Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Albigenses

Primitive Christianity and the Celts

As far as archeologists can determine, the Celtic peoples originated near the Danube River and spread east, south and west from there. Today, the only identifiable Celtic populations are found in France (Brittany) and the British Isles (Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Two thousand years ago they were all over southern Europe.

They lived along the Po River in northern Italy, in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, all over the British Isles, into Bosnia and as far as Asia Minor (present day Turkey). The Greek form of Celts is Galatai. In France they were known as Gauls, in Asia Minor they were Galatians.

The Apostle Paul brought the gospel to the Galatians. Believers from there took it to the Gauls in southern France and from there it spread into the British Isles. It may have been Celtic missionaries from Scotland that carried the gospel to northern Italy, Bohemia and Switzerland. In time the gospel spread from the Celts to the people around them.

The Celts never organized into nation states, they were more a loose association of clans. As long as they were able to maintain their independent existence, the gospel that took root among them was of a purer form than the syncretistic gospel that was imposed in the Roman Empire after Constantine.

As Germanic peoples moved into the territories occupied by the Celts and the Roman Empire extended its reach, the Celtic peoples were absorbed into the majority culture. Nevertheless, evidence remained of their purer gospel among the faith groups known as Waldenses in the Alps, Albigenses in southern France and Bogomils in Bosnia. There is historical evidence of links between these groups, preachers from Bosnia appearing in the south of France, in Italy, Bohemia and other places.

These old evangelical brethren believed that Christians were citizens of the kingdom of God and were not to take part in governing earthly kingdoms. The Roman Catholic church accused them of being dualists, of believing that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. There is historical evidence of that belief in many of the same areas, but the faith groups named above did not hold such a belief. It was merely a handy accusation to justify using political power to persecute rivals to the Roman Catholic church and taint all evidence of the purity of their faith.

Eventually these churches appeared to have been persecuted into oblivion. Yet the faith proved to be more resilient than the persecutors. New churches sprang up in Switzerland, south Germany and the Low Countries, professing the same old faith. They came to be known as Mennonites. There is one intriguing last glimpse of the old churches in eastern Europe. In the 16th century, three men from the region of Thessalonika travelled to Germany because they had heard there were fellow believers there. They met with a Mennonite congregation, found they were united in all points of their faith and held communion together.

God, jihad, crusades

“The Roman church had an unswerving belief in itself as the vessel of divine grace in the world and the source of all divine authority, ordained by God and founded by His Son Jesus Christ on the ministry of His disciple St Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. In such a mindset it was impossible to conceive of the Roman Church as doing wrong, or of Rome admitting any rival to an equality of authority. To maintain the power and to extend the sway of Roman Catholic Christianity in the service of the Prince of Peace, even warfare was permitted.”

-excerpt from the Introduction to A Brief History of The Crusades, © Geoffrey Hindley, 2003, published by Constable & Robinson Ltd., London

Of course, the representatives of Islam have the same solid convictions about their prophet and their role in the world. After the death of Muhammad in 632, the caliphs, the “Commanders of the Faithful,” embarked on a massive campaign of jihad to extend the reign of Islam throughout Arabia, North Africa and into Europe.

Representatives of Islam today say that it is a religion of peace and that jihad means to struggle in the way of God, primarily in the form of an internal spiritual struggle against injustice and for purification in order to attain to paradise.

The Roman Catholic tradition of pilgrimage had much the same purpose, to step aside from the ordinary cares of life and devote oneself to an activity that would cleanse the soul from guilt, and prepare for heaven. The first crusade of 1095 was proclaimed by Pope Urban II as a pilgrimage. Thousands of people set off on this new pilgrimage, pushed by a profound fear of judgment on their sins and the promise that participating in the pilgrimage would ensure the pardon of their sins and entry into heaven. If they happened to die along the way, or in battle against the unbelieving Muslims, their salvation was ensured.

So they set out with the sign of the cross on their banners. Cross in French is croix and the whole project came to be called a croisade, which led to the English word crusade. Thus began centuries of cruel bloodshed, each side motivated by the firm conviction that they were doing the will of their God and thereby earning their salvation.

I won’t enter into a discussion on the correct meaning of jihad, but I think I can safely say that the Crusades were a perversion of the Christian faith and the teachings of the New Testament. Not all the crusades were directed against the followers of Allah, some were directed against the true followers of Jesus Christ. The Albigensian Crusades were directed against people who sought only to live out their faith in peace and who had no ambition to enter into the realm of secular authority. This was considered an intolerable affront to the authority of the Church of Rome and led to particularly cruel and bloody persecution.

As a spiritual descendent of the Anabaptists, Albigenses, and whatever other name the peaceful Christians were given in past eras, I want to clearly state that the Crusades were not a valid manifestation of the true faith in Jesus Christ.  The mere fact that our spiritual forefathers repudiated the use of force in matters of faith was enough to make them hated by the perpetrators of the Crusades.

As a corollary of this, perhaps it would be well to avoid terms like evangelistic crusades or campaigns. Evangelism should not be carried out in a way that could be understood as an attempt o conquer others.

Why isn’t this happening today?

A.D. 1199.— It is stated that at this time the Albigenses, who were one church with the Waldenses, had so increased in the earldom of Toulouse, that, as the papists complained, “almost a thousand cities were polluted with them.”

With this the lord of St. Aldegonde concurs, when he says: “That notwithstanding Peter de Bruis was burnt as a heretic at St. Gilles, near Nimes, the doctrine nevertheless was spread throughout the province of  Gascony, into the earldom of Fois, Querci, Agenois, Bourdeloicx, and almost throughout all Languedoc, and the earldom of Jugrane, now called Venice. In Provence also this doctrine was almost universally accepted, and the cities, Cahors, Narbonne, Carcasonne, Rhodes, Aix la Chapelle, Mesieres, Toulouse, Avignon, Mantauban, S. Antonin, Puflarens, and the country of Bigorre were filled with it, together with many other cities which were favourable to them, as Tarascon, Marseilles, Perces, Agenois, Marmande, and Bordeaux; whereby this doctrine spred still further, from the one side into Spain and England, from the other into Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Moravia, Dalmatia, and even into Italy.

“Indeed, in such a manner did this doctrine spread that however sedulously the popes and all their minions exerted themselves, aided by the princes and secular magistrates, to exterminate them, first by disputations, then by banishment and papal excommunication and anathemas, proclaiming of crusades, indulgences and pardons to all who would commit violence upon them, and finally by all manner of tortures, fires, gallows, and cruel bloodshedding, yea, in such a manner that the whole world was in commotion on account of it; yet they (the papists) could not prevent the ashes from flying abroad, and becoming scattered far and wide, almost even to all the ends of the earth.”

The above seems marvellous, but it is not marvellous with regard to the Lord God, with whom nothing is wonderful or impossible. In the meantime, we see how God permitted this grain of mustard seed of the Waldenses, or Poor Men of Lyons, to grow up a large tree, and this in the midst of their persecutions. Oh, the great power, wisdom, and love of God, who never forsakes His people!

-The Martyrs Mirror, page 290

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