YIMC Bookclub, “The Great Heresies,” Chapter 4

“Why should we suffer? Why should we die?”

Ah, the eternal question. And in this chapter “The Albigensian Attack“, Belloc gets to the heart of the matter of why the Incarnation came about, Christianity was founded, and why the Catholic Church exists. Because as we know, we are mere human beings. We die. And since the beginning, mankind has wanted to know “why?”

And in this chapter, Belloc synthesizes the ideas that we have formed in an attempt to come to terms with this truth. He touches on Manicheanism, Stoicism, and heck, even Buddism. For example he writes,

Various ways out of the torturing enigma have been proposed. The simplest and basest is not to face it at all…another way less base, but equally contemptible intellectually, is to say there is no problem because we are all part of a meaningless dead thing with no creative God behind it… another nobler way, which was the favourite way of the high pagan civilization from which we sprang, the way of the great Romans and the great Greeks, is the way of Stoicism. This might vulgarly be termed “The philosophy of grin-and-bear-it”… another way is the profound but despairing way of Asia, of which the greatest example is Buddhism: the philosophy which calls the individual an illusion, bids us get rid of the desire for immortality and look forward to being merged in the impersonal life of the universe. What the Catholic solution is we all know.

Or hopefully you do. If you didn’t before reading this chapter, you know now. A lot of ground is covered here. Heck, you might want to let your children read this chapter so they will understand what all the fuss is about regarding being a practicing Catholic. What’s the deal? Well,

Shaw, Belloc, And Chesterton

the Catholic Church has on this particular problem a very definite answer within the field of her own action. She says, first, that man’s nature is immortal, and made for beatitude; next, that mortality and pain are the result of his Fall, that is, of his rebellion against the will of God. She says that since the fall our mortal life is an ordeal or test, according to our behavior, in which we regain (but through the merits of our Savior) that immortal beatitude which we had lost.

And then he proceeds to discuss and explain the various manifestations of this particular heresy. First up is Manicheanism. Have you ever seen Star Wars and it’s various sequels and prequels? May the Force be with you? The Dark Side of the Force and the good side? Now you know where George Lucas got that idea. Remember in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda is training the young Jedi(the Good Side) Luke Skywalker and he punches Luke in the shoulder and says “not this crude matter” referring to his human body? Hmmm, sounds like,

But one thing the Manichean of every shade has always felt, and that is, that “matter” belongs to the evil side of things. Though there may be plenty of evil of a spiritual kind yet good must be “wholly” spiritual.

You’ve probably heard, or maybe even experienced, Christianity of some stripe that treats matter and the human body like this. Not to mention any other religions out there, or new age thinking, that does the same. I know I’ve bumped into people who have said exactly what Belloc says when he describes the human body and its characteristics as follows:

That is something you find not only in the early Manichean, not only in the Albigensian of the Middle Ages, but even in the most modern of the remaining Puritans. It seems indissolubly connected with the Manichean temper in every form. Matter is subject to decay and is therefore evil. Our bodies are evil. Their appetites are evil. This idea ramifies into all sorts of absurd details. Wine is evil. Pretty well any physical pleasure, or half-physical pleasure, is evil. Joy is evil. Beauty is evil. Amusements are evil, and so on. Anyone who will read the details of the Albigensian story will be struck over and over again by the singularly modern attitude of these ancient heretics, because they had the same root as the Puritans who still, unhappily, survive among us.

I’m glad I’m a Catholic now because finally the world makes some sense! And I’m glad I’m a Marine too, because there is a lot of warfare in this chapter. But before I continue, I’m going to hand the reins over to Jason, one of our YIMC Book Club volunteers has these words to say about this chapter:

The Albigensian heresy today is also known as the Cathar heresy. Belloc points out that this heresy is actually a form of Manicheanism. Belloc connects the rise of the Albigensian/Cathar heresy as an attempt of answering the “the problem of evil”. Why are there evil, suffering, and death?

Atheists propose the solution that there is no God. Stoics grin and bear it. Buddists claim individual existence is an illusion.

The Albigensians/Cathars resorted to dualism, that is that God is good but not omnipotent. And that goodness is opposed by evil that was equally as powerful. God the Father is no more powerful than Satan. Furthermore, all matter (being subject to decay) was of evil and good was only spiritual.

The conclusions based on that claim are far-reaching. If matter is evil and God is good, then Jesus could not have been human (no Incarnation), could not have suffered, and was not resurrected. If matter is evil, then the sacraments are false being present in matter. How can Jesus be present in evil matter? Thus no Eucharist.

The heresy divided France. The southern lords embraced the heresy in opposition of the King of France in the north. Belloc isn’t explicit about this but we can see the violent conflict had significant political aspects. Both England and Spain (neither of which embraced the heresy) supported the heretics in hopes of weakening the French.

Belloc shows his bias in his historical account of the battles between the northern and southern French factions.

Of course, Belloc is many things but unbiased is probably not one of them.  Not for the purpose of this book anyway. Jason, and probably others,  have questions about the historical accuracy of Belloc’s accounts.  Footnotes would have been nice here, but perhaps the best thing to do is to consider this chapter as a springboard for following your own curiosity regarding the historical facts surrounding the conflicts that ensued as a result of this movement. A preview of The Inquisition – A Political and Military Study of Its Establishment is available on Google Books.

But as an overview of an erroneous idea that just keeps cropping up over and over, I found this chapter to be very helpful.  How about the rest of you? Share your thoughts with us in the comment box.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01658116461483425280 Brandon Vogt

    I enjoyed learning how designation of matter as "evil" ultimately leads to the unraveling of the entire faith. If you deny that Christ was also human, you really deny both the Incarnation and the Resurrection. A slippery slope, indeed. If you get rid of those doctrines, you get rid of the sacraments, you get rid of God's immanence, and you get rid of most of traditional orthodoxy.It's interesting to see how just one change of one doctrine has monumental ramifications for the rest of the Faith. It is all tied to together in a brilliant quilt so that the removal of one string can potentially cause the rest to fall apart.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    I agree, although I don't think it will fall apart. We owe a lot to these Catholic forefathers, if I may use that expression, who fought and died to preserve the Truth.


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