Remarks Upon the Ecclesiastical History of the Ancient Churches of the Albigenses



Concerning the original of the Churches of Gallia Narbonensis and Aquitain.


BEFORE the Gauls were entirely reduced by Caesar under the power of the Roman Empire, and after that, under the said Emperor, Gallia was commonly divided into two parts, whereof the one was called Braccata, the other Comata. Gallia Braccata contained not only that part of Italy which is beyond the Alps, and was named Cisalpina, but also Gallia Narbonensis, whereof Vienna was the capital city. The other, to wit, Gallia Comata, was divided into three parts; the first whereof was called Belgica, the other Celtica, and the third Aquitain. But Augustus being absolute master of Gaul, made some alteration in this division; for he extended the bounds of Aquitain by restraining those of Celtica, and distinguished Aquitain into three provinces, whereof the first and second were on this side of the Garonne, and reached to the Loire; the third reached from the Garonne to the Pyrenean mountains. Bourges and Bourdeaux were the mother cities of the first and second of these provinces; and Eulse or Eaulse was the metropolis of the third; which city having been destroyed by the wars, Ausch succeeded her in that dignity. As for Gallia Narbonensis, which at first was only a province, whereof Vienna was the capital city, Augustus was pleased to take that honor from her, to bestow it upon Lyons, which seemed to him more commodious to be made the seat of government. This province was afterwards changed, by being divided into four parts, viz. into Narbonensis, Viennensis, the Maritime Alps, and the Greek Alps. And after this division, Narbonensis was again subdivided into two parts, the first and second, as may be seen since the fourth century.

It was needful, at the entrance of this discourse, to give the reader this short draught of the countries that went under the name of Gallia, to give him an idea of that part of them, where we intend to shew him the continuation of that Church which gave birth to the Albigenses, and furnished the west with witnesses of so great weight against the corruptions of the Romish party; and indeed though the Visi-Goths, who cut off these provinces from the Roman empire, and afterwards the French, who destroyed the Visi-Goths in the time of Clovis, made very great changes in this division of Gallia Narbonensis and Aquitain, yet we may exactly observe, that the Church of these provinces hath well nigh always made a distinct body by her synods and canons.

It is a matter of difficulty precisely to fix the first rise of these Churches. I own that some Greek Fathers have believed, that St. Luke and Crescens, disciples of St. Paul, did preach the Gospel in Gallia; but that which engaged them in this opinion seems of little or no solidity. And the Galatia mentioned by St. Paul in the second of Timothy, doth not signify Gallia, but a province of the lesser Asia, as the learned Petavius acknowledgeth. Others have believed, that St. Paul himself preached the Gospel in these provinces, as he passed through them in his way to Spain, where the fourth century took it for granted that he preached the Gospel: but neither doth this seem grounded upon sufficient authority; and we do not find that the ancient authors of these countries did ever maintain any such thing. Should we indeed, as to this point, give credit to the most part of the Romish legends, to which Baronius in his Annals pays too great a deference, it would be an easy matter to give to the most part of these Churches a most august original. We might suppose that St. Peter and St. Paul were the founders of them by the ministry of their disciples, or that Clement, Bishop of Rome, sent them thither almost immediately after the martyrdom of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul. They tell us, that Paul was the first Bishop of Narbon, Saturninus of Toulouse, Martialis of Limoges, Frontinus of Perigueux, Vincentius of Daeqs, Georgius of Puy, Eutropius of Xaintes: much like as for some ages since, in most of the other Churches of France, they suppose that the first Bishops were sent them by the same Apostles, or by their first successors.

But we meet with nothing but falsities in these pretended traditions: and it is impossible to reconcile them with what Sulpicius Severus and Gregorius Turonensis tell us concerning the rise of Christian religion among the Gauls. The former of these distinctly assures us, that Gaul never had any martyrs before the empire of Aurelius, son of Antoninus, Hist. lib. 2. Sub Aurelio, Antonini filio, persecutio quinta agitata; ac tunc primum inter Gallias martyria visa, serius trans Alpes Dei religione suscepta:

“The fifth persecution was carried on under Aurelius, Antonine’s son; and then first were martyrdoms seen among the Gauls, the Divine religion having been later entertained beyond the Alps.”

This single period of Severus gives sentence against all those pretended martyrs wherewith the Churches of France have filled their Breviaries. The latter tells us plainly, that it was not till the empire of Decius, about the year 250, that the city of Toulouse had for her first Bishop Saturninus, who was sent from Rome in company of six others, into the country of the Gauls, to preach the Gospel; to wit, Gatian at Tours, Trophimus at Arles, Paul at Narbon, Dionysius at Paris, Austremoine at Clermont, and Martialis at Limoges. This is that which is clearly proved from the acts of the Martyrdom of St. Saturninus, cited by Gregory, Bishop of Tours.

These testimonies of two ancient authors, the one of the fifth century, and the other more ancient, viz. the same who wrote the Martyrdom of St. Saturninus, have made such an impression upon some of the learnedest men of the Roman communion, viz. upon Bosquet, Bishop of Montpellier, Sirmond, and Launoy, the famous Doctor of the Faculty of Paris, as to make them with scorn reject those legends, which ascribe more ancient founders to these Churches, notwithstanding that they are the greatest ornament of the Breviaries of the Gallican Church, and that they cannot lose their credit, without shaking the belief of abundance of miracles, and the authority of a great number of devotions.

And indeed, what reason is there to own a tradition for authentic, which we scarcely find backed with any witness for the space of above seven hundred years? Besides, do not we know, that it was the dispute about precedency between the Churches in the eighth and ninth century, and which we find lasted till the twelfth, that engaged the several parties to devise this great antiquity, and boldly change that, which before had been the current belief of their Churches, because it did not answer their pretensions, nor comport with their vanity, to substitute instead thereof fabulous originals, under whose shelter they might maintain a dispute with more advantage against those that were on even ground with them? But however it be difficult to fix the certain original of these Churches; for the Gothic Liturgy, which was used in these provinces, assures us that St. Saturninus came from Smyrna, from whence it should seem that the first founders of the Churches of Lyons and Vienna came likewise; yet thus much we may assert, that the Gospel soon took deep root there.

My design is not to refute here what the authors of the legends have inserted in their fabulous relations, concerning the establishment of the Christian religion in these provinces, and the character of the piety of those first founders of Christianity, of their precepts and of their miracles. Indeed there is reason to deplore either the boundless impudence of the Pastors of the Roman communion, in obtruding such palpable falsities, or the prodigious stupidity of the people of that Church, who feed themselves with stories more fabulous than those of Amadis of Gaul, and make them the subject of their devotion. We read in the life of St. Martialis, that after the saint had converted Limoges, he there consecrated Churches to the honor of Jesus Christ, of the holy Virgin, and St. Stephen, whose cousin he was. We read that he raised to life the Priests of the idol, whom God had struck dead with a clap of thunder, for their poisoning St. Martialis; and that, after their resurrection, he converted them. We find that he admitted to the vow of virginity a person called Valeria, who some time after having had her head cut off, by order of the Duke of Guienne, whose courtship she had slighted, immediately took up her head, and carried it to St. Martialis, as he was saying Mass. We find him there going to Rome, to give an account to St. Peter of his commission: all this is very gravely related by the Legendaries; yea, the impudence of these knaves proceeded to that point, as in the ninth century to conciliate authority to these fabulous relations. Several councils were assembled at Limoges, where, with intolerable impudence, they imposed two epistles upon St. Martialis, the one as writ to those of Toulouse, and the other to those of Bourdeaux, and which bear much a like resemblance to the apostolical writings of those times, as asses do to lions: and all that these insipid authors tell us about it, is so entirely framed according to the manners, notions, and customs of the later ages, that we can find nothing in their writings but what some stupid Monks have insolently invented and patched together, with so little regard to reason, that one of these extravagant fellows maintains, that the blessed Virgin was saying her rosary at the time she was visited by the angel Gabriel.

It is not certainly known, whether the books which St. Irenaeus has written against the Valentinians ought to persuade us that those heretics had then already spread themselves among the Gauls; for seeing he writ them in Greek, this work seems to have been designed against the heretics of the east; for though we have a translation of these books, more ancient than the time of St. Austin, yet we have no proof that it was done with design to refute persons who had endeavored to corrupt the faith from the very beginning of its establishment in Gaul.

True it is, that in the fourth century, Arianism had considerably corrupted and infected the purity of these dioceses: Saturninus, Bishop of Aries, and those of his cabal, having condemned St. Hilary, Bishop of Poietiers, for an heretic, because he opposed Arianism with all his might; but soon after we find that truth raised herself again from under its ruins: for though at the beginning of the fifth century the Visi-Goths, who were Arians, had made themselves masters of these provinces of the Gauls, which they remained possessed of till they were taken from them by Clovis, King of France; yet we do not find that Arianism ever prevailed there, the vigilance of the Pastors having prevented the people’s yielding so far to the authority of these Arian kings, as to follow them in their error, the very nature of these disputes engaging the enemies of the Church to maintain such maxims, as put a stop to the people’s superstition, with respect to the veneration of martyrs.

I am not ignorant that St. Gaudentius takes notice that several Priscillianists were scattered up and down these provinces; and Priscillianism was nothing else but Manicheism in perfection, as appears from the writings of St. Austin. But this evil plant withered soon after; both the Arians, who were masters, and the orthodox, equally joining their endeavors to confound that heresy. Neither indeed do we find, after the sixth century, any mention made of Priscillianists in these parts; so that we may affirm, that Christianity was preserved there with much purity in those primitive times, and arrived to such a degree of strength and vigor, as to banish both those heresies, whereof the one attacked the Father of our Savior, and the other denied the Divinity of the Son.

But what I have already said in general, is not sufficient to give us a competent and just idea of the Christianity which was planted in these provinces, and which the Albigenses have so happily asserted, both by their preachings and sufferings. We must therefore take a review of these primitive ages, and consider a little wherein consisted that religion which these dioceses received from those first Ministers of Jesus Christ, who conveyed thither the doctrine of the Gospel, and transmitted the same to posterity, as a sacred trust committed to them.


 Home | Previous | Next