James Given

title.none: Pegg, The Corruption of Angels (James Given)

identifier.other: baj9928.0206.015 02.06.15

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: James Given, University of California, Irvine,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Pegg, Mark Gregory. The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. Pp. iv, 237. ISBN: 0-691-00656-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.06.15

Pegg, Mark Gregory. The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1246. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. Pp. iv, 237. ISBN: 0-691-00656-3.

Reviewed by:

James Given
University of California, Irvine

The Bibliotheque Municipale of Toulouse houses one of the more remarkable documents to survive from the thirteenth century. This is MS. 609, a manuscript of 260 folios that contains the record of a massive inquisitorial investigation carried out by Bernart de Caux and Jean de Saint-Pierre. The original of the manuscript has been lost. However, between October 1258 and August 1263 the inquisitors Guilhem Bernart de Dax and Renaud de Chartres had a copy made of the original. It is this copy that survives today. This register consists of summaries, usually very terse, of the depositions made by inhabitants of the Lauragais, the fertile region lying east of the city of Toulouse. These depositions were made between May 1, 1245, and August 1, 1246. In this period of less than one year the inquisitors, Bernart de Caux and Jean de Saint-Pierre, together with their assistants, sitting in the cloister of the abbey of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, interrogated 5,471 individuals. As many as four hundred deponents came from a single village. MS. 609 is the most extensive record of the work of the inquisitors of heretical depravity during the first twenty years of the existence of their tribunal. Even more startling is the fact that MS. 609 is evidently a copy of only two of 10 books originally prepared for Bernart de Caux and Jean de Saint- Pierre. As Pegg points out, this was the single largest inquisitorial investigation ever conducted anywhere in medieval Europe. Despite its importance, MS. 609 has drawn relatively little attention. It has never been edited and published. Although virtually all historians of the inquisition in Languedoc have ransacked it for material, it has never been the object of the thorough, full-scale study that it deserves. It is precisely this study that Mark Pegg, in this brief but powerful, book has provided.

MS. 609 is not an easy source to use. For the most part the thousands of depositions it contains consist of brief entries of boiler-plate language describing whether the deponent had had any dealings with Cathar Good Men or Good Women. Pegg has had to work hard to tease the meanings out of this huge but opaque document. The Corruption of Angels reads deceptively easily, but it is built on a painstakingly thorough reading of the text and an impressive mastery of the secondary literature.

Using the data in MS. 609 Pegg sets out to re-imagine a world that has become so thoroughly lost to us that it is difficult for modern historians, their heads full of information about the inquisition in later decades, to imagine. Before the coming of the French and later the inquisitors, the inhabitants of the Lauragais saw little need to sort activities and beliefs into categories that could be labeled exclusively Cathar or Catholic. In this period when the Good Men and Good Women lived openly as highly visible members of their communities, there was no "Cathar church", at least in the form normally imagined by historians. What existed was more of "an intimate, intensely local, and deliberately unadorned way of living with the holy". (130) And, after the arrival of the inquisitors, it remained possible for several years for contemporaries to imagine that the inquisition would be a passing phenomenon that could be successfully endured and resisted.

For Pegg, Catharism in Languedoc is very much a "constructed" phenomenon, one in which the inquisitors played a pivotal role. The words and acts that the inquisitors took as diagnostic of heretical belief may not have had as clear-cut a meaning to the people of the Lauragais as they did to the inquisitors. For example, the term "Good Man," which the inquisitors saw as designating the elite of the Cathar church, was also a general term of respect not reserved for the Cathars but used generally in conversation. The Good Men and the Good Women lived openly and were highly visible members of their communities. For the people whom the inquisitors labeled believers, the gestures of respect that they displayed toward the Good Men and Good Women, gestures which the inquisitors termed adoration, a recognition by the believer that he was willing to receive on his death bed the salvation-conferring consolamentum, were not necessarily signs of genuine faith in the Good Men so much as they were signs of respect for people known to be living holy lives. For those who lived as Good Men and Women, their choice may have reflected more an effort to detach themselves from the "oppressive intimacy" of village life than a deep theological commitment to a dualist theology.

Bernart de Caux and Jean de Saint-Pierre, in their great investigation of the mid-1240s took this "mundane experience of a quiet sanctity in the Lauragais" and "reshaped, transformed, and so eliminated" it. (130) The Good Men and Women themselves, who had lived openly in the Lauragais, were forced into a fugitive existence, meeting by night in woods, vineyards, and isolated fields. Behavior that the people of the Lauragais had previously seen as casual and devoid of significant connection to heresy was reinterpreted by the inquisitors, schooled in the study of heresy, as a sign of adherence to Cathar theology.

Pegg brings this point out nicely in a discussion of the curious story of how four Franciscans friars denounced Peire Garsias, an inhabitant of Toulouse, to the inquisitors. Peire was in the habit of dropping into the Franciscan convent to debate religion with his relative, the friar Guilhem Garsias. These discussions were spied upon by other Franciscans. They, together with Guilhem Garsias, informed the inquisitors of what they had learned. Peire Garsias, presumably having fled, ignored the inquisitors' summons to appear before them. But as Pegg notes, "Perhaps, and this is the irony, Peire Garsias was less the dualist, less the theologian, less the believer in heresy than the men who interpreted, remembered, and repeated his thoughts." (56)

The installation of this inquisitorial system for interpreting behavior, which attributed deep meaning to even the most casual acts, profoundly altered the way in which the people of the Lauragais perceived themselves and heresy. Under the pressure of the inquisition, the Good Men and Women themselves may have attained what Pegg terms a "new clarity of purpose" about their own way of life. Inquisitorial investigations also brought new clarity to what it meant to be either a believer, or a non- believer, of the heretics. To be a believer in the Good Men and Women, to be a crezen, now meant not simply the performance of a series of acts that differed little from ordinary gestures of respect, but a conscious choice to aid and protect the heretics, no matter the personal cost. Similarly, those who wanted nothing to do with the Good Men and Women acquired a greater self-consciousness about their own beliefs and behaviors.

Not only did inquisitorial pressure lead to a revaluation by the people of the Lauragais of what it meant to be a Good Man, a crezen, or a Catholic, it also produced a profound transformation in the way that they thought about their own histories and the nature of their landscape. The inquisitors were ready to interpret almost any behavior in someone's past-- a gesture of respect, the gift of a dish of chestnuts , a meeting with strangers in the woods--as diagnostic of a firm commitment to heresy. Even one person arguing with another could be taken as indicative of the presence of heresy. The fugitive, hunted existence of the Good Men and Women, who could no longer live openly alongside other villagers, also led to a change in the way that people perceived the physical world around them. "The woods, fields, streams, vineyards, seasons, even the day and night of the Lauragais were all transfigured into spaces, times, sounds, sensations of light that could no longer by taken for granted, that could no longer be experienced without a second thought. Why a man or a woman happened to be somewhere at some time, whether beneath a tree or in a street at night, was now something that always needed to be explained." (124)

This brief summary of Pegg's argument does not do justice to the subtlety with which he argues his case. Many will find his arguments controversial. But Pegg defends them with intelligence and style. In doing so, he has provided us with what is without doubt the most vividly and concretely imagined version of how something like R.I. Moore's "persecuting society" took shape in a particular region.

The book is written in a vivid and vigorous, one might say muscular, style. I know of few other works that give such a visual, tactile feel for what life might have been like in the Lauragais--where everyone in a particular village knew everyone else's business, and where the countryside, with its scattered vineyards and coppices, revealed itself readily to the eyes of heresy-hunters. If I have any criticism of Pegg's book, it is that it is at times too allusive and thus elusive. This is not a book for beginners. Readers who are not familiar with the history of heresy and its repression in Languedoc in the thirteenth century, and the scholarship thereon, may find it challenging to orient themselves to Pegg's argument. However, this is a book that repays a second reading.

To conclude, Mark Pegg has given us a well researched and well written study of one of the most important events in the history of the medieval inquisition. It is a book that all students of medieval heresy, religious dissent, and the inquisition will have to take into account.