For some time now I’ve been reading the work of James Attebury on his blog on Christian theology and apologetics. I’ve referenced his work once before in “Luke 23:43 and Sheol.” His posts have a distinctively academic tone, with plenty of citations. In some ways, it is a lot like Anabaptist Faith, the blog run by fellow Anabaptist Lynn Martin (his blog is in my sidebar). These are the kinds of blogs that I love reading. I felt similarly about Wintery Knight….back before he censored me.
Unfortunately, James Attebury has joined the ranks of apologists who cannot handle dissent, having censored my recent critiques. The sad fact is that I’ve never been banned by a non-Christian blogger. I wasn’t even banned by progressive athiest John Scalzi, Father Ban Hammer himself, for making pro-life comments! By and large, it is the self-proclaimed Christians who censor me and most of them are apologists or teachers. Do they not realize that censorship self-defeats apologetics?
No censor can be an authority of theology or apologetics. The act of censorship disqualifies and delegitimizes them.
Given my stance on censorship, I will no longer be commenting on his blog, nor (as with Sigma Frame and Wintery Knight before it) will I affirmatively recommend them. Moving forward, I will only respond here. Of course I saved copies of my comments, since unfortunately, I can usually intuit—by their fruit—who is prone to censorship, and I’m rarely wrong. If posting here seems overly confrontational and one-sided, it is because he has shut down constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, I am left with no choice but to write one-sided “polemics” moving forward.
As I noted in my previous post regarding Jack @ Sigma Frame, it wouldn’t be the first time an author thought I was actively persecuting or attacking them because I wrote critical articles on my own blog. Keep in mind that if you want to have an open dialogue, you have to actively encourage it instead of actively suppressing it. I would have thought this was obvious. Those who try to control the discussion through rules and demands are the ones who prevent open dialogue. That I get blamed for persecution is truly massive irony.
Many Protestants and Anabaptists, including myself, claim that the church was maintained in the Alpine regions of Europe from the rise of the Roman religion in the late 4th century until at least the Protestant Reformation. Many scholars believe that the Paulicians arose out of the ancient heresies, and that the Bogomils, the Cathars, the Albigensians, and (later on) the Waldensians owe their heretical heritage to the Paulicians. Among scholars there is always disagreement about who believed what and who (if anyone) was a “real Christian.” Sound familiar?
Obviously if any links in the chain are heretics, then they cannot be part of supposed apostolic succession. The rather plain motivation of Roman Catholic scholars is thus to declare at least one (if not all) of these groups to be heretics, and to ensure that none of them can be properly described as holding Protestant beliefs prior to the Protestant Reformation.
James Attebury also considers a number of these groups to be heretics and attempts to trace “True Christianity™” through other paths (e.g. Henricans). Attebury deviates somewhat from other scholars, but nonetheless I questioned his willingness to uncritically accept the biased scholarship that declares groups to be heretics.
It all started back in December with Attebury’s article on the Waldensians. In the article, James Attebury repeated the common claim that ex-priest Peter Waldo founded the Waldensians. Last year I wrote “Waldensians: An Historical Overview” explaining why this claim is highly questionable.
In my comment, I noted that Eberhard de Béthune, Emilio Comba, Antoine Monastier, Bernard de Foncald, Peter Allix, and Abbot Conrad of Lichtenau all testified to a Waldensian group that preceded Peter Waldo. Furthermore, I questioned whether Attebury’s strict distinction between the Albigensians and Waldensians was real. Attebury responded by saying:
Ultimately that’s why we need to read their own writings. The Cathar text “The Book of Two Principles” shows what [the Albigensians] believed in their own words.
So I did. You can too. Comment below with what you find.
The Book of the Two Principles is a text written by an Albigensian author that lays out the author’s beliefs as a formal argument from reason and scripture. It is a very Berean approach. It is one of the only primary sources of information on the Albigensians written by an actual Albigensian. The vast majority of information about them comes from their enemies and is questionable at best. The book is quite interesting.
In “Were the Albigensians Christians?“, James Attebury concludes that the Albigensians were heretics:
As a Protestant and a Baptist, I believe that the church has always existed from the time of Jesus until now. There have always been true believers in Jesus and the church cannot cease to exist (Matt 16:18). [..] But were the Albigensians actually heretics or faithful Christians? As I will demonstrate here from their own writings, they did hold to heretical beliefs that distorted who God is and rejected the teachings of the Bible. As my Baptist History professor once said about the trail of blood, “You have to be a Christian first before you can be a Baptist.” [..] We do not need the Albigensians to create a trail of blood. The Henricians and Waldensians did not hold to the false beliefs of the Albigensians and they were true forerunners of the Reformation.
One of the key problems is that the Waldensians almost certainly were closely related to the Albigensians, and it is difficult from the historical record to treat them as separate groups. The issue isn’t whether they are needed. It is truly awful scholarship to make historical claims because your belief requires it to be a certain way. Attebury needs someone to create a trail of blood, lest his worldview collapse. He cannot let the evidence speak for itself.
Attebury then cites Roman Catholics Raynaldus and Bernard Gui as witnesses against the Albigensians. Rather than reject these Roman sources as biased and untrustworthy, he then cites the Book of the Two Principles as evidence that the Roman Catholics were correct, stating:
This teaching is no different from that of the heretic Marcion who taught that the God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old Testament. He accused the God of the Old Testament of being evil [..] The Albigensians added their own made-made traditions and beliefs to God’s Word. They rejected the God of the Bible who created all things in favor of a form of Marcionism. While they criticized Roman Catholicism for many of their false beliefs, the beliefs they held to were far worse.
Marcionism was a dualistic belief that originated in the second century, adjacent to (but not equal to) gnosticism, which arose at the same time. As we will see, it is important for Attebury to create a link between the 2nd century marcionites and the 12th century Albigensians through dualism in order to establish that they were heretics. This leads him to discount the evidence that they were not, in fact, dualists (at least not in the heretical sense).
I responded with a now deleted original comment that said much what follows.
In the Book of Two Principles, the author makes plain that when God “creates” or “makes” evil, it means that he gives sufferance for it to exist for a time, for nothing can exist without the say-so of God himself, for all things to exist requires the authority of Christ. But this doesn’t imply that God directly creates evil as such. That responsibility goes to Satan:
“And in this sense we can freely concede that Satan was ‘created” or “made” by the true Lord God—that is, after he was given license to afflict Job—for by permission which he obtained from the true Lord God he did that which he was unable to achieve by himself. And so he can be said to be “made” by God—that is, he was acknowledged as ruler over the people, not absolutely but, so to speak, indirectly and nonessentially. [..] So, darkness is not created absolutely and directly by our Lord God and His Son Jesus Christ but only in an indirect and relative sense [..] That is, the Lord our God created and made all things, namely, heaven and earth, the sea, and all things which are therein; He made all things in heaven and earth through our Lord Jesus Christ; and all things were created by Him, in Him, and of Him, as has already been demonstrated by many texts.”
You the reader remember that last sentence as you read the rest of this post. This Albigensian belief is completely unambiguous and heavily contradicts the words that Attebury places on the Albigensian’s lips when he accuses them of heresy.
The critics of the Albigensians were engaging in semantic bickering…
“Whence, one should give no credence at all to the belief that the true Lord God absolutely and directly created darkness or evil, especially from nothing, which our opponents think is the proper meaning of “to create.”“
…and declaring the the Albigensians to be heretics because they understood things differently. See, the critics of the Albigensians thought that God could only create something out of nothing, and so condemned the Albigensians because their own limited worldview prevented them from considering other ways of thinking about the same things. They were so obsessed with defining terms the way they wanted them defined, that the didn’t understand what the Albigensians were saying, even as it was explicitly explained to them!
The Abligensians author explicitly stated that what he means by the ‘creation’ was not ex nihilo creation:
“…our opponents, who believe that for God “to create” is to make something exclusively and essentially from nothing. [..] I grant that the Lord our God is the creator and maker of this creation, but not of the “weak and needy elements” of this world. [..] Therefore, if God made and created and justly ordered all things good, He did not create the darkness or evil, nor did He form the dragon. Nor are even our opponents wont to believe that God had formed the devil as a dragon, but rather as a beautiful angel, nor that He had created angels as demons and things of darkness, but rather as angels shining and luminous.”
The Albigensians merely acknowledged the presence of an evil god who created things from things that were already created by the one true God. Remember that quote above? They were quite explicit that the One God did, in fact, create the world and all that was declared good in it. By contrast, here is a list of the “creations” of the second god:
“…adultery, theft of another’s property, murder, blasphemy, concurring in falsehood, giving one’s word either with or without an oath and never keeping it…”
Does this sound like heresy to you?
“On the Evil Creator. And so, in the opinion of the wise it is quite evident that he cannot be a true creator who, in the temporal world, caused the manifest and merciless destruction of so many men and women with all their children.”
The New Testament clearly teaches in a number of places of another god—principle—of the earth (e.g. Luke 4:5-6; John 12:31; 1 John 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4). That there is another principle besides the One God who rules the earth is beyond question. That god clearly “creates” the evil within his domain. Jesus himself speaks of Satan on many occasions, including when Satan tempts Jesus by offering Jesus Satan’s own domain.
Do you agree that there is an evil creator—Satan—who is not a true creator, but a destroyer? I do, and so does that unnamed author.
I do not understand how Attebury can say…
“[The Albigensians] rejected the God of the Bible who created all things”
…based on the Book of the Two Principles. The opposite appears to be the case. Let’s say that again: the Albigensians explicitly affirmed that the God of the Bible created all things.
Attebury’s claim is simply false. If you go back and read the quotes that Attebury gave from the Book of the Two Principles, it is obvious that Attebury took the meaning out of context in order to affirm his preconception that the Albigensians were dualistic heretics. So when Attebury says…
The author argues that God is not the only sole principle, but there is another principle besides God who is evil who created the visible world
…and cites the actual words…
there is another principle, one of evil, who is the source and cause of all wickedness, foulness, and unbelief, as also of all darkness. [..] But I say that he who created and made the visible things of this world is not the true Creator.
What the author said is that the evil god created the darkness, wickedness, foulness, and unbelief. The evil god is responsible for adultery, theft, blasphemy, etc. But the Albigensian author never, not once, said that the Genesis 1-2 creation was created by the evil God. Indeed, he stated that what was created good was created (out of nothing!) by the One True God. It was the evil god—Satan—who corrupted what had already been created as good. Here is that quote again:
[T]he Lord our God created and made all things, namely, heaven and earth, the sea, and all things which are therein; He made all things in heaven and earth through our Lord Jesus Christ; and all things were created by Him, in Him, and of Him, as has already been demonstrated by many texts.”
This is completely unambiguous. Attebury clearly doesn’t understand the argument that the author has made, and his lack of understanding leads him to conclude that it is heresy. That is precisely what the Roman Catholics have done: take their own ignorance and project it upon their enemies.
Indeed, if you read the Book of the Two Principles it becomes plainly obvious that the author believes that all the evil we see in the world, the visible corruption of death, destruction, and decay that occurred in the world after the Fall of Man was caused by Satan. It is a simple Protestant understanding that the fallen world we live in is not the perfect world that the One True God created, but a fallen world that must needs restoration. All that we see that is visible is ultimately fallen. This is not heresy, it is Protestant orthodoxy! Sure we can look at God’s majesty in a sunset or a massive hurricane, but the death the latter brings is because nature is inherently fallen. This is pretty standard Baptist theology.
Faced with evidence that directly contradicted his own claim, James Attebury deleted my comment.
In his article against the Albigensians, Attebury noted that the supposed Cathar conversion oath required them to swear off meat, cheese, and eggs, as well as swear to celibacy. He used this fact to bolster the testimony of the Roman Catholic Raynaldus.
Their statement that “henceforth you will eat neither meat nor eggs, nor cheese” is parallel to the testimony of Raynaldus that they “abhorred the eating of flesh, eggs and cheese.” This conversion oath serves as evidence that helps to confirm the trustworthiness of his testimony about Cathar beliefs.
In the immediately following paragraph, Attebury concludes that:
The Albigensians added their own made-made traditions and beliefs to God’s Word.
But the Albigensians Cathars were not celibate vegans. In fact, they utterly rejected these things. I then quoted the Book of Two Principles, noting that Albigensian Cathar author explicitly rejected veganism and celibacy as evil. How could this be? He waffled:
The quotations in it about the Garatenses demonstrates that there was diversity within the Cathar movement. Not all Cathars held to all of the same beliefs and practices. The [Albigensian] author of the Two Principles attacks the Garatenses and their abstaining from meat and eggs. He represents one strain of thought about what foods we are allowed to eat within Catharism while the Garatenses represent another. But they were both dualists.
Why, in an article entitled “Were the Albigensians Christians?” is Attebury obsessing over the Cathars and Garatenses instead of the Albigensians specifically?
Attebury is engaging in circular reasoning. Had Raynaldus stated the complete opposite that…
“they loved eating flesh, eggs, and cheese”
…Attebury could have said that…
“[The Book of the Two Principles] serves as evidence that helps confirm the trustworthiness of his testimony about Cathar beliefs.”
Well isn’t that super convenient! He could make one claim or its complete opposite and both would prove his trustworthiness? Nonsense.
Imagine if Raynaldus had watched a Chiefs vs Ravens game and concluded that “in football they wear red uniforms.” He would have been just as factually correct as Raynaldus was when he described the Cathars as being celibate vegans. And he would have been as equally utterly untrustworthy. Had he instead said that “they wear uniforms of color”, this statement of fact would also have been untrustworthy, as it neglected to mention the colorless greyscale uniforms. But Attebury views Raynaldus’ untrustworthy statements as trustworthy, because they confirm his bias.
Attenbury’s article is entitled “Were the Albigensian’s Christians?” There he used evidence of the heretical Cathar splinter-group the Garatenses’ heretical belief in veganism and celibacy as evidence that the separate Albigensians group were heretics, even though their own teachings repudiated the heresy. Why would you bring up the Garatenses novel heresy involving celibacy and veganism in an article examining whether separate Albigensians were Christians? It is completely irrelevant to the discussion. Attenbury’s argument makes no sense at all.
Worse, Attenbury referenced the veganism of the Garantenses sect in order to legitimize the statements by Roman Catholic Raynaldus who mistakenly attributed the Garatenses heresy to the Albigensians. It’s so twisted!
I pointed out this error and James Attebury deleted my comment.
But did you see that Attebury also added the phrase “But they were both dualists?” Why would he say that, as we were not even discussing dualism. Actually, I was, in my discussion on the Paulicians. But James Attebury deleted those comments too. Attebury was trying to ensure that he got the last word and that I got no word at all, and in doing so left evidence of his censorship for all to see.
Under Attebury’s article “Were the Paulicians Christians?“, I left two comments. He deleted both of them, but not before referencing my comments on dualism in his comment on the Albigensians. You can read the deleted comments are here and here.
In that article, just as in the previous article, James Attebury uncritically accepts the scholarship that the Paulicians were heretics and not true Christians. Remember when Attebury said that the Albigensians were heretics who rejected the Old Testament?
This teaching is no different from that of the heretic Marcion who taught that the God of the New Testament is different from the God of the Old Testament. He accused the God of the Old Testament of being evil
This is precisely what scholars accuse the Paulicians of believing. This is important, because the ancestors of the Albigensians are supposedly the Paulicians. So if the Paulicians didn’t actually believe that, then we’d have to question whether the Albigensians believed the same thing. The reality is that neither rejected the Old Testament.
I cited this PDF of the Photius, the Roman Catholic critic of the Paulicians. There I noted that the Paulicians had quoted Jesus in John 10:8 and Photius, being ignorant of the words of Christ himself, thought that the Paulicians rejected the Old Testament. But this is absurd. The Paulicians no more rejected the Old Testament than Christ himself rejected the Old Testament.
Notice how Photius tried to smear the Paulicians by accussing them of rejecting the Old Testament because they rejected Roman “sainthood.” Notice too how Photius thought that to reject the abomination that was papal authority of the supposed seat of Peter in Rome was to “curse” Peter. His own doctrinal bias led him to declare the Paulicians heretics, when it was he himself who was the heretic.
James Attebury didn’t like the idea that the Paulicians were Christian, so he deleted my comment.
In his post, James Attebury cited Philip Schaff and Frederick Conybeare. Conybeare refutted much of the lies against the Paulicians. Attebury did not like this, so he rejected Conybeare because he didn’t like his motivations, arguing that:
Conybeare’s beliefs about the Paulicians and Matt hew 28:19 were motivated by his rejection of theTrinity rather than the evidence.
I responsed by noting that by this standard Philip Schaff’s motivations should also disqualify him:
“These sects have often been falsely represented as forerunners of Protestantism; they are so only in a purely negative sense, while in their positive opinions they differ as widely from the evangelical as from the Greek and Roman creed. The Reformation came out of the bosom of Medieval Catholicism, retained its ecumenical doctrines, and kept up the historic continuity.” Schaff , Philip, History of the ChristianChurch, Chapter 12, §131. “The Paulicians”“
I pointed out to Attebury that his own doctrinal biases have led him to reject only those sources that he doesn’t agree with in order to arrive at his (predetermined?) conclusion. I noted that Nina G. Garsoïan evaluated all the available evidence on the Paulicians and concluded that the Paulicians were not dualists.
This is why Attebury brought up dualism, while simultaneously not allowing me to rebut his comment. Beware of such tactics! Any readers of Attebury should be aware of this misleading behavior.
Once can easily imagine the Paulicians pulling out their Bibles and showing the Roman Catholics (like Photius) where the New Testament is “dualist”. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:4, tells of “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”, and this is repeated in Ephesians 2:2 “…you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” Were they dualists, or did they just read scripture and accept what it says? It is clear that one could misinterpret those verses in a gnostic frame, and that is exactly what the critics did.
But the Paulicians—and the Albigensians who followed them—were not dualists. They simply read how the Bible tells of Satan—an evil, fallen ‘god’—being the ruler of this world and they believed the words of scripture about him. For this, they have been declared heretics by Roman Catholics (and the Protestants who uncritically accept the Roman Catholic framing).
James Attebury didn’t like being disproved, so he deleted my comment, but not without first sneakily responding to it.
Modern scholars do not like to be questioned. Along with “the science is settled,” attempting to question the framed narrative is how you get censored. Attebury cited, of all things, encyclopedia.com, as proof that the Paulicians and Cathars were dualists:
“At first all Cathari in Italy were subject to Bishop Mark, who professed the moderate dualism of the Catharist church of Bulgaria. The arrival of Nicetas, Catharist bishop of Constantinople and an absolute dualist, in Italy soon after 1174, led Mark to transfer to the order of Dragovitsa, which Nicetas represented. Under Mark’s successor, John the Jew, the Cathari divided into separate groups. The first was composed of the partisans of absolute dualism, called Albanenses, organizing themselves in the church of Desenzano, south of Lake Garda. They were particularly numerous in Verona. Those who remained faithful to the moderate Bulgarian dualism, the Garatenses, constituted the church of Concorezzo, near Milan. Moderate dualists also came together around the church of Bagnolo, near Mantua, adhering to the order of Esclavonia. Like these, the Catharist churches of Vicenza, Florence and Spoleto rejected absolute dualism.”
If a theologian and apologist such as James Attebury can read the primary source (The Book of the Two Principles) and the evidence I’ve presented and mistakenly conclude that they were dualists, then how is a secular encyclopedia going to get theology correct?
Well, you can decide for yourself. At least someone respects you enough to make up your own mind without censoring you.
I’m not happy that I got censored. The Paulicians and Albigensians called themselves True Christians. I presented evidence against the claim that the Albigensians and Paulicians were heretics, but represented themselves correctly and accurately. Yet, I’m well aware that the evidence is conflicting, and so encouraged Attebury to exercise caution:
You, the scholar and critic, have the sole burden to prove that specific heretical writings are representative of the whole and represent consistent and clear beliefs over time lest you risk bearing false witness against your fellow self-declared brothers in Christ in history. Extant documents cannot prove either of those claims. Those two assertions—inferences—ultimately come from personal research and opinion. Thus, any error of inference becomes the personal responsibility of the one making the claim. Given how weak the evidence appears to be—as in my recent comments on the other posts, and the evidence below—are you so eager and willing to risk engaging in calumny?
Recently in the comment section on this blog (and other blogs) Sharkly has been going on a tirade acting like a righteous Angel of Judgment, handing out judgments according to what his opinion declares to be true. He’s gone so far as to condemn me to the fires of Hell.
James Attebury is doing the same thing, declaring that whole groups of Christians over hundreds of years are not Christian. This is a truly massive judgment. Do you think on Judgment Day, Attebury will want to be held to the same standard that he held others? Do you think he will want God himself to accept the hearsay of others as evidence of his own belief? I doubt it.
Even when I criticize the Roman religion as being anti-Christ, I do not then claim that Roman Catholics are not Christian. When I wrote “Reviewing Wright’s Universal Apologia” I noted:
Nothing would prevent me from inviting Wright—a Roman Catholic—into my home and having fellowship with him as I would any fellow Christian. Nor can I claim he is not Christian, for he publicly believes that Jesus died, was resurrected in the flesh, ascended to heaven, and sits at the right-hand of God. He has publicly made Jesus his Lord and master after a confession of sin. He has been baptized into the faith. He is a Christian.
Being a heretic does not mean you are not a Christian. All men are heretics, even Attebury. Even Sharkly. Even I am. If heresy was a reason to not be a Christian, there would be no Christians.
All men are fallen and fall short of the glory of God. No man is good, except that Christ does good with him.
Do not be so quick to judge.