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The Cathars:  Cathar Beliefs:  Cathar Terminology

A source of confusion is the number of different names used for Catharism and its adherents. This is partly due to the different languages used - Roman Catholics tended to use Latin, people in the Languedoc used Occitan the local language, while modern studies often favour French or English terms.  

Another reason is that some Catholic critics were hugely confused by what the Cathars were and where they had come from. Many names are derived from villages where Catharism flourished, developing into a local centre.

Many catholic authorities imagined that all "heresies" were essentially the same, so Cathars could be lumped together with Waldensians (or Vaudois), Arians, Marcians and dozens of others. 

Scholars are not unanimous in identifying the Cathars of the Languedoc and Italy with the Bogomils of the Balkans, nor with other earlier Gnostic Dualists - but realistically there is little doubt that there was a continuous chain of teaching from the earliest Christian times to the thirteenth Century Languedoc. For this reason I have included terms for Bogomils in this section.

Cathars referred to their elect as boni homines - "good men". Women members of the elect were "good women" and together they were "good Christians". French members of the Cathar elect were bons hommes, but Catholic writers often failed to distinguish been members of the elect and ordinary believers, referring to all as "bons hommes".

Various other names were used for Gnostic Dualist sects, that we would call Cathars and they themselves would have called "Good Men". A list of these names is given below:

Cathars and variations, Cathari, Kathari, Catari, Ketzer

The name Cathar is widely claimed to derive from the Greek word Katharoi meaning "the pure". Many scholars assert that the name was initially used by Cathar believers of the inner Elect, and that it was later extended to the whole body of believers.

The term was first used (in Germany) by Eckbert, Abbot of the double abbey of Schönau around 1163, apparently based on the bizarre idea that they, like other heretics, performed obscene acts with cats. This was a common and apparently unfounded accusation of Medieval Catholics against anyone that they regarded as heretical.

But everyone who knew the Cathars and their simple asceticism assumed that the word derived from katharos, the Greek for pure. The Cathars, French Cathares, Latin Cathari, rarely called themselves by any of these names.

Medieval Italian Catholic writers like Moneta and Sacchoni use the word, and the German form Ketzer became a general term for any supposed heretic.


For those interested in the question of the name Cathar and its connection with the Greek word Katharos (pure), it is an extraordinary fact that in the early third century AD the father of Mani above) had belonged to a Judaeo-Christian sect known as katharioi [Stoyanov, The Other God, p 102].

Mani, of course, was the founder of Manichaeism, a Dualist system of belief which seems to have developed into Bogomilism and thence Catharism.

The name Cathari had also been used by Novation sects of Anatolia in the fourth century - see for example Epiphanius, Adversus Haereses, (edited by Oehler, Berlin 1859) p 505. Significantly, perhaps, the Novations, well known Gnostic Dualists, were condemned by the victorious party that we call "orthodox" at the Council of Nicea in 325 (Cannon 8 " Concerning those who have given themselves the name of Novations...."). In other words, it seems that self professed Cathars, with fully developed Gnostic Dualist ideas, were already in existence when the first "Orthodox" Church Council met to start the long process of hammering out its own version of orthodoxy.

What to call those who had undergone the Consolamentum is something of a problem.  "Elect" is a good a term as any other, though Cathars never called themselves by this name either. The main problem is that it is awkward to use when referring to a single member of the Elect.  At the time, members of the Elect were generally known as boni homines (French Bonnes hommes, English Good men).  Of these boni homines is unfamiliar in English. Bonneshommes is a common name in modern works on the subject, but it tends to give the misleading impression that they and their followers were French, or at least French speaking, which of course they were not. Similarly women members of the Elect were bonnes femmes "good women" - or often just men and women together were "good Christians".

The Roman Church regarded them as perfect heretics (ie complete or finished) heretics, from which they are sometimes called Perfecti or Perfects, or in French Parfaits (male) and Parfaites (female).   As with so much Cathar terminology, the name was misunderstood, especially as it was so easy to associate the name with Matthew 19:21, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me". The terms Perfect, Parfit and Parfait are now widely used. But Perfect suggests, in English, pretensions that they did not have, and Parfit is just an old fashioned version of the same word. So, despite its French origins, the term Parfait is used on this website to denote a member of the Elect.

A curious fact (which I have not seen referenced in any previous work) is that the early Christians appear to have refered to the progressing in knowledge of the faith as a processes of perfecting (ie completing). Here for example is one of the most respected Church Fathers, Clement of Alexandria (c.150 - 215). It comes from a letter explaining why certain passages from the Mark gospel had been suppresed (to give the version we are familiar with today), but for present purposes the point is his use of the term "perfected". The fact that it occurs in this context along with the word "gnosis" is franky astonishing.

During Peter’s stay in Rome he wrote an account of the Lord’s doings, not however declaring all of them, nor yet hinting at the secret ones, but selecting those he thought most useful for increasing the faith of those who were being instructed. But when Peter died as a martyr, Mark came over to Alexandria, bringing his own notes and those of Peter, from which he transferred to his former book the things suitable to whatever makes for progress towards gnosis. Thus he composed a more spiritual gospel for the use of those who were being perfected…

English translation from Toy, What are Apocryphal Writings, p19. For more on this see Morton Smith, The Secret Gospel ( London, 1974).

Alexander seemsto be confirming that early Church practices were identical to Cathar ones - where Perfected adherents were those who had completed their training in gnosis, the secret knowledge of the Gnostics, which was deliberately kept from the mass of the faithful.

When administrating the Consolamentum, the Parfaits were sometimes known as Soul Collectors by other Cathars.

Ordinary believers were variously known as believers (credentes) or listeners (auditores) and their heresy - as Roman Catholics saw it - was "The Great Heresy".

Alternative Names for Cathars

Patarenes and its variants: Patareni, Paterini, Patrini, Paterelli, Patalini. The word seems to have originally been used in the early eleventh century for a reforming part in the church of Milan, but was soon transferred to Cathars. It became the standard name in Dalmatia and was used extensively in Italy especially after the thirteenth century. In both places it was used indiscriminately for local Cathars and those from Bosnia.

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.

Tixerands with variations Tisserands and Textores. The reference of to Weavers and other cloth workers. Cathar Elders often earned their living by weaving, and it is likely that cloth merchants introduced Cathar ideas to western Europe - they travelled back and forth to the east. As Runciman explains it "Many of the missionaries were itinerant cloth merchants, whose trade was the chief trade that linked Eastern and Western Europe. It was their function to carry the woven silks of Byzantium and the East to the eager markets of the West. They were therefore ideally placed to be the channels of an Eastern faith. From them the residents cloth merchants learnt the doctrine and spread it to the actual weavers. Clothiers' shops were well suited to be centres of heresy, for it was perfectly natural for the women of the district to gather and gossip there" (Runciman, The Medieval Manichee, p 169)

Albigenses, Albigensians, Albigeois; The name Albigenses, given them by the Roman Catholic Council of Tours (1163) was common towards the end of the twelfth century. It comes from the name of the town of Albi (Latin Albiga,) where the Roman Church imagined the heresy to be centred - hence the Albigensian Crusade. Roman Catholic works still favour the name Albigenses or Albigensians for what almost everyone now calls Cathars. During the wars against the people of the Languedoc geographic names were often used to denote both Cathars and people from the area whether Cathars or not - possibly a deliberate blurring of the distinction between Cathars and Catholic victims of the Crusaders. As well as Albilensian, the words Toulousain and Provençal were used in this way.

Paulicians: a reference to an early Gnostic theologian regarded by the Roman Church as a heretic.

Publicans: and variants Publicani, Populicani: This term was used in France and especially in Champagne in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It seems to have started life as a a Latinised version of Paulician, which was misunderstood as a reference to the "Publicans" of the New Testament. It is possible that the word Pauliciani had been picked up by western Crusaders passing through Constantinople and then applied to people back home with surprisingly similar beliefs. By some curious turns Publicani seems to have been distorted into Teleonarii and thence Deonarii of which there are a few references.

Piphles, and variants Piphiles and Pifli. This is thought to be yet another improbable corruption of the term Popliocani. It was used extensively in Flanders.

Bulgars: variations Bulgari, Bougres, Bugares and Buggers: originally denoting their real or supposed Bulgarian origins - but Catholic propaganda successfully caused the name to be associated with sodomy.

Bogomils: a reference to follows of Bogomil - a leader of a sect in the Balkans with very similar Manichaean teachings. This term was used extensively by Bulgarian writers and sometimes by Byzantine writers.

Phundaites: The name is derived from the Greek word for a scrip, a reference to the document (presumably the John Gospel) that they were reputed to carry. The term is used only in the works of twelfth century Byzantine writers.

Kudgers: a late medieval term apparently for Bogomil believers and derived from a the name of the village of Kotugeri near Vodena.

Babuni: a name given to Gnostic Dualists in Serbia and Bosnia, up to the fourteenth century.

Concorricii: Cathars from Concoresso (In modern Italy).

Garatenses: a term applied to a school of Cathar believers founded by Bishop Garatus in Concoresso (In modern Italy). this is the term used in the famous Liber de Duobus Principiis.

Runcarii, with variants Rungarii, Roncaroli, Runkeler. The name was applied to a group of German Cathars in the thirteenth century and is thought to have been a geographical name. The variant Roncaroli was used by Frederick II in his law against heresy (Mansi, Concilia, v xxii, p 590)




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A modern carving of a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, which Cathars believed dwelt in every Parfait. The sculpture cleverly reflects Cathar belief in that the representation is not a material object.

Cathar Terminology 1 of 2