The Cathar heresy has been featured in many novels, videogames and movies, always portraying them as the underdogs, the persecuted faithful who were forcefully and brutally eradicated by the Catholic Church. Sadly, this image is true.
But what lies behind all of this?
From the research I have done thus far, it is clear that there is far more to this than merely religion.
The Cathars did not believe in violence, and did not condone killing anyone or anything – not even animals, for the parfait were strict vegetarians. Some of them ate fish because it was believed at the time that fish did not reproduce sexually, therefor they were not killing a creature that has a soul.
Sexual reproduction was not permitted, since giving birth meant another soul would be entrapped here on earth. They had a very strong belief in dualism, in the opposing forces of good and evil. “Good” was ruled by the God of the New Testament, and “evil” was ruled by the God of the Old Testament, the God that had created human life. To give birth meant that you were perpetuating the wishes of the evil God. Many of the Cathari, including women, took vows of abstinence later in life, or upon their deathbeds. I think the majority of believers lived normal lives, but worshipped a little differently. The Catholic Church actually adopted many of the practices of the Cathars after the Inquisition, for example, that priests should be celibate, and that Catholics should eat fish on Fridays.
Many of their beliefs pre-date Christianity, and it is argued by scholars that their religion was closer to the original Christian belief, to the Paulicians,(named after the bishop of Antioch) which formed the basis of the Armenian religion that flourished between 650 and 872.
There is far more to this than I want to elaborate on right now and there is plenty of information on the internet, so look it up if you are so inclined!
To get back to my original point:
At the time that the Cathar faith was at its zenith, the Catholic Pope’s legate, Pierre de Castelnau, was allegedly murdered by a Cathar after he was sent to excommunicate the Lord Raymond VI of Toulouse. The Pope had been trying to convert these wayward heretics for a considerable period of time but they stubbornly refused to yield to the power of the Vatican.
De Castelnau was declared a martyr, and this initiated the Albigensian Crusade to wipe Catharism off the face of the earth.
But wait, there’s more to this, as I said. The Pope encouraged King Philippe Auguste II of France and his vassals to perpetrate the “cleansing” of the heretics, in preparation for his annexing the Languedoc region and making it part of France. (So….it’s quite possible the Pope ordered the murder of his legate, not so? Then he would have ample reason to start a crusade against the dastardly heretics?)
So, voila! The Catholic Pope Innocent III (what a misnomer!) thus enriched himself because all of Christian Europe had to pay homage to the Church.
The games people play. All in the name of religion.
Yes, there is more background to the Cathar faith that I have not included. I want to keep this simple and educational. I’ll get to the Bogomils, the Manicheans and the Gnostics some other time, so don’t despair.