The word Cathar has a geographical and a historic-religious meaning. Both concepts have been melted together to form a whole of a country and its history. The Cathar is a religious doctrine in search of purity that was repressed in blood. The Cathar country is not limited to Languedoc even if this is the centre part. It was also implanted in what are now Spain, Flanders and Italy. In France, it was specially diffused in the region delimited by the Pyrenees at the South and the beginning of the Massif Central at the North. It extends along the passageway that follows the low valley of the Aude to the South and the valley of the Garonne at the northwest. On both sides of this natural passage, many castles have been built. They remind us of the crusades against the Cathars although what is left now has been built after the Cathars had disappeared. They were in fact used after the last Cathar was burned. The language at that time was the “langue d’Oc” used by many people. It was in this language that the Troubadours wrote and sang most of their love songs. (l)
The Cathars were also known as Albigenses, Albigensians or “Albigeois”. This is due to the fact that the Cathar territory was, in large part, in the diocese of the Bishop of Albi. (e)
Is Catharism a purified Christian faith or a heresy? This is the basic question. Baptism or Consolamentum is the only sacrament recognised by the Cathars. It does not purify the person that received it but it reveals the faith. It assumes reflection, faith and consent. It can only be given to adults and never to children. Jesus is not the Christ Redeemer but it reveals the truth and saves. It is he who gave first the baptism by the Spirit as said by St John the Baptist. Eucharist is rejected as bread and wine being part of the material world cannot become the body and the blood of God. What Christ said must be understood as the transmission of a spiritual knowledge and not as a Communion with o Divine Principle. A cross, representing the torture of Jesus, cannot be adored for the same reason. Miracles made by Christ must be seen on a spiritual base and understood as allegories. The material world is the creation of the Devil and cannot be improved. Catharism is a Christian religion but it was considered, with reason, by the Roman Catholic Church as a dangerous deviation, a heresy. Moreover this doctrine attacks the base of the feudal system to which the Church was part. The Pope first tried to convince the Cathars by sending preachers to try to convince them of their mistakes but as they had very little success he organised military crusades to destroy them. (l)
In the 13th century a first crusade against Languedoc was organised. The Cathar faith had been proclaimed by strong and convinced missionaries and had been gladly received by thousand of people who were soon convinced and converted. This new faith recognised Christ as their Master but refused to accept the Roman Catholic Church as the imposed intermediary between the Human and the Divine. This was unacceptable to Rome. During many years, the soldiers at the request of Rome destroyed the castles and captured the missionaries. They burned at the stake these preachers accused to be heretics. The history has recorded that these Cathars died singing Hymns to their faith. The Catholics at the same time were singing Te Deum in sign of victory. The Catharism is known through its rules of life, its rites, a few philosophical books, the image of men and women preaching their faith and very little else. We also know of many “Parfaits and Parfaites” who chose death at the stake rather that denying their faith. What is less known is where these people found the strength to behave this way. The Cathars died for a religious idea. This religion was also accompanied by a philosophy that was coming from far away in the past. They thought that man has in himself the capacity to go further that his apparent limits. The mystery of their only sacrament, the Consolamentum, has always interested the historians. We know what it is and also its rite. It was the recognition that a believer had reached the quality of Christian. During the Inquisition, these Cathars who had received the Consolamentum, the Parfaits, defied the danger and continued preaching their faith to help spiritually the believers in danger. From there comes the following question: Is there a hidden face to the Consolamentum? Does it imply the transfer of a secret knowledge that justifies the acceptation of death? If not, why did the Parfaits accept the “Joyful death”? The theme of the Holy Grail is also linked to the Cathar faith. The Holy Grail has been assumed to have different shapes: a cup in which the blood of Christ is conserved, a precious stone fallen from the forehead of Lucifer, the shroud that was covering Christ’s body on the cross, … Lately the Holy Grail has been linked to the hidden face of Catharism. Would it be thinkable to believe that a concrete reality is hidden behind the Holy Grail symbol? Would it be possible to think that some Parfaits, at least, have become a bridge between two “Etat d’ê´²e”: those who know this secret and those who don’t? To look for the Holy Grail could be thought as a mortal sin on the one hand. On the other researchers are confronted with a problem impossible to solve: how to recognise it and what to do with it.
Nowadays it is difficult to believe that the Holy Grail is a material object as a cup, a shroud or a precious stone. The Holy Grail could be imagined as the link between the human and the divine. Is it the secret of the “joyful death” as this knowledge put death as a past illusion? This notion is not only limited to Catharism. The Egyptian Book of the Dead, the Tibetan and the Manichean beliefs, the Islamic Traditions … all of these go in the same direction. The ultimate stage of our possible knowledge is the rehearsal of the death until the point where the conscience is aware to be on the border between two stages, life and death. To arrive consciously near the state of death, or at least close to the spiritual state that characterise this proximity, is possible even if it is forbidden in particular if it is induced chemically. Deep hypnoses are another possibility even if it is dangerous. Some mystics can reach it in a more natural way after long periods of training. It is what the Parfaits or at least some of them are thought to have reached.
The rules of life to be followed by the Cathars come directly from the teaching of the Gospels:
-Do not kill man or animal as the body contains a soul waiting to be saved. This explains why Cathars do not eat meat and dairy products.
-Obligation to fast. A good Christian must detach himself of the material world that is evil. What is important is spiritually nourishing the soul.
-Avoid all type of sexual activities (this applies only to Parfaits). Procreation is evil as it creates a material body that imprisons a soul. (l)
-Interdiction to swear and to take oath.
-Obligation to work.
-Assist to the sermon of the Parfaits.
-Respect the parfaits by doing the “Melioramentum”: bending three times in front of the Parfaits and request their blessing. (l)
When somebody -man or woman- receives the Consolamentum he or she becomes a “Parfait or Parfaite”. The words used at that time were “bons hommes”, “bons chré´©ens” or “amis de dieu”. They had to lead an ascetic life. Work, prayers and preaching are their main occupations. They wear dark suits and always travel in group of two. Women’s Parfaites follow the same rules. Their main activity consists to run the Hospices where young girls are brought up. They are also refuge for single women. Only a small minority of the Cathars was Parfaits. The majorities are called “Croyants” or Believers and live more or less without restriction. However they can receive the Consolamentum on their deathbed. It is not exactly the same sacrament that the parfaits receive but it should allow them to do a “bonne fin”. This means that their souls will rejoin their spirits near God if they have reached the required purity or they will be reincarnated in a new body with the hope to be saved after another life. During the crusades the risk of death was very high. They introduced the “convenansa”. That was similar to the Consolamentum at the time of death and could be received even by people having lost their faculties. In addition to the Consolamentun dying people could also decide to do the “Endura”. In this case the dying people fasted until death arrived after receiving the Consolamentum. This was an insurance to have a “bonne fin” and it avoided the temptation of coming back to the material world in case the patient was cured. (l)
Cathars have often been traders or weavers. In fact these weaving workshops were also used for the religious propaganda. The town of Cordes was well known as a weaving and a Cathar centre. Here they fought back the Inquisition by going as far as killing three Inquisitors by throwing them in a well. Nowadays a cross reminds the passer-by of this operation. (l)