The Cathars believed that the world lies in tension between two eternal realities, Good and Evil; between God, who rules heaven and the world of pure spirit, and Satan, who reigns on earth and over all muddy reality. They believed that Jesus, the one who walked among us, was literally an apparition. God would never descend into our physical world. As a pure spirit, he had not really died and had offered no actual redemption, but only ethical instruction. For them, salvation, which was unity with God, came through renunciation of the flesh and the repudiation of material structures such as civil authority and, especially, the Catholic Church, which the Albigensians considered Satan’s right arm. Suicide was a popular form of Catharist self-denial, as were pacifism and vegetarianism. You may pause now to consider how many friends and neighbors favor the same darn things today.
But there were actually two kinds of Cathars: the “perfect” (perfecti) and the “believers” (credentes). From the former group came the sect’s leadership, and they were aspirants to purity: chaste, serene, ascetic. The credentes, however, were often libertines. The path to purity for them ran through a dominion of excess, the paradoxical notion being that earthly desires may be extinguished through debauchery! At the end of his drunkenness and fornication (adultery and even incest were tolerated), a believer might (and should) embrace perfection in the consolamentum (or “consolation”), a ritual that compressed baptism, confirmation, ordination, and last rites into a single ceremony. Deathbed consolamenta were common, since most credentes figured they couldn’t handle the perfecti’s rigid rule except in life’s last, precious moments. Indeed, if a dying believer recently elevated in extremis to lofty perfection were to recover his health, his concerned brethren might lovingly poison or suffocate him in order to prevent backsliding.
My novel on the Cathars is HERE. Share