h i s t o r y the European zeitgeist: by 1200, the scapegoating of all manner of outsiders, from heretics to Jews and from lepers to prostitutes, ensured what Moore proclaimed to be ‘The Formation of a Persecuting Society’. By means of the persecution of minorities, the majority could unite in obedience to new hegemonic masters: kings, archbishops and popes. Behind all of this, even wider themes could be detected. The theories of Marx (on the emergence of a new monied economy, and with it new class struggles), Durkheim (on collective consciousness), and Michel Foucault (on power and repression), were never far distant from what was fast developing into a scholarly sub-discipline: Heresy Studies.
Moore now attempts to synthesise all these themes into a single narrative. Yet there is a major problem here. One of the greatest unsung scholarly achievements of the 1980s and 1990s was the teasing out by Bernard Hamilton, a professor at the University of Nottingham, of the connections between the Cathars of southern France and other dualist sects, the Bogomils and Paulicians. These had persisted in the Balkans and Armenia in the centuries that divided the early Manichees from their successors in twelfth-century Languedoc. Moore, convinced that the dualists of Languedoc owed little to eastern influence but a great deal to native questioning of Catholic doctrine, adopts a position diametrically opposed to Hamilton. Far from allowing that the Cathars were eastern-influenced dualists, Moore is tempted to deny their very existence. The Cathar threat, he argues, was a figment of the ecclesiastical imagination, at best the grouping together of a rich variety of local beliefs under a single misleading label, at worst a deliberate perversion of the truth, equivalent to the paranoid fictions that led, from the thirteenth century onwards, to belief in an organised conspiracy of witches pledged to serve the Devil.
Here Moore acknowledges his debt to the writings of Mark Pegg, who since 2001 has been arguing that ‘Catharism’ was little more than a construct of its persecutors. To suggest that the inquisitors were too categorical in their definitions of Catharism, and to compare the Cathars to witches and other victims of mass delusion – Jews in the twentieth century, Christians under the
Romans – are, for Moore and Pegg, entirely legitimate exercises. Yet we have no texts in which witches genuinely invite one another to copulate with the Devil, or in which Jews really do conspire in child murder or plot world domination. The Cathars, by contrast, have bequeathed a rich textual legacy.
Moore gives the impression that all contemporary reports of their beliefs were produced by Catholic polemicists and are of their essence unreliable. Yet we possess a number of Cathar writings – The Book of the Two Principles, The Gospel of the Secret Supper, even a vernacular Bible – that seem to have been composed by heretics and that reveal precisely the sort of eastern dualist influences that Pegg and now Moore wish to deny. Either these texts are Catholic forgeries, which would imply a degree of dastardliness worthy of Dan Brown, or we must allow that by the 1250s dualism was a real position adopted by real heretics. If so, it strains credulity to argue that dualism was not already present in southern France a century earlier, when its critics first sounded the alarm. If it had not already existed, why would it have been adopted later, after the outbreak of the Albigensian Crusade, in deliberate and perverse opposition to one of the most brutal repressions experienced since the Roman imperial persecution of Christianity? Indeed, the Roman persecution supplies some useful parallels. It undoubtedly sharpened Christianity’s group identity and helped redefine doctrinal positions. Yet who would sensibly suggest that there were no Christians or Christian teachings before Nero or Julian? This seems to be precisely what Pegg and Moore are prepared to argue in the case of the Cathars.
R I Moore has written an elegant and intelligent book. At its heart, however, lurks a conspiracy theory as improbable as any that motivated the crusaders against Toulouse. Not all opinions expressed by minorities are correct. Nor are all majorities necessarily driven by fear into violent or paranoid delusion. The dualists of Languedoc really did exist. They were brutally suppressed, and their tragedy still has much to teach us about mankind. The War on Heresy is an important though troubling contribution to that lesson. To order this book for £20, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 47
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