Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
The Cathar Legacy: Cathar Vestiges, Repercussions and Survivals


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The Cathar Legacy

 

The influence of Catharism on the Catholic Church was marked in the medieval period, and is still visible today.  Here are just a few examples. 

In attempting to present itself in the same light as the popular Parfaits, the papacy created new preaching orders like the Dominicans and Franciscans.  The Dominicans in particular are a very obvious attempt to copy of the Parfaits.  When they were set up they travelled around the Languedoc countryside in pairs, walking, dressing simply in sandals and plain habits, avoiding the ostentation of other churchmen, and preaching poverty.  In this they were consciously and explicitly emulating Parfaits.  You can see them today, still wearing their black robes, almost identical to the habit of the people they were responsible for exterminating.  Again, the first nunnery, set up by Dominic Guzmán (Saint Dominic), was a copy of a convent for Cathar Parfaites.

To emulate Cathar asceticism, celibacy was imposed on the Roman Catholic clergy after centuries of lip service. New ecclesiastic buildings were notable for their simplicity and lack of the usual ostentation (the Cathedral at Albi shown on the right is a spectacular example). 

The doctrine of transubstantiation, first formally declared at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, looks suspiciously like a way of contradicting Cathar teaching on the impossibility of combining earthly and spiritual elements.  Again, the sacrament of extreme unction appears to have evolved by way of competing with the deathbed Consolamentum.  Marian devotion was developed by Dominic Guzmán as a way of countering the role accorded to women by the troubadours and perhaps to a lesser extent by the Cathars.

There is a strong case that the Reformation was fuelled by the preserved ideas of the Cathars and their fellow "heretics".  Certainly, many Cathar ideas can be found in modern Protestant doctrine.  Click on the following link for a summary of Cathar ideas developed by ProtestantsNext:.

It can also be argued that the Roman Church itself is slowly catching up with the Cathar Church, slowly abandoning its traditional teachings, and embracing ever more Cathar ideas.  Click on the following link for a summary of Cathar ideas adopted by Roman CatholicsNext:

 


 

This page

 

Cathar Influence on modern Europe and world geopolitics

Cathar Influence on Historical Studies

Cathar Influence on modern Popular Culture

Cathar Influence on the Catholic Church

Cathar Influence on Protestant and other Churches

Cathar ideas developed by Protestants.

Vindications of Cathar claims

Catharism Today. Do Cathars still exist ?

 

Persecuting Cathars, Jews, and other minorities, and making them wear yellow "badges of infamy" was a requirement of the Catholic Church imposed on the rulers of the Languedoc.

 

The nascent Occitan indiependence movement has adopted the Cross of Toulouse from the armorial bearings of the medieval Counts of Toulouse.

 

Medieval Inquisition torture methods are still in use today.

 

 

Reminders of the Cathar Period

 

Reminders of the Cathar Period

 

Reminders of the Cathar Period. The Cross of Toulouse is still widely used throughout the Languedoc

 

The Counts of Toulouse are popular
among medieval re-enactors

 

A monument to the Cathars.
Autoroute aire: Pech Loubat,
in the Aude on the A61 near Nîmes

 
 
 
 
 

 

Cathar Influence on Modern Europe
and World Geopolitics

 

The annexation of the Languedoc was the first step in building modern France. This was the result, conscious or not, of Pope Innocent III's actions in calling for a crusade against fellow Christians, and in his claim to be able to reassign feudal properties over the heads of feudal suzerains.

This approach is consistent with Innocent's views of himself, set midway between God and Man, and given the whole world to rule over. During his reign, Innocent managed to establish himself at the head of a single international feudal hierarchy, claiming as vassals not just the Holy Roman Emperor but the Kings of Aragon, Portugal, Hungary and England.

Before Innocent III, Europe had been a patchwork of feudal possessions, after him it was destined to become a collection of much larger nation states, an extended process that would see its fulfilment in the nineteenth century with the unification of Italy and Germany.

The success of Catharism as an alternative belief system that appealed to people more than Roman Catholicism also set a precedent. The same criticisms of the Roman Church articulated by the Cathars were echoed by other groups of "heretics" - the Waldensians followed by Lollards, Hussites, Anabaptists, Huguenots, and Protestants. The broad division of Europe into Protestant North and Catholic South can therefore also be traced back directly to Cathar dissidents.

The tollerance and liberalism of modern democracy can also be traced to the Languedoc of the Cathars, troubadours and medieval Counts of Toulouse. A number of democratic countries including the USA commemorate the Counts of Toulouse as instrumental in the development of local democracy.

 

 
 
 
 

Cathar Influence on Historical Studies

 

Historically, few historians in France and almost none outside France have taken any interest in the Cathars. Even Voltaire devoted only a chapter to them.

In the last century Cathar studies in universities around the world have exploded, and there is now a wealth of material in most European languages - both books and academic papers.

 

Tours of Cathar Castles & Cathar Country

 
 
 
 
 

Cathar Influence on Popular Culture

 

Cathars are widely recognised in popular culture, including books, cartoon strips, films and music. The Singing Nun sang of Dominic Guzmán's role in attempting to induce Cathars to accept the Catholic faith. Iron Maiden sang of the massacre at Montsegur.

Elements of the Cathar story appear in books like The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and the Da Vinci Code, and in films such as the Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars.

Bernard Gui was a real Dominican Inquisitor

 

A French Cartoon strip portraying one of the uprisings against the Dominican Inquisitors

 

The Singing Nun sang of Dominic Guzmán's role in attempting to induce Cathars to accept the Catholic faith. Iron Maiden sang of the massacre at Montsegur.

 

"Kill Them All ... " First articulated during the Cathar wars, and still a popular idea among traditionalist Christians

 

The (vaguely related) "Cathars" in Star Wars have a cat-like appearance, strange echo of a Catholic etymological error.

 

Influence of Catharism on the Catholic Church

 

The influence of Catharism on the Catholic Church was marked in the medieval period, and is still visible today.  Here are just a few examples. 

In attempting to present itself in the same light as the popular Parfaits, the papacy created new preaching orders like the Dominicans and FranciscansDominicans in particular represent a very obvious - indeed explicit - attempt to copy of the Parfaits.  When they were set up they travelled around the Languedoc countryside in pairs, walking, dressing simply in sandals and plain habits, avoiding the ostentation of other churchmen, and preaching poverty. Even the idea of preaching in the local language in order to be understood - let alone entertaining - was an innovation copied from Cathar practice. They were consciously and explicitly emulating Parfaits.  You can see them today, still wearing their black robes, almost identical to the habit of the people they were responsible for exterminating.  Again, the first nunnery, set up by Dominic Guzmán (Saint Dominic), was a conscious copy of convents for Cathar Parfaites in Fanjeaux.. To emulate Cathar asceticism, celibacy was imposed on the Roman Catholic clergy after centuries of lip service. 

New ecclesiastic buildings were notable for their simplicity and lack of the usual ostentation (the Cathedral at Albi shown on the right is a spectacular example). 

The doctrine of transubstantiation, first formally declared at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, looks suspiciously like a way of contradicting Cathar teaching on the impossibility of combining earthly and spiritual elements.  Again, the sacrament of extreme unction appears to have evolved by way of competing with the deathbed Consolamentum.  Marian devotion was developed by Dominic Guzmán as a way of countering the role accorded to women by the troubadours and perhaps to a lesser extent by the Cathars.

It can also be argued that the Roman Church itself is slowly catching up with the Cathar Church, slowly abandoning its traditional teachings, and embracing ever more Cathar ideas. 

From early days in its history the Church that developed into the Roman Catholic Church adopted popular ideas from their Gnostic counterparts. The idea of creating a canonical "New Testament" was one such idea. The first version of the New Testament was collated by a Gnostic called Marcion. The idea of Apostolic Succession is a another example. And what is technically called mitigated Dualism is a third. The idea of a God of Light locked in cosmic battle with a God of Darkness is characteristically Manichaean - ie Gnostic Dualist - idea. Mitigated Dualists taught that the good god will win in the end. Catholics take care not to refer to the evil principal as a god. Modern Catholic teaching on this point is indistinguishable from Catharist belief in its mitigated Dualist form, as long as Satan is denied the title of a god (though Satan is clearly called a god in the New Testament - see 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Part of the reason for this convergence is the history of men like St Augustine. Augustine was a Manichaean - a Gnostic Dualist - but he failed to progress in his chosen religion, and so defected to a group that in time would evolve into the Orthodox and later Catholic Churches. Having failed to progress in the Manichaean hierarchy, he flourished in his new Church but never entirely shook off his Gnostic Dualist theological training.

 

The writings of medieval Catholic polemicists reveal examples of Cathar ideas that were then regarded as extravagant, but today seem unremarkable. The explanation is that at some time over the last seven hundred years the Catholic Church has shifted ground and adopted the Cathar position.

 

Example: The Fall of Satan. Cathar ideas of Heaven and Hell included a Fall from heaven, during which a number of angels were expelled from Heaven and fell to earth. Here is an extract from Montana of Cremona, a Professor at the University of Bologna who became a Dominican - possibly an Inquisitor, though this is not known for sure. He is listing distinctively heretical beliefs - "What Heretics May Believe, or Rather, Concoct" around 1241-1244:

They also say and teach that this devil [Satan], puffed up by the deception which he had practised in heaven, presumed to ascend into heaven with his cohorts and there joined battle with the archangel Michael and was defeated and driven out. They think that the verse Apocalypse 12:7, "And there was a great battle in heaven. Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought with his angels" is to be interpreted with reference to this battle. This they take literally.

English translation from the preface to Book 1 of Monetae Cremonensis adversus Catharos et Valdenses libri quinque I (Descriptio fidei haereticorum), ed. Thomas A Ricchini (Rome, 1743). For a fuller text see Walter Wakefield & Austin Evans, Heresies of The High Middle Ages (Columbia, 1991), p309

Few Catholics today would find this story of the Fall of the Angels remarkable, since it is now Catholic orthodoxy.

 

Example: The identification of Mary Magdelene with the Woman taken in adultery. Many Christians take for granted the identification of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:3) with Mary Magdelene. In fact the bible, makes no such connection and there is no substantial reason to link the two. Anyone not taught that they are the same person will have no reason to link them, and this seems to have been the position of medieval Catholic clerics. Here is one, a Cistercian chronicler writing around about the Cathars of the Languedoc in 1213-1216:

Further, in their secret meetings they said that Christ who was born in the earthly and visible Bethlehem and crucified at Jerusalem was evil, and that Mary Magdelene was his concubine - and that she was the woman taken in adultery who is referred to in the scriptures.

Historia Albigensis - Pierre des Vaux de Cernay (WA & MD Sibly's translation into English (Boydell, 2002) at {11} p 11).

Leaving aside the the author's main point in this text, he clearly reveals that Catholics in his day did not identify Mary with the woman taken in adultery. In other words, on this particular point, modern Catholics hold the same views as medieval Cathars, not medieval Catholics.

Since the Enlightenment, Catholic ideas have moved more quickly. The Catholic Church no longer condemns the Cathar principles of toleration, nor the equality of women as it once did; and its attachment to feudalism has been quietly dropped in favour of a vague attachment to democracy since the late twentieth century.

The Cathars' absolute condemnation of capital punishment, was abhorrent to medieval Catholic chroniclers and was still abhorrent to Catholic apologists when Hilaire Belloc wrote his tract against the Albigensian heresy in 1938 (Hilaire Belloc, The Albigensian Attack, Chapter Five of The Great Heresies). But the Cathar position has since then gradually become more acceptable, and the was finally adopted by the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the 20th century.  The Roman Church - or at least a Pope - condemned capital punishment unreservedly, just as the medieval Cathars did.

So too for the position on war. Catholic priests are no longer allowed to fight in wars at they did officially up to the nineteenth century and unofficially until the twentieth. Senior Churchmen, including popes like Julius II, were happy to don armour and fight in wars. During the Cathar Crusades, Catholic abbots and bishops took roles as military leaders, as they continued to do for centuries afterwards. No Cathar Parfait and Parfaite fought in the Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc, even to defend themselves. The position of the Catholic Church in the twenty first century is becoming noticeably more pacifist, though it is not yet as pacifist as the medieval Cathar Church.

Some Catholics are now vegetarians without knowing that their Church would once have condemned them to death for it. 

Many lay Catholics own and read bibles, another Cathar practice that was once a capital crime under the Catholic Church.

Many Catholics - most in the west - practice contraception. Up until the 1960's the Vatican regarded all contraceptive methods, including the "rhythm method", as mortal sins. Since then the rhythm method has not been sinful, another small step in the the direction of Cathar teaching which preferred contraception to conception. In practice well over 90% of western Catholic couples practice other forms of contraception despite the clear teaching of their Church.

Some Catholics now support euthanasia, and suicide is no longer regarded with the horror it once was.  Not so long ago the Catholic Church was insisting that suicides be buried in unconsecrated ground at cross-roads, with a stake through their heart. Now the Church almost always spares the residual stigma of suicide by the fact or the pretence that the balance of the suicide's mind was disturbed at the time of death. In effect, the Cathar position, finding no doctrinal objection to euthanasia or suicide, is gradually becoming more acceptable to educated western Catholics.

Many Catholics now favour the restoration of women to the positions of authority they held in the very earliest Church and in the medieval Cathar Church - preaching, teaching and administering sacred rites. Sexual equality a hot topic in the west and it is not impossible that within the present century the Catholic Church will return to the position held by the Early Church and by the medieval Cathar Church.

 

Figure on the Basilica at Carcassonne
Wilful blindness was often used to characterise "heresy"

 

After the Cathar period the Catholic Church adopted an architectural style with plain exteriors - as at Lavaur and here at Albi. Cathedrals from this period often resemble fortresses, since the Church was still unpopular and in danger of attack from local citizens who disliked bishops and inquisitors alike.

 

Devil and the cat worshippers kissing the cat’s backside Jean Tinctor, Traittié du crisme de vauderie (Sermo contra sectam vaudensium), Bruges ca. 1470-1480 (Paris, BnF, Français 961, fol. 1r)

 

Dominicans copied many aspects of Cathar practice, including the wearing of black outer robes

 
 

A Church in Transition:

 

Catechism of the Catholic Church on capital punishment, 2267: "The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty..."

 

On the other hand: in his 1995 encyclical letter "Evangelium Vitae" ("The Gospel of Life" ), Pope Jean-Paul II presented the Catholic Church's reasons for opposing capital punishment. In his January 1999 visit to St. Louis, Missouri, he called for the end of the U.S. death penalty saying, "the dignity of human life must never be taken away even in the case of someone who has done great evil."

 

Around 1250 Alphonse de Poitiers wrote to Pope Innocent IV asking him to issue a bull against heresy. This document is known in the form of a draft, on the back of which is a sketch showing a man being burned at the stake.

 

Alphonse's draft letter is held in the French National Archives, in a dossier called "Grands documents de l'histoire de France; Florilège", No notice 00000192, Fonds MUS, Cote AE/II/257 (Cote origine J428/1): described as "Projet de texte rédigé pour Alphonse de Poitiers, comte de Toulouse, afin d'obtenir du pape Innocent IV une bulle sur les poursuites contre les hérétiques. Au verso figure le dessin d'un hérétique livré aux flammes. Document non daté, en latin."

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


GUIDED TOURS OF CATHAR CASTLES OF THE LANGUEDOC

You can join small exclusive guided tours of Cathar Castles
led by an English speaking expert on the Cathars
who lives in the Languedoc
(author of www.cathar.info and www.catharcastles.info )

Selected Cathar Castles. Accommodation provided. Transport Provided.

Cathar Origins, History, Theology.
The Crusade, The Inquisition, and Consequences

Click here to visit the Cathar Country Website for more information

Influence of Catharism on Protestant Churches

 

Cathar teachings shared by the Waldensians became defining features of Protestant belief. Many of these teachings follow from the rejection of Roman Catholic "tradition" in favour of scripture. Examples include the rejection of a priesthood, the rejection of graven images and the idolatry associated with them, rejection of the cults of saints and relics, denial of Purgatory, and a rejection of the Roman Church's sacraments.

Protestants, like Cathars, rejected the medieval Roman doctrine of transubstantiation and infant baptism. Like Cathars and Waldensians, Protestant Churches encourage laymen to read the scriptures for themselves. Most accept women as ministers, and most affirm the dignity of labour. Churchmen themselves are increasingly working for a living rather than living off tithes. Protestant theology is that of mitigated dualism, embracing predestination and rejecting the Catholic position on Free Will. Protestants, like Cathars, reject the medieval Roman Catholic notion of Purgatory, along with the practice of praying for the dead, and the entire system of indulgences. In the last century, mainstream Protestant Churches moved closer still to the beliefs of the Cathars. Contraception is not merely permitted but positively encouraged by Protestant theologians. Many Protestants are Universalists, believing in the eventual redemption of all. Even belief in re-incarnation is now increasingly common among mainstream Christians.

Proto-Protestants, such as Anabaptists, and later non-conformists like the Quakers adopted even more Cathar and Waldensian ideas. They refused to swear oaths - even commercial and legal oaths. They refused to sit in judgement. They practised poverty as well as preaching it. They refused to kill - even in war. Along with a priesthood they rejected special vestments, church buildings, relics, and the hierarchy of Archbishops, Metropolitans, Primates, Popes and Patriarchs. In all of this they were emulating medieval Cathars.

Among minority sects one can find yet more Cathar ideas still flourishing today. Pentecostalists still celebrate baptism by fire rather than water. The so-called House Church movement rejects the idea of church buildings. And Jehovah's Witness still believe the Roman Church to be the Church of Satan. Catharism may have been exterminated long ago, but every single one of its teachings is still flourishing today.

 

Click on the following link to read an on-line copy of a book published by the American Tract Society in 1866, giving a Protestant account of the the persecution of proto-Protestants, Vaudois and Cathars: W. Carlos Martyn, A History of the Huguenots

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A Vindication of Cathar Claims

 

Both Catholics and Cathars believed that they alone represented the one true version of Christianity.  Consequently, both sects needed to explain the existence of the other, its beliefs, practices and doctrine.  Catholics and Cathars were fond of pointing out each others' misreading of scripture, their failure to follow orthodoxy (as evidenced by early Christian tradition) and what each saw as the other's perverse fabrications. 

Cathar charges against the Roman Church have been largely vindicated, while Catholic charges against the Cathars look increasing unsustainable. In many respects the Cathar position is now accepted by historians and objective observers as correct, or at least more correct than the corresponding position of the Roman Church. Catholics and Cathars disagreed about the Identity and Nature of God. For example, Cathars rejected as an innovation the Catholic concept, which is now generally acknowledged to date from the fourth century.

Cathars claimed (and footnotes in modern Catholic bibles confirm it) that the earliest Christians knew no Priesthood in the Roman Catholic sense of the word. Cathars were also correct in claiming that the Roman Church had adopted the doctrine of Apostolic Succession, if not from the Cathars directly then at least from other early Gnostics. Cathar teachings reflect Apostolic Practices in other ways - ascetic lifestyles, an equal sharing of authority among the teachers, travelling in pairs, living in poverty, everyone working for their living, women teachers as well as men.

No historian doubts that Cathar practices followed Biblical Injunctions more closely than Roman Catholic ones. Cathars rejected graven images; practised poverty as well as preaching it; practised pacifism and refused to kill; declined to lie, swear oaths or to sit in judgement over others. On the question of baptism the Cathars adopted the earliest Christian practice, while the Roman Church adapted existing Jewish practice. (According to the bible Jesus replaced the Jewish practice of baptising in water with baptism by the Holy Sprit.) In other areas Cathar theology is now accepted as predating the innovations of the Orthodox and Roman Churches. In place of the medieval Sacraments, we find early Christian ceremonies such as the Consolamentum, early Christian Prayers notably the Pater, early Christian public confession (Apareilementum), the early Christian Agape, with a communal meal involving the blessing of bread without any idea of transubstantiation.

Scholars agree with the Cathars in noting that the Catholic Church forged key texts, falsified documents and mistranslated important passages to match their own ideas. Catholic forgeries and mistranslations omitted or disguised passages in the scriptures, and wrote women out of the story.

Examples of other areas where the Cathar position has been vindicated include the existence of distinctive Gnostic passages in the New Testament, recognition that the concept of Purgatory was unknown before the Middle Ages, and assorted Other Teachings. Those sympathetic to Catharism, are also fond of pointing out that in the whole of history of Christianity no sect has a better verifiable claim to the ideals of Martyrdom than the Cathars.

Without doubt, the Cathars had a stronger claim than the Roman Church to represent the teachings and practises of the Early Christian Church. Its tradition represented ancient practices abandoned or amended by the Orthodox Church and then further amended by the Roman Church. The truth seems to that, in the bosom of medieval society, Cathars represented the last witness to the earliest Christian Church.  Cathars themselves were aware of this, and told their persecutors so. They even seem to have known the route by which their tradition came to western Europe.

 

Here is an extract from one of the most authoritative historians of the twentieth century, Sir Steven Runciman, an expert on the Middle Ages. He is addressing the question of Catholics trying to explain why the Cathar Consolamentum seemed so familiar:

"... the resemblance of the whole wording of the ceremony tempted certain orthodox writers to see in it a travesty of Catholic Church ceremonies. In this they entirely misunderstood the position. Any similarity between the ceremonies of the Cathars and those of the Catholic Church was due not to conscious mockery on the part of the former sect but to their common origin. The services of the Early Christian Church up to the fifth century show almost all the characteristics to be found in Cathar services. The ritual feast of the Cathars is, if we equate the Perfect with the early Christian priest, exactly the same as the Early Christian Communion Feast. The Kiss of Peace terminated Early Christian services as it did those of the Cathars. The Apparelliamentum of the Cathars was couched in almost the same terms as the General Confession of the Early Christians, indeed the Confiteor that still survives in the Catholic Church. The Consolamentum itself in its two aspects was closely akin to the adult baptism administered by the Early Church to the dying and to the ordination or initiation into its ministry. The very details of the service are similar. In the Early Church the catechumen was tested by a long and stern probationary period. His initiation ceremony began with his reception of the Symbol and the Pater Noster. They were recited to him with a homily by the Presbyter who conducted the service and he had to repeat them. The Melioramentum that followed was not unlike the Confessional ceremony held by Early Christians on Holy Thursday or Good Friday. Finally, the actual ordination was identical, consisting of the laying on of hands and of the Gospel upon the catechumen's head.

Such similarity cannot be fortuitous. Obviously the Cathar Church had preserved, only slightly amended to suit its doctrines of the time, the services extant in the Christian Church during the first four centuries of its life."

Sir Steven Runciman, The Medieval Manichee ( Cambridge University Press, 1999), p 164.

A little later (p 173) He says:

"... it was the Gnostics that kept these ceremonies in their pure form; for the orthodox, with growing wealth and power, and, at last, with the patronage of Imperial Rome, began to enrich their services with pomp and splendour, till they lost their old simplicity. In the course of the centuries this led to a strange anomaly.

To the Early Christians baptism, the reception into the Church, was a species of initiation ceremony. There were many sympathisers who might be called Christians but who had not been received into the Church and were not received into the Church till their death beds - for example, the Emperor Constantine It was only when the practice arose of giving baptism sooner in the Christian's life, in order that even dying infants should have the advantage of membership of the Church, that every Christian sympathiser became by his baptism as an infant an initiate; and gradually, with this cheapening of initiation, the ceremony of Confirmation rose in importance. By the end of the fifth century there was no spiritual aristocracy in Christendom, other than the official hierarchy of the Church. The Gnostic sects, however, by the stress they laid on their gnosis, retained the older practice. Thus when polemical churchmen in the Middle Ages denounced the heretics for maintaining a class of the Elect or Perfect they were denouncing an Early Christian practice, and the heretic initiation service that they viewed with so much horror was almost word for word the ceremony with which Early Christians were admitted to the Church."

Runciman's terminology is in some cases slightly different from that used on this website. Corresponding terms, with links are:

Consolamentum (the same)
Perfect - Parfait / Parfaite
Pater Noster (the same = "Our Father")
Apparelliamentum - Apareilementum
Melioramentum - Melhoramentum

 

many Gnostic gospels are known from ancient times, all of them sought out and destroyed by mainstream Christians. Since the twentieth century some examples have been discovered, having been hidden, often in desert conditions. They do not always match the Catholic accusations made against them, but they do often reflect Medieval Cathar teachings.

 
 

First page of Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews - Cathar Bible in Occitan, from Lyon

 
 

Commemorative Road Sign at Minerve where 140 - 180 Cathars were burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology.

road sign in Minerve
 
 

Here is an extract from a letter of 1143 or 1144 from Eberwin, Prior of the Premonstratensian Abbey of Steinfeld, writing to Bernard of Clairvaux (Saint Bernard):

 

"Indeed, those who were burned told us during their defence that this heresy has lain concealed from the time of the martyrs even to our own day, and has persisted thus in Greece and certain other lands."

 

Sancti Bernardi....epistolae, ep 472 (Everwini Steinfeldensis praeposti ad S. Bernardum) - Migne Patrologia latina, CLXXXII, 676-80. English translation from Wakefield & Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (Columbia University Press, 1991), p 132.

 

Mainstream Churches are currently re-introducing women leaders, a practice of the early Church retained by the Cathars.

The diet of Parfaits was much stricter than that of Catholic monks. The strictest Catholic monks used identical diet to Cathar Parfaits everyday diet, but only for a limited number of fast days each year. No meat, no eggs, no milk or cheese, etc.

 

Cathar baptism (The Consolamentum) was identical to the mainstream Christian idea of Pentecost - The Holy Spirit descending to dwell within the new initiates who become apostles.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Baptism

The Jewish practice was to baptise with water - by total submission in cold running water. This was the way that John the Baptist is recorded as having baptised Jesus in the River Jordan.

According the New Testament Jesus later did away with this traditional practice, and instituted Baptism of the Spirit. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit, visible as tongues of fire, descended onto the heads of the disciples.

For reasons that are not altogether clear, the mainstream Church retained the old Jewish practice. The Orthodox Church still baptises by total immersion in running water, but the schismatic Roman Church deviated from this practice and now baptises in the familiar manner. A further innovation was to baptise infants, who could not possibly understand or consent to the ceremony.

For the Cathars, infant baptism with water was not merely unscriptural, it was an appanage of the bad god Jehovah, and had been expressly rejected by Christ.

Various modern Christian sects take a range views about the question of baptism, from Baptists who practice full immersion in water, to Penecostalists who believe that the Holy Spirit descends on them in the form of tongues of flame - sadly invisible to the rest of us.

Baptism of the Spirit. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit, visible as tongues of fire, descended onto the heads of the disciples. Note the prominent role of Mary.

Present were about one hundred and twenty followers of Christ (Acts 1:15)
Their reception of Baptism in the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room is recounted in Acts 2:1–6

Peter stated that this event was the beginning of a continual outpouring that would be available to all believers from that point on (Acts 2:39)

 

Pfarrkirche St. Peter in Tapfheim, Donau-Ries , Bavaria, Germany

 

Pfarrkirche St. Vitus und Katharina,
Rehling, Aichach-Friedberg, Bavaria, Germany

 

 

Laying on of Hands - once the central part of Christian baptism, as it remained for the Cathars.

 

Baptism of the Spirit. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit, visible as tongues of fire, descended onto the heads of the disciples.

 

Baptism of the Spirit. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit, visible as tongues of fire, descended onto the heads of the disciples.

 

In the Middle Ages, cathedrals and great churches throughout Western Europe were fitted with a "Holy Ghost hole"; a small circular opening in the roof that symbolised the entrance of Holy Spirit into the midst of the assembled worshippers. At Pentecost, these Holy Ghost holes would be decorated with red flowers representing tongues of fire. Sometimes a dove was lowered through into the church along with burning straw, while the story of the Pentecost was read. Holy Ghost holes can still be seen today in European churches, including Canterbury Cathedral

 

(Pentecost represented at St. Therese of Lisieux Church in Montauk, New York.)

 

 

Other Sacraments

 

As Cathars and Catholics alike well knew, in the early thirteenth century the Roman Church had invented its official list of seven Sacraments within living memory. 

Here is a passage from Hugh of Poitiers a monk from the monastery of Sainte Madaleine in Vézelay written in 1167 when The Catholic Church had developed a concept of their being seven sacraments, but there was no agreement as to what they were. A group of Cathars (called Deonarii or Publicans) had been investigated at Vézelay:

They were held for some sixty days or more, and were frequently brought before the gathering and questioned - now with threats and again with soft words - about the Catholic faith. At length, after the vain expenditure of much effort, with the advice and assistance of the archbishops of Lyon and Narbonne, the Bishop of Nevers, several abbots, and many other learned men, they were adjudged guilty of the charge that, while paying lip service to the unity of the Divine Essence, they rejected absolutely all the holy sacraments of the Universal Church: specifically, the baptism of children, the Eucharist, the seal of the life-giving Cross, sprinkling with holy water, the building of churches, good works in tithes and offerings, the marital relations of husband and wife, the monastic life, and all the functions of clergy and priests.

Luc d'Achery's edition of Hugh of Poitiers' Historia Vizeliacensis monasterii, published in Bouquet et al (Eds) Recueil Des historiens Des Gaules et de la France (24 vols, Paris, 1738 - 1904) XII, 343-44. English translation from Wakefield & Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages, 41. p 248

 

The Seven Sacraments as they are now defined all had questionable scriptural authority, and generally the Cathars claimed to represent an older tradition than the Catholic Church. 

 

Confession. The earliest known form of Christian confession was a group activity, involving the public admission of sin. It was identical to the Cathar Apareilementum, quite different from the Medieval or modern Catholic practice.

 

Confirmation and Ordination. Various Catholic theologians recognised elements of the Consolamentum in their own Sacraments.  "Is it not curious" says one of them in the nineteenth century "to remark that the essential rite of the Consolamentum is in effect nothing but the most ancient form of Christian ordination?".  The same applied to confirmation, since the Consolamentum represented an ancient usage "when the ceremonies of Confirmation and Ordination had yet to be distinguished".

 

Marriage. The Cathars did not recognise marriage, claiming that although it was mentioned in the New Testament it was not sanctioned by it. The Catholic position (reflected in the words of the marriage service) is that marriage was instigated by God and that Jesus himself was a guest at a wedding. While true, the fact that the God of the Old Testament instituted Jewish (polygamous) marriage could have carried no weight for the Cathars.

 

Extreme Unction. Extreme Unction was an innovation of the Roman Church in the Middle Ages. It has been suggested, but not proved, that it was developed as a conscious response to the Consolamentum administered to dying Cathars, popular because it ensured a place in heaven.

 

The Eucharist. The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation was formally propounded in 1215 based on contemporary philosophical notions that were later discredited. The Cathar practise of blessing bread before meals by contrast is identical to the practice of the earliest Christians at communal meals called agapes (abandoned by mainstream churches in the second or third centuries when their own agapes degenerated into disreputable occasions)

 

 

The Laying on of hands during an ordination reproduces the practice of baptism in the early Church and in the Cathar Church.

This scene could be the Last Supper or a Cathar Meal at which bread was blessed.

 

This scene is an early Christian Agape but could equally well represent a Cathar meal. Note that the meal consists of bread and fish.
(Painting from Early Christian catacombs - "Catacombe di Priscilla")

 

This is a Catholic Mass or Eucharist - resembling neither early Christian nor medieval Cathar practice, since neither the earliest Christians nor the Cathars recognised a Christian priesthood qualified to make sacrifices.

 

The Identity and Nature of God

 

 

Identity of God.

Cathar teachers and others associated with them pointed out the cruelty, rapacity and irascibility of the Jewish tribal mountain god described in the Old Testament.  Anyone who read the it could see for themselves that he was indeed unjust, partisan, jealous, cruel, irrational and occasionally positively vicious.   This was such an easy point to prove in a literate society that it must have contributed to the fact that the best Catholic preachers consistently lost in open debate with Cathar Parfaits.  (Such embarrassment led the Roman Church Church to prohibit the circulation of the Old Testament among laymen.  For ordinary people to read a bible, or even to possess one, would soon become a capital offence, and many proto-Protestants would be burned alive for it.)

 

The Trinity.

Some Cathars seem to have accepted the Trinity, but others did not. They recognised the Father as the good god, Jesus Christ as a divine phantom and the Holy Ghost as a created being inferior to God. They saw the Catholic Trinity, nowhere mentioned in the original version of the bible, as a blasphemous invention.  It is a matter of fact that the doctrine of the Trinity was developed in the fourth century - it was refined by a series of Church Councils starting with the Council of Nicea in 325. (Incidentally it is known that a bogus passage was inserted into orthodox bibles to explicitly confirm the doctrine of the Trinity, In the Authorized Version, the First Epistle of John 5:7 refers to the Holy Trinity: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one". These words come from the Vulgate, but are not in any early Greek text.

 

Satan.

Catholic theologians tend to regard Dualist religions as un-Christian. This is arguable for the pure form of Dualism which posits two co-equal and opposite gods, but the Cathars of the Languedoc were initially "mitigated Dualists". They believed that the God of Darkness, the god of this world, was lesser than and subordinate to the Good God. Eventually the Good God, leading the armies of Light, would triumph over the lesser, evil God and his army of demons. If we identify the God of Darkness as Satan, then this is orthodox Catholic doctrine. The fact is that mainstream Christian Church, from which the Roman Church would later split off, adopted Manichaean ideas during the Dark Ages. In short, the Roman Church is itself a mitigated Dualist religion.

A representation of The Catholic Trinity
(with God the Father wearing a papal tiara)

 

The Fall of Lucifer - A characteristically Gnostic Dualist idea now absorbed into mainstream Christianity.

 

Apostolic Practices

 

Both Catholics and Cathars claimed that their ceremonies had been preserved from apostolic times. 

Church historians now accept the validity of many Cathar claims, in particular the claim that their ceremonies and practices predated Catholic ones  eg the Consolamentum, public confession, blessing bread without any suggestion of transubstantiation, spiritual succession, the rejection of baptism in water and of any priesthood, recognition of Gnostic passages in the New Testament, and so on.

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

Apostolic Succession

 

Many Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, claim to be "Apostolic". What they mean be this is that they derive their claims to authority from From Jesus himself through at least one of the twelve Apostles. This authority is handed on from generation to generation, generally from bishop to bishop. According to the theory, the twelve apostles passed on their authority to bishops, their successors. These successor bishops handed on their authority to their successors, and so on. (This is why at least one existing bishop is needed to consecrate a new bishop. In practice several bishops often take part to ensure that their can be no possibility of questioning a valid chain). In theory any modern bishop claiming apostolic succession could trace his authority back to at least one apostle, through a chain of predecessors.

Medieval Catholic theologians noted that the Cathars claimed a similar succession for the Parfaits. Only Parfaits could create new Parfaits (through the Consolamentum), and since the first Parfaits were the apostles, initiated by Jesus into the secret inner knowledge, any Cathar Parfait had a claim to authority that paralleled that of Catholic bishops. Catholics always had an explanation for non-Catholic practices that were similar to their own. They were obviously perversions of the true Catholic doctrine. The Cathars had simply copied and perverted the theory of apostolic succession.

The evidence shows almost exactly the opposite. The theory of apostolic succession was first recorded by a Gnostic sect in the third century. The idea seemed such a good one that it was picked up by other strands of Christianity - including the one that gave rise to the Roman Catholic Church. The unfortunate lacunae between the apostles and the contemporary third century bishops could easily be filled by the invention of suitable chains of predecessor bishops, and so it was. (Genuine contemporary continuous lists of bishops from this period are unknown, except for a line of bishops of Jerusalem who, unfortunately for the Roman Catholic case, were practising Jews).

Although it is something of a simplification, one might reasonably claim that the Roman Catholic Church stole the idea of apostolic succession from the Cathars, rather than the converse.

 

A modern recreation of the Cathar Ceremony of the Consolamentum

 

Modern Catholic Laying on of hands during an ordination

 
 
 

 

Gnosis

 

There are numerous references to gnosis in the New Testament, but we never notice them in English versions because they are translated away as mere knowledge rather than secret knowledge.  

Gnostic messages are are also explained away by theologians, sometimes by making them say the opposite of what they really say in the biblical text.   For example, why did Jesus speak in parables?   We are frequently told that he did so in order that all the simple people should understand his message.   Anyone who reads the texts themselves can see that the truth is exactly the opposite.   According to Jesus himself in all the synoptic gospels, he spoke in parables so that certain people would not understand him (Luke 8:9-10, Matthew 13:10-13 or Mark 4:10-12).

Although there are others, this passage alone (if accurately recorded in the canonical gospels) proves conclusively that at least part of Jesus's message was a Gnostic.

The Church Father Clement of Alexandria is known to have suppressed gospel material that did not suit him. As he explained in a letter, referring to the Secret Gospel of Mark:

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…

(Morton Smith, The Secret Gospel ( London, 1974)). Note not only the use of the word gnosis but the use of the word perfected (cf Parfaits).

There are of course, a whole library of Gnostic gospels, once thought "lost" (ie suppressed by the mainstream Church), but preserved in the desert and rediscovered in the twentieth century. According to these gospels too, Jesus was a Gnostic teacher.

     
 

 

 

 
 
 

 

Biblical Injunctions

 

Poverty.

Injunctions about poverty were ignored by the Roman Church in the Middle Ages, in strong contrast to the Cathars. While the clergy lived in great luxury on extorted taxes, Cathar Parfaits led ascetic lives and worked for their living. The contrast was so marked, and the scandal so great, that various Catholic organisations were created at this time consciously to emulate the lifestyle of the Parfaits (notably Dominic Guzmán's Dominicans and the Third Order of the Catholic Paupers).

 

Killing.

The Commandment "Thou shalt not kill" was interpreted by Cathars as applying to all living creatures. The only exceptions seem to have been suicide (by starving to death) and presumably the killing of fish (not proper animals). For Roman Catholics there were sufficient exceptions to render the Commandment meaningless. The Church for example permitted the killing of foetuses less that 40 days old if male, 80 day if female, and positively encouraged the killing of infidels, pagans, heretics, blasphemers, atheists, criminals, deformed children, apostates, enemy soldiers, vandals who damaged Church property, and animals. Catholic commentators seem unaware of the irony of Christian Churchmen condemning to death a poor country girl when she refused to kill a chicken, her sole crime being to obey the commandment "Thou shalt not kill".

 

Knights Templars were Catholic monks as well as knights.

 

 

Swearing Oaths

The New Testament is clear about prohibiting the swearing of all oaths. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; ... But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Ney, ney; for whatever is more than these cometh of evil. (Matthew 5:34-37) This was adhered to strictly by the Cathars and ignored by the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Innocent III confirmed that those who took Jesus' teaching on this matter literally were heretics, and that they deserved to die. (Much later the Quakers would adopt the same position as the Cathars, and would also be burned alive for it).

 

 

Giving Judgement.

Jesus is reported to have taught that we should not judge others: "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1 c/f Luke 6:37). Cathars therefore refused to sit in judgement. Other Christian judges have had no qualms about judging others. Mainstream Churches even have their own ecclesiastical courts - in which, in the past, they have prosecuted and condemned Cathars, Quakers and others for following New Testament injunctions.

 

Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome. Like earliest Christians, Cathars met in private houses, not palaces dedicated to what they considered Rex Mundi.

Swearing an oath on a bible - which contains an injunction not to swear oaths, as the Carthars pointed out.

 

Bishops sat as judges. Friars acted as Prosecutors as well as Judges.
(Detail from Cristiano Banti (1824-1904), Galileo before the Inquisition, 1857, Carpi (MO), Private collection)

Prayers

 

The Pater, or Lord's Prayer, is used by all Christians. According to the New Testament is the only prayer explicitly authorised by Jesus. Even here, there was scope for disagreement. Cathar and Catholic practice differed in two reprects. In both cases Cathars were correct in asserting that their practice was very ancient, and in one case their position is demonstrably truer to the original than the Catholic practice.

The Lord's Prayer - 1.   We are all accustomed to hearing the line give us this day our daily bread.   But the the meaning the Greek word translated as daily is unknown. Daily is just a guess.   The Cathars claimed that they had preserved the correct meaning from earlier times.   They said give us this day our supersubstancial bread, which arguably makes much more sense.   The words in question (panis superstantialis or panem supersubstancialem) were interpreted as referring not of the material but of the spiritual sustenance.

The Lord's Prayer - 2.   We are all accustomed to hearing the closing line For thine is the power, the power and the glory for ever and ever.   But the Roman Church did not use this formula in the Middle Ages, which it claimed was an unwarranted addition to the text.   Cathars were attacked for this innovation.   As we know from its familiarity to us, it was later added to the Catholic form of the prayer, a tacit admission perhaps that the Cathars had it right after all.

Incientally, both Cathars and Catholics taught that only initiates had the right to address the good Good as Father, and thus only they were permitted to recite the Lord's Prayer.

The Lord's prayer in the original Kione (Greek) with the word ἐπιούσιον meaning "supersubstancial" not "daily", and the doxology in brackets.

Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐντοῖς οὐρανοῖς

ἁγιασθήτω τὸ ὄνομάσου

ἐλθέτω ἡ βασιλεία σου

γενηθήτω τὸ θέλημά σου, ὡς ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς

τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον

καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν,

ὡς καὶ ἡμεῖς ἀφίεμεν τοῖς ὀφειλέταις ἡμῶν

καὶ μὴ εἰσενέγκῃς ἡμᾶς εἰς πειρασμόν,

ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ.

[Ὅτι σοῦ ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας. ἀμήν.]

 
 

Priesthood

 

The justification for a Roman Catholic priesthood rests on certain passages in the New Testament, but the key words in the original Greek do not accurately translate as "priest".

In these critical New Testament passages, certain followers are referred to as presbyters. The Greek word presbyter means elder, and references in the New Testament to presbyters are not to priests but to community elders. Nevertheless, the early forerunner of the Roman Catholic Church soon changed its presbyters into priests, borrowing much of the significance from pagan religions where priests were holy men who enjoyed a special relationship with God and made sacrifices to him. A priesthood was thus created without any biblical justification, a fact which may have contributed to the priesthood's reluctance to allow people to read the bible. When people did read the bible for themselves, and failed to find the word sacerdos (priest), only presbyter (elder), the result was widespread anger. The lack of biblical justification for a priesthood was one of the main complaints of Church dissidents and reformers, and it is for this reason that Presbyterian sects have rejected a priesthood in favour of lay leaders called Elders. Other Churches suspicious of an official priesthood call their officers Ministers or Pastors.

The New Testament does not mention priests except in the sense that all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9 and 2:5, Revelations 1:6, 5:10, and 20:6) and believers were regarded as priests only in the sense that all Jews had been regarded as priests in the Old Testament (Exodus 19:6). Nowhere in the New Testament is the ministry of Jesus' followers described as a priesthood. Neither is any follower referred to as a priest, except in the general sense that all followers were priests. It was presumably because of these passage that the Waldensians advocated a priesthood of all believers. (These passages are studiously ignored by most denominations).

The Cathars for their part held that there should be no priesthood, arguing that there was no priesthood in the original version of the New Testament scriptures.

Modern mainstream Christian priests wearing distinctive priestly clothing. Cathar leaders were not priests and dressed in ordinary clothes.

 

Kissing a bishop's ring is one of many imperial practices transferred from imperial rulers to Church officials.

 

Forgeries and Mistranslations

 

 

Forgery.

It is now clear that characteristically Catholic teachings were founded on fabrications and forgeries. The Eastern Church has been calling the Western Church the "home of forgeries" for over a thousand years.

A few examples are the teachings supported by bogus documents, such as the Donation of Constantine and the Symachian Forgeries. It is accepted that various passages were inserted into the bible (such as an explicit reference to the Trinity, since removed again), and even tampering with the creeds (still a point of contention with the Orthodox Church).  

 

Popes were less keen on forgeries that they had not themselves authorised. Innocent III built many of his own novel claims on forgeries, but was less understanding of other forgeries.

This extract is from Boudinhon, Auguste. "Forgery, Forger." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909.

 

Substitution of false documents and tampering with genuine ones was quite a trade in the Middle Ages. In the chapter Dura vi, "De crimine falsi", written in 1198, (pars decisa), Innocent III relates that he had discovered and imprisoned forgers who had prepared a number of false Bulls, bearing forged signatures either of his predecessor or of himself. To obviate abuses, he orders under pain of excommunication or suspension that pontifical Bulls be received only from the hands of the pope or of the officials charged to deliver them. He orders bishops to investigate suspicious letters, and to make known, to all those having forged letters, that they are bound to destroy them, or to hand them over within twenty days, under pain of excommunication. The same pope legislated severely against forgery and the use of forged documents. In the chapter Ad falsariorum, vii, "De crimine falsi", written in 1201, forgers of Apostolic Letters, whether the actual criminals or their aiders and abetters, are alike excommunicated, and if clerics, are ordered to be degraded and given over to the secular arm.

 

 

 

 

Mistranslations

Comparison of Catholic translations of the bible with non-Catholic bibles reveal a number of differences. Comparison with the Hebrew or Greek originals show that Catholic versions contain mistranslations apparently made to bolster a particular belief. So it is that "secret knowledge" becomes ordinary "knowledge", Sophia ceases to be a person and becomes "wisdom" with a small w, all Christs except one loose their titles and become merely "anointed ones", the apostles' wives become "helpers", and so on.

 

The Donation of Constantine is a forged Roman imperial decree by which the emperor Constantine I supposedly transferred authority over Rome and the western part of the Roman Empire to the Pope. Composed probably in the 8th century, it was used by many popes including Pope Innocent III in support of claims of political authority by the papacy. Lorenzo Valla, exposed the forgery in 1439–1440, but the Catholic Church disputed his research for many centuries.

Cathar Martyrdom

 

Historically, Western Christians have always abandoned their faith en masse whenever they have been put under pressure to do so.   From early Christians during the reign of Diocletian to priests during the French Revolution, believers have preferred to abandon their faith rather than loose their lives.  Throughout the Middles Ages the masses were fed fanciful tales of heroic martyrdom, but no amount of propaganda could conceal the fact that even Christian armies (including monks and priests) would generally recant under pressure. Anyone who had already been on crusade to the Holy Land would have firsthand knowledge of colleagues who had converted to Islam when captured and pressed by their Moslem captors.

Western Christendom was therefore surprised to find that Cathar Parfaits consistently opted to be burned alive rather than renounce their faith when faced with greater pressure than Catholics faced at Moslem hands.  The pattern was established early on. When some of the "new heretics" were burned alive in Cologne a full century before the siege of Montségur, the way they met their deaths immediately made an impression. Eberwin, a prior at the Premonstratensian Abbey of Steinfeld, wrote to Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux (St Bernard). He reported that the heretics were

"... thrown into the fire and burned. What is more marvellous, they met and bore the agony of the fire not only with patience but even with joy. At this point, Holy Father, were I with you, I should like you to explain whence comes to those limbs of the devil constancy such as is hardly to be found even in men most devoted to the faith of Christ."

The quotation is from Sancti Bernardi epistolae, letter 472 (Everwini Steinfeldensis praepositi ad S. Bernardum) cited by Walter L Wakefield & Austin P Evans Heresies of the High Middle Ages, (Columbia, 1991) p. 129.

By the siege of the Château of Montsegur ( Montségur,  The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Montsegùr) Europe had seen a century of Cathar martyrs. During that time it had become become ever more important to the Catholic Church to be able to produce converted Parfaits who could be paraded in public to admit the error of their former ways.  The Languedoc had seen thirty-five years of war and a well established Inquisition with a formidable range of persuasive tools and techniques. Thousands had been burned alive rather than renounce their faith - often hundreds at a time.

 

Persecuted Cathars saw themselves and Inquisitors as fulfilling this prophesy:

 

[Jesus said:] "As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the holy spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:9-13)

 

 

 

Commemorative Road Sign at Minerve where 140 - 180 Cathars were burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology.

 

The rendition of the Chateau at Montsegur ( Montségur,  The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Montsegùr) offered what must have looked like one final opportunity to win mass Parfait converts.  When the terms of surrender were negotiated, the Church was willing to offer life and freedom not only to all members of the garrison, but also to any Cathar prepared to abandon his or her faith.  Surely one of the two hundred Parfaits trapped at Montsegur would weaken.  In the event this did not happen. As elsewhere, not a single one renounced their faith. More astonishing yet, around twenty five people in the Castle, including members of the garrison, chose to take the Consolamentum between the formal surrender and the final rendition, so becoming Parfaits, forfeiting their freedom and ensuring themselves a most appalling death. 

There are no contemporary representation of the burning of Cathars
so illustrations are often modern

 

On 16th March ,1244, the besieged refugees at the Château of Montsegur ( Montségur,  The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Montsegùr) who refused to abjure the Cathar faith were burned en masse at the foot of the pog. Some 225 Parfaits were burned alive. After all this warfare, torture and bloodshed, the Roman Church had not only failed to win Parfait converts but had done exactly the opposite. Catholic churchmen contented themselves with the pious conviction that the Cathar heretics had passed directly from the fires of this world to the eternal fires of hell.

 

Cathar victims also saw themselves as fulfilling the following prophesy:

 

[Jesus said:] "They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me." John 16:2-3

 

 

Sources differ on the the number of victims. The Chronique de Guillaume de Puylaurens, gives the number as 200;  the Chronique de l'Abbaye de Berdoues, states 205; The Chronique de St-Paul de Narbonne 215; and Gerard de Frachet 224. These chronicles do not attempt to list all the victims, so historians have had to piece together a partial list, mainly from Inquisition records.

As far as I am aware, sixty-three individuals have so far been identified by name.  Click on the following link for the names of some of those who died at Montsegur Next. The names of those who received the Consolamentum on the night of 13th March 1244 are marked with a ‡.

Memorial at Les Casses where 60 Cathars were burned alive

 

Burning Heretics

 

Montsegur

 

Commemorative Road Sign at Minerve where 140 - 180 Cathars were burned alive for disagreeing with Catholic theology.

road sign in Minerve
 

Dame Guiraude being murdered by the Crusaders at Lavaur

 

Auto Da Fe Presided Over By Saint Dominic Of Guzmán (1475); Pedro Berruguete (around 1450-1504) commissioned by Torquemada, Oil on wood . 60 5/8 x 36 1/4 (154 x 92 cm).
Now in the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Detail - Cathars being burned

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Cathars Still Exist Today?

 

It depends what you mean.  If you mean "Are there people living today who claim to be Cathars ?", then the answer is Yes.  If you mean "Are there people who live like Cathars, and believe what the Cathars believed ?", then the answer is also Yes. 

But neither of these answers tells the whole story.  For example, quite a few of the people calling themselves Cathars will tell you that they are reincarnated Cathar Parfaits.  But a central Cathar belief was that on their deaths Parfaits were released from the cycle of rebirth.  Which means that either these modern Cathars hold to a belief system that they know to be wrong, or that they are impostors who have not troubled to do their homework. 

A more interesting question is whether any Cathars living today can claim a continuous chain of succession from the Parfaits of the thirteenth century.  The reason that this is significant is that the Cathars themselves claimed a continual chain of descent, each Parfait having joined the inner circle of the Elect by being given the Consolamentum by an existing Parfait.  There therefore existed a continuous chain of succession from any Parfait all the way back to the original biblical Pentecost.  (If this looks suspiciously like the doctrine of Apostolic Succession claimed by Catholic and other mainstream bishops, it is worth bearing in mind that the mainstream Church is known to have copied the idea from a Gnostic sect in the fourth century, and then fabricated lines of apostolic succession for the missing centuries). 

After the depredations of the Inquisition in the fourteenth century, the chain of succession was restored in the Languedoc by two brothers who travelled to Piedmont to receive the Consolamentum from a Parfait there.   But this line was apparently exterminated with the burning of Guilhem Belibaste in 1321.   The Italian line was exterminated by the Roman Church soon after, and in the fifteenth century the Balkan line was suppressed, or absorbed, by Islam, which shares the characteristically Gnostic belief that it was a divine phantom, not a man, who was crucified when the authorities thought they were executing Jesus (c/f Koran 4:157: "they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them"). 

Did a secret succession survive from any of these traditions, or from any of the more remote Eastern ones?   Perhaps.   No one seems to know for sure.  But even if not, all of their principal beliefs are to be found in one or another Christian sect.  Even the idea that the Roman Catholic Church is mistakenly worshipping the Evil God is still current (Jehovah's Witnesses for example believe this).  

Click on the following internal link for more information on Cathar ideas and practices still current in modern mainstream Christian Churches Next.

Click on the following internal link for more information on Cathar ideas and practices still current in Churches other than Roman Catholic Churches Next.

Click on the following internal link for more information on Cathar ideas and practices now current in the Roman Catholic Church Next.

Click on the following external links to go to websites run by modern Cathar, Gnostic and Dualist Churches

  • A network of organisations in the French Gnostic Tradition http://www.gnostique.net Next.
  • L'Eglise du Plérôme. (Ecclesia Pleromatis). A Church of Christian Gnosis in the French Gnostic Tradition. www.plerome.org Next.
  • The North American Fellowship of Cathars (linked with movements in France, Bulgaria, Bosnia and the Ukraine). www.cathari.org Next.
 
 
 
 
 
road sign in Camon, Ariege
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Further Information on Cathars and Cathar Castles

 

 

 

If you want to cite this website in a book or academic paper, you will need the following information:

Author: James McDonald.
Title: Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
url: http://www.cathar.info
Date last modified: 15 September 2014

 

If you want to link to this site please see How to link to www.cathar.info

 

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 The Cross of Toulouse. Click to see information about it.

 

Click on the following link for recommended Books on the Cathars Next.

Click on the following link for the (imaginary) role of the Cathars in the various mysteries of the Languedoc Next.


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