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CATHARI . Catharism (from cathari, "the pure") was distinguished from the other heresies of the Middle Ages by its rejection of basic Christian beliefs, although its adherents claimed that in their pursuit of a pure life they were the only true Christians. In contrast to the Waldensians and other gospel-inspired movements of the twelfth century, the basis of Catharism was a non-Christian dualism deriving ultimately from Gnosticism. In place of the Christian conception of an inherently good universe that was wholly God's creation and embraced all existence, spiritual and material alike, this dualism posited two principles: one good, governing all that was spiritual, the other evil, responsible for the material world, including man's body. The consequence was the denial of the central Christian doctrines of the incarnation, Christ's two natures and the virgin birth, bodily resurrection, and the sacraments, all of which involve the acceptance of matter as part of God's design, as well as nullifying the doctrine of the Trinity and the very idea of God's omnipotence.

By the time it reached the West from Byzantium, Catharism had taken two forms, a mitigated and a radical dualism. Mitigated dualism originated with the Bogomils in Bulgaria in the tenth century, spreading to the Byzantine empire, whence it was carried to western Europe. It was closer to Christianity in recognizing only one God, the good God who had created everything good, including Satan, who had been his eldest son Lucifer before he had rebelled against his father. Satan had therefore corrupted himself by his own free will, and that freedom was held, somewhat inconsistently, to belong also to the souls that Satan subsequently imprisoned in bodies. Adapting the Old Testament account of creation in Genesis, the Bogomils, and later the Cathari, substituted Satan for God as creator of the firmament and the visible world, although Satan made it from preexisting matter created by God from nothing.

The world was therefore Satan's domain, and the Old Testament was the witness to his tyrannical rule. Hence the Cathari rejected the Old Testament as God's wordone of their distinguishing traits. Although they accepted the New Testament, its meaning was transformed as part of a syncretism of Christian and non-Christian beliefs, expressed as allegories and fables that were the preserve of the initiatedthe perfect. Catharism thus not only had its own tenets and practices but also its own canonical literature.

The only thing that Satan had been unable to make was the human soul; it came from the angels and was variously described in the different Cathar fables as having been captured or stolen from heaven and then put in a body. The first two imprisoned souls were Adam and Eve, who by succumbing to Satan's temptations, depicted in strongly sexual imagery, became the progenitors of the human race. The penalty for their fall, which for the Cathari was identified particularly with sexuality, was the procreation of individual souls with their bodies, so that all men were born as souls imprisoned in a body. The whole of Cathar religious practice was directed toward releasing the soul from the body, thereby liberating it from Satan's rule and enabling it to return to its place in heaven. That was also the reason why God, taking pity on the fallen angels, represented by mankind suffering for Adam and Eve's sin, had sent not only Christ, his second son, but also the Holy Spirit into the world to help redeem them. Although they, too, according to some mitigated dualists, were part of God's nature, they were inferior to God. Moreover, as a spirit, Christ in his human form did not have a real body: it was either, according to some, a phantom, or, according to others, some kind of angelic covering. Whatever the case, though, the human Christ of the Cathari was not the word made flesh. He had not been born of Mary but had entered through her ear. Nor did he suffer on the cross, another of the material objects, together with images and the material properties of the Christian sacraments, rejected by the Cathari. The true Christ suffered for mankind in heaven. In this world his role was to show the way and reestablish the truth of God's word. In that sense there was, in keeping with their docetic belief, only one Christ, in heaven; he was not to be found in churches, which were not his house: one more Cathar trait, shared with the Waldensians, although by the late twelfth century in Languedoc, the Cathari did use churches as meeting places for their ceremonies. The struggle of the soul with Satan would finally end not as in the orthodox Christian belief, in the body's resurrection with the soul, but in the body's destruction with all of Satan's handiwork and the soul's ascent into heaven.

The main divergence of radical dualism from the mitigated form lay in its making the opposition between the principles of good and evil absolute and eternal. Good and evil and their creations had always coexisted. And as the good God's creation was heaven, so the visible world created by Satan was hell. Hence to live in this world was to be in hell, in man's case through having a body in which, as with the mitigated dualists, Satan had initially imprisoned the souls of angels taken from heaven. Free will thus played no part in Satan's original fall; and the power of God was correspondingly restricted in never having had control over evil, which was completely autonomous. Nor did individuals have the means of directly returning to God. Although Christ taught the way of salvation, individuals had first to undergo a series of reincarnations until they came to recognize evil by becoming perfect, thereby freeing their souls from the devil. Christ himself, and generally Mary, were regarded as angels, neither having a real body. For both absolute and mitigated dualists, as indeed for orthodox Christians, all souls would at the end be saved or damned. But for the absolute dualists free will seems to have played no part in salvation. At the end the visible world would fall into material chaos from which all souls would have departed, whereas for the mitigated dualists Satan would be captured and all things would return to order.

Accordingly the Cathari shunned all contact with the material, beyond that which was unavoidable to their existence as human beings. That meant the rejection of marriage, of all foods that were the product of sexual generation, of all material elements in worship, and of all involvement in things of this world, whether love of material goods or worldly behavior, including any kind of violence or taking of life, the exercise of jurisdiction, or the swearing of oaths. The result was an extreme asceticism and austerity, which in their moral and practical expression had close affinities with the Christian ideal of evangelical perfection. The Cathari exhibited the same sense of material renunciation and spiritual devotion, and that probably more than anything else accounted for the hold that the Cathari were able to gain in southern France and northern Italy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Because the demands of Catharism were exceptional, strict practice was confined to a small minority of adepts, the perfect. They represented the Cathar hierarchy; unlike the Christian hierarchy, however, they were a very small elite who had to prove themselves all the time. The mass of ordinary Cathar believers were able to live ordinary lives while accepting the spiritual ministrations and authority of the perfect.

The great dividing line between the perfect and the believers was the reception of the consolamentum: the initiation rite of spiritual baptism by the laying on of hands that admitted the recipient into the ranks of the perfect. It was usually performed after a year's probation and the full revelation of Cathar teaching, which was not accessible to the ordinary adherents. Once received, the consolamentum remitted the consoled's sins and the consequences of the soul's imprisonment in a body, reuniting his soul with his spirit in heaven and releasing him from Satan's rule. It was then that his testing really began. Any lapse into forbidden sinsand for the Cathari they were all equalmeant the loss of the consolamentum both for the sinner and for those who had been consoled by him. He could be reconsoled only after severe penance. But so long as he remained firm to his obedience, he was effectively among the saved, one of the perfect, and revered as such by ordinary believers. For the latter a special consolamentum was administered before death to remit their sins and bring salvation; should they recover, a further consolamentum was needed. The consolamentum thus conferred a Gnostic-like certainty of salvation which challenged orthodox Christian revelation.

The precise date of the appearance of Catharism in western Europe has been keenly debated; there is no universal agreement even now. The generally accepted view is that the first firm evidence of Cathari appears at Cologne in 1143 or 1144. That opinion could well be modified in the future. What can be said is that by the 1150s they were in southern France and northern Italy; by the 1160s they were firmly established in both regions. These became their two chief areas, especially Languedoc in the lands of the count of Toulouse. In 1176 a great council of Cathari is reported to have been held at Saint-Félix-de-Caraman where, in addition to an already existing Cathar bishopric at Albi, three more bishoprics were established for Cathar territories. It was from Albi that the southern French Cathari received their name of Albigensians (Albigenses). By 1170 they had become the main heresy to be combated. The papacy sent a succession of preaching missions, including Waldensians, Cistercians, and the founder of the Dominican order, Dominic. As early as 1181 Alexander III's cardinal legate, Henry, abbot of Clairvaux (before whom Valdès also appeared), besieged a castle at Lavaux sheltering two heretics. Alexander's successor, Innocent III, intensified the pressure, using both sanctions and persuasion. Matters came to a head in January 1208, when one of Innocent's legates, Peter Castelnau, was assassinated. Innocent, who had already called upon the king of France to make war against the Cathari, then launched his own crusade under the abbot of Cïteaux. That marked the beginning of the Albigensian crusade, in which the lands of the count of Toulouse were overrun. Although the crusade severely weakened the Cathari, they survived and regrouped. It was not until 1243 that they were effectively destroyed as an organized church with the capture of over 200 perfect at Montségur. Their strength had lain in the widespread support they had received in both town and countryside from the nobles as well as from artisans and members of the professions. For a time before the Albigensian crusade they had overshadowed the Roman Catholic church in southern France.

In Italy, the Cathari never enjoyed the same cohesion as those in Languedoc. They were driven by the conflicts that began early in the 1160s between adherents of the two forms of dualism. They were also mainly located in the cities, where they owed their survival to the opposition of the cities to both imperial and papal authority. It was only in the second half of the thirteenth century, after the ending of the wars between the popes and Frederick II, the German emperor, that the way was cleared for papal action against the Cathari. A series of trials in the larger Italian cities had largely extirpated them by the beginning of the fourteenth century, at which time they also disappeared from Languedoc.

See Also

Dominic; Waldensians.


Borst, Arno. Die Katharer. Stuttgart, 1953. The standard work on the subject.

Lambert, Malcolm. Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from Bogomil to Hus. London and New York, 1977. The fullest and most up-to-date account of medieval popular heresies. Particularly strong on the Cathari.

Moore, R. I., ed. The Birth of Popular Heresy. London, 1975. A representative selection of translated sources, mainly from the twelfth century, with a useful introduction.

Obolensky, Dimitri. The Bogomils: A Study in Balkan Neo-Manichaeism. Cambridge, 1948. The standard account in English.

Russell, Jeffrey B. Dissent and Reform in the Early Middle Ages. Berkeley, 1965. A useful, wide-ranging survey of early medieval heresies to the end of the twelfth century.

Thouzellier, Christine. Catharisme et Valdéisme en Languedoc. Louvain and Paris, 1969. A very full analysis of the sources.

Wakefield, Walter L. Heresy, Crusade and Inquisition in Southern France, 11001250. Berkeley, 1974. A clear, brief account with a good bibliography.

Wakefield, Walter L., and Austin P. Evans, eds. Heresies of the High Middle Ages. New York and London, 1969. The largest collection of translated sources, particularly valuable for their fullness.

Gordon Leff (1987)

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Catharism, a Christian heresy attested from approximately the tenth until the fifteenth century from France to Asia Minor, advocated a path to salvation through one sacrament, held that the material world was evil, and believed that salvation was available for all believers. The Cathars shared with the Bogomils (another, nearly contemporary Christian heresy) certain elements of belief, organization, and ritual, whose dissemination probably followed the trade routes from East to West. The Cathars, who called themselves simply "good Christians," constituted a real counter-church, consisting of believers, clergy, and bishops. The name "Cathar" was explained as referring to cat worshippers, because the Cathars were accused of holding diabolical rites, or as a derivative from the Greek word katharos (meaning "clean, pure") to describe the pure asceticism of the believers.

Origins and Development

In Bulgaria, the followers of a priest named Bogomil initiated a dissident movement in the tenth century, attested by various sources such as the sermon of Cosmas (c. 970). In the West, other heretical groups began to emerge around the year 1000, as lay apostolic movements reacted to the reforms initiated by Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) and to the growth of monasticism. In the 1140s, when the trials and condemnations of the Bogomils were occurring in the East, Evervin, prior of Steinfeld (in Germany), wrote to Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux (in France), about heretics who claimed that their church originated with Christ and the apostles and had been existing secretly in and around Greece. Reports of heresy followed in the 1150s and 1160s. In 1163, five people were burned in Cologne by authority of a lay court. Eckbert of Schönau authored thirteen sermons against the heretics he termed Cathars. Eckbert's sister Elisabeth and Hildegard of Bingen both engaged in polemics against the dissidents. Popular heresy spread rapidly from the 1170s until the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). Among the various movements that arose, the Cathars attracted the greatest suspicion and were the primary targets of campaigns against heresy, from preaching missions to armed intervention.

Contacts between Eastern Bogomils and Western Cathars were not uncommon, especially in and through Italy because of its proximity to the Balkans. Sometime between 1167 and 1172, Pope Nicetas of Constantinople attended a synod in France at Saint-Félix-de-Caraman, north of Toulouse. A document from that council, the so-called Charter of Nicetas, gives the names of Cathar bishops who arrived at the conference from various parts of France and Italy. Nicetas reconsecrated bishops who already held office and consecrated newly elected bishops. Around 1190, Nazarius, the Cathar bishop of Concorezzo, brought the Bogomil text Interrogatio Iohannis from Bulgaria to Italy. Envoys carried letters between French and northern Italian Cathars, and leading French Cathars took refuge in Italy during periods of persecution in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Italian Cathars in cities such as Orvieto and Viterbo benefited from the protection of political leaders who opposed the papacy. Eventually, the Cathars in Italy emerged into three divisions according to their affiliation with different Bogomil churches: the Albanenses centered in Desenzano, near Lake Garda were affiliated with the church of Dragovitia; the Garatenses, located in Concorezzo, near Milan, observed ties to the church of Bulgaria; and the Bagnolenses from Bagnolo, near Mantua, maintained affiliation with the church of Sclavonia.


Sources pertaining to the beliefs and existence of the Cathars consist primarily of polemical texts written against them, but also include three extant Cathar rituals, two in Occitan and one in Latin; an anonymous treatise for Cathar preachers; and the Book of Two Principles, a scholastic exposition written by John of Lugio, bishop of Desenzano.

Catharism differed from orthodox Christianity on several points, including beliefs regarding the nature of Christ, the role of the church hierarchy, the number and function of the sacraments, the source of evil in the world, and the possibility of salvation for all believers. The Cathars leaned toward docetism, which rejects the human nature of Christ. They practiced a single sacrament, the consolamentum, which was a laying-on-ofhands that served as baptism, confirmation, ordination, forgiveness of sins, and extreme unction. Through the consolamentum, human souls which had fallen away from God would return to God's realm. The Cathars rejected any necessity for a priest's absolution to forgive sins, any function for the saints' intercession, or any need of prayers for the dead. The Cathars shared a symbolic but non-sacramental breaking of bread. They practiced a generally austere way of life, with special dietary restrictions. The women perfectae performed evangelical, pastoral, and sacramental functions. Cathars refused obedience to Rome and the local clerical hierarchy. With the Bogomils, they believed that matter was created by Satan and that the last fallen soul would be saved at the end of this world. Both Cathars and Bogomils rejected icons and practiced a simple, repetitive liturgy emphasizing the Lord's Prayer, an Adoremus formula, and multiple genuflections.

Social Location and Practices

Catharism included all social classes, perhaps having been introduced among the elites but later filtering down to the lower classes. Family ties represented an important force. Cathar houses played a religious and socio-economic role; people were welcomed there for instruction in trades as well as religion. Less prosperous and military than their northern counterparts, Occitan nobles engaged in some form of work, such as weaving or cobblery. They lived with members of other social classes in the castrum, a fortified village built around a castle. As the population of Occitan villages expanded, the Cathars developed a strong network. Furthermore, Catharism placed no economic restrictions on believers and exacted no tithes.

Before their persecution, Cathar bishops preached widely, traveling with assistants who set forth their doctrines. Cathars also met and preached in the homes of their patrons. The Roman church responded first by expanding the scope and frequency of orthodox preaching to the people, mandated by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and implemented through the approval of the mendicant orders (Dominicans in 1216; Franciscans in 1220). Eventually, however, the ideology that justified the crusades to the Holy Land was extended to rationalize campaigns against heresy in Italy, France, and the Balkans.

The Albigensian Crusade: 1209 to 1229

Pope Innocent III launched the Albigensian Crusade in 1208/1209, after the murder of the papal legate, Peter of Castelanu. This decision followed decades of unsuccessful efforts at preaching conversion to the Cathars in Occitania and failed attempts to suppress their alliances with political enemies of the pope in Italian cities. It also rested on a gradual build-up of mechanisms for persecution. When teaching and preaching no longer proved effective in persuading dissenters to conform, church and secular leaders turned to coercion.

The third canon of Lateran IV (1215), which established the mechanisms for persecution, was preceded by a series of landmarks. These were:

  1. Chapter 21 of the Assize of Clarendon in 1166, the first secular legislation against heresy;
  2. Lateran III in 1179;
  3. Ad abolendam in 1184, the first joint (secular and spiritual) condemnation of heresy since the Theodosian code;
  4. Innocent III's 1199 decree Vergentis in senium equating heretics with traitors before the law.

Moreover, in 1207, just prior to the Albigensian Crusade, Innocent III issued Cum ex officii, which expressed the intent to "remove from the patrimony of St. Peter the defilement of heretics," and provided for the delivery of heretics to secular courts, the confiscation and sale of a heretic's possessions, destruction of his home, and penalties imposed on his followers or supporters. These papal measures, aimed at Cathars and political foes in Viterbo, equated the two groups and furthered the alliance of the ecclesiastical and secular forces that drove the Albigensian Crusade.

Historians divide the Albigensian crusade into six general phases, as follows:

  1. 1209 to 1211, when the land belonging to the powerful Trencavel family was conquered;
  2. 1211 to 1213, when Toulouse and the surrounding area were subdued;
  3. 1213, the year of the decisive battle at Muret, when allied forces under Peter of Aragon were defeated by Simon of Montfort's armies;
  4. 1213 to 1215, the period of Montfort's triumph and Lateran IV, where the disposition of conquered territory was debated and Count Raymond VI was deprived of his lands;
  5. 1215 to 1225, a decade of counter-attack and reassertion of southern lords;
  6. 1225 to 1229, when royal intervention conquered the southern forces and compelled Raymond VII's submission.

The first phase of the crusade included some of the most brutal massacres. On July 22, 1209, the city of Béziers was sacked and thousands were slaughtered. When asked whether to kill both Catholic Christians and heretics, the legate Arnaud Amaury supposedly replied: "Kill them all; God will recognize his own." Whether or not he uttered those infamous words, Amaury reported succinctly to Innocent III that "neither age, nor sex, nor status had been spared, and nearly twenty thousand people perished." The legate described the subsequent sack and burning of the city as "divine revenge raging wondrously against it," and he termed the event a "great miracle." In June of 1210, 140 Cathars were burned at Minerve. The following year, in April and May 1211, at Lavaur, about 80 faidits, Occitanian nobles who supported the Cathars, were executed, and 300 to 400 Cathars were burned. In May of the same year, at the siege of Cassès, 60 to 100 Cathars were burned.

The middle period of the crusade involved more victories for the French army, but those were followed by victories by southern (Occitanian) forces at Castelnaudary, Agen, Moissac (1221), and Carcassonne (1223 and 1224). The deaths of Raymond VI in 1222, Raymond-Roger of Foix in 1223, and King Philip Augustus in 1223 led to a reversal of southern victories. When Louis VIII acceded to the throne, full royal intervention in Occitania ensued. After negotiations with Raymond VII and his excommunication in 1226, the king's army moved southward. After Louis VIII's death in November of the same year, his cousin continued the campaign, under the urging of Blanche of Castille, who was serving as regent until her son, the future Louis IX, reached the age to assume the throne. Humbert de Beaujeau, the governor of Languedoc, directed the systematic devastation of the area around Toulouse, which along with pressure from Pope Gregory IX, forced the beginning of negotiations for peace, and culminated in the treaty of Paris/Meaux in 1229.

The brutality of the Albigensian crusade reflects the perception of heresy's threat to the social order, as expressed by Caesarius of Heisterbach, a Cistercian monk from the Rhineland, in his Dialogus miraculorum: "The Albigensian error was so strong that in a short period of time it would have infected as many as 1,000 cities, if it had not been repressed by the swords of the faithful. I think that it would have corrupted all of Europe."

Inquisition, Dissent, and Reform

After Innocent III's papacy, the legislative campaign to combat heresy was renewed by Honorius III (1216 to 1227). The migration of Occitan Cathars into northern Italy increased the presence of the counter-church there. The friars undertook influential preaching campaigns to swing public opinion toward enforcement of already existing legislation against heresy or toward the enactment of new laws. Attention to the crusade to the holy land eclipsed the effort against heresy again in 1221, but Gregory VIII, Honorius's successor, resumed the legal assault on heresy, establishing Dominicans as inquisitors first in Germany with Ille humani generic (1231).

The first permanent tribunal of inquisition functioned in Occitania in 1233 or 1234. In 1233 Gregory IX ordered friars sent to the archdioceses of Bourges, Bordeaux, Narbonne, and Auch to aid the bishops there in their fight against heresy. Accounts for inquisitorial proceedings in Toulouse and Albi during this period have survived. Local protests against the inquisitors began shortly thereafter, and the townspeople of Narbonne reacted violently during the years 1234 to 1237. Dominicans were expelled from Toulouse in 1235, but the people of the city continued to suffer persecution from 1237 to early 1238. Occitan nobles defied the French twice more, in 1240 and 1242, but were unsuccessful in both attempts. Meanwhile the inquisitors renewed their activities at various sites with fierce determination from 1241 onward. Acts of resistance to the inquisitors continued, and some were murdered at Avignonet in 1242. But the last strongholds of Cathar sympathizers were soon to fall: Montségur in 1244 and Quéribus in 1255.

Under Innocent IV's papacy (1243–1254), earlier procedures of inquisition were melded into the formalized office, the "inquisitor of heretical depravity." Pope Alexander IV granted inquisitors broader powers in 1256. Although heresy was waning, the inquisitorial commissions continued, examining earlier proceedings and opening posthumous investigations. The inquisition found new interrogants when a revival of Catharism took place in Occitania during the early fourteenth century, after the return from Italy of a Cathar preacher named Pierre Authié. Bernard Gui, a Dominican, was appointed inquisitor in Toulouse from 1307 to 1324. Jacques Fournier, a Cistercian who would become Pope Benedict XII (1334–1342) residing in Avignon, served as inquisitor from 1318 to 1325, and he left extensive registers recording interrogations. The year 1321 marked the burning of the last known Cathar perfect, William Bélibaste, in the town of Villerouge-Termenès.

However, medieval dissidence regained force during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Some groups, such as the Lollards, claimed the right of all Christians to participate in the apostolic life. Others, like the Free Spirit heresy, rejected the hierarchical structure and domination of the Roman church. The Lollards, like the Cathars, rejected images; furthermore, they saw the propagation of the faith as the responsibility of all believers, as did the Hussites in fifteenth-century Bohemia.

Sixteenth-century reformers challenged some of the same issues argued by medieval dissident groups, notably the role of sacraments; the role of the saints and the dead; the role of and responsibility for evangelism; and issues of lay and clerical morality. During the Reformation, churches that held views espoused by some medieval dissidents, including the Cathars, were established, but not without considerable bloodshed.

SEE ALSO Crusades; Religion


Arnold, John H. (2001). Inquisition and Power: Catharism and the Confessing Subject in Medieval Languedoc. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Bernard of Clairvaux. On the Song of Songs III (1979), trans. K. Walsh and I. M. Edmonds. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications.

Biller, Peter, and Anne Hudson, eds. (1994). Heresy and Literacy, 1000–1530. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cheyette, Fredric L. (2001). Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Given, James Buchanan (1997). Inquisition and Medieval Society: Power, Discipline, and Resistance in Languedoc. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Kienzle, Beverly Mayne (2001). Cistercians, Heresy and Crusade (1145–1229): Preaching in the Lord's Vineyard. Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell and Brewer.

Lambert, Malcolm D. (1998). Cathars. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Lansing, Carol (1998). Power and Purity: Cathar Heresy in Medieval Italy. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Moore, Robert I. (1987). The Formation of a Persecuting Society. Power and Deviance in Western Europe, 950–1250. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell.

Moore, Robert I. (1994). The Origins of European Dissent. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Pegg, Mark Gregory (2001). The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245–1246. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Wakefield, Walter L., and Austin P. Evans, eds. (1991) Heresies of the High Middle Ages. Selected Sources Translated and Annotated. 2nd edition. New York: Columbia University Press.

Beverly Mayne Kienzle

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Members of a medieval sect adhering to a dualistic heresy of Oriental origin that became widespread in Western Christendom after 1150 (see heresy, history of, 2). The present study covers its origins, history, organizations and disappearance.

Origins. Beginning with the 11th century, religious life in western Europe had difficulty maintaining its equilibrium, despite the gregorian reform movement and the new monastic trends (for example, see cluniac reform; cistercians). Some sought to satisfy their aspirations by a return to evangelical poverty (see poverty movement) and simplicity, from which it was easy to fall into heresy. This was the origin of many sporadic movements superficially labeled Manichaean by contemporaries, but of which little is actually known (see peter of bruys; henry of lusanne; arnold of brescia). It was Bogomilism that provided these indistinct currents with the doctrinal framework they lacked. Bogomilism itself traced its origin to those Paulician colonies settled in Thrace by the Emperor Nicephorus I (802811), through which a dualistic and iconoclastic heresy, originally of Armenia, took root in the Balkans. It penetrated into Bulgaria and during the reign of Czar Peter (927969) inspired the preaching of the priest Bogomil, who taught contempt for the official Church, held the Sacraments to be useless, rejected the Old Testament and retained but one prayer, the Our Father. The world, which was the creation and domain of the devil, was evil. But the dualism of the bogomils was not radical, inasmuch as the devil was a rebellious and fallen angel inferior to the principal of Good. This heresy is known principally through the Treatise of Cosmas the Priest, written in 972. In the early 11th century, the Bogomils in Constantinople developed a more radical doctrine that admitted complete equality between the principal of Good, that is, the creator of the invisible world, and the principal of Evil, the creator of the material world. This doctrine was characteristic of the Church of Dragovitsa.

History in Europe. This Eastern heresy was not found in the West until the middle of the 12th century when its adherents are called Cathari from καθαροί, a traditional name for Manichaeans. Transferred from the Balkan Peninsula principally by knights returning from the second crusade, the heresy spread rapidly in northern France, through the Rhine countries where Cathari were mentioned in 1163, to southern France (the Boni homines of Lombers in 1165). They also spread into Italy c. 1176, especially Milan where many heretics resided. However, there could not have been a Catharist bishop in Italy before 1170.

At first all Cathari in Italy were subject to Bishop Mark, who professed the moderate dualism of the Catharist church of Bulgaria. The arrival of Nicetas, Catharist bishop of Constantinople and an absolute dualist, in Italy soon after 1174, led Mark to transfer to the order of Dragovitsa, which Nicetas represented. Under Mark's successor, John the Jew, the Cathari divided into separate groups. The first was composed of the partisans of absolute dualism, called Albanenses, organizing themselves in the church of Desenzano, south of Lake Garda. They were particularly numerous in Verona. Those who remained faithful to the moderate Bulgarian dualism, the Garatenses, constituted the church of Concorezzo, near Milan. Moderate dualists also came together around the church of Bagnolo, near Mantua, adhering to the order of Esclavonia. Like these, the Catharist churches of Vicenza, Florence and Spoleto rejected absolute dualism.

In northern France, Catharism was practically limited to charitÉ-sur-loire, but heresy made extraordinary strides in the south. Through contact with the Albanenses absolute dualism was quickly accepted. Soon all heretics in the Midi, both Cathari and waldenses, came to be known as albigenses. By the end of the 12th century there were four Albigensian bishops, with sees at Carcassonne, Toulouse, albi and Agen. Around 1225, a church of Razès in the Limoux region was added. The capture of Montségur (1244) precipitated the rapid decline of Catharism within France.

Organization. There was no real unity of doctrine among the Cathari, excepting their agreement on the principle that the visible world was evil. They rejected the Sacraments of the Church, particularly the Baptism of water and Matrimony. Although absolute dualists recognized a portion of the Old Testament, the great majority of Cathari accepted only the New Testament, which they read in its Catholic version.

Absolute dualists held that Good and Evil constituted two distinct spheres; one the kingdom of the good god who was spiritual and suprasensible; and the other, the kingdom of the evil god, creator of the material world. For the moderate dualists, or monarchists, the supreme god had created the invisible heaven, the heavenly spirits who inhabited it and the four elements, whereas the devil was merely the organizer of the sensible world. The Cathari explained the creation of man by myths: the evil god, or Satan, had imprisoned spirits in material bodies. The only salutary way to escape this evil world, was by the reception of the consolamentum, the Cathari's unique sacrament administered by the imposition of hands. Christ had come to reveal to men the means of salvation. His earthly life had been simply an appearance.

The Catharistic church considered as its members only the Perfect, who had received the consolamentum. They were subject to strict poverty and a rigorous asceticism, their diet being completely vegetarian except for fish. They observed three Lents each year. The Perfect, who for the most part were poor peasants or artisans, were accorded great veneration. In the hierarchy of the Perfect, deacons were above the ordinary Perfect, and at the head was the bishop who was assisted by a "major son" and a "minor son." The major son succeeded the bishop.

The ordinary Cathari, the Believers, lived according to their beliefs, without fixed rules of morality. It was sufficient for them to believe that the consolamentum assured their salvation. During the ceremony of the melioramentum the Believers "worshipped" the Perfect and listened to their preaching; their chief concern was the reception of the consolamentum when in danger of death. Catharism was well received by the lesser nobility, who were poor and turbulent, by peasants and artisans and above all by the burghers of the cities who profited from usury that the Cathari had legalized.

Catharism has long been known only by the refutations found in the works of Catholic authors, for example, alan of lille's Summa, prior to 1200, the compilations attributed to Bonacursus and Prepositinus of Cremona and the Summa of Rainier of Sacconi, 1250. The Liber de duobus principiis, written by an Italian dualist c. 1230 [ed. A. Dondaine, Un Traité néomanichéen (Rome 1939)], is now available as well as the anonymous Catharist treatise ed. by C. Thousellier, Un Traité cathère inédit (Louvain 1961).

Disappearance of the Cathari. Long before 1250, the church of the Cathari in France was fragmented and before 1260 the Catharistic bishops of Toulouse sought refuge in Italy. There, the entire hierarchy disappeared before the end of the 13th century. In the Midi, the last strongholds of the heresy, which were in the upper valley of Ariège and in the Carcassonne region, disappeared before 1330; in Italy Catharism died out quietly toward the end of the 14th century. In addition to the inherent weakness of the Catharist principle of passivity the most vital factor in its disappearance was the example of the mendicant orders. The dominicans and franciscans had presented an effective alternative to Catharism, and this rather than the inquisition was probably most responsible for its disappearance.

Bibliography: c. g. a. schmidt, Histoire et doctrine de la secte des Cathares ou Albigeois, 2 v. (Paris 1849). a. borst, Die Katharer (Stuttgart 1953). j. guiraud, Histoire de l'Inquisition au moyen âge, 2 v. (Paris 193538) v.1. e. g. a. holmes, The Albigensian or Catharist Heresy (London 1925). s. runciman, The Medieval Manichee (Cambridge, Eng. 1947; repr. 1955). cosmas le prÈtre, Le Traité contre les Bogomiles, ed. and tr., h. c. puech and a. vaillant (Paris 1945). d. obolensky, The Bogomils: A Study in Balkan Neo-Manichaeism (Cambridge, Eng. 1948). a. dondaine, "La Hiérarchie cathare en Italie," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 19 (1949) 280312; 20 (1950) 234324. t. kaeppeli, "Une Somme contre les héretiques de S. Pierre Martyr (?)," ibid. 17 (1947) 295335. The Summa contra haereticos: Ascribed to Praepositinus of Cremona, ed. j. n. garvin and j. a. corbett (Notre Dame, Ind. 1958). ilarino da milano, "Il Liber supra stella del piacentino Salvo Burci controi Catarie altre correnti ereticali," Aevum, 16 (1942) 272319; 17 (1943) 90146; 19 (1945) 281341.

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A medieval Christian gnostic heretical sect that flourished in southern France, especially in the Provençal region. One branch of the sect, originating in the region of Albi, gave rise to the name of followers as Albigenses.

As early as the 1100s, a form of dualism that held that Satan was, though a creature of God, an immensely powerful being, appeared in southern France and in the Rhine Valley. Its immediate source may have been beliefs brought back from the Holy Land by crusaders. Within a decade, a more extreme dualism that argued for the existence of Satan prior to the creation of the universe appeared. The dualists in France made common cause with the Bogomil dualists of the southern Balkans and by 1180 had become a significant force in southeastern France and northern Italy. Cathar belief was also strong in Lombardy and the Rhineland. The Roman Catholic Church started a crusade against the Cathars of southern France, centered upon the town of Languedoc. By 1230 the Albigensians were eradicated.

What little we know concerning the Cathar belief and practice derives largely from a Cathar ritual from Provence, recorded in a thirteenth-century manuscript, and from the proceedings of the Roman Catholic inquisitors who ruthlessly persecuted the sect. The group has roots that go back to Manicheanism and origins in the theological problem of the place of good and evil in Christian doctrine. The Cathars believed a dualist concept of two gods or principles. The evil god Satan or Lucifer ruled the material world, which was a purgatorial condition for angels or divine souls imprisoned in flesh after the primal war in heaven. Humans could only recover the divine kingdom through a spiritual rebirth, becoming a vehicle for the Holy Ghost, otherwise death would not bring release. A man who died without such a spiritual rebirth would face reincarnation again and again, in human or animal form.

An interesting modern echo of the Cathari and its doctrine of imprisonment in the flesh through various incarnations is found in the strange claim of a modern British physician Arthur Guirdham that he has verified information that he and a group of other individuals were reincarnations of Cathars who were brutally persecuted in Languedoc, France, during the twelfth century.


Birks, Walter. The Treasure of Montsagur: A Study of the Cathar Heresy and the Nature of the Cathar Secret. U.K.: Crucible, 1987.

Guirdham, Arthur. The Cathars and Reincarnation. London: Neville Spearman, 1970.

Lea, H. C. History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages. 3 vols. New York: Harper and Bros., 1888.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Wakefield, Walter, and Austin P. Evans. Heresies of the High Middle Ages. New York, 1969.

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Cathars (Lat., Cathari, from Gk., katharoi, ‘pure ones’). Christian dualist heresy in W. Europe, which, in the 13th–14th cents., was a serious threat to the Catholic Church especially in S. France (see ALBIGENSES) and N. Italy. The origins of the movement are obscure, and although its doctrines were influenced by the Bogomils of Bulgaria, it remains a possibility that its dualism was an independent development or inheritance.

The inner circle of the Cathars were the ‘perfects’, who followed a life of rigorous asceticism and praying the Lord's Prayer. Admission to this circle was by the rite of consolamentum after an arduous probation, but other adherents received it on their deathbed. Those thus ‘consoled’ saw themselves as the only true Christians and denied the title to Catholics.

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Cathar a member of a heretical medieval Christian sect which professed a form of Manichaean dualism and sought to achieve great spiritual purity. The name is recorded in English from the mid 17th century, and comes from medieval Latin Cathari (plural), from Greek katharoi ‘the pure’.

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Cathar •Cathar

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