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Kill them all...

Posted by Smokey Stover, champ of long posts on July 29, 2005

In Reply to: Kill them all... posted by ESC on July 29, 2005

: : : : : I am trying to find the origin of this phrase or quote. Please help me if possible.
: : : : : The phrase is "Kill them all, let God sort them out". I have been told it has to do with the sacking of a city that had Christian inhabitants.
: : : : : I am trying to write a reply to a letter to the editor and would like some quick help please and thank-you.

: : : : A historical explanation involving a real city seems unlikely. Can your informant document that idea? I suspect that the phrase originated in 20th-century popular culture.

: : : This comes from a perfectly genuine mediaeval anecdote. In 1209, during the "Albigensian Crusade" against the Cathar heresy in Southern France, the forces of Orthodox Catholicism had been besieging the city of Beziers, defended by the Cathar heretics, for some time. Finally they breached the walls of the city and prepared to storm it. The commander of the crusade, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, pointed out that not everybody in the city was a heretic, some of them wer good Catholics, so how should they treat the inhabitants when they captured the city? A monk who was actually present at the siege recorded the answer of the Papal Legate to the Crusaders, Arnaud-Amaury, the Abbot of Citeaux, as "Neca eos omnes. Deus suos agnoscet." ("Kill them all. God will know his own." ) So the Crusaders followed his advice and killed everybody they could find in Beziers.
: : : The Abbot presumably said it in everyday French, and the account we have is in Latin, but there seems no reason to doubt that he really did give that advice.

: : Some sources have a different L---n for the same quote, i.e. "Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius." I'm guessing that different historians translated from the Fr to L according to their preference?

: I had a 9/11 poster (from the Newseum) in my office that showed about 50 newspaper front-pages on the day after. There's this weird guy at work who has a horrible loud voice. It sounds like when British actors try to do an American accent. He came in, looked at the poster for a while, then turned to me and said, "KILL 'EM, KILL 'EM ALL." I said, in a small voice, "Well...not all of them." I took the poster down.

Background. No post so far has specifically named the Albigensian Crusade, called in 1209 by Pope Innocent III against the Cathar heresy, and named (by others) for Albi, a small city in Provence. Thus it follows shortly after the Fourth Crusade and just before the so-called Children's Crusade, which never really got started and didn't involve many children. (Ralph Nader's presidential campaign of 2000 has been called a Children's Crusade, but a better comparison is with the Fourth Crusade, in which the Christian crusaders got as far as the Christian city of Constantinople, sacked and burned it, then turned around and came back home.)

The Albigensian Crusade was more consequential than it may seem. One aspect of it was semi-secular and political As the Encyclopedia Britannica puts it, this crusade "threw the whole nobility of the north of France against that of the south and destroyed the brilliant Provençal civilization." The French nobles were back home after the Fourth Crusade (1202-04), and were still available in 1209. They tended to be hostile to the nobles and population of Provence, which was not part of the Kingdom of France, differed greatly from the French culturally, and mostly spoke a different language, Provençal (nowadays called Occitan, and spoken still in some places).
The Pope had promised them indulgences, and they didn't have to go far to get them, nor fight long (only 40 days). Simon de Monfort saw a possible gain in territory, and eventually won Toulouse (a major point of resistance). That territory changed hands a few times, Monfort was killed, and the French king, Lou is IX, eventually stepped in and in 1229 claimed Toulouse and other territories for the Kingdom of France.

The papal legate's comment at Béziers could almost define the entire religious fight against heretics. We shan't go into the rather complicated Cathar heresy here. But in 1215 a young Spanish priest named Domingo came to Provence on a mission and saw the Cathar heresy being openly practiced. He resolved to devote himself to expunging this heresy, and soon got to Rome, where he asked for permission to form an order of mendicant friars to combat this heresy. He got his permission and by 1215 put his Order of Preachers (O.P.), or Dominicans, on the job. The Office of the Inquisition was officially established in 1231, and the Dominicans have been charged with its execution ever since. (It became the Holy Office in 1908, and in 1965 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.) The Inquisition was authorized to use torture, confiscation of property and imprisonment. Death was meted out by the secular arm (on the suggestion of the Inquisition). In Provence another weapon was used; citizens who pointed out heretics were rewarded with the alleged heretic's land. (You may remember what happened in 1942 to the Nisei (American citizens of Japanese descent) in California. Some citizen groups professed themselves to be suspicious of the loyalty of these Americans, and the government obligingly carted them off to concentration camps, and allowed their property, including quite a number of truck gardens (vegetable farms, market gardens, truck farms), to be sold at very distressed prices. Turns out the "groups" were groups of realtors and rival truck gardeners, and they were able to snap up the seized land really cheaply.)

The French nobility moved on when the indulgences were cut off; the Pope needed the indulgences as rewards for another Crusade, the Fifth. The heretics, however, received no relief, because of the tenacity and ferocity of the Dominican inquisitors. The heresy was ruthlessly crushed, along with much of the population, both heretics and correct Catholics. Many adherents went underground; some went to Italy or to Switzerland, where they became a sizable part of Neuchatel. The independence and culture of Provence was destroyed and the Church was saved.

Added note: the two best-known orders of mendicant friars, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, were both established in the 13th century. They have both been very successful in recruitment and maintaining their position, and both can be recognized by their costume. The Dominicans, who might not exist but for the Albigensian heresy, wear black-and-white robes and cowl. SS