“Kill them all, God will know His own.” I didn’t recognize the Latin phrase; I’m more familiar with the one that Special Forces used in ‘Nam: “Kill ’em all; let God sort ’em out.” How very, very, politically incorrect.
But, in time of war, perhaps understandable from a lean, mean, fighting machine. From the Roman Catholic Church, however? From those who claim to be the earthly representatives of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace?
Afraid so. The year is 1209, and, apparently too timid to take on the Saracens in the Holy Land yet again, the Roman Church sends its armed legions to kill infidels a little closer to home: in the south of France, on the Med, the town of Béziers, which is a hotbed of Cathar heretics.
From Wikipedia, just the basics:
Béziers was a Languedoc stronghold of Catharism, which the Catholic Church condemned as heretical and which Catholic forces extirpated in the Albigensian Crusade. Béziers was the first city to be sacked, on July 22, 1209. Béziers’ Catholics were given the opportunity to leave before the Crusaders besieged the city. However, they refused and fought with the Cathars. In a sortie outside the walls, their combined force was defeated, and pursued back into town. In the bloody massacre which followed, no one was spared, not even those who took refuge in the churches. The commander of the crusade was the Papal Legate Arnaud-Amaury (or Arnald Amalaricus, Abbot of Citeaux). When asked by a Crusader how to tell Catholics from Cathars once they’d taken the city, the abbot famously replied, “Kill them all, God will know His own” – “Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet“. (This phrase can only be found in one source, Caesarius of Heisterbach; along with a story of some Cathars who desecrated a copy of the Old Testament and threw it from the town’s walls.)
Fascinating. Using as an excuse a claim that some Cathars had “desecrated” the Old Testament. There’s a word for a church that acts in this way: evil. No lesser word will do.
I don’t know if the Roman Church has ever formally apologized and made proper amends for this crime against humanity. I suspect they have not, and if one googles “apology for Béziers massacre”, you get no hits. Googling without the quotation marks yields some apologia, not apologies, from some Catholics.
None that I’ve seen amount to more than “guilty with an explanation.” The explanation? The Middle Ages were brutal; everyone did it; God will be their judge. All of which is true, but, still, one expects more from the so-called Universal Church of Rome, a church that, perhaps, in being so eager to root out “heretics,” forgot that there was, is, and always will be, a constant standard set by Jesus Christ: Love thy neighbor as thyself.
I’m not especially familiar with what the Cathars believed, but from the Wikipedia entry on their beliefs, the Roman Church should have just let God sort ’em out. The modern equivalent might be if we Baptists mounted an army and stormed into Salt Lake City to eradicate the Mormons.
If the Cathars truly were in violation of God’s law, as against being merely confused, God would have dealt with them. In His time; not necessarily in ours.
The entire issue seems to have been not what the Cathars believed; rather, it was that they refused to acknowledge the alleged sovereignty of the Roman Church. In very few words, the killing was about earthly pride and power.
Jesus reclined at table with all manner of first century “heretics.” He set the standard, which the Roman Church took upon themselves to ignore. And in the shed blood and sprayed it on the Gospel. God will judge them too, in His time.