"The Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc was one
of the most important events of European history. It saw the elimination
of the brilliant medieval culture responsible for the Troubadours.
It also saw the creation of the Dominican Order and of the first
papal Inquisition. It was instrumental in building what historians
have called a "persecuting society". It made real Pope
Innocent III's theoretical claims to temporal rule over the whole
world. The annexation of the Languedoc which followed the Crusade
was the first step in building modern France, the prototype nation-state
of today's Europe."
"The similarities between on the one hand early Christian
beliefs and practices and on the other Cathar beliefs and practices
cannot be coincidental. Neither can they be explained by copying
based on ancient manuscripts known in the Middle Ages. We now
know that when the Cathars claimed faithfully to represent the
beliefs and practices of the earliest Christians, they were merely
stating a fact. So the greatest irony is that Cathars were extirpated
for the crime of retaining the beliefs and practices of the earliest
Christians for over a millennium."
"Baptised Cathars lived ascetic lives similar to those of
the Apostles as described in the Acts of the Apostles. They lived
in poverty, dressed simply, ate just enough to stay alive, rejected
material possessions and obeyed New Testament commandments rigorously.
They would not kill in any circumstances. They would not lie.
They would not swear oaths. They would not pass judgement."
"Baptised Cathars not merely imitated the Apostles: to their
followers they were Apostles, just as much as the original Twelve.
It was through baptism that Apostolic Succession was transmitted
from one Cathar to another, ultimately from the original Twelve."
"One of the many striking aspects of Catharism is that it
had no priesthood. All baptised Cathars shared equally in the
ministry. All were prophets. All were Apostles. All were Temples
of the Holy Spirit. Like early baptised Christians all were "perfect"
(ie complete) Christians and all were members of God's "Elect".
One corollary of this was that baptised women were apostles just
as men were. Since Cathar practices retained so many elements
of primitive Christianity, this might well throw light on early
Christian practice before the introduction of an all-male priesthood
in the second century in the normative Church."
"Cathar practices reflect practices of the early Church
that were unknown or ignored in the High Middle Ages. For example
when Cathars recited the Lord's Prayer they did not use the familiar
line 'Give us this day our daily bread" because they knew
that the original Greek does not say that. They said "Give
us this day our superstantial bread". Moreover they stated
explicitly that that this is a literal translation of what the
original Greek had said - as indeed it does in the oldest surviving
"One reason for the ever-increasing popularity of the Cathars
is a strong modern resonance. They would not kill in any circumstances
(not even animals), yet they were prepared to die for their beliefs.
They would not eat meat or any animal products. They regarded
men and women as equal. They lived ascetic lives. They did not
build churches. At least according to their enemies they had no
doctrinal objection to contraception, homosexuality, suicide or
euthanasia. As a bonus for New Agers, they believed in reincarnation.
All this resonates strongly with modern society."
"When the Crusader army led by a Cistercian abbot killed
everyone in Beziers, the reason given by a fellow Cistercian was
that there was no way to distinguish Cathars from Catholics. Within
months the abbot realised his error. It was in fact easy to distinguish
them. Baptised Cathars could not tell a lie, so all he needed
to do was ask them."
"To the Catholic Church Catharism was "The Great Heresy".
Over the centuries Cathars have been written about extensively
- by Hildegard of Bingen, Voltaire, Simone Weil, and Hilaire Belloc
to name just a few. Yet somehow Catharism remains "The Hidden
Tradition in Europe". How many people noticed that the hit
song Dominique by The Singing Nun was about the Cathars? Or that
Iron Maiden sang about the massacre at Montsegur?"
"The fortitude of the Cathars is both striking and moving,
even to an atheist like me. Of some 225 baptised Cathars at Montsegur
not one could be induced to abjure their faith. I do not know
of any other Christian sect with such a reliable record of martyrdom.
Their fate was recorded in detail within days of their deaths,
and not by sympathetic propagandists, but by the very people responsible
for killing them."
However you cut it, the Catholic Church extirpated the Cathar
Church of the Languedoc for crime of disagreeing with its teachings
- nothing more. To accomplish this it invented the Inquisition
which in turn created the first police state in Europe. It did
this precisely for the purposes of eliminating a rival Christian
Church that had proved itself more popular among all classes of
society and which, if left unchecked, was likely to displace Catholic
belief throughout western Christendom.
"One of the curious facts to emerge from Inquisition records
is that the ranks of Cathar believers included a surprising number
of Catholic churchmen."
"According to a popular local Occitan tradition "the
laurel will grow green again after seven centuries", in other
words Catharism will flourish again. The last known baptised Cathar
in the Languedoc was burned alive in 1321, so the year 2021 will
mark the seven hundredth anniversary of his death. Perhaps the
laurel leaves are ready to sprout again in five years. In any
case, symbolic laurel branches will be carried to the site of
the burning at Montsegur after the church service on 16th October."
"The Church extirpated the Cathars. For centuries it tried
to obliterate even their memory, but it never completed succeeded
in that. Today, interest in them is thriving more than ever."