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
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
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
Medieval Church and Its Writings