• From Folk Devils to the Albigensian Crusade: moral panic and the persecution of the Cathars



    From Folk Devils to the Albigensian Crusade: moral panic and the persecution of the Cathars
    by isa0005



    Chroniques de Saint-Denis, Pope Innocentius III excommunicating the Albigensians (left), Massacre against the Albigensians by the crusaders (right) (British Library, Royal 16 G VI f. 374v)

    ‘Moral panic’ occurs, according to sociologist Stanley Cohen, when “a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.” (Cohen, S., 1973, p. 9) The persecution of Catharism, throughout the 11th and 12th centuries is an example of ‘moral panic’. In this essay I will explain how ‘moral panic’ was used by the Roman Catholic Church to justify three centuries of persecution against the Cathars. I will focus on the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) the first and most significant instance of Cathar persecution. I will examine how the Cathars' religious doctrine challenged the power and influence of the Catholic Church and the Kingdom of France, thereby provoking their moral indignation as I analyse the triggers and background causes behind the crusade. Following this I will also compare and contrast how ‘moral panic was used in the Albigensian Crusade with the Russian Jewish pogroms of the late 1800s.

    Understanding ‘moral panic’ is key to exploring the triggers and background causes of the Albigensian Crusade. The Dictionary of Sociology defines moral panic as “the process of arousing social concern over an issue – usually the work of moral entrepreneurs and the mass media.” (Scott, J., 2014, p. 492) There are five stages to this social phenomenon: First, someone or something is perceived as a threat to societal norms. Cohen describes those who pose such a threat as “folk devils.” (Cohen, S., 1973, p. xvi-xviii) Second, the threat is displayed through a recognisable symbol by the dominant form of information communication or “moral entrepreneurs.” Third, the portrayal of this threat rouses public concern. Fourth, there is a response from the powers that be in an effort to quash this perceived threat. Fifth and finally, the moral panic evokes societal changes (Cohen, S. 1973, p. 159-160 ). The Albigensian Crusade, was a reaction to the perceived moral threat of the Cathars' heretical doctrines.

    In March, 1208 CE, Pope Innocent III announced he had found an enemy of Christianity that was perhaps a greater than even the burgeoning Muslim Saracens in the east. ‘Attack the followers of heresy', he wrote 'more fearlessly even than the Saracens - since they are more evil.’ (Innocent III in Barber, M., 2000, p. 119) These ‘followers of heresy’ are remembered today as the Cathars - “the purified” (More, R. I. in Segaller, S., 1998, 4:09-15). This crusade shows all the classic stages of moral panic as explained by Cohen: the identification of the folk devil (the Cathars) by a symbol of the establishment (the Pope), causing public hatred of the Cathars and the response by the powerful (the Church and the French King) to attack the threat.

    The trigger for the persecution of the Cathars was the assassination of a papal legate and the gumption to challenge the wealth and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church. By mid-1209, approximately 10,000 soldiers had gathered in the city of Lyon (Les Vaux de Cernay, P., 1998. p. 84) from all across France to strike down the Cathar heretics. This event was later called the Albigensian Crusade. One must ask however, why were the Cathars deemed worthy of such a response as launching a Crusade, when their power was insignificant compared to the Church. In order to answer this question, we must explore Catharism’s core religious doctrine and the Crusade’s background causes.

    The origins of Catharism are thought to stem from the Byzantine Empire and Persia. (Peters, E. 1980, p. 108) Catharism first took hold in Western Europe in the city of Albi in the Languedoc region of Southern France. (Lambert, M., 1998, p. 21) Consequently, the Cathars are also called Albigensians. One of the main reasons the Pope launched the Albigensian Crusade was the nature of the Cathar's religious doctrine. Catharism was a ‘dualist’ belief system with two comparable deities: the disincarnate God, and the equally powerful Demiurge otherwise known as Satanael (Barber, M., 2000, p. 32-34) To the Cathars, God was an unassailable deity of good, order and purity who was unfettered by the corruption of the material world (Cross, F.; Linginstone, E. A., 2005, p.303) while Satanael was the master of evil, creator of the corporeal realm and carnal corruption. (Barber, M., 2000, p. 33) These ‘dualist’ credos challenged the Catholic core belief in a single all powerful deity that created all things. The Cathars also challenged the Catholic concept of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Spirit (Townsend, A. B., 2008, p. 9) that is “one God in three Divine Persons” (CCC, 1213, s. 253). To the Cathars Christ exemplified the perfecti or bon hommes (Latin: “Good Men” or “Good Christians”). Christ was not God, but the spirit of an angel appearing in human form. (Théry, J., 2011, p. 75-117) Such a view posed an existential threat to the Catholic doctrine of the Trinity which is founded on the divinity of Christ. As such it was a direct challenge to the power of the Catholic church over its followers.

    Cathar belief held that human spirits were genderless angels, trapped in the physical creation of the evil Demiurge. (Schaus, M., 2006, p. 114) They saw Christ himself as an angle, the epitome of all that was perfect, his resurrection and ascension into Heaven (The Holy Bible, Mark 12:24-25, Luke 20:34-36) as proof of this doctrine. (Barber, M., 2000, p. 99) Cathars also refused to partake in the Catholic Sacrament of the ‘eucharist.’ As Medieval Catholic Inquisitor Bernard Gui said the Cathar’s “attack and vituperate [...] all the sacraments of the Church, especially the sacrament of the eucharist, saying that it cannot contain the body of Christ.” because the body is “material and corruptible [...] and is [...] the creation of the evil power.” (Gui, B., 1331. pp-381-383).

    The Cathars also believed that the human spirit was doomed to be reincarnated until they achieved absolution through ‘the Cathar ceremony of the consolamentum’ (Barber, M., 2000, p. 21). The consolamentum was a sacramental act of complete self-denial of all things associated with the material world i.e. food, water, sex etc. (Barber, M., 2000, p. 21-22) The ability of the soul to enter heaven through the consolamentum was core to the Cathar belief that no priest was required to intercede with God on humanities behalf. (Alphandéry, P. D., 1911, p. 505-506) If the Cathar belief held that no priests were required took hold, then the power of the Catholic church over their people would be considerably diminished.

    Cathar doctrine therefore challenged the very basis of the power of the church. The Pope used the tools of moral panic to ensure Catharism would be rejected by all right-minded Catholics to preserve the power of the church over its followers. Cathars were therefore described not only as mere heretics, but dangerous apostates whose beliefs would corrupt the soul of its believers and deny the glory of God. The threat the Cathars posed was so great, that Innocent III was even willing to offer indulgences to those willing to fight these heretics, a spiritual privilege usually reserved for those who fought in the Holy Lands: “For (alI) those who for the preservation of the Christian faith at such a critical moment which threatens the Church, [...]these men faithfully and devotedly we concede that indulgence for their sins.” (Innocent III, 1198, pp. 119-20 in Rist, R., 2009, p. 98) By generating public outrage at the Cathar doctrine, the Pope could undertake the genocide of the Cathars while being seen to be a defender of God rather than a murdering despot.

    The heretical beliefs of the Cathars were not the only reason that Pope Innocent III brought the full military might of the Christian world against them. There were political motivations too. The Cathars and their supporters raised the ire of the Pope by murdering an Apostolic legate, Pierre de Castelnau in 1208 CE (Sumption, 2011, p. 1). Castelnau was appointed to the Languedoc region in an effort to suppress Catharism by whatever means necessary. According to contemporary French Poet, William de Tudela (1199-1214) the legate failed to do this and was killed by “an evil-hearted squire who hoped to win [his] Count's approval” (de Tudella,1213. n.p. ). By historian Lord Jonathan Sumption’s account the squire was a servant of Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. The Count had quarreled with de Castelnau the previous day, Raymond objecting to the legate's involvement in an ongoing conflict between the Count of Toulouse and his neighbor Hugh III, Lord of Baux. (Sumption, 2011, pp. 72-23, 77) Raymond VI was also a known Cathar sympathiser and had refused to aid de Castelnau in his efforts (Weber, N. F., 1907. n.p) maintaining the traditional communal and religious freedoms and tax exemptions while providing alms to all within his fiefdom, the Cathars included. (Pirenne, H., 2010, p.184)

    Although their influence was pitiful compared to the Catholic Church, Catharism had spread quickly in the Languedoc region, spreading fear that the heresy would soon become an organised threat to Christendom. Henri Pirenne notes that Languedoc was apparently “swarming” with these “mystics” and heretics who condemned the “hierarchy and the social order” of the Catholic Church. (Pirenne, H., 2010, p.184) Sumption even suggests that the Count of Toulouse and his wife had converted to Catharism. (Sumption, 2011, p. 76) This undoubtedly concerned the French Crown who historically were beset by their neighbours Spain, England and the Holy Roman Empire almost constantly almost constantly.

    Having quarreled with Innocent III on number of other occasions (Pirenne, H., 2010, p.184) Raymond VI's refusal to help the Church proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, resulting in his excommunication and a papal interdict placed on his lands, titles and vassals (Barber, M., 2000, p. 140-141). As an act of vengeance Raymond VI openly defied the Crusaders, supporting the Cathar’s and their independence movement (Weber, N. F., 1907. n.p) as a means to gain his own freedom from France and the Church (Les Vaux de Cernay, P., 1998. p. 182-185). Organising resistance across the region, the Count proved a serious thorn in the side French King, Philip II who sought to bring the Languedoc region under royal control. (Les Vaux de Cernay, P., 1998. p. 528-534) After some success against the Crusaders, sometime during 1222 Raymond VI would die, his son, Raymond VII inheriting his war. (Strayer, J. R., 1971, p. 120) After another decade of warfare the Crusade would come to a close, the Cathars making their last stand at the siege Château de Montségur (May 1243 - March 1244). (Lock, P., 2006 p. 165) Following the end of the Crusade, Raymond VII was stripped of his titles and his lands divided among various petty nobles and the French Crown. (Lock, P., 2006 p. 165) As many as 1,000,000 Cathars are thought to have been slaughtered during the Albigensian Crusade. (Robertson, J. M. 1902, p. 254.) Modern historians considered the war an act of genocide, including Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term. (Lemkin, R., 2012, p. 71.) Moral Panic has been used by the powerful to oppress those who challenge their authority throughout the ages. There is perhaps no better example of this than the persecution of Jews – the killers of Christ – throughout European history.

    In 1881 Russian Tsar Alexander II Romanov was assassinated by political radicals. According to the Jewish Chronicle, a Western European Jewish news paper, the Jews were blamed for the death of Tsar Alexander II. (Unknown, 1881. p.11) The Tsar’s successor and son Alexander III and the Imperial regime introduced draconian anti-Semitic policies that targeted Russo-Polish Jews (Radzinsky, E., 2005. p. 419). These policies resulted in hundreds of Russian-Jewish deaths, mass seizures and destruction of Jewish land, property and economic assets. (Weinberg, R. et al., 1992. p. 248-89)

    There was nothing new about anti-semitism in Russia during this period. Pogroms were already occurring as early as 1821 (Weinberg, R. et al., 1992. p. 248-89). At this time in failing economic conditions there was anger and resentment toward the Jews over ancestral debts owed to money lenders and other Jewish business competitors. (Aronson, M., 1980. pp. 18–31) In the case of the pogroms of 1881-84, the Imperial Government falsely identified the Jews as key perpetrators of the assassination. Gesya Mirokhovna Gelfman was blamed for the assassination: ‘the Jewess [...] implicated, as [...] the soul of the whole plot.’(Unknown, 1881. p.11) Gelfman was a member of the Narodnaya Volya, a revolutionary 19th-century political organization, who had also been responsible for other targeted assassinations of government officials (Unknown, 1881. p.11 ). Evidence for Gelfman’s involvement in the assassination, let alone the greater Russian Jewish community, is circumstantial at best however.

    Much of the ill will toward the Jews was created by the press, (Berk, S. M., 1985. p. 54-55) which provoked Tsar Alexander III’s May Laws in response to the perceived threat. These anti-Semitic policies were a way of creating social stability by uniting the populace against a common enemy. The regulations stipulated that Jews were temporarily ‘forbidden to settle anew outside of towns and boroughs, exceptions being admitted (for) existing Jewish agricultural colonies [...]issuing of mortgages [...] lessees of real property [...] powers of attorney [...] (and) to transact business [...] on Christian holidays’(Romanov III, A. 1882, n.p.) These pogroms and political changes would see a mass exodus of Russian Jews from the region. Yet how do these pogroms compare to the Albigensian Crusade and how do they both fit within the stages of moral panic?

    These two events of persecution share some similarities. Like the Albigensian Crusade, the death of an important symbol of society triggered the occurrence of a moral panic i.e. Pierre de Castelnau and Tsar Alexander II. These deaths and the ‘heretical beliefs’ of the supposed assassins or ‘folk devils’ were were used to trigger ‘moral panic’ to justify their persecution and removal from society. These persecutions were used as an excuse to deal with a larger issue at hand. In the case of the Cathars it was to settle political tension and personal grudges. While the Jews were used as scapegoat by the Imperial regime to promote national cohesion and economic stability. The public reacted to these threats with outrage. In the case of the Jews, pogroms were carried out, forcing the Russo-Jewish populate to flee local communities, while the Cathars were attacked directly by the Crusade. As a result of these public actions was, the causes were taken up by the powers that be to settle these issues. The Imperial Regime enacted the May Laws, which effectively forced the Russian Jewish community to move on to greener pastures while the Pope promised indulgences to those who joined the holy war. However, unlike the Jewish Pogroms, the Albigensian Crusade took this persecution one step further, exterminating the entirety of the Cathar population in Languedoc and seeing their supporters disinherited and dragged through the mud. Yes, many Jewish people were killed during the pogroms, but they in no way matched the total genocidal annihilation of the Cathars.

    Exploring the background triggers and causes behind events of persecution can offer a greater understanding of how a Stanley Cohen’s theory of ‘moral panic’ is used to justify oppression by the powers that be. With regard to the Albigensian Crusade, ‘moral panic’ was a means to eradicate a potential threat to the societal hierarchy enforced by the Catholic Church. It was also used to settle regional tensions and the personal and political aims of powerful individuals like Raymond VI, the Count of Toulouse and Pope Innocent III. The actions of these individuals directly triggered the crusade to occur, resulting in the eradication of the Cathar faith. In comparison, the Russo-Jewish pogroms of the late 1800s were a means to establish national unity against an apparent ‘common enemy’ of the state and the Russian public. The Jews became a scapegoat for the countries economic and social woes.

    Bibliography


    • Segaller, Stephen, 1998. Gnosis - Gnostics Cathars, the True Christians.,UK: Border Television, British Broadcasting Association.

    • Cohen, Stanley, 1973. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. US: Paladin Press.

    • Scott, John, 2014. "M: Moral panic", A dictionary of sociology, New York: Oxford University Press.

    • Cross, Frank Leslie; Livingstone, Elizabeth A., 2005, . Oxford Dictionary of the Catholic Church. Oxford, London: Oxford University Press.

    • Barber, Malcolm, 2014, The Cathars: Christian Dualists in the Middle Ages. New York: Routledge.

    • Townsend, Anne Bradford, 2008, The Cathars of Languedoc as heretics: From the perspectives of Five Contemporary Scholars. Cincinnati: Union Institute and University.

    • Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1213. “the dogma of the Holy Trinity” Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana. English translation, 2nd edi., 2000. US: Catholic Conference, Inc.

    • Théry, Julien, 2011, L'Hérésie des bons hommes (XIIe-début du XIVe s.). Comment nommer la dissidence religieuse non vaudoise ni béguine en Languedoc in Heresis, 2002, 36-37. Montpellier: Université Paul-Valéry, Centre d'Etudes Médiévales de Montpellier.

    • Schaus, Margaret, 2006. Women And Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia, New York: Taylor and Francis Group.

    • Gui, Bernard, 1331. Inquisitor's Manual, trans. Robinson, John Harvey, 1905 in Readings in European History. Boston: Ginn & Company.

    • Alphandéry, Paul Daniel, 1911. "Albigenses". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). London: Cambridge University Press.

    • Rist, Rebecca, 2011. The Papacy and Crusading in Europe, 1198-1245, Sydney: Bloomsbury Publishing.

    • De Tudela, William; Anonymous, 1213. The Song of the Cathar Wars: A History of the Albigensian Crusade. Trans. Shirley, Janet., 2004. London: Ashgate Publishing Company.

    • Weber, N. F., 1907. "Catholic Encyclopedia: Albigenses" in New Advent. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

    • Pirenne, Henri., 2010. A History of Europe (Routledge Revivals): From the Invasions to the XVI Century. London: Routledge.

    • Strayer, Joseph R.,1971. The Albigensian Crusades. New York:The Dial Press.

    • Lock, Peter, 2006. The Routledge Companion to the Crusades. New York: Routledge.

    • Robertson, John M., 1902. A Short History of Christianity. London: Watts & Co.

    • Lemkin, Raphael, 2012. Jacobs, Steven Leonard, ed. Lemkin on Genocide. Lanham: Lexington Books, Rowman & Littlefield

    • Unknown, 1881. “ Outrages upon Jews in Russia, Reuters Telegram”, The Jewish Chronicle, trans. Halsall, Paul in Modern History Sourcebook, January, 1991. New York: Fordham University

    • Radzinsky, Edvard, 2005. Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar. New York: Free Press

    • Robert Weinberg, John D. Klier and Shlomo Lambroza, eds., 1992. "The Pogrom of 1905 in Odessa: A Case Study excerpts". Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History: 248–89.

    • Tsar Alexander III Romanov 15 May, 1882, “May Laws,” trans Herman Rosenthal, 2011. Jewish Encyclopedia.com

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    Comments 9 Comments
    1. Akar's Avatar
      Akar -
      Great post man. I've found the Cathars super interesting ever since I played Crusader Kings 2 and had to put down their revolt violently .
    1. isa0005's Avatar
      isa0005 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Akar View Post
      Great post man. I've found the Cathars super interesting ever since I played Crusader Kings 2 and had to put down their revolt violently .
      Thanks Akar, that's very kind of you to say!
      Yes, I'm quite fascinated by them as well! CKII also introduced me to them as well! I've tried and failed so many times trying to create a Cathar kingdom haha!
    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Great article, very much enjoyed reading it!

      I always found the Cathars issue very.. "sad" so to say.. it certainly didn't give a good impression of the Pope and of the Catholic Church as an institution in general..
    1. isa0005's Avatar
      isa0005 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Flinn View Post
      Great article, very much enjoyed reading it!

      I always found the Cathars issue very.. "sad" so to say.. it certainly didn't give a good impression of the Pope and of the Catholic Church as an institution in general..
      Cheers, Flinn!
      I know exactly what you mean, all they wanted to do was live and worship in peace.. what happened to the Cathars was very sad indeed and its a prime example of humanity and the Catholic Church's propensity for evil. For what its worth though, I do think that Pope Franics is taking some steps to remedy the Church's past.
    1. Elendil 03's Avatar
      Elendil 03 -
      A very intriguing read, though the campaign against the Cathars was not only motivated by moral concerns, but mainly because of the Church's fear of losing control and the adveturous minds of a handful of French nobles, as you mentioned.
      Technically one can't refer to the Albigensian Crusade as Genocide, either, since the Cathars didn't constitue a separate ethnicity (as opposed to the Jews). Well, this is just nitpicking, and I wish there was more content of this kind on TWC (instead of discussions about the deeper meaning behind Donald Trump's controversial suggestions, for example).
    1. King Athelstan's Avatar
      King Athelstan -
      I've always had a soft spot for the Cathars, this was a very enjoyable read!
    1. isa0005's Avatar
      isa0005 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Elendil 03 View Post
      A very intriguing read, though the campaign against the Cathars was not only motivated by moral concerns, but mainly because of the Church's fear of losing control and the adveturous minds of a handful of French nobles, as you mentioned.
      Technically one can't refer to the Albigensian Crusade as Genocide, either, since the Cathars didn't constitue a separate ethnicity (as opposed to the Jews). Well, this is just nitpicking, and I wish there was more content of this kind on TWC (instead of discussions about the deeper meaning behind Donald Trump's controversial suggestions, for example).
      Thanks for your kind words and interest, would the fact that the majority of the Cathars were from the Langeudoc region and were for the most part of Occitan ethnicity count though? I mean I don't know how disinict the Occitan people are from their French cousins, but I know that their language is quite disinict from French and is closer to Catalan.
    1. isa0005's Avatar
      isa0005 -
      Quote Originally Posted by King Athelstan View Post
      I've always had a soft spot for the Cathars, this was a very enjoyable read!
      Thanks! I do to although their religious doctrine is a little to austere for my liking though... though most Judeo-Abrahamic religions are like that I guess.
    1. Flinn's Avatar
      Flinn -
      Quote Originally Posted by isa0005 View Post
      For what its worth though, I do think that Pope Franics is taking some steps to remedy the Church's past.
      ehhh that is subjective I guess, as an Italian I can say that he started well, but that he's missing the big targets while focusing on the small flaws.. but well that's completely another story, so let us not discuss it here
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