Catharism (/ˈkæθərɪzəm/; from the Greek: καθαροί, katharoi, "the pure [ones]") was a Christian dualist or Gnostic revival movement that thrived in some areas of Southern Europe, particularly what is now northern Italy and southern France, between the 12th and 14th centuries. The followers were known as Cathars and are now mainly remembered for a prolonged period of persecution by the Catholic Church, which did not recognise their belief as being Christian. Catharism appeared in Europe in the Languedoc region of France in the 11th century and this is when the name first appears. The adherents were sometimes known as Albigensians, after the city Albi in southern France where the movement first took hold. The belief system may have originated in Persia or the Byzantine Empire. Catharism was initially taught by ascetic leaders who set few guidelines, and, thus, some Catharist practices and beliefs varied by region and over time. The Catholic Church denounced its practices including the Consolamentum ritual, by which Cathar individuals were baptized and raised to the status of "perfect".
Catharism may have had its roots in the Paulician movement in Armenia and eastern Byzantine Anatolia and certainly in the Bogomils of the First Bulgarian Empire, who were influenced by the Paulicians resettled in Thrace (Philipopolis) by the Byzantines. Though the term Cathar (/ˈkæθɑːr/) has been used for centuries to identify the movement, whether the movement identified itself with this name is debated. In Cathar texts, the terms Good Men (Bons Hommes), Good Women (Bonnes Femmes), or Good Christians (Bons Chrétiens) are the common terms of self-identification.
The idea of two gods or principles, one good and the other evil, was central to Cathar beliefs. This was antithetical to the monotheistic Catholic Church, whose fundamental principle was that there was only one God, who created all things visible and invisible. Cathars believed that the good God was the God of the New Testament and the creator of the spiritual realm. They believed the evil God was the God of the Old Testament, creator of the physical world whom many Cathars, and particularly their persecutors, identified as Satan. Cathars thought human spirits were the genderless spirits of angels trapped in the material realm of the evil god, destined to be reincarnated until they achieved salvation through the consolamentum, when they could return to the benign God.
From the beginning of his reign, Pope Innocent III attempted to end Catharism by sending missionaries and by persuading the local authorities to act against them. In 1208, Innocent's papal legate Pierre de Castelnau was murdered while returning to Rome after excommunicating Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, who, in his view, was too lenient with the Cathars. Pope Innocent III then abandoned the option of sending Catholic missionaries and jurists, declared Pierre de Castelnau a martyr and launched the Albigensian Crusade which all but ended Catharism.
The origins of the Cathars' beliefs are unclear, but most theories agree they came from the Byzantine Empire, mostly by the trade routes and spread from the First Bulgarian Empire to the Netherlands. The name of Bulgarians (Bougres) was also applied to the Albigensians, and they maintained an association with the similar Christian movement of the Bogomils ("Friends of God") of Thrace. "That there was a substantial transmission of ritual and ideas from Bogomilism to Catharism is beyond reasonable doubt." Their doctrines have numerous resemblances to those of the Bogomils and the Paulicians, who influenced them, as well as the earlier Marcionites, who were found in the same areas as the Paulicians, the Manicheans and the Christian Gnostics of the first few centuries AD, although, as many scholars, most notably Mark Pegg, have pointed out, it would be erroneous to extrapolate direct, historical connections based on theoretical similarities perceived by modern scholars.
John Damascene, writing in the 8th century AD, also notes of an earlier sect called the "Cathari", in his book On Heresies, taken from the epitome provided by Epiphanius of Salamis in his Panarion. He says of them: "They absolutely reject those who marry a second time, and reject the possibility of penance [that is, forgiveness of sins after baptism]". These are probably the same Cathari (actually Novations) who are mentioned in Canon 8 of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in the year 325, which states "... [I]f those called Cathari come over [to the faith], let them first make profession that they are willing to communicate [share full communion] with the twice-married, and grant pardon to those who have lapsed ..."
It is likely that we have only a partial view of their beliefs, because the writings of the Cathars were mostly destroyed because of the doctrinal threat perceived by the Papacy; much of our existing knowledge of the Cathars is derived from their opponents. Conclusions about Cathar ideology continue to be debated with commentators regularly accusing their opponents of speculation, distortion and bias. There are a few texts from the Cathars themselves which were preserved by their opponents (the Rituel Cathare de Lyon) which give a glimpse of the inner workings of their faith, but these still leave many questions unanswered. One large text which has survived, The Book of Two Principles (Liber de duobus principiis), elaborates the principles of dualistic theology from the point of view of some of the Albanenses Cathars.
It is now generally agreed by most scholars that identifiable historical Catharism did not emerge until at least 1143, when the first confirmed report of a group espousing similar beliefs is reported being active at Cologne by the cleric Eberwin of Steinfeld. A landmark in the "institutional history" of the Cathars was the Council, held in 1167 at Saint-Félix-Lauragais, attended by many local figures and also by the Bogomil papa Nicetas, the Cathar bishop of (northern) France and a leader of the Cathars of Lombardy.
The Cathars were largely local, Western European/Latin Christian phenomena, springing up in the Rhineland cities (particularly Cologne) in the mid-12th century, northern France around the same time, and particularly the Languedoc—and the northern Italian cities in the mid-late 12th century. In the Languedoc and northern Italy, the Cathars attained their greatest popularity, surviving in the Languedoc, in much reduced form, up to around 1325 and in the Italian cities until the Inquisitions of the fourteenth century finally extirpated them.
Cathar cosmology identified two twin, opposing deities. The first was a good God, portrayed in the New Testament and creator of the spirit, while the second was an evil God, depicted in the Old Testament and creator of matter and the physical world. The latter, often called Rex Mundi ("King of the World"), was identified as the God of Judaism, and was also either conflated with Satan or considered Satan's father or seducer. They explained the problem of evil by stating that the good God's power to do good was limited by the evil God's works and vice versa. All visible matter, including the human body, was created by this Rex Mundi; matter was therefore tainted with sin. Under this view, humans were actually angels seduced by Satan before a war in heaven against the army of Michael, after which they would have been forced to spend an eternity trapped in the evil God's material realm. The Cathars taught that to regain angelic status one had to renounce the material self completely. Until one was prepared to do so, he/she would be stuck in a cycle of reincarnation, condemned to live on the corrupt Earth. Zoé Oldenbourg compared the Cathars to "Western Buddhists" because she considered that their view of the doctrine of "resurrection" taught by Christ was, in fact, similar to the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth.
Cathars venerated Jesus Christ and followed what they considered to be his true teachings, labelling themselves as "Good Christians." Cathars denied the physical incarnation of Jesus. Authors believe that their conceptions of Jesus resembled docetism, considering him the human form of an angel, whose physical body was only appearance. This illusory form would have possibly been given by the Virgin Mary, another angel in human form. They did not accept the normative Trinitarian understanding of Jesus, instead resembling nontrinitarian modalistic monarchianism (Sabellianism) in the West and adoptionism in the East. Bernard of Clairvaux's biographer and other sources accuse some Cathars of Arianism, and some scholars see Cathar Christology as having traces of earlier Arian roots. In any case, Cathars firmly rejected the Resurrection of Jesus, seeing it as representing reincarnation, and the Christian symbol of the cross, considering it to be not more than a material instrument of torture and evil. They also saw John the Baptist, identified also with Elijah, as an evil being sent to hinder Jesus's teaching through the false sacrament of baptism. Cathars also believed in a Day of Judgement that would come when the number of just equalled the non-believers, in which the former would ascend to the spirit realm while the latter would be thrown to everlasting fire.
However, those beliefs were far from unanimous. Some Cathar communities might have believed in the existence of a spirit realm created by the good God, the "Land of the Living", whose history and geography would have served as the basis for the evil God's corrupt creation. Under this view, the history of Jesus would have happened roughly as told, only in the spirit realm. The physical Jesus from the material world would have been evil, a false messiah and a lustful lover of the material Mary Magdalene. However, the true Jesus would have influenced the physical world by inhabiting the body of Paul. 13th century chronicler Pierre des Vaux-de-Cernay recorded those views.
The alleged sacred texts of the Cathars, besides the New Testament, included the previously Bogomil text The Gospel of the Secret Supper (also called John's Interrogation) and the Cathar original work The Book of the Two Principles. They regarded the Old Testament as written by Satan except for a few books which they accepted.
Cathars, in general, formed an anti-sacerdotal party in opposition to the pre-Reformation Christian Church, protesting against what they perceived to be the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the church. In contrast to the them, the Cathars had but one central rite, the Consolamentum, or Consolation. This involved a brief spiritual ceremony to remove all sin from the believer and to induct him or her into the next higher level as a perfect.
Many believers would receive the Consolamentum as death drew near, performing the ritual of liberation at a moment when the heavy obligations of purity required of Perfecti would be temporally short. Some of those who received the sacrament of the consolamentum upon their death-beds may thereafter have shunned further food or drink and, more often and in addition, expose themselves to extreme cold, in order to speed death. This has been termed the endura. It was claimed by some of the church writers that when a Cathar, after receiving the Consolamentum, began to show signs of recovery he or she would be smothered in order to ensure his or her entry into paradise. Other than at such moments of extremis, little evidence exists to suggest this was a common Cathar practice.
The Cathars also refused the sacrament of the eucharist saying that it could not possibly be the body of Christ. They also refused to partake in the practice of Baptism by water. The following two quotes are taken from the Inquisitor Bernard Gui's experiences with the Cathar practices and beliefs:
Then they attack and vituperate, in turn, all the sacraments of the Church, especially the sacrament of the eucharist, saying that it cannot contain the body of Christ, for had this been as great as the largest mountain Christians would have entirely consumed it before this. They assert that the host comes from straw, that it passes through the tails of horses, to wit, when the flour is cleaned by a sieve (of horse hair); that, moreover, it passes through the body and comes to a vile end, which, they say, could not happen if God were in it.
Of baptism, they assert that the water is material and corruptible and is therefore the creation of the evil power, and cannot sanctify the spirit, but that the churchmen sell this water out of avarice, just as they sell earth for the burial of the dead, and oil to the sick when they anoint them, and as they sell the confession of sins as made to the priests.
Killing was abhorrent to the Cathars. Consequently, abstention from all animal food (sometimes exempting fish) was enjoined of the Perfecti. The Perfecti avoided eating anything considered to be a by-product of sexual reproduction. War and capital punishment were also condemned—an abnormality in Medieval Europe. In a world where few could read, their rejection of oath-taking marked them as social outcasts.
To the Cathars, reproduction was a moral evil to be avoided, as it continued the chain of reincarnation and suffering in the material world. It was claimed by their opponents that, given this loathing for procreation, they generally resorted to sodomy. Such was the situation that a charge of heresy leveled against a suspected Cathar was usually dismissed if the accused could show he was legally married.
When Bishop Fulk of Toulouse, a key leader of the anti-Cathar persecutions, excoriated the Languedoc Knights for not pursuing the heretics more diligently, he received the reply, "We cannot. We have been reared in their midst. We have relatives among them and we see them living lives of perfection."
It has been alleged that the Cathar Church of the Languedoc had a relatively flat structure, distinguishing between the baptised perfecti (a term they did not use; instead, bonhommes) and ordinary unbaptised believers (credentes). By about 1140, liturgy and a system of doctrine had been established. They created a number of bishoprics, first at Albi around 1165  and after the 1167 Council at Saint-Félix-Lauragais sites at Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Agen, so that four bishoprics were in existence by 1200. In about 1225, during a lull in the Albigensian Crusade, the bishopric of Razès was added. Bishops were supported by their two assistants: a filius maior (typically the successor) and a filius minor, who were further assisted by deacons. The perfecti were the spiritual elite, highly respected by many of the local people, leading a life of austerity and charity. In the apostolic fashion they ministered to the people and travelled in pairs.
Catharism has been seen as giving women the greatest opportunities for independent action since women were found as being believers as well as Perfecti, who were able to administer the sacrament of the consolamentum.
Cathars believed that one would be repeatedly reincarnated until one commits to the self-denial of the material world. A man could be reincarnated as a woman and vice versa, thereby rendering gender meaningless. The spirit was of utmost importance to the Cathars and was described as being immaterial and sexless. Because of this belief, the Cathars saw women as equally capable of being spiritual leaders, which undermined the very concept of gender as held by the Catholic Church.
Women accused of being heretics in early medieval Christianity included those labeled Gnostics, Cathars, and, later, the Beguines, as well as several other groups that were sometimes "tortured and executed". Cathars, like the Gnostics who preceded them, assigned more importance to the role of Mary Magdalene in the spread of early Christianity than the church previously did. Her vital role as a teacher contributed to the Cathar belief that women could serve as spiritual leaders. Women were found to be included in the Perfecti in significant numbers, with numerous receiving the consolamentum after being widowed. Having reverence for the Gospel of John, the Cathars saw Mary Magdalene as perhaps even more important than Saint Peter, the founder of the church.
The Cathar movement proved successful in gaining female followers because of its proto-feminist teachings along with the general feeling of exclusion from the Catholic church. Catharism attracted numerous women with the promise of a leadership role that the Catholic Church did not allow. Catharism let women become a perfect of the faith, a position of far more prestige than anything the Catholic Church offered. These female perfects were required to adhere to a strict and ascetic lifestyle, but were still able to have their own houses. Although many women found something attractive in Catharism, not all found its teachings convincing. A notable example is Hildegard of Bingen, who in 1163 gave a widely renowned sermon against the Cathars in Cologne. During this speech, Hildegard announced a state of eternal punishment and damnation to all those who accepted Cathar beliefs.
While women perfects rarely traveled to preach the faith, they still played a vital role in the spreading of the Catharism by establishing group homes for women. Though it was extremely uncommon, there were isolated cases of female Cathars leaving their homes to spread the faith. In Cathar communal homes (ostals), women were educated in the faith, and these women would go on to bear children who would then also become believers. Through this pattern the faith grew exponentially through the efforts of women as each generation passed. Among some groups of Cathars there were more women than there were men.
Despite women having an instrumental role in the growing of the faith, Catharism was not completely equal, for example the belief that one's last incarnation had to be experienced as a man to break the cycle. This belief was inspired by later French Cathars, who taught that women must be reborn as men in order to achieve salvation. Another example was that the sexual allure of women impeded man's ability to reject the material world. Toward the end of the Cathar movement, Catharism became less equal and started the practice of excluding women perfects. However, this trend remained limited (Later Italian perfects still included women.)
In 1147, Pope Eugene III sent a legate to the Cathar district in order to arrest the progress of the Cathars. The few isolated successes of Bernard of Clairvaux could not obscure the poor results of this mission, which clearly showed the power of the sect in the Languedoc at that period. The missions of Cardinal Peter of St. Chrysogonus to Toulouse and the Toulousain in 1178, and of Henry of Marcy, cardinal-bishop of Albano, in 1180–81, obtained merely momentary successes. Henry's armed expedition, which took the stronghold at Lavaur, did not extinguish the movement.
Decisions of Catholic Church councils—in particular, those of the Council of Tours (1163) and of the Third Council of the Lateran (1179)—had scarcely more effect upon the Cathars. When Pope Innocent III came to power in 1198, he was resolved to deal with them.
At first Innocent tried peaceful conversion, and sent a number of legates into the Cathar regions. They had to contend not only with the Cathars, the nobles who protected them, and the people who respected them, but also with many of the bishops of the region, who resented the considerable authority the Pope had conferred upon his legates. In 1204, Innocent III suspended a number of bishops in Occitania; in 1205 he appointed a new and vigorous bishop of Toulouse, the former troubadour Foulques. In 1206 Diego of Osma and his canon, the future Saint Dominic, began a programme of conversion in Languedoc; as part of this, Catholic-Cathar public debates were held at Verfeil, Servian, Pamiers, Montréal and elsewhere.
Dominic met and debated with the Cathars in 1203 during his mission to the Languedoc. He concluded that only preachers who displayed real sanctity, humility and asceticism could win over convinced Cathar believers. The institutional Church as a general rule did not possess these spiritual warrants. His conviction led eventually to the establishment of the Dominican Order in 1216. The order was to live up to the terms of his famous rebuke, "Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth." However, even Dominic managed only a few converts among the Cathari.
In January 1208 the papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau—a Cistercian monk, theologian and canon lawyer—was sent to meet the ruler of the area, Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse. Known for excommunicating noblemen who protected the Cathars, Castelnau excommunicated Raymond for abetting heresy following an allegedly fierce argument during which Raymond supposedly threatened Castelnau with violence. Shortly thereafter, Castelnau was murdered as he returned to Rome, allegedly by a knight in the service of Count Raymond. His body was returned and laid to rest in the Abbey at Saint Gilles.
As soon as he heard of the murder, the Pope ordered the legates to preach a crusade against the Cathars and wrote a letter to Philip Augustus, King of France, appealing for his intervention—or an intervention led by his son, Louis. This was not the first appeal but some see the murder of the legate as a turning point in papal policy. Others claim it as a fortuitous event in allowing the Pope to excite popular opinion and to renew his pleas for intervention in the south. The chronicler of the crusade which followed, Peter of Vaux de Cernay, portrays the sequence of events in such a way that, having failed in his effort to peaceably demonstrate the errors of Catharism, the Pope then called a formal crusade, appointing a series of leaders to head the assault.
The French King refused to lead the crusade himself, and could not spare his son to do so either—despite his victory against John, King of England, there were still pressing issues with Flanders and the empire and the threat of an Angevin revival. Philip did sanction the participation of some of his barons, notably Simon de Montfort and Bouchard de Marly. There followed twenty years of war against the Cathars and their allies in the Languedoc: the Albigensian Crusade.
This war pitted the nobles of France against those of the Languedoc. The widespread northern enthusiasm for the Crusade was partially inspired by a papal decree permitting the confiscation of lands owned by Cathars and their supporters. This not only angered the lords of the south but also the French King, who was at least nominally the suzerain of the lords whose lands were now open to despoliation and seizure. Philip Augustus wrote to Pope Innocent in strong terms to point this out—but the Pope did not change his policy. As the Languedoc was supposedly teeming with Cathars and Cathar sympathisers, this made the region a target for northern French noblemen looking to acquire new fiefs. The barons of the north headed south to do battle.
Their first target was the lands of the Trencavel, powerful lords of Carcassonne, Béziers, Albi and the Razes. Little was done to form a regional coalition and the crusading army was able to take Carcassonne, the Trencavel capital, incarcerating Raymond Roger Trencavel in his own citadel where he died within three months; champions of the Occitan cause claimed that he was murdered. Simon de Montfort was granted the Trencavel lands by the Pope and did homage for them to the King of France, thus incurring the enmity of Peter II of Aragon who had held aloof from the conflict, even acting as a mediator at the time of the siege of Carcassonne. The remainder of the first of the two Cathar wars now focused on Simon's attempt to hold on to his gains through winters where he was faced, with only a small force of confederates operating from the main winter camp at Fanjeaux, with the desertion of local lords who had sworn fealty to him out of necessity—and attempts to enlarge his newfound domains in the summer when his forces were greatly augmented by reinforcements from France, Germany and elsewhere.
Summer campaigns saw him not only retake, sometimes with brutal reprisals, what he had lost in the "close" season, but also seek to widen his sphere of operation—and we see him in action in the Aveyron at St. Antonin and on the banks of the Rhone at Beaucaire. Simon's greatest triumph was the victory against superior numbers at the Battle of Muret—a battle which saw not only the defeat of Raymond of Toulouse and his Occitan allies—but also the death of Peter of Aragon—and the effective end of the ambitions of the house of Aragon/Barcelona in the Languedoc. This was in the medium and longer term of much greater significance to the royal house of France than it was to de Montfort—and with the battle of Bouvines was to secure the position of Philip Augustus vis a vis England and the Empire. The Battle of Muret was a massive step in the creation of the unified French kingdom and the country we know today—although Edward III, the Black Prince and Henry V would threaten later to shake these foundations.
The crusader army came under the command, both spiritually and militarily, of the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury, Abbot of Cîteaux. In the first significant engagement of the war, the town of Béziers was besieged on 22 July 1209. The Catholic inhabitants of the city were granted the freedom to leave unharmed, but many refused and opted to stay and fight alongside the Cathars.
The Cathars spent much of 1209 fending off the crusaders. The Béziers army attempted a sortie but was quickly defeated, then pursued by the crusaders back through the gates and into the city. Arnaud-Amaury, the Cistercian abbot-commander, is supposed to have been asked how to tell Cathars from Catholics. His reply, recalled by Caesarius of Heisterbach, a fellow Cistercian, thirty years later was "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius"—"Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own". The doors of the church of St Mary Magdalene were broken down and the refugees dragged out and slaughtered. Reportedly at least 7,000 innocent men, women and children were killed there by Catholic forces. Elsewhere in the town, many more thousands were mutilated and killed. Prisoners were blinded, dragged behind horses, and used for target practice. What remained of the city was razed by fire. Arnaud-Amaury wrote to Pope Innocent III, "Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex." "The permanent population of Béziers at that time was then probably no more than 5,000, but local refugees seeking shelter within the city walls could conceivably have increased the number to 20,000."
After the success of his siege of Carcassonne, which followed the Massacre at Béziers in 1209, Simon de Montfort was designated as leader of the Crusader army. Prominent opponents of the Crusaders were Raymond Roger Trencavel, viscount of Carcassonne, and his feudal overlord Peter II, the king of Aragon, who held fiefdoms and had a number of vassals in the region. Peter died fighting against the crusade on 12 September 1213 at the Battle of Muret. Simon de Montfort was killed on 25 June 1218 after maintaining a siege of Toulouse for nine months.
The official war ended in the Treaty of Paris (1229), by which the king of France dispossessed the house of Toulouse of the greater part of its fiefs, and that of the Trencavels (Viscounts of Béziers and Carcassonne) of the whole of their fiefs. The independence of the princes of the Languedoc was at an end. But in spite of the wholesale massacre of Cathars during the war, Catharism was not yet extinguished and Catholic forces would continue to pursue Cathars.
The Inquisition was established in 1233 to uproot the remaining Cathars. Operating in the south at Toulouse, Albi, Carcassonne and other towns during the whole of the 13th century, and a great part of the 14th, it succeeded in crushing Catharism as a popular movement and driving its remaining adherents underground. Cathars who refused to recant were hanged, or burnt at the stake.
On Friday, 13 May 1239, 183 men and women convinced of Catharism were burned at the stake on the orders of Robert le Bougre. Mount Guimar was already denounced as a place of heresy by the letter of the bishop of Liège to Pope Lucius II in 1144. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, had expelled from the city a Fortunatus who had fled Africa in 392; he is a Fortunatus who is reported as a monk from Africa and protected by the lord of Widomarum.
From May 1243 to March 1244, the Cathar fortress of Montségur was besieged by the troops of the seneschal of Carcassonne and the archbishop of Narbonne. On 16 March 1244, a large and symbolically important massacre took place, where over 200 Cathar Perfects were burnt in an enormous pyre at the prat dels cremats ("field of the burned") near the foot of the castle. Moreover, the church decreed lesser chastisements against laymen suspected of sympathy with Cathars, at the 1235 Council of Narbonne.
A popular though as yet unsubstantiated theory holds that a small party of Cathar Perfects escaped from the fortress before the massacre at prat dels cremats. It is widely held in the Cathar region to this day that the escapees took with them le trésor cathar. What this treasure consisted of has been a matter of considerable speculation: claims range from sacred Gnostic texts to the Cathars' accumulated wealth, which might have included the Holy Grail (see the Section on Historical Scholarship, below).
Hunted by the Inquisition and deserted by the nobles of their districts, the Cathars became more and more scattered fugitives: meeting surreptitiously in forests and mountain wilds. Later insurrections broke out under the leadership of Roger-Bernard II, Count of Foix, Aimery III of Narbonne, and Bernard Délicieux, a Franciscan friar later prosecuted for his adherence to another heretical movement, that of the Spiritual Franciscans at the beginning of the 14th century. But by this time the Inquisition had grown very powerful. Consequently, many presumed to be Cathars were summoned to appear before it. Precise indications of this are found in the registers of the Inquisitors, Bernard of Caux, Jean de St Pierre, Geoffroy d'Ablis, and others. The parfaits it was said only rarely recanted, and hundreds were burnt. Repentant lay believers were punished, but their lives were spared as long as they did not relapse. Having recanted, they were obliged to sew yellow crosses onto their outdoor clothing and to live apart from other Catholics, at least for a while.
After several decades of harassment and re-proselytising, and, perhaps even more important, the systematic destruction of their religious texts, the sect was exhausted and could find no more adepts. The leader of a Cathar revival in the Pyrenean foothills, Peire Autier, was captured and executed in April 1310 in Toulouse. After 1330, the records of the Inquisition contain very few proceedings against Cathars. The last known Cathar perfectus in the Languedoc, Guillaume Bélibaste, was executed in the autumn of 1321.
From the mid-12th century onwards, Italian Catharism came under increasing pressure from the Pope and the Inquisition, "spelling the beginning of the end". Other movements, such as the Waldensians and the pantheistic Brethren of the Free Spirit, which suffered persecution in the same area, survived in remote areas and in small numbers into the 14th and 15th centuries. Some Waldensian ideas were absorbed into other proto-Protestant sects, such as the Hussites, Lollards, and the Moravian Church (Herrnhuters of Germany). Cathars were in no way Protestant, and very few if any Protestants consider them as their forerunners (as opposed to groups like Waldensians, Hussites, Lollards, and Arnoldists).
After the suppression of Catharism, the descendants of Cathars were discriminated against, at times required to live outside towns and their defences. They retained their Cathar identity, despite their reintegration into Catholicism. As such, any use of the term "Cathar" to refer to people after the suppression of Catharism in the 14th century is a cultural or ancestral reference, and has no religious implication. Nevertheless, interest in the Cathars, their history, legacy and beliefs continues.
The term Pays Cathare, French meaning "Cathar Country", is used to highlight the Cathar heritage and history of the region where Catharism was traditionally strongest. This area is centred around fortresses such as Montségur and Carcassonne; also the French département of the Aude uses the title Pays Cathare in tourist brochures. These areas have ruins from the wars against the Cathars which are still visible today.
Some criticise the promotion of the identity of Pays Cathare as an exaggeration for tourist purposes. Many of the promoted Cathar castles were not built by Cathars but by local lords and later many of them were rebuilt and extended for strategic purposes. Good examples of these are the magnificent castles of Queribus and Peyrepertuse which are both perched on the side of precipitous drops on the last folds of the Corbieres mountains. They were for several hundred years frontier fortresses belonging to the French crown and most of what is still there dates from a post-Cathar era. Many consider the County of Foix to be the actual historical centre of Catharism.
In an effort to find the few remaining heretics in and around the village of Montaillou, Jacques Fournier, Bishop of Pamiers, future Pope Benedict XII, had those suspected of heresy interrogated in the presence of scribes who recorded their conversations. The late 13th- to early-14th-century document, discovered in the Vatican archives in the 1960s and edited by Jean Duvernoy, is the basis for Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's work Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error.
The publication of the early scholarly book Crusade Against the Grail by the young German Otto Rahn in the 1930s rekindled interest in the connection between the Cathars and the Holy Grail, especially in Germany. Rahn was convinced that the 13th-century work Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach was a veiled account of the Cathars. The philosopher and Nazi government official Alfred Rosenberg speaks favourably of the Cathars in The Myth of the Twentieth Century.
Starting in the 1990s and continuing to the present day, historians like R. I. Moore have radically challenged the extent to which Catharism, as an institutionalized religion, actually existed. Building on the work of French historians such as Monique Zerner and Uwe Brunn, Moore's The War on Heresy argues that Catharism was "contrived from the resources of [the] well-stocked imaginations" of churchmen, "with occasional reinforcement from miscellaneous and independent manifestations of local anticlericalism or apostolic enthusiasm". In short, Moore claims that the men and women persecuted as Cathars were not the followers of a secret religion imported from the East, instead they were part of a broader spiritual revival taking place in the later twelfth and early thirteenth century. Moore's work is indicative of a larger historiographical trend towards examination of how heresy was constructed by the church.
The principal legacy of the Cathar movement is in the poems and songs of the Cathar troubadors, though this artistic legacy is only a smaller part of the wider Occitan linguistic and artistic heritage. Recent artistic projects concentrating on the Cathar element in Provençal and troubador art include commercial recording projects by Thomas Binkley, electric hurdy-gurdy artist Valentin Clastrier and his CD Heresie dedicated to the church at Cathars, La Nef, and Jordi Savall.
The Cathars are depicted in Jacques Tissinier's cement sculpture "Les Chevaliers Cathares," along l'autoroute des Deux Mers in Narbonne.
In recent popular culture, Catharism has been linked with the Knights Templar, an active sect of monks founded during the First Crusade (1095-1099). This link has caused fringe theories about the Cathars and the possibility of their possession of the Holy Grail.
Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eis. Caesarius (c) was a Cistercian Master of Novices.
The Albigensian Crusade or the Cathar Crusade (1209–1229; French: Croisade des albigeois, Occitan: Crosada dels albigeses) was a 20-year military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III to eliminate Catharism in Languedoc, in southern France. The Crusade was prosecuted primarily by the French crown and promptly took on a political flavour, resulting in not only a significant reduction in the number of practising Cathars, but also a realignment of the County of Toulouse in Languedoc, bringing it into the sphere of the French crown and diminishing the distinct regional culture and high level of influence of the Counts of Barcelona.
The Cathars originated from an anti-materialist reform movement within the Bogomil churches of Dalmatia and Bulgaria calling for a return to the Christian message of perfection, poverty and preaching, combined with a rejection of the physical to the point of starvation. The reforms were a reaction against the often scandalous and dissolute lifestyles of the Catholic clergy in southern France. Their theology, neo-Gnostic in many ways, was basically dualist. Several of their practices, especially their belief in the inherent evil of the physical world, conflicted with the doctrines of the Incarnation of Christ and sacraments, initiated accusations of Gnosticism and brought them the ire of the Catholic establishment. They became known as the Albigensians, because there were many adherents in the city of Albi and the surrounding area in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Between 1022 and 1163, the Cathars were condemned by eight local church councils, the last of which, held at Tours, declared that all Albigenses should be put into prison and have their property confiscated. The Third Lateran Council of 1179 repeated the condemnation. Innocent III's diplomatic attempts to roll back Catharism were met with little success. After the murder of his legate Pierre de Castelnau, in 1208, Innocent III declared a crusade against the Cathars. He offered the lands of the Cathar heretics to any French nobleman willing to take up arms.
From 1209 to 1215, the Crusaders experienced great success, capturing Cathar lands and perpetrating acts of extreme violence, often against civilians. From 1215 to 1225, a series of revolts caused many of the lands to be lost. A renewed crusade resulted in the recapturing of the territory and effectively drove Catharism underground by 1244. The Albigensian Crusade also had a role in the creation and institutionalization of both the Dominican Order and the Medieval Inquisition. The Dominicans promulgated the message of the Church to combat alleged heresies by preaching the Church's teachings in towns and villages, while the Inquisition investigated heresies. Because of these efforts, by the middle of the 14th century, any discernible traces of the Cathar movement had been eradicated.Battle of Muret
At the Battle of Muret on 12 September 1213 the Crusader army of Simon IV de Montfort defeated the Catharist, Aragonese and Catalan forces of Peter II of Aragon, at Muret near Toulouse.Bosnian Crusade
The Bosnian Crusade was fought against unspecified heretics from 1235 until 1241. It was, essentially, a Hungarian war of conquest against the Banate of Bosnia sanctioned as a crusade. Led by the Hungarian prince Coloman, the crusaders only succeeded in conquering peripheral parts of the country. They were followed by Dominicans, who erected a cathedral and put heretics to death by burning. The crusade came to an abrupt end when Hungary itself was invaded by Tatars. The crusaders were forced to withdraw and engage their own invaders, most of them perishing, including Coloman. Later popes called for more crusades against Bosnia, but none ever took place. The failed crusade led to mistrust and hatred for Hungarians among the Bosnian population that lasted for centuries.Carcassonne
Carcassonne (, also US: , French: [kaʁkasɔn] (listen); Occitan: Carcassona [kaɾkaˈsunɔ]; Latin: Carcaso) is a French fortified city in the department of Aude, in the region of Occitanie. A prefecture, it has a population of about 50,000.
Inhabited since the Neolithic period, Carcassonne is located in the plain of the river Aude between historic trade routes, linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean Sea and the Massif Central to the Pyrénées. Its strategic importance was quickly recognized by the Romans, who occupied its hilltop until the demise of the Western Roman Empire. In the fifth century, it was taken over by the Visigoths, who founded the city. Its strategic location led successive rulers to expand its fortifications until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.
Its citadel, known as the Cité de Carcassonne, is a medieval fortress dating back to the Gallo-Roman period and restored by the theorist and architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in 1853. It was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Consequently, Carcassonne relies heavily on tourism but also counts manufacturing and wine-making as some of its other key economic sectors.Cathar Perfect
Perfect (also known as a Parfait in French or Perfectus in Latin) was the name given by Bernard of Clairvaux to the leader of the medieval Christian religious movement of southern France and northern Italy commonly referred to as the Cathars. The Perfect were not clerics in any way, but were merely members who had become ‘adepts’ in the teaching, and whose role was that of aiding the ordinary members achieve the rewards of belief and practice - men and women could become Perfecti. The term reflects that such a person was seen by the Catholic Church as the "perfect heretic". As "bonhommes" (their term) Perfecti were expected to follow a lifestyle of extreme austerity and renunciation of the world which included abstaining from eating meat and avoiding all sexual contact. By that virtue they were recognized as trans-material (i.e. spiritualized) angels by their followers, the Credentes (Croyant in French, Believers in English). Perfecti were drawn from all walks of life and counted aristocrats, merchants and peasants among their number. Women could also become Perfects; Female Perfects were known as Parfaites or Perfectae.Cathar castles
Cathar castles (in French Châteaux cathares) is a modern term used by the tourism industry (following the example of Pays Cathare – Cathar Country) to denote a number of medieval castles of the Languedoc region. Some had a Cathar connection, in that they offered refuge to dispossessed Cathars in the thirteenth century. Many of these sites were replaced by new castles built by the victorious French Crusaders and the term is also applied to these fortifications despite having no connection with Cathars. The fate of many Cathar castles, at least for the early part of the Crusade, is outlined in the contemporary Occitan "Chanson de la Croisade", translated into English as the "Song of the Cathar Wars".Caussou
Caussou is a commune in the Ariège department in the Occitanie region in southwestern France.
Its church is dedicated to St Jean Baptist.Château de Termes
The Château de Termes (Languedocien: Castèl de Tèrme) is a ruined castle near the village of Termes in the Aude département of France. It is one of the so-called Cathar castles.Credentes
Credentes or Believers, were the ordinary followers of what became known as the Cathar or Albigensian movement, a heretical sect which flourished in western Europe during the 11th, 12th and 13th Centuries. Credentes constituted the main part of the Cathar community in the region. Although Catharism sprang up in Spain, the Rhineland, Flanders and Italy its main focus was in the southern region of France, particularly the area known as the Languedoc. Although pacifist in nature, Catharism drew the condemnation of the Catholic Church which, when persuasion failed, launched successive Crusades and instigated the Inquisition to destroy it.Divine spark
The divine spark is the idea, most common to Gnosticism but also present in other Western mystical traditions, that each human being contains within themselves a portion of God.In these theologies, the purpose of life is to enable the Divine Spark to be released from its captivity in matter and reestablish its connection with or simply return to God who is perceived as being the source of the Divine Light. In the Gnostic Christian tradition, Christ is seen as a wholly divine being which has taken human form in order to lead humanity back to the Light.The Cathars of medieval Europe also shared the belief in the divine spark. They saw this idea expressed most powerfully in the opening words of the Gospel of St John.Esclarmonde of Foix
Esclarmonde of Foix (French: Esclarmonde de Foix; Occitan: Esclarmonda de Fois), was a prominent figure associated with Catharism in thirteenth century Occitania (in the south of modern-day France).
Her personal history is difficult to establish, because several noblewomen in the region at that time had the same rare first name. The name Esclarmonde means "clarity of the world" in the Occitan language.Hugo Etherianis
Hugh Etherianus or Ugo Eteriano (Pisa, 1115–Constantinople, 1182), was an adviser on western church affairs to Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus. Nothing is known of his family apart from a letter sent after his death by the Pope to his brother Leo, nicknamed Tuscus, which mentions a "nephew," possibly Hugh's son. He studied under Alberic in Paris some time before 1146, then was in Constantinople from about 1165–82. He and his brother Leo Tuscus, were Tuscans by birth, employed at the court of Constantinople under the Emperor Manuel I Comnenus. Hugh was a Catholic theologian and controversialist, who became a Cardinal at the end of his life.He is notable for his work Contra Patarenos ("Against the Patarenes") which is a treatise against Catharism surviving in two Latin manuscripts in Oxford and Seville. Latin Patareni was an alternative name for Cathars, and the text sheds light on the relationship between western European Catharism and older Byzantine dualist movements such as Bogumils.Hugo says that he was "occupied in translating the imperial letters" (Adversus Graecos 1:20), evidently an interpreter for Latin correspondence. Hugh, who does not seem to have held any official post at court, but was a very learned theologian, had many opportunities of discussing the questions at issue between the Greek Orthodox Church and Catholics.Massacre at Béziers
The Massacre at Béziers refers to the slaughter of the inhabitants during the sack of Béziers, an event that took place on 22 July 1209, and was the first major military action of the Albigensian Crusade.Medieval Inquisition
The Medieval Inquisition was a series of Inquisitions (Catholic Church bodies charged with suppressing heresy) from around 1184, including the Episcopal Inquisition (1184–1230s) and later the Papal Inquisition (1230s). The Medieval Inquisition was established in response to movements considered apostate or heretical to Christianity, in particular Catharism and Waldensians in Southern France and Northern Italy. These were the first inquisition movements of many that would follow.
The Cathars were first noted in the 1140s in Southern France, and the Waldensians around 1170 in Northern Italy. Before this point, individual heretics such as Peter of Bruis had often challenged the Church. However, the Cathars were the first mass organization in the second millennium that posed a serious threat to the authority of the Church. This article covers only these early inquisitions, not the Roman Inquisition of the 16th century onwards, or the somewhat different phenomenon of the Spanish Inquisition of the late 15th century, which was under the control of the Spanish monarchy using local clergy. The Portuguese Inquisition of the 16th century and various colonial branches followed the same pattern.Montaillou
Montaillou (Occitan: Montalhon) is a commune in the Ariège department in the south of France. Its original, medieval location was abandoned and the current village is a short distance away.Otto Rahn
Otto Wilhelm Rahn (18 February 1904 – 13 March 1939) was a German writer, medievalist, Ariosophist, and an officer of the SS and researcher into the Grail myths. He was born in Michelstadt, Germany, and died in Söll (Kufstein, Tyrol) in Austria. Speculation still surrounds Otto Rahn and his research. Rahn "had Jewish blood through his mother".Pataria
The pataria was an eleventh-century religious movement in the Archdiocese of Milan in northern Italy, aimed at reforming the clergy and ecclesiastic government in the province and supportive of Papal sanctions against simony and clerical marriage. Those involved in the movement were called patarini (also patarines or patarenes, from singular patarino), a word chosen by their opponents, which means "ragpickers", from Milanese patee "rags". In general the patarini were tradesmen motivated by personal piety. The conflict between the patarini and their supporters and the partisans of the simoniacal archbishops eventually led to civil war by the mid-1070s, the Great Saxon revolt. It received its most dependable contemporary chronicler in Arnulf of Milan.Third Council of the Lateran
The Third Council of the Lateran met in March 1179 as the eleventh ecumenical council. Pope Alexander III presided and 302 bishops attended.
By agreement reached at the Peace of Venice in 1177 the bitter conflict between Alexander III and Emperor Frederick I was brought to an end. When Pope Adrian IV died in 1159, the divided cardinals elected two popes: Roland of Siena, who took the name of Alexander III, and Octavian of Rome who, though nominated by fewer cardinals, was supported by Frederick and assumed the name of Pope Victor IV. Frederick, wishing to remove all that stood in the way of his authority in Italy, declared war upon the Italian states and especially the Church which was enjoying great authority. A serious schism arose out of this conflict, and after Victor IV's death in 1164, two further antipopes were nominated in opposition to Alexander III: Paschal III (1164–1168) and Callistus III (1168–1178). Eventually, at the Peace of Venice, when Alexander gained victory, he promised Frederick that he would summon an ecumenical council.
Besides removing the remains of the recent schism, the Council condemned the Cathar heresies and pushed for the restoration of ecclesiastical discipline. It also became the first general Council of the Church to legislate against sodomy. Three sessions were held, on 5, 14, and 19 March, in which 27 canons were promulgated.
The most important of these were:
Canon 1. In order to prevent the possibility of future schisms, only cardinals were to possess the right to elect a pope. In addition a two-thirds majority was to be required in order for the election to be valid. If any candidate should declare himself pope without receiving the required majority, he and his supporters were to be excommunicated.
Canon 2 declared null and void those ordinations performed by the antipopes Octavian (Victor IV), Guy of Crema (Paschal III), and John de Struma (Antipope Callixtus III).
Canon 3 forbade the promotion of anyone to a parish before the age of 25 and to the episcopate before the age of 30.
Canon 5 forbade the ordination of clerics not provided with any means of proper support.
Canon 7 forbade the charging of money to conduct burials, bless a marriage or indeed the celebration of any of the sacraments.
Canon 11 forbade clerics to have women in their houses or to visit the monasteries of nuns without a good reason; declared that married clergy should lose their benefices; and decreed that priests who engaged in sodomy should be deposed from clerical office and required to do penance - while laymen should be excommunicated.
Canon 18 required every cathedral church to appoint a master to teach the clerics and the poor scholars of the church; this action helped launch the cathedral schools that later became universities.
Canon 19 declared excommunication for those who tried to tax churches and clergy without the consent of the bishop.
Canon 23 concerns the proper organisation of accommodation for lepers.
Canon 25 excommunicates those who engage in usury.
Canon 26 forbade Jews and Muslims from having Christian servants and states that the evidence of Christians is always to be accepted against Jews.
Canon 27 stressed the duty of princes to repress heresy and condemned "the Brabantians, Aragonese, Basques, Navarrese, and others who practice such cruelty toward Christians that they respect neither churches nor monasteries, spare neither widows nor orphans, neither age nor sex, but after the manner of pagans, destroy and lay waste everything" (De Brabantionibus et Aragonensibus, Navariis, Bascolis, Coterellis et Triaverdinis, qui tantam in Christianos immanitatem exercent, ut nec ecclesiis, nec monasteriis deferant, non viduis, et pupillis, non senibus, et pueris, nec cuilibet parcant aetati, aut sexui, sed more paganorum omnia perdant, et vastent).Among the many attendees at the Council was William of Tyre, the famous historian and, at the time, archbishop of Tyre. William was sent by Baldwin IV as the representative of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and wrote about the journey to the Council in his history.Treaty of Paris (1229)
The Treaty of Paris, also known as Treaty of Meaux, was signed on April 12, 1229 between Raymond VII of Toulouse and Louis IX of France in Meaux near Paris. Louis was still a minor, and it was his mother Blanche of Castile who was responsible for the treaty. The agreement officially ended the Albigensian Crusade (began 1209) as Raymond conceded defeat to Louis IX. Based on the terms of the treaty, Raymond's daughter Joan was to be married to Louis' brother Alphonse. Since Joan was Raymond's heir, this meant she and Alfonso would become the rulers of Toulouse on his death. Moreover, Raymond ceded the eastern provinces of his lands to Louis and the Marquisat de Provence to the Pope.
The treaty marked the end of Occitan political autonomy. Raymond ceded more than half his land to the French crown and retained the remainder only during his life, after which it would be inherited by his son-in-law Alphonse, Louis' brother, or, if Alphonse had no heir (as he did not), by the French crown. Raymond regained his feudal rights, but had to swear allegiance to Louis IX. Fortifications, such as those of Toulouse, were dismantled. The Cathars were left without political and military protection, as Raymond and his subordinates, now vassals of the French crown, were ordered to hunt them down.
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