No News is New

A Catholic view on old heresies in the news

Category: Albigensianism

What in Reincarnation?

This article is fascinating, but the first sentence is what I want to focus on: “The soul needs to reincarnate a thousand times before becoming one with god”.  We Catholics also seek union with God, but draw the line at reincarnation.

The early Church faced a lot of conflict with Greek culture on reincarnation.  Later the Albiginsians also believed in reincarnation for those un-ascetic enough to be Perfecti.  By the way, the Albiginsians also went by another name, Cathars.  Today we face the New Age movement again proclaiming reincarnation over resurrection.  The Church regularly faces those who adhere to reincarnation.

Most who believe in reincarnation believe in an eventual out.  Nirvana for the Buddhists, becoming gods for the Greeks, Albiginsians could be Perfecti, and New Agers can gain perfect self- knowledge/expression.  Alternatively, some theories say that if one doesn’t have enough enlightenment, they will simply cease to exist, while those who pass a certain threshold go on reincarnating.  This is quite the opposite of Buddhism, where only the prefect get the honor of finally dying.

Contrast this long, drawn out process to the Christian model.  In the Christian understanding one doesn’t need to be a model of perfection to enter heaven.  Even schlubs like me can get in!  A little Purgatory to grind off any remaining rough edges and we enter the divine life without having to go through high school 1,000 times or fasting to death with the Endura.  Christianity connects people to the divine life, even messy sinful people, as long as their aim is communion with God.  Reincarnation only connects the perfect (aka Perfecti) to the divine spirit.  If you ask me what I would prefer, it’s quite a no brainer.  Why would anyone want a thousand lives of sickness and loss and suffering for bliss when one might have only a single life of misery and then bliss?  Christianity cuts out all the intermediate steps with the blood of Jesus.


Everybody Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Adoption-InquisitionThere are a few popular notions about the Spanish Inquisition that are, quite frankly, incorrect.  This tool to root out heresy is seen as a great evil and blight upon Church history, so let’s explore some of those popular notions.

The first mistaken understanding a lot of people have about the Spanish Inquisition is that it was the Catholic Inquisition.  The Catholic inquisition was a method for trying people for crimes, not just heresy. When heresy was involved, the death penalty was seen as horrible.  As St. John Chrysostom wrote, “To kill a heretic is to introduce upon earth an inexpiable crime”.  This was because to kill a heretic removed the chance of repentance and therefore damned a soul — which is the exact opposite of the Church’s mission!  The Roman Empire was harsher in treating heresy because the Empire was more concerned about unity than about the states of souls.  If all heretics were executed, so much the better for the Empire to exercise control and so much worse for the Church because of the lost souls.  As heretical Barbarians (both Arian and Pagan) took over state control, punishment for heretics ended.  For a few hundred years it was unheard of, and then shortly after the turn of the first millennium it returned with the Catholic Inquisition.  This was used to find Waldenses, Albigensians, Cathars, and Manicheans and bring them back into the fold of the Church.  In large part, the brutality of the Albigensian Crusade is what caused Pope Innocent III to start using the Catholic Inquisition to find and correct heretical views. He was appalled at what happened to the Albigensians and didn’t want it to happen again.

The inquisition proceeded as follows:  A tribunal of friars would enter a town, teach people why the heresy is bad to believe, and then people were summoned forward based upon tips or sometimes even entire towns were called forward to admit their heretical views.  How seriously this view was held would determine punishment.  Some of the guidelines for inquisitors are used by the FBI even today!

Humorously to the modern ear, on suspected Cathar said: “Lords, hear me, I am no heretic, for I have a wife and lie with her, and have children.  And I eat flesh and lie and swear, and am a faithful Christian.”  Cathars, being excessively scrupulous, wouldn’t have sex or lie.  And due to their gnostic roots wouldn’t eat meat.  His statement was sufficient to free him.

and it lets people know you aren't a Cathar!

and it lets people know you aren’t a Cathar!

One inquisitor, Bernardo Gui, in 1246 sentenced 207 heretics.  Of these, only 23 were imprisoned and 184 had to wear crosses.  None of these were executed.  Typical punishments involved fasting, pilgrimages, going to Mass, and so forth, not torture or death.  From 1249 to 1257, only 230 people were sentenced and of these, only 21 to death.  So during the Inquisitions peak years, only 3 people a year were sentenced to death.  This is less than half the number of people Texas executes each year.

Texas: over twice the exicutions as the Inquisition!

Visit Texas: Come see over twice the executions as the Medieval Inquisition!

Overall, the inquisition reduced the number of deaths due to heresy because the Church stepped in and the mob rule that previously was used to root out heretics was ended.  Sometimes, not liking the light sentences handed out, the inquisitors themselves were killed by the mob, such as Peter of Verona or all the inquisitors of Toulouse.  When some inquisitors when too far and were too harsh, like Robert the Bugre, the Bishop stepped in and sentenced the inquisitor to prison.  Another inquisitor sentenced so many people to death that the town rose up and killed the inquisitor.

Two hundred years post the peak of the Inquisition the Spanish decided to renew the practice to unify their country.  Pope Sixtus IV objected to numerous practices in this renewed Inquisition and King Ferdinand promptly excluded him and the Church from any control.  The pope then arrested the Spanish Ambassador in protest!  The inquisition in Spain even arrested such saints as Ignatius Layola and Teresa of Avila.  The Archbishop of Toledo wrote a catechism which the council of Trent approved, and he was still sentenced to 8 years of prison for writing it!

Some modern Jewish (I mention this because Jewish people are unlikely to sugar coat their own oppression) historians suggest that the torture element was greatly exaggerated by protestants after their defeat by the Crown in 1560’s.  There is little historical evidence torture was used in Spain, but there is evidence civil offenders would sometimes blaspheme to get into the cushy Inquisition prisons.  In the entire Spanish Inquisition, modern scholars suggest only around three to four thousand died.  Compare this with the enlightened men of reason who led the Reign of Terror’s over 40,000 deaths in France.  Or the millions of deaths caused by Pol Pot.  Or the millions of deaths caused by Mao and Stalin.  As far as killings to unite a state are concerned, the Spanish Inquisition is the least of our worries.

The Spanish Inquisition wasn’t Catholic; and while it was worse than the Catholic Inquisition, it still wasn’t as bad as it has been made out to be.  Sadly, that wouldn’t make as great a joke as below, so the misconception is likely to remain.

An Alien, an Albigensian, and I walk into a bar

A space alien, an Albigensian, and I walk into a bar.  We take our seats, and I take out the above picture.

Alien: Oh, I love Earth tech, what’s that?

Me: It’s a tool people use before sex.

Alien: Right, you guys love your sex, I bet this makes it feel so much better!

Albigensian: Are you kidding me?  Earth is hell and punishment for the human soul! I bet they use this tool because they don’t want more spirits trapped in bodies.

Me: Actually Space Alien, our Albigensian friend here is right.  We modern people use this to keep from having children.

Waitress: Can I get you an appetizer?

Albigensian: Go away, can’t you see I’m going through the endura to starve myself to death because the world is so evil?

Waitress: Whatever freak… [walks away]

Alien: Back to your Earth tech, how does it work?

Me: We stick this gun up a woman’s woman parts, and then release this metal bit hoping it makes enough damage to her woman parts so that she cannot conceive.

Albigensian: Now you’re talking!  All sex should be made sterile by shoving stuff up female body parts!  And it’s preferable that all sex take place outside of marriage!  I love you modern people — you are so contemporary with the Dark Ages that I feel right at home!

Alien: Has your species advanced at all in the past 800 years?

Me: I think I need a beer…

History of Heresy

I ran into the above visiting Patheos today, and thought a meta-heresy post would be useful and clear up a major misconception in the comic.

The first point would be that in the year 1,000, there was only one Christian Church (excepting some Nestorians and Monophysites, who rejected a few ecumenical councils but of whom large parts returned to communion with Rome after 1,000 AD).  There was an East-West argument brewing, but they were still united.  Nearly all the heresies from early on had died out.  New ones continually being invented but subsequently dying out as well.  So half the chart in the comic should be just a strait line (or at most three lines that show some merging in the other half) with short little offshoots.

Now, for a variety of complex factors around 1050 the Church split into Orthodox and Catholic.  They are quite similar, differing in only a few points of theology.  In fact, the difference is so little Catholics might even receive communion at Orthodox Churches (if the Orthodox priest allows it) and vice versa.  The differences between Russian Orthodox and, say, Greek Orthodox is similar to the difference between the Diocese of Santa Fe and the Diocese of New York — which is to say those differences aren’t theological but managerial.  Catholics focused on the universal (aka catholic) aspect of the Church and Papal authority, while the Orthodoxy focused on what they thought was true (aka orthodox), and that was the root of the split.

For another 500 years or so small little heresies grew, burst, and healed like acne across the face of Christendom.  In the 1500’s Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and Henry VIII all created their own churches.  This was the start of Protestantism, which wouldn’t heal like the previous heresies.  In addition, they often drew on the carcasses of long dead heresies.  For instance, the Albigensians (around the 1100’s and 1200’s) had a baptism of the Spirit called “consolamentum”, not that unlike a modern “altar call”. Yet the modern Protestants who use altar calls reject the high praise of suicide that Albigensians also had.  My posts tend to look at these singular aspects of a heresy popping up again in the news, while knowing full well no one holds to all the tenants of the dead heresy.

Later, some of these Protestant groups which formed in the 1500’s split again.  For instance, the English King Henry VIII started Anglicanism so he could divorce and remarry as well redistribute the vast amount of land the Church was endowed with.  Many Christians in the American Colonies were Anglican because they came from England.  After the Revolutionary War, they didn’t want to hold spiritual allegiance to a king they just threw off the political yoke of, so they invented Episcopalianism and had the Bishops (Episcopals) lead the church.  Other divisions, like the difference between high and low Lutherans, have more to do with theology and worship style (which often go hand in hand).  These denominational divisions are a result of an absence of Church authority that had existed for 1,500 years.  In those short 500 years all the division and splitting into countless churches that the comic depicts has occurred.

Amidst all this splintering, Catholics still remain the largest group.  In fact, Catholics are so far in the lead that in America lapsed Catholics turn out to be the third largest Christian group.  The volume of adherents isn’t shown in the comic, and instead tiny little splinter groups are given equal weight with much larger groups.

Ideally, then, the chart in the comic should have at most four lines running into the last quarter of it, not all these splits from what is marked as 1 AD.  All the little splits shown in the comic are really just from Protestantism after the year 1,500.  If this multiplied division of churches is problematic, then Protestantism is where the problem lays, not Christianity.

If the amount of adherents was shown in line weight, Catholics would be a line as thick as all the other lines put together.  Protestants divisions would add up to a third the total, and the Orthodox would be a little over a tenth the total.  About 1/30 of current Christians belong to those who split with Catholics before the year 1,000.

This changes dramatically how the chart in the comic would come across, especially for those who are Catholic.  This look at history was part of my own conversion to the Catholic faith.