Perhaps no Christian sect has been the subject of more foolish misapprehension than the Albigenses, and this on all sides, but more especially on the part of writers who represent the borderland of mystic thought. Against the iniquity of Albigensian persecution in the past, we have later the folly, not unmixed with dishonesty, of the Protestant apologists; but worse perhaps than the rest is that folly which has attempted to connect the sect and its exponents in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries with the literature of the Holy Graal. The initial impulse in this direction is found in speculations, criticisms and modes of interpretation with which France made us familiar about the middle of the nineteenth century, and this leading has been followed by a few writers in England who scarcely know their subject, and offer reflections of opinion which has risen up in obscure and unaccepted places. For the purpose of this investigation I care nothing whether the Albigenses were pure Christians, as pure Christianity is understood according to sectarian canons, or whether they were Manichæans. The all-important question is the light under which they presented Eucharistic doctrine, and from this standpoint it is certain that they could have had no connection with the development of the Graal cycle. If they were Manichæans, they had a voided and tinkered Eucharist, from which nothing follows in connection with that mystery. If, on the other hand, they were the Protestants of their period, they would as such deny most of the sacraments, and in respect of doctrine, at least, they would have tampered doubtless with the Eucharist. Setting aside for a moment some
[paragraph continues] French speculations which have nothing to tell us regarding Albigensian teachings, and deal only, as we shall see later, with a particular construction of a great body of romantic literature, it may be said--and is necessary to note in order to clear the issues--that the Protestant standpoint in all matters of this kind has been naturally one of opposition to the Latin Church, and to the Church theory that the Albigensians, including the Paulicians, who were their predecessors, were Manichæans, while the connected sect of Waldenses, or disciples of Peter Valdo, were originally Donatists. With these questions in themselves we have no concern, nor yet with the old egregious contention that there was a line of succession in perpetuity from Apostolic times through the Waldensians. There is no reason to suppose that the hypothesis was true, and it matters little if it was. I place in the same category one not less preposterous supposition--that the Vaudois had been located in the Cottian Alps since the times of the Apostles, and that their system had never varied from the tenets and practices of primitive Christianity. It is not of necessity a seal or mark of favour if these facts are undoubted; actually, they are questionable enough, like the apologetical pièce de résistance which accounts for the smallness of the Vaudois community by inferring from the Apocalypse that the Church during a certain disastrous period would be reduced within very narrow limits, and that for this reason--among reasons not less logical--Vaudois, Waldenses and Albigenses constituted during such period the sole and truly Catholic Church. If majorities are usually in the wrong, it is not less true that some minorities are foolish and wild in their notions, as expressed by those who are their mouthpiece. Another contention connects the so-called Waldensian Church with the Church Primitive through the Albigenses, and if the last sect had really the Paulicians for their ancestors they date back to a considerable antiquity, while, as regards distribution, it is said that the earlier
heresy had its conventicles established all the way from Thrace to Gascony. They came from the East originally, or this is their legend, but their traces have disappeared, supposing that the story is true outside the imagination of apologists. However this may be, the Paulicians, so far as history is concerned, arose in Armenia, where they were founded by one Constantine about the middle of the seventh century. They were mixed up with the Milesians, who made common cause with Constantine, but they were proscribed by the Emperors of Byzantium and the heretic was himself put to death. The same Paulicians have been identified with the Cathari, and these are said to have been in union with the Waldenses, whose first stronghold was among the Alpine valleys of Piedmont. On the other hand, the Paterins, whose chain of dissemination is affirmed to have extended from Bulgaria through Lombardy to the Atlantic, have been represented as a variety of the Albigensian sect, if not identical therewith. These views constitute a cloud upon the dubious sanctuary, in respect of its origin. Other accounts say that they appeared in Italy during the first years of the eleventh century, with which may be compared the counter-suggestion that their most probable founder was Peter of Lyons more than a hundred years later. Persecution may well have joined distinct elements of sect till they became merged in one another; it caused them also to move, like the Graal, westward, and thus they entered Southern France, where those who had pre-existed under more than one name received the title of Albigenses--as it is thought, from their headquarters at Albi. Here also they fell under proscription, and because at that period men believed--and never more strongly--that they were doing God's work by annihilating those who worshipped Him under another code of doctrine, we learn of St. Dominic fighting the heresy with other weapons than the Sword of the Spirit--in the belief that there also might be either the Word of God, or its convenient
substitute. This was under Innocent III., who proclaimed the first crusade against the Albigenses, its leader being Simon, Count of Montfort. The crusade began about 1213, and Folquet--the troubadour Bishop of Marseilles--was one of its most violent partisans. It was in the course of this villainous business that the Castle of Montseques--or Mont Ségur--which a few zealous, indiscriminating minds have sought to identify with Mont Salvatch--was stormed and burnt with many of the Perfect Brethren, including the Lady Esclairmonde. So do official churches illustrate their construction of the mystic paradox concerning the Prince of Peace, who came with a sword. That the gates of hell do not prevail against the true Church seems without prejudice to the counter-fact that there are times and seasons when perdition itself rises up, as one might say, in the external sanctuary itself, and God knows that if ever there was a period when the mystery of all iniquity came from the deeps in its power, the time was the thirteenth century, and the places were Provence and Languedoc.
If we set aside every thesis of apologists, it is possible to obtain from documents a certain first-hand impression concerning Albigensian beliefs. On the basis of their own confessions they denied Manichæan connections and principles, claiming to follow primitive Christian teaching as they constructed it from the New Testament or certain parts thereof, since it does not appear that they accepted all the epistles. It is possible, however, that their real views were concealed even in their confessions, and though to us the question does not signify in either alternative, it is out of this view that the counter-hypothesis arises, which is that of the accusing voice testifying in the church that destroyed them. A Dominican missionary and inquisitor, who recounted, in a poem which has survived, his controversy with an Albigensian theologian, accuses the sect (1) of denying baptism and regarding Satan as the creator of this world;
[paragraph continues] (2) of rejecting confession and teaching that those who had sons and daughters were outside the pale of salvation; (3) of claiming inspiration from the Holy Spirit and making a traffic therein amongst its disciples; (4) of denying the resurrection and affirming that the souls of the redeemed would assume a new body, having a certain resemblance to the old and yet differing therefrom; and in fine (5) of maintaining that the souls of men are those of lost angels--the difficulty about this, in the mind of the Dominican, being apparently that we have no recollection of our past. The importance of this text is that although it embodies accusations included in the proscription of the sect it may also have reflected current fluidic opinions in orthodox circles at the period. Other accusations affirm (a) that the Baptism which was recognised by the Albigenses was that of Fire or of the Spirit, recalling the mysterious office of the Paraclete which is often a subject of reference in the Graal literature; (b) that the wandering preachers of the sect distributed nourishment for the body as well as the Bread of Angels--here recalling the twofold ministry of the Graal; (c) that they rejected the books of Moses; (d) that they regarded this sublunary world as the only hell; (e) that their subsurface working was that of a new and secret priesthood which was to dispossess and succeed the papal hierarchy, as if here also there was a special succession from the apostles having kinship with the super-apostolical succession of the Graal priesthood.
Such fantastic analogies notwithstanding, it is clear that the sects of Southern France--as presented by either hypothesis--offer nothing to our purpose. From eclectic Gnosticism, which took over from Christianity that which coincided with its purpose, to Vaudois and Lollards, there is not one which sought to develop or exalt the sacramental teaching of the ancient Church. I know that, on the authority of Origen, the Marcionites taught the communication to the soul of man of a
[paragraph continues] Divine and Sanctifying Spirit added by the Redeemer, Who imparted it in the Eucharist, and if this meant the descent of the Paraclete, the perpetuation of such a doctrine might help us to understand why the Voice of the Graal was that of the Holy Ghost and yet in some mysterious way was that also of Christ. But of such perpetuation there is no trace whatever. As regards the Albigenses, it is certain historically that they denied transubstantiation, though they accepted some qualified sacramental teaching concerning the Lord's Supper, which they commemorated in the woods and forests on a cloth spread upon the ground. It is worse than idle to suppose that they had any connection with the Graal cycle, and this would remain substantially true if, by a wild supposition, we elected to suppose that Guiot, with his Provençal connections, was a member of their sect, and--going still further--if we suggested that his poem conveyed, after some hidden manner, a part of Albigensian teaching. That it did nothing of the kind is clear on the evidence of Wolfram. The poem is lost, or at least withdrawn for a period, like the Graal itself, and though we cannot speak certainly on most matters which concern it, on this one matter there does not seem room for doubt.
For the rest, the Albigenses were a sect without a literature, except in so far as that of the Troubadours at the period may have been--and this is likely enough--an occasional spokesman among them. Contemporary chroniclers estimated that all the principal minstrels, except two, were on the side of the sect; these exceptions were Izarn and Fulke. The conquest of Toulouse extinguished the literature and even the language of Southern France, as also its chivalry.
I should now be justified in regarding the whole matter as determined in the negative sense, but a word must be said to dispose of that other claim to which I adverted at the beginning. It took, as I have hinted, all chivalrous romance for its province, and it claimed to
have demonstrated that a vast European literature had been written by Albigenses for the edification of Albigenses and to put forth in a veiled manner Albigensian doctrine. There are certain precursors who do not prepare the way, but they open up issues which end either in a cul de sac or take the seeker through by-paths which can be followed interminably without leading to a true goal. The author of this demonstration was E. Aroux, who published in 1858 the Mysteries of Chivalry and of Platonic Love in the Middle Ages. Its inspiration in chief was derived from Gabriele Rossetti and particularly from the Antipapal Spirit which preceded the Reformation. Both works have exercised an influence on certain schools of occult thought in England; but Rossetti does not speak of the Graal, and hence there is no call that here I should speak of him. The monument of M. Aroux was preceded by other of his works designed to show that Dante was (a) heretical, revolutionary and socialistic; (b) connected with an alleged fusion between the Albigenses, Templars and Ghibellines for the creation of Freemasonry; (c) himself so far implicated in Freemasonry that the Divine Comedy is really Masonic in its purpose. In further support of these views Aroux had translated the whole Commedia into literal French verse and had commented on it "according to the spirit." Finally, he had instituted comparisons between Dante and the writers of the Graal cycle. It thus came about that the products of this cycle were included by his general ingarnering, but he shows little familiarity with his subject, and he wrote at a period when the literature was still practically unprinted. He affirms, absurdly enough, that the Holy Graal was a mysterious association and that the mission of its initiates was "to recover the vessel of truth with luminous characters wherein was received the Precious Blood of the Saviour." According to his peculiar canon of criticism this signified the design of " leading back the Christian Church to
apostolic times and the faithful observation of the Gospel precepts." M. Aroux wrote as a defender of the Roman Church, and, after all that has been said and done upon the whole subject, it has not occurred to any one--perhaps least of all to him--that the true mission of the Church may have been to get away from apostolic times and to put aside, like St. Paul, in its maturity the things which belong to the child. For the rest, M. Aroux confused in a grotesque manner the Graal knights with those of the Round Table, and appeared to suppose that the Parsifal and Titurel are representative of the entire literature.
As regards chivalry, his thesis can be stated shortly: The actual, historical, feudal chivalry was an institution more or less savage, and the chivalry set forth in the romances had no existence on earth. This is equivalent to saying that the heroes and heroines of Mrs. Radcliffe, the modes and manners which she depicts, the spirit which characterises her episodes, perhaps even the scenes which she describes so graphically at hearsay, are never found in real life, though sentimentalism is always sentimentalism, mountains are always mountains, and as regards the Pyrenees in particular they are situated indubitably between France and Spain. The thing goes without saying in each case, for the romance, one would say, is--well, precisely a romance. But on the basis of this transparent fact, M. Aroux builds his theory that the books of chivalry were the corpus doctrinale and literary body-politic of the Protestantism of its period, reduced to this resource because of the intolerant powers that were. And this is just what appears to be so highly ridiculous, not because a literature cannot have concealed motives, or that of the Graal among them, but because it could be shown in a still more conclusive manner that the Confessional of the Black Penitents was the final rescript of the followers of Manes. And this seems to be intolerable.
Speaking generally as to the canon of criticism, it is
in all respects like that of the late Mrs. Henry Pott in the Bacon and Shakespeare controversy: he, as she, proves far too much for his own credit. If the canons of Mrs. Pott demonstrate that Bacon was the concealed author of the disputed plays, then the same canons show that he must have written the works of Marlowe, Massinger, Ford, and nearly all Elizabethan literature. In the same way, the evidences adduced by M. Aroux are either insufficient to prove his point, or alternatively a similar scheme has given us the Nights of Straparola, the Nibelungen Sagas, the Romance of the Rose, and the entire literature of the Troubadours, to say nothing of the Welsh Mabinogion, Reynard the Fox, and things innumerable of the German Minnesingers. This is indeed the express thesis of M. Aroux, and the only reason that he omitted the Latin literature of alchemy is because he had not come across it. There is no need to outline the nature of his evidences, but, to speak generally concerning it, the same canons might be applied with the same success to Mrs. Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest and to the Mysteries of Udolpho. The principle, in other words, repeats itself.
I should not have dealt with these fantastic matters except for the interest which they once raised in schools which draw from my own and because in the last resource they are an attempt, after their own manner, to show the hand of supposed secret schools in the development of the Graal literature. I now conclude as follows: (a) That the chivalry of all the romances was an ideal conception, corresponding as much and as little to the subject-matter of any other cycle of romance; and (b) that the historical chivalry of the period corresponded to the idea which we obtain of the period by reading old chronicles, like those of Froissart. For the rest, M. Aroux's canon of interpretation is simple exceedingly: (a) any heroine of the romances signifies the Albigensian pseudo-church; (b) any hero signifies one of its apostles or teachers; (c) the enemies of both are the dominant,
opposing Church; (d) the Holy Vase of the Graal is its divine and hidden doctrine. I can imagine, in byways of literature, the stories of Captain Macheath, Claude Duval and Richard Turpin interpreted along analogous lines--for example, as the records of a secret attempt to re-establish the Roman hierarchy in England.