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H-France Review

H-France Review Vol. 2 (August 2002), No. 76

Beverly Mayne Kienzle, Cistercians, Heresy and Crusade in Occitania, 1145-1229: Preaching in the Lord's Vineyard. Woodbridge and Rochester, N.Y.: York Medieval Press / Boydell and Brewer, 2001. xx + 256 pp. Map, photographs, chronological table, preface, notes, bibliography, and index. $75.00 U.S. /£45.00 (cl). ISBN 1-90315-300-X.

Review by John H. Arnold, University of London.

The religious orders that one most immediately associates with the medieval repression of heresy are the mendicant friars, particularly the Dominicans. Formed in the early thirteenth century with the express purpose of combatting the Cathar heresy in the south of France, the Dominicans most frequently acted as inquisitors, and it was one of their number (Bernard Gui) who has entered popular imagination (thanks to Umberto Eco) as the epitome of repression and intolerance prior to the Reformation. However, there were other monastic orders involved in the fight against heresy before, during, and after the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229). As Beverly Kienzle's new monograph shows, pre-eminent among these were the Cistercians. It was a Cistercian (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux) who, in his preaching, developed key rhetorical themes against heresy in the twelfth century. It was a Cistercian (Henry of Clairvaux) who helped develop the 1179 Lateran Council's legislation against heresy. It was a Cistercian (Arnaud Amaury) who, as papal legate, led the first wave of crusaders against the southern French. And it was a Cistercian (Jacques Fournier) who, in his role as bishop of Pamiers, conducted the most famous inquisition against the inhabitants of Montaillou and elsewhere in the early fourteenth century.

The latter figure is only briefly mentioned here, as the focus of Kienzle's book is the development of Cistercian preaching against heresy in the twelfth century and what she sees as its fruition in the thirteenth-century crusade. There were various heretical currents in the twelfth century, although all could be said to have shared an interest in modelling their religious identities on the apostles. Two reform preachers, Peter de Bruys and Henry de Lausanne, were declared heretical for their anti-clerical views but attracted large followings nonetheless. In the 1170s at Lyons, the conversion of a merchant called Waldes set in motion a group of apostolically-inspired laity who preached the blessings of poverty but, alas, without clerical authority or approval. At some point (certainly prior to the 1160s, but open to much historical argument) the dualist heretics commonly known as Cathars appeared in southern France. Other, less clearly defined groups may have also lurked: as Kienzle reminds us, contemporary understandings of heresy tended to see them essentially as facets of the same, single entity, and thus the orthodox sources upon which we rely do not always provide the most clearly defined picture of medieval dissent.

Heresy in the twelfth century is a very well-known area, upon which a lot has already been written, but Kienzle brings some fresh perspectives to it and casts new light on some important themes. The book begins with a contextual introduction, including a short "appendix" setting out the author's methodology for reading sermon material and analyzing rhetoric, as well as her reasons for rejecting the viewpoint (currently popular in a certain strand of French scholarship) that one cannot gain access to the heretics themselves via hostile sources. Chapter one sets out, with regard to the Cistercians, the main historical themes of the twelfth century: the reform movement, the 'twelfth-century Renaissance,' economic growth, popular religious movements.

Chapter two provides a very interesting portrait of Cistercian spirituality, framed around the image of "the Lord's vineyard." (This trope is drawn from a passage in the Song of Songs--"the little foxes who are destroying the vineyard"--which was used by St. Bernard and others as a metaphor for heresy's attack upon the world.) Here, Kienzle introduces us to the different kinds of extant sources (sermons, letters, monastic literature) and identifies a kind of Cistercian mentalité, which she sees as characterized by "austerity, structure and harmony" (p. 76). This three-fold mentalité is, for Kienzle, discernable in the "inner vineyard" of Cistercian rhetorical forms, architecture, and prayer and equally in the Cistercian sense of the "outer vineyard" of society and the Church. Heresy threatened all three; and hence, Kienzle seems to suggest, heresy held a particular horror for the Cistercian order. After this contextual material, chapters three, four, five and six focus on particular Cistercians: St. Bernard, Henry of Clairvaux, Arnaud Amaury and other people connected with the crusade, and finally Hélinand of Froidmont.

What is admirable about Kienzle's work is the way in which she has brought back into focus an area that almost had become "taken for granted" in studies of heresy and its repression. A brief synthesis of the accepted historical narrative of the church's actions against heresy would note (1) an early period (the eleventh century) of uncertainty and inconsistency; (2) more directed attempts at persuasion in the twelfth century, as St. Bernard and others preached against heresy; (3) the development from the late twelfth century onwards of more repressive legislation against heresy; and (4) a hardening of attitudes, leading firstly to the Albigensian Crusade and finally to the inquisitors. The focus has frequently been the final two stages, with the efforts of Bernard of Clairvaux seen essentially as a failed and passing measure made obsolete by the fierce success of crusade and inquisition. In contrast, by focusing on Cistercian preaching, Kienzle has placed the second half of the twelfth century back in focus and argues that it played an absolutely key role (through the rhetoric of the sermons) in developing the polemical landscape necessary for the use of crusade and inquisition in the following century. Thus Bernard's 1145 preaching mission to Languedoc is not seen as a failure (as it has sometimes been represented) but as the first step down the rhetorical road to justified violence against the perceived heretical threat.

In fact, Bernard's message (like much else about him) had some internal contradictions: officially opposed to the use of violence against heretics but developing a rhetoric of demonization and heretical obstinacy that, as Kienzle puts it, "leaves the door to violence at least ajar" (p. 90). Some thirty-five years later the Cistercian abbot Henry of Clairvaux (a.k.a. Henry de Marcy) removed Bernard's ambiguity and began to call for holy war against heresy. In 1208, the murder of the papal legate Peter of Castelnau acted as the spark that began the fire of crusade, but it was the Cistercian rhetoric of the preceding sixty years that provided the tinder and the oxygen to keep it burning. The papal legate Arnaud Amaury, "the most powerful and without doubt the most notorious of the Cistercians" (p. 138), helped to lead the crusade against the Cathars. Amaury is credited with the famous words, "Kill them all, God will know his own" at the massacre at Béziers. As Kienzle notes, whether or not we can trust the sole, later source for this particular statement, there is no doubt that Amaury's contemporaries saw what happened in Béziers as unusually brutal and that the legate (who wrote approvingly to the pope that "nearly twenty thousand people perished" there) was implicated.

At the conclusion of the Crusade, we meet Hélinand of Froidmont, former trouvère, who in 1229 came to deliver sermons both at the inaugural assembly of the nascent University of Toulouse and at the synod regulating the peace treaty in Languedoc. Hélinand shares rhetorical tropes with his predecessors in the representation of heresy (and was certainly not happy with the idea of dangerous intellectual freedom at the new university), but there is not the same violence or virulence to his sermons, something that Kienzle ascribes to a "post-crusade atmosphere" (p. 200).

This is an important book for scholars of medieval heresy, filling in a number of vague spots in the existing historiography and, more important, linking together the preaching of the twelfth century with the activities of the thirteenth. It will also be of interest to scholars of medieval preaching (Kienzle is president of the International Medieval Sermons Studies Society), as the book presents a close analysis of both the language of particular sermons and the sparse but precious details that one can occasionally glean about their actual delivery and reception. The analysis of Bernard's 1145 preaching mission, in particular, is engaging and thoughtful in the details it picks out, showing how much the authority of preaching depended upon the personal authenticity of the particular preacher rather than the content of the sermon. Also extremely interesting are the sermons of Hélinand of Froidmont, the least well-known of the figures studied here; and again, Kienzle provides productive and thoughtful close-readings of the extant sources. For all the people studied, those sources consist mostly of texts edited in the Patrologiae, Series Latina but also include some unedited manuscripts now located in Paris.

The book is not perfect. One may demur at Kienzle's repeated use of the technical term 'deconstruct' for what might more accurately be called "close reading." I'm not convinced that one can talk of "proto-Waldensians" (p. 85) in 1145, some thirty years before Waldes himself comes upon the scene. And there's sometimes a bit of over-interpretation or "over-guessing" in the links Kienzle draws between Cistercian rhetoric and (what we think we know about) Cathar "reality": the fact, for example, that Hélinand denounces the heretical belief that the Devil created the world does not necessarily add up to a knowledge of "Cathar cosmology" based upon the heretical text the Interrogatio Iohannis (p. 183). Here, as elsewhere, Kienzle's rejection of the current French suspicion of the sources is founded more on faith than on method.

There are, however, two more important caveats than those quibbles. The first is that Kienzle has very clear allegiances: for the Cathars, against (but with a tone of sorrowful disappointment) the Cistercians. Thus, for example, the section on Arnaud Amaury concludes that he "demonstrated the worst of Cîteaux, an appalling contradiction of monastic spirituality and its ideals of humility, prayer and contemplation. His conduct should not be judged as representative of the order" (p. 161). Should it be "judged" at all, in quite this way? That is, whilst Arnaud clearly acted as an utter bastard at Béziers, are there not more complex questions of contextualisation when dealing with the church's support of violence and more complex ways of ascribing "blame" than landing it at the feet of a particular individual--at least if one is taking the role of historian rather than moralist?

In contrast, in the closing words of the book, Kienzle presents us with "the Cathar plea for tolerance of all persons" that "haunt us with their simplicity and their sharp distinction between persecutors and persecuted," going on to quote the early fourteenth-century perfectus Pierre Authié: "one church takes possession and flays, the other takes refuge and forgives" (p. 218). This is a naïve view. The Cathars, from the late twelfth century onwards, had developed their own preaching rhetoric of demonisation for the orthodox church (the Roman church was, amongst other things, the Whore of Babylon, according to various perfecti) and their supporters were on occasion capable of violence and murder--albeit (lacking perhaps the necessary matériel) on a much smaller scale. I don't, for the most part, think that Kienzle's affections for the Cathar side undermine her interpretation or scholarship--and I'm not suggesting that the church, rather than the heretics, should be seen as the "good guys"--but the reader does need to be wary nonetheless.

The second problem is simply to note that in focusing upon individuals (which she has done very effectively) and limiting her study to Cistercians, Kienzle perhaps misses an opportunity. Her analysis of the preaching rhetoric of the twelfth century is important. It would be even more important were this analysis of language to have encompassed sources and contexts beyond the strict Cistercian limits, and thus to develop a fully rounded study of the rhetoric of persecution in the twelfth century, and the ways in which that rhetoric changed in the thirteenth century. There was the possibility here of providing a much more detailed and empirically-grounded development of R. I. Moore's famous (but broad-brush) thesis in his Formation of a Persecuting Society. Moore is a stated inspiration of Kienzle's; as it is, she adds nuance to his analysis but does not supplant it.[1]

It would be uncharitable, however, to finish by accusing the author of not having written a different book, when the one she has provided is full of insight, is lucidly written, and provides a much-needed addition to the analysis of heresy and its repression. I recommend it to all scholars of heresy, to all those interested in medieval sermons, and (in its opening contextual chapters) to undergraduate students of the period.


[1] See Robert I. Moore, The Formation of a Persecuting Society: Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950-1250 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987). Kienzle would also have benefited from consulting Lucy Bosworth's unpublished 1995 University of Edinburgh PhD thesis on rhetorical imagery in medieval heresiology.

John H. Arnold
Birkbeck College
University of London

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H-France Review Vol. 2 (August 2002), No. 76

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