What would you sacrifice for your family’s safety and your faith, or both? Let’s travel back to the 12th and 13th centuries during the time of a nascent Christian movement in Southern Gaul and Northern Italy. Don’t forget the Kingdom of France then was a much smaller area than the current nation of France.
The Cathar religion was a dualistic Gnostic faith that stated there were two gods. One god was an evil god (Rex Mundi) who ruled the physical world and trapped the soul in the physical body. The good god ruled the soul of the person and helped them to become pure in their faith. The Greek origin of the word Cathar means “pure ones.”
The Cathar faith originated in the Middle East and tremendously expanded in the towns and villages of Occitania of Southern Gaul. Why such an expansion? The Cathars believed in a spiritual Jesus the Christ only (not physical and spiritual), the Gospels (especially the examples of Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Mary Magdala), and a few books of the Old Testament. Their religion said that men and women were equal in the eyes of the Lord. Both sexes must strive to become pure with their souls to free themselves from their physical bodies. If they didn’t free themselves, they were reincarnated into another person until they were ready to become a Perfecti or a priest, or priestess. They were guided by bishops in their teachings. The priests and bishops were celibate, vegetarians, and worked alongside the parish flock, or Credentes as they were called. The Cathars worshipped in their homes while many of the Roman Catholic nobles and their family members tolerated the Cathar religious practices.
For a century or two, the Cathar faith flourished until the Roman Church tried to stop the movement. Even the great Saint Bernard of Clairvaux tried to convince them to rejoin but failed. Finally, in 1208 A.D., Pope Innocent III sent a powerful Cistercian monk, Pierre de Castelnau to the Cathar region. He was to enlist the help of Raymond VI, Count of Toulouse in suppressing the heresy. The count refused to cooperate and demanded the monk leave. Castelnau was later found murdered. Pope Innocent ordered a crusade against the Cathars and asked the Northern nobles to join the crusade. He promised them absolution for their sins and approved for them to confiscate all Cathar lands, including the land of the nobles sympathizing with the Cathars. This was the beginning of the Albigensian Crusades that was named after the Cathar stronghold town of Albi. A total of 30,000 Cathars and Roman Christians were burned during this pogrom which lasted from 1209 to 1244. The Cathar faithful were so entwined with the region’s population the Northern nobles couldn’t distinguish the difference. They were told by the medieval Roman church to burn thousands of the citizens of Béziers, for God would know the heretics.
What would you have done knowing they were coming for you and your family? Would you fight, flee, convert, or just die in the flames of the inquisitors? Your faith said once you went through Consolamentum (laying on the hand of baptism) you could go to the flame willingly which was called Endura. There weren’t any further reincarnations needed, for your soul was set free from going to another body.
During the 12th and 13th centuries this religious group wasn’t a momentary extremist cult, but a large well-organized religious faith with its faithful originating in Bulgaria, the Middle East, and extending as far as Northern Germany.
There is a recent novella co-authored by Steve Berry and M. J. Rose. The name of the book is The Lake of Learning and gives a historical fiction account of the Cathars and their Book of Two Principles in a mystery-thriller contemporary setting. I highly recommend you purchase this interesting book on Amazon.