Vienne, 1312, to allow their Mohammedan subjects to practise the rites of their religion.

The legislation, fixing the Inquisition as a Church institution and elaborating its powers, began with the synod of Tours in 1163 and the ecumenical council of 1179. A large step in advance was made by the council of Verona, 1184. The Fourth Lateran, 1215, and the council of Toulouse, 1229, formally established the Inquisition and perfected the organization. Gregory IX., Innocent IV., and Alexander IV. enforced its regulations and added to them. From first to last the popes were its chief promoters.

The synod of Tours, 1163, called upon the bishops and clergy to forbid the Catholics from mingling with the Albigenses and from having commercial dealings with them and giving them refuge. Princes were instructed to imprison them and confiscate their goods. The Third Lateran, 1179, extended the punishments to the defenders of heretics and their friends. It gave permission to princes to reduce heretics to slavery and shortened the time of penance by two years for those taking up arms against them. At the council of Verona, 1184, pope Lucius III. and the emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, joined in making common cause in the sacred undertaking and announced their attitude in the cathedral. Frederick had the law of the empire against heretics recited and threw his glove down upon the floor as a token that he would enforce it. Then Lucius announced the decree of the council, which enjoined bishops to visit, at least once a year, all parts of their sees, to try all suspects, and to turn them, if guilty, over to the civil authorities. Princes were ordered to take an oath to support the Church against heresy upon pain of forfeiting their dignities. Cities, refusing to punish offenders, were to be cut off from other cities and, if episcopal seats, were to be deprived of that honor.

Innocent III., the most vigorous of persecutors, was no sooner on the throne than he began to wage war against heretical infection. In one letter after another, he struck at it and commended military armaments for its destruction. The Fourth Lateran gave formal and final expression to Innocent’s views. The third canon opens with an anathematization of heretics of all names. It again enjoined princes to swear to protect the faith on pain of losing their lands. To all taking part in the extermination of heretics — ad haereticorum exterminium — was offered the indulgence extended to the Crusaders in Palestine. All “believers” and also the entertainers, defenders, and friends of heretics were to be excommunicated and excluded from receiving their natural inheritance. Bishops were instructed to go through their dioceses once or twice a year in person or through representatives for the purpose of detecting heresy, and in case of neglect, they were to be deposed.

For more than a century after Innocent, the enforcement of the rules for the detection and punishment of heretics form the continual subject of bulls issued by the Apostolic see and of synodal action especially in Southern France and Spain. Innocent IV. and Alexander IV. alone issued more than one hundred such bulls.

The regulations for the episcopal supervision of the Inquisition were completed at the synod of Toulouse, 1229. Bishops were commanded to appoint a priest and laymen to ferret out heretics — inquirant haereticos — in houses and rooms. They were authorized to go outside their sees and princes outside of their realms to do this work. But no heretic was to be punished till he had been tried before the bishop’s tribunal. Princes were ordered to destroy the domiciles and refuges of heretics, even if they were underground. If heretics were found to reside on their lands without their knowledge, such princes were to be punished. Men above fourteen and women above twelve were obliged to swear to inform on heretics. And all, wishing to avoid the charge of heresy, were bound to present themselves at the confessional at least once a year. As a protection against heretical infection, boys above the age of seven were obliged to go to church every Sabbath and on festival days that they might learn the credo, the pater noster, and the ave Maria.

The legislation of the state showed its full sympathy with the rules of the Church. Peter of Aragon, 1197, banished heretics from his dominions or threatened them with death by fire. In 1226, Don Jayme I. of Aragon forbade all heretics entering his kingdom. He was the first prince to prohibit the Bible in the vernacular Romancia, 1234. From another source, whence we might have expected better things, came a series of severe edicts. At his coronation, 1220, Frederick II. spoke of heretics as the viperous sons of perfidy, and placed them under the ban of the empire. This law was renewed at Ravenna, 1232, and later in 1238, 1239. The goods of heretics were to be confiscated and to be diverted from their children, on the ground that it was a far graver thing to offend against the spiritual realm than to offend a temporal prince. Four years later, 1224, the emperor condemned them to the penalty of being burned, or having their tongues torn out at the discretion of the judge. The Sicilian Constitutions of 1231 made burning alive in the sight of the people the punishment for heretics previously condemned by the Church.

The princes and cities of Italy followed Frederick’s example. In Rome, after 1231, and at the demand of Gregory IX., the senator took oath to seize heretics pointed out by the Inquisition, and to put them to death within eight days of the ecclesiastical sentence. In Venice, beginning with 1249, the doge included in his oath the pledge to burn heretics. In France, the rules of the Inquisition were fully recognized in Louis IX.’s laws of 1228. The two great codes of Germany, the Sachsenspiegel and the Schwabenspiegel, ordered heretics burned to death. A prince not burning heretics was himself to be treated as a heretic. In England, the act for the burning of heretics — de comburendo haeretico — was not passed till a century later, 1401.

That the Church fully accepted Frederick’s severe legislation, is attested by the action of Honorius III. who sent the emperor’s edict of 1220 to Bologna with instructions that it be taught as part of the canon law. Frederick’s subsequent legislation was commended by popes and bishops, and ordered to be inscribed in municipal statute books.

To more efficiently carry out the purpose of the Inquisition, the trial and punishment of heresy were taken out of the hands of the bishops and put into the hands of the monastic orders by Gregory IX. As early as 1227, this pope appointed a Dominican of Florence to proceed against the heretical bishop, Philip Paternon. In 1232, the first Dominicans were appointed inquisitors in Germany and Aragon. In 1233, Gregory took the decisive step of substituting the Dominicans for the bishops as agents of the Inquisition, giving as his reason, the multitude of cares by which the bishops were burdened. The Inquisitors were thus made a distinct clan, disassociated from the pastoral care of souls. The friars were empowered to deprive suspected priests of their benefices, and to call to their aid the secular arm in suppressing heresy. From their judgment there was no appeal except to the papal court. The Franciscans were afterwards joined with the Dominicans in this work in parts of Italy, in France, and later in Sardinia and Syria and Palestine. Complaint was made by bishops of this interference with their prerogatives, and, in 1254, Innocent IV. listened to the complaint so far as to decree that no death penalty should be pronounced without consulting with them. The council of Vienne ordered the prisons containing heretics to be guarded by two gaolers, one appointed by the Inquisitor and one by the bishop.

One more step remained to be taken. By the famous bull ad exstirpanda, of 1252, Innocent IV. authorized torture as a measure for extorting confessions. The merciless use of this weapon was one of the most atrocious features of the whole procedure.

The Inquisitors, in spite of papal authority, synodal action, and state legislation, did not always have an easy path. In 1235, the citizens of Narbonne drove them out of their city. In 1242, a number were murdered in Avignon, whom Pius IX., in 1866, sought to recompense by giving them the honor of canonization as he had done the year before to the bloodiest of Inquisitors, the Spaniard Arbues, d. 1485. Parma, according to Salimbene, was placed, in 1279, under interdict for three years, the punishment for the act of “certain fools” who broke into the convent of the Dominicans and killed one or two friars in retribution for their having burned for heresy a certain noble lady and her maid. The distinguished Inquisitor, Peter of Verona, otherwise known as Peter Martyr, was murdered at Como, 1252. In Germany the resistance of the Inquisition was a frequent occurrence and more than one of its agents atoned for his activity by a violent death. Of these, Konrad of Marburg was the most notorious.

Down to the very close of the Middle Ages, the pages of history were disfigured by the decrees of popes and synods, confirming death as the penalty for heresy, and for persons supposed to be possessed with witchcraft. The great council of Constance, 1415, did not get away from this atmosphere, and ordered heretics punished even by the flames, — puniantur ad ignem. And the bull of Leo X., 1520, condemning Luther, cursed as heresy the Reformer’s liberal statement that the burning of heretics is contrary to the will of the Spirit.

To the great humiliation of the Protestant churches, religious intolerance and even persecution unto death were continued long after the Reformation. In Geneva, the pernicious theory was put into practice by state and church, even to the use of torture and the admission of the testimony of children against their parents, and with the sanction of Calvin. Bullinger, in the second Helvetic Confession, announced the principle that heresy should be punished like murder or treason. The treatment of the Anabaptists is a great blot on the page of the Reformation, Strassburg being the only centre that tolerated them. Cranmer persuaded Edward VI. to burn women. Elizabeth saw the death penalty executed upon Puritans. The spirit of intolerance was carried across the seas, and was as strong in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the American colonies, with some exceptions, as it was in Europe. The execution of Quakers in Boston, and of persons accused of witchcraft in Salem, together with the laws of Virginia and other colonies, were the unfortunate survivals of the vicious history of the Middle Ages, which forgot Christ’s example as he wept over Jerusalem, and the Apostle’s words, “vengeance is mine, I will repay,” saith the Lord.

So far as we know, the Roman Catholic Church has never officially revoked the theory and practice of the medieval popes and councils, but on the contrary the utterances of Pius IX. and Leo XIII. show the same spirit of vicious reprobation for Protestants and their agencies.