Simone Weil – Letter To Déodat Roché
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is a letter written by French Philosopher Simone Weil to Déodat Roché (1877-1978) who was an historian of Catharism (See link in source section) who founded the ‘Cahiers d’Etudes Cathares’ and established in 1950 the ‘Société du souvenir et des études cathares‘. Having discovered the Cathars’ symbols of faith and their tragic history through the publications of Jean Ballard and Déodat Roché, Simone Weil will write two essays in 1942, ‘The Agony of a civilisation‘ and the ‘The Occitan Inspiration‘ and send a year before their publication a enthusiastic letter to Déodat Roché. Connecting the destruction of the Cathars by the Catholic Church to the events she is currently living, she draws a parallel between the ‘Iliad’ of Homer and the ‘Song of the crusade against the Albigeois’ (Canso) composed, during the 1209-1229 genocidal crack down. These two texts express Simone Weil’s vigorous call for resistance against the contemporary totalitarian powers* eagerly engaging in a brutal confrontation with the rest of Humanity. A Via-HYGEIA English translation from the orignal French.
I do not have the privilege to know you and I deplore this greatly; as I just finished to read in ‘les Cahiers du Sud’ (Note: sic erat scriptum: ‘chez Ballard’, the editor) your beautiful study about ‘spiritual love among the Cathars’ for the ‘Oc’* issue (I also contributed with an article about the ‘Song of the Crusade’ that will appear under the pseudonym of Emile Novis-under which pen-name is currently being published a study about Homer’s ‘Iliad’; it felt timely in the interest of the magazine to chose to write under a pseudonym because of the current circonstances). Thanks to Ballard I have read before your brochure ‘About Catharism’, Those two texts made a deep impression on me.
I have been attracted by the Cathars for a long time, even though not knowing much about them. One of the main reason for this attraction is their opposition to the Old Testament you express so well in your article, in which you rightly say that the adoration of power made the Hebrews lose the notion of good and evil. The status of sacred text granted to stories filled with merciless cruelties kept me for long away from Christianity, all the more these texts have never ceased to exert an influence upon all the currents of Christian thought for more than twenty centuries; that is if we understand by Christianity, all contemporary Churches fitting in this category. Saint Francis of Assisi himself, as pure from this defilement as it gets, established an monastic order which, as soon as it was in activity, took part in the murders and massacres. I never could understand how it is possible for a reasonable mind to consider the Yahve of the Bible and the Father referred to in the Gospel as the same and one being. The influence of the Old Testament and that of the Roman Empire-whose tradition was maintained by the Catholic Papacy, are in my opinion the two causes of the corruption of Christianity.
Your studies strengthened me in an impression I had before reading them, which is that Catharism has been in Europe the last living manifestation of pre-Roman Antiquity. I believe that before the Roman conquests the Mediterranean countries formed a civilisation-not homogeneous, because diversity was great from one country to another-but continuous; that a similar thought lived upon the best minds, expressed under diverse manner in the Mysteries and the initiatic Cults of Egypt, Thrace, Greece and Persia, and that the writings of Plato embody the most perfect expression of this though that we know. Of course, due to the scarcity of documents, such an opinion cannot be proven; but among other clues Plato himself always presents his teachings as the expression of an antique tradition, without ever indicating the country of origin; in my opinion, the simplest explanation is that the philosophical and religious traditions of the countries known to him were united in one and unique thought. It is from this thought that Christianity has emerged; but only the Gnostics, the Manicheans and the Cathars seem to have remained faithful to it. Alone, they truly have escaped the coarseness of spirit, the wretchedness of heart that the Roman domination has spread over vast territories and which up to today are characterizing Europe’s atmosphere (note: Zeitgeist).
There is among the Manicheans something more than what the Antiquity offered-I mean the Antiquity known to us: some splendid concepts, such as the ‘divinity descending among humans’ and ‘mind torn among matter’. But especially what makes Catharism a sort of miracle, it is that it was a religion and not a philosophy. What I mean is that around Tolosa in the twelfth century, the highest thought was alive among the people and not only restricted to a mere few individuals. It showcases here, I feel, the mere difference between philosophy and religion- at the condition it is a non-dogmatic religion.
A thought reaches its fulness of existence only when incarnated among a human ‘milieu’, and by ‘milieu’ I mean something open to the external world, embedded withing society, in contact with all parts of that society and not connected only with a closed group gathered around a master’s discipline. For lack of breathing the atmosphere of such a ‘milieu’, a person engages into philosophy; but it is a second rate resource, as thought reaches a lesser level of reality. There was, in all likelihood, a Pythagorean ‘milieu’, but we know little about it. At the time of Plato, nothing similar subsisted and we feel continuously in Plato’s writings the absence of such ‘milieu’ and the regret of this absence, a nostalgic regret.
Please forgive these rambling thoughts; I only wanted to show you that my interest in Catharism was not proceeding from a mere intellectual curiosity. I have read with delight in your brochure that Catharism could be considered as a Christian Pythagoreanism or a Christian Platonism; because in my opinion, nothing surpasses Plato. Mere curiosity cannot connect with the thought of Pythagoras or Plato, because with regard to such a thought knowledge and participation (adhésion) are but one operation of the mind. I think it is the same with Catharism.
Never was it more necessary today than to resurrect this sort of thought. We are living in an epoch people feel with confusion-but vividly-that what we name during the XVIII th century, ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ comprise-science included-an insufficient spiritual food; but this feeling is leading Humanity in the most dreadful paths. It is urgent to look back in the past, to those periods which where nurturing such a spiritual life from which what is now most precious in our sciences and in our arts is simply a rather degraded reflect.
This is why I wish that your studies will find among the public the attention and the circulation they deserve. But such studies, as beautiful they may be cannot suffise. If you could find a publisher, the publication of this collection of orignal texts, accessible to the main public, would be much desirable.
I haven’t read, I must confess, any Gnostic, Manichean or Cathar texts, at the exception of Manichean Hymns in the Coptic language. Your brochure and your article make me regret vividly such ignorance. I would be extremely grateful if you could provide me with some bibliographic information and point out where and how I can get my hands on these texts.
I will soon leave Marseille for Alger. I have much desired, before leaving, to be able to go to Bezier to have the great joy to make your accointance and peruse a few of your books-if you would be kind enough to agree to it. I don’t know if it will be possible for me to make this trip; but if I can, I hope you would allow me to come meet with you and ask you a few questions. It would make me very happy.
Sir, please accept, the expression of my sincere sympathy.
Simone Weil, Marseille, 1941.’
*The destructive powers: The members of the Axis pact, Germany, Italy and Japan.
*Oc: Occitania, a region of France, formerly called Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées regions now administratively united.