Saint Dominic

painting by Giovanni Bellini


compiled by Dee Finney



3-7-10 - NAP DREAM -  This was a very long and convoluted dream, but this is the important part:


I was given a letter, hand delivered by my daughter-in-law from a woman named Karen who lived in upper Wisconsin.  I could see from the handwriting on the 2 sheets of paper - doubled sided writing - that she was greatly disturbed.  Her handwriting was in many sizes and styled, many sentences crossed out and rewritten, that she wrote in a hurry and her mind was not in the right place mentally.


I hadn't even had a chance to read it yet, but discussed the letter with two other women, one older woman, who was professor like business woman who had something to do with getting the letter to me, and the other a frail, thin woman who also came from northern Wisconsin, who I would blatantly  call witch-like though she was blonde.  She started to talk to me in a public place and I said, "Let's go talk in a private place"  and took her in a small bedroom with a divan in it belonging to a woman.


Besides the letter, there were several shiny sheets of paper that looked like advertising for products like incense, aromatherapy, etc.  but I didn't have a chance to look at it yet. 


I sat down on the divan, and asked the frail woman to sit down also,  but she began talking from a standing position, telling me that her group (which evidently Karen also belonged to)  were communicating with Rove and Santo Dominicus and she mentioned one other name, also in Latin, and they were questioning, always questioning.


Because she mentioned Rove twice, (whom I know quite well) I wondered how he was connected to Santo Dominicus and the other man with the Latin name, and how the women could be as disturbed as they were. 


I started to wake up and couldn't figure out why I was in bed - had I lain down on the bed in the dream?  I had to ask Joe and apparently I had this really long dream in less than a half hour.




Founder of the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominican Order; born at Calaroga, in Old Castile, c. 1170; died 6 August, 1221. His parents, Felix Guzman and Joanna of Aza, undoubtedly belonged to the nobility of Spain, though probably neither was connected with the reigning house of Castile, as some of the saint's biographers assert. Of Felix Guzman, personally, little is known, except that he was in every sense the worthy head of a family of saints. To nobility of blood Joanna of Aza added a nobility of soul which so enshrined her in the popular veneration that in 1828 she was solemnly beatified by Leo XII. The example of such parents was not without its effect upon their children. Not only Saint Dominic but also his brothers, Antonio and Manes, were distinguished for their extraordinary sanctity. Antonio, the eldest, became a secular priest and, having distributed his patrimony to the poor, entered a hospital where he spent his life ministering to the sick. Manes, following in the footsteps of Dominic, became a Friar Preacher, and was beatified by Gregory XVI.


The birth and infancy of the saint were attended by many marvels forecasting his heroic sanctity and great achievements in the cause of religion. From his seventh to his fourteenth year he pursued his elementary studies under the tutelage of his maternal uncle, the archpriest of Gumiel d'Izan, not far distant from Calaroga. In 1184 Saint Dominic entered the University of Palencia. Here he remained for ten years prosecuting his studies with such ardour and success that throughout the ephemeral existence of that institution he was held up to the admiration of its scholars as all that a student should be.


Amid the frivolities and dissipations of a university city, the life of the future saint was characterized by seriousness of purpose and an austerity of manner which singled him out as one from whom great things might be expected in the future. But more than once he proved that under this austere exterior he carried a heart as tender as a woman's.


On one occasion he sold his books, annotated with his own hand, to relieve the starving poor of Palencia. His biographer and contemporary, Bartholomew of Trent, states that twice he tried to sell himself into slavery to obtain money for the liberation of those who were held in captivity by the Moors. These facts are worthy of mention in view of the cynical and saturnine character which some non-Catholic writers have endeavoured to foist upon one of the most charitable of men.


 Concerning the date of his ordination his biographers are silent; nor is there anything from which that date can be inferred with any degree of certainty. According to the deposition of Brother Stephen, Prior Provincial of Lombardy, given in the process of canonization, Dominic was still a student at Palencia when Don Martin de Bazan, the Bishop of Osma, called him to membership in the cathedral chapter for the purpose of assisting in its reform. The bishop realized the importance to his plan of reform of having constantly before his canons the example of one of Dominic's eminent holiness. Nor was he disappointed in the result.


 In recognition of the part he had taken in converting its members into canons regular, Dominic was appointed sub-prior of the reformed chapter. On the accession of Don Diego d'Azevedo to the Bishopric of Osma in 1201, Dominic became superior of the chapter with the title of prior. As a canon of Osma, he spent nine years of his life hidden in God and rapt in contemplation, scarcely passing beyond the confines of the chapter house.


In 1203 Alfonso IX, King of Castile, deputed the Bishop of Osma to demand from the Lord of the Marches, presumably a Danish prince, the hand of his daughter on behalf of the king's son, Prince Ferdinand. For his companion on this embassy Don Diego chose Saint Dominic. Passing through Toulouse in the pursuit of their mission, they beheld with amazement and sorrow the work of spiritual ruin wrought by the Albigensian heresy. It was in the contemplation of this scene that Dominic first conceived the idea of founding an order for the purpose of combating heresy and spreading the light of the Gospel by preaching to the ends of the then known world.


Their mission having ended successfully, Diego and Dominic were dispatched on a second embassy, accompanied by a splendid retinue, to escort the betrothed princess to Castile. This mission, however, was brought to a sudden close by the death of the young woman in question. The two ecclesiastics were now free to go where they would, and they set out for Rome, arriving there towards the end of 1204.


The purpose of this was to enable Diego to resign his bishopric that he might devote himself to the conversion of unbelievers in distant lands. Innocent III, however, refused to approve this project, and instead sent the bishop and his companion to Languedoc to join forces with the Cistercians, to whom he had entrusted the crusade against the Albigenses.


The scene that confronted them on their arrival in Languedoc was by no means an encouraging one. The Cistercians, on account of their worldly manner of living, had made little or no headway against the Albigenses. They had entered upon their work with considerable pomp, attended by a brilliant retinue, and well provided with the comforts of life.


To this display of worldliness the leaders of the heretics opposed a rigid asceticism which commanded the respect and admiration of their followers. Diego and Dominic quickly saw that the failure of the Cistercian apostolate was due to the monks' indulgent habits, and finally prevailed upon them to adopt a more austere manner of life.


The result was at once apparent in a greatly increased number of converts. Theological disputations played a prominent part in the propaganda of the heretics. Dominic and his companion, therefore, lost no time in engaging their opponents in this kind of theological exposition. Whenever the opportunity offered, they accepted the gage of battle.


The thorough training that the saint had received at Palencia now proved of inestimable value to him in his encounters with the heretics. Unable to refute his arguments or counteract the influence of his preaching, they visited their hatred upon him by means of repeated insults and threats of physical violence.


With Prouille for his head-quarters, he laboured by turns in Fanjeaux, Montpellier, Servian, Béziers, and Carcassonne.


Early in his apostolate around Prouille the saint realized the necessity of an institution that would protect the women of that country from the influence of the heretics. Many of them had already embraced Albigensianism and were its most active propagandists.


These women erected convents, to which the children of the Catholic nobility were often sent—for want of something better—to receive an education, and, in effect, if not on purpose, to be tainted with the spirit of heresy. It was needful, too, that women converted from heresy should be safeguarded against the evil influence of their own homes. To supply these deficiencies, Saint Dominic, with the permission of Foulques, Bishop of Toulouse, established a convent at Prouille in 1206. To this community, and afterwards to that of Saint Sixtus, at Rome, he gave the rule and constitutions which have ever since guided the nuns of the Second Order of Saint Dominic.


The year 1208 opens a new epoch in the eventful life of the founder. On 15 January of that year Pierre de Castelnau, one of the Cistercian legates, was assassinated. This abominable crime precipitated the crusade under Simon de Montfort, which led to the temporary subjugation of the heretics. Saint Dominic participated in the stirring scenes that followed, but always on the side of mercy, wielding the arms of the spirit while others wrought death and desolation with the sword.


Some historians assert that during the sack of Béziers, Dominic appeared in the streets of that city, cross in hand, interceding for the lives of the women and children, the aged and the infirm. This testimony, however, is based upon documents which Touron regards as certainly apocryphal. The testimony of the most reliable historians tends to prove that the saint was neither in the city nor in its vicinity when Béziers was sacked by the crusaders.


 We find him generally during this period following the Catholic army, reviving religion and reconciling heretics in the cities that had capitulated to, or had been taken by, the victorious de Montfort. It was probably 1 September, 1209, that Saint Dominic first came in contact with Simon de Montfort and formed with him that intimate friendship which was to last till the death of the brave crusader under the walls of Toulouse (25 June, 1218).


We find him by the side of de Montfort at the siege of Lavaur in 1211, and again in 1212, at the capture of La Penne d'Ajen. In the latter part of 1212 he was at Pamiers labouring, at the invitation of de Montfort, for the restoration of religion and morality.


 Lastly, just before the battle of Muret, 12 September, 1213, the saint is again found in the council that preceded the battle. During the progress of the conflict, he knelt before the altar in the church of Saint-Jacques, praying for the triumph of the Catholic arms.


So remarkable was the victory of the crusaders at Muret that Simon de Montfort regarded it as altogether miraculous, and piously attributed it to the prayers of Saint Dominic. In gratitude to God for this decisive victory, the crusader erected a chapel in the church of Saint-Jacques, which he dedicated, it is said, to Our Lady of the Rosary. It would appear, therefore, that the devotion of the Rosary, which tradition says was revealed to Saint Dominic, had come into general use about this time.


To this period, too, has been ascribed the foundation of the Inquisition by Saint Dominic, and his appointment as the first Inquisitor. As both these much controverted questions will receive special treatment elsewhere in this work, it will suffice for our present purpose to note that the Inquisition was in operation in 1198, or seven years before the saint took part in the apostolate in Languedoc, and while he was still an obscure canon regular at Osma.


If he was for a certain time identified with the operations of the Inquisition, it was only in the capacity of a theologian passing upon the orthodoxy of the accused. Whatever influence he may have had with the judges of that much maligned institution was always employed on the side of mercy and forbearance, as witness the classic case of Ponce Roger.


In the meantime, the saint's increasing reputation for heroic sanctity, apostolic zeal, and profound learning caused him to be much sought after as a candidate for various bishoprics. Three distinct efforts were made to raise him to the episcopate.


In July, 1212, the chapter of Béziers chose him for their bishop. Again, the canons of Saint-Lizier wished him to succeed Garcias de l'Orte as Bishop of Comminges. Lastly, in 1215 an effort was made by Garcias de l'Orte himself, who had been transferred from Comminges to Auch, to make him Bishop of Navarre. But Saint Dominic absolutely refused all episcopal honours, saying that he would rather take flight in the night, with nothing but his staff, than accept the episcopate.


From Muret Dominic returned to Carcassonne, where he resumed his preaching with unqualified success. It was not until 1214 that he returned to Toulouse. In the meantime the influence of his preaching and the eminent holiness of his life had drawn around him a little band of devoted disciples eager to follow wherever he might lead. Saint Dominic had never for a moment forgotten his purpose, formed eleven years before, of founding a religious order to combat heresy and propagate religious truth. The time now seemed opportune for the realization of his plan.


With the approval of Bishop Foulques of Toulouse, he began the organization of his little band of followers. That Dominic and his companions might possess a fixed source of revenue Foulques made him chaplain of Fanjeaux and in July, 1215, canonically established the community as a religious congregation of his diocese, whose mission was the propagation of true doctrine and good morals, and the extirpation of heresy.


During this same year Pierre Seilan, a wealthy citizen of Toulouse, who had placed himself under the direction of Saint Dominic, put at their disposal his own commodious dwelling. In this way the first convent of the Order of Preachers was founded on 25 April, 1215. But they dwelt here only a year when Foulques established them in the church of Saints Romanus.


Though the little community had proved amply the need of its mission and the efficiency of its service to the Church, it was far from satisfying the full purpose of its founder. It was at best but a diocesan congregation, and Saint Dominic had dreamed of a world-order that would carry its apostolate to the ends of the earth. But, unknown to the saint, events were shaping themselves for the realization of his hopes.


In November, 1215, an ecumenical council was to meet at Rome "to deliberate on the improvement of morals, the extinction of heresy, and the strengthening of the faith". This was identically the mission Saint Dominic had determined on for his order. With the Bishop of Toulouse, he was present at the deliberations of this council. From the very first session it seemed that events conspired to bring his plans to a successful issue.


The council bitterly arraigned the bishops for their neglect of preaching. In canon X they were directed to delegate capable men to preach the word of God to the people. Under these circumstances, it would reasonably appear that Dominic's request for confirmation of an order designed to carry out the mandates of the council would be joyfully granted. But while the council was anxious that these reforms should be put into effect as speedily as possible, it was at the same time opposed to the institution of any new religious orders, and had legislated to that effect in no uncertain terms. Moreover, preaching had always been looked upon as primarily a function of the episcopate. To bestow this office on an unknown and untried body of simple priests seemed too original and too bold in its conception to appeal to the conservative prelates who influenced the deliberations of the council. When, therefore, his petition for the approbation of his infant institute was refused, it could not have been wholly unexpected by Saint Dominic.


Returning to Languedoc at the close of the council in December, 1215, the founder gathered about him his little band of followers and informed them of the wish of the council that there should be no new rules for religious orders. Thereupon they adopted the ancient rule of Saint Augustine, which, on account of its generality, would easily lend itself to any form they might wish to give it. This done, Saint Dominic again appeared before the pope in the month of August, 1216, and again solicited the confirmation of his order.


This time he was received more favourably, and on 22 December, 1216, the Bull of confirmation was issued.

Saint Dominic spent the following Lent preaching in various churches in Rome, and before the pope and the papal court. It was at this time that he received the office and title of Master of the Sacred Palace, or Pope's Theologian, as it is more commonly called. This office has been held uninterruptedly by members of the order from the founder's time to the present day.


On 15 August, 1217, he gathered the brethren about him at Prouille to deliberate on the affairs of the order. He had determined upon the heroic plan of dispersing his little band of seventeen unformed followers over all Europe. The result proved the wisdom of an act which, to the eye of human prudence at least, seemed little short of suicidal.


To facilitate the spread of the order, Honorius III, on 11 Feb., 1218, addressed a Bull to all archbishops, bishops, abbots, and priors, requesting their favour on behalf of the Order of Preachers. By another Bull, dated 3 Dec., 1218, Honorius III bestowed upon the order the church of Saint Sixtus in Rome.


Here, amid the tombs of the Appian Way, was founded the first monastery of the order in Rome. Shortly after taking possession of Saint Sixtus, at the invitation of Honorius, Saint Dominic began the somewhat difficult task of restoring the pristine observance of religious discipline among the various Roman communities of women. In a comparatively short time the work was accomplished, to the great satisfaction of the pope. His own career at the University of Palencia, and the practical use to which he had put it in his encounters with the Albigenses, as well as his keen appreciation of the needs of the time, convinced the saint that to ensure the highest efficiency of the work of the apostolate, his followers should be afforded the best educational advantages obtainable. It was for this reason that on the dispersal of the brethren at Prouille he dispatched Matthew of France and two companions to Paris.


 A foundation was made in the vicinity of the university, and the friars took possession in October, 1217. Matthew of France was appointed superior, and Michael de Fabra was placed in charge of the studies with the title of Lecturer.


On 6 August of the following year, Jean de Barastre, dean of Saint-Quentin and professor of theology, bestowed on the community the hospice of Saint-Jaques, which he had built for his own use. Having effected a foundation at the University of Paris, Saint Dominic next determined upon a settlement at the University of Bologna. Bertrand of Garrigua, who had been summoned from Paris, and John of Navarre, set out from Rome, with letters from Pope Honorius, to make the desired foundation.


On their arrival at Bologna, the church of Santa Maria della Mascarella was placed at their disposal. So rapidly did the Roman community of Saint Sixtus grow that the need of more commodious quarters soon became urgent. Honorius, who seemed to delight in supplying every need of the order and furthering its interests to the utmost of his power, met the emergency by bestowing on Saint Dominic the basilica of Santa Sabina.


Towards the end of 1218, having appointed Reginald of Orléans his vicar in Italy, the saint, accompanied by several of his brethren, set out for Spain. Bologna, Prouille, Toulouse, and Fanjeaux were visited on the way. From Prouille two of the brethren were sent to establish a convent at Lyons. Segovia was reached just before Christmas.


In February of the following year he founded the first monastery of the order in Spain. Turning southward, he established a convent for women at Madrid, similar to the one at Prouille. It is quite probable that on this journey he personally presided over the erection of a convent in connexion with his alma mater, the University of Palencia. At the invitation of the Bishop of Barcelona, a house of the order was established in that city. Again bending his steps towards Rome he recrossed the Pyrenees and visited the foundations at Toulouse and Paris.


During his stay in the latter place he caused houses to be erected at Limoges, Metz, Reims, Poitiers, and Orléans, which in a short time became centres of Dominican activity. From Paris he directed his course towards Italy, arriving in Bologna in July, 1219. Here he devoted several months to the religious formation of the brethren he found awaiting him, and then, as at Prouille, dispersed them over Italy.


Among the foundations made at this time were those at Bergamo, Asti, Verona, Florence, Brescia, and Faenza. From Bologna he went to Viterbo. His arrival at the papal court was the signal for the showering of new favours on the order. Notable among these marks of esteem were many complimentary letters addressed by Honorius to all those who had assisted the Fathers in their vinous foundations.


In March of this same year Honorius, through his representatives, bestowed upon the order the church of San Eustorgio in Milan. At the same time a foundation at Viterbo was authorized.


On his return to Rome, towards the end of 1219, Dominic sent out letters to all the convents announcing the first general chapter of the order, to be held at Bologna on the feast of the following Pentecost. Shortly before, Honorius III, by a special Brief, had conferred upon the founder the title of Master General, which till then he had held only by tacit consent.


At the very first session of the chapter in the following spring the saint startled his brethren by offering his resignation as master general. It is needless to say the resignation was not accepted and the founder remained at the head of the institute till the end of his life.


Soon after the close of the chapter of Bologna, Honorius III addressed letters to the abbeys and priories of San Vittorio, Sillia, Mansu, Floria, Vallombrosa, and Aquila, ordering that several of their religious be deputed to begin, under the leadership of Saint Dominic, a preaching crusade in Lombardy, where heresy had developed alarming proportions.


For some reason or other the plans of the pope were never realized. The promised support failing, Dominic, with a little band of his own brethren, threw himself into the field, and, as the event proved, spent himself in an effort to bring back the heretics to their allegiance to the Church.


 It is said that 100,000 unbelievers were converted by the preaching and the miracles of the saint. According to Lacordaire and others, it was during his preaching in Lombardy that the saint instituted the Militia of Jesus Christ, or the third order, as it is commonly called, consisting of men and women living in the world, to protect the rights and property of the Church.


Towards the end of 1221 Saint Dominic returned to Rome for the sixth and last time. Here he received many new and valuable concessions for the order. In January, February, and March of 1221 three consecutive Bulls were issued commending the order to all the prelates of the Church.


The thirtieth of May, 1221, found him again at Bologna presiding over the second general chapter of the order. At the close of the chapter he set out for Venice to visit Cardinal Ugolino, to whom he was especially indebted for many substantial acts of kindness. He had scarcely returned to Bologna when a fatal illness attacked him. He died after three weeks of sickness, the many trials of which he bore with heroic patience. In a Bull dated at Spoleto, 13 July, 1234, Gregory IX made his cult obligatory throughout the Church.


The life of St. Dominic was one of tireless effort in the, service of God. While he journeyed from place to place he prayed and preached almost uninterruptedly. His penances were of such a nature as to cause the brethren, who accidentally discovered them, to fear the effect upon his life. While his charity was boundless he never permitted it to interfere with the stern sense of duty that guided every action of his life. If he abominated heresy and laboured untiringly for its extirpation it was because he loved truth and loved the souls of those among whom he laboured. He never failed to distinguish between sin and the sinner.


 It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if this athlete of Christ, who had conquered himself before attempting the reformation of others, was more than once chosen to show forth the power of God. The failure of the fire at Fanjeaux to consume the dissertation he had employed against the heretics, and which was thrice thrown into the flames; the raising to life of Napoleone Orsini; the appearance of the annals in the refectory of Saint Sixtus in response to his prayers, are but a few of the supernatural happenings by which God was pleased to attest the eminent holiness of His servant. We are not surprised, therefore, that, after signing the Bull of canonization on 13 July, 1234, Gregory IX declared that he no more doubted the saintliness of Saint Dominic than he did that of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.


(From Albi, Latin Albiga, the present capital of the Department of Tarn).

A neo-Manichæan sect that flourished in southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The name Albigenses, given them by the Council of Tours (1163) prevailed towards the end of the twelfth century and was for a long time applied to all the heretics of the south of France. They were also called Catharists (katharos, pure), though in reality they were only a branch of the Catharistic movement. The rise and spread of the new doctrine in southern France was favoured by various circumstances, among which may be mentioned: the fascination exercised by the readily-grasped dualistic principle; the remnant of Jewish and Mohammedan doctrinal elements; the wealth, leisure, and imaginative mind of the inhabitants of Languedoc; their contempt for the Catholic clergy, caused by the ignorance and the worldly, too frequently scandalous, lives of the latter; the protection of an overwhelming majority of the nobility, and the intimate local blending of national aspirations and religious sentiment.


Principles Doctrinal

The Albigenses asserted the co-existence of two mutually opposed principles, one good, the other evil. The former is the creator of the spiritual, the latter of the material world. The bad principle is the source of all evil; natural phenomena, either ordinary like the growth of plants, or extraordinary as earthquakes, likewise moral disorders (war), must be attributed to him. He created the human body and is the author of sin, which springs from matter and not from the spirit. The Old Testament must be either partly or entirely ascribed to him; whereas the New Testament is the revelation of the beneficent God. The latter is the creator of human souls, which the bad principle imprisoned in material bodies after he had deceived them into leaving the kingdom of light. This earth is a place of punishment, the only hell that exists for the human soul. Punishment, however, is not everlasting; for all souls, being Divine in nature, must eventually be liberated. To accomplish this deliverance God sent upon earth Jesus Christ, who, although very perfect, like the Holy Ghost, is still a mere creature. The Redeemer could not take on a genuine human body, because he would thereby have come under the control of the evil principle. His body was, therefore, of celestial essence, and with it He penetrated the ear of Mary. It was only apparently that He was born from her and only apparently that He suffered. His redemption was not operative, but solely instructive. To enjoy its benefits, one must become a member of the Church of Christ (the Albigenses). Here below, it is not the Catholic sacraments but the peculiar ceremony of the Albigenses known as the consolamentum, or "consolation," that purifies the soul from all sin and ensures its immediate return to heaven. The resurrection of the body will not take place, since by its nature all flesh is evil.


The dualism of the Albigenses was also the basis of their moral teaching. Man, they taught, is a living contradiction. Hence, the liberation of the soul from its captivity in the body is the true end of our being. To attain this, suicide is commendable; it was customary among them in the form of the endura (starvation). The extinction of bodily life on the largest scale consistent with human existence is also a perfect aim. As generation propagates the slavery of the soul to the body, perpetual chastity should be practiced. Matrimonial intercourse is unlawful; concubinage, being of a less permanent nature, is preferable to marriage. Abandonment of his wife by the husband, or vice versa, is desirable. Generation was abhorred by the Albigenses even in the animal kingdom.


Consequently, abstention from all animal food, except fish, was enjoined. Their belief in metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, the result of their logical rejection of purgatory, furnishes another explanation for the same abstinence. To this practice they added long and rigorous fasts. The necessity of absolute fidelity to the sect was strongly inculcated. War and capital punishment were absolutely condemned.

The contact of Christianity with the Oriental mind and Oriental religions had produced several sects (Gnostics, Manichæans, Paulicians, ( Bogomilae) whose doctrines were akin to the tenets of the Albigenses. But the historical connection between the new heretics and their predecessors cannot be clearly traced. In France, where they were probably introduced by a woman from Italy, the Neo-Manichæan doctrines were secretly diffused for several years before they appeared, almost simultaneously, near Toulouse and at the Synod of Orléans (1022).


Those who proposed them were even made to suffer the extreme penalty of death. The Council of Arras (1025), Charroux, Dep. of Vienne (c. 1028), and of Reims (1049) had to deal with the heresy. At that of Beauvais (1114) the case of Neo-Manichæans in the Diocese of Soissons was brought up, but was referred to the council shortly to be held in the latter city. Petrobrusianism now familiarized the South with some of the tenets of the Albigenses. Its condemnation by the Council of Toulouse (1119) did not prevent the evil from spreading.


Pope Eugene III (1145-53) sent a legate, Cardinal Alberic of Ostia, to Languedoc (1145), and St. Bernard seconded the legate's efforts. But their preaching produced no lasting effect. The Council of Reims (1148) excommunicated the protectors "of the heretics of Gascony and Provence."


That of Tours (1163) decreed that the Albigenses should be imprisoned and their property confiscated. A religious disputation was held (1165) at Lombez, with the usual unsatisfactory result of such conferences. Two years later, the Albigenses held a general council at Toulouse, their chief centre of activity. The Cardinal-Legate Peter made another attempt at peaceful settlement (1178), but he was received with derision. The Third General Council of the Lateran (1179) renewed the previous severe measures and issued a summons to use force against the heretics, who were plundering and devastating Albi, Toulouse, and the vicinity.


At the death (1194) of the Catholic Count of Toulouse, Raymond V, his succession fell to Raymond VI (1194-1222) who favoured the heresy. With the accession of Innocent III (1198) the work of conversion and repression was taken up vigorously. In 1205-6 three events augured well for the success of the efforts made in that direction. Raymond VI, in face of the threatening military operations urged by Innocent against him, promised under oath to banish the dissidents from his dominions.


The monk Fulco of Marseilles, formerly a troubadour, now became Archbishop of Toulouse (1205-31). Two Spaniards, Diego, Bishop of Osma and his companion, Dominic Guzman (St. Dominic), returning from Rome, visited the papal legates at Montpellier. By their advice, the excessive outward splendour of Catholic preachers, which offended the heretics, was replaced by apostolical austerity. Religious disputations were renewed.


St. Dominic, perceiving the great advantages derived by his opponents from the cooperation of women, founded (1206) at Pouille near Carcassonne a religious congregation for women, whose object was the education of the poorer girls of the nobility.


Not long after this he laid the foundation of the Dominican Order. Innocent III, in view of the immense spread of the heresy, which infected over 1000 cities or towns, called (1207) upon the King of France, as Suzerain of the County of Toulouse, to use force. He renewed his appeal on receiving news of the assassination of his legate, Peter of Castelnau, a Cistercian monk (1208), which judging by appearances, he attributed to Raymond VI.


Numerous barons of northern France, Germany, and Belgium joined the crusade, and papal legates were put at the head of the expedition, Arnold, Abbot of Cîteaux, and two bishops. Raymond VI, still under the ban of excommunication pronounced against him by Peter of Castelnau, now offered to submit, was reconciled with the Church, and took the field against his former friends.


Roger, Viscount of Béziers, was first attacked, and his principal fortresses, Béziers and Carcassonne, were taken (1209). The monstrous words: "Slay all; God will know His own," alleged to have been uttered at the capture of Béziers, by the papal legate, were never pronounced (Tamizey de Larroque, "Rev. des quest. hist." 1866, I, 168-91).


Simon of Monfort, Earl of Leicester, was given control of the conquered territory and became the military leader of the crusade. At the Council of Avignon (1209) Raymond VI was again excommunicated for not fulfilling the conditions of ecclesiastical reconciliation. He went in person to Rome, and the Pope ordered an investigation.


After fruitless attempts in the Council of Arles (1211) at an agreement between the papal legates and the Count of Toulouse, the latter left the council and prepared to resist. He was declared an enemy of the Church and his possessions were forfeited to whoever would conquer them. Lavaur, Dep. of Tarn, fell in 1211, amid dreadful carnage, into the hands of the crusaders. The latter, exasperated by the reported massacre of 6,000 of their followers, spared neither age nor sex.


The crusade now degenerated into a war of conquest, and Innocent III, in spite of his efforts, was powerless to bring the undertaking back to its original purpose. Peter of Aragon, Raymond's brother-in-law, interposed to obtain his forgiveness, but without success. He then took up arms to defend him. The troops of Peter and of Simon of Montfort met at Muret (1213). Peter was defeated and killed. The allies of the fallen king were now so weakened that they offered to submit.


The Pope sent as his representative the Cardinal-Deacon Peter of Santa Maria in Aquiro, who carried out only part of his instructions, receiving indeed Raymond, the inhabitants of Toulouse, and others back into the Church, but furthering at the same time Simon's plans of conquest. This commander continued the war and was appointed by the Council of Montpellier (1215) lord over all the acquired territory. The Pope, informed that it was the only effectual means of crushing the heresy, approved the choice.


At the death of Simon (1218), his son Amalric inherited his rights and continued the war with but little success. The territory was ultimately ceded almost entirely by both Amalric and Raymond VII to the King of France, while the Council of Toulouse (1229) entrusted the Inquisition, which soon passed into the hands of the Dominicans (1233), with the repression of Albigensianism. The heresy disappeared about the end of the fourteenth century.


Organization and liturgy

The members of the sect were divided into two classes: The "perfect" (perfecti) and the mere "believers" (credentes). The "perfect" were those who had submitted to the initiation-rite (consolamentum). They were few in number and were alone bound to the observance of the above-described rigid moral law. While the female members of this class did not travel, the men went, by twos, from place to place, performing the ceremony of initiation. The only bond that attached the "believers" to Albigensianism was the promise to receive the consolamentum before death. They were very numerous, could marry, wage war, etc., and generally observed the ten commandments. Many remained "believers" for years and were only initiated on their deathbed. If the illness did not end fatally, starvation or poison prevented rather frequently subsequent moral transgressions. In some instances the reconsolatio was administered to those who, after initiation, had relapsed into sin.


The hierarchy consisted of bishops and deacons. The existence of an Albigensian Pope is not universally admitted. The bishops were chosen from among the "perfect." They had two assistants, the older and the younger son (filius major and filius minor), and were generally succeeded by the former.


The consolamentum, or ceremony of initiation, was a sort of spiritual baptism, analogous in rite and equivalent in significance to several of the Catholic sacraments (Baptism, Penance, Order). Its reception, from which children were debarred, was, if possible, preceded by careful religious study and penitential practices. In this period of preparation, the candidates used ceremonies that bore a striking resemblance to the ancient Christian catechumenate. The essential rite of the consolamentum was the imposition of hands. The engagement which the "believers" took to be initiated before death was known as the convenenza (promise).

Attitude of the Church

Properly speaking, Albigensianism was not a Christian heresy but an extra-Christian religion. Ecclesiastical authority, after persuasion had failed, adopted a course of severe repression, which led at times to regrettable excess. Simon of Montfort intended well at first, but later used the pretext of religion to usurp the territory of the Counts of Toulouse. The death penalty was, indeed, inflicted too freely on the Albigenses, but it must be remembered that the penal code of the time was considerably more rigorous than ours, and the excesses were sometimes provoked. Raymond VI and his successor, Raymond VII, were, when in distress, ever ready to promise, but never to earnestly amend. Pope Innocent III was justified in saying that the Albigenses were "worse than the Saracens"; and still he counselled moderation and disapproved of the selfish policy adopted by Simon of Montfort. What the Church combated was principles that led directly not only to the ruin of Christianity, but to the very extinction of the human race.






  1. France, Religious Wars, Catholic vs. Huguenot (1562-1598)
    • Robert J. Knecht The French Religious Wars, 1562-1598 (2000): Deaths during the wars estimated at 2M to 4M
  2. St. Bartholomew's Massacre, France (1572)
    • Encarta hedges its bets by giving the death toll as 2 to 100 thousand.
    • The 15th edition of Britannica (1992) does too: 2 to 70 thousand, although it explains that the low number comes from an unnamed "Catholic apologist", while the high number comes from a contemporary Huguenot, Duke de Sully
    • The 11th edition of Britannica (1911) was more certain: 50,000 in the whole of France
    • Davies: 2,000 in Paris
    • Catholic Encyclopedia: 2000 in Paris; 6000-8000 nationwide
    • Richard Dunn, The Age of Religious Wars 1559-1715: 3,000 k in Paris, 10,000 k in provinces.
    • Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History: 10,000
    • Fox's Book of Martyrs, Ch.IV: 10,000 in Paris; 6,000 in Rouen; 100,000 nationwide.
    • Motley, Rise of the Dutch Republic: 5,000 k in Paris, 25,000-100,000 nationwide.
    • Rummel: 36,000 democides
    • Trager, People's Chronology: 50,000
    • MEDIAN: 3,000 in Paris; 36,000 nationwide




The term heresy connotes, etymologically, both a choice and the thing chosen, the meaning being, however, narrowed to the selection of religious or political doctrines, adhesion to parties in Church or State.

Josephus applies the name (airesis) to the three religious sects prevalent in Judea since the Machabean period: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes (Bel. Jud., II, viii, 1; Ant., XIII, v, 9).


 St. Paul is described to the Roman governor Felix as the leader of the heresy (aireseos) of the Nazarenes (Acts 24:5); the Jews in Rome say to the same Apostle: "Concerning this sect [airesoeos], we know that it is everywhere contradicted" (Acts 28:22). St. Justin (Dialogue with Trypho 18) uses airesis in the same sense. St. Peter (II, ii, 1) applies the term to Christian sects: "There shall be among you lying teachers who shall bring in sects of perdition [aireseis apoleias]". In later Greek, philosophers' schools, as well as religious sects, are "heresies".


St. Thomas (II-II:11:1) defines heresy: "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas". "The right Christian faith consists in giving one's voluntary assent to Christ in all that truly belongs to His teaching.


There are, therefore, two ways of deviating from Christianity: the one by refusing to believe in Christ Himself, which is the way of infidelity, common to Pagans and Jews; the other by restricting belief to certain points of Christ's doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure, which is the way of heretics. The subject-matter of both faith and heresy is, therefore, the deposit of the faith, that is, the sum total of truths revealed in Scripture and Tradition as proposed to our belief by the Church.


The believer accepts the whole deposit as proposed by the Church; the heretic accepts only such parts of it as commend themselves to his own approval. The heretical tenets may be ignorance of the true creed, erroneous judgment, imperfect apprehension and comprehension of dogmas: in none of these does the will play an appreciable part, wherefore one of the necessary conditions of sinfulness--free choice--is wanting and such heresy is merely objective, or material. On the other hand the will may freely incline the intellect to adhere to tenets declared false by the Divine teaching authority of the Church.


The impelling motives are many: intellectual pride or exaggerated reliance on one's own insight; the illusions of religious zeal; the allurements of political or ecclesiastical power; the ties of material interests and personal status; and perhaps others more dishonourable. Heresy thus willed is imputable to the subject and carries with it a varying degree of guilt; it is called formal, because to the material error it adds the informative element of "freely willed".


Pertinacity, that is, obstinate adhesion to a particular tenet is required to make heresy formal. For as long as one remains willing to submit to the Church's decision he remains a Catholic Christian at heart and his wrong beliefs are only transient errors and fleeting opinions.


Considering that the human intellect can assent only to truth, real or apparent, studied pertinacity — as distinct from wanton opposition — supposes a firm subjective conviction which may be sufficient to inform the conscience and create "good faith". Such firm convictions result either from circumstances over which the heretic has no control or from intellectual delinquencies in themselves more or less voluntary and imputable.


A man born and nurtured in heretical surroundings may live and die without ever having a doubt as to the truth of his creed. On the other hand a born Catholic may allow himself to drift into whirls of anti-Catholic thought from which no doctrinal authority can rescue him, and where his mind becomes incrusted with convictions, or considerations sufficiently powerful to overlay his Catholic conscience. It is not for man, but for Him who searcheth the mind and heart, to sit in judgment on the guilt which attaches to an heretical conscience.



Heresy differs from apostasy. The apostate a fide abandons wholly the faith of Christ either by embracing Judaism, Islamism, Paganism, or simply by falling into naturalism and complete neglect of religion; the heretic always retains faith in Christ.


Heresy also differs from schism. Schismatics, says St. Thomas, in the strict sense, are they who of their own will and intention separate themselves from the unity of the Church.


The unity of the Church consists in the connection of its members with each other and of all the members with the head. Now this head is Christ whose representative in the Church is the supreme pontiff. And therefore the name of schismatics is given to those who will not submit to the supreme pontiff nor communicate with the members of the Church subject to him. Since the definition of Papal Infallibility, schism usually implies the heresy of denying this dogma.


Heresy is opposed to faith; schism to charity; so that, although all heretics are schismatics because loss of faith involves separation from the Church, not all schismatics are necessarily heretics, since a man may, from anger, pride, ambition, or the like, sever himself from the communion of the Church and yet believe all the Church proposes for our belief (II-II, Q. xxix, a. 1). Such a one, however, would be more properly called rebellious than heretical.


Degrees of heresy

Both matter and form of heresy admit of degrees which find expression in the following technical formula of theology and canon law. Pertinacious adhesion to a doctrine contradictory to a point of faith clearly defined by the Church is heresy pure and simple, heresy in the first degree. But if the doctrine in question has not been expressly "defined" or is not clearly proposed as an article of faith in the ordinary, authorized teaching of the Church, an opinion opposed to it is styled sententia haeresi proxima, that is, an opinion approaching heresy.


 Next, a doctrinal proposition, without directly contradicting a received dogma, may yet involve logical consequences at variance with revealed truth. Such a proposition is not heretical, it is a propositio theologice erronea, that is, erroneous in theology.


Further, the opposition to an article of faith may not be strictly demonstrable, but only reach a certain degree of probability. In that case the doctrine is termed sententia de haeresi suspecta, haeresim sapiens; that is, an opinion suspected, or savouring, of heresy (see THEOLOGICAL CENSURES).


Gravity of the sin of heresy

Heresy is a sin because of its nature it is destructive of the virtue of Christian faith. Its malice is to be measured therefore by the excellence of the good gift of which it deprives the soul.


Now faith is the most precious possession of man, the root of his supernatural life, the pledge of his eternal salvation.


Privation of faith is therefore the greatest evil, and deliberate rejection of faith is the greatest sin.


St. Thomas (II-II, Q. x, a. 3) arrives at the same conclusion thus: "All sin is an aversion from God.


A sin, therefore, is the greater the more it separates man from God. But infidelity does this more than any other sin, for the infidel (unbeliever) is without the true knowledge of God: his false knowledge does not bring him help, for what he opines is not God: manifestly, then, the sin of unbelief ( infidelitas) is the greatest sin in the whole range of perversity." And he adds: "


Although the Gentiles err in more things than the Jews, and although the Jews are farther removed from true faith than heretics, yet the unbelief of the Jews is a more grievous sin than that of the Gentiles, because they corrupt the Gospel itself after having adopted and professed the same. . . . It is a more serious sin not to perform what one has promised than not to perform what one has not promised." It cannot be pleaded in attenuation of the guilt of heresy that heretics do not deny the faith which to them appears necessary to salvation, but only such articles as they consider not to belong to the original deposit.


In answer it suffices to remark that two of the most evident truths of the depositum fidei are the unity of the Church and the institution of a teaching authority to maintain that unity. That unity exists in the Catholic Church, and is preserved by the function of her teaching body: these are two facts which anyone can verify for himself.


 In the constitution of the Church there is no room for private judgment sorting essentials from non-essentials: any such selection disturbs the unity, and challenges the Divine authority, of the Church; it strikes at the very source of faith. The guilt of heresy is measured not so much by its subject-matter as by its formal principle, which is the same in all heresies: revolt against a Divinely constituted authority.


Origin, spread, and persistence of heresy

Origin of heresy

The origin, the spread, and the persistence of heresy are due to different causes and influenced by many external circumstances. The undoing of faith infused and fostered by God Himself is possible on account of the human element in it, namely man's free will. The will determines the act of faith freely because its moral dispositions move it to obey God, whilst the non-cogency of the motives of credibility allows it to withhold its consent and leaves room for doubt and even denial.


The non-cogency of the motives of credibility may arise from three causes: the obscurity of the Divine testimony ( inevidentia attestantis); the obscurity of the contents of Revelation; the opposition between the obligations imposed on us by faith and the evil inclinations of our corrupt nature.


To find out how a man's free will is led to withdraw from the faith once professed, the best way is observation of historical cases. Pius X, scrutinizing the causes of Modernism, says: "The proximate cause is, without any doubt, an error of the mind. The remoter causes are two: curiosity and pride.


Curiosity, unless wisely held in bounds, is of itself sufficient to account for all errors. . . . But far more effective in obscuring the mind and leading it into error is pride, which has, as it were, its home in Modernist doctrines.


Through pride the Modernists overestimate themselves. . . . We are not like other men . . . they reject all submission to authority . . . they pose as reformers. If from moral causes we pass to the intellectual, the first and most powerful is ignorance . . . . They extol modern philosophy . . . . completely ignoring the philosophy of the Schools and thus depriving themselves of the means of clearing away the confusion of their ideas and of meeting sophisms. Their system, replete with so many errors, had its origin in the wedding of false philosophy with faith" (Encycl. "Pascendi", 8 September, 1907).


So far the pope. If now we turn to the Modernist leaders for an account of their defections, we find none attributing it to pride or arrogance, but they are almost unanimous in allowing that curiosity--the desire to know how the old faith stands in relation to the new science--has been the motive power behind them. In the last instance, they appeal to the sacred voice of their individual conscience which forbids them outwardly to profess what inwardly they honestly hold to be untrue. Loisy, to whose case the Decree "Lamentabili" applies, tells his readers that he was brought to his present position "by his studies chiefly devoted to the history of the Bible, of Christian origins and of comparative religion".


Tyrrell says in self-defence: "It is the irresistible facts concerning the origin and composition of the Old and New Testaments; concerning the origin of the Christian Church, of its hierarchy, its institutions, its dogmas; concerning the gradual development of the papacy; concerning the history of religion in general--that create a difficulty against which the synthesis of scholastic theology must be and is already shattered to pieces." "I am able to put my finger on the exact point or moment in my experience from which my 'immanentism' took its rise.


In his 'Rules for the discernment of Spirits' . . . Ignatius of Loyola says . . . etc." It is psychologically interesting to note the turning-point or rather the breaking-point of faith in the autobiographies of seceders from the Church.


A study of the personal narratives in "Roads to Rome" and "Roads from Rome" leaves one with the impression that the heart of man is a sanctuary impenetrable to all but to God and, in a certain measure, to its owner. It is, therefore, advisable to leave individuals to themselves and to study the spread of heresy, or the origin of heretical societies.


Spread of heresy

The growth of heresy, like the growth of plants, depends on surrounding influences, even more than on its vital force. Philosophies, religious ideals and aspirations, social and economic conditions, are brought into contact with revealed truth, and from the impact result both new affirmations and new negations of the traditional doctrine.


  • The first requisite for success is a forceful man, not necessarily of great intellect and learning, but of strong will and daring action. Such were the men who in all ages have given their names to new sects.
  • The second requisite is accommodation of the new doctrine to the contemporary mentality, to social and political conditions.
  • The last, but by no means the least, is the support of secular rulers.


A strong man in touch with his time, and supported by material force, may deform the existing religion and build up a new heretical sect. Modernism fails to combine into a body separate from the Church because it lacks an acknowledged leader, because it appeals to only a small minority of contemporary minds, namely, to a small number who are dissatisfied with the Church as she now is, and because no secular power lends it support.


For the same reason, and proportionately, a thousand small sects have failed, whose names still encumber the pages of church history, but whose tenets interest only a few students, and whose adherents are nowhere. Such were, in the Apostolic Age, the Judeo-Christians, Judeo-Gnostics, Nicolaites, Docetae, Cerinthians, Ebionites, Nazarenes, followed, in the next two centuries, by a variety of Syrian and Alexandrian Gnostics, by Ophites, Marcionites, Encratites, Montanists, Manichæans, and others.


All the early Eastern sects fed on the fanciful speculations so dear to the Eastern mind, but, lacking the support of temporal power, they disappeared under the anathemas of the guardians of the depositum fidei.


Arianism is the first heresy that gained a strong footing in the Church and seriously endangered its very nature and existence. Arius appeared on the scene when theologians were endeavouring to harmonize the apparently contradictory doctrines of the unity of God and the Divinity of Christ.


Instead of unravelling the knot, he simply cut it by bluntly asserting that Christ was not God like the Father, but a creature made in time. The simplicity of the solution, the ostentatious zeal of Arius for the defence of the "one God", his mode of life, his learning and dialectic ability won many to his side.


In particular he was supported by the famous Eusebius of Nicomedia who had great influence on the Emperor Constantine. He had friends among the other bishops of Asia and even among the bishops, priests, and nuns of the Alexandrian province. He gained the favour of Constantia, the emperor's sister, and he disseminated his doctrine among the people by means of his notorious book which he called thaleia or 'Entertainment' and by songs adapted for sailors, millers, and travellers. (Addis and Arnold, "A Catholic Dictionary", 7th ed., 1905, 54.)


The Council of Nicaea anathematized the heresiarch, but its anathemas, like all the efforts of the Catholic bishops, were nullified by interference of the civil power. Constantine and his sister protected Arius and the Arians, and the next emperor, Constantius, assured the triumph of the heresy: the Catholics were reduced to silence by dire persecution.


At once an internecine conflict began within the Arian pale, for heresy, lacking the internal cohesive element of authority, can only be held together by coercion either from friend or foe. Sects sprang up rapidly: they are known as Eunomians, Anomoeans, Exucontians, Semi-Arians, Acacians.


The Emperor Valens (364-378) lent his powerful support to the Arians, and the peace of the Church was only secured when the orthodox Emperor Theodosius reversed the policy of his predecessors and sided with Rome.


 Within the boundaries of the Roman empire the faith of Nicaea, enforced again by the General Council of Constantinople (381), prevailed, but Arianism held its own for over two hundred years longer wherever the Arian Goths held sway: in Thrace, Italy, Africa, Spain, Gaul.


The conversion of King Recared of Spain, who began to reign in 586, marked the end of Arianism in his dominions, and the triumph of the Catholic Franks sealed the doom of Arianism everywhere.


Pelagianism, not being backed by political power, was without much difficulty removed from the Church. Eutychianism, Nestorianism, and other Christological heresies which followed one upon another as the link, of a chain, flourished only so long and so far as the temporal power of Byzantine and Persian rulers gave them countenance. Internal dissension, stagnation, and decay became their fate when left to themselves.


Passing over the great schism that rent East from West, and the many smaller heresies which sprang up in the Middle Ages without leaving a deep impression on the Church, we arrive at the modern sects which date from Luther and go by the collective name of Protestantism.


The three elements of success possessed by Arianism reappear in Lutheranism and cause these two great religious upheavals to move on almost parallel lines. Luther was eminently a man of his people: the rough-hewn, but, withal sterling, qualities of the Saxon peasant lived forth under his religious habit and doctor's gown; his winning voice, his piety, his learning raised him above his fellows yet did not estrange him from the people: his conviviality, the crudities in his conversation and preaching, his many human weaknesses only increased his popularity. When the Dominican John Tetzel began to preach in Germany the indulgences proclaimed by Pope Leo X for those who contributed to the completion of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, opposition arose on the part of the people and of both civil and ecclesiastical authorities.


Luther set the match to the fuel of widespread discontent. He at once gained a number of adherents powerful both in Church and State; the Bishop of Würzburg recommended him to the protection of the Elector Frederick of Saxony. In all probability Luther started on his crusade with the laudable intention of reforming undoubted abuses. But his unexpected success, his impetuous temper, perhaps some ambition, soon carried him beyond all bounds set by the Church.


By 1521, that is within four years from his attack on abuse of indulgences, he had propagated a new doctrine; the Bible was the only source of faith; human nature was wholly corrupted by original sin, man was not free, God was responsible for all human actions good and bad; faith alone saved; the Christian priesthood was not confined to the hierarchy but included all the faithful.


 The masses of the people were not slow in drawing from these doctrines the practical conclusion that sin was sin no longer, was, in fact, equal to a good work.


With his appeal to the lower instincts of human nature went an equally strong appeal to the spirit of nationality and greed. He endeavored to set the German emperor against the Roman pope and generally the Teuton against the Latin; he invited the secular princes to confiscate the property of the Church. His voice was heard only too well.


For the next 130 years the history of the German people is a record of religious strife, moral degradation, artistic retrogression, industrial breakdown; of civil wars, pillage, devastation, and general ruin. The Peace of 1648 established the principle: Cujus regio illius et religio; the lord of the land shall be also lord of religion. And accordingly territorial limits became religious limits within which the inhabitant had to profess and practise the faith imposed on him by the ruler. It is worthy of remark that the geographical frontier fixed by the politicians of 1648 is still the dividing line between Catholicism and Protestantism in Germany.


 The English Reformation, more than any other, was the work of crafty politicians. The soil had been prepared for it by the Lollards or Wycliffites, who at the beginning of the sixteenth century were still numerous in the towns. No English Luther arose, but the unholy work was thoroughly done by kings and parliaments, by means of a series of penal laws unequalled in severity.


Persistence of heresy

We have seen how heresy originates and how it spreads; we must now answer the question why it persists, or why so many persevere in heresy. Once heresy is in possession, it tightens its grip by the thousand subtle and often unconscious influences which mould a man's life. A child is born in heretical surroundings: before it is able to think for itself its mind has been filled and fashioned by home, school, and church teachings, the authority of which it never doubted. When, at a riper age, doubts arise, the truth of Catholicism is seldom apprehended as it is. Innate prejudices, educational bias, historical distortions stand in the way and frequently make approach impossible.


The state of conscience technically termed bona fides, good faith, is thus produced. It implies inculpable belief in error, a mistake morally unavoidable and therefore always excusable, sometimes even laudable.


In the absence of good faith worldly interests often bar the way from heresy to truth. When a government, for instance, reserves its favours and functions for adherents of the state religion, the army of civil servants becomes a more powerful body of missionaries than the ordained ministers. Prussia, France, and Russia are cases in point.


Christ, the apostles, and the fathers on heresy

Heresy, in the sense of falling away from the Faith, became possible only after the Faith had been promulgated by Christ.


Its advent is clearly foretold, Matthew 24:11, 23-26: " . . . many false prophets shall rise, and shall seduce many. . . . Then if any man shall say to you: Lo here is Christ, or there, do not believe him. For there shall rise false Christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect. Behold I have told it to you, beforehand. If therefore they shall say to you: Behold he is in the desert, go ye not out: Behold he is in the closets, believe it not." Christ also indicated the marks by which to know the false prophets: "Who is not with me is against me" (Luke 11:23); "and if he will not hear the Church let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican" (Matthew 18:17); "he that believeth not shall be condemned" (Mark 16:16).


The Apostles acted upon their Master's directions. All the weight of their own Divine faith and mission is brought to bear upon innovators. "If any one", says St. Paul, "preach to you a gospel, besides that you have received, let him be anathema" (Galatians 1:9).


 To St. John the heretic is a seducer, an antichrist, a man who dissolves Christ (1 John 4:3; 2 John 7); "receive him not into the house nor say to him, God speed you" (2 John 10). St. Peter, true to his office and to his impetuous nature, assails them as with a two-edged sword: " . . . lying teachers who shall bring in sects of perdition, and deny the Lord who bought them: bringing upon themselves swift destruction . . . These are fountains without water, and clouds tossed with whirlwinds, to whom the mist of darkness is reserved" (2 Peter 2:1, 17).


St. Jude speaks in a similar strain throughout his whole epistle. St. Paul admonishes the disturbers of the unity of faith at Corinth that "the weapons of our warfare . . . are mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels, and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God . . . and having in readiness to revenge all disobedience" (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5, 6).


What Paul did at Corinth he enjoins to be done by every bishop in his own church.


Thus Timothy is instructed to "war in them a good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some rejecting have made shipwreck concerning the faith. Of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I have delivered up to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme" (1 Timothy 1:18-20). He exhorts the ancients of the Church at Ephesus to "take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the Church of God, . . . I know that, after my departure, ravening wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock . . . Therefore watch, . . ." (Acts 20:28-31). "Beware of dogs", he writes to the Philippians (3:2), the dogs being the same false teachers as the "ravening wolves".


The Fathers show no more leniency to perverters of the faith. A Protestant writer thus sketches their teaching (Schaff-Herzog, s.v. Heresy):


"Polycarp regarded Marcion as the first-born of the Devil.


Ignatius sees in heretics poisonous plants, or animals in human form. Justin and Tertullian condemn their errors as inspirations of the Evil One;


Theophilus compares them to barren and rocky islands on which ships are wrecked; and


Origen says, that as pirates place lights on cliffs to allure and destroy vessels in quest of refuge, so the Prince of this world lights the fires of false knowledge in order to destroy men.


Jerome calls the congregations of the heretics synagogues of Satan (Ep. 123), and says their communion is to be avoided like that of vipers and scorpions (Ep. 130).]"


These primitive views on heresy have been faithfully transmitted and acted on by the Church in subsequent ages. There is no break in the tradition from St. Peter to Pius X.


Vindication of their teaching

The first law of life, be it the life of plant or animal, of man or of a society of men, is self-preservation. Neglect of self-preservation leads to ruin and destruction. But the life of a religious society, the tissue that binds its members into one body and animates them with one soul, is the symbol of faith, the creed or confession adhered to as a condition sine qua non of membership.


To undo the creed is to undo the Church. The integrity of the rule of faith is more essential to the cohesion of a religious society than the strict practice of its moral precepts. For faith supplies the means of mending moral delinquencies as one of its ordinary functions, whereas the loss of faith, cutting at the root of spiritual life, is usually fatal to the soul. In fact the long list of heresiarchs contains the name of only one who came to resipiscence: Berengarius.


The jealousy with which the Church guards and defends her deposit of faith is therefore identical with the instinctive duty of self-preservation and the desire to live. This instinct is by no means peculiar to the Catholic Church; being natural it is universal.


All sects, denominations, confessions, schools of thought, and associations of any kind have a more or less comprehensive set of tenets on the acceptance of which membership depends. In the Catholic Church this natural law has received the sanction of Divine promulgation, as appears from the teaching of Christ and the Apostles quoted above. Freedom of thought extending to the essential beliefs of a Church is in itself a contradiction; for, by accepting membership, the members accept the essential beliefs and renounce their freedom of thought so far as these are concerned.


But what authority is to lay down the law as to what is or is not essential? It is certainly not the authority of individuals. By entering a society, whichever it be, the individual gives up part of his individuality to be merged into the community. And that part is precisely his private judgment on the essentials: if he resumes his liberty he ipso facto separates himself from his church.


The decision, therefore, rests with the constitutional authority of the society--in the Church with the hierarchy acting as teacher and guardian of the faith. Nor can it be said that this principle unduly curtails the play of human reason. That it does curtail its play is a fact, but a fact grounded in natural and Divine law, as shown above. That it does not curtail reason unduly is evidenced by this other fact: that the deposit of faith (1) is itself an inexhaustible object of intellectual effort of the noblest kind, lifting human reason above its natural sphere, enlarging and deepening its outlook, soliciting its finest faculties; (2) that, side by side with the deposit, but logically connected with it, there is a multitude of doubtful points of which discussion is free within the wide bounds of charity--"in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus charitas."


The substitution of private judgment for the teaching magisterium has been the dissolvent of all sects who have adopted it. Only those sects exhibit a certain consistency in which private judgment is a dead letter and the teaching is carried on according to confessions and catechisms by a trained clergy.


Church legislation on heresy

Heresy, being a deadly poison generated within the organism of the Church, must be ejected if she is to live and perform her task of continuing Christ's work of salvation. Her Founder, who foretold the disease, also provided the remedy: 


          He endowed her teaching with infallibility (see CHURCH). The office of teaching belongs to the hierarchy, the ecclesia docens, which, under certain conditions, judges without appeal in matters of faith and morals (see COUNCILS). Infallible decisions can also be given by the pope teaching ex cathedra (see INFALLIBILITY). Each pastor in his parish, each bishop in his diocese, is in duty bound to keep the faith of his flock untainted; to the supreme pastor of all the Churches is given the office of feeding the whole Christian flock.


         The power, then, of expelling heresy is an essential factor in the constitution of the Church.


Like other powers and rights, the power of rejecting heresy adapts itself in practice to circumstances of time and place, and, especially, of social and political conditions. At the beginning it worked without special organization. The ancient discipline charged the bishops with the duty of searching out the heresies in their diocese and checking the progress of error by any means at their command.


When erroneous doctrines gathered volume and threatened disruption of the Church, the bishops assembled in councils, provincial, metropolitan, national, or ecumenical. There the combined weight of their authority was brought to bear upon the false doctrines.


 The first council was a meeting of the Apostles at Jerusalem in order to put an end to the judaizing tendencies among the first Christians.


It is the type of all succeeding councils: bishops in union with the head of the Church, and guided by the Holy Ghost, sit as judges in matters of faith and morals. The spirit which animates the dealings of the Church with heresy and heretics is one of extreme severity.


St. Paul writes to Titus: "A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid: knowing that he, that is such a one, is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned by his own judgment" (Titus 3:10-11).


This early piece of legislation reproduces the still earlier teaching of Christ: "And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican" (Matthew 18:17); it also inspires all subsequent anti-heretical legislation. The sentence on the obstinate heretic is invariably excommunication. He is separated from the company of the faithful, delivered up "to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 5:5).


 When Constantine had taken upon himself the office of lay bishop, episcopus externus, and put the secular arm at the service of the Church, the laws against heretics became more and more rigorous. Under the purely ecclesiastical discipline no temporal punishment could be inflicted on the obstinate heretic, except the damage which might arise to his personal dignity through being deprived of all intercourse with his former brethren. But under the Christian emperors rigorous measures were enforced against the goods and persons of heretics.


From the time of Constantine to Theodosius and Valentinian III (313-424) various penal laws were enacted by the Christian emperors against heretics as being guilty of crime against the State. "In both the Theodosian and Justinian codes they were styled infamous persons; all intercourse was forbidden to be held with them; they were deprived of all offices of profit and dignity in the civil administration, while all burdensome offices, both of the camp and of the curia, were imposed upon them; they were disqualified from disposing of their own estates by will, or of accepting estates bequeathed to them by others; they were denied the right of giving or receiving donations, of contracting, buying, and selling; pecuniary fines were imposed upon them; they were often proscribed and banished, and in many cases scourged before being sent into exile. In some particularly aggravated cases sentence of death was pronounced upon heretics, though seldom executed in the time of the Christian emperors of Rome.


Theodosius is said to be the first who pronounced heresy a capital crime; this law was passed in 382 against the Encratites, the Saccophori, the Hydroparastatae, and the Manichæans. Heretical teachers were forbidden to propagate their doctrines publicly or privately; to hold public disputations; to ordain bishops, presbyters, or any other clergy; to hold religious meetings; to build conventicles or to avail themselves of money bequeathed to them for that purpose. Slaves were allowed to inform against their heretical masters and to purchase their freedom by coming over to the Church. The children of heretical parents were denied their patrimony and inheritance unless they returned to the Catholic Church. The books of heretics were ordered to be burned." ( Vide "Codex Theodosianus", lib. XVI, tit. 5, "De Haereticis".)


This legislation remained in force and with even greater severity in the kingdom formed by the victorious barbarian invaders on the ruins of the Roman Empire in the West. The burning of heretics was first decreed in the eleventh century. The Synod of Verona (1184) imposed on bishops the duty to search out the heretics in their dioceses and to hand them over to the secular power. Other synods, and the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) under Pope Innocent III, repeated and enforced this decree, especially the Synod of Toulouse (1229), which established inquisitors in every parish (one priest and two laymen).


Everyone was bound to denounce heretics, the names of the witnesses were kept secret; after 1243, when Innocent IV sanctioned the laws of Emperor Frederick II and of Louis IX against heretics, torture was applied in trials; the guilty persons were delivered up to the civil authorities and actually burnt at the stake. Paul III (1542) established, and Sixtus V organized, the Roman Congregation of the Inquisition, or Holy Office, a regular court of justice for dealing with heresy and heretics (see ROMAN CONGREGATIONS). The Congregation of the Index, instituted by St. Pius V, has for its province the care of faith and morals in literature; it proceeds against printed matter very much as the Holy Office proceeds against persons (see INDEX OF PROHIBITED BOOKS).


The present pope [1909], Pius X, has decreed the establishment in every diocese of a board of persons tainted with the heresy of Modernism (Encyclical "Pascendi", 8 Sept., 1907). The present-day legislation against heresy has lost nothing of its ancient severity; but the penalties on heretics are now only of the spiritual order; all the punishments which require the intervention of the secular arm have fallen into abeyance. Even in countries where the cleavage between the spiritual and secular powers does not amount to hostility or complete severance, the death penalty, confiscation of goods, imprisonment, etc., are no longer inflicted on heretics. The spiritual penalties are of two kinds: latae and ferendae sententiae. The former are incurred by the mere fact of heresy, no judicial sentence being required; the latter are inflicted after trial by an ecclesiastical court, or by a bishop acting ex informata conscientia, that is, on his own certain knowledge, and dispensing with the usual procedure


The penalties (see ECCLESIASTICAL CENSURES) latae sententiae are:


 (1) Excommunication specially reserved to the Roman pontiff, which is incurred by all apostates from the Catholic Faith, by each and all heretics, by whatever name they are known and to whatever sect they belong, and by all who believe in them ( credentes), receive, favour, or in any way defend them (Constitution "Apostolicae Sedis", 1869). Heretic here means formal heretic, but also includes the positive doubter, that is, the man who posits his doubt as defensible by reason, but not the negative doubter, who simply abstains from formulating a judgment. The believers (credentes) in heretics are they who, without examining particular doctrines, give a general assent to the teachings of the sect; the favourers (fautores) are they who by commission or omission lend support to heresy and thus help or allow it to spread; the receivers and defenders are they who shelter heretics from the rigours of the law.


(2) "Excommunication specially reserved to the Roman Pontiff incurred by each and all who knowingly read, without authorization from the Apostolic See, books of apostates and heretics in which heresy is defended; likewise readers of books of any author prohibited by name in letters Apostolic, and all who retain possession of, or print, or in any way defend such books" (Apostolicæ Sedis, 1869). The book here meant is a volume of a certain size and unity; newspapers and manuscripts are not books, but serial publications intended to form a book when completed fall under this censure. To read knowingly (scienter) implies on the reader's part the knowledge that the book is the work of a heretic, that it defends heresy, and that it is forbidden. "Books . . . prohibited by name in letters Apostolic" are books condemned by Bulls, Briefs, or Encyclicals emanating directly from the pope; books prohibited by decrees of Roman Congregations, although the prohibition is approved by the pope, are not included. The "printers" of heretical books are the editor who gives the order and the publisher who executes it, and perhaps the proof-reader, but not the workman who performs the mechanical part of printing.


Additional penalties to be decreed by judicial sentences: Apostates and heretics are irregular, that is, debarred from receiving clerical orders or exercising lawfully the duties and rights annexed to them; they are infamous, that is, publicly noted as guilty and dishonoured. This note of infamy clings to the children and grandchildren of unrepented heretics.


Heretical clerics and all who receive, defend, or favour them are ipso facto deprived of their benefices, offices, and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The pope himself, if notoriously guilty of heresy, would cease to be pope because he would cease to be a member of the Church. Baptism received without necessity by an adult at the hands of a declared heretic renders the recipient irregular. Heresy constitutes an impedient impediment to marriage with a Catholic (mixta religio) from which the pope dispenses or gives the bishops power to dispense (see IMPEDIMENTS). Communicatio in sacris, i.e. active participation in non-Catholic religious functions, is on the whole unlawful, but it is not so intrinsically evil that, under given circumstances, it may not be excused. Thus friends and relatives may for good reasons accompany a funeral, be present at a marriage or a baptism, without causing scandal or lending support, to the non-Catholic rites, provided no active part be taken in them: their motive is friendship, or maybe courtesy, but it nowise implies approval of the rites. Non-Catholics are admitted to all Catholic services but not to the sacraments.


Principles of Church legislation

The guiding principles in the Church's treatment of heretics are the following:


Distinguishing between formal and material heretics, she applies to the former the canon, "Most firmly hold and in no way doubt that every heretic or schismatic is to have part with the Devil and his angels in the flames of eternal fire, unless before the end of his life he be incorporated with, and restored to the Catholic Church."


No one is forced to enter the Church, but having once entered it through baptism, he is bound to keep the promises he freely made. To restrain and bring back her rebellious sons the Church uses both her own spiritual power and the secular power at her command.


Towards material heretics her conduct is ruled by the saying of St. Augustine: "Those are by no means to be accounted heretics who do not defend their false and perverse opinions with pertinacious zeal (animositas), especially when their error is not the fruit of audacious presumption but has been communicated to them by seduced and lapsed parents, and when they are seeking the truth with cautious solicitude and ready to be corrected" (P.L., XXXIII, ep. xliii, 160).


Pius IX, in a letter to the bishops of Italy (10 Aug., 1863), restates this Catholic doctrine: "It is known to Us and to You that they who are in invincible ignorance concerning our religion but observe the natural law . . . and are ready to obey God and lead an honest and righteous life, can, with the help of Divine light and grace, attain to eternal life . . . for God . . . will not allow any one to be eternally punished who is not wilfully guilty" (Denzinger, "Enchir.", n. 1529). X.


Ecclesiastical jurisdiction over heretics

The fact of having received valid baptism places material heretics under the jurisdiction of the Church, and if they are in good faith, they belong to the soul of the Church. Their material severance, however, precludes them from the use of ecclesiastical rights, except the right of being judged according to ecclesiastical law if, by any chance, they are brought before an ecclesiastical court. They are not bound by ecclesiastical laws enacted for the spiritual well-being of its members, e.g. by the Six Commandments of the Church.


Reception of converts

Converts to the Faith, before being received, should be well instructed in Catholic doctrine. The right to reconcile heretics belongs to the bishops, but is usually delegated to all priests having charge of souls.


In England a special licence is required for each reconciliation, except in case of children under fourteen or of dying persons, and this licence is only granted when the priest can give a written assurance that the candidate is sufficiently instructed and otherwise prepared, and that there is some reasonable guarantee of his perseverance. The order of proceeding in a reconciliation is: first, abjuration of heresy or profession of faith; second, conditional baptism (this is given only when the heretical baptism is doubtful); third, sacramental confession and conditional absolution.


Role of heresy in history

The role of heresy in history is that of evil generally. Its roots are in corrupted human nature. It has come over the Church as predicted by her Divine Founder; it has rent asunder the bonds of charity in families, provinces, states, and nations; the sword has been drawn and pyres erected both for its defence and its repression; misery and ruin have followed in its track.


The prevalence of heresy, however, does not disprove the Divinity of the Church, any more than the existence of evil disproves the existence of an all-good God.


Heresy, like other evils, is permitted as a test of faith and a trial of strength in the church militant; probably also as a punishment for other sins. The disruption and disintegration of heretical sects also furnishes a solid argument for the necessity of a strong teaching authority. The endless controversies with heretics have been indirectly the cause of most important doctrinal developments and definitions formulated in councils to the edification of the body of Christ.


Thus the spurious gospels of the Gnostics prepared the way for the canon of Scripture; Patripassian, Sabellian, Arian, and Macedonian heresies drew out a clearer concept of the Trinity; the Nestorian and Eutychian errors led to definite dogmas on the nature and Person of Christ. And so down to Modernism, which has called forth a solemn assertion of the claims of the supernatural in history.


Intolerance and cruelty

The Church's legislation on heresy and heretics is often reproached with cruelty and intolerance. Intolerant it is: in fact its raison d'être is intolerance of doctrines subversive of the faith. But such intolerance is essential to all that is, or moves, or lives, for tolerance of destructive elements within the organism amounts to suicide.


 Heretical sects are subject to the same law: they live or die in the measure they apply or neglect it. The charge of cruelty is also easy to meet. All repressive measures cause suffering or inconvenience of some sort: it is their nature. But they are not therefore cruel. The father who chastises his guilty son is just and may be tender-hearted. Cruelty only comes in where the punishment exceeds the requirements of the case.


 Opponents say: Precisely; the rigours of the Inquisition violated all humane feelings.


We answer: they offend the feelings of later ages in which there is less regard for the purity of faith; but they did not antagonize the feelings of their own time, when heresy was looked on as more malignant than treason.


 In proof of which it suffices to remark that the inquisitors only renounced on the guilt of the accused and then handed him over to the secular power to be dealt with according to the laws framed by emperors and kings.


Medieval people found no fault with the system, in fact heretics had been burned by the populace centuries before the Inquisition became a regular institution. And whenever heretics gained the upper hand, they were never slow in applying the same laws: so the Huguenots in France, the Hussites in Bohemia, the Calvinists in Geneva, the Elizabethan statesmen and the Puritans in England. Toleration came in only when faith went out; lenient measures were resorted to only where the power to apply more severe measures was wanting. The embers of the Kulturkampf in Germany still smoulder; the separation and confiscation laws and the ostracism of Catholics in France are the scandal of the day.


 Christ said: "Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The history of heresy verifies this prediction and shows, moreover, that the greater number of the victims of the sword is on the side of the faithful adherents of the one Church founded by Christ (see INQUISITION).



Catharism was a name given to a Christian religious sect with dualistic and gnostic elements that appeared in the Languedoc region of France and other parts of Europe in the 11th century and flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries. Catharism had its roots in the Paulician movement in Armenia and the Bogomils of Bulgaria with whom the Paulicians merged. They also became influenced by dualist and, perhaps, Manichaean beliefs.


Like many medieval movements, there were various schools of thought and practice amongst the Cathari; some were dualistic (believing in a God of Good and a God of Evil), others Gnostic, some closer to Orthodoxy while abstaining from an acceptance of Roman Catholicism.


The dualist theology was the most prominent, however, and was based upon the complete incompatibility of love and power. As matter was seen as a manifestation of power, it was also incompatible with love. They did not believe in one all-encompassing god, but in two, both equal and comparable in status. They held that the physical world was evil and created by Rex Mundi (translated from Latin as "king of the world"), who encompassed all that was corporeal, chaotic and powerful; the second god, the one whom they worshipped, was entirely disincarnate: a being or principle of pure spirit and completely unsullied by the taint of matter. He was the god of love, order and peace.


According to some Cathars, the purpose of man's life on Earth was to transcend matter, perpetually renouncing anything connected with the principle of power and thereby attained union with the principle of love. According to others, man's purpose was to reclaim or redeem matter, spiritualising and transforming it.


This placed them at odds with the Catholic Church in regarding material creation, on behalf of which Jesus had died, as intrinsically evil and implying that God, whose word had created the world in the beginning, was a usurper. Furthermore, as the Cathars saw matter as intrinsically evil, they denied that Jesus could become incarnate and still be the son of God. Cathars vehemently repudiated the significance of the crucifixion and the cross. In fact, to the Cathars, Rome's opulent and luxurious Church seemed a palpable embodiment and manifestation on Earth of Rex Mundi's sovereignty.


The Catholic Church regarded the sect as dangerously heretical. Faced with the rapid spread of the movement across the Languedoc region, the Church first sought peaceful attempts at conversion, undertaken by Dominicans. These were not very successful, and after the murder on 15 January 1208 of the papal legate Pierre de Castelnau by a knight in the employ of Count Raymond of Toulouse, the Church called for a crusade, which was carried out by knights from northern France and Germany and was known as the Albigensian Crusade.


The papal legate had involved himself in a dispute between the rivals Count of Baux and Count Raymond of Toulouse, and it is possible that his assassination had little to do with Catharism. The anti-Cathar Albigensian Crusade, and the inquisition which followed it, entirely eradicated the Cathars. The Albigensian Crusade had the effect of greatly weakening the semi-independent southern Principalities such as Toulouse, and ultimately bringing them under direct control of the King of France.


Cathars being expelled from Carcassonne in 1209


There is consensus that Cathars is a name given to the movement and not one that its members chose. Indeed, the Cathars had no official name, preferring to refer to themselves only as Good Men and Good Women or Good Christians.


The most popular theory is that the word Cathar most likely originated from Greek καθαροί (Katharoi), meaning "pure ones", a term related to the word Katharsis or Catharsis, meaning "purification".


The first recorded use of the word is by religious authority Eckbert von Schönau, who wrote regarding the so-called heretics in Cologne in 1181: Hos nostra Germania catharos appellat ("Our Germany calls them Cathars").


The Cathars were also sometimes referred to as the Albigensians (Albigeois). This name originates from the end of the 12th century, and was used by the chronicler Geoffroy du Breuil of Vigeois in 1181. The name refers to the town of Albi (the ancient Albiga), northeast of Toulouse.


The designation is misleading as the movement had no centre and is known to have flourished in several European countries (from Catalonia to the Rhineland and from Italy to Belgium). Use of the name came from the fact that a debate was held in Albi between priests and the Cathars; no conclusion was reached, but from then on it was assumed in France that Cathars were supporters of the "Albigensian doctrine". However, few inhabitants of Albi were actually Cathars, and the city gladly accepted Catholicism during the crusade.



The Cathars' beliefs are thought to have come originally from Eastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire by way of trade routes. The name of Bulgarians (Bougres) was also applied to the Albigenses, and they maintained an association with the similar Christian movement of the Bogomils ("Friends of God") of Thrace.


Their doctrines have numerous resemblances to those of the Bogomils and the earlier Paulicians as well as the Manicheans and the Christian Gnostics of the first few centuries AD, although, as many scholars, most notably Mark Pegg, have pointed out, it would be erroneous to extrapolate direct, historical connections based on theoretical similarities perceived by modern scholars. Much of our existing knowledge of the Cathars is derived from their opponents, the writings of the Cathars mostly having been destroyed because of the doctrinal threat perceived by the Papacy. For this reason it is likely, as with most heretical movements of the period, that we have only a partial view of their beliefs.


Conclusions about Cathar ideology continue to be fiercely debated with commentators regularly accusing their opponents of speculation, distortion and bias. There are a few texts from the Cathars themselves which were preserved by their opponents (the Rituel Cathare de Lyon) which give a glimpse of the inner workings of their faith, but these still leave many questions unanswered. One large text which has survived, The Book of Two Principles (Liber de duobus principiis)[1], elaborates the principles of dualistic theology from the point of view of some of the Albanenses Cathars.


It is now generally agreed by most scholars that identifiable Catharism did not emerge until at least 1143, when the first confirmed report of a group espousing similar beliefs is reported being active at Cologne by the cleric Eberwin of Steinfeld.[2]


A landmark in the "institutional history" of the Cathars was the Council, held in 1167 at Saint-Félix-Lauragais, attended by many local figures and also by the Bogomil papa Nicetas, the Cathar bishop of (northern) France and a leader of the Cathars of Lombardy.


Although there are certainly similarities in theology and practice between Gnostic/dualist groups of Late Antiquity (such as the Marcionites, Manichaeans and Ebionites) and the Cathars, there was not a direct link between the two; Manichaeanism died out in the West by the seventh century. The Cathars were largely a homegrown, Western European/Latin Christian phenomenon, springing up in the Rhineland cities (particularly Cologne) in the mid-twelfth century, northern France around the same time, and particularly southern France — the Languedoc — and the northern Italian cities in the mid-late 12th century. In the Languedoc and northern Italy, the Cathars would enjoy their greatest popularity, surviving in the Languedoc, in much reduced form, up to around 1325 and in the Italian cities until the Inquisitions of the 1260s–1300s finally rooted them out.[3]


General beliefs

Cathars, in general, formed an anti-sacerdotal party in opposition to the Catholic Church, protesting what they perceived to be the moral, spiritual and political corruption of the Church. They claimed an Apostolic succession from the founders of Christianity, and saw Rome as having betrayed and corrupted the original purity of the message, particularly since Pope Sylvester I accepted the Donation of Constantine (which at the time was believed to be genuine).


... they usually say of themselves that they are good Christians, ... hold the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel as the apostles taught ... occupy the place of the apostles.... ...they talk to the laity of the evil lives of the clerks and prelates of the Roman Church... ... they attack and vituperate, in turn, all the sacraments of the Church, especially the sacrament of the eucharist, saying that it cannot contain the body of Christ... Of baptism, they assert that the water is material and corruptible ... and cannot sanctify the soul... ... they claim that confession made to the priests of, the Roman Church is useless... They assert, moreover, that the cross of Christ should not be adored or venerated... Moreover they read from the Gospels and the Epistles in the vulgar tongue, applying and expounding them in their favour and against the condition of the Roman Church...


Bernard Gui, On the Albigensians

Sacred texts

Besides the Bible, many embraced the Apocryphon of John as their most sacred text. Other remaining texts from the Cathars include The Gospel of the Secret Supper - The Book of the Two Principles.

Human condition

The Cathars believed there existed within mankind a spark of divine light. This light, or spirit, had fallen into captivity within a realm of corruption identified with the physical body and world. This was a distinct feature of classical Gnosticism, of Manichaeism and of the theology of the Bogomils. This concept of the human condition within Catharism was most probably due to direct and indirect historical influences from these older (and sometimes violently suppressed) Gnostic movements. According to the Cathars, the world had been created by a lesser deity, much like the figure known in classical Gnostic myth as the Demiurge. This creative force was identified with Satan; most forms of classical Gnosticism had not made this explicit link between the Demiurge and Satan. Spirit, the vital essence of humanity, was thus trapped in a polluted world created by a usurper God and ruled by his corrupt minions.


The goal of Cathar eschatology was liberation from the realm of limitation and corruption identified with material existence. The path to liberation first required an awakening to the intrinsic corruption of the medieval "consensus reality", including its ecclesiastical, dogmatic, and social structures. Once cognizant of the grim existential reality of human existence (the "prison" of matter), the path to spiritual liberation became obvious: matter's enslaving bonds must be broken. This was a step-by-step process, accomplished in different measures by each individual. The Cathars accepted the idea of reincarnation. Those who were unable to achieve liberation during their current mortal journey would return another time to continue the struggle for perfection. Thus, it should be understood that being reincarnated was neither inevitable nor desirable, and that it occurred because not all humans could break the enthralling chains of matter within a single lifetime.


Cathar society was divided into two general categories, the Perfecti (Perfects, Parfaits) and the Credentes (Believers). The Perfecti formed the core of the movement, though the actual number of Perfecti in Cathar society was always relatively small, numbering perhaps a few thousand at any one time. Regardless of their number, they represented the perpetuating heart of the Cathar tradition, the "true Christian Church", as they styled themselves. (When discussing the tenets of Cathar faith it must be understood that the demands of extreme asceticism fell only upon the Perfecti.)


An individual entered into the community of Perfecti through a ritual known as the consolamentum, a rite that was both sacramental and sacerdotal in nature: sacramental in that it granted redemption and liberation from this world; sacerdotal in that those who had received this rite functioned in some ways as the Cathar clergy — though the idea of priesthood was explicitly rejected. The consolamentum was the baptism of the Holy Spirit, baptismal regeneration, absolution, and ordination all in one. The ritual consisted of the laying on of hands (and the transfer of the spirit) in a manner believed to have been passed down in unbroken succession from Jesus Christ. Upon reception of the consolamentum, the new Perfectus surrendered his or her worldly goods to the community, vested himself in a simple black or blue robe with cord belt, and sought to undertake a life dedicated to following the example of Christ and his Apostles — an often peripatetic life devoted to purity, prayer, preaching and charitable work, or so it was claimed. Above all, the Perfecti were dedicated to enabling others to find the road that led from the dark land ruled by the dark lord, to the realm of light which they believed to be humankind's first source and ultimate end.


While the Perfecti pledged themselves to ascetic lives of simplicity, frugality and purity, Cathar credentes (believers) were not expected to adopt the same stringent lifestyle. They were, however, expected to refrain from eating meat and dairy products, from killing and from swearing oaths.


Catharism was above all a populist religion and the numbers of those who considered themselves "believers" in the late twelfth century included a sizable portion of the population of Languedoc, counting among them many noble families and courts. These individuals often drank, ate meat, and led relatively normal lives within medieval society — in contrast to the Perfecti, whom they honored as exemplars. Though unable to embrace the life of chastity, the credentes looked toward an eventual time when this would be their calling and path.


Many credentes would also eventually receive the consolamentum as death drew near — performing the ritual of liberation at a moment when the heavy obligations of purity required of Perfecti would be temporally short. Some of those who received the sacrament of the consolamentum upon their death-beds may thereafter have shunned further food or drink in order to speed death. This has been termed the endura.[4]


It was claimed by Catharism's opponents that by such self-imposed starvation, the Cathars were committing suicide in order to escape this world. Other than at such moments of extremis, no evidence exists to suggest this was a common Cathar practice.


The Catharist concept of Jesus might be called docetistic — theologically speaking it resembled Sabellianism in the West and Adoptionism in the East. Some Cathars believed that Jesus had been a manifestation of spirit unbounded by the limitations of matter — a sort of divine spirit or feeling manifesting within human beings. Many embraced the Gospel of John as their most sacred text, and many rejected the traditional view of the Old Testament — proclaiming that the God of the Old Testament was really the devil, or creative demiurge.


They proclaimed that there was a higher God — the True God — and Jesus was or is the messenger. These are views similar to those of Marcion, though Marcion never identified the creative demiurge with Satan, nor said that he was strictly-speaking evil, merely harsh and dictatorial.


The God found in the Old Testament had nothing to do with the God of Love known to Cathars. The Old Testament God had created the world as a prison, and demanded from the "prisoners" fearful obedience and worship. The Cathari claimed that this god was in fact a blind usurper who under the most false pretexts, tormented and murdered those whom he called, all too possessively, "his children".


The false god was, by the Cathari, called Rex Mundi, or The King of the World. This exegesis upon the Old Testament was not unique to the Cathars: it echoes views found in earlier Gnostic movements and foreshadows later critical voices. The dogma of the Trinity and the sacrament of the Eucharist, among others, were rejected as abominations. Belief in metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, resulted in the rejection of Hell and Purgatory, which were and are dogmas of the Catholic faith. For the Cathars, this world was the only hell — there was nothing to fear after death, save perhaps rebirth.


While this is the understanding of Cathar theology related by the Catholic Church, crucial to the study of the Cathars is their fundamental disagreement with both the Christian interpretation of the Doctrine of "resurrection" (cryptically referred to in Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2) as a doctrine of the physical raising of a dead body from the grave. In the book "Massacre at Montsegur" the Cathars are referred to as "Western Buddhists" because of their belief that the Doctrine of "resurrection" taught by Jesus was, in fact, similar to the Buddhist Doctrine of Rebirth (referred to as "reincarnation").[5]


This challenge to the orthodox Christian interpretation of the "resurrection" reflected a conflict previously witnessed during the second and third centuries between Gnosticism and developing "orthodox" Christian theology.

Social relationships

From the theological underpinnings of the Cathar faith there came practical injunctions that were considered destabilising to the morals of medieval society. For instance, Cathars rejected the giving of oaths as wrongful; an oath served to place one under the domination of the Demiurge and the world. To reject oaths in this manner was seen as anarchic in a society where illiteracy was widespread and almost all business transactions and pledges of allegiance were based on the giving of oaths.


Sexual intercourse and reproduction propagated the slavery of spirit to flesh, hence procreation was considered undesirable. Informal relationships were considered preferable to marriage among Cathar credentes.


Perfecti were supposed to have observed complete celibacy, and eventual separation from a partner would be necessary for those who would become Perfecti. For the credentes however, sexual activity was not prohibited, but procreation was strongly discouraged, resulting in the charge by their opponents of sexual perversion.


The common English insult "bugger" is derived from "Bulgar", the notion that Cathars followed the "Bulgarian heresy" whose teaching entailed perverse sexual activities which skirted procreation.


Killing was abhorrent to the Cathars; so too the copulation that produced enslavement in matter. Consequently, abstention from all animal food (sometimes exempting fish) was enjoined of the Perfecti.


(The Perfecti apparently avoided eating anything considered to be a by-product of sexual reproduction- (they didn't eat eggs or dairy products, what would now be termed a vegan diet), War and capital punishment were also condemned, an abnormality in the medieval age. As a consequence of their rejection of oaths, Cathars also rejected marriage vows. Such was the situation, that when called before the Inquisition, one accused of Catharism needed only to show that he was married for the case to be immediately dismissed.


Such teachings, both in theological intent and practical consequence, brought upon the Cathars condemnation from religious and secular authorities as being the enemies of Christian faith and of social order.


This portrays the story of a disputation between Saint Dominic and the Cathars (Albigensians), in which the books of both were thrown on a fire and St. Dominic's books were miraculously preserved from the flames. Painting by Pedro Berruguete

In 1147, Pope Eugene III sent a legate to the Cathar district in order to arrest the progress of the Cathars. The few isolated successes of Bernard of Clairvaux could not obscure the poor results of this mission, which clearly showed the power of the sect in the Languedoc at that period. The missions of Cardinal Peter of St. Chrysogonus to Toulouse and the Toulousain in 1178, and of Henry of Marcy, cardinal-bishop of Albano, in 1180–81, obtained merely momentary successes. Henry's armed expedition, which took the stronghold at Lavaur, did not extinguish the movement.


Decisions of Catholic Church councils—in particular, those of the Council of Tours (1163) and of the Third Council of the Lateran (1179)—had scarcely more effect upon the Cathars. When Pope Innocent III came to power in 1198, he was resolved to deal with them.


At first Innocent tried pacific conversion, and sent a number of legates into the Cathar regions. They had to contend not only with the Cathars, the nobles who protected them, and the people who venerated them, but also with many of the bishops of the region, who resented the considerable authority the Pope had conferred upon his legates.


In 1204, Innocent III suspended a number of bishops in Occitania; in 1205 he appointed a new and vigorous bishop of Toulouse, the former troubadour Foulques. In 1206 Diego of Osma and his canon, the future Saint Dominic, began a programme of conversion in Languedoc; as part of this, Catholic-Cathar public debates were held at Verfeil, Servian, Pamiers, Montréal and elsewhere.


Saint Dominic met and debated the Cathars in 1203 during his mission to the Languedoc. He concluded that only preachers who displayed real sanctity, humility and asceticism could win over convinced Cathar believers. The official Church as a rule did not possess these spiritual warrants.[6] His conviction led eventually to the establishment of the Dominican Order in 1216. The order was to live up to the terms of his famous rebuke, "Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth." However, even St. Dominic managed only a few converts among the Cathari.

Albigensian Crusade

In January 1208 the papal legate, Pierre de Castelnau was sent to meet the ruler of the area, Count Raymond VI of Toulouse. Known for excommunicating noblemen who protected the Cathars, Castelnau excommunicated Raymond as an abettor of heresy following an allegedly fierce argument during which Raymond supposedly threatened Castelnau with violence. Shortly thereafter, Castelnau was murdered as he returned to Rome, allegedly by a knight in the service of Count Raymond. His body was returned and laid to rest in the Abbey at Saint Gilles.


As soon as he heard of the murder, the Pope ordered the legates to preach a crusade against the Cathars and wrote a letter to Phillip Augustus, King of France, appealing for his intervention—or an intervention led by his son, Louis. This was not the first appeal but some have seen the murder of the legate as a turning point in papal policy—whereas it might be more accurate to see it as a fortuitous event in allowing the Pope to excite popular opinion and to renew his pleas for intervention in the south.


The entirely biased chronicler of the crusade which was to follow, Peter de Vaux de Cernay, portrays the sequence of events in such a way as to make us believe that, having failed in his effort to peacefully demonstrate the errors of Catharism, the Pope then called a formal crusade, appointing a series of leaders to head the assault.


The French King refused to lead the crusade himself, nor could he spare his son—despite his victory against John of England, there were still pressing issues with Flanders and the empire and the threat of an Angevin revival. Phillip did however sanction the participation of some of his more bellicose and ambitious—some might say dangerous—barons, notably Simon de Montfort and Bouchard de Marly. There followed twenty years of war against the Cathars and their allies in the Languedoc: the Albigensian Crusade.


This war pitted the nobles of the north of France against those of the south. The widespread northern enthusiasm for the Crusade was partially inspired by a papal decree permitting the confiscation of lands owned by Cathars and their supporters. This not only angered the lords of the south but also the French King, who was at least nominally the suzerain of the lords whose lands were now open to despoliation and seizure. Phillip Augustus wrote to Pope Innocent in strong terms to point this out—but the Pope did not change his policy—and many of those who went to the Midi were aware that the Pope had been equivocal over the siege of Zara and the seizure and looting of Constantinople.


As the Languedoc was supposedly teeming with Cathars and Cathar sympathisers, this made the region a target for northern French noblemen looking to acquire new fiefs. The barons of the north headed south to do battle, their first target the lands of the Trencavel, powerful lords of Albi, Carcassonne and the Razes—but a family with few allies in the Midi. Little was thus done to form a regional coalition and the crusading army was able to take Carcassonne, the Trencavel capital by duplicitous methods, incarcerating Raymond Roger in his own citadel where he died, allegedly of natural causes; champions of the Occitan cause from that day to this believe he was murdered.


Simon de Montfort was granted the Trencavel lands by the Pope and did homage for them to the King of France, thus incurring the enmity of Peter of Aragon who had held aloof from the conflict, even acting as a mediator at the time of the siege of Carcassonne.


The remainder of the first of the two Cathar wars now essentially focused on Simon's attempt to hold on to his fabulous gains through winters where he was faced, with only a small force of confederates operating from the main winter camp at Fanjeau, with the desertion of local lords who had sworn fealty to him out of necessity—and attempts to enlarge his new found domains in the summer when his forces were greatly augmented by reinforcements from northern France, Germany and elsewhere. Summer campaigns saw him not only retake, sometimes with brutal reprisals, what he had lost in the 'close' season, but also seek to widen his sphere of operation—and we see him in action in the Aveyron at St. Antonin and on the banks of the Rhone at Beaucaire.


Simon's greatest triumph was the victory against superior numbers at the battle of Muret—a battle which saw not only the defeat of Raymond of Toulouse and his Occitan allies—but also the death of Peter of Aragon—and the effective end of the ambitions of the house of Aragon/Barcelona in the Languedoc. This was in the medium and longer term of much greater significance to the royal house of France than it was to De Montfort—and with the battle of Bouvines was to secure the position of Philip Augustus vis a vis England and the Empire. The battle of Muret was a massive step in the creation of the unified French kingdom and the country we know today—although Edward III, the Black Prince and Henry V would threaten later to shake these foundations.


The crusader army came under the command, both spiritually and militarily, of the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury, Abbot of Cîteaux. In the first significant engagement of the war, the town of Béziers was besieged on 22 July 1209. The Catholic inhabitants of the city were granted the freedom to leave unharmed, but many refused and opted to stay and fight alongside the Cathars.


The Béziers army attempted a sortie but was quickly defeated, then pursued by the crusaders back through the gates and into the city. Arnaud, the Cistercian abbot-commander, is supposed to have been asked how to tell Cathars from Catholics. His reply, recalled by Caesar of Heisterbach, a fellow Cistercian, thirty years later was "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius."—"Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own."[7][8]


The doors of the church of St Mary Magdalene were broken down and the refugees dragged out and slaughtered. Reportedly, 7,000 people died there including many women and children. Elsewhere in the town many more thousands were mutilated and killed. Prisoners were blinded, dragged behind horses, and used for target practice.[9]


What remained of the city was razed by fire. Arnaud wrote to Pope Innocent III, "Today your Holiness, twenty thousand heretics were put to the sword, regardless of rank, age, or sex."[10][11].


The permanent population of Béziers at that time was then probably no more than 5,000, but local refugees seeking shelter within the city walls could conceivably have increased the number to 20,000.


After the success of his siege of Carcassonne, which followed the massacre at Béziers, Simon de Montfort was designated as leader of the Crusader army. Prominent opponents of the Crusaders were Raymond-Roger de Trencavel, viscount of Carcassonne, and his feudal overlord Peter II, the king of Aragon, who held fiefdoms and had a number of vassals in the region. Peter died fighting against the crusade on 12 September 1213 at the Battle of Muret.

Treaty and persecution

The war ended in the Treaty of Paris (1229), by which the king of France dispossessed the house of Toulouse of the greater part of its fiefs, and that of the Trencavels (Viscounts of Béziers and Carcassonne) of the whole of their fiefs. The independence of the princes of the Languedoc was at an end. But in spite of the wholesale massacre of Cathars during the war, Catharism was not yet extinguished.


In 1215, the bishops of the Catholic Church met at the Fourth Council of the Lateran under Pope Innocent III. One of the key goals of the council was to combat the heresy of the Cathars.


The Inquisition was established in 1229 to uproot the remaining Cathars. Operating in the south at Toulouse, Albi, Carcassonne and other towns during the whole of the 13th century, and a great part of the 14th, it finally succeeded in extirpating the movement. Cathars who refused to recant were hanged, or burnt at the stake.[12]


From May 1243 to March 1244, the Cathar fortress of Montségur was besieged by the troops of the seneschal of Carcassonne and the archbishop of Narbonne. On 16 March 1244, a large and symbolically important massacre took place, where over 200 Cathar perfects were burnt in an enormous fire at the prat des cramats near the foot of the castle. Moreover, the Church decreed lesser chastisements against laymen suspected of sympathy with Cathars, at the 1235 Council of Narbonne.[13]


Inquisitors required heretical sympathisers - repentant first offenders - to sew a yellow cross onto their clothes.[14]

A popular though as yet unsubstantiated theory holds that a small party of Cathar perfects escaped from the fortress before the massacre at prat des cramats. It is widely held in the Cathar region to this day that the escapees took with them le tresor cathar. What this treasure consisted of has been a matter of considerable speculation: claims range from sacred Gnostic texts to the Cathars' accumulated wealth.


Hunted by the Inquisition and deserted by the nobles of their districts, the Cathars became more and more scattered fugitives: meeting surreptitiously in forests and mountain wilds. Later insurrections broke out under the leadership of Bernard of Foix, Aimery of Narbonne and Bernard Délicieux (a Franciscan friar later prosecuted for his adherence to another heretical movement, that of the Spiritual Franciscans) at the beginning of the 14th century. But by this time the Inquisition had grown very powerful. Consequently, many were summoned to appear before it.


Precise indications of this are found in the registers of the Inquisitors, Bernard of Caux, Jean de St Pierre, Geoffroy d'Ablis, and others. The parfaits only rarely recanted, and hundreds were burnt. Repentant lay believers were punished, but their lives were spared as long as they did not relapse. Having recanted, they were obliged to sew yellow crosses onto their outdoor clothing and to live apart from other Catholics, at least for a while.


After several decades of harassment and re-proselytising, and perhaps even more importantly, the systematic destruction of their scripture, the sect was exhausted and could find no more adepts. The leaders of a Cathar revival in the Pyrenean foothills, Pierre and Jacques Autier, were executed in 1310. Catharism disappeared from the northern Italian cities after the 1260s, under pressure from the Inquisition. After 1330, the records of the Inquisition contain very few proceedings against Cathars. The last known Cathar perfectus in the Languedoc, Guillaume Bélibaste, was executed in 1321.


Other movements, such as the Waldensians and the pantheistic Brethren of the Free Spirit, which suffered persecution in the same area survived in remote areas and in small numbers into the 14th and 15th centuries. Some Waldensian ideas were absorbed into early Protestant sects, such as the Hussites, Lollards, and the Moravian Church (Herrnhuters of Germany). It is possible that Cathar ideas were too.


Later history

After the suppression of Catharism, the descendants of Cathars were at times required to live outside towns and their defenses. They thus retained a certain Cathar identity, despite having returned to the Catholic religion.


Any use of the term "Cathar" to refer to people after the suppression of Catharism in the 14th century is a cultural or ancestral reference, and has no religious implication. Nevertheless, interest in the Cathars, their history, legacy and beliefs continues.


The publication of the book Crusade against the Grail by the young German Otto Rahn in the 1930s rekindled interest in the connection between the Cathars and the Holy Grail. Rahn was convinced that the 13th century work Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach was a veiled account of the Cathars. His research attracted the attention of the Nazi government and in particular of Heinrich Himmler, who made him archaeologist in the SS.


Also, the Cathars have been depicted in fictional popular books such as The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Pays Cathare

The castle of Montségur was razed after 1244; the current fortress follows French military architecture of the 17th century.

The term Pays Cathare, French meaning "Cathar Country" is used to highlight the Cathar heritage and history of the region where Catharism was traditionally strongest. This area is centred around fortresses such as Montségur and Carcassonne; also the French département of the Aude uses the title Pays Cathare in tourist brochures.[15]


These areas have ruins from the wars against the Cathars which are still visible today.


Some criticise the promotion of the identity of Pays Cathare as an exaggeration for tourist purposes. Actually, most of the promoted Cathar castles were not built by Cathars but by local lords and later many of them were rebuilt and extended for strategic purposes.Good examples of these are the magnificent castles of Queribus and Peyrepetuse which are both perched on the side of precipitous drops on the last folds of the Corbieres mountains. They were for several hundred years frontier fortresses belonging to the French crown and most of what you will see there today in their well preserved remains dates from a post-Cathar era. The Cathars sought refuge at these sites. Many consider the County of Foix to be the actual historical centre of Catharism.

Modern adherents

Some residents of the Pays Cathare identify themselves as Cathars today. This does not mean they claim to be Cathar by religion (the local religion is overwhelmingly Roman Catholicism). They claim to be descended from the Cathars of the Middle Ages, and therefore Cathar as an identity. It can be safely assumed that many inhabitants of these areas have some ancestors who were Cathars.


Legacy in art and music

The principle legacy of the Cathar movement is in the poems and songs of the Cathar troubadors, though this artistic legacy is only a smaller part of the wider Provençal and Occitan linguistic and artistic heritage. Recent artistic projects concentrating on the Cathar element in Provençal and troubador art include commercial recording projects by Thomas Binkley[16], La Nef[17], and Jordi Savall[18]


Antonin Gadal          Brethren of the Free Spirit            Cathar Perfect, Credentes          Catholicism Christianity               Crusades                                         Gnosticism                                    Holy Grail Inquisition                  Lollards                                           Manicheanism                              Manisola Montsegur                 Waldensians


  1. ^ Dondaine, Antoine. O.P. Un traite neo-manicheen du XIIIe siecle: Le Liber de duobus principiis, suivi d'un fragment de rituel Cathare (Rome: Institutum Historicum Fratrum Praedicatorum, 1939)
  2. ^ See especially R.I. Moore's The Origins of European Dissent, and the collection of essays Heresy and the Persecuting Society in the Middle Ages: Essays on the Work of R.I. Moore for a consideration of the origins of the Cathars, and proof against identifying earlier heretics in the West, such as those identified in 1025 at Monforte, outside Milan, as being Cathars. Also see Heresies of the High Middle Ages, a collection of pertinent documents on Western heresies of the High Middle Ages, edited by Walter Wakefield and Austin P. Evans.
  3. ^ See Emmanuel LeRoy Ladurie's Montaillou: the Promised Land of Error for a respected analysis of the social context of these last French Cathars, and Power and Purity by Carol Lansing for a consideration of 13th-century Catharism in Orvieto.
  4. ^ Murray, Alexander. Suicide in the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198205392.
  5. ^ Massacre at Montsegur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade, Zoe Oldenbourg
  6. ^ Paul Johnson, "A History of Christianity", p251, Atheneum, 1976, ISBN 0689705913
  7. ^ "Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eis." Caesarius of Heisterbach, Caesarius Heiserbacencis monachi ordinis Cisterciensis, Dialogus miraculorum, ed. J. Strange, Cologne, 1851, J. M. Heberle, Vol 2, 296–8. Caesarius (c) was a Cistercian Master of Novices.
  8. ^ Another Cistercian writing a few years after the events makes no mention of this remark whilst Caesar of Heisterbach wrote forty years later, however they are consistent with Arnaud's report to the Pope about the massacre. See "Pope Innocent III (1160/61-1216): To Root Up and to Plant" John Clare Moore, p180, BRILL, 2003,ISBN 9004129251
  9. ^ Paul Johnson, "A History of Christianity", p252, Atheneum, 1976, ISBN 0689705913
  10. ^ Patrologia Latinae cursus completus, series Latina, 221 vols., ed. J-P Migne ), Paris, Vol. 216:col 139
  11. ^ "The Chronicle of William of Puylaurens: The Albigensian Crusade and Its Aftermath", p128, William, M. D. Sibly, Boydell Press, 2003, ISBN 0851159257
  12. ^ Martin, Sean (2005). The Cathars. Pocket Essentials. pp. 105–121. ISBN 978-1904-04833-1. 
  13. ^ See the Bull of Innocent IV Ad exstirpanda, 1252.
  14. ^ Weis, René. The Yellow Cross: The Story of the Last Cathars. (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2000), 11–12.
  15. ^ Pays Cathare
  16. ^ L'Agonie du Languedoc: Claude Marti / Studio der frühen Musik - Thomas Binkley, dir. EMI "Reflexe" 1C 063-30 132 [LP-Stereo]1975
  17. ^ La Nef. Montségur: La tragédie cathare. Dorian Recordings.DOR-90243
  18. ^ Savall The Forgotten Kingdom: The Cathar Tragedy - The Albigensian Crusade AVSA9873 A+C Alia Vox 2009

[] References

  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  • A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2008. 
  • Heresies of the High Middle Ages, Walter Wakefield and Austin P. Evans. Columbia University Press ( 15 October 1991) Original source documents in translation.
  • Bernard Gui, The Inquisitor's Guide: A Medieval Manual on Heretics, translated by Janet Shirley (Ravenhall Books, 2006). A new translation of the fifth part of Gui's famous manual.
  • "Albigenses" by N.A. Weber.
  • "Cathari" by N.A. Weber. The Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1908.
  • The Trail of Gnosis by Judith Mann | publisher = Gnosis Traditions Press | year = 2002
  • Histories of the Cathars: Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, trans. Barbara Bray, Vintage Books, 1979
  • Montsegur and the Mystery of the Cathars, Jean Markale, ISBN , Inner Traditions,
  • The Cathars, Malcolm Lambert, ISBN , Blackwell, 1998
  • The Perfect Heresy, Stephen O'Shea, Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 2000, ISBN 0-7607-5219-2
  • Heresy and the Inquisition II Persecution of Heretics by Dr M D Magee, 12 December 2002.
  • lastours The four cathar castles above Lastours.
  • Foucault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco, ISBN , Ballantine, 1988
  • The Inquisition Record of Jacques Fournier Bishop of Pamiers (English translation by Nancy P. Stork)
  • The Cathars: The Most Successful Heresy of the Middle Ages, Sean Martin, Pocket Essentials 2005
  • The Corruption of Angels: The Great Inquisition of 1245-1245, 2001, Mark Gregory Pegg. (Princeton University Press, 2001) ISBN . A new and refreshing take on Catharism in Languedoc — argues against any kind of doctrinal unity of mid-13th-century Cathars.
  • Jean Duvernoy's transcriptions of inquisitorial manuscripts, many hitherto unpublished
  • Power and Purity: Cathar Heresy in Medieval Italy Carol Lansing (Oxford University Press, 1998). Cathars outside of Languedoc
  • Tuez-les tous Dieu reconnaîtra les siens. Le massacre de Béziers et la croisade des Albigeois vus par Césaire de Heisterbach Jacques Berlioz (Loubatières, 1994). A discussion of the command "Kill them all, God will know his own." recorded by a contemporary Cistercian Chronicler.
  • In France, an ordeal by fire and a monster weapon called 'Bad Neighbour' , Smithsonian Magazine, pp. 40–51, May 1991, by David Roberts. [Cathars & Catholic Conflict]
  • David George's recently published "The Crusade of Innocents" ( ISBN ) has as its plot the encounter between a Cathar girl and the leader of the concurrent Chlldren's Crusade Stephen of Cloyes.
  • CATHARS - Memories of an initiate, by the philosopher Yves Maris, AdA inc, 2006.
  • Inquisition & Power by John H. Arnold. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, ISBN 0812236181 An excellent and meticulously researched work dealing with Catharism in the context of the Inquisition's evolution; analyses Inquisitorial practice as the construction of the "confessing subject".
  • The Origins of European Dissent R.I. Moore. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994.
  • Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe A collection of primary sources, some on Catharism, edited by Edward Peters. University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980.
  • The Formation of a Persecuting Society R.I. Moore. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.
  • Inquisition and Medieval Society James Given. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.
  • Petrus Vallis Caernaii, Historia Albigensium Et Sacri Belli In EosPDF, Latin Text by Migne Patrologia Latina, vol. 213: col. 0543-0711. An history of the Albigensian war told by a contemporary.
  • Moreland, Miles, Miles Away: A Walk Across France. 1992. Random House, New York. (ISBN 0-679-42527-6).

] External links

      Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. 

Categories: Ascetics | Catharism | Esoteric schools of thought | Gnosticism | History of Catholicism in France | Vegetarianism and religion | Antitrinitarianism


 title="Defensless Languedoc Cathars are cut down by French Catholic Crusaders. From the fourteenth century Chronique de France (Chronique de St Denis), British Library, Royal 16, g VI f374v. This is the right hand side of a two panel illustration (The left half is shown above). In this panel The leading crusader can be identified by his coat of arms as Simon de Montfort."

Afrikaans Kathaar, Catalan càtar, Czech Albigenští, German Katharer, Eesti Katarid, Spanish Catarismo, Esperanto Katarismo, French Cathares, Italian Catari, Dutch Katharen, Norwegian Katarer, Polish Katarzy, Portuguese Catarismo, Slovenian Albigénstvo, Finnish Kataarit, Swedish Katarer.

The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century, their origins something of a mystery though there is reason to believe their ideas came from Persia by way of the Byzantine Empire, the Balkans and Northern Italy.  Records from the Roman Catholic Church mention them under various names and in various places.  Catholic theologians debated with themselves for centuries whether Cathars were Christian heretics or whether they were not Christians at all.  The question is apparently still open. Roman Catholics still refer to Cathar belief as "the Great Heresy" though the official Catholic position is that Catharism is not Christian at all.


Cathars believed in two principles, a good creator god and his evil adversary (much like God and Satan of mainstream Christianity). Cathars called themselves Christians; their neighbours distinguished them as "Good Christians". The Catholic Church called them Albigenses, or less frequently Cathars.


Cathars maintained a Church hierarchy and practiced a range of ceremonies, but rejected any idea of priesthood or the use of church buildings. They divided into ordinary believers who led ordinary medieval lives and an inner Elect of Parfaits (men) and Parfaites (women) who led extremely ascetic lives yet still worked for their living - generally in itinerant manual trades like weaving. Cathars believed in reincarnation and refused to eat meat or other animal products. They were strict about biblical injunctions - notably those about living in poverty, not telling lies, not killing and not swearing oaths.


Basic Cathar tenets led to some surprising logical implications. For example they largely regarded men and women as equals, and had no doctrinal objection to contraception, euthanasia or suicide. In some respects the Cathar and Catholic Churches were polar opposites. For example the Cathar Church taught that all non-procreative sex was better than any procreative sex. The Catholic Church taught - and still teaches - exactly the opposite. Both positions produced interesting results. Following their tenet, Catholics concluded that masturbation was a far greater sin than rape, as mediaeval penitentials confirm. Following their principles, Cathar could deduce that sexual intercourse between man and wife was more culpable than homosexual sex.


In the Languedoc, famous at the time for its high culture, tolerance and liberalism, the Cathar religion took root and gained more and more adherents during the twelfth century.  By the early thirteenth century Catharism was probably the majority religion in the area, supported by the nobility as well as the common people. This was yet another annoyance to the Roman Church which considered the feudal system to be divinely ordained as the natural order (Cathars disliked the feudal system because it depended on oath taking).  In open debates with leading Catholic theologians Cathars seem to have come out on top. This was embarrassing for the Roman Church, not least because they had fielded the best professional preachers in Europe against what they saw as a collection of uneducated weavers and other manual workers. Worse still a number of Catholic priests had become Cathar adherents (Catharism was a religion that seems to have appealed especially to the theologically literate. Whole Cathedral chapters are known to have defected, as they did for example at Orleans).  Worse, the Catholic Church was held up to public ridicule (some of the richest men in Christendom, bejewelled, dressed in finery, and preaching poverty, provided an irresistible target even to contemporary Catholics in the Languedoc). Worst yet, Cathars refused to pay tithes to the Catholic Church.


The Cathar view of the Catholic Church was as bleak as the Catholic Church's view of the Cathar Church. On the Cathar side it manifested itself in ridiculing Catholic doctrine and practices, and characterising the Catholic Church as the "Church of Wolves". The Catholics accused Cathars of heresy or apostasy and said they belonged to the "Synagogue of Satan". The Catholic side created some striking propaganda. When the propaganda proved only partly successful, there was only one option left - a crusade - the Albigensian Crusade.


The Pope, Innocent III, called a formal Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc, appointing a series of military leaders to head his Holy Army. The first was a Cistercian abbot (Arnaud Amaury) now best remembered for his command at Béziers "Kill them all. God will know his own". The second was Simon de Montfort now remembered as the father of another Simon de Montfort, a prominent figure in English parliamentary history.  The war against the Cathars of the Languedoc continued for two generations. In the later phases the Kings of France would take over as leaders of the crusade, which thus became a Royal Crusade.



From 1208, a war of terror was waged against the indigenous population and their rulers: Raymond VI of Toulouse,  Raymond-Roger Trencavel, Raymond Roger of Foix in the first generation and Raymond VII of Toulouse, Raymond Trencavel II, and Roger Bernard II of Foix in the second generation. During this period an estimated 500,000 Languedoc men women and children were massacred - Catholics as well as Cathars. The Counts of Toulouse and their allies were dispossessed and humiliated, and their lands annexed to France.  Educated and tolerant Languedoc rulers were replaced by relative barbarians;  Dominic Guzmán (later Saint Dominic) founded the Dominican Order and soon afterwards the Inquisition, manned by his Dominicans, was established explicitly to wipe out the last vestiges of resistance. Persecutions of Languedoc Jews and other minorities were initiated;  the culture of the troubadours was lost as their cultured patrons were reduced to wandering refugees known as faidits. Their characteristic concept of "paratge", a whole sophisticated world-view, was almost destroyed, leaving us a pale imitation in our idea of chivalry. Lay learning was discouraged and the reading of the bible became a capital crime. Tithes were enforced.


The Languedoc started its long economic decline to become the poorest region in France;  and the language of the area, Occitan, began its descent from the foremost literary language in Europe to a regional dialect, disparaged by the French as a patois. 

At the end of the extermination of the Cathars, the Roman Church had proof that a sustained campaign of genocide can work. It also had the precedent of an internal Crusade within Christendom, and the machinery of the first modern police state that could be wheeled out for the Spanish Inquisition, and again for later Inquisitions and genocides. 

The crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc has been described as one of the greatest disasters ever to befall Europe. 


road sign in Pieusse, Auderoad sign in MinerveTourist branding in the AudeCatharism is often said to have been completely eradicated by the end of the fourteenth century.  Yet there are more than a few vestiges even today, apart from the enduring memory of Cathar "martyrdom" and the ruins of the famous "Cathar castles", including the Château of Montségur ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Montsegùr). There are even Cathars alive today, or at least people claiming to be modern Cathars.  There is a flourishing, if largely superficial, Cathar tourist industry in the Languedoc, and especially in the Aude département; and also an increasing number of historians and other academics engaged in serious Cathar studies. Interestingly, to date, the deeper they have dug, the more they have vindicated Cathar claims to represent a survival of the Earliest Christian Church.

road sign in Camon, Ariege


Arguably just as interesting, Protestant ideas share much in common with Cathar ideas, and there is reason to believe that early reformers were aware of the Cathar tradition. Reformers seem to have known things that the Cathars knew, but the Catholic Church did not - and even today some Protestant Churches claim a Cathar heritage. Tantalisingly, weavers were commonly accused of spreading Protestant ideas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, just as their antecedents in the same trade had been accused of spreading Cathar ideas in Medieval times.


It can even be argued that in many respects Roman Catholic ideas have shifted over the centuries ever further from the Church's medieval teaching and ever closer to Cathar teaching.

Click on the links on the menu below for more information on all aspects of the Cathars (or Cathari).

Click on the following link to read a short introductory article about Cathars and the Crusade against them

Click on the following link for recommended Books on the Cathars Next.

on the following link for the (largely imaginary) role of the Cathars in the various mysteries of the Languedoc Next.

Two great writers: one sympathetic to the Cathars, one hostile to them:

Voltaire. Click on the following link to read an anotated English translation of Voltaire's account of the Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc

Belloc. Click on the following link to read an anotated version of Hilaire Belloc, The Albigensian Attack, Chapter Five of The Great Heresies


Why Were the Teachings of the Original Christians Brutally Suppressed
by the Roman Church?

Catharism was for many years the prevalent form of Christianity in large areas of France, Spain and Italy. The Cathars called themselves the friends of God and condemned the literalist Church as the Church of the Anti-Christ. They claimed to be the living inheritors of the true Christian heritage that had persisted in secret and which still had large numbers of adherents throughout the world.


Like the original Christians, the Cathars were vegetarians, believed in reincarnation and considered the Old Testament god Jehovah to be a tyrant...


The Cathars were respected for their goodness, even by their opponents. The Catholic Bernard of Clairveaux writes:


"If you interrogate them, no one could be more Christian. As to their conversation, nothing can be less reprehensible, and what they speak they prove by deeds. As for the morals of the heretics, they cheat non one, they oppress no one, they strike no one."

Despite this, the infamous Inquisition was set up by the Literalist Church specifically to eradicate the cathars, which it did with ferocious enthusiasm, burning alive men, women and children. From 1139 onwards the Roman Church began calling councils to condemn the heretics. Pope Innocent III declared that 'anyone who attempted to construe a personal view of God which conflicted with Church dogma must be burned without pity'. In 1208 he offered indulgences and eternal salvation, as well as the lands and property taken from the heretics, to anyone who would take up the crusade against the Cathars. This launched a brutal 30-year pogrom which decimated southern France. Twelve thousand people were killed at St Nazaire and ten thousand at Toulouse, to give just two examples.

Béziers sacked and burnt 22nd July 1209


The inquisitor Bernard Gui instructed that no one should argue with the unbeliever, but 'thrust his sword into the man's belly as far as it will go.' At Beziers, when asked how to tell who was a Cathar and who was not, the commanding legate, Arnaud, replied, 'Kill them all, for God will know his own.' Not a child was spared.




Carcassonne taken by Crusaders 15th August 1209


Montségur - last stronghold of the Cathars

The Inquisition

By 1215, the Council of Lateran established the dread Inquisition. During the next 50 years the toll of those killed by this infamous arm of the Church climbed to one million, more than in all of the other crusades against heresies combined.

Cathars and supporters burnt at Montségur 16th March, 1244


Throughout these trials, Montségur quietly defied the Church, standing as a bastion of faith. The brave Cathari and their supporters resisted for six months. but, through an act of treachery, the difficult mountain was scaled, and in march of 1244, Montségur surrendered. Singing, 205 Cathars marched down the mountain and into the large bonfires awaiting them.


At Montségur, at Minerve, in the dungeons of Carcasonne, it is told that the Parfaits went willingly to their fate, helping others at the same time achieve release without fear or pain.


Yet despite the persecutions, the Gnostic free spirit could not be extinguished. Christian Gnosticism was reinterpreted for the twentieth century by Cark Jung, who along with Sigmund Freud founded psychoanalysis. Jung wrote to Freud that the Gnostics' Sophia was a 're-embodiment of an ancient wisdom that might appear once again in modern psycho-analysis.' He asserted, 'It is clear beyond doubt that many of the Gnostics were nothing other than psychologists', and began to view mental illness as a failed initiation.

from Jesus and the Lost Goddess by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy

Cathar worship

The outer appearance and practices of the Parfaits were simple. They worshipped in forests and on mountain tops, utilizing the strong tellurgic currents of the region. Their initiations were held in a series of limestone caves, chiefly near the Pic de St. Barthalemy.

What set the Cathari apart from other gnostic sects was the ritual of the The Consolamentum. This ceremony consisted of the Parfait laying his hands upon the head of the literally dying or upon the head of the believer who aspired to enter the community of the Parfaits. A transmission of immense vivifying energy was said to take place, inspiring to those who witnessed it.


The ritual of the The Consolamentum may have strongly contributed to the rapid spread of Catharism. This energy transmission allowed the spirit to continue its ascent towards the Light in safety, to evolve, or if the recipient was on the threshold of death, to make the leap into the cosmos. To not fear death was a crowning achievement. This courage served the adepts well when they were ruthlessly hunted down.


The sacred caves of the Sabarthez cluster around the small resort town of Ussat-Les-Bains are known as 'doors to Catharism'. To reach Bethlehem, the most important of the Cave Churches of Ornolac, one must climb the steep Path of Initiation. The Cave of Bethlehem may well have been the spiritual center of the Cathar world. For it was here that the 'Pure' candidate underwent an initiation ceremony that culminated in The Consolamentum.


Four aspects of the Cave were utilized in the ceremony:

  • A square niche in the wall in which stood the veiled Holy Grail
  • A granite altar upon which the Gospel of John lay.
  • A pentagram hewn into the wall.
  • Telluric currents emanating from the rock walls and floor.

    Return of the Cathars

Cathars and Reincarnation

"Rudolf Steiner, speaking of the way in which souls embodied in the different streams of evolving Christianity would reincarnate in our time, drew attention to the fact that many souls connecting themselves with the movement for Spiritual Science associated with his own teachings, were in fact former Cathari. The beacon which drew us was the single word Montségur, which for me had only the magic of the name itself, and the knowledge that it had been the scene of the most famous of the massacres of the Albigeois in 1244."

The Cathar Connection by Stanley Messenger






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