In difficult times, many people look to the past to make sense of their present difficulties, by way of commonality, coherent narrative, human nature and so forth.
In fact, this reaching for the past often occurs in two different forms- we either look to the past for examples of those whose lives and suffering mirror our present (‘this is just like’) encapsulating what, in our despair, we feel is our future, or we reach back to grasp some all-too-non-existent Golden Age or an example of where things were better, more ideal or principled (‘This is nothing like’ or ‘If only it were like this’).
Both of these are ways of framing and understanding our present experience- either through similarity or contrast, or both.
Anybody who has ever studied history, I’d wager, has done this, and any one who has gone through significant struggle and challenge, I’d also wager, has done this, though for those who have not made a study of history- they may reach back to some former time in their own life. I think I can say fairly that this is common to the human experience in some form or another.
In the political, social, and personal landscape, between economies, wars, persecution of minorities, many people, some rightly, a lot more wrongly, have reached back towards histories of persecution or oppression by one group towards another- either for commiseration, context or contrast or in some cases for historical solutions to the problems that we face in our own personal or social spheres in the present.
We shouldn’t forget these histories, these actions by one group against another- they’re still happening and you’ve probably experienced a form of it in your life, or have met someone for whom this is the case, at one point or another.
Our liturgical calendar and our history is replete with these moments- indeed the central Christian story, and often enough in gnostic circles, the Gnostic narrative, is often portraying as one group vs another- whether they end up on a cross or they end up on a stake.
The fires of Montsegur Day, though the evils told of therein are not alien to human history either before or after, are a beacon to any age in history, our own being no exception.
Montsegur Day is less about one group vs another, and more about what happens when we turn on each other- it is the suffering that we inflict on our sisters and brothers.
In truth, the many other days that preceded it, and the many that would follow it- whether it’s the Church vs the Order of the Temple, the Romans vs the Christians, the Christians vs. the Muslims, the Christians vs. the Jews, the Catholics vs the Protestants and on and on- in reality- they are all in truth, Montsegur moments- these other labels are ways to talk about historical conflicts and divides, but it has always been people against their fellow human beings, their sisters and their brothers.
These divides or labels have sometimes enabled us to forget, justify, or explain away these historical events and all-too-human behaviours, and often are just poor excuses for excuses for even poorer actions.
The fires of Montsegur, however, are a moment in time where we are less able to gloss over the heart of the matter. It is a day that lays as bare as can be, the things we do to those that share our humanity. The sides on the Albigensian ‘Crusade’ were as close to each other as anything.
If reaching back to Montsegur should enable anything for us, it should be a beacon fire into our present, and a lamp unto our paths for the future, of the intolerance we must banish and the acceptance we must integrate into our own paths and understanding.
We all share common cause- our very humanity itself- our blood, our breath, our hopes, fears, loves, losses- when you lay side by side the things we have in common with our neighbour against the things that we do not, well- it’s as one-sided as it gets.
It’s time to stop fearing the ‘other’- the other is you and if you keep those you don’t understand out of your hearts, your homes and hearths, eventually you will turn around to find yourself very much alone.
Let the fires of Montsegur be a light against that darkness.
+ IOHANNES IV,
Sovereign Pontiff and Patriarch
The Apostolic Johannite Church