Monday, October 27, 2014

Jokes, Cathars and memory

There are many Jokes featuring Dominicans and Jesuits from which in the punchline the Js usually emerge triumphant. However, one Dominican rejoinder goes like this. It reminds the listener that the Dominicans were founded out of St Dominic responding to the emergence of the 'Cathar heresy' in Languedoc in the twelfth century. St Ignatius launched the Jesuits in response to the emergence of the Reformation. The punchline being, 'How many Cathars do you know'? (as opposed to Protestants)!

This expression of (black) humour would have appalled one of the Cathars doughty supporters in the twentieth century, the philosopher, Simone Weil. She believed that if something was a great wrong, it remained so, unaltered by the passage of time. The crusades against the Cathars, and the subsequent invention of the Inquisition to eradicate them, was such a wrong for which the only response from the Catholic Church would be repentance.

We are still waiting.

I was thinking of this as I drove past Beziers yesterday, about whose siege and subsequent massacre, I had been reading the day before. This was the first act of a long conflict in which up to 20,000 people died in this first siege alone and the city was reduced to ashes. The Papal Legate, probably apocryphally, was said to told the Crusaders to kill everyone, Catholic and Cathar, because God would know his own.

Yet the memory of such events has been 'sanitised' by time's passing that is reminiscent of Hitler's disparaging remark about who remembers the Armenians? This a scrubbing clean in a matter of years, not decades or centuries.

We need to be reminded that this ideological brutality is and remains with us, and as Weil rightly noted, any institution that has participated in its perpetration must scrutinise its conscience and purge from its living present anything of its vestiges, even jokes.

For can one imagine a similar joke ever becoming acceptable, however blackly intended, about the Holocaust?


  1. Your impressions roused my awareness of this dark moment of history far more than when I formerly read about the Cathars. Your comment "They placed practice and experience by transformation above dogma" moves me deeply. Like you, I connect with Simone Weil and used to serve Mass for the Dominican priest to whom she wrote her "Lettre à un religieux".

    1. Thank you. Remarkable you served Mass with Fr. Édouard. Weil believed that no fault could be excused merely by assuming a passage of time. Judgment is and remains timeless and the only passage through is that of metanoia and forgiveness. A very painful path for some institutions to tread.


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