By Tim Lambert
The Cathars were a religious sect which flourished in Southern France and Northern Italy in the 12th and 13th centuries. (They became very common after about 1140). The name Cathar comes from the Greek Kathori, meaning pure ones. In France they were called Albigensians after the town of Albi.
The Cathars were dualists. They believed in two gods, one good and one evil. (Dualism is an ancient belief much older than Catharism). Cathars believed the good god created the spiritual world and the evil god created the material world. (In their eyes all matter including the human body was evil). They claimed the evil god trapped the human spirit in the human body. At death the spirit did not escape, it was simply reborn in a new body, human or animal.
Cathars believed that Jesus was a spirit without a human body. They believed his human body was merely an illusion.
Cathars also believed the only was to escape from the evil material world, was to receive the consolamentum in which people laid their hands on the recipient. Cathars believed the consolamentum gave the Holy Spirit to the recipient and when he died the recipient could leave this evil world of matter and enter the good spiritual world. Cathars claimed this spiritual baptism was started by Jesus and had been handed down through the generations by good men.
They also said the Church had been duped and enslaved by the evil god and they had perverted Jesus' teachings. Needless to say that did not go down well with the Church!
Cathars were divided into two groups. An elite called the Perfect had already received the consolamentum. They lived in poverty, were vegetarians, did not marry or swear oaths and often fasted. However most people could not live up to these strict teachings. The great majority of Cathars were called believers and they did not receive the consolamentum until they were near death.
At first the Cathars or Albigensians in Southern France were protected by powerful anti-clerical nobles. However in 1208 Pope Innocent III called for a crusade against them. Crusaders from Northern France rushed to obey and they fought a bloodthirsty crusade. The Albigensians were finally defeated with the fall of their stronghold at Montsegur in 1244.
A History of France