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1.2 Introduction to the Cathar Religion

The Catharism is a religion of salvation based on Revelation. It rests on the New Testament and its prayer is the Patter. The only messenger of God is Christ and he is the Revelation’s author. Salvation is obtained by “ascèse” and baptism. Catharism is part of Christianity and even pretends to be the authentic Christian faith to the exclusion of all others. Their interpretation of the Gospels is incompatible with the Roman Catholic version. They do not believe in baptism by water nor in the Eucharist or any other sacrament of the Catholic Church. Their Christianity is without redeeming Passion, without ultimate judgement and without Resurrection. Their theology, morale and liturgy are based on dogma in complete opposition with those of the Roman Catholic faith. In particular, their dualism belief looks like a kind of new Manicheism, the religion created in the third century by the Persian prophet Manes or Mani-. This new religion was thought to be a thread to the official dogma and structures of the official Catholic Church. From the 10th to the 14th century the Cathars were submitted to an elimination process that was successful. (m)

The Cathar religion is known from three sources:

– The Cathar literature must have been plentiful but was destroyed by the inquisition and the Catholic Church. Two dogmatic treaties and two Rituals have survived:

.A Latin manuscript “The Book of the Two Principles” kept in Florence is a translation made in 1260 from a work by the Cathar Jean de Lugio from Bergamo and written in 1230.

.The Latin translation found in Prague in 1939 from an anonymous treaty written in Languedoc at the beginning of the 13th century. The author could be the Parfait Barthelemy of Carcassonne.

The two Rituals are also very interesting to understand the liturgy. One is kept in Florence and is written in Latin. The other is written in the Oc language and is kept in Lyon with the translation in the Oc language of the New Testament. Both documents are from around 1250.

– Other apocryphal documents exist too but being Christian texts not written by the Cathars are not considered here. We also have the writings of catholic Theologians that try to deny Catharism. Most of them have been written in the 12th and 13th century. Most of them are not pure propaganda or simple refutation of the Cathar religion but on the opposite an analysis of the differences between the two religions.

– The third source of documents is the minutes of the interrogations made by the Inquisition during nearly a century starting in 1234. They contain a mass of first hand information on the Cathars and their way of life. They are not so good as far as the doctrine, beliefs and rites are concerned, as their origin is very much diffused. (m)

The origin of Catharism is not certain. A lot of research has been done lately and has led to some results but the definite answer is still missing. To day few people see Catharism in the direct lineage of Persian Manicheism. It is true that both the Cathars and the Manicheists have similar beliefs but this does not mean that a direct lineage exists. The Cathar concepts are very different from the Manicheans. Some Cathar beliefs are even anterior to Manes. The notion of Dualism with the existence of two opposed creative Principles, the belief that the divine soul is imprisoned in the Material and temporal world, the idea that salvation can only come from initiation are Gnostic dogmas anterior to Manes. In fact now the tendency is to inquire into the primitive Christian sect beliefs that, although not absorbed as such by the Gnostics, have influenced them in their interpretation of the New Testament. Other fathers of the Catholic Church such as Origen from the 2d century have also had an influence on Catharism. Lately it has generally been admitted that the Bulgarian Bogomilism of the 11th century and the western Catharism from the 12 to the 14th century are one and the same religion. As an example we can mention that it is a Bogomile “Pope” from Constantinople, Nicètas, who chaired the 1167 Cathar Council of Saint-Félix-de-Caraman near Toulouse. (m)

The word Cathar has been thought for a long time to come from the Greek word “Katharos” that means “Pur”. However the Cathar never used that word. It is now thought that the name Cathar came from their enemies. Some say that it comes from the word cat or catus in Latin. This animal was supposed to be linked to the Devil at this time. Other insulting words have been used by their enemies including “weavers” because this was their favourite occupation. Geographical words have also been used as “Agenais”, “Toulousains” and “Albigeois”. This last one, with Cathar, has been mostly used and in fact both words are synonymous in the general public. The Cathars were calling themselves Christians or Good Christians. The believers called the Parfaits “Bons Hommes” or “Amis de Dieu” that is the translation of Bogo-mil. To follow the vocabulary of the time we should call the Dualist Church (Bogomile in the Balkans or Cathars in the West) “Church of the Friends of God”. (m)

The Cathar religion known as the religion of the Two Principles is based on the Dualism of the two creations:
. First of all we have the kingdom of the Good God with its spiritual, invisible and eternal realities. He has created the souls. This kingdom is the New Earth and the New Sky as mentioned by John in his Gospel and in the Apocalypse. New here has the meaning of different from the earth and the sky as we know them.
. The visible world composed of material, temporal and transitory elements that are corrupted and certain to be destroyed. It is in this world that the Evil is found. Human bodies know sufferance, degradation and death. All the vices, all the unhappiness and all the wounds are linked to this material condition. As John said: “The whole world is within the Evil”. In the New Testament there are many references to this dualism and the Cathars were fond to mention them.

The two sides are not equal. Only the Kingdom of God is Absolute. It is part of God and that means Love and charity. The world being transitory is worthless as if it did not exist. This material world is therefore a nonentity. This explains, according to the Cathars, the following saying from Paul: “Without Charity, I am Nothing”. For the Cathars it means that without this particle of Divine substance called Charity I am a nonentity. (m)

The Cathars could not believe that a unique being has created the Divine Kingdom and the Material World. As a consequence there must be two creating Principles distinct and opposed for the following reasons:

. On the base of the Aristotle Logic: “The Principles of the Contrary are Contraries. As the Evil and God are contraries. They then have contrary Principles.

. In John’s Gospel it is said: “Per ipsum omnia facta sunt, et sine ipso nihil factum est” that they translate as: “The Nonentity has been done without Him” and by Nonentity they mean the material and temporal world.

. The third reason is of existential level. It is unbelievable for most of us that God, who is good, has also created the conditions for the Devil to exist and act. The Cathars say that God is all-powerful only in the good. We must them assume that the material world where the Devil exists has been created by a negative Principle.

This does not mean that the Evil is equal to God. If God invented the Soul and the Spiritual world the Devil created the material world to attract it. Confronted with the Eternity created by God he invented Time that corrupts everything. The Devil is therefore a negative power compared with a positive God. By his Soul Man participate in the Spiritual Kingdom and by his body he is part of the World, creation of the Devil. The Negative Principle that we can call Lucifer, Satan or the Devil has tempted the Souls. Some have followed Him, some have fallen unaware. The Devil created then the human bodies to imprison the souls and to lead them in the material world where they do not remember their origin. Every soul has left a double of itself called Spirit near God. Salvation in the Cathar religion means the meeting of the Soul and the Spirit. (m)

Salvation, for the Soul, consists to liberate itself from the body prison, to leave the material world and to come back to the Kingdom. But death is not the answer. For the Cathars there is no ultimate judgement where God will decide if the soul will be sent for eternity to Paradise or Hell. For them hell is here on earth. A soul will be saved only if it regains the knowledge of its divine nature as revealed by Christ sent on earth by God to reveal the truth to men. Only baptism as foreseen by Christ can allow man to reach this knowledge. Afterwards, “ascese” will prepare the liberation of the soul. Without baptism or an adequate preparation the soul will pass to another body. This extends to the animals. Their body can become the prison of a lost spirit and the human soul can very well become imprisoned in an animal in the following life. The saving knowledge comes from initiation. It is a Gnose in the sense that it can only come from the Spirit. The Cathars says that they got their knowledge from the Apostles and that means from Christ. It is transmitted by the imposition of the hands or inspiration of the spirit by those who possess the Knowledge (because they received it before). For the Cathars it is the only baptism valid. This rite involves a transmission of the knowledge by contact. They refuse the baptism by immersion in the water or purification according to John-Baptism because it washes the body but does not teach anything. They believe that their rite is similar to the baptism of the Apostles by fire as revealed in the Gospels. It is called Consolamentum because it is the consoling Holy Spirit that infuses the Gnose, the understanding of what is good. In this way we have a spiritual union between the soul imprisoned in the body and its Spirit that remained in Heaven. The soul receives its Spirit and the Spirit comes to take its Soul, or at least teach him how to join him forever. If the Devil wins for a time, the Good will win in the eternity and all the souls will be free and all the good Creation will be saved. (m)

Christ according to the Cathars had not a redeeming mission. God sent him to transmit a message, to reveal the truth and not to redeem the sins of all men by his death. For the Cathars the Christ has only an apparent human appearance in accordance with the Gospels. As he was not really human he did not die on the cross. The Cathars respect his apparent death as a temporary victory of the Evil. However they do not worship the cross. They believed in a spiritual and symbolic interpretation of his miracles. When he cures the blinds, they receive the view of the Spirit not of the body or in other words they acquire access to the Knowledge. In the same way the bread and the wine he gives his disciples are his body and blood in a spiritual sense only, they are his message. The Cathars reject the Eucharist as pure idolatry. They also share the bread in their ceremony but only in respect to God not as a communion in the Catholic way. The Consolamentum is the only Cathar sacrament. Only the adults can receive it as it must be received knowing what it means. For these reasons children are excluded. Like all religions Catharism has its believers and the ministers of the Church. The believers were called “Croyants”. The ministers on the other hand are called “chrétiens”, “bons chrétiens”, “bonshommes” or “amis de Dieu”. These are the ones known, at the present time, as Parfaits, or Parfaites since women had the same right as the men. We will use these terms -Parfaits, Parfaites- even if they were not used by the Cathars themselves but only by the members of the Inquisition. All the Parfaits had received the Consolamentum. On the other hand the Croyants only received it on the point of death so they could do what was known as “a bonne fin”. By listening and frequenting the Parfaits the Croyants were in fact prepared to receive the Consolamentum. To receive it they still had to be able to talk, to answer the questions of the Parfait and to say the prayers. The people who were not able to speak were then excluded but an exception was made during the persecutions. A special arrangement made beforehand allowed the Croyants to receive the sacrament even if they could not talk anymore. The Consolamentum was also the Sacrament received by a Croyant that was to become Parfait after a period of at least three years of preparation in a house of Parfaits. During these years they received a spiritual initiation, a dogmatic formation and a preparation to the very demanding life of the Parfaits: assistance to the Croyants, preaching, distribution of the Consolamentum, manual work, management of the Parfait houses, … In principle a Croyant that received the Consolamentum because he or she was in danger of dying but who survived should afterwards live the life of a Parfait. The other Parfaits would first try to attract him but if he did not have the faith he could go back to his normal life. He could also receive a new Consolamentum later on. It is well known that some people who received the sacrament because of their ill health but and later on were cured let themselves die of starvation. This is called “Endura”. The Church never imposed it. The Inquisition did not make any difference between those who received the Consolamentum to become minister of the Church from those who received it in case of risk of death. All of them were Parfaits for the Inquisition and condemned to die on the stake unless they renounced their faith. (m)

The Consolamentum must be given by a Parfait as only those who have received it can give it. The ceremony can be attended by other Parfaits as well as by members of the family and friends of the candidate. This candidate first answers the questions of the officiating minister and after the agreement of the other Parfaits he promises to follow “the rule of justice and truth” and “gives himself or herself to God and to the Church of the Good Christians”. If he is married his spouse must free him from the conjugal links. Afterwards the candidate receives the “Tradition” that means the New Testament and the Word of God. The New Testament is placed on his head as well as the hand of all the Parfaits present, he does his prayers and the beginning of John’s Gospel is read. If the Consolamentum is given to a dying person the ceremony can be shorter and can be done in his bed. During the persecution the Consolamentum was given in the presence of two Parfaits only and during the night to reduce the risks. The Parfaits must live from their own work because as St Paul said: “if somebody does not want to work, he should not eat either”. They were allowed to do any job they liked but they preferred, in general, to be weavers, as did also St Paul. Parfaits and Parfaites must live and travel two by two as a minimum. They wore black or dark blue suits. Men were supposed to wear a beard but this was abandoned during the persecution for safety reasons. The Cathar rules are very demanding and numerous. These rules have not a disciplinary aim but they have a metaphysic value coming from the dualism itself. The Cathars were not supposed to eat any food from animal origin: meat, grease, eggs, milk, butter, cheese … This has for origin the words of God “You shall not kill”. For the Cathars this includes the animals since in them there could be a soul waiting to be saved. Moreover all the meat comes from a procreation process, and this is a manifestation of the Devil. Fish was authorised as it was thought that they were not reproduced through a sexual act and, moreover, were assumed to have “cold blood”. Parfaits were obliged to follow three Lents a year: before Palm Sunday, after Pentecost and before Christmas. They also fasted on bread and water every Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the year. They were also forbidden to have any sexual relationship, as this is an invention of the Devil to delay the freedom of the souls. The sexual act is bad by itself and no sacrament can authorise it. They considered, on this aspect, that the Catholic Church behaved as a procurer. They went as far as forbidding any physical contact even the more innocent ones between a Parfait and somebody of the other sex. (m)

The new Parfait having reached the state of “justice and truth” must follow the rules without exception. It was forbidden to them:

– To take oath.

– To lie knowingly even facing the Inquisition.

– To kill even in case of legitimate defence. This is extended to all the animals with the exception of the fishes.

– To submit to the secular justice. They were in fact the first apostles of the non-violence and of the death penalty. The Croyant accused of a crime was obliged to become a Parfait. It is the case of Belibaste who committed a crime and was the last known Parfait to be burned on the stake in 1321. In case of conflict between Croyants they asked a Parfait to arbitrate their problem.

– To be a coward. The courage before death and pain, on the opposite, was considered as a virtue. This was particularly true for the absence of fear of death by fire.

In case of no respect of the rules the Parfait had to submit to a long penance and a new Consolamentum was necessary. The ordinary Croyant could sin. In some way it is the Devil who sins for him. He does not have to follow the same rules as the Parfaits. He can marry and have children, eat meat and make war, … But he must have the faith and believe what the Parfaits say, to try to be virtuous and to prepare for the Consolamentum that they will receive when they are dying. The Cathar Church looks after him and does its best so that he aspires to become a Parfait too. When they meet Parfaits the Croyants must do the rite of the “amelioration”: three kneelings with each time a prayer. One of the Parfaits answers him as follow: “Bless you God, do of you a good Christian and lead you to a good end”. The Croyants must listen to the predication, assist to the church ceremonies that end with the “kiss of peace” between members of the same sex, eat with the Parfaits and share the “pain de la sainte oraison”, bread blessed and shared by the presiding minister in memory of the last supper of Christ. (m)

The organisation of the Cathar Church is not well known. We do not know if there was a single head for the western Cathars and the Bogomile Church of the Balkans. Some references exist to a “Pope of the Heretics” and Nicetas in 1167 could well be one of them. In 1167 the western Cathar Church was divided in four Episcopates: Agen, Toulouse, Albi and Carcassones. A fifth one was created in Razès in 1226. In Italy we had at the same time the Bishops of Desenzano, Concorezzo, Bagnolo, Vicence, Florence and Val di Spoletto. For the Balkans we had those of Bulgaria, Dragovitie, Mélinguie and Dalmatia. Two coadjutors, a major son and a minor one assisted each bishop. In case of death of the bishop, each coadjutor went up one step. Moreover a new minor son was elected. Below the bishops they had the deacons. At the base of this organisation were the separate houses of the Parfaits and the Parfaites. They are at the same time workshops and seminaries where the novices received the professional and the doctrinal training required to become a Parfait. As we have already explained the Parfaits had to do manual work to sustain themselves but they must also spend a lot of time in prayers and in predication. This is especially true for the men who must comment the New Testament to the Croyants, above all St John’s Gospel and the Apocalypse. More than a thousand Parfaits are known to have lived in Languedoc from 1200 to 1250. Most of them preached wherever it is convenient and possible depending on the risk. Every month the Community does the rite called “du service” where the Parfaits renew their obedience to the Church and confess to the deacon. The Croyants can participate at the preaching that follows and that ends by the “kiss of peace”. The Parfaits are always in contact with their believers and the Church is socially and economically integrated in the life of the Community. The Cathar Church did not participate in the feudal structure. It did not own vast pieces of land and had no temporal power. It did not collect taxes and had no serf. All this explains in part it success. However if the Parfaits are poor the Church is rich due to the product of the manual labour and from the gifts received as donation from the Believers above all from those receiving the Consolamentum on their deathbed. This money is used to sustain their houses and the surplus is loaned for interest. During the persecution part of it was sent to the Croyants that escaped to Lombardy, to buy complicity and help and to pay for armed escorts to the Parfaits that were still travelling to bring the Consolamentum to dying believers. The Church was also managing the believers’ money and in this sense acted as a bank. One such organisation existed at Montsegur during the siege. (m)

Under the name Bogomilism or Catharism the Dualist Church was a European fact from the 10th to the 15th century. The oldest trace was found in Bulgaria where a Pope called Bogomil preached towards 950. It is not known if it was his real name. From there the Bogomilism passed through Dragovitie (West Macedony), Melinguie (Peloponese), Philadelphia in Turkey, Dalmatia and Bosnia. The Bogomilism as a religion disappeared from the Balkans with the conquest by the Turks from 1463 to 1481. Probably the Bogomilism spread to the West from the Balkans but this does not mean that there were no spontaneous germs of Dualism in the West. The first implantation known in the West was at Virtue in Champagne near the year 1000. After 1050 there was a set back due to the success of the Gregorian reforms but it started again around 1100. During the 12th century the implantation grew so rapidly and in so many places that the Catholic Church became worried, probably with reason. The Temporal powers that were linked to it were required to suppress that new religion that threatened the Catholic Church in its structure, its institutions and even in its dogma. The Cathars, of course, did not pay any taxes to the Catholic Church that they considered as part of the Devil. The repression was terrible and many thousands of Parfaits and Parfaites died at the stake. In some places the local authorities did not follow the Catholic Church and the Cathars religion grew so much as to become another institution. It was the case of Bosnia, Lombardy and Languedoc. There we do not have clandestine sects anymore but a new Church that opposes Rome, gets organised, imposes its own economical and social structures, in other words we have an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church. The following repression of the Cathars in Languedoc has been a terrible tragedy. The political consequence was that Languedoc became part of France whereas before it was more inclined to Barcelona. The Pope Innocent III called for a crusade against the “Albigeois” from 1198. It really started in 1209 and during 9 years the armies from the North led by Simon de Montfort destroyed the Languedoc and murdered thousands and thousands of Parfaits, Croyants and other populations without distinction of their religion but taking their properties in all the cases. From 1216 to 1224 the Lords of the Languedoc fought back and regained their properties and the Cathars came back as before. However Louis VIII’s crusade from 1226 defeated completely the Languedoc and the Paris Treaty from 1229 proclaimed the conquest and the annexation. The Inquisition took over the hunting and destroying of the Parfaits and the Cathar religion as a consequence. It took one century to solve definitely the question of the religion Cathar. The creation of the Dominican and Franciscan orders gave the local population a way of life close to what the Cathars preached. The local people could now find something close to Catharism within the Roman Catholic Church and this too helped to solve the problem. Catharism came to an end in Italy in the 14th century under the effect of the Inquisition and the appearance of the new catholic orders.

The Cathar message was very deep, exacting and very hard to follow. It was also a message of love, tolerance, freedom and equality between men and women. (m)