Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cathars, Jansenists, and Today's Submariner Heretics

The Palace of the Popes, Avignon, built by Jacques
de Fournier as Benedict XII
Jacques de Fournier was named bishop of Pamiers in 1317 and he undertook a campaign to root out Catharism from his diocese.  Fournier had studied at Paris while a Cistercian monk and then had been abbot of Fontfroide—an important abbey on what is today the border between Spain and France.  This was an area, the Hautes-Pyrenees, where the Cathars had remained strong.  It is not far from the modern pilgrimage center of Lourdes.   Named Bishop of Pamiers, Fournier determined to do something about the survival of Catharism in his diocese.  The Inquisition—not the Spanish Inquisition, just the local diocesan process—interviewed hundreds of people in an attempt to discover and uncover this heresy among a population that for the most part seemed outwardly to conform to the Church.  Fortunately for historians—and to the relief of the local population—Fournier was elected Pope in 1334 and he took up residence in Avignon (then the papal court) with the regnal name of Benedict XII.  He brought all his records with him, but being Pope is a full time job (well, at least for the serious ones and this fellow was serious) and the records just more or less sat around until they eventually ended up in the archives where a historian, Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie (born 1929), discovered them and wrote a fascinating study: Montaillou, village occitan.  This book is a detailed and fascinating look into life in the fourteenth-century village of Montaillou, a hamlet of 250 people, outwardly  Catholic but secretly given to Cathar belief and practice.  Even the village priest,  Pierre Clergue, was a secret Cathar.  We see that Catharism was not something always distinct from Catholicism but, like many heresies, could infect outwardly faithful Catholics and remain almost undetected.   Montaillou is a very important book historically as it shifted historians from big-picture history to micro-histories which are far more nuanced and give us fascinating details.  You don’t have to be a historian to read it—it is an interesting read on its own.   But the point I want to make is how heresies survive beneath the cover of orthodoxy.  Let me give you an interesting example.         
      Today in the United States we implement the new translation of the missal.  The monastery where I often attend mass has been using it for over a month now and I am getting used to it.  There are features that I like, and there are features with which I am not impressed.  Ok, that is one man’s experience and I don’t expect the world to revolve to my preferences.  But I do see two curious things.
       One is a strong distinction between the sacred and the secular in language—the use of a language that is not the language of us mere mortals.  We don’t speak of “the dewfall,”  ineffable is a word that my electronic thesaurus doesn’t recognize, and I am a bit taken aback to hear a carpenter’s cup called “a chalice.”  And then there is the entire matter of “and with your spirit.”  Why is there a need for sacred/secular—body/soul dichotomies?  I am all in favor of elegant language and graceful vocabulary but I am suspicious of dichotomies that undermine the mystery of the Incarnation in which the Divine enters fully into our human experience.  There is always something of the Gnostic in everyday Catholicism that suspects the world and denigrates human experience.  It is subtle but this dichotomizing ultimately undermines the mystery of the Incarnation.     
      Equally problematic is the issue of he “for all” and “for many.”  I have written on this before but it is hugely problematic as our Catholic faith condemns as heretical any idea that Christ did not die for all.  He did not die for some, nor even for many, but for all.  The Jansenist heresy taught that Christ only died for those who would ultimately be saved.  Like Catharism at Montaillou, Jansenism is alive and well beneath a veneer of orthodox Catholicism among many American Catholics.  This was not the time to put into the liturgy that Christ died “for many.”  It will be used to reinforce the unhealthy piety of those who have deceived themselves into believing they are the “elect” culled from a world that stands outside salvation.    Just check out some of the (supposedly) ultra-Catholic websites and blogs and you will see a Catholicism riddled with Jansenism and other very uncatholic ideas.   There are other heresies alive and well beneath the veneer of pious and traditional Catholicism—Quietism is one, illuminism another—but Jansenism is the one that scares me most because, as Jean Jacques Olier said about four centuries ago—Jansenism eats charity out of the heart of the Church.  I see that today in figures such as Michael Voris and his “Real Catholic TV” who promote a Catholicism of anger and self-righteousness.  I see it too in the “vigilante” Catholicism represented by self-appointed arbiters of the faith such as the “Catholic Media Coalition” or “Tradition in Action,” or Trinity Communications/Catholic Culture.  Henri Bremond wrote of the Jansenists of his days as “Before penetrating into the depth of the mind Jansenism ruins the peace, condition of all true religion.  Before making converts it makes partisans, sectarians, whom it fatally severs from the mystical currents of their time.” As it was in the past it is now too.     

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