By Rev. Jim Innes
In 1209, Pope Innocent III persecuted a particular anti-Catholic sect, the Cathars.
They spoke against the church's many faults, not just rejecting critical aspects of Catholicism but the authority of the Pope. Several hundred known Cathars resided in the peaceful City of Beziers in Southern France. The Pope commissioned Crusaders to weed out the unwanted.
To save the Pope's loyal followers, The Bishop of the Church in Beziers tried to broker an agreement in which the community would hand over the supposed "heretics "or, at least, have all the Catholics leave before the bloodshed. The City refused. Catholics and Cathars had lived there together for many years in supportive harmony.
On July 22, the Crusaders attacked. All inside Beziers, regardless of age and sex, and including priests, were slaughtered. The number of deaths totaled almost 20,000. A number that is likely too high but underscores the level of destruction and violence.
Before the full-scale attack, the Abbot in charge (assigned by the Pope) was asked by a troubled Crusader, "Sir, what shall we do, for we cannot distinguish between the faithful and the heretics." The Abbot, anxious that many Cathars, fearing death, would pretend to be Catholic, replied, "Kill them all, for the Lord knoweth them that are His."
It's hard to understand the cold-heartedness of the Abbot. We know the early church had to chisel out a place for itself amongst people of different cultures and traditions. We also understand that some sincere people felt the need to protect the Christian story from being either watered down or manipulated for personal gain, which can all lead to an assumption that the church lived in fear. And because of the church's actions, exemplified in the bloody massacre of Beziers, the more Power it gained in the world, the more that fear grew alongside it. Nobody wanted to lose what they had. The more they had, the more they needed to fight to keep it.
Is there a lesson here? Indeed, and it is one we all know. 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' When one's power increases, without extreme caution, one's morality decreases. And too often, the backslide is justified by some self-protective excuse. Or some conviction to a cherished cause.
Though we are more open-minded regarding race, sexuality, and faith perspectives, we still have built a sense of entitlement into our culture. In other words, stability is priced more than vulnerability, control is preferable to be controlled, and saving for the future is considered more prudent than letting it 'all ride' today.
Yet the very nature of these values demands an increase in our power base. Fatefully, as the culture emphasizes this entitlement, it pits one against the other. And as we are inarguably systemically dependent on cooperation (a lesson well taught by Covid), we find ourselves in a quandary.
Let me entertain a bit of preacher pride; Jesus teaches us to let the weeds grow with the grain because as you cut away the weeds, you risk destroying the fruit. As I see it, success is not in Power gained but Power given away in an attitude of gratitude, servitude, and fortitude. As some would say, it is a 'hero's journey.' It builds up and only very cautiously knocks down.
Rev. Jim Innes is the rector of St. John's, Grand Bend with St. Anne's, Port Franks.