THEOSOPHY, Vol. 53, No. 10, August, 1965
(Pages 293-300; Size: 22K)

HERETICS AND THE RENAISSANCE

VII--"A NEW LIGHT ON THE RENAISSANCE"

[Part 7 of a 10-part series]

THE result of some years' research into the meaning of watermarks and printers' devices used since the beginning of papermaking and printing in Europe is embodied in Harold Bayley's A New Light on the Renaissance. Of the Albigensian papermakers and their watermarks, Mr. Bayley writes: It seems to have been a happy thought on their part to flash signals of hope and encouragement to their fellow-exiles in far distant countries, serving at the same time as an incentive to faith and godliness in themselves. Quarles' definition of an emblem as "a silent parable" is here peculiarly applicable, for if my surmises be correct, every ream turned out by these pious papermakers contained some five hundred heretical tracts, each of which ran its course under the unsuspecting nose of orthodoxy. (Bayley, p. 40.)

The twelve chapters of Mr. Bayley's book, containing over 400 reproductions of watermarks, are headed as follows: "Papermaking and The Albigenses," "Religious Emblems," "Emblems of The Deity," "Emblems of Persecution and Preaching," "Romaunt Emblems," "The Philosopher's Gold," "The Kabbalah," "The Inventing of Printing," "Printers' Devices," "The Transference of Woodblocks," "Tricks of Obscurity" and "The Renaissance." These are followed by a "Conclusion" covering eighteen pages, and 29 pages of "Notes and References" constituting an extensive bibliography, not only on the subject of watermarks, but also on Symbolism, Heresies, Secret Societies, Inquisition, Reformation, Renaissance, and many more, including several references to H. P. Blavatsky. A New Light on the Renaissance is the result not only of scholarly research into the meaning of watermarks, but of intuitive perception as to their deeper significance. It provides another link in the chain of evidence stretching over the centuries that there has always existed a Mystery Language.

From the time when History first emerges from the Unknown, it is clear that Allegory has played a vital and pre-eminent part in human thought. Of Indian and Egyptian symbolism it is unnecessary to speak beyond noting that many of the emblems employed by papermakers are traceable to these and other sources equally remote. A fact too little appreciated at the present day is the vast extent to which emblems and emblematic literature engaged the attention of medieval Europe. Allegory, as says Professor Courthope, gradually produced a kind of intellectual atmosphere necessary to the life of the Middle Ages. It is, as will be demonstrated, a key that not only enables us to unclasp hitherto sealed writings, but to unravel a long series of hitherto mysterious papermarks and printers' marks. That medieval artisans should systematically have scaled the heights of Allegory will be surprising to not a few; nevertheless, it will be remembered that -- to mention but two conspicuous instances -- Hans Sachs, the famous poet of Nüremburg, and Jacob Böhme, the equally well-known mystic and philosopher, both practised the humble trade of cobblers. Indeed it is abundantly clear that medieval craftsmen were adepts in the art of symbolism. Papermakers and printers alike took up a venerable thread, and, by weaving it into their workmanship, enshrined thereby their traditions and their aspirations. Papermarks and printers' ornaments are thus intellectual heirlooms that not only crystallise many beautiful ideas, but are historical documents throwing unexpected sidelights on the obscurity of the Middle Ages. From them it is clear that the scattered civilization of Provence reunited in secrecy, and that in the course of time reimposed its influence upon Europe. (Bayley, pp. 3-4.)

The Albigenses were the greatest practical exponents of the art of Allegory that modern civilization has seen. There was not a single dogma that they did not spiritualize. To them, God was a Spirit to be worshipped only in spirit. They attributed to the scriptures a fourfold interpretation, the Historic, the Allegoric, the Tropologic, and the Anagogic. For the edification of the simple minded, the historic face-value was sufficient; by the more spiritual among them the allegoric was valued; the third and fourth stages of interpretation were to be trod by the higher and the highest minds alone. Throughout Albigensian literature we are brought face to face with their adherence to the Paulician dictum: "The Letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life." (Bayley, p. 21.)

In addition to their functions as Pilgrims of Love, the Troubadours were exponents of the mystic Chivalry which flourished during the dark ages, and was employed as an effective engine against the abuses of Feudalism and religious despotism. Troubadours were in effect the shuttles by which was woven over the face of Europe the marvellous fabric of Romantic Mysticism, comprising the Romances of the Round Table, King Charlemagne and His Peers, the Legends of the St. Grail, and the Romaunt of the Rose. These vast cycles of mystic literature, written and declaimed by the Troubadours, spread like wildfire over Europe, and were translated into many languages. They served as heretical Scriptures, from which were drawn lessons of encouragement and morality. [Thousands of watermarks illustrate the Holy Grail, the Romaunt of the Rose and other heretical legends.] This is evidence of the enormous influence of the Troubadours over the minds of the medieval craftsmen. Watermarks confirm the presumption that the Troubadours did indeed form a link in that long chain of rational mysticism which the Papacy from its earliest days made such frantic but ineffectual efforts to break. (Bayley, pp. 62-3, 59.)

The invention of printing came to stimulate the spread of enlightenment, and a reading public gradually formed itself, reached and influenced by other modes than the pulpit and the lecture room, which had been the monopoly of the Church. The New Learning spread among a daily increasing class the thirst for knowledge and the critical spirit of inquiry, which insensibly undermined the traditional claims of the Church on the veneration and obedience of mankind. (Lea III, 647.)

J. L. Motley, speaking of the rise of printing (History of Dutch Republic, Everyman's Library, i. 48), observes that at the very epoch when tyranny was most swiftly ripening a weapon was secretly being forged more potent in the great struggle for freedom than any that the wit or hand of man had ever devised or wielded. "The contest," he writes, "was at first favourable to the cause of arbitrary power; but little seeds were silently germinating, which in the progress of their development were one day to undermine the foundations of Tyranny, and to overshadow the world." The early printers were quick to foresee this momentous issue of their art, and it is therefore not due to chance that we find the acorn, that silent and slowly germinating little seed, scattered all over their pages. (Bayley, p. 182.)

In Histoire des Papeteries à la cuve d'Arches et d'Archettes (Paris, 1904, p. 36) M. Henri Onfroy throws some valuable sidelights on the secret organisations of the papermakers' guilds. "One is struck," he says, "by the general spirit of insubordination that from all time has animated papermaking workmen. Collaborating in the propagation of the written thought which during the 18th century was the great destructive agent of the state of affairs up till then respected, it would seem that the papermaking workmen had a knowledge of the social upheavals which were about to occur, and of which they were the obscure auxiliaries. All the documents that concern their history reveal numerous facts which demonstrate the opinionativeness and turbulence of their claims." (Bayley, p. 234.) The evidence from trade-marks proves that there existed a secret league against the encroachments of the Church of Rome. "Meiners," says Hallam, "has gone so far as to suppose a real confederacy to have been formed by the friends of truth and learning through Germany and France to support Reuchlin against the mendicant orders, and to overthrow by means of this controversy the embattled legions of ignorance." (Bayley, p. 6.)

Whatever may have been the original excellence of the Romish system, it is undeniable that at the period immediately prior to the Reformation it had become a base and merciless tyranny over the conscience and freedom of Europe. The clergy were men of fierce passions and low instincts. They were justly regarded as fanatical obscurantists devoted not to the advancement of morality and learning, but to the perpetuation of a benighted ignorance and an almost inconceivable bigotry. At their hands Philosophy and Theology had become degraded and brutalized to a degree almost impossible to credit. The sledge hammer of Luther, notwithstanding that it nearly caused the disintegration of the Romish Church, brought little if any relief to the claims of philosophy. The Reformation did little to free thought and the odium theologicum remained an ever present incubus. (Bayley, pp. 203-4.)

There is a tremendous job to be done in tracing the influence of these sects upon the men who created first the Renaissance and then the Reformation. ... I never before realized the number, the diffusion, the force of the heretics throughout the history of Europe. In spite of fifteen hundred years of persecution by the greatest institution on earth, the Church of Rome, and then three hundred years of persecution by Lutherans, Calvinists, and other Protestant groups, they survived, fertilizing the minds of their persecutors as the centuries passed. ... The heretic was 'he who chooses,' and if there is one thing we need more than any other today it is the ability to choose what one thinks, the values upon which one acts, and the goal toward which one directs the way into the future. One of our most profound thinkers in this country has become very much interested in this theory and points out that if it can be substantiated it would write a new chapter in the church history. "If that is so," I asked him, "why hasn't some one else written it before now?" "The truth of the matter is," he replied, "neither the Roman Catholic nor the Protestant churches want to know it." (Blodwen Davies: "The Peaceful Heretics.")

It is interesting to contrast such views on the heretics with the conclusions arrived at by other writers. In looking into the voluminous literature available in any good library on the subject of medieval heresies one is struck by two things: first, the Christian bias of many writers, including some of the foremost authorities; and, second, the failure to recognize the existence of an immemorial and universal Gnosis at the root of all heretical beliefs. A few passages from C. Schmidt's and Henry Charles Lea's scholarly works on the Cathari, works which have contributed so much toward a better understanding of medieval heretics and have been drawn upon so freely in the present series, will serve as an example.

The Cathari were neither atheists nor hypocritical impostors; they clung in good faith to errors all the more difficult to dispel inasmuch as they believed them to be founded upon plausible, rational arguments, and an irrefutable interpretation of the New Testament. The success of the Cathari shows how difficult it was for the people of the Middle Ages to rise to the height and purity of the monotheistic idea; it shows how deeply pagan tendencies were rooted in the hearts of people, and what dangers were incurred when, relying solely on one's imagination, speculations were indulged in on the most abstruse metaphysical and religious questions. It must not be overlooked, however, that the dualistic system found a point of agreement in one of the very doctrines of the Church; the powerful impact of the dogma of the devil and his kingdom during the Middle Ages is well known. (Schmidt II, 170; 172.)

The downfall of Catharism is not due to the Inquisition alone; the heresy was not destroyed by the flames of a fanatic orthodoxy; it retreated only upon the approach of the light of a more advanced civilization. A system such as Catharism could appeal to men of inferior intellectual culture; it was incapable of maintaining its hold against religious and philosophical progress. If it was extinguished without return, the needs of the human spirit it had tried to satisfy did not die with it; these are the needs for religious life and liberty, both equally primitive and indestructible. (Schmidt II, 173.)

In our view Catharism is an error, from the philosophical as well as from the religious point of view; but we respect it as a manifestation of the need for religious life and liberty; as a protest of individual reason and sentiment against external authority in matters of faith, as a bold effort to solve one of the most difficult problems that beset the human spirit, and to lead life back to a more perfect purity in the midst of the disorders of the Middle Ages. At a time when the people were for the most part profoundly ignorant with regard to the true meaning of religious questions, when liberty of conscience was suppressed by popes and kings alike, and when piety was losing itself in the formalism of external ceremonies, the enthusiastic spirits who aspired toward a higher science, liberty and virtue, easily lost themselves in the speculations and practices of the Catharist dualism. We repeat, these speculations are erroneous, and these practices are for the most part contrary to human nature as well as to Christianity; but should we for this reason justify the incredible acts of violence employed by the ecclesiastical and civil powers in their attempt to crush the Cathari? If we do not approve their doctrines, must we not speak out with even greater force against those who fought them with fire and sword rather than with reason and persuasion? (Schmidt, Preface.)

[Edmond Holmes holds a similar view. In his concise treatise The Holy Heretics he says (page 74)]: The philosophy of Catharism was no doubt unsound. [He aptly summarizes Schmidt's conclusions as follows (pages 2-3)]: As an Evangelical Christian, he (Schmidt) condemned the doctrines of the heretics. As a human being, he condemned the cruelties of their persecutors. [This would seem to apply equally to Lea's point of view who wrote:] As civilization slowly advanced, as the midnight of the Dark Ages began to yield to the approaching dawn of modern ideas, as the hopelessness of humanity grew less abject, the Manichaean theory grew less attractive. The world was gradually awakening to new aims and new possibilities; it was outgrowing the dreary philosophy of pessimism, and was unconsciously preparing for the yet unknown future in which man was to regard Nature not as an enemy, but as a teacher. Catharism had no possibility of development, and in that lay its doom. (Lea II, 254.) In its long career of blood and fire the only credit which the Inquisition can claim is the suppression of the pernicious dogmas of the Cathari, and in this its agency may be regarded as superfluous, for those dogmas carried in themselves the seeds of self-destruction, and higher wisdom might have trusted to their self-extinction. (Lea III, 650.)

[The histories of philosophy and European thought generally assert that the Albigensian heresy was an isolated phenomenon, that it contributed little to the European mind. This is difficult to believe in the light of much evidence to the contrary. We have seen how all of Mr. Bayley's conclusions indicated that, as quoted above, "the scattered civilization of Provence reunited in secrecy, and that in the course of time it reimposed its influence upon Europe." The intuitive nature of Mr. Bayley's perceptions seems nowhere more evident, perhaps, than in the following beautiful passage occurring toward the end of his book, A New Light on the Renaissance.]

Wise men under the masks of Poesy, Mysticism, and Alchemy were for centuries working out the regeneration of Europe. These scientists of the Soul by the quiet force of perseverance gradually and imperceptibly transformed the jungle of the human heart into worthier elements. The Renaissance was not the inevitable clash of the human spirit growing unconsciously into conflict with the rigid and outworn Theology of Rome. No: the Renaissance or rebirth of humanity was the effect of a scheme deliberately designed and artistically contrived by the prophetic and more gifted minds of past ages. It was not an untended wild flower, but rather a plant rare and exotic, cherished by centuries of blood and tears. Gradually and almost imperceptibly, the Light of the Renaissance crept up and spread over the face of Europe. (Bayley, 211-12.)

[Mr. Bayley's remarkable book ends with the following] "Summary of Conclusions."

1. From their first appearance in 1282, until the latter half of the eighteenth century, the curious designs inserted into paper in the form of watermarks constitute a coherent and unbroken chain of emblems.

2. That these emblems are Thought-fossils or Thought-crystals, in which lie enshrined the aspirations and traditions of the numerous mystic and puritanic sects by which Europe was overrun in the Middle Ages.

3. Hence that these papermarks are historical documents of high importance, throwing light not only on the evolution of European thought, but upon many obscure problems of the past.

4. Watermarks denote that papermaking was an art introduced into Europe, and fostered there by the pre-Reformation Protestant sects known in France as the Albigenses and Waldenses, and in Italy as the Cathari or Patarini.

5. That these heresies, though nominally stamped out by the Papacy, existed secretly for many centuries subsequent to their disappearance from the sight of History.

6. The embellishments used by printers in the Middle Ages are emblems similar to those used by papermakers, and explicable by a similar code of interpretation.

7. The awakening known as the Renaissance was the direct result of an influence deliberately and traditionally exercised by papermakers, printers, cobblers, and other artisans.

8. The nursing mother of the Renaissance and consequently of the Reformation was not, as hitherto assumed, Italy, but the Provençal district of France.

These are novel and subversive propositions, but I have confidence that History will eventually accept them. (Bayley, p. 232.)

* * *

Sources used in this installment: Harold Bayley, A New Light on the Renaissance; Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Volumes II and III; Blodwen Davies, "The Peaceful Heretics," Manas, June 3, 1953 (Los Angeles, Calif.); C. Schmidt, Histoires et Doctrine de la Secte des Cathares ou Albigeois; Edmond Holmes, The Holy Heretics.

The insistences of dogma and prejudice are like the snows which hide the promise of spring. But seeds survive beneath the snow, and even during the darkest centuries of Western history, there was heat and warmth enough under the surface to allow some of these seeds to germinate. In a sense, then, the history of the relationship between "heretics" and the "renaissance" is the history of every age.

Of the ten articles comprising this series, the first seven were derived entirely from recognized historical sources; the remaining three will consist solely of quotations from the writings of H. P. Blavatsky, making, in effect, a review in the light of Theosophy of the main ideas dealt with earlier. The theosophical student who has assembled this material has done what H.P.B. spoke of having done in her Introduction to The Secret Doctrine -- put together "a nosegay of culled flowers," adding only "the string that ties them."

(To be continued)


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HERETICS AND THE RENAISSANCE
IN THE LIGHT OF THEOSOPHY
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