The Albigensian Attack
In the heart of the Middle Ages, just when they were working up to their most splendid phase, the great thirteenth century, there arose—and was for the moment completely defeated—a singular and powerful attack upon the Catholic Church and all the culture for which it stood. This was an attack, not only on the religion that made our civilization, but on that civilization, itself; and its general name in history is “The Albigensian Heresy.”
In the case of this great struggle we must proceed as in the case of all our other examples by first examining the nature of the doctrine which was set up against the body of truth taught by the Catholic Church.
The false doctrine of which the Albigensians were a main example has always been latent among men in various forms, not only in the civilization of Christendom but wherever and whenever men have had to consider the fundamental problems of life, that is, in every time and place. But it happened to take a particularly concentrated form at this moment in history. It was then the false doctrines the false doctrines we are about to examine stood out in the highest relief and can be most clearly appreciated. By what its effects were when it was thus at its highest point of vitality we can estimate what evils similar doctrines do whenever they appear.
For this permanent trouble of the human mind has swollen into three great waves during the Christian period, of which three the Albigensian episode was only the central one. The first great wave was the Manichean tendency of the early Christian centuries. The third was the Puritan movement in Europe accompanying the Reformation, and the sequel of that disease, Jansenism. The first strong movement of the sort was exhausted before the end of the eighth century. The second was destroyed when the definite Albigensian movement was rooted out in the thirteenth century. The third, the Puritan wave, is only now declining, after having worked every kind of evil.
Now what is this general tendency or mood which, from its earliest name, was called Manichean, which, in its most clear-cut form with which we are about to deal, is called the Albigensian, and which we know in modern history as Puritanism? What is the underlying motive power which produces heresies of this kind?
To answer that main question we must consider a prime truth of the Catholic Church itself, which has shortly been put in this form: “The Catholic Church is founded upon the recognition of pain and death.” In its more complete form the sentence should rather run “The Catholic Church is rooted in the recognition of suffering and mortality and her claim to have provided a solution for the problem they present.” This problem is generally known as “The problem of evil.”
How can we call man’s destiny glorious and heaven his goal and his Creator all good as well as all powerful when we find ourselves subject to suffering and to death?
Nearly all young and innocent people are but slightly aware of this problem. How much aware of it they may be depends upon what fortunes they have, how early they may have been brought into the presence of loss by death or how early they may have suffered great physical or even mental pain. But sooner or later every human being who thinks at all, everyone not an idiot, is faced by this Problem of Evil; and as we watch the human race trying to think out for itself the meaning of the universe, or accepting Revelation thereon, or following warped and false partial religions and philosophies, we find it always at heart concerned with that insistent question: “Why should we suffer? Why should we die?”
–The Great Heresies (excerpt)