O Heretic, Where Art Thou? Reconsidering Heresy in the South of France before the Albigensian Crusade

Thursday, January 5, 2012: 4:00 PM
McHenry Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Walker Reid Cosgrove, Saint Louis University
There has been much debate about the nature and origins of twelfth-century heresy in the lands between the Garonne and Rhone Rivers.  Some have argued for the existence of a full-blown dualist, Cathar Church that stood in opposition to the Catholic Church, while others have questioned the very existence of heresy in the region.  This paper attempts to reconsider the question of heresy in southern France, especially leading up to its great battle with orthodoxy in the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229). Over forty years ago Jeffrey Burton Russell tried to refocus the debate about medieval heresy by highlighting the importance of the material world; however, his endeavor has largely been ignored in the historiography.  While not completely eschewing doctrine, this paper takes seriously Russell’s call, and highlights the role of daily practice in shaping communities in southern France.  A close reading of inquisitorial records from the 1230s and 1240s reveals how daily life created a complex reality in the region before the Albigensian Crusade, which was unlike the world that came into existence in the crucible of the crusade.  This paper reveals the weaknesses of this dominant historiography, which oversimplifies religious conflict in the medieval era through the place of prominence it gives to doctrine without consideration of other factors, and thus conflates the two eras divided by the crusade without recognizing their stark differences and complexities.  This historiography defines its subjects as thinking or rational animals, creating a paradigm that clouds the reality in twelfth-century southern France.  This paper, however, calls for a paradigm shift, emphasizing the need to see communities as shaped by practice, which in turn tells a different story about the conflict in southern France.