Monday, November 12, 2012

Amazon Review - The War on Heresy.

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The War on Heresy
The War on Heresy
by R. I. Moore
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.39
52 used & new from $18.90

5.0 out of 5 stars Was the Albigensian Crusade just a big misunderstanding?, November 11, 2012
This review is from: The War on Heresy (Hardcover)
R.I. Moore's "the War on Heresy" offers a revealing and disorienting examination into the nature of heresy at the dawning of the second millennium. Moore takes the reader back to the 11th Century when the papacy was attempting to institute policies that would reform the Catholic Church. These reforms included enforcing clerical celibacy and preventing the sale of church office, aka "simony." The particular concern of the reforming popes was that local clergy were effectively an extension of the local power structure, and church property was effectively an extension of local dynastic arrangements.

Moore effectively argues that one strategy employed by the popes was to license preachers who would attack those bishops and priests who refused to embrace the new clerical norms that outlawed simony and clerical marriage. Those preachers would in turn inveigh against the corrupt priests and bishops, often arguing that the sacraments were not effective in the hands of such simonaic priests and urging a "boycott" of such priests by the faithful. These tactics were often quite effective in bringing the Catholic clergy into line with the reformations urged by the popes and councils. a theme of these preachers was a call for a return to the "apostolic life" of simplicity and integrity.

According to Moore, a problem with this strategy was that it was copied by preachers who were independent of Rome and applied in a far more literal way which resulted in conclusions that were not congenial to orthodox Christianity. In preaching the apostolic life, saintly, ascetic, heretical preachers compared the apostolic life they found in the first part of Acts to the sacramental, liturgical faith, with its bishops and cathedrals, which the Catholic church described as normative. According to Moore, it wasn't a large jump from there to a faith that denied the efficacy of baptism for children, the denial of the reality of Christ in the Eucharist, the condemnation of marriage, the condemnation of church buildings and the view that religious leaders were ministers and not priests. Moore substantiates this argument by pointing to the description of what the followers of Peter of Bruys and the Poor Men of Lyons seemed to believe according to the best evidence available.

In short, the picture that Moore presents is that which has been long advocated by Southern Baptists: there were "Baptists" in those days.

Well, not really, since most Baptist don't find much use in condemning marriage or church buildings. Moreover, according to Moore, the heretics were not a unified movement, church or worldview in any sense of the word. The heretics were, it seems, simply people who wanted to find a personal and traditional way of spirituality that involved asceticism and traditional courtesies. The period from 1000 to 1300 A.D. was a period of substantial cultural change as cities became more prevalent and traditional rural elites became weaker. In this environment, the charisma of an ascetic holy man might be acknowledged by his neighbors without any of them consciously intending to be heretics.

The disorienting conclusion to this line of reasoning is Moore's argument that there really never was a heretical Cathar church in southern France prior to the Albigensian Crusade. Moore argues that there is no trustworthy evidence of a dualistic theology or a counter-church in the Languedoc region of France. According to Moore, such evidence as there seems to be that anyone committed to a belief in a good god and an evil god is an academic straw-man kept alive by the literate readers of Augustine in the new schools of Paris. Moore seems to concede that the first time we find solid evidence of dualism is 1240 AD, after the end of the Albigensian Crusade.

Another insight Moore offers is that the undeveloped nature of southern France misled heresy-hunters, like St. Bernard of Clairveux, into believing that there were heretics everywhere because it seemed that no one went to church. Moore argues that people didn't go to church because there hadn't been churches to go to. Languedoc was not a nest of heretics; it was a "third world country." Further, according to Moore, another fact that fed into the mistaken belief that there was a wide-spread and dangerous heretical movement was the assumptions wired into clerics and the inquisitors about the nature of what they would find when they found heretics, as well as their need to fit their findings into the language which could communicated to and accepted by other members of the literate elite.

Moore's book is eminently readable. I found many of his observations about the nature of heresy and the tools of suppressing heresy to be wise and useful. He advances his augments by incremental steps that anticipate his conclusions in a logical and thorough fashion. I was initially critical of the weakness of his footnotes. The notes are scant, and my sense was that he was asking me to take a lot on faith. However, according to his website, this was something his publisher asked for, and he provides a thoroughly complete set of footnotes at "http" colon backslash backslash rimoore dot net backslash War dot html.

Moore's book is absolutely useful in two areas in particular. One area is getting a better grip on the history of the Church in this important formative period. This is an absolutely informative book to blow away the fuzziness and misconceptions of what Christians were concerned with and believed before Aquinas.

Second, Moore's correlation of heresy with the local struggle of local elites is very important. Heresy trials and punishments blew hot and cold at various times. It seems that the more useful a heresy accusation was in putting paid to some local power struggle, the more likely that heretics would be burned, usually as a way of eliminating the allies of the principle players in the local drama.

Was I convinced? Moore says that his book represents the majority opinion of historians writing after the year 2000. A lot of what he writes makes sense and coordinates with other bits of history that I have been reading. Nonetheless, it is hard for me to believe that everyone was totally hoodwinked into believing that there was a group - however well or loosely coordinated - that rejected core Christian belief in favor of a gnostic dualism. Moreover, even Moore's book documents how inquisitors and inhabitants of the Langeudoc actually spoke in terms of dualism, even when no one was listening. Moore equates the "Cathar" phenomenon- which he says was not a term used by contemporaries, albeit he also says that Alan of Lille offered a lame explanation for the origin of the Cathar name - with the knowledge of educated people that there was a mass conspiracy of witches prior to the witch craze of the 16th and 17th Centuries.

It's a fair point. It is good to keep an open mind and this book offers one of the bricks from which careful readers should come to their own conclusions. Even if the reader comes away unconvinced about Moore's big message, the perspective he offers is illuminating.

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