The Cathar Heresy, Dominic de Guzmán & the Albigensian Crusade

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

It was written of Dominic de Guzmán, in Butler’s Lives of the Saints, that “his heart was well-nigh broken by the ravages of the Albigensian heresy, and his life was henceforth devoted to the conversion of heretics and the defence of the faith.”

Gnosticism as a mystical Christian movement again challenged the hegemony of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages.  This time, a branch of the Cathar movement known as Albigensianism.  It had a dualist worldview and an inherent dislike for the Church due to corruption within the ranks of the clergy.  Albigensianism attracted an incredibly large following, divided into the ‘perfect’ and ‘believers.’

Albigensianism, the form of Catharism found in Southern Europe, is named after Albi, the Latin name being Albiga.  This town is the present capital of the Department of Tarn in France.  It was a neo-Manichæan sect.  The name “Albigenses” was given them by the Council of Tours in 1163, and prevailed towards the end of the twelfth century.  It was, for a long time afterwards, applied to all the heretics of the south of France.  They were also called Catharists, from the Greek ‘katharos’, meaning ‘pure’.  In reality, they were only a branch of the Cathar movement.

It thrived in some areas of Southern Europe, particularly northern Italy and southern France, between the 12th and 14th centuries.  Albigenses Cathar beliefs varied between communities because Catharism was initially taught by ascetic priests who had set few guidelines.  The Cathars were a direct challenge to the Catholic Church, which denounced its practices and dismissed it outright as “the Church of Satan”.

Catharism had its roots in the Paulician movement in Armenia and the Bogomils of the First Bulgarian Empire, which took influences from the Paulicians.  Though the term ‘Cathar’ has been used for centuries to identify the movement, it is debatable whether the movement actually identified itself with this name.  In Albigenses Cathar texts, the terms ‘Bons Hommes,’ ‘Good Men,’ or ‘Good Christians,’ are the common terms of self-identification.

The idea of two gods or principles, one being good the other evil, was central to Cathar beliefs.  The Albigenses Cathars asserted the co-existence of two mutually opposed creator gods, one good, the other evil.  The ‘good god’ was the God of the New Testament, and the Creator of the spiritual realm, as opposed to the ‘bad god,’ whom many Cathars identified as Satan, creator of the physical world of the Old Testament.  The former is the creator of the spiritual, the latter of the material world.  The bad principle is the source of all ‘evil’; natural phenomena, either ordinary like the growth of plants, or extraordinary as earthquakes, likewise moral disorders such as war, were attributed to him.  He created the human body and is the author of sin, which originated from matter, and not from the spirit.  All visible matter, including the human body, was created by Satan; it was therefore tainted with sin.

They believed that the Old Testament must be either partly or entirely ascribed to this evil creator god; whereas the New Testament is the revelation of the beneficent God.  The latter is the creator of human souls, which the Satan had imprisoned in material bodies after he had deceived them into leaving the kingdom of light.  This earth is a place of punishment, the only hell that exists for the human soul.  Punishment, however, is not everlasting; for all souls, being Divine in nature, must eventually be liberated.

To accomplish this deliverance, God sent upon earth, Jesus Christ (a.s.), who, although perfect, like the Holy Ghost, is still a mere creature.  They asserted that Jesus Christ (a.s.) could not possibly take on a genuine human body, because he would thereby have come under the control of the evil principle.  His body was, therefore, of celestial essence, and with it, Jesus Christ (a.s.) penetrated the ear of Mary.  It was only apparently that Jesus Christ (a.s.) was born from her, and only apparently that Jesus Christ (a.s.) suffered.  His redemption was not operative, but solely instructive.  This denied the very essence of Pauline Christianity’s doctrine of salvation.  To enjoy its benefits, one must become a member of the ‘Church of Christ’ the Albigenses Catharist.  The resurrection of the body does not take place, since by its nature, all flesh is evil.

This was the antithesis to the monotheistic Catholic Church, whose fundamental principle was that there was only one God Who Created all things, visible and invisible.  Cathars thought human spirits were the genderless spirits of angels trapped within the physical creation of Satan, cursed to be reincarnated until the Cathar faithful achieved salvation through a ritual called the Consolamentum.

The dualism of the Albigenses Cathars was also the basis of their moral teaching.  They taught that humanity is a living contradiction.  They believed liberation of the soul from its captivity in the body is the true end of our being.  To attain this, suicide was viewed as commendable; it was customary among them in the form of the endura, starvation.  The extinction of bodily life on the largest scale consistent with human existence is also a perfect aim.  They believed in metempsychosis, the transmigration of souls.

Since according to their doctrine, procreation propagated the slavery of the soul to the body, perpetual chastity was encouraged.  Matrimonial intercourse was considered unlawful; but concubinage, being of a less permanent nature, was considered preferable to marriage.  Abandonment of the spouse was considered desirable.

The origins of the Cathars’ beliefs are unclear but most theories agree they came from the Byzantine Empire, mostly by the trade routes and spread from the First Bulgarian Empire to the Netherlands.  The name ‘Bougres,’ meaning ‘Bulgarians,’ was also applied to the Albigenses, and they maintained an association with the similar pseudo-Christian movement, the Bogomils, ‘Friends of God’ in Thrace.  Christianity’s contact with the Orient had produced several sects and syncretic faiths whose doctrines were akin to the tenets of the Albigenses Cathars.  These included the Gnostics, the Manichæans, the Paulicians, and the Bogomilae; some mentioned above.  However, the historical connection between the new heretics and their predecessors cannot be clearly traced.

There was a substantial transmission of ritual and ideas from Bogomilism to Catharism.  Their doctrines have numerous resemblances to those of the Bogomils and the earlier Paulicians as well as the Manicheans and the Christian Gnostics of the first few centuries of Church history.  John the Damascene, writing in the 8th century, noted an earlier sect called the ‘Cathari’, in his book, “On Heresies”, taken from the epitome provided by Epiphanius of Salamis in his Panarion.  He wrote, “They absolutely reject those who marry a second time, and reject the possibility of penance,” referring to the forgiveness of sins after baptism.

These are probably the same Cathari who are mentioned in Canon 8 of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, which stated, “If those called Cathari come over, let them first make profession that they are willing to communicate with the twice-married, and grant pardon to those who have lapsed,” meaning that they had to share full communion with those who had another marriage and accept that sinners can come back to the fold before they could be considered to have repented from their heresy.

We have only a partial view of their beliefs, because the writings of the Albigenses Cathars were largely destroyed because of the doctrinal threat perceived by the Papacy.  Much of our existing knowledge of the Albigenses Cathars is derived from their opponents.  Conclusions about Albigenses Cathar ideology continue to be fiercely debated with commentators regularly accusing their opponents of speculation, distortion and bias.  There are a few texts from the Albigenses Cathars themselves which were preserved by their opponents such as the Rituel Cathare de Lyon, which gave a glimpse of the inner workings of their faith, but these still leave many questions unanswered.  One large text which has survived, Liber de Duobus Principiis, “The Book of Two Principles,” elaborated the principles of dualistic theology from the point of view of some of the Albigenses Cathars.

In France, where they were probably introduced via Italy, the Neo-Manichæan doctrines were secretly diffused for several years before they appeared, almost simultaneously, near Toulouse and at the Synod of Orléans in 1022.  Those who proposed them were even made to suffer the extreme penalty of death.  The Council of Arras in 1025, Charroux, circa 1028, and of Reims in 1049; had to deal with the heresy.  At that of Beauvais in 1114, the case of neo-Manichæans in the Diocese of Soissons was brought up, but was referred to the council shortly to be held in the latter city.

It is now generally agreed by most scholars that identifiable, historical Catharism did not emerge until at least 1143, when the first confirmed report of a group espousing similar beliefs is reported being active at Cologne by the cleric, Eberwin of Steinfeld.  A landmark in the institutional history of the Albigenses Cathar movement was the Council, held in 1167 at Saint-Félix-Lauragais, attended by many local figures and also by the Bogomil papa, Nicetas, the Cathar bishop of Northern France and a leader of the Albigenses Cathars of Lombardy.

The Albigenses Cathars were largely a homegrown, Latin Christian phenomenon, springing up in the Rhineland cities, particularly Cologne, in the mid-12th century, northern France around the same time, and particularly southern France, the Languedoc, and the northern Italian cities in the mid-late 12th century.  In the Languedoc and northern Italy, the Albigenses Cathars attained their greatest popularity, surviving in the Languedoc, in much reduced form, up to around 1325 and in the Italian cities until the Inquisitions from the 1260s to 1300s finally rooted them out.

Albigenses Cathars eventually formed an anti-sacerdotal party in opposition to the Catholic Church, protesting against what they perceived to be the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Church.  And they were right, considering the Church then was rife with corruption and heresy in and of itself.  This was not adequately addressed until the Counter-Reformation.

Bernard of Clairvaux, although opposed to the Albigenses Cathars, said of them in Sermon 65 on the Song of Songs, “If you question the heretic about his faith, nothing is more Christian; if about his daily converse, nothing more blameless; and what he says he proves by his actions ...  As regards his life and conduct, he cheats no one, pushes ahead of no one, does violence to no one.  Moreover, his cheeks are pale with fasting; he does not eat the bread of idleness; he labours with his hands and thus makes his living. Women are leaving their husbands, men are putting aside their wives, and they all flock to those heretics!  Clerics and priests, the youthful and the adult among them, are leaving their congregations and churches and are often found in the company of weavers of both sexes.”

When Bishop Fulk, a key leader of the anti-Cathar persecutions, excoriated the Languedoc Knights for not pursuing the heretics more diligently, he received the reply, “We cannot.  We have been reared in their midst.  We have relatives among them and we see them living lives of perfection.”

In contrast to the Catholic Church, the Albigenses Cathars had but one sacrament, the Consolamentum, or Consolation.  This involved a brief spiritual ceremony to remove all sin from the believer and to induct him or her into the next higher level as a Perfect.  Unlike the Roman Catholic Sacrament of Penance, the Consolamentum could be taken only once.  Thus, it had been alleged that many believers would eventually receive the Consolamentum as death drew near, performing the ritual of liberation at a moment when the heavy obligations of purity required of perfecti would be temporally short.  Some of those who received the sacrament of the Consolamentum upon their deathbeds may thereafter have shunned further food or drink in order to speed death.  This has been termed the “endure”.  It was claimed by some of the Catholic writers that when a Cathar, after receiving the Consolamentum, began to show signs of recovery he or she would be smothered in order to ensure his or her entry into Paradise.  Other than at such moments of extremis, little evidence exists to suggest this was a common Albigenses Cathar practice.  It could likely be Catholic anti-Cathar propaganda.

The Albigenses Catharists also refused the Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist, rejecting the Catholic belief that the host is literally the body of Christ.  They also refused to partake in the practice of Baptism by water.  The Catholic Inquisitor, Bernard Gui said of his experiences with the Albigenses Cathar practices and beliefs, “Then they attack and vituperate, in turn, all the sacraments of the Church, especially the Sacrament of the Eucharist, saying that it cannot contain the body of Christ, for had this been as great as the largest mountain Christians would have entirely consumed it before this.  They assert that the host comes from straw, that it passes through the tails of horses, to wit, when the flour is cleaned by a sieve (of horse hair); that, moreover, it passes through the body and comes to a vile end, which, they say, could not happen if God were in it.”

And he also wrote, “Of baptism, they assert that the water is material and corruptible and is therefore the creation of the evil power, and cannot sanctify the spirit, but that the churchmen sell this water out of avarice, just as they sell earth for the burial of the dead, and oil to the sick when they anoint them, and as they sell the confession of sins as made to the priests.”

There is, indeed, some confusion regarding the Catharist theology, and Christology.  Some believe that the Catharist conception of Jesus (a.s.) resembled a non-Trinitarian, modalistic monarchianism, a form of Sabellianism, in the West and adoptionism in the East.  Bernard of Clairvaux’s biographer and other sources accuse some Cathars of Arianism.  Some scholars did see Cathar Christology as having traces of earlier Arian roots.

According to some of their contemporary enemies, Cathars did not accept the Trinitarian understanding of Jesus (a.s.), but considered him the human form of an angel similar to Docetic Christology.  Docetism is a doctrine which the phenomenon of Christ, his historical and bodily existence, and the human form of Jesus (a.s.), was altogether mere semblance without any true reality.  Broadly, it is the belief that Jesus (a.s.) only seemed to be human, and that his human form was an illusion.  The word ‘Doketai’, ‘illusionists’, referred to early groups who denied Jesus’ (a.s.) humanity.

The Albigenses Cathars taught that to regain angelic status, one had to renounce the material self completely.  Until one was prepared to do so, he would be stuck in a cycle of reincarnation, condemned to live on the corrupt Earth.  This was somewhat similar to Buddhism.

The alleged sacred texts of the Cathars besides the New Testament, included “The Gospel of the Secret Supper”, or “John’s Interrogation”, and “The Book of the Two Principles”.

It is likely that the only similarity to Arianism they had was their rejection of the Trinity, and their denying Jesus’ (a.s.) position in a Triune Godhead.  They were definitely not Docetic since they did not believe that Jesus (a.s.) was illusory, in the sense that he was a spiritual being with no physical reality.  Rather, they believed that Jesus (a.s.) was someone who had transcended physical reality.

We know from their works that killing was abhorrent to the Albigenses Cathars.  Abstention from all meat, sometimes with the exception of fish, was enjoined upon the perfecti.  The perfecti avoided eating anything considered to be a by-product of sexual reproduction, since that was of the flesh and tainted with sin.  War and capital punishment were condemned which was the exception to the rule in Medieval Europe.  In an era where few were literate, their rejection of oath taking marked them as social revolutionaries.

Albigenses Cathars also rejected marriage.  Their theology was based principally on the belief that the physical world, including the flesh, was irredeemably evil since it stemmed from the evil principle or demiurge.  Reproduction was viewed as a moral evil to be avoided since it continued the chain of reincarnation and suffering in the material world.  It was claimed by their opponents that, given this loathing for procreation, they generally reverted to sodomy.  This allegation was taken so seriously that a charge of heresy leveled against a suspected Albigenses Cathar was usually dismissed if the accused could show he was legally married.  It is more than likely that the allegations of sodomy were nothing more than slander.

It was also alleged that the Albigenses Cathar Church of the Languedoc had a relatively flat structure compared to the Catholic Church, distinguishing between perfecti and credentes.  Their distinct liturgy and doctrine were established by about 1140.  It created a number of bishoprics, first at Albi around 1165, and after the 1167 Council at Saint-Félix-Lauragais sites at Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Agen.  Thus, four bishoprics were in existence by 1200.

In 1225, during a lull in the Albigensian Crusade, the bishopric of Razes was added.  Bishops were supported by their two assistants, a filius major, who was typically the successor; and a filius minor, who were further assisted by deacons.  The perfecti were the spiritual elite, highly respected by many of the local people, leading a life of austerity and charity.  In the apostolic fashion they ministered to the people and travelled in pairs.

The Cathars believed that one would be repeatedly reincarnated until one committed to self-denial of the material world, which meant that a man could be reincarnated as a woman and vice versa.  This theological idea thereby rendered gender completely meaningless.  The spirit was of utmost importance to the Cathars and was described as being immaterial and genderless.  Because of this belief, the Albigenses Cathars saw women equally capable of being spiritual leaders, which undermined the very concept of gender held by the Catholic Church and did not go unnoticed.  Catharism has been seen as giving women the greatest opportunities for independent action since women were found as being believers as well as perfecti, able to administer the Sacrament of the Consolamentum.

The Cathars, like the Gnostics who preceded them, assigned greater importance to the role of Mary Magdalene in the spread of early Christianity than the Church previously did.  Pauline Christianity had the unfortunate tendency to dismiss the role of women in the early Church, largely due to Paul’s misogyny.  Mary Magdalene’s vital role as a teacher contributed to the Albigenses Cathar belief that women could serve as spiritual leaders.  Women were found to be included in the perfecti in significant numbers.  Numerous women received the Consolamentum after being widowed.  Due to their reverence for the Gospel according to John, the Cathars saw Mary as even more significant than the apostle, Peter (a.s.).

The Albigenses Cathar movement was extremely successful in gaining a large female following due to their feminist teachings along with the general feeling of exclusion from the Catholic church that women felt, and still feel.  Albigenses Catharism attracted numerous women with the promise of a sacerdotal role that the Catholic Church does not allow.  Albigenses Catharism let women become a perfecti of the faith, a position far more prestigious than anything the Church offered.  These female perfecti, while required to adhere to a strict and ascetic lifestyle, were still permitted to own houses.

While women perfecti rarely traveled to preach the faith, they still played a vital role in the spreading of Albigenses Catharism by establishing group homes for women.  Though extremely uncommon, there were isolated cases of female Albigenses Cathars departing from their homes to spread the faith.  In the Albigenses Cathar group homes, women were educated in the faith and these women would go on to bear children who would then also become believers.  Through this pattern, the faith grew exponentially through the efforts of women as each generation passed.  Among some groups, there were even more women than there were men.

Despite women having an instrumental role in the growing of the faith, misogyny was not completely absent. Some misogynistic Cathar beliefs included the belief that one’s last incarnation had to be experienced as a man to break the cycle.  This put women one step behind.  This belief was inspired by later French Cathars, which taught that women must be reborn as men in order to achieve salvation, a holdover from the idea that it was Eve that made Adam (a.s.) eat the fruit.  Another belief was that the sexual allure of women impeded man’s ability to reject the material world.  Toward the end of the Albigenses Cathar movement, French Catharism became more misogynistic and practiced the gradual exclusion women perfecti.  However, this misogynistic beliefs and practices remained limited to French Catharism.  Later Italian perfecti still included women.

When these doctrinal differences became apparent, the Catholic Church reacted swiftly what was essentially a rival competing faith that was distinct in its theology from Christianity.  The condemnation of the Albigenses Cathar movement by the Council of Toulouse in 1119 did not prevent the movement from spreading.  Pope Eugene III sent a legate, Cardinal Alberic of Ostia, to Languedoc in 1145.  But their preaching produced no lasting effect.

The Council of Reims in 1148, excommunicated the “protectors of the heretics of Gascony and Provence.”  That of Tours, in 1163, decreed that the Albigenses should be imprisoned and their property confiscated.  A religious disputation was held in 1165 at Lombez, with unsatisfactory results.  Two years later, the Albigenses held a general council at Toulouse, their chief centre of activity.  The Cardinal-Legate Peter made another attempt at peaceful settlement in 1178, but he was received with derision, due to the previous heavy-handed approach of the Church.

The Third General Council of the Lateran, in 1179, renewed the previous severe measures and issued a summons to use force against the heretics, who were alleged to be plundering and devastating Albi, Toulouse, and the vicinity.  After the death of the Catholic Count of Toulouse in 1194, Raymond V, his succession fell to Raymond VI who reigned from 1194 to 1222.  Raymond VI favoured the Albigenses Cathars.

With the accession of Pope Innocent III in 1198, the work of conversion and repression was taken up vigorously.  In 1205, Count Raymond VI, faced by the threat of military action by the Catholics against him, promised, under oath, to banish the dissidents from his dominions.  From the beginning of his reign, Pope Innocent III attempted to end Catharism by sending missionaries and by convincing the local authorities to act against them.

The Cistercian order had been enlisted to combat this heresy, but its success was minimal.  Dominic de Guzmán then founded the Order of Preachers, because “what was needed was a new policy with missioners travelling in poverty, but well-equipped intellectually to deal with the errors in a charitable but effective way,” according to David Farmer in the Oxford Dictionary of Saints.

Domingo Félix de Guzmán, was also known as Dominic of Osma and Dominic of Caleruega; but he is most often called Dominic de Guzmán.  He was a Spanish priest and founder of the Dominican Order.  Dominic is the patron saint of astronomers.  Dominic was born in Caleruega, in 1170 CE, halfway between Osma and Aranda de Duero, in Old Castile, Spain.  He was named after Dominic of Silos, who is said to be the patron saint of hopeful mothers.  The Benedictine abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos lies a few miles north of Caleruega.

Dominic saw the need for a new type of organisation to address the theological challenges of the growing cities of the era, combining dedication and systematic education, with greater organisational flexibility than either monastic orders or the secular clergy.  In the earliest narrative source, by Jordan of Saxony, Dominic's parents are not named.  It was written that before his birth, his barren mother had made a pilgrimage to Silos and dreamed that a dog leapt from her womb carrying a torch in its mouth, and “seemed to set the earth on fire.”  This story is thought to have emerged when his order became known, after his name, as the Dominican order.  Dominicanus in Latin is a play on the words ‘Domini’, meaning ‘Lord’ and ‘canis’, meaning ‘dog’.  Combined, it literally means ‘Dog of the Lord.’  Jordan of Saxony further stated that Dominic was brought up by his parents and a maternal uncle who was an archbishop.  He was named in honour of Dominic of Silos.

The failure to name his parents is not unusual, since Jordan wrote a history of the Order's early years, not a biography of Dominic.  A later source, still from the 13th century, gave their names as Juana and Felix.  Nearly a century after Dominic’s birth, a local author asserted that Dominic's father was “vir venerabilis et dives in populo suo,” “an honoured and wealthy man in his village.”

The travel narrative of Pero Tafur, written circa 1439 regarding a pilgrimage to Dominic’s tomb in Italy, stated that Dominic’s father belonged to the family de Guzmán, and that his mother belonged to the or Aza family.  Dominic's mother, Juana of Aza, was beatified by Pope Leo XII in 1828.  His parents, Felix de Guzmán and Juane of Aza belonged to the nobility of Spain, though probably neither was connected with the reigning house of Castile.  Little is personally known of Felix de Guzmán, except that he was the worthy head of a family of saints.  Juane of Aza was already enshrined in the popular veneration before she was beatified.

Dominic was educated in the schools of Palencia.  He devoted six years to the arts, and four to theology.  In 1191, when Spain was desolated by famine, it is said that the young Dominic gave away his money and sold his clothes, furniture and even precious manuscripts to feed the hungry.  Dominic reportedly told his astonished fellow students, “Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?”  In 1194, around age twenty-five, Dominic joined the Canons Regular in the canonry of Osma, following the rule of Saint Benedict.

In 1203, Alfonso IX, King of Castile, deputed the Bishop of Osma to demand from the Lord of the Marches, presumably a Danish prince, the hand of his daughter on behalf of the king’s son, Crown Prince Ferdinand.  For his companion on this embassy, Don Diego chose Dominic.  The envoys traveled to Denmark via Aragon and the south of France.  There, Dominic and Diego first encountered the Cathars, a Christian religious sect with gnostic and dualistic beliefs, which the Roman Catholic Church deemed heretical.  The negotiations ended successfully, but the princess died before leaving for Castile.

The two ecclesiastics were now free to go where they would, and they set out for Rome, arriving there towards the end of 1204.  The purpose of this was to enable Diego to resign his bishopric that he might ‘devote himself to the conversion of unbelievers in distant lands.’  Pope Innocent III refused to approve this project, and instead sent the bishop and his companion to Languedoc to join forces with the Cistercians, to whom he had entrusted the crusade against the Albigenses.

The scene at Languedoc was not an encouraging one.  The Cistercians, on account of their worldliness, had made no headway against the Albigenses.  They had entered upon their work with considerable pomp, attended by a brilliant retinue, and well provided with the comforts of life.  In contrast to this display of worldliness, the leaders of the Albigensians practiced asceticism, commanding the respect and admiration of their followers.  Diego and Dominic quickly saw that the failure of the Cistercian apostolate was due to the monks’ material indulgences, and finally prevailed upon them to adopt an austere manner of life.  The result was an apparent in increase in the number of converts.

Pope Innocent III had tried pacific conversion, and sent a number of legates into the Albigenses Cathar regions.  They had to contend not only with the Albigenses Cathar, the nobles who protected them, and the people who respected them, but also with many of the bishops of the region, who resented the considerable authority the Pope had conferred upon his legates.

In 1204, Pope Innocent III suspended a number of bishops in Occitania; in 1205 he appointed a new and vigorous bishop of Toulouse, the former troubadour Foulques.  In 1206 Diego of Osma and his canon, the future Saint Dominic, began a programme of conversion in Languedoc; as part of this, Catholic-Cathar public debates were held at Verfeil, Servian, Pamiers, Montréal and elsewhere.  Dominic met and debated with the Cathars in 1203 during his mission to the Languedoc.  He concluded that only preachers who displayed real sanctity, humility and asceticism could win over convinced Albigenses Cathar believers.  The institutional Church as a general rule did not possess these spiritual warrants. 

It was in the contemplation of this that Dominic first conceived the idea of founding an order for the purpose of combating this heresy and ‘spreading the light of the Gospel’ by preaching to the ends of the then known world.  In 1215, Dominic established himself, with six followers, in a house given by Peter Seila, a rich resident of Toulouse.  He subjected himself and his companions to the monastic rules of prayer and penance.  Bishop Foulques gave them written authority to preach throughout the territory of Toulouse.  His conviction led eventually to the establishment of the Dominican Order in 1216.  The order was to live up to the terms of his famous rebuke, “Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth.”  However, even Dominic managed only a few converts among the Albigenses Cathar.  In hindsight, he was not given enough time.

In the same year, the year of the Fourth Lateran Council, Dominic and Foulques went to Rome to secure the approval of Pope Innocent III.  Dominic returned to Rome a year later, and was finally granted written authority in December 1216 and January 1217 by the new pope, Pope Honorius III for an order to be named, “The Order of Preachers,” “Ordo Praedicatorum.”  Eventually, they became popularly known as the Dominican Order.  Theological disputations played a prominent part in the proselytisation of the Albigenses Cathars.  Dominic and his companion were instrumental in engaging their opponents in this theological exposition at every opportunity.  Dominic was a formidable speaker.  With Prouille for his headquarters, he laboured by turns in Fanjeaux, Montpellier, Servian, Béziers, and Carcassonne.

Early in his apostolate around Prouille, Dominic realised the necessity of an institution that would engage the women and keep from the influence of the heretics.  Many of them had already embraced Albigensianism and were its most active propagandists.  The women of the Albigenses Cathars had erected convents, to which the children of the Catholic nobility were often sent to receive an education.  There was a need for genuine Catholic institutions.  It was also needful that the women converted from the heresy be safeguarded against the influence of their own homes.  To supply these deficiencies, Dominic, with the permission of Bishop Foulques of Toulouse, established a convent at Prouille in 1206.  This was the beginning of the nuns of the Second Order of Saint Dominic.

Pope Innocent III, in view of the immense spread of the heresy, which infected over 1,000 cities or towns, called upon the King of France in 1207, as Suzerain of the County of Toulouse, to use force.  However, in 1208, Pope Innocent’s papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau was murdered while returning to Rome after excommunicating a local ruler in southern France, who, in his view, was too lenient with the Albigenses Cathars.  Pope Innocent III then abandoned the option of sending Catholic missionaries and jurists, declared Pierre de Castelnau a martyr and renewed his appeal for the use of force.  This launched the Albigensian Crusade.  Numerous barons of northern France, Germany, and Belgium joined the crusade, and papal legates were put at the head of the expedition, Arnold, Abbot of Cîteaux, and two bishops.  Count Raymond VI, still under the ban of excommunication pronounced against him by Peter of Castelnau, now offered to submit, was reconciled with the Church, and took the field against his former friends.

Roger, Viscount of Béziers, was first attacked, and his principal fortresses, Béziers and Carcassonne, were taken in 1209.  In the first significant engagement of the war, the town of Béziers was besieged on the 22nd July 1209.  The Catholic inhabitants of the city were granted the freedom to leave unharmed, but many refused and opted to stay and fight alongside the Albigenses Cathars.  The Albigenses Cathars spent much of 1209 fending off the crusaders.  The Béziers army attempted a sortie but was quickly defeated, then pursued by the crusaders back through the gates and into the city.  Arnaud-Amaury, the Cistercian abbot-commander, is supposed to have been asked how to tell Albigenses Cathars from the Catholics.  His reply, recalled by Caesar of Heisterbach, a fellow Cistercian, thirty years later was, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius,” meaning, “Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own.”

The doors of the church of St Mary Magdalene were broken down and the refugees dragged out and slaughtered.  Reportedly, 7,000 people died there.  Elsewhere in the town, many more thousands were mutilated and killed.  Prisoners were blinded, dragged behind horses, and used for target practice.  What remained of the city was razed by fire.  Arnaud-Amaury wrote to Pope Innocent III, “Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex.”  The permanent population of Béziers at that time was then probably no more than 5,000, but local refugees seeking shelter within the city walls could conceivably have increased the number to 20,000.

After the success of his siege of Carcassonne, which followed the Massacre at Béziers in 1209, Simon de Montfort was designated as leader of the Crusader army.  Prominent opponents of the Crusaders were Raymond Roger Trencavel, viscount of Carcassonne, and his feudal overlord Peter II, the king of Aragon, who held fiefdoms and had a number of vassals in the region.  Peter died fighting against the crusade on the 12th September 1213 at the Battle of Muret.  Simon de Montfort was killed on the 25th June 1218 after maintaining a siege of Toulouse for nine months.

The war ended in the Treaty of Paris in 1229, by which the king of France dispossessed the house of Toulouse of the greater part of its fiefs, and that of the Trencavels, the Viscounts of Béziers and Carcassonne, of the entirety of their fiefs.  The independence of the princes of the Languedoc was at an end.  But in spite of the wholesale massacre of Albigenses Cathars during the war, Albigensianism was not yet extinguished.

In 1215, the bishops of the Catholic Church met at the Fourth Council of the Lateran under Pope Innocent III; part of the agenda was combating the Cathar heresy.  The Inquisition was established in 1234 to uproot the remaining Albigenses Cathars.  It succeeded in crushing Albigenses Catharism as a popular movement and driving its remaining adherents underground.  Thousands who refused to recant were hanged, or burnt at the stake.  Torture was prevalent.

From May 1243 to March 1244, the Albigenses Cathars fortress of Montségur was besieged by the troops of the seneschal of Carcassonne and the archbishop of Narbonne.  On the 16th March 1244, over two hundred Albigenses Cathars perfecti were burnt in an enormous pyre near the foot of the castle.  Furthermore, the Church decreed lesser chastisements against laymen suspected of sympathy with the Albigenses Cathars, at the Council of Narbonne in 1235.

From the mid-12th century onwards, Italian Catharism came under increasing pressure from the Pope and the Inquisition.  Some Albigenses Cathars ideas were absorbed into early Protestant sects, such as the Hussites, Lollards, and the Moravian Church.  The Catholic Church stamped out a heresy with overwhelming force, unrestrained violence and indiscriminate torture and killings.  But it only planted the seeds of the Reformation.

It is interesting to note that Dominic de Guzmán actually offered an alternative, that was although slower, would have protected the dignity of the Catholic Church, and was truer to the behaviour of Jesus (a.s.).  The Catholic Church quickly lost military control of the Crusade and it became an excuse for pillage and plunder, the nobles seeking to gain control over the fiefdoms of their rivals; all in the name of God.

Although he traveled extensively to maintain contact with his growing brotherhood of friars, Dominic made his headquarters at Rome.  In 1219, Pope Honorius III invited Dominic and his companions to take up residence at the ancient Roman basilica of Santa Sabina, which they did by early 1220.  Before that time, the friars had only a temporary residence in Rome at the convent of San Sisto Vecchio, which Honorius III had given to Dominic circa 1218, intending it to become a convent for a reformation of nuns at Rome under Dominic's guidance.  The official foundation of the Dominican convent at Santa Sabina with its studium conventuale, the first Dominican stadium in Rome, occurred with the legal transfer of property from Pope Honorius III to the Order of Preachers on the 5th June, 1222.  In reality, the brethren had already taken up residence there in 1220.  The stadium at Santa Sabina was the forerunner of the studium generale at Santa Maria sopra Minerva.  The latter would be transformed in the 16th century into the College of Saint Thomas, Collegium Divi Thomæ, and then in the 20th century into the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas Angelicum sited at the convent of Saints Dominic and Sixtus.

Dominic arrived in Bologna on the 21st December, 1218.  A convent was established at the Mascarella church by the Blessed Reginald of Orléans.  Soon afterwards they had to move to the church of San Nicolò of the Vineyards.  Dominic settled in this church and held in this church the first two General Chapters of the order.  He died there on the 6th August, 1221 and was moved into a simple sarcophagus in 1233.

There has been a Protestant controversy regarding Dominic de Guzmán’s role in the Medieval Inquisition.  However, Dominic died in 1221, and the office of the Inquisition was not established until 1231 in Lombardy and 1234 in Languedoc.  In fact, several early Dominicans did become inquisitors.  However, in the 15th century, the Spanish Inquisition commissioned the artist Peter Beruguette to depict Dominic presiding at an auto da fé, the ritual of public penance that heralded the punishment of a convicted heretic.  In most cases, it was known to precede a burning at the stake.  Inadvertently, the Spanish inquisitors promoted a historical legend for the sake of auto-justification.  In reacting against the Spanish tribunals, 16th and 17th century Protestant polemicists gladly developed and perpetuated the legend of Dominic the Inquisitor.  This image gave German Protestant critics of the Catholic Church an argument against the Dominican Order whose preaching had proven to be a formidable opponent in the lands of the Reformation.

Interestingly, the spread of the Rosary, a Marian devotion, is attributed to the preaching of Dominic. The Rosary has for centuries been at the heart of the Dominican Order.  Pope Pius XI stated that, “The Rosary of Mary is the principle and foundation on which the very Order of Saint Dominic rests for making perfect the life of its members and obtaining the salvation of others.”

For centuries, Dominicans have been instrumental in spreading the rosary and emphasising the Catholic belief in the power of the rosary, a form of tawaswswul.  The feast of St. Dominic is celebrated in Malta, in the old city of Birgu and the capital city Valletta.  The Dominican order has very strong links with Malta and Pope St. Pius V, a Dominican friar himself, aided the Knights of St. John to build the city of Valletta.


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