Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
Documents: Hildegard of Bingen and Pope Benedict XVI on the Cathars





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A Cathar Glossary


Hildegard of Bingen


Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 17 September 1179), also known as Saint Hildegard, and Sibyl of the Rhine, was a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, German Benedictine abbess and visionary. Elected a magistra by her fellow nuns in 1136, she founded the monasteries of Rupertsberg in 1150 and Eibingen in 1165. One of her works as a composer, the Ordo Virtutum, is an early example of liturgical drama. She wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, poems, and the first surviving morality play. She was a severe critic of contemporary Church practices.

Hildegard's visions were recorded in such detail that it is now widely accepted that they were caused by severe migraines - they provide a textbook example. Elements of her "visions" were regarded as suspiciously partisan even in her own day, and factual elements subsequently proved to be false, which also suggests a physiological source for them. She imagined that that the appearance of the Cathars signalled the release of Satan from Hell.

A strangely distorted version of what she thought, and what the Cathars thought, was given by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. It is difficult to believe that he is really referring here to the Cathars, even German Cathars, since what he says is so badly misinformed. One possibility is that he is not referring to Cathars at all but to another contemporary German group given the same name, who were calling for the reform of the Catholic Church from within the Church, rather like the contemporary Vaudois or Waldensians.


... With the spiritual authority with which she was endowed, in the last years of her life Hildegard set out on journeys, despite her advanced age and the uncomfortable conditions of travel, in order to speak to the people of God. They all listened willingly, even when she spoke severely: they considered her a messenger sent by God. She called above all the monastic communities and the clergy to a life in conformity with their vocation. In a special way Hildegard countered the movement of German cátari (Cathars). The cátari, meaning literally “pure”, advocated a radical reform of the Church, especially to combat the abuses of the clergy. She harshly reprimanded them for seeking to subvert the very nature of the Church, reminding them that a true renewal of the ecclesial community is obtained with a sincere spirit of repentance and a demanding process of conversion, rather than with a change of structures. This is a message that we should never forget. Let us always invoke the Holy Spirit, so that he may inspire in the Church holy and courageous women, like St Hildegard of Bingen, who, developing the gifts they have received from God, make their own special and valuable contribution to the spiritual development of our communities and of the Church in our time.


Extract from BENEDICT XVI, General Audience given in the Paul VI Hall in Rome, Wednesday, 8 September 2010.


His Holiness omits to mention anywhere in his audience that Hildegard's "visions" are now generally acknowledged to have been caused by severe migraines. Both His Holiness and Hildegard seem to be under the impression that the Cathars wanted to reform the Catholic Church. In fact they saw their own Church as the one true Church, and considered the Catholic Church to be the Church of Satan. They would not have thought of reforming it, and there is no documentary evidence that they did so think.




Hildegard Bingen Scivias 214v Five Ages Antichrist


Hildergard's migranous visions


Hildegard of Bingen Rupertsberg Scivias Fol 51r II 3 Ecclesia Church and Baptism














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

Author: James McDonald MA, MSc.
Title: Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the Languedoc
Date last modified: 8 February 2017


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