Sunday, 2 March 2008

The Cathars: a bizarre medieval sect

Well, folks, bloggers get some strange comments on their blogs but this latest one really is a cracker.

I have a post from a gentleman called Bertran de la Farge who actually thinks that the Cathars, that most bizarre of medieval weirdos, were true Christians.

Bertran thinks that because the Cathars used an Occitan translation of the Vulgate that they must therefore have been good Christians.

They called themselves “Good Christians”, too. So they must have been good, mustn’t they? No? Come on, Bertran!

He says the Inquisition was founded in 1233. It wasn’t. The Medieval Inquisition – the first such – was founded in 1184 by the papal Bull Ad Abolendam.

He says that the Cathars had nothing to do with Mani and they were not di-theists.

Well, here is what a typical pro-Cathar website, says about them:

“Cathars believed in two principles, a good creator god and his evil adversary… Cathars maintained a Church hierarchy and practiced a range of ceremonies, but rejected any idea of priesthood or the use of church buildings. They divided into ordinary believers who led ordinary medieval lives and an inner 'elect' of parfaits (men) and parfaits (women)… Cathars believed in re-incarnation and refused to eat meat or other animal products…

Basic Cathar tenets led to some surprising logical implications. For example they largely regarded men and women as equals, and had no doctrinal objection to contraception, euthanasia or suicide. In some respects the Cathar and Catholic Churches were polar opposites. For example the Cathar Church taught that all non-procreative sex was better than any procreative sex. The Catholic Church taught - and still teaches - exactly the opposite….Following their principles, Cathars could deduce that sexual intercourse between man and wife was more culpable than homosexual sex.”

Not quite the same as what Bertran says.

St Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) to preach the true Faith to the Cathars

Here is what Reynaldus, a Cistercian monk, wrote of the Cathars of his time whom he knew well:

“First it is to be known that the heretics held that there are two Creators; viz. one of invisible things, whom they called the benevolent God, and another of visible things, whom they named the malevolent God.

The New Testament they attributed to the benevolent God; but the Old Testament to the malevolent God, and rejected it altogether, except certain authorities which are inserted in the New Testament from the Old; which, out of reverence to the New Testament, they esteemed worthy of reception.

They charged the author of the Old Testament with falsehood, because the Creator said, ‘In the day that ye eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ye shall die’; nor (as they say) after eating did they die; when, in fact, after eating the forbidden fruit they were subjected to the misery of death. They also call this God a homicide, as well because he burned up Sodom and Gomorrah, and destroyed the world by the waters of the deluge, as because he overwhelmed Pharaoh, and the Egyptians, in the sea.

They affirmed also, that all the fathers of the Old Testament were damned; that John the Baptist was one of the greater demons.

They said also, in their secret doctrine (in secreto suo), that that Christ who was born in the visible, and terrestrial Bethlehem, and crucified in Jerusalem, was a bad man, and that Mary Magdalene was his concubine; and that she was the woman taken in adultery, of whom we read in the gospel.

For the good Christ, they said, never ate, nor drank, nor took upon him true flesh, nor ever was in this world, except spiritually in the body of Paul....

They said that almost all the Church of Rome was a den of thieves; and that it was the harlot of which we read in the Apocalypse [NB: This is where extreme Protestants got the idea from].

They so far annulled the sacraments of the Church, as publicly to teach that the water of holy Baptism was just the same as river water, and that the Host of the Most Holy Body of Christ did not differ from common bread, instilling into the ears of the simple this blasphemy, that the Body of Christ, even though it had been as great as the Alps, would have been long ago consumed, and annihilated by those who had eaten of it.

Confirmation and Confession, they considered as altogether vain and frivolous. They preached that Holy Matrimony was meretricious, and that none could be saved in it, if they should beget children.

Denying also the Resurrection of the flesh, they invented some unheard of notions, saying, that our souls are those of angelic spirits who, being cast down from heaven by the apostasy of pride, left their glorified bodies in the air; and that these souls themselves, after successively inhabiting seven terrestrial bodies, of one sort or another, having at length fulfilled their penance, return to those deserted bodies.

It is also to be known that some among the heretics were called ‘perfect’ or ‘good men’, others just ‘believers’.

Those who were called ‘perfect’, wore a black dress, falsely pretended to chastity, abhorred the eating of flesh, eggs and cheese, and wished to appear not liars, when they were continually telling lies, chiefly respecting God. They said also that they ought not on any account to swear oaths…

Those who were called ‘believers’ were given to usury, rapine, homicide, lust, perjury and every vice; and they, in fact, sinned with more security, and less restraint, because they believed that without restitution, without confession and penance, they should be saved, if only, when on the point of death, they could say a Paternoster, and received imposition of hands from their teachers.”

Unlike Bertran, Reynaldus was a contemporary of the Cathars and knew them.

The Cathars believed in the old Eastern pagan idea of Reincarnation. They believed that humans and other mammals were hybrid creatures belonging to two realms: a good, potentially immortal, spirit, trapped inside a bad and corruptible body. This was one reason why Cathars refused to kill animals.

In some ways, the idea reflected certain Buddhist beliefs. A person who led a relatively good life might be re-incarnated with a better and easier life the next time round. One who lived a bad life would be reincarnated further down the scale, possibly as an animal. By their beliefs even animals could live good or bad lives, because it was possible for an animal to be reincarnated as a human being. A popular Cathar story tells of a man who is overcome with emotion on recognising in the grass an iron shoe he had thrown in his previous life as a horse.

Those who eventually managed to lead a good enough life would be released from the cycle of rebirth. On their death the Bad God would lose his power over the angel trapped within. Released from their imprisonment, such angels would return to heaven, the realm of light to join the other angels there. The Cathars believed that they are there in the night sky for all to see i.e. as stars.

Whilst there were differences between Manichaeism and Catharism, there were far more similarities, the greatest of which was their mutual belief in Dualism and refusal to accept that there was an omnipotent, good God. For them, the Devil was equally powerful.

Others will have noticed that Betran speaks of a “125 years” Crusade against the Occitan Cathars “exactly between 1209 and 1231”. This is 22 years not 125 years, Bertran. Your maths is somewhat awry, Bertran.

Bertran thinks that these utterly bizarre beliefs of the Cathars are Christian and follow the commandment of Christ to love one another. Yes, really!

The Cathars were at first tolerated but when missionaries and legates sent to them were murdered, steps began to be taken to require them to hand over the wrong-doers. This they resisted with more murders of Catholics and they committed persistent acts of terrorism and destruction which eventually provoked a counter-terrorist war against them.

Pope Innocent III declared a Crusade but there were not enough volunteers to fight and only a small crusading army could be raised against the massive forces of the Cathars. However, this little force, supported by the prayers of St Dominic and his new Order of Preachers (Dominicans), had a near-miraculous success at the Battle of Muret on 12 September 1213 under Count Simon de Montfort (father of the founder of the English Parliament).

Well, folks. You make up your own mind.

Were the Cathars really Christians?

Or were they a crazy sect whose bizarre ideas are making something of a come-back in our troubled and confused times?

The Holy Dominican Rosary, used by St Dominic and the Dominicans to defeat the power of the Cathars, is still one of the greatest spiritual weapons against the Enemy of human nature, Satan.



Walter said...

A great post and should put to rest any idea that the Cathars were "good christians"

Anonymous said...

Could you please provide a link to where you obtained your information. If I use your info I will be asked what is the primary source for the information.

Thank you,

Tribunus said...

Certainly, Sharon.

The pro-Cathar website is a site on the Languedoc in France which was a centre of Catharist Albigensianism and it is now the fashion for these areas to promote Catharism and their connection with it. Here it is:

The second quote is well-known to scholars of Occitan Albigensianism.

I first got it from Maitland’s study of the Albigenses. Full source is:

Raynaldus, "Annales", in S. R. Maitland, "History of the Albigenses and Waldenses", London, Rivington, 1832.

I have since found the extract at a Fordham U website here:

Hope that helps.

Tribunus said...

By the way, notice this amazingly tendentious description of Manichaeans on the Languedoc website at this page:

"Manichaeans: a reference to an ancient Dualist synthetic religion founded by Mani in the fourth century. Aurelius Augustinus, later Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) had been a Manichaean but he left when he realised that he was not going to advance in the hierarchy. He therefore transferred to the branch of the Christian Church that developed into the Roman Catholic Church - bringing some Manichaean ideas with him, but leaving detailed denunciations of others in his writings. When later scholars read his works and compared Manichaean beliefs with contemporary Cathar beliefs they deduced that Cathars were Manichaeans, and adopted the term to describe them".

Note that they infer that the early Church was not Roman Catholic but that one branch became Roman Catholic later on.

Further note that they say that St Augustine did not abandon Manichaeism entirely but kept some of their ideas and only "transferred" to the Roman Catholic because he was not getting promotion among the Manichees!

Thus one of the greatest Fathers of the Western Church is, according to this web-site, really just a semi-Manichaean fraud and ambitious place-hunter. Well, it's a point of view!

Note, too, that further down that page, under the heading "Tixerrands", they quote Stephen Runciman, the medieval historian who was no friend of the Catholic Church, from his book "The Medieval Manichee".

So Runciman certainly thought that the medieval Cathars were Manichees!

Own goal, perhaps, by the web-site's pro-Cathar authors?

Tribunus said...

Finally, I may add that Foxe's famous "Book of Martyrs" refers to the Albigensians and their Italian equivalent, the Waldenses, as a part of "Reformed Christianity", i.e. as orthodox Protestants, although it is difficult to see how they can be described as Christians in any rational sense at all.

It is true that they called themselves "Christians" but can they be called Christian who believe in Dualism, two Creators, a malevolent God, Reincarnation, that the earthly Jesus was evil and Mary Magdalene was his concubine, that the Old Testament prophets are all damned and John the Baptist a greater demon? Can they who deny the Resurrection of the flesh be called Christian?

Well, if so, then I guess anybody can be called a Christian.

elena maria vidal said...

Excellent article! Since the Cathars believed that there were two gods they can hardly be classified in any monotheistic religion.

Tribunus said...

Thanks Elena!

Just seen your profile and blog - fascinating! You are a girl after my own heart.

I shall, if I may, add your blog as a link.

I love that quote from Burke about Marie-Antoinette. She was, indeed, a royal martyr.

Anonymous said...

I sympathize with the poor Cathars, who had a belief system - which like many belief systems - led them to conflict and death; at the hands of an opposing belief system. Beware, all ye that believe unquestioningly! Those beliefs you do not doubt, may similarly blind you to any expansion of your understanding.
Michael. U.K.

Tribunus said...

Dear Michael of UK,

Does your advice apply also to your own beliefs? Or only to those you currently disagree with?

If the former, then your failure to question your own beliefs falls under your own ban and blinds your own understanding.

If the latter, then you are maintaining double standards by applying one rule to yourself and quite another to others.

The Nazis had a belief-system which led them into conflict and death at the hands of an opposing belief system.

Does that mean we should sympathise with them?

Apparently so, according to your moral compass.

The way to the truth is not to be found by denying that there is any such thing as truth, Michael.

It is to be found by using your intelligence and reasoning power to ponder, analyse and so arrive at the truth.

To ignore the facts about the Cathars is to embrace falsehood and turn one's back on the truth.

There was nothing poor about the Cathars. They were rich, powerful, murderous and oppressive.

You might just as well sympathise with Stalin or Hitler.

Anonymous said...

From my understanding the cathars didn't believe in killing nor procreation. The fact that the supposedly christian catholic church had to exterminate an entire people is only a sad condemnation of the churches own hypocrisy. A more sensible and less violent approach would have been to allow them to become extinct of their own values, but a fearful church feared losing control of people who didn't fear eternal damnation at the hands of the pope.

Tribunus said...

Anonymouse, or Michael of UK (if it is you),

The Cathars indeed did not believe in procreation which shows the bizarre nature of their sect straightaway.

They certainly believed in killing since euthanasia was their one and only Sacrament - the consolamentum whereby the believer was either suffocated or starved to death.

You display a lack of knowledge in not knowing this.

The Catholic Church - that Church which, alone among all others, has existed since Pentecost as 1st century sources themselves testify - certainly did not "exterminate" anyone, let alone an entire people.

You are simply talking arrant, ignorant, nonsense, anonymouse.

If you could be bothered to read the history of those times - rather than lazily making up untruths - you would see that it was the Cathars who attacked the Catholics.

An army of 50-100,000 Cathars under King Pedro of Aragon advanced into southern France to capture it and to slay the Catholics.

They were opposed by a tiny Catholic army of only 700 knights under Count Simon de Montfort.

By a providential intervention, de Montfort and his men managed to rout this huge Cathar army.

It was the Cathars who were trying to do the exterminating - not the Catholics. The Catholics were merely defending themselves.

The Catholic Church did indeed try to let the Cathars become extinct of their own accord but the Cathars were aggressors and murderers and so the Catholic people had no choice but to defend themselves.

You are so woefully ignorant that you do not know this.

But your woeful ignorance is doubly demonstrated by the fact that you seem to think that the Pope claims to damn people eternally.

What nonsense!

He doesn't.

Neither does God.

People damn themselves by sins - sins like lying, cheating, defaming and abusing.

Take care that you do not do the same yourself.

In your ealrier email you said Beware, all ye that believe unquestioningly!.

But I note that you unquestioningly beleive your own doctrines. It's only other people's beliefs that you think should be challenged and called false.

Thus it is you, in fact, who are in danger of being blinded to any expansion of your understanding.

And yet you call other people hypocrites.

Anonymous said...

I am no theologian, and claim no intimate knowledge of Cathars. I am in fact quite ignorant to much of this debate. Though I will note that the concept of Yin and Yang is often misunderstood. If the dualism you refer to is this same concept, than it is no more referring to "two" Gods than the Father, Son and Holy Ghost is referring to "three." Do not read further into that than what it says. I fail to see the point in challenging any person's established belief system, but I would like to propose a question. What, if anything, is responsible for more death, destruction, suffering and general disarray among the human race than religion itself? I cannot name a single religion that isn't hypocritical in that it preaches peace while shanking its neighbor. I do not exclude my own beliefs from that comment.

Tribunus said...

You are indeed no theologian. And, indeed, quite ignorant to much of this debate.

And since you aren't, then it would be wiser to avoid commenting on what you know nothing - or but little - of.

Dualism is a belief-system that puts 2 forces - one good, one evil - as the prime ones in the Universe and calls them equal and opposite.

It is the basis of Manichaeism, the philosophy of Mani, itself the basis of the Catharist belief.

It is about as different from the concept of the Trinity as it is possible to imagine.

A little elementary theology is all that is needed to understand that.

You can only say "I fail to see the point in challenging any person's established belief system" if you do not belief that there is such a thing as truth.

Is that really your view?

As to your tediously predictable, facile and surprisingly unimaginative question, why not put the question this way:

"What, if anything, is responsible for more art, science, literature, music, medicine, constitutional development, cultural development, civilisation and general human improvement and bringing order out of disorder, than religion itself?"

As to hypocrisy, it is not religion which is hypocritical but men. You might as well accuse a painting or a poem of being hypocritical, as religion.

Religions can, however, be false. They can also be true.

The Catharist religion is false - deadly false.

It did not advance civilisation but sought to impede it.

However, bad as Catharism was (and is), it has not been quite as bad as the philosophy and proponents of atheism.

The 20th century is testimony to that simple fact for it is has been the bloodiest, most violent, most cruel and most degraded of all centuries, despite its being also a century of much improvement.

What past religion, however bad, ever reached the heights of depravity and murderous blood-lust as atheistic Communism or Nazism?


You see, it is not religion which has been the greatest enemy of civilisation.

Atheism has been far, far worse.

Anonymous said...

It's not that Cathars don't believe in procreation they preach celibacy but it was really only the perfecti that lived this element. Cathars believed in Christ therefore they can call themselves Christians. They were undoubtedly better Christians than most as they didn't go around killing mass groups of people in the name of their religion, for reformation of the church or otherwise.

I would maybe stop reading what you want to hear and maybe exercise some tolerance like the good Christian you are

Tribunus said...

Wrong on all counts, Anonymouse.

The Cathars were about as "Christian" as the so-called Deutsche Christen who supported Hitler and the Nazis i.e. not remotely Christian.

They were not only liars but also murderous killers.

So - yes - they DID go around killing mass groups of people "in the name of their religion, for the supposed reformation of the church and otherwise".

They mass-murdered Catholics, priests, nuns, bishops, archbishops and eventually murdered the Papal Legate.

They terrorised the south of France and the north of Spain.

That is why the Pope was eventually forced to declare a Crusade against them and authorise Christian Catholics to restrain and arrest the Cathar terrorists and murderers.

These are readily ascertainable facts.

Take your own advice: "stop reading what you want to hear and maybe exercise some tolerance".

If you can...

starfishlady said...

The cathars are a lot like the Heaven's gate cult. The man they left behind named himself Rio de Angelis. River of Angels... They believed the body was evil vehicle. They also thought to make men and women equal they should castrate themselves. They were vegetarians and they were going to join the Hale Bop Comet and be a star in another plane of existence. I am not sure why the sympathizers of this stupidity don't just make a new Heaven's gate, oh wait they all killed themselves, nevermind.

Adrian Arias said...

Beautifully said