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The Course Of The Church Through The Centuries

1143 To 1400 AD 
(Dates are highlighted in red)

     In the year1143 an elder and more than one hundred orthodox Christians were seized on the lower Rhein.  These confessed under torture that their congregations were in existence everywhere but in concealment; their greatest center of members at that time was Greece, by which term doubtlessly the Byzantine Empire was meant.  Out of the stronghold of the heretics at Montwimer near Chalons-sur-Marne, which already 150 years previously had sheltered the evangelist Gundulf as he came from Lombardy—Gundulf, who at that time journeyed through the Walloon and Picardy district of north France and Belgium as a preacher of apostolic poverty and opponent of christening of children, and had called into life important churches both in Luettick and in Arras—out of Montwimer came the establishment of the brotherhood in Rheims in about 1200.  Here the New Testament believers were called "Publicani"—probably not to brand them as receivers of custom but as a mistaken word-form of their Macedonian designation of "Paulikanoi", which the French crusaders had brought back with them.

     In Provence and in sunny southern France it was the disciple of the sharp-thinking Breton thinker Abelaard, who was so discerning and therefore so suspicious of heresy—it was his disciple Pierre de Bruys who caused the herald’s call of Christ to resound far and wide until he died at the stake in 1137.  Likewise his friends Henry, a former Cistercian monk from Lausanne, and the elder Pontius of Perigord were killed by the united state and church forces.  When the witnesses were silenced itinerant brothers from the Balkans came to their rescue, so that far and wide in France the term "Bulgare" became the equivalent of "heretic" and the mutilation of the word bougre is still used there as one of the basest terms of abuse (cf. "bugger"—sodomite).  By the year 1162 Flanders was covered with such a close net of small New Testament churches that the believers even ventured to request the rulers of this region, the counts of Flanders, the dukes of Artois, and the archbishop of Cambrai, to permit them to preach publicly.

     The bold proclamation of the happy message of the New Covenant had as a result not only the rapid formation of churches but also a great tangle of false teachings now appeared—not as the result of the propagation of the knowledge of the Bible by the itinerant preachers, as the Catholic historians wrote in their polemic works, but as a result of the colossal ignorance about the real facts of salvation—ignorance in which an unscrupulous clique of priests had kept the souls that had been entrusted to them.  The persecution that now set in with full force naturally put into one pot those of opposing and differing views—half-crazy Manichean ascetics who saw the crowning of their life in fasting to death, and dissolute freethinkers who enjoyed at full draughts the joys of life (or at least what they considered as joys), hysterical and psychopathic souls, who pretended to be the reincarnation of Christ or Mary and who considered their confused hallucinations as the word of God speaking for them, and also strictly Bible-following surviving orthodox thinkers holding to the New Testament, were designated with the collective name "Albigenses" (named after one of the centers of religious ferment in south France, Albi) and were made the goal of all measures of extermination.  It was to no avail that princes and nobles of these regions at first strictly declined to persecute the true followers of the Lord, yet they saw in these simple, sensible, industrious people who always fulfilled their obligations who were respected everywhere on account of their unquestioning love of the truth, who were pioneers in many trades, as for example in the arts of stonemasonry and weaving, yet they saw in them a special treasure in their land which would be valuable to keep.  Especially it was the young Vicomte Roger Ramon Trencavel from the Visigothic peerage and the energetic Capitoul, Head Mayor of Toulouse, Pierre Mauran, who interested themselves in favor of those threatened by the Inquisition.

     In spite of their energetic remonstrances the storm broke loose in the year 1208, when a papal legate in a public sermon had severely insulted the mighty Earl of Toulouse, a free thinker and by no means a religious man, and because of his insult had been slain by a vassal of the earl.  A crusade began under the king of France who long had greedily eyed the possessions of the rich, industrious Languedoc tradesmen; his forces marched into the district of the "heretics" and stormed one city after the other in fearful slaughter among Catholics, fanatics, and Christians.  In his long-lasting and furious campaigns of revenge during thirty years and more he made of the land a wilderness almost uninhabited by man.  The French historians estimate the number of those who perished through the direct effects of war in Languedoc from 1208 through 1244 at around 1,500,000; to this must be added also the number of those perishing from epidemics and famines following the campaigns and those who fell victims of the tribunals of the Inquisition.

     The council of the Catholic bishops of 1229 at Toulouse issued regulations for the persecution of the heretics.  Of these the following are the most important: every secular or ecclesiastical official who spares a heretic shall be stripped of his land, office, or possessions; every house in which a heretic is found shall be torn down; heretics and those suspected of heresy shall not be allowed the services of a physician, even the severest illness; those implicated in this same crime even if criminals shall be accepted as witnesses against heretics; confessions may be forced through torture; even the suspicion of heresy justifies imprisonment; the penalties for heresy shade off from the loss of rights of citizenship and church to the seizure of property and imprisonment up to execution, and this execution varied from simple decapitation for drowning to slow strangulation by the garotte and finally to a quick death through powder-explosions or on the funeral pile.

     Two-thirds of the confiscated property of the heretics fell to the ruling board of the Inquisition, while one-third was assigned to the informers.  But in order that the state church (which still called itself Christian) should not have the appearance of thirsting after blood, the secular rulers were obligated to lend their arm to the ecclesiastical authorities by performing the service of executioner for them.  The French historian, Charles Molinier, rightly writes in his report about the "Catharist" heretics of the 13th century based on Catholic sources: "By no means can one give credence to the voices of the judges, who all too often were also the executioners."

     Remnants of the old evangelical churches of Southern France were preserved in the foundation of "The Poor of Lyons," a foundation established by the wealthy merchant Pierre Valdes of Lyons.  They were named after its founder the "Waldenses" (cf. Valdes with Wald) and they united in the unique manner New Testament Christianity with the ideals of Catholic monks.  Their missionary zeal soon led them to regions outside of France, where they still found intact small congregations of Christ: in the Bernese Highlands, in the Jura Mountains and Vosges Mountains, as well as in the sections of the Lower Rhine and Friesland, yes, even in Brandenburg and Bohemia.  That the memory of the old churches of Waldensian type was still very much alive is shown by the report of the flaming death of Mrs. Lucardis in Trier in the year 1229, who thanked God for the funeral pile that she could suffer there where many years before a faithful confessor of the glory of Christ had given his life for his Savior.

The Course Of The Church Through The Centuries
1400 to 1800 AD