The Cathari or Albigenses

A movement further removed from the faith of the Catholic Church than the Waldensees was that of the Cathari ("Pure") or, as they were known from one of their chief centres, Albi, in the south of France, Albigensees. In some places they also were called Patarini or Patarenes, although that appellation was not confined to them and was sometimes made to include all heretics. Like the Waldensees, they flourished in the twelfth century and were most numerous in Northern Spain, Southern France, and Northern Italy. Indeed, the two movements had much in common and seem to have interacted upon each other.

It is interesting and perhaps significant that the major new monastic order of the twelfth century, the Cistercians, originated in the same general region, although slightly farther north and east, and that the two chief monastic movements of the thirteenth century, the Franciscans and Dominicans, also had their rise and early growth in that geographic belt. The Cathari were but one expression of the religious ferment, chiefly Christian in its forms, which profoundly moved the Latin South of Europe in these centuries.

Yet the Cathari were not confined to Latin Europe. They were also found east of the Adriatic, among the Slavs. There they enjoyed an advantage over the Catholic Church in their use of the vernacular in their services. We also hear of them in Constantinople, where they had both a Greek and a Latin Church.

What is now southern France, where the Waldensees and the Cathari had their chief strength, was fertile soil for such a movement. As we know from the statements of some of its own leaders, the Catholic Church in that region was unusually corrupt and had forfeited the respect of earnest souls. Some of the clergy compiled indecent books and permitted immodest songs to be sung in church. Many priests were luxury-loving, illiterate, indolent, profane, and tolerated simony and clerical concubinage. In such a situation a religion with high moral appeal and practice would gain a ready hearing.

The Cathari were dualisis, believing that there are two eternal powers, the one good and the other evil, that the visible world is the creation of the evil power, and that the spiritual world is the work of the good power. They were, quite understandably, accused by their enemies of being Manichsans. Some later scholars have asserted and others have as vigorously denied the Manichsan origin. It is less debatable that they were influenced by the Paulicians and the Bogomils, dualists whom we have already met in the Eastern Church and who were strong in Bulgaria and the Balkans. Whether they owed their beginnings to contacts with these groups we do not know. As early as the first half of the eleventh century there were those in the south of what is now France who were arraigned by the ecclesiastical authorities for holding a dualistic heresy. In the twelfth century their numbers mounted.

The Cathari claimed to find in the Bible support for their convictions. Some of them rejected parts of the Old Testament, holding that they were the work of the Devil, but they all stressed the New Testament and gave especial weight to The Gospel according to John. Their views were by no means uniform, but on several they seem to have been agreed. They held, as we have suggested, that there are two powers, the one evil and responsible for the material world and the other good and the maker of the immaterial world. Some put forth a variant of this dualism, saying that the good God had two sons, one of whom, Satanal, rebelled, and the other, Christ, became the redeemer. All maintained that there were two churches, the one their own, that of Jesus Christ, good, and the other that of Rome, evil. Accordingly, they rejected the orders and laws of the Roman Catholic Church and taught that its sacraments were quite useless. As dualists, believing flesh to be evil, they endeavoured to shun all that had to do with the reproduction of animal life.

The Cathari were of two grades. Those who had fully embraced their way of life were called the "perfect" (perfecti). Admission to the "perfect" was by a kind of spiritual baptism, called "consolation." It was administered by one who had already received it and through it forgiveness of sins and entrance into the kingdom of the good power were obtained. The perfect must remain continent. If unmarried they must continue celibate, and if married, husband must separate from wife and the man must never again so much as touch a woman. They were never to eat meat, milk, or eggs, since thesc were the fruits of reproduction. They were not to engage in war or to own properly. "Believers" (credenti) who had not yet become "perfect" might marry, hold property, and even outwardly remain members of the Roman Catholic Church and share in its sacraments. "Believers" looked forward to salvation through "consolation," although that step might be postponed until old age or fatal illness. At least some of the Cathari believed in the transmigration of souls and taught that Christ came to redeem those who had fallen and to enable them to return to their Creator.

In their communal worship the Cathari followed very simple forms. They had no church buildings. They held that since flesh is evil, Christ could not have had a real body or have died a real death. Accordingly they had no use for crosses or crucifixes. They read from the Scriptures, heard sermons, and shared a common meal from bread which, held in the hands, was blessed, broken, and distributed to the seated believers. We hear of other forms of the common meal in which bread, fish, and wine were used, and which was preceded by the washing of the feet of the participants by the "major" who presided. There seems to have been another form, on Easter, in which bread and wine were the elements.

In organization the "perfect" corresponded to the clergy of the Catholic Church. The Cathari were said to have majors (bishops), presbyters, and deacons, but they appear to have been without a comprehensive ecclesiastical structure.

As is so often true of persecuted groups with secret meetings, tales gained popular credence which accused the Carhari of the grossest immoralities, However, some of their most caustic critics bore witness to their high moral character. They were ardent missionaries. They seem to have been recruited largely from peasants and artisans, but they included some scholars and produced an extensive literature in the vernacular, including translations of the Bible. While, as we have said, strongest in Northern Italy, Southern France, and the north of Spain, the Cathari also won converts in Northern France and Flanders, chiefly in the cities.

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