THEOSOPHY, Vol. 53, No. 8, June, 1965
(Pages 228-233; Size: 18K)

HERETICS AND THE RENAISSANCE

[In any age, when a doctrine is taken to be a truth, and when fanaticism compels lip service to exclusive group beliefs, the ideas of Theosophy seem buried and forgotten. We discover, however, that this is never entirely the case. 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 the series, "Heretics and the Renaissance," the first seven are derived entirely from recognized historical sources; the remaining three 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 doing in her Introduction to The Secret Doctrine --put together "a nosegay of culled flowers," adding only "the string that ties them." Editors, THEOSOPHY]

V--THE TROUBADOURS AND THE MYSTERY LANGUAGE

[Part 5 of a 10-part series]

IN her Secret Doctrine Madame Blavatsky speaks of the Mystery Language of the prehistoric races [as] a purely pictorial and symbolical tongue, known at present in its fullness to the very few, having become with the masses for more than five thousand years an absolutely dead language. Yet [she says], most of the learned Gnostics, Greeks and Jews knew it and used it, though very differently. (S.D. II, 574.) [That this "mystery" or secret language, at least in some of its aspects, was used during the Middle Ages by the heretical sects which flourished, and perished, during those dark centuries, is a fact well established by more than one writer of the 19th and 20th centuries.]

Gabriel Rossetti's Disquisitions on the Anti-Papal Spirit which produced The Reformation shows that the art of speaking and writing in a language which bears a double interpretation is of very great antiquity, that it was in practice among the priests of Egypt, brought thence by the Manichees, whence it passed to the Templars and Albigenses, spread over Europe, and brought about the Reformation. (Modern Panarion, p. 49.)

Rossetti's findings concerning the hidden meaning not only in Dante's poetical works, but in the lyrics of other poets of the 13th and 14th centuries known as the "Fideli d'Amore" (the faithful to or of Love) are interesting in connection with our study of heretics and their mystery language. They were set forth in an article published in THEOSOPHY for April, 1933, entitled "Plain Theosophical Traces in Poetry." Rossetti, a great enemy of the Roman Church and a member of the Rosicrucian Fraternity, was no doubt aware of the existence of an eternal Wisdom-Religion whose disciples used a secret language as a protection against the fierce persecution of the Church. In his book Il Mistero del Amore Platonico, Vol. III, he uses many arguments to prove that the custom of hiding mystical and intuitive ideas under the veil of terrestrial Love has come from Persia through the Manichaeans, the Cathari and the Templars. The movement, starting in the East, passed through the "Provincials" to the Sicilian poets (Frederic II, Pier della Vigna, Jacopo Lentini); from these to the Bolognese (Guinzelli); and finally to the Toscans (Dante, Cavalcanti, Ceno). Another writer, Maurice Magre, in his Magicians, Seers, and Mystics, calls Nicetas the great propagator of Catharism, and states that it was after the visit of Nicetas to Sicily that the group of the Faithful in Love was formed, whose doctrines had so much in common with Catharism. One of the masters of this group, according to Magre, was Guido Cavalcanti, the friend and initiator of Dante, (Extracted from "Plain Theosophical Traces in Poetry," THEOSOPHY 21:247.) [Note: A link to this important article has been placed at the end of this one.--Compiler.]

[According to Eugene Aroux, a catholic writer of the last century] Dante was a great fountain of heresy and a leader of the Albigensian Church, and conceived the audacious project of employing ecclesiastical symbols to convey his Platonic teaching. (Bayley, p. 228.)

[In the South of France where the Albigensian heresy was so deeply rooted, the Troubadours for centuries exercised an enormous influence on the thinking of the day.]

[In his A New Light on the Renaissance, Harold Bayley writes that] "the Troubadours were conspicuous as Pilgrims of Love, Fidèles d'Amour, and Knights Errant in the service of a mysterious Lady, whom they exalt under various names, such as Star, Flower, Light, Rose, and Flower of Flowers. This service of Love was described as an 'art' and a 'science,' their 'gai savoir,' their 'gai science,' and there is no doubt whatever that under a well-recognised erotic jargon matters and ideas of great moment were communicated to the scattered fidèles." And he goes on to say that, as Gabriel Rossetti pointed out in the last century, "many little love poems which we are in the habit of regarding today as amatory trifles are in reality works of a recondite character, which enshrine doctrines traditionally handed down from past ages. The Troubadours made very little effort to dissemble the patent fact, 'Thou can'st go,' says one of them, addressing his own love poem, 'wither thou wilt: I have dressed thee so well that thou will be understood by those endowed with intelligence: of others thou need'st not be concerned.' Again we find them deprecating the necessity for their obscure mannerism. 'Let no one blame me,' says Gavaudin, 'for selecting a cloudy style of writing, or at least, let them reserve their censure until they are capable of sifting the wheat that lies therein from the chaff'." (Bayley, pp. 60-61.)

[Dante himself wrote] (Cf. Convivio II, 16): "I say and affirm that the lady of whom I was enamored after my first love was the most beautiful and most pure daughter of the Emperor of the Universe to whom Pythagoras gave the name of Philosophy." [And Giordano Bruno said:] "I am displeased with the bulk of mankind; I hate the vulgar rout; I despise the authority of the multitude, and am enamored with one particular Lady. 'Tis for her that I am free in servitude, content in pain, rich in necessity and alive in death ... Hence it is even for my passion for this beauty that, as being weary, I draw not back my feet from the difficult road, nor, as being lazy, hang down my hands from the work that is before me: I turn not my shoulders, as grown desperate, to the enemy that contends with me, nor, as dazzled divert my eyes from the divine object ... 'Tis for the love of True Wisdom and by the studious admiration of this Mistress that I fatigue, that I disquiet, that I torment myself." (Ibid.-- cf. Remarks upon Alchemy and the Alchemists, E. A. Hitchcock, New York, 1865, p. 197.)

The Provençal Poets or Troubadours are mentioned with "respect by Dante and Petrarch and the authors of the Novelle Critiche. Dante's Inferno gives repeated praise to Arnaut Daniel and calls him the greatest of all those who have sung of love, and Petrarch was no less enthusiastic. (Britannica, 11th Ed., "Troubadours.")

There were noble Troubadours, wealthy and independent, as well as those who made their song their profession, wandering from castle to castle and from bower to bower. But whether dependent or independent, the Troubadours exercised a social influence which was extremely remarkable, and had been paralleled by nothing before it in the history of medieval poetry. They had privileges of speech and censure, they entered into questions of politics, and above all they created around the ladies of the court an atmosphere of cultivation and amenity which nothing had hitherto approached.

The Troubadours [Bayley points out], were "not only the constant attendants of learned princes, but they were the confidantes and companions of learned men. Their profession embraced the callings of poet, musician, chronicler, littérateur, and theologian. It is remarkable to find what a large number of princes and representatives of noble families forsook their stations and enrolled themselves in the Troubadour ranks. Among them occur such names as Richard Coeur de Lion, Alphonse II, of Aragon, and the Counts of Poitou, Provence, and Toulouse. The courtly and poetic Troubadours prepared the youth of both sexes for society, and drew up rules for their guidance. We find them giving advice such as the following:-- 'Shun the companionship of fools, impertinents, or meddlers, lest you pass for the same. Never indulge in buffoonery, scandals, deceit, or falsehood. Be frank, generous, and brave; be obliging and kind; study neatness in your dress, and let elegance of fashion make up for plainness of material. Never allow a seam to remain ripped and gaping; it is worse than a rent: the first shows ill-breeding, the last only poverty, which is by far the lesser evil of the two. There is no great merit in dressing well if you have the means: but a display of neatness and taste on a small income is a sure token of superiority of spirit.' etc., etc." (Bayley, pp. 55-6.)

[Referring to the refining influence of the Troubadours, Bayley quotes J. F. Rowbotham as writing:] "Before the rise of the troubadours, and the humanizing effect of their songs, and the contagious influence of their refined pleasures, these same castles which gave so ready a welcome to them and their courtly train, were often the morose homes of rapine and semi-barbarism. To suppress the excesses of individuals and to effect a change in the general character of an era, the only effectual means is the slow creation of a public opinion favourable to the new ideas. It should seem that nothing is so conducive towards influencing public opinion as the existence of an art such as that of the troubadours, which could infuse at every turn into the most unguarded moments of private life, and which was devoted to the encouragement of blitheness and gaiety. It was carried on by those who professed it, not in any spirit of self-seeking, but with the most chivalrous and ideal aims. And when the noblest and wealthiest men in the land go so far that they can consecrate their talents and their possessions to the pursuit of a high ideal, we need not be surprised if the rudeness and ferocity of their neighbours and friends is mitigated and subdued, even if it be not totally extinguished." (Ibid., pp. 56-7.)

Rowbotham in commenting upon what he calls their "unfortunate attitude towards the Church," i.e. the intellectual contempt which they displayed towards the Papacy, observes: "We must bear in mind in studying the history of the troubadours that this spirit, which was so strongly pronounced in the first of their race, was in a manner common more or less to all. Whether it were a secret unbelief or a spirit of social rebellion engendered by luxury and looseness of life, certain it is that the troubadours throughout their history will generally be found to constitute the anti-clerical party." (The Troubadours: their Loves and Lyrics, J. Rutherford, London, 1873.) (Ibid.)

The sentiments of the Troubadours towards the official custodians of Christianity may be judged from the following passage: "Rome that sink of corruption; I know that I shall be blamed for speaking against it, but I cannot hold my peace. It does not amaze me that the whole world is enveloped in sin, for I know how carefully, how earnestly, how incessantly, how widely you have sown the seeds of war and corruption. Blinded as you are, you shear your flock even to the skin! With the Holy Spirit to aid I will stop your mouth. Rome more perfidious than all the Greeks, blind leader of the blind! Disregarding the rules laid down by Heaven, you sell absolution for money, you load your shoulders with a burden that will sink you down to the pit. Your principles are abominable, your habits are treacherous. God confound you Rome!" (Ibid., p. 58.)

"It appears reasonable," says the cautious Heckethorn, "to consider the Troubadours as the originators of that vast conspiracy directed against the Church of Rome; the champions of a revolt which had not for its guide and object material interests and vulgar ambitions, but a rebellion and polity of Love." (Ibid., p. 59--cf. The Secret Societies of all Ages and Countries, C. W. Heckethorn, London, 1897, I, p. 144.)

For centuries Troubadours of Provence filled the role now occupied by the Press. They kept aflame hatred against Rome and the love of art and literature that was traditional to the South of France. (Ibid., pp. 4-5.) In their combat against clerical ignorance and intolerance, and as producers and exponents of belles lettres, the Troubadours, as pointed out by Harold Bayley, were among the earliest assertors of Intellect. In his view Provence was, in effect, the cradle of the Renaissance, a land of intellectual light whose rays spread over the whole of Europe. And he quotes Berard as lamenting: "If these heretics had only been able to continue their active propaganda; if they had not fallen in shoals under the executioner's axe, what an incalculable gain to civilization!" (Ibid., p. 82.)

In their crusade against the abuses of the Church of Rome, the Albigenses found ardent auxiliaries among their fellow countrymen, the Troubadours. It is almost impossible to overestimate the influence exercised by these all-powerful minstrels. Wandering from town to town and castle to castle, their lyrics swayed the minds of not their own countrymen alone, but of all Europe from sovereign to peasant. Few things could resist their ridicule, and no memories were beyond their power to perpetuate. (Ibid., p. 55.)

When in 1209-1226, the Church of Rome devastated the Albigensian provinces, the home of the Troubadours was demolished, its laws and customs were reversed, and its language was proscribed and extinguished. But this transmutation of a beautiful and peaceful country into a wild desert sown with unburied corpses, recoiled disastrously upon the perpetrators of the wrong. The expatriated Troubadours found for themselves asylums in all parts of Europe, where they kept alive the story of Romish barbarity, and added perpetual fuel to the smouldering fires of heresy. Though crushed and scattered, the civilization of Provence continued to exist for subsequent centuries, stealthily yet surely imposing its manners on its neighbors. (Ibid., pp. 82-3.)

* * *

Sources used in this installment: Maurice Magre, Magicians, Seers, and Mystics; Harold Bayley, A New Light on the Renaissance; Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, under "Troubadours." [Note: This is the "Plain Theosophical Traces in Poetry" article (from THEOSOPHY magazine) that was spoken of and quoted from in the above article. It's the final article of the 166 that are compiled in the "Introductory" book on this web site: in the Volume 1--> Setting the Stage link found on every page.--Compiler.]

(To be continued)


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HERETICS AND THE RENAISSANCE
THE ALBIGENSIAN PAPERMAKERS AND WATERMARKS
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