Heresy does not hold the gravity that it used to…

In the year 1209 Pope Innocent III launched a military campaign know as the Albigensian Crusade. The intention was to eradicate a group of French Christians deemed to be heretics for their belief in consolamentum and borderline polytheistic ideas about God and Satan.

Consolamentum was a religious right that involved a spiritual purification and absolution from sin. Following the ritual Cathars became known as Perfecti. They were expected to live a pure life and renounce all sins including abstaining from eating meat and avoiding all sexual contact. This meant that through their virtue they were recognised as angels manifested in human form by their followers and worthy to perform the rites and rituals of the Cathar Faith. If they broke their vow at any time then the sacraments they had performed were deemed to be invalid.

The idea that in order to administer sacraments the person performing the sacrament must be pure could not have been popular with the wealthy, powerful and often corrupt Roman Catholic Church in the 13th Century. It was also the nail in the Cathar coffin. It amounted to a heresy defined by the Church as Donatism.

Donatism was a concept the Church had been fighting since 313 and they quickly stamped it out during the Cathar Crusade. Their argument was that the sacrements themselves were sacred not those who performed them. Jesus had built his Church on Simon-Peter – ‘the rock’ and the first Pope. Peter was not sinless, he famously denies his Messiah three times in all four of the Gospels but they believed he was deemed worthy of leading the Church by Jesus himself.

Those of you still reading may be wondering what relevance this has to teaching and why the history lesson. Firstly it’s because it’s my blog and I think it’s interesting but more importantly there are lessons to be learned from history here. Expectations on teachers today border on this ancient heresy. I have seen colleagues taken away and “told off” like naughty children because they have been seen drinking in catchment at the weekend. I know colleagues who have to wear long sleeves all year to hide their taboo tattoos.

As teachers we can all be treated as sinners by senior leaders leading to a constant attempt to absolve ourselves by jumping through every new hoop in the hope that we can be the perfect teacher.

There are no perfect teachers. We are all perfect teachers. Maybe there are lessons to be learned from the arguments for the Albigensian Crusade. Surely it’s the content of the lessons and what the pupils take away from it that matter, not the “outstanding” individual that taught them. Our sacraments are far more frequent and far less sacred in schools than the Cathars and we think of them as lessons not sacraments but in the same way as the early Church of Rome argued against Donatists it’s the quality of the lessons and quality of the learning, not the personal quality of the teacher, that matter. Let’s end this heresy today.


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