Who are the Cathers?
Catharism was a religious movement with Gnostic elements that originated around the middle of the 10th century, branded by the contemporary Roman Catholic Church as heretical. It existed throughout much of Western Europe, but its home was in Languedoc and surrounding areas in southern France. The Cathars were also sometimes labeled Albigensians.
Much of what one finds said of Cathar beliefs is based upon the claims and denunciations of their victorious orthodox opponents. In examining any declaration about Cathar beliefs, this historical fact must be held in balanced consideration.
It is commonly claimed that Catharism was based on the idea that the world is evil. This is rather a simplistic summary of a much more complex vision. It might better be said that the Cathars proclaimed there existed within humankind a spark of divine light. This light had fallen into captivity within a realm of corruption - identified with the material world.
The Cathars apparently believed that people could be reincarnated. Reincarnation was not however a desired event. The goal of the Cathar was liberation from the realm of limitation and corruption identified with material existence. The way to escape was to live an ascetic's life, a life dedicated to standing apart as much as possible from the material world and its many evils.
The Cathars held many beliefs that were odious to the rest of medieval society - but of course the Cathars themselves judged medieval society and its social and religious structures to be odious! They did not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity claiming it was an invention of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catharist concept of Jesus resembled modalistic monarchianism in the West and adoptionism in the East.
Women were treated as equals, because their physical form was irrelevant.
One of their ideas most repugnant to feudal Europe was the belief that oaths were a sin, because they attached you to the world. To call them a sin in this manner was seen as very dangerous in a society where illiteracy was wide-spread and almost all business transactions and pledges of allegiance were based on oaths.
Objection to the Cathars was not only theological, in as much of what the Cathars taught and practiced was considered to be very destabilizing in its effects on society. The dualism of the Cathars 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. It was alleged by their opponents that suicide was customary among them in the form of the endura (starvation), however their is no historical evidence to suggest this.
In 1147, Pope Eugene III sent a legate to the affected 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, and clearly shows the power of the sect in the south of France at that period. The missions of Cardinal Peter (of St. Chrysogonus) to Toulouse and the Toulousain in 1178, and of Henry, cardinal-bishop of Albano, in 1180-1181, obtained merely momentary successes. Henry of Albano's armed expedition, where he took the stronghold at Lavaur, did not extinguish the movement.
The persistent decisions of the councils against the Cathars at this period - in particular, those of the Council of Tours (1163) and of the Third Council of the Lateran (1179) - had scarcely more effect. By the time Pope Innocent III came to power in 1198, he had resolved to suppress the Cathari.
St Dominic encountered them while traveling, and tried to combat the strange doctrines. He had concluded that only the best of preachers could win over people who had falling in with the Cathari sect. This lead to the establishment on 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."
At first Pope Innocent III tried pacific conversion, and sent a number of legates into the affected regions. They had to contend not only with the Cathars, the nobles who protected them, and the people who venerated them, but also with the bishops of the district, who rejected the extraordinary authority which the Pope had conferred upon his legates.
This war threw the whole of the nobility of the north of France against that of the south, possibly instigated by a papal decree stating that all land owned by Cathars could be confiscated at will. As the area was full of Cathar sympathizers, this made the entire area a target for northern nobles looking to gain new lands. It is thus hardly surprising that the barons of the north flocked south to do battle for the Church.
In one famous incident in 1209, most of Béziers were slaughtered by the Catholic forces headed by the Papal legate. Arnaud-Amaury, the Abbot of Citeaux, was asked how to distinguish between the Catholic and Cathars, and allegedly answered, "Kill them all, God will know his own". The Catholic Encyclopedia denies these words were ever spoken.
The war also involved Peter II, the king of Aragon, who owned fiefdoms and had vassals in the area. Peter died fighting against the crusade on September 12, 1213 at the Battle of Muret.
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 Béziers of the whole of its fiefs. The independence of the princes of the south was at an end. But in spite of the wholesale massacre of Cathars during the war, Catharism was not extinguished.
In 1215, the bishops of the Catholic Church met at the Fourth Council of the Lateran under Pope Innocent. One of the key goals of the council was to combat heresy.
The Inquisition was established in 1229 to root out the 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 century, it succeeded in extirpating the movement. From May 1243 to March 1244, the Cathar citadel of Montségur was besieged by the troops of the seneschal of Carcassonne and the archbishop of Narbonne.
Hunted down by the Inquisition and abandoned by the nobles of the district, the Albigenses became more and more scattered, hiding in the forests and mountains, and only meeting surreptitiously. The people made some attempts to overthrow the Inquisition and the French, and insurrections broke out under the leadership of Bernard of Foix, Aimerv of Narbonne and Bernard Délicieux at the beginning of the 14th century. But at this point vast inquests were set on foot by the Inquisition, which increased its efforts in the district.
Extracts retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathar"
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