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In the second half of the twelfth century, there arose a medieval sect called the Cathars. The word Cathar comes from the Greek and means “pure.” The Cathars believed in a dualistic universe, i.e., that this world, the material world, was a kingdom of evil in which their souls were trapped. The kingdom of good was immaterial. Therefore, to be saved the soul needed to escape from the flesh.

The Cathars claimed their authority was from God since they alleged that they realized the apostolic life in its fullness. They saw the ecclesiastical authorities as corrupt as is made clear in the following quotation: “You (the ecclesiastical authorities) … add house to house, field to field, and seek the things that are of this world. … We, the poor of Christ, who have no fixed abode and flee from city to city like sheep amidst wolves, are persecuted as were the apostles and martyrs” (Heresies of the High Middle Ages. Eds. Wakefield & Evans. p. 129).

The Church’s view regarding Catharism is explained in the following extract from Rainier Sacchoni.

Author Rainier Sacchoni: On the Cathars and Waldensians

Rainier Sacchoni was a native of Piacenza, one of the strongholds of dualism in Lombardy. It is not clear which Cathar church he belonged to, but he rose to eminence in it, and apparently became leader of a local community before he was converted to Catholicism in 1245. He became a Dominican and an inquisitor, and worked in collaboration with Peter the Martyr, who was assassinated on 6 April 1252; an attempt on Rainier's life was planned at the same time. Between 1254 and 1259 he was chief inquisitor in Lombardy, and we last hear of him in July 1262, when he was summoned to Viterbo by Urban IV to report on his work. Fuller accounts of Rainier and the Lombard inquisition may be found in Dondaine, Le liber de duo bus principiis, pp. 57-63 and Lea, History of the Inquisition II, 191-231.

The treatise was written in 1250, not to refute or even to discuss heretical teachings, but to facilitate the work of the inquisition. Though opinions vary on the importance of the divisions among the Cathars which Rainier describes, and though his information is not always complete-he omits Razs, for instance, from his list of Cathar churches in France-his accuracy is undeniable. This translation is made from the edition of Dondaine, pp. 64-‘78. It should be remembered throughout that Rainier uses ‘Cathar’ in the strict sense, meaning perfecti, not their novices or followers.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Once there were many sects of heretics but they have now been almost destroyed. Two of importance, however, are still to be found, the Cathars, or Patarini, and the Leonistae, or Poor Men of Lyons. Their beliefs are presented in this work.

The different sects of Cathars
It must be realized that the first sect, the Cathars, are themselves divided into three main groups, or sects, those of Desenzano (the Albanenses), Concorezzo and Bagnolo, all in Lombardy. Other Cathars, in Tuscany, the Marches, or Provence, do not differ in their views from these three, or some of them.

All Cathars agree on certain general principles, though they may disagree over details, all of which we shall discuss. We begin with what they have in common.

Beliefs Common to All Cathars

All Cathars believe that the devil made the world and everything in it, and that all the sacraments of the Church, both that of baptism by water, which is material, and the others, do not help us to salvation, and are not true sacraments of Christ and his Church but devilish frauds of a church of the wicked.

An illustration showing baptism performed by the Devil

We shall see later how many sacraments the heretics themselves have, and what they are like. All Cathars also believe that conjugal relations are always mortal sin, and that adultery or incest will not be punished any more severely in the future life than legitimate conjugal relations, for which reason these offences are no more severely punished among them. Again, all Cathars deny that there will be a resurrection of the flesh. They hold that it is mortal sin to eat meat, eggs or cheese, even in urgent necessity, because they are the fruits of sexual union. The taking of oaths is not permitted on any account, and is also mortal sin. Secular powers sin mortally if they punish heretics or evildoers. Nobody may be saved except through them. Baptized children will be no more lightly punished in eternity than thieves and murderers, though as we shall see the sect of the Albanenses seems to differ a little from the others on this point. They all deny purgatory.

Taken from The Birth of Popular Heresy R. I. Moore (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1995). 132-133


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