A Heresy for the 21st Century: The Cathars

Dominic Guzmán and the Albigenses, 1480, Pedro Berruguete
Dominic Guzmán and the Albigenses, 1480, Pedro Berruguete

Around the mid 12th Century the Catholic Church reported on the emergence of a new heresy: Catharism. Although Catharism shared many similarities in beliefs and organisational structures that it appears to be a descendant of other Gnostic heretical sects such as the Bogomils, Paulicians and others, all the way back to the Manichaeans in the 3rd Century, it would become for the Catholic Church the Great Heresy.

Although the first reports of Catharism was from Cologne, the heartlands of the heresy was the Languedoc, ruled at the time by  independent Counts. By the early 13th Century adherents of Catharism were said to outnumber Catholics in the region, a development that Pope Innocent III tried to combat by sending missionaries to debate with the leaders of the Cathars, the perfecti. Faced with the embarrassment of educated churchmen out-debated by humble, illiterate weavers (who formed the bulk of the perfecti), the Pope resorted to putting pressure on the Languedoc nobility, However the nobility were sympathetic to the Cathars and defied papal authority. Things came to a head when the Pope sent his legate Pierre de Castelnau to excommunicate Count Raymond VI of Toulouse for his leniency towards the Cathars. Pierre de Castelnau never made it back to Rome as he was murdered after leaving Toulouse. The Pope swiftly declared the Albigensian Crusade to obliterate all traces of the heresy and its adherents.

But before we tackle the brutal crime against humanity that is the Albigensian Crusade and the following Inquisition, lets undertake a brief survey of the beliefs of the Cathars.

  • The Cathars were Dualists. There are Two Principles, the Good God of the New Testament, God of Spirit and Light and there is the Evil God of the Old Testament, the Creator of the World, the God of Matter and Darkness.
  • The Creator of the World is expressly stated as being Satan.
  • Human are gender-less angels of light who have been encased in a material shell.
  • There is no other hell than the hell on earth.
  • The soul is doomed to be re-incarnated in either human or animal form until it can escape back to Heaven by achieving perfection and receiving the one sacrament of the Cathars, the Consolamentium.
  • There were only two levels of Cathar society; Believers and the Perfecti. The Perfecti could be both male or female.
  • Perfecti were vegetarians and also abstained from all diary products because of its tainted nature as a product of procreation.
  • Sexual intercourse, but especially reproductive sex, is to be avoided as it involves further spirits and more light being trapped in the evil realm of matter.
  • They refused to take oaths or pay tithes to the Church.

The Albigensian Crusade is one of the most violent and blood-stained chapters of all medieval history. It was nothing less than a war of extermination.  The qualms expressed by the Languedoc Knight as to why he didn’t hunt down the heretics more avidly in the following quote were certainly not shared by Northern French Lords eager to seize lands and property, “We cannot. We have been reared in their midst. We have relatives among them and we see them living lives of perfection.”  Nor where they shared by the Arnaud-Amaury, the Cistercian abbot, who on being questioned on how to tell Cathars from Catholics responded, “Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own”. In the town of  Béziers, the entire population of twenty thousand men, women and children was put to the sword.

Overall around half a million people were massacred. By the time that 200 perfecti were symbolically burnt at the castle of Montsegur in 1244, the Cathars as a force was spent, though it would take the Inquisition around a hundred years to root out the remnants of the Cathars in the Languedoc and Northern Italy.

The Cathars and their heresy were gone, but certainly not forgotten. Their mysteries would become part of the lore of the Occult Revival of the 19th and 20th Centuries.



27 thoughts on “A Heresy for the 21st Century: The Cathars

      1. Not a problem, I’ve got this at time 🙂 I have read about Cathars and found their idea fascinating! Even if you know Mani the painter, or somehow prophet was in old Persians a follower of this religious belief. Thank You my friend 👍❤

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I’m not sure that ‘Like’ is the best term here, I read, learn and marvel at your ability to put these educative explorations together; liking their content, humanity’s never ending desire to hurt others and itself through unbending conceptualism is a narrative that never ceases to fascinate us all.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you very much. It was a very brief telling of the whole episode, entire tomes have been written about it over time. The consequences for the Languedoc region were profound. It became part of France for the first time and went from being Europes most prosperous region to becoming the poorest part of France. The Cathars, though a touch ascetic, certainly didn’t deserve the wholesale extermination visited upon them by the Catholic Church. That quote by the abbot is chilling.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Chris. Well I do try to keep people guessing as to what comes next, but I have to thank you and my other loyal readers for keeping with me regardless of whatever bizarre detours I take. I have another two posts before I reach the twentieth century, which is the main focus, but the posts on earlier manifestations give the necessary background. Glad you are enjoying so far.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Half a million people, what a horrible massacre! Knowing the power that the Church had, it surprises me that they had the gumption to go against it in the first place. They must have been strong in their beliefs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No doubt about the strength of their beliefs. They did enjoy protection from the nobility, but the Crusade targeted them and replaced them with Catholic Lords from the North. Once that protection was removed the Cathars was effectively sealed, though the persecution didn’t stop until they were wiped out.

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  3. The painting by Pedro Berruguete shows the “miracle of Fanjeaux”. According to the legend, Saint Dominic was opposed in a debate with Guilhabert de Castres, a Cathar bishop. They decided to settle the dispute by an ordeal, so their writings were thrown into fire; those of Guilhabert burned, while those of Dominic escaped fire, raising three times above it.
    Cathar dualism seems to be influenced by Manichaeism, a creed of Persian origin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Christian for the detail on the painting. I know it was Saint Dominic at a book burning with a Cathar bishop but little beyond that. I had a hard time finding a suitable image as most representations are artistically poor and or maliciously gruesome. I agree that Catharist dualist descends from Manichaeism, as it so absolute and radical, unlike some sects which were much more qualified.


    1. It is a horrible story. And your noting that you agree on certain aspects kind of confirms my point (of the whole series) that Gnosticism has survived in some fashion to this present day. I hope you stay on for the rest of the series!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a dreadful piece of history. Religion is ever so blood thirsty. Some of these gnostic concepts do ring true … and so I can see why they survive in some form down to this day. I am very much looking forward to the next part of this story. Excellent work!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Once you’ve got the ideas in your mind, they are not easily dismissed. I might do a little additional reading on the Cathars, rather than bombard you with questions. Thank you for stimulating my interest!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Such a terrible bloody time in our history. The Inquisition were very methodical and kept meticulous records on everyone they sent to the flames apparently. So we do have a history of names of the persecuted Cathars.
    It is interesting that certain books state that many of the earliest Christians and Christ’s immediate family escaped to the Languedoc as his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea had strong connections there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Strange how bureaucracy likes to record crimes that they themselves have committed, though they never see them as crimes. Montsegur is often cited as the location of the Holy Grail.


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