The song 'Dominique', written and sung by Jeanine Deckers, or 'Soeur Sourire', as she was popularly known , is an homage to St Dominic (1170-1221), the founder of the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominican Order. The French lyrics are:
Two specific verses here:
A l'epoque ou Jean-sans-Terre de' Angleterre etait Roi
Dominique, notre Pere, combattit les Albigeois.
Certain jour un hérétique, Par des ronces
Mais notre Père Dominique, Par sa joie le convertit. "
can be roughly translated:
During the time of Jean-sans-Terre (John Lackland), King
Dominic, our Father, Fought against the Albigensians.
Now a heretic, one day among the thorns forced him to crawl
Dominic with just one prayer made him hear the good Lord's call .
There are two areas of focus for my notes. The first is to look at the background of St Dominic specifically his relationship to the Albigensians; and the second is to understand the Albigensian, or Cathar movement from another perspective: that of Robert Johnson's, a writer and Jungian analyst.
St Dominic and the Albigensian Heresy
The history of St Dominic is a morass of light and shade. An extremely well-educated intellectual, Dominic also possessed an abnormal charitable nature, twice attempting to sell himself into slavery to obtain money for the liberation of those who were held in captivity by the Moors. While traveling through Toulouse, France, he observed to be what he considered the spiritual ruin wrought by the 'Albigensian heresy'. It was this observation that led him to the idea of founding an order for the purpose of combating heresy and spreading the light of the Gospel, as practiced by the Catholic Church. Pope Innocent III approved Dominic's plan.
Historically, the Albigensians, or Cathars, were a sect with dualistic beliefs similar to those of the Manicheans. Although they seem only to have studied the canonical Gospels, their beliefs seem more closely related to some of the Gnostic Gospels. Jesus, they taught, was an angel with a phantom body; he did not really suffer on the cross. The importance they attached to Jesus was to his teachings not his death and resurrection. Unusual for a Christian sect, the Albigenses were strictly pacifist and non-violent. They were also tolerant of other beliefs.
Dominic enthusiastically engaged the Albigenses in theological exposition. The thorough training and education that he had received now proved of inestimable value to him in his encounters with the 'heretics'. Unable to refute his arguments or counteract the influence of his preaching, they visited their hatred upon him by means of repeated insults and threats. But Dominic also learned various preaching techniques from the Albigenses which he incorporated into his own method.
Innocent III had originally sent the Dominican monks to try to convince the Albigenses, by public debate, of the error of their ways. But they were unsuccessful and the region remained firmly under the Albigensian influence.
At the same time, Dominic also became aware of the necessity of an institution that would rescue the women of that country from the influence of the Cathars. Many of them had already embraced Albigensianism and were its most active propagandists. It was needful, too, that women converted from heresy should be safeguarded against the evil influence of their own homes! The Cathar women had erected their own convents, to which the children of the Catholic nobility were often sent to receive an education. Dominic, with the permission of the Bishop of Toulouse, established a Dominican Convent at Prouille. To this community, he gave the rule and constitutions which have ever since guided the nuns of the Second Order of Saint Dominic.
But as yet there was no official action against the Albigensians and they were still allowed to develop their strength rapidly for years in the hope that spiritual weapons would be enough to meet them. The Papacy was always hoping that there would be a peaceful solution.
Some background is necessary here to understand the threat the Catholic Church felt from the Cathars. They viewed it in this way: the eleventh century, the years between 1000 and 1100, may be called the awakening of Europe. Civilization had just passed through fearful trials. The West had been harried, and in some places Christendom almost extinguished, by droves of pagan pirates from the North, the unconverted and later only half-converted Scandinavians. It had been shaken by Mongol raiders from the East, pagans riding in hordes against Europe from the Plains of North Asia. And it had suffered the great Mohammedan attack upon the Mediterranean, which attack had succeeded in occupying nearly all Spain, had permanently subdued North Africa and Syria and threatened Asia Minor and Constantinople.
Europe had been under seige but had begun to beat off its enemies. The newly civilized Germans attacked the Mongols and saved the Upper Danube and a borderland to the east. The Christian Slavs organized themselves farther east again. There were the beginnings of the kingdom of Poland. But the main battleground was Spain. There, during this eleventh century, the Mohammedan power was beaten back from one fluctuating border to another further south, until long before the eleventh century was over the great bulk of the Peninsula was recaptured for Christian rule. With this material success there was a strong awakening of the intelligence in philosophical disputation and in new speculations on physical science. One of those periods had begun which appear from time to time when there is, so to speak, "spring in the air." Philosophy grew vigorous, architecture enlarged, society began to be more organized and the civil and ecclesiastical authorities to extend and codify their powers.
All this new vitality was working for vigour in alternate belief systems as well as in orthodoxy. There began to appear from the East, cropping up here and there, but in general along lines of advance towards the West, individuals or small communities who proposed and propagated a new and, as they called it, a purified form of religion.These communities had some strength in the Balkans and seemed to have acquired some strength in North Italy before they appeared in France, although it was in France that the last main struggle was to take place. They were known by various names; Paulicians, for instance, or a name referring them to a Bulgarian origin. They were very generally known as The Pure Ones. They themselves liked to give themselves that epithet, putting it in the Greek form and calling themselves "Cathari." The entire story of this advance from the east of Europe has been lost when, during the thirteenth century, Christendom rose to the summit of its civilization, and the Albigensian origins were forgotten and their obscurity accentuated by the fact the Catholic Church rigorously expunged all references to the movement . Yet it was an influence both widespread and perilous and there was a moment when it looked as though it was going to undermine Catholicism altogether.
It began to concentrate and take strong form in southern France, and that was where the final and decisive clash between it and the organized force of Catholic Europe was to take place.
In 1167 came a turning point. The Albigensians, now fully organized as a counter-church (much as Calvinism was organized as a counter-church four hundred years later), held a general council of their own at Toulouse and by the time the ominous political fact appeared that the greater part of the small nobles, who formed the mass of the fighting power in the centre of France and the south, lords of single villages, were in favour of the new movement. Western Europe in those days was not organized as it is now in great centralized nations. It was feudal. Lords of small districts were grouped under overlords, these again under very powerful local men who were the heads of loosely joined, but none the less unified, provinces. A Duke of Normandy, a Count of Toulouse, a Count of Provence, was in reality a local sovereign. He owned deference and fealty to the King of France, but nothing more.
Now the mass of the smaller lords in the south favoured the movement, as many another heretical movement has been favoured since by the same class of men, because they saw a chance of private gain at the expense of the Church's landed estates. That had always been the main motive, in these revolts. But there was another motive, which was the growing jealousy felt in the south of France against the spirit and character of Northern France. There was a difference in speech and a difference in character between the two halves of what was nominally the one French monarchy. The northern French began to clamor again for the suppression of the southern heresy, and thus fanned the flame. The Count of Toulouse, the local monarch, in that year took sides with the heretics. Innocent III, at last began to move.
Pierre de Castelnau, one of the Cistercian legates, was assassinated. This crime precipitated Pope Innocent III to initiate the campaign known as the Albigensian Crusade under Simon de Montfort, which led to the temporary subjugation of the heretics. Dominic participated, but always on the side of mercy, wielding the arms of the spirit while others wrought death and desolation with the sword.
Like the crusades against the Muslims the Pope offered indulgences, such as land, to all its participants. This brought about twenty thousand eager Christians, knights and peasants, from all over Europe. The Albigensian crusade was to outdo all the atrocities of the past: for the first time a pope was sanctioning a holy war against other Christians.
We find Dominic by the side of Montfort at the siege of Lavaur, and again at the capture of La Penne d'Ajen. He was at Pamiers labouring, at the invitation of Montfort, for the restoration of religion and morality. Lastly, just before the battle of Muret, Dominic is again found in the council that preceded the battle. During the progress of the conflict, he knelt before the altar in the church of Saint-Jacques, praying for the triumph of the Catholic arms. So remarkable was the victory of the Crusaders at Muret that Simon de Montfort regarded it as altogether miraculous, and piously attributed it to the prayers of Dominic. In gratitude to God for this decisive victory, a chapel was erected in the church of Saint-Jacques, which was dedicated, it is said, to Our Lady of the Rosary. It would appear, therefore, that devotion by use of the Rosary, which tradition says was revealed to Saint Dominic, had come into general use about this time. About 15,000 men, women and children were slaughtered there. The killing of heretics, in many cases was not done instantly, the victims were first blinded, mutilated, dragged behind horses and used for target practice. Some chroniclers estimated the figure to be closer to 50,000. The crusade lasted for more than twenty years and the estimated casualty was about one million dead. This wholesale massacre almost completely destroyed the nascent civilization of a brilliant people. But 'almost' was not enough for the pious Christian bishops. The Inquisition or, more formally, The Congregation of the Holy Office, was established . Its aim was simple, to seek out and eradicate the remaining Albigensian heretics, and the Pope entrusted the implementation of the Inquisition to the Dominican monks and Dominic was appointed as one of the first lnquisitors. (In his favour, whatever influence he may have had with the powers-that-be of that horrible institution was always employed on the side of mercy and forbearance. )
But after the success with the Albigenses, Inquisition was used on the other heresies. Later, Pope Innocent VIII used the tribunal against 'the heresy of Witchcraft' and its persecution of 'heretical' women.
From the Cathars to the Troubadours to Romantic Love
I was familiar already with the Albigensian or Catharist movement from my reading of Robert Johnson. In my opinion, one of the most important works of our time is his book, 'The Psychology of Romantic Love'. In it, Johnson says that one of the most powerful of the early religions was the Manchaean movement, named for the Persian prophet, Manes. In Europe, this religion became 'Catharism', for the believers called themselves Cathars, meaning 'pure'. By the twelfth century, entire towns and provinces in the south of France, though nominally Christian, practiced Catharism, and many of the nobility in the courts of Europe were Cathars. In France the movement was called the Albigensian heresy because the movement centered in the city of Albi in France.
One of their basic beliefs was that 'true love' was not the ordinary human love between husband and wife but rather the worship of a feminine savior, a mediator between God and man who waited in the sky to welcome the 'pure' with a holy kiss and lead him or her into the Realm of Light. By contrast with the 'pure' love, ordinary human sexuality and marriage were bestial and unspiritual. Cathars believed that the love of man for woman should be an earthly allegory of their spiritual love for the Queen of Heaven.
Many Christians saw Catharism as a reform movement, a reaction against the corruption and politics within the religious hierarchy. The patriarchal church of the middle ages, long out of touch with the feminine soul had become materialistic and dogmatic; it offered a 'revealed' set of laws and teachings - all very rational and masculine It offered a collective experience of ritual and dogma in which ordinary people found no room for a personal experience of a living god. By contrast, the Cathars practiced an exemplary morality and offered an experience of God that was at once personal, individual and lyrical. They also returned the feminine to religion.
Pope Innocent III declared Catharism a heresy and drove it underground by relentless crusades. But like every powerful idea that is driven underground, it reappeared in another form - a supposedly 'secular' form. The teachings and ideals of the Cathars suddenly reappeared in the cult of courtly love, in the songs and poems of the troubadours and in the 'romances'. Some cultural historians believe that courtly love was a deliberate 'secular' continuation of Catharism, that the knights and ladies who first practiced courtly love were Cathars continuing their religious practice under the guise of a secular cult of love. To outsiders it looked like a new and elegant way to make love, to woo and flatter pretty damsels but for the inside who knew the code it was an allegorical practice of Catharist ideals.
The religion of the Cathars and its offspring, courtly love, are carriers of the most magnificent fantasy in the mind of Western man, the fantasy that romantic love carries for us today. But this awesome fantasy is no illusion: all fantasy is reality, reality expressed in symbol and flowing from an ineffable source. Catharism is the fantasy of finding ones lost soul. It is the wondrous fantasy of discovering that the inner world is real, that the soul is real, that the gods are real and that we can truly find that world, that beauty, that communion with the gods. Many men would agree that romantic love is a 'fantasy' but they would not know how great a thing they say - for as it is a fantasy, it is also a truth, a truth that we can live if we will understand it on the right level. The truth behind fantasy has to be earned. To find that reality, we must look behind the fantasy and its symbols; we have to give up trying to live the Catharist and courtly fantasies literally - outside ourselves, with mortal people in the temporal world - and live this fantasy's truth as an inner event, an inner fact.
What Johnson is suggesting is a paradigm, similar to the idea in the film 'The Matrix'. From the Cathar period onwards, in our Western Culture, there has been a romantic 'pseudo-structure' superimposed upon a more primary way of understanding the world and relationships between people. The troubadours, or as they are commonly called today 'folk singers' and popular singers, are most likely the descendants of the Catharist or Albigensian resistance movements!
This brings me to an inexorable conclusion: Jeanine Deckers' greatest fame was achieved by the song , 'Dominique' - glorifying one of the Catholic men most responsible historically for the destruction of the very spiritual movement which led to the essence and creation of the troubadours, folk singers, music and romances so omniscient and important in our present culture. Yet and still, what attracted me to 'Soeur Souire' and the song back in 1963, when I was sixteen years old, wasn't really the content (my French wasn't all that good at the time! - I didn't even know what the song was about) as much as the sound of Jeanine Deckers' trembling and clear voice and her wonderful and high spirit, which represented, at least to me, all that could be sweet and innocent and true and beautiful in the world.
How appropriate, then, that she should ultimately renounce the Dominican Convent, cast off her nun's habit, and instead protest against the Catholic Church as a repressive institution in her later songs, choosing instead to live her life in pursuit of the 'romantic ideal' with her closest friend, Annie Pescher, and - ironically and tragically - that pressure and persecution of the State, in the cloth of the Belgian Tax Department, should have contributed so significantly to death and her final act of suicide.
(Compiled and edited by Joe Dolce. Thanks to Robert Johnson, Hilaire Belloc, and John B. O'Conner for background information, quoting and paraphrasing from their excellent essays.)