R. I. Moore
London, Profile Books, 2012, ISBN: 9781846681967; 416pp.; Price: £25.00
University of York
Date accessed: 25 February, 2024
The War on Heresy is the most recent of R. I. Moore’s writings on medieval heresy and repression, which have been appearing since 1970. The most important are the anthology of translated texts entitled The Birth of Popular Heresy, The Origins of European Dissent, and The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950-1250.(1) The publication in 2006 of Heresy and the Persecuting Society in the Middle Ages: Essays on the Work of R.I. Moore was a mark of their impact.(2)
Since The War on Heresy is aimed at a general as well as academic market, Moore has provided its full bibliography on his website (http://rimoore.net/), and there will be found also further reflections on his work (under ‘Text and context’). As he writes, what he has brought over these decades to the study of these themes is scepticism: in particular, about the relationship between what the Church’s texts said about heretics and what was out there in reality. This scepticism has been consistent, but its deployment has shifted. In the Origins Moore still accepted the appearance and growth of the ‘Cathar’ sect, but he was concerned to diminish eastern links and to postpone the appearance of the sect, by eroding the evidence regarded by some historians as early sightings of it. In The Formation of a Persecuting Society, the repression of heresy was but one part of a large and original idea, concisely conveyed in the title. The response model of some historians – the Church thinking ‘there’s some dissidence over there, let’s repress it’ – was side-stepped by the shift of attention to medieval society’s new-found need to persecute. And now, in The War on Heresy, there has been a bold extension. Moore’s scepticism has become even more radical, and it has a new target. This comes in the latter part of the book, with the suggestion is that ‘Catharism’ was a construction. It was ‘contrived from the resources of [the] well-stocked imaginations’ of churchmen, ‘with occasional reinforcement from miscellaneous and independent manifestations of local anticlericalism or apostolic enthusiasm, and confirmed from the 1230s onwards by the ingenuity and assiduity of the Dominican inquisitors’.(3) And there is a chronological shift. The centre of gravity of Moore’s work has tended to be quite early. With heresy and its repression this has meant decades of grappling with the texts reporting heresy in the period roughly from 1000 to 1050 and the chronicles, letters and early polemics of the 12th century, with occasional forays past 1200. But now extensive exploration of the systematic scholastic summae and the inquisition records of the 13th century has become key to the The War on Heresy’s big idea.
Moore sets his new work within the history of scholarship on high medieval heresy.(4) First of all, in his view, work has been confined to a canonical body of texts on medieval heresy, something strikingly shown by the substantial overlap in the selection of texts in two independently produced anthologies of translations, his own Birth of Popular Heresy and A. P. Evans and W. Wakefield’s Heresies of the High Middle Ages.(5) Secondly, it has been – astonishingly – only in recent years that the texts used by historians of medieval heresy and its repression have been subjected to rigorous critical analysis and scrutiny. Moore traces this back to the 1990s, and in particular the French historians whose papers were published in a book whose title makes the point, Inventer l’hérésie?, edited by Monique Zerner.(6) The drift of modern scholarship is now in this direction. Singled out for especially high praise, after Zerner, are the works of three modern scholars. These are Uwe Brunn and his monograph on reports of heresy in the Rhineland in the mid 12th century (7), Hilbert Chiu and his account of the construction of the dualist in academic theology (8), and Mark Pegg’s monograph using mid 13th-century inquisition records.(9)
Moore’s title is a wonderful choice. It aligns the mind of an American president in his War on Terror with the minds of Church writers, both seeing things, both grasping at shadows. Its wit is all of a piece with the formidable rhetorical skill and agility with which Moore argues his case, and it is not surprising that the dominant note in the book’s reception has been high praise.(10)
Although there are some developments in and changes to Moore’s earlier views throughout The War on Heresy, I shall confine myself to two things, the new idea of the latter part of the book, and Moore’s account of modern scholarship.
There is one important difference between the strata underlying the early chapters of The War on Heresy and those under the later ones. Early on – chronologically early on - Moore is a historian in his element. He knows the stuff deeply, inside out, and there is palpable pleasure in the sheer mastery of his deployment of the material. In the later chapters of the book – by the 13th century – and with university theology and inquisition depositions, Moore is no longer in his comfort zone. At the same time, there is a great difference between the size of the texts the historian reads around the year 1000 and those one reads in the middle of the 13th century. Take just two texts from the 1240s: a treatise against heresy written by Moneta of Cremona (c.1241) has around 450,000 words, while a manuscript containing inquisition depositions of 1245–6 (Toulouse Bibliothèque Municipale 609) contains about 380,000. It becomes a risky enterprise talking about what is not there in texts of this size. More importantly, if, like Moore, you are writing a very big book, and you are not yourself a specialist scholar in these areas, you have to be more reliant on the guides you choose. The question for the reader changes from ‘How convincing do I find Moore?’ at the start of the book, to ‘How convincing do I find the scholars upon whom he has chosen to rely?’ later on.
One of the four books of Alan of Lille’s treatise On Faith was devoted to heretics to whom dualist propositions were attributed, and there is a description of heretics’ dualist theological in the first part of Peter of les Vaux-de-Cernay’s Albigensian History, both of which have been taken to be descriptions of ‘Cathars’ in contemporary Languedoc and based in some way on experience of them. Part of Moore’s ‘dualist mirage’ case is that these are derived instead from the straw figure of the dualist heretic that had developed in theology. There were two traditions. On the one hand there was a line of Cistercians, in particular from Clairvaux and at the forefront in dealing with and repressing heresy, whose writings laid some of the foundations for the dualist heretic. On the other hand there was the ‘ivory tower’ dualist heretic, formed in the academic theology of the schools in Paris, in the writings of Peter Lombard and his pupils, and in routine academic exercises. The doctrine of two principles was ‘regularly deployed as target practice in the classrooms of Paris’ (p. 201). The two lines came together in Alan of Lille, an academic at Paris who ultimately retired to Cîteaux, while Peter’s description of dualism was ‘obviously’ put together out of early Cistercian accounts (pp. 254–5).
The inspiration here is Hilbert Chiu.(11) Surveying medieval academic theological treatises, Chiu argues against the possibility that they might contain reflections on or reactions to contemporary dualist heretics, vigorously attacking anyone who has suggested this (especially Biller). He finds the treatises, in particular Peter Lombard’s Four Books of the Sentences, very preoccupied with dualist theology, using ancient material, retailed by St Augustine and others. Focussing on one book, ‘Against heretics’, in Alan of Lille’s four-book treatise On Faith, he finds a hold-all, containing doctrines not relevant to contemporary ‘Cathars’. To minimise the possibility of Alan having had experience of heretics in southern France, Chiu casts doubt on him having lived there.
A systematic study of dualism in 12th-and 13th-century theological treatises would be a good thing to have, but this may not come from Chiu, who does not seem to grasp some quite elementary aspects of academics in this period. The essential work-tools produced by the 12th century, with the ordinary gloss on the bible and Peter Lombard’s Four Books of Sentences, provided handy selections and rapid retrieval of snippets from a vast range of patristic writings. The consequent fact that these works and treatises using them contained here and there some ancient material on dualism is a commonplace, and does not indicate special preoccupation. Any work of theology contains topics such as God, the creation, and good and evil. These topics can but do not have to be developed towards the topic of dualism. Their presence does not in itself indicate special preoccupation. Finally, treatises varied. Some were not especially interested in dualism ancient or modern (i); some were interested in and distinguished both (ii); some were specifically directed against contemporary dualism (iii). Peter Lombard’s Four Books of the Sentences is a good example of (i), despite Chiu’s desperate attempt to make it contain ‘detailed discussions of dualism’. An instance of (ii) is Alexander Nequam’s Speculum speculationum. After its prologue, the opening words of Nequam’s work are, ‘If there were two principles of all things…’ (Si duo essent principia rerum…). ‘The old error of the Manichees compelled me to write’, says Nequam, ‘alas renewed in our days’ (Vetus error … diebus nostris renovatus).(12) The juxtaposition of then and now could hardly be more explicit. There could hardly be a greater contrast with Peter Lombard! Finally, an example of (iii) is Moneta of Cremona’s treatise against contemporary heretics. It plunges us into the world of Italian cities in the early to mid 13th century and the polemical debates between heretics and Catholics, and Moneta draws his propositions from what contemporary heretics said and what they wrote, some of which is in effect footnoted, with citation of the author and the relevant part of his treatise. Chiu’s attempt to force all these works into one mould simply flounders. His reading of his main author, Alain de Lille, hardly scratches the surface. Nearly 50 years ago Marie-Thérèse d’Alverny pointed out that there was an earlier version with a narrower focus than the text printed in the Patrologia Latina, omitting the chapters on penance, confirmation, extreme unction and prayer.(13) The relevance to Chiu’s ‘hold-all’ view of the book is obvious, but he has not looked at it – it is not clear even that he knows about it. Investigation of the topic ‘Alan on contemporary heretics’ needs research into another of On Faith’s books, the one directed against Waldensians. It has been noticed that in the earliest surviving Waldensian letter (1218), the Waldensians access patristic material through Gratian’s Decretum.(14) It has also been noticed that some of the Waldensian arguments described by Alan derived from Gratian: a parallel that bears upon his accuracy in reporting them, and an important comparison.
Here, finally, is one illustration of the strata: first, the known evidence, secondly Chiu’s treatment of it, and finally Moore’s use of Chiu. D’Alverny paraded the trickle of evidence about Alan and southern France, judiciously not making too much of it but also making it clear that it did show Alan spent some time down there. He dedicated On Faith to the count of Montpellier. He dedicated his Distinctiones to the abbot of a great Benedictine monastery in lower Languedoc, Saint-Gilles. Two posthumous exempla depict him lecturing in the schools at Montpellier. Most telling is the fact that in his Distinctiones he glosses a Latin word with its equivalent in vernacular Occitan.(15) Next level, Chiu. Omitting all the evidence apart from the first dedication enables him to write of Alan, ‘whether he ever went to the south is contentious’.(16) Final level, Moore, following Chiu. Again there is silence about all the evidence apart from the first dedication, while the denial becomes more declamatory. ‘There is nothing in Alan of Lille’s disappointingly undocumented life to connect him with the Languedoc’ (p. 220).
Let us move forward to the use of the inquisition depositions Languedoc, dipping in at p. 261. Here Moore is describing the ‘Cathar’ rite of melioramentum, which inquisitors called adoration. As the note in his website indicates, Moore draws here on Mark Pegg's The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246, pp. 92-103.(17) (To avoid misunderstanding – it goes without saying that there is complete propriety in Moore’s use and acknowledgement of other scholars). Pegg’s monograph is ‘brilliant’, writes Moore, and it has a ‘devastating critique of the methods of his predecessors’ in the use of inquisition records (p. 345). What is at issue, then, in our assessment of Moore, is the character of a work that has influenced him so much and given him the green light to carry his brand of deconstructionism into the heart of inquisition records.
Pegg whittled away the conventional picture of ‘Catharism’ in Languedoc, which had included a ‘Church’ that even for some years had its specific headquarters, a hierarchy of bishops, their successors and deacons, formal rituals and the use of a liturgical book laying down how they were to be carried out, written theology and a financial system. The erosion techniques were simple. The first and fundamental technique was silence about evidence. The silence was of two sorts. First, analysis was confined to one source, the 1245–6 enquiries contained in MS Toulouse 609. So, the depositions of the lord of Gaja-la-Selve, Peter of Mazerolles, are in Toulouse 609. So Peter is in Pegg’s book. His mother Helis’s deposition is in another manuscript.(18) So she is not in Pegg’s book. The loss of some complexity in our picture of one family’s involvement with ‘Catharism’ is not in itself very significant, and this is presented only as an illustration of the cordon sanitaire Pegg has placed between Toulouse 609 and other evidence. One useful image in E. H. Carr’s much-mocked What is History? is the notion of a Club of Historical Facts, with historians deciding on entry. With one simple stroke Pegg has excluded from the Club a whole heap of evidence. A detailed description of a ‘Cathar’ Council, bishops, ordinations, contact with Italian Cathars – such as the rare and precious testimony of a letter from a bishop of ‘Cathars’ in Cremona being received by a bishop of ‘Cathars’ in Languedoc: through silence Pegg can keep his readers ignorant of all of this. The other silence is about Toulouse 609 itself. It is a manuscript, in some areas difficult. So very few readers are going to be able both to access and read it. This is an opportunity for the scholar exploiting its contents to keep quiet about parts that contradict what they are saying.
As earlier with Chiu, let us look at an example of the strata, first the evidence, then Pegg, then Moore. First, the evidence in Toulouse 609. Here in translation an example of a confession. ‘Stephen of Rouzégas [and others] … adored the said heretics, each of them individually saying three times for themselves, on bended knees in front of them, ‘Bless’, and adding, ‘Lords, pray God on behalf of this sinner, that he may make me a good Christian and lead me to a good end’ (f. 4v). The degree of complexity in the ritual makes it unsurprising that deponents often recounted how a heretic had ‘taught’ and ‘instructed’ (docere, instruere) them how (quomodo) to perform it, showing (ostendere) them the its exact form (modum) (e.g. 5v, 117v , 124r-v, 175r, etc). The next level is Pegg’s chapter 13, entitled ‘Words and nods’. After describing an adoration, Pegg retails variations on it. He is entirely silent about all the statements that the ritual was taught to people. And then, from p. 94, he packs his sentences more and more with a thesaurus of ‘respect’ words and phrases: giving a ‘respectful nod’, ‘being civil’, showing ‘habitual politeness’, perpetuating ‘an etiquette’, giving ‘a couple of courteous hellos and goodbyes’, ‘civilities’, ‘honors’, ‘mark of respect’, and ‘routine cortesia’. Prose laden with these words, acting on the reader like so many hidden persuaders in advertising, softens up readers for Pegg’s conclusion, that ‘the friar-inquisitors objectified a style of highly contingent politeness into the classifiable form, adoratio, so that it forced people to see their past and future nods and benedictions as much more formulaic than they ever were’. Finally, Moore. The inquisitors in 1246 attached ‘great significance to body language … asking whether people had “adored” the good men. They were looking for evidence of a ritual of which they had read in their scholastic texts, called the melioramentum. … But those who were questioned merely described what they knew as formal but everyday gestures of respect whose exchange was simply a matter of cortezia. … routine good manners’ (p. 261). Moore does not identify the ‘scholastic text’ he says the two inquisitors, Bernard of Caux and John of Saint-Pierre, had been reading, and he is of course silent where Pegg is silent.
What would Moore’s construction look like if he used as his prop when surveying the depositions of 13th-century Languedoc other Anglophone scholars who read this evidence? Two outstanding examples are Malcolm Barber and Claire Taylor. Moore’s silences would now no longer be influenced by Pegg’s, for these are historians who read all the inquisition registers rather than just one, and apply to them scholarship that is scrupulous as well as critical. From the many things that feature in their work that do not feature properly in The War on Heresy I pick out two examples – first of all debates. Moore knows about the large and formal debates between ‘Cathars’, Catholics and Waldensians that are described, for example, in le Vaux-de-Cernay’s Albigensian History. If he followed Taylor into the penances of the inquisitor Peter Sellan, he would enter an extraordinary world of smaller occasions. ‘William of Caveroque… Waldensians came to his workshop … He disputed with Franciscans whether a man should kill’. ‘Bernard Raymond … went to the heretics, wanting to test who were the better, the Waldensians or the heretics … He disputed with someone about the faith of the heretics and the faith of the Waldensians, and he confirmed the faith of the heretics’. ‘William of Breuil saw heretics, heard their preaching and disputed with them about the creation’. ‘The brothers Bernard Durand and Gaubert received three heretics … who stayed in their house for a day and a night, and there was a disputation between them and the priest of the place which lasted virtually the whole day’. ‘Raymond Pellegri … kept the heretics’ book, where anyone who wanted to would read’.(19) The penances are suffused throughout with this sort of detail, from a world where all sorts of people knew theology and argued about it. Theology was the football and disputations the TV of countless ordinary folk in Languedoc. Do we see them as passive recipients of ‘ivory-tower’ theology projected down upon them somehow (it is not clear how) by Parisian academics?
The second example is Montségur. Had Pegg or Moore followed Barber they would have found a fine and very solidly based account of something they sideline and ignore. ‘Cathar’ leaders successfully petitioned Montségur’s co-lords for permission to use it as the headquarters of their Church, and this they did for some years. Evidence survives about their activities there – their bishops, ordinations, preachings and so on – providing a good glimpse of what ‘Catharism’ was like when living under protection. Of course, the fact that Montségur is the object of modern popular fascination is convenient. Point to modern myth-making and you can then ignore the real past existence and character of ‘Catharism’ in Montségur. It is an easy trick to play.
The heart of Formation of a Persecuting Society was a sociological model. But the version provided here – extended chronologically and thematically into the theology of the Paris schools and the inquisition records of Languedoc – has ceased to be in a mutually modifying dialogue with the evidence.
Moore is of course not responsible for the quality of Chiu’s and Pegg’s work, but he is the person who has chosen to rely on them rather than on good scholars. That, of course, is not his view of the field. I outlined earlier Moore’s account of the history of scholarship, and need to turn to this now. To recap, in Moore’s eyes there was an unquestioned and rather narrow canon of texts on heresy and its repression, and scholars were largely uncritical of these documents until the 1990s. A Manichean split has come about now, between those who uphold traditional views, because they are uncritical of documents, and the sophisticated document-critics, whose searching analyses lead to necessarily to deconstruction. The critical force is with Moore.
It is a jaw-dropping claim. To begin with, it leaves out Germany. 1927 was the year of publication of the account of the ‘type’ of the heretic and sect and how this is deployed in the medieval Church’s texts, written by Herbert Grundmann, who went on to produce many more fundamental critical articles, especially on the source-critical problems in depositions.(20) 1953 was the year of publication of Arno Borst’s towering masterpiece, Die Katharer. This is the principal modern account of ‘Cathars’, and its long opening chapter proceeds systematically through the sources. The section sub-titles - i. ‘The chroniclers of the 11th century’, ii. ‘The letter-writers (c. 1140–1160)’, iii. ‘The Critical Polemicists (c.1160–1230)’, etc – all tell their own story. That is, that these sources have their own generic characteristics and concerns, and that therefore they shape things accordingly. Needless to say, Borst’s texts were not drawn from a narrow canon. And 1968 saw the publication by Alexander Patschovsky of the most searching and critical account of an inquisitor’s anthology that we are ever likely to see.(21) These are central, fundamental and famous works. Secondly, there is no equation between being acutely critical of documents and writing them off. A group of five document, orthography and language experts came to Monique Zerner’s conference on the document emanating from the Council held by ‘Cathars’ in Saint-Félix in 1167. They were from the from the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, where people know a thing or two about texts. It was these professionals who pronounced the document authentic.(22) It was left to the non-professionals, the deconstructionist historians, to go on clinging to the their faith that it was a forgery.
Moore’s own approach to documents has a distinct profile. On the one hand he is concerned with the political context of a document and the possibilities that an author is exaggerating or fabricating or that a text is forged, and on the other hand he tends not to be interested in relating the specific genre of a text to its language and shape. So, for example, he is unlikely to analyse a letter in terms of contemporary treatises on letter-writing. In his review of Lucy Sackville’s Heresy and Heretics in the Thirteenth Century: The Textual Representations (23), there was a telling display of irritation at the fact that this brilliant exploration of the distinct genres of texts in the Church – and the ways in which these variously depicted heretics and heresies – did not lead on to straightforward demolition. And Moore’s use of critical commentary is one-directional. It is designed to minimise the existence of a text or its apparent meaning. How do you get round conciliar decrees pointing to heresy in Toulouse? Politics. Gervase of Canterbury mentioning a letter written by the count of Toulouse in 1177, saying that heretics in Toulouse speak of two principles? Ask why another source does not mention it. Drop in a phrase like ‘if authentic’, or in the last resort simply simply assert that a text is a forgery.
Finally, it has been suggested that the deconstructions of the two sects conventionally regarded as the major sects of the high middle ages, ‘Waldensianism’ and ‘Catharism’, are signs of our historiographical times. I confess to having paid too little attention to the differences. The leader in the case of the Waldensians, Grado Merlo, is very interested in textual genres, sees texts as positioned, and tries to take as much into account as possible: there are no obvious silences. The passionate element in his enquiry is investigating historiography – calling everything into question – rather than demolishing. And that is what led him to call for examination of what lay behind the singular construct Valdismo, as also the historiographical positions of all relevant historians. And though he raised deconstruction of singular Valdismo into plural Valdismi, he did not rig the enquiry to predetermine the answers. In fact, at a conference in 2008 he announced a change of mind.(24)
Merlo’s successful demonstration of the specificity of this or that local manifestation of Waldensianism was comparable to the worthwhile element in Pegg’s work, the concrete localism of his depiction of ‘Catharism’. Both share in the wide, complex and varied revolution in the study of the lived Christianity of medieval people that has taken place over the last half century. Scholars have been trying out exciting new approaches and ideas, and an important part of the work is unpacking traditional approaches. Now, when an inspired and intellectually revolutionary scholar tries out this or that mind-game in the study of a parishioner, however destructive they are, there is always a safety-net. No-one is really going to doubt that the stone-built parish church is there, that baptisms are carried out, that lawyers are examining marriage cases and that the pope is raising money. There is no such net for those the Church called heretics. Their own names are hardly used, the Order of the Poor of Lyon and the Church of Good Christians. The ordinary texts of their administration, such as letters or rationes of annual financial accounting, have long been lost. And the Church has destroyed virtually all of their works of high theology and their liturgical books. Those things most likely to help modern minds grasp that they were once real have gone. The medieval Church ensured their death in the middle ages, and now modern deconstructionism goes further, erasing their past reality. I am puzzled about the difference between my hatred of medieval persecution and Moore’s. My hatred does not have to be helped by the notion that whenever an inquisitor ordered someone to be burnt to death his own imagination had conjured up what that person believed. I can see the moral calculus at work, that persecutors who get it wrong are even worse than persecutors that get it right: so add that to their indictment. But the cost is high: denying to men and women in 13th-century Languedoc what they believed in when they chose an agonising death.
- R. I. Moore, The Birth of Popular Heresy (London, 1975); The Origins of European Dissent (London, 1977); and The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950–1250 (Oxford, 1987; 2nd edn, 2007).Back to (1)
- Heresy and the Persecuting Society in the Middle Ages: Essays on the Work of R. I. Moore, ed. M. Frassetto (Leiden and Boston, 2006).Back to (2)
- Moore’s summary in a review, H-France Review, 12, 44 (2012), 1.Back to (3)
- In ‘Text and context’ on the website, and ‘The war among the scholars’, War on Heresy, pp. 332–6.Back to (4)
- A. P. Evans and W. Wakefield, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (New York, NY, 1969).Back to (5)
- Inventer l’hérésie?, ed. Monique Zerner (Nice, 1998).Back to (6)
- U. Brunn, Des contestataires aux ‘Cathares’ (Paris, 2006).Back to (17)
- Hilbert Chiu, The Intellectual Origins of Medieval Dualism (Sydney, 2009).Back to (8)
- Mark Pegg, ‘Questions about questions: Toulouse 609 and the Great Inquisition of 1245–1246’, in Trials and Treatises: Texts on heresy and Inquisition, ed. Peter Biller and Caterina Bruschi (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 111–25.Back to (9)
- With his permission Moore has made use of Chiu’s MA dissertation, ‘The intellectual origins of medieval dualism’ (2009). This has been but is no longer accessible online, and my comments are based on an article emerging from this, ‘Alan of Lille’s Academic Concept of the Manichee’, published in a special number of the Journal of Religious History devoted to Australian studies on Cathars, 35, 4 (2011), 492–506.Back to (11)
- Alexander Nequam, Speculum speculationum, ed. R.M. Thomson (Oxford, 1988), pp. 5, 8. Thomson accurately observes and discusses Nequam’s discussion of contemporary heretics’ views, pp. ix–x.Back to (12)
- Marie-Thérèse d’Alverny, Alain de Lille: Textes inédits (Paris, 1965), p. 159.Back to (13)
- Quellen zur Geschichte der Waldenser, ed. A. Patschovsky and K.-V. Selge (Gütersloh, 1973), p. 40 n. 226.Back to (14)
- Alain de Lille: Textes inédits, pp. 13-14, 16-17, 19 n. 48.Back to (15)
- ‘Alan of Lille’s Academic Concept’, 496 n. 12.Back to (16)
- Mark Pegg, The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245–1246 (Princeton, NJ, and Oxford, 2001), pp. 92-103. Note Pegg’s article, ‘Albigenses in the Antipodes: an Australian and the Cathars’, Journal of Religious History, 35 (2011), 577–600.Back to (17)
- Paris, BnF, Ms Collection Doat 23, f. 162r-180r.Back to (18)
- Ed. J. Duvernoy, L’inquisition en Quercy (Castelnaud La Chapelle, 2001), pp. 84, 96, 146, 182, 222.Back to (19)
- Ausgewählte Aufsätze, part 1 (Stuttgart, 1976), pp. 313–27.Back to (20)
- Alexander Patschovsky, Der Passauer Anonymus (Stuttgart, 1968).Back to (21)
- L’histoire du catharisme en discussion: Le “concile” de Saint-Félix (Nice, 2001), pp. 135-201.Back to (22)
- Lucy Sackville, Heresy and Heretics in the Thirteenth Century: The Textual Representations (Woodbridge, 2011).Back to (23)
- Valdesi medievali, ed. M. Benedetti (Turin, 2009).Back to (24)
<li id="f10>It sounds right’, wrote Diarmaid MacCulloch in the <em>Times Literary Supplement</em> (6 July 2012), 3-4, a ‘case … meticulously as well as boldly argued’, and Ian Forrest has described it as a ‘massive achievement’ in the <em>American Historical Review</em>, 118, 4 (2013), 1137–9, saying of its dismantling of dualist heresy that ‘the way in which it is achieved is exemplary’. A dissenting note comes from Claire Taylor, in her review in <em>Journal of World History</em>, 24, 3, (2013), 681–8.<a data-cke-saved-href=" #t10"="" href="#t10">Back to (10)
To be the subject of so lengthy and complex a review by so distinguished a scholar as Peter Biller is a high compliment in itself, though it is somewhat diminished by the fact that so much of the review is directed to Biller’s disagreements with others, and almost all the rest to a single issue which is incidental (though not unimportant) to the main concern of The War on Heresy. Of course Biller is perfectly entitled to direct his fire where he thinks the defences weakest, but I am sorry that my correctly perceived limitations in respect of the 13th century have been the means of exposing to it two colleagues to whom I am much in debt. Before turning to them, however, a word is necessary about the relationship of my work to earlier scholarship. According to Biller, ‘in Moore’s eyes there was an unquestioned and rather narrow canon of texts on heresy and its repression, and scholars were largely uncritical of these documents until the 1990s’. That ‘the critical force is with Moore’ is, he says, a jaw-dropping claim. And so it would have been, if my ‘claim’ had not been limited specifically to the sources for ‘the emergence and growth of heresy and accusations of heresy in eleventh- and twelfth-century Europe’, if I had not contrasted traditional treatments (including my own) of those texts with that of the registers and writings of the inquisitors ‘which had long been edited in accordance with the highest scholarly standards’, and if I had not made it clear that critical rigour had been lacking in ‘establishing the order and circumstances in which the sources were produced’, as opposed to explication of their contents.(1a) A measure of perversity is required to construe this as a slight on Alexander Patchovsky’s superb study of the Passau Anonymous, an inquisitorial treatise from the 1260s, or for that matter on Biller’s own excellent edition (with Caterina Bruschi and Shelagh Sneddon) of inquisition depositions from the 1270s, which appeared while The War on Heresy was in press.(2a)
Biller implies throughout his review that those who disagree with him habitually set out, rather than undertaking research in a disinterested spirit, to vindicate pre-conceived conclusions by discrediting or suppressing the evidence against them. My ‘use of critical commentary ... is designed to minimise the existence of a text or its apparent meaning’. In The Origins of European Dissent I ‘was concerned to diminish eastern links and to postpone the appearance of the [Cathar] sect, by eroding the evidence regarded by some historians as early sightings of it.’ Mark Pegg also goes in for ‘erosion techniques’ which ‘enable him to keep his readers ignorant’. ‘To minimise the possibility of Alan having had experience of heretics in southern France, Chiu casts doubt on him having lived there’. And so on. The possibility is excluded that conclusions might have been arrived at after the evidence had been weighed and its implications (rightly or wrongly, but honestly) assessed. I do not attribute the omissions on which Biller’s description of my account of earlier scholarship depend to the calculated misrepresentation that he thus appears so routinely to ascribe to others. We are all liable to irritation, but it is well to remember that in this field the passion with which stones are propelled is often commensurate with the number of glasshouses by which it is surrounded on all sides.
Whether my characterisation is fair comment on how even the greatest of German scholars have treated the 11th- and 12th-century texts to which it referred can be very easily judged by anyone who cares to compare Grundmann’s account of the trial at Orléans in 1022, for example, with that of Robert-Henri Bautier, followed in the first chapter of The War on Heresy. Borsts’ is vulnerable in the same way.(3a) His Die Katharer certainly displays a massively comprehensive range of learning. That his towering mastery included the ability to anticipate his conclusions is evident from the outset, when the eccentric Cluniac chronicler Radulfus Glaber (d. 1046) is described as ‘the first writer to attempt a theological refutation of Cathar teaching’.(4a) The legitimacy of such a reading, so plainly arrived at by projecting backwards the assertions of texts written two hundred years later, goes to the very heart of the difference between me and Biller. The War on Heresy concludes that it is in that way, and only in that way, that a case can be sustained that there was in 12th-century Europe an organised and consciously propagated ‘Cathar Church’ or movement of which the heretics said to have been particularly numerous and influential in the lands of the Count of Toulouse were part. I would add, however, that I consider this neither the most important nor the most novel of my conclusions. Biller is not the first reviewer to write as though it were, but he is, I think, the first to ignore all the others.
Like Borst, Biller takes his standpoint in the 13th century. His observation that I have not given enough thought to the methodological implications of the great contrast in sheer bulk between the sparseness of the 11th- and 12th-century sources and the volume and variety for those of the 13th, including the inquisitorial registers, is a fair one. His depiction of my manner of dealing with it puts me in mind of the Irish comedian Dave Allen’s story of a man who attended a papal audience after breaking both legs in a motoring accident. ‘“Michael”, says His Holiness, “Michael, throw away your left crutch! Now, throw away your right crutch! And now Michael, stand up and walk!” “And did he stand up and walk?” “Ah no. No, he can’t walk without his crutches”’. Hilbert Chiu’s Master’s thesis is a remarkably perceptive and accomplished piece of work which when it achieves full and published form will require no defence from me. It concludes that the goals and structure of a series of treatises which have been routinely cited as responding to and containing evidence of ‘real’ heresy, often arbitrarily and without the regard for their form and context on whose importance Biller so rightly insists, were shaped by the needs and purposes of the classroom rather than the impulses of instant rapportage. This seems to me both new and important. In embracing it I did not mean to imply that Chiu, in the restricted time and scope of a graduate dissertation, had had the opportunity to consider every dimension of his materials exhaustively, or had claimed to do so. If I left that impression I owe him a substantial apology. However, I did not accept and cite his argument merely because it suited my case. It fitted with and even in some degree followed from, my own conclusions (in chapters of The War on Heresy about which Biller is silent) and those of others about the role of scholars in heresy accusations in the 11th and early 12th centuries, and of their methods and outlook in shaping the perception and description of heretical teaching, including (for example) those of Peter the Venerable and Eckbert of Schönau.
If I have erred in taking Mark Pegg’s The Corruption of Angels as a highly original and singularly illuminating analysis of the memories of the people who lived between the Rhone and Garonne rivers in the second quarter of the 13th century and their attitudes towards the heretici who lived and hid among them (and I do not think I have) the fault is mine, not Pegg’s. His book is explicitly presented and framed as a study of the inquisition of 1245–6 into heresy in the Lauragais, the largest undertaken anywhere in the entire period. The perceptivenes and subtlety of his insights is largely due to the intensity and specificity of his focus. I am not persuaded that they are invalidated by what that entirely legitimate specificity excludes, and certainly not by the examples that Biller offers here. He is indignant that Pegg ‘is entirely silent about all the statements that the ritual was taught to people’, though he has said that Pegg describes in detail the ritual in question and variations on it, and that ‘the degree of complexity in the ritual makes it unsurprising that deponents often recounted how a heretic had “taught” and “instructed” (docere, instruere) them how (quomodo) to perform it’. The point would indeed be a damaging one if Pegg had maintained, as some of his critics seem to imagine, that since these Christians were neither ‘Catholics’ nor ‘Cathars’ they must have had no religious life or ritual at all. In fact, as Biller implicitly acknowledges, Pegg’s argument is the very opposite – that they had elaborate, highly structured and punctiliously observed – and therefore learned and taught – codes of behaviour and ritual, which outsiders interpreted in terms of their own categories, and misunderstood in consequence. If I did not make that clear an apology is due to Pegg for my failure to do so, as well as for having exposed his book to misapprehension both of its goal and its method: neither Pegg nor I pretended to ‘survey the depositions of thirteenth-century Languedoc’.
I am not disposed to abandon my ‘crutches’, but I occasionally had to venture a step or two without them. There is a good deal in the final chapters to which these observations mainly relate on the pursuit of heresy in parts of Europe other than the Languedoc, on the demonisation of heretics, on the formation of collective memory among and between heretics and inquisitors, on the political and social crises in which all that was framed, where I would greatly have valued Biller’s judgement, for he is far better informed about them than I am. But even on the ground he has chosen his recommendations, excellent as they are, would not have enabled me to walk his approved path. Citing Malcolm Barber on the development of Montségur as a ‘Cathar’ headquarters Biller very prudently uses inverted commas. Barber did not. His account of noble involvement with and support for the ‘heretics’ (as they were almost always called by Catholics in the region, including inquisitors, and as they occasionally called themselves) is indeed very fine, but as I complained in my review (as it happens, before I knew either Pegg or his still unpublished book), by calling them Cathars and speaking routinely of the Cathar Church Barber begged the essential question.(5a) Hence in The War on Heresy I wrote that ‘Raymond de Perelha, lord of Montségur, testified after its fall in 1244 that Guilhabert of Castres (whom he described as “the bishop” of the heretics, and who had indeed been a leading figure among them since the great public debates before the crusade) had carried out ordinations there and consecrated two others as bishops “fifteen or more years ago”’.(6a) This is my only substantive reference to Montségur, in full. ‘Point to modern myth-making’ says Biller, ‘and you can then ignore the real past existence and character of ‘Catharism’ in Montségur. It is an easy trick to play’. No doubt, but it is not one played be me. Beyond that, quite what Pegg and I have ‘sidelined and ignored’ is unclear, since neither of us has suggested for a moment that heresy did not run in families, enjoy noble patronage, or organise in the face of persecution during and especially after the Albigensian crusade.
Claire Taylor presents me with the same difficulty. Far from quarrelling with, still less wishing to suppress, her fine descriptions of the growth and spread of heresy in the Agenais and Quercy, my reservation is that her insistence on calling the heretics 'Cathars', thereby attributing their presence to external contamination and their inspiration to dualist theology, adds nothing to her vivid depiction of the tensions, divisions and debates that accompanied it. Her attempts to justify that outmoded and superfluous epithet with strained interpretation and tortuous logic merely distract from the force and persuasiveness of an account whose great strength lies precisely in the lively circumstantial detail that Biller quotes. But his rhetoric misleads. ‘Do we see them [‘countless ordinary people’ described by Taylor] as passive recipients of “ivory-tower” theology projected down upon them somehow (it is not clear how) by Parisian academics?’ he asks. Of course not, any more than we see them as the passive recipients of an amalgam of ancient Manicheeism and Balkan folklore projected down upon them somehow (it is a lot less clear how) by emissaries from Constantinople. But my argument is not that Parisian academics made the followers of Quercinois heretici believe in two gods. It is that the academics helped to create a world picture which caused others to think they did – the others here being Catholic visitors to the region, including papal legates and, later, Dominican inquisitors. And perhaps including Alan of Lille, himself a Parisian academic, for Biller is right that I did not know d’Alverny’s work, and dismissed too lightly the possibility that Alan knew the region at first hand. Whether Alan interpreted what he saw correctly, if he saw it, is another question.
The War on Heresy, as its title suggests, is not about heresy. What ‘heretics’ believed is therefore less germane to its purpose than what those who conducted the war thought they believed. It is not necessary to contemplate very many of the wars that have been launched or conducted even partly on an ideological basis to observe that the two are not always the same. My purpose might not be altogether clear to anyone who relied on Biller’s review rather than the introductory matter and Prologue of the book itself. There it is quite carefully set out that after about 1200 Europeans acquired the habit of burning one another alive in large numbers, that this represented a clear, enduring and (in my view) rather important change in their behaviour, and that it was closely though not exclusively associated with changes in their attitudes to and treatment of people who were accused of knowingly rejecting the teaching of the Church. This is what I have sought to explain. My book is therefore first and foremost about change over time – from around the beginning of the 11th to around the middle of the 13th century. I see its beginnings in the social and political transformation of Europe that becomes visible with the millennium, and suggest that it was firmly established, its ideology pretty much complete and its weaponry in place, by the early 1230s. The last two chapters, upon parts of which Biller’s attention is heavily concentrated, are designed to show in action the consequences of the changes traced through the previous 16. That does not, of course, excuse their delinquencies, but it helps to account for the differences between Biller’s perspective and mine. Biller is a master of the great body of inquisitorial registers and treatises which from the 1240s onwards describe confidently and in voluminous detail the dualist theology of a relatively small number of committed (‘perfected’) heretics, its numerous variations and ritual expression, the sects among which they were divided in consequence, and the organisation through which they endeavoured to sustain their faith and followers. Their success was rather mixed as to the theology it appears, though many of them won admiration for their austerity and humility of demeanour. The interest of these authors in how this state of affairs had come about was rather perfunctory, and in historical change as we understand it almost nil. They tended to assume, naturally enough, that the heresy itself had existed for a very long time and was carried from one place to another by the agents whom it was their urgent concern to identify and convert, or in the last resort eliminate.
That presumption was accepted by almost all historians until about 70 years ago. Hence the tradition, developed to the highest pitch of erudition by Borst and most familiar in English through Runciman and Lambert, of interpreting almost every accusation from 1022 (or more recently 1143) onwards as a sighting of this heresy and its missionaries, or at least of their work. The scepticism which Biller identifies as my contribution to this subject was directed from the beginning not merely against uncritical reading of texts – who is in favour of that? – but against the habit of misreading them in this particular way, through hindsight.(7a) The War on Heresy therefore examines both the incidents themselves and how successive reports of them were elaborated by writers increasingly inclined to lump them together as manifestations of a single menace, in order to trace, as one sympathetic reader put it, ‘how the story became a story’.(8a) It concluded that most of the accepted evidence for theological dualism before the Albigensian crusade, and virtually all of it for an organised movement, reflected anxieties and preconceptions of that kind, usually in good faith but sometimes deliberately fabricated either for some immediate ulterior purpose or as part of the ideological groundwork for the crusade itself. Again Biller’s rhetoric distorts. I did not ‘simply assert’ that Gervase of Canterbury’s text of the letter of Raymond of Toulouse was a forgery, but commented that if the letter was authentic and unedited then lack of corroboration where there was good reason to expect it is surprising.(9a) This is in a chapter which distinguishes carefully between the accusations which were actually made against suspected heretics in and around Toulouse by a papal legate and rumours about them reported as such by the same source. Others have shown that by the time Gervase was writing, a decade or so later, such rumours were being elaborated and collected to demonstrate the existence of organised dualism in the region, but perhaps I should have added, for the lay readership I hope to reach, that though this activity was particularly associated with Cistercian circles Gervase was not a Cistercian.
Alan of Lille, on the other hand, was, though probably not until after his possible sojourn at Montpellier and after he asserted that heretics in his time believed in two principles. He does not, however, say that they were organised as a counter-church. Pegg argued that the heretics, or Good Men, of that region had developed such institutions only after the Crusade, and especially in response to the intensification of persecution after the Council of Paris in 1229. I agreed with him, and reached similar conclusions about those who were called Cathars in Lombardy and Tuscany (unlike the Languedoc). This is the context of the argument about the document which describes itself as a copy made in 1232 of the record of a meeting at St Félix de Caraman in 1167. It appears to describe a heretic from Constantinople presiding over arrangements for a territorial definition of Cathar dioceses corresponding to the Catholic ones, and the appointment of bishops for them. That it survives only in a transcription by the 17th-century antiquary Guillaume Besse, who said he got it from a canon of Toulouse who had since died, has given rise to the suspicion that Besse (who had a track record in such things) had made it up. As Biller says, the study initiated by Monique Zerner and reported to her conference laid that suspicion to rest. It is a 13th-century text, which I accepted as such in The War on Heresy, on the basis of Bernard Hamilton’s reasoning of nearly 40 years ago.(10a) Where I disagree with Hamilton is whether a document written in 1232 or shortly before, in circumstances which remain conjectural, can be considered a reliable record of an otherwise wholly uncorroborated meeting it alleges to have taken place in 1167. If my description of it as ‘a forgery, whether by Besse or of the 1220s’ is over-simple so is Biller’s ‘authentic’. As the rock upon which the pre-crusade ‘Cathar church’ is founded it remains brittle, if not phantasmagoric.
It would be disingenuous to deny that this exchange has involved, on both sides, differences as to what is required by scholarly propriety as well as by historical judgement. That should not be attributed to personal animus. There is none – I am sure I can say on either part, even though Biller comes close to charging me not merely with intellectual error, but with rank incompetence and outright dishonesty. I do not doubt that he has tried and failed to find more creditable explanations of what he takes to be my mistakes, just as I have failed to avoid altogether a response in kind. We are not alone. The acrimony which has always attended disagreement on this subject has been spectacularly revived since the publication of Inventer l’hérésie? in 1998 and The Corruption of Angels in 2001.(11a) It reached a nadir, I hope, at a conference in 2003 in honour of Jean Duvernoy, a leading proponent of the traditional view, when the methods of the revisionists were identified with those of the notorious holocaust deniers Paul Rassinier and Robert Faurisson, and characterised as négationnisme – in France, of course, not just an historical error, but a criminal offence.(12a) That reflects cultural fissures deeper and darker than Anglophone scholarship has to cope with, but it is echoed in the regular description as ‘deconstructionism’, exemplified by Biller above, of the position adopted by Pegg, me and others, and the persistent misrepresentation of our conclusions which seems to arise from it. We do not ‘deny to men and women in 13th-century Languedoc what they believed in when they chose an agonising death’. We try to get what they believed in right. I began The War on Heresy in the conviction that ‘to deny the myths is not to deny the victims themselves or their dreadful fate’ and concluded it with the reflection that while it is often impossible to discern the theological underpinning of their faith ‘that is not a reason to accept at face value the construction put upon it by their enemies’ (13a), or, I might have added, to ignore the circumstances in which accusations were brought against them. This is not the ‘deconstruction’ associated, often no doubt unconsciously, with post-modernism, mostly perceived on this side of the Atlantic as just one more intellectual posture of the kind that suggests to Auden’s historian-in-the-street ‘a man who’s untrue to his wife’ (14a), but on the other is still evocative of the toxic ‘culture wars’ of the 1980s and 1990s. It is the old-fashioned positivism of the 19th-century historical movement, desirous with Ranke of freeing the sources from the accumulated distortions of centuries of tradition and, in the words of J. B. Bury, ‘stripping the bandages of error from the eyes of men … by remembering always that (history) is herself a science, no less and no more’.(15a) It would take a sharper eye than mine to detect what lurks at the bottom of the abyss across which Biller and I find ourselves confronting one another, but I am grateful to him for the frankness, and the vigour, with which he has opened this debate. I hope it will continue. Meanwhile it will do neither of us any harm to have been reminded that history is dangerous stuff.
- The War on Heresy, pp. 333–5. The matter is further spelled out in R. I. Moore, ‘Texts and contexts’ <http://www.rimoore.net/Papers.html> [accessed 3 February 2014], which Biller cites above, and R. I. Moore, ‘The Cathar Middle Ages as an historiographical problem’, Christianity and Culture in the Middle Ages:Essays to Honor John Van Engen, ed. in David Mengel and Lisa Wolverton, forthcoming from the University of Notre Dame Press, of which a draft was circulated to a conference at UCL in April 2013, in which Biller was a leading participant.Back to (1a)
- Inquisitors and Heretics in Thirteenth-Century Languedoc: Edition and Translation of Toulouse Inquisition Depositions, 1273–1282, ed. Peter Biller, Caterina Bruschi , and Shelagh Sneddon (Leiden, 2011).Back to (2a)
- Herbert Grundmann, Religiöse Bewegungen im Mittelalter (Darmstadt, 1961), pp. 476–83, trans. Steven Rowan, Religious Movements of the High Middle Ages (Notre Dame, 1995), pp. 203–5, 400–3; Arno Borst, Die Katharer (Stuttgart, 1953), pp. 74–6 and thereafter as indexed; R. H.Bautier, 'L'hérésie d'Orléans et le mouvement intellectuel au début du XIe. siècle', in Actes du 95e. Congrès national des sociétés savantes (Reims, 1970), Section Philologique et Historique (Paris, 1975); War on Heresy, pp. 13–31.Back to (3a)
- Arno Borst, Die Katharer (Stuttgart 1953), pp. 1–2.Back to (4a)
- Malcolm Barber, The Cathars: Dualist Heresy in the Languedoc in the High Middle Ages (London, 2000), reviewed in Times Literary Supplement, 9 February 2001, 10–11. My complaint that Barber ‘begs every question worth asking’ was, however, negated by an over-zealous sub-editor who substituted ‘prompts’ for ‘begs’.Back to (5a)
- War on Heresy, p. 289.Back to (6a)
- See R. I. Moore, ‘Afterthoughts on The Origins of European Dissent’, in Heresy and Persecution in the Middle Age. Essays on the Work of R. I. Moore, d. Michael Frassetto (Leiden, 2006), pp. 292–3.Back to (7a)
- René Weis, in a pre-publication report.Back to (8a)
- War, p. 199.Back to (9a)
- Bernard Hamilton, ‘The Cathar Council of St. Félix reconsidered’, Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 48 (1978), 23–53, reprinted in idem., Monastic Reform, Catharism and the Crusades (London, 1979). On the current state of play in this matter see L’histoire du Catharisme en discussion: Le ‘concile’ de St. Félix (1167), ed. Monique Zerner (Nice, 2001), pp. 249–52; Monique Zerner ‘Mise au point sur les cathares devant l’Histoire et retour sur L’histoire du catharisme en discussion : le débat sur la charte de Niquinta n’est pas clos’, Journal des savants, 2 (2006), 253–76.Back to (10a)
- It should be added that Biller’s review of The Corruption of Angels (Speculum, 78 (2003), 1366–70) was an honourable exception: it concludes ‘Does beauty need a flaw? Certainly what I would prefer to underline is not the flaw [the argument against ‘Catharism’] but the outstanding achievement of this remarkable book’.Back to (11a)
- Les cathares devant l’histoire. Mélanges offerts à Jean Duvernoy, ed. Martin Aurell (Cahors, 2005), pp. 86–7 etc.Back to (12a)
- War on Heresy, pp. 10, 326.Back to (13a)
- To the man-in-the-street who, I’m sorry to say, / Is a keen observer of life, / The word intellectual suggests straight away / A man who’s untrue to his wife. Shorter Poems..Back to (14a)
- J. B. Bury, ‘The science of history’, Cambridge inaugural lecture, 1902.Back to (15a)