Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Perfecti and the Consolamentum

In the center wall of the chamber directly opposite the door sat two men in midnight blue robes, girt with cinctures and scrolls. Each had long hair, with the foreheads shaved from ear to ear, and bearded faces. The hair of one was grey; the other, black, but both had visages that were gaunt, pale, and strangely illumined, with black-lidded eyes. Raphaëlle froze to see Raymond crouched on the floor at their feet, like a vigilant snake, ready to bite if provoked. Terror rose in her at the memory of the morning’s attack upon herself by Raymond, and she fought the desire to run away.
Esclarmonde prostrated, touching her face to the floor, before the grey-haired Perfectus, saying, “Good Christian, grant me God’s blessing and yours.” She performed the gesture three times, each time she asked for the blessing. It reminded Raphaëlle of how her father had described the worship of the Saracens.

~The Night's Dark Shade by Elena Maria Vidal

Above is a rare picture of Cathar perfecti from contemporary medieval sources. The perfecti or "perfect ones," also referred to as the bons hommes or "good men," were the elite of the sect who were bound to abstain from meat and carnal relations. In the illustration the consolamentum or "baptism of light" is being conferred upon a dying Cathar Believer, as Franciscan friars try to intervene. After receiving the consolamentum no food or drink could be administered to the sick person so that starvation would usually hasten the dying process. Death by starvation was called the endura. According to a biographical article about St. Dominic de Guzman:

The Albigensian dislike for marriage, for motherhood, for the eating of animal flesh, for the sacraments, for the clerical state and monasticism, for private property and physical beauty, etc., are all derived from this one fundamental idea that the physical world was evil. 14

It was the hope of every Albigensian to achieve a level of asceticism so profound that he would stop eating altogether and abandon the use of physical comforts. Those among these heretics who attained to this level of mortification were known as the Perfect. The Perfect were the prophets of this heretical system, and they commanded a tremendous level of respect from their coreligionists. Within Albigensian society, they were responsible for the administration of the heretical “sacrament” of Consolamentum. The Consolamentum was administered by the Perfect to other, less observant members of the community known as Believers, who, due to their attachment to the things of the world, had no hope of attaining salvation on their own. The Consolamentum was administered by the Perfect to the Believers at the moment of death, by the placing of the Perfect’s hand on the head of the Believer....The Endura was necessary because the administration of the Consolamentum could only be performed once in a person’s life, and it was seen as absolutely necessary to assure the salvation of the non-Perfect among the members of the community. 15

According to the Dominican Bernard Gui:

It would take too long to describe in detail the manner in which these same Manichaean heretics preach and teach their followers, but it must be briefly considered here.

In the first place, they usually say of themselves that they are good Christians, who do not swear, or lie, or speak evil of others; that they do not kill any man or animal, nor anything having the breath of life, and that they hold the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel as the apostles taught. They assert that they occupy the place of the apostles, and that, on account of the above-mentioned things, they of the Roman Church, namely the prelates, clerks, and monks, and especially the inquisitors of heresy persecute them and call them heretics, although they are good men and good Christians, and that they are persecuted just as Christ and his apostles were by the Pharisees.

Moreover they talk to the laity of the evil lives of the clerks and prelates of the Roman Church, pointing out and setting forth their pride, cupidity, avarice, and uncleanness of life, and such other evils as they know. They invoke with their own interpretation and according to their abilities the authority of the Gospels and the Epistles against the condition of the prelates, churchmen, and monks, whom they call Pharisees and false prophets, who say, but do no.

Then they attack and vituperate, in turn, all the sacraments of the Church, especially the sacrament of the eucharist, saying that it cannot contain the body of Christ, for had this been as great as the largest mountain Christians would have entirely consumed it before this. They assert that the host comes from straw, that it passes through the tails of horses, to wit, when the flour is cleaned by a sieve (of horse hair); that, moreover, it passes through the body and comes to a vile end, which, they say, could not happen if God were in it.

Of baptism, they assert that the water is material and corruptible and is therefore the creation of the evil power, and cannot sanctify the soul, but that the churchmen sell this water out of avarice, just as they sell earth for the burial of the dead, and oil to the sick when they anoint them, and as: they sell the confession of sins as made to the priests.

Hence they claim that confession made to the priests of, the Roman Church is useless, and that, since the priests may be sinners, they cannot loose nor bind, and, being unclean in themselves, cannot make others clean. They assert, moreover, that the cross of Christ should not be adored or venerated, because, as they urge, no one would venerate or adore the gallows upon which a father, relative, or friend had been hung. They urge, further, that they who adore the cross ought, for similar reasons, to worship all thorns and lances, because as Christ's body was on the cross during the passion, so was the crown of thorns on his head and the soldier's lance in his side, They proclaim many other scandalous things in regard to the sacraments.

Moreover they read from the Gospels and the Epistles in the vulgar tongue, applying and expounding them in their favor and against the condition of the Roman Church in a manner which it would take too long to describe in detail; but all that relates to this subject may be read more fully in the books they have written and infected, and may be learned from the confessions of such of their followers as have been converted.



Hans Georg Lundahl said...

I am profiting from the Paschal Week and paschal season and generally non-Lent season to buy yoghurt and other things proving I am no manichean.

Had some wonderful raspberry yoghurt yesterday.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"for had this been as great as the largest mountain Christians would have entirely consumed it before this."

Objection raised by Moslems when St Thomas Aquinas answered in Rationes Fidei a little time after Summa Contra Gentes:

link here

Julygirl said...

I don't know if I missed your mentioning this before but....were the Cathars in other areas of Europe or specifically southern France?

That is a wonderful picture and I'm sure was very useful in the research for your novel.

R J said...

These Cathars were even sicker puppies than I'd ever imagined before reading this post. Depressing to see how much of their ideological trash crops up again and again in later centuries.

Anonymous said...

The withholding of food and water....this same evil has come into vogue in the whole "right to die" ideology. What true Christian is not haunted at the memory of poor Terry Schiavo's last days? Death forced upon her by "the law of the land", with armed guards posted at her bedside, making sure that no one could give her a sip of water. Such laws and judges that made this atrocity to occur are the modern day "perfecti" it seems. God help us and deliver us from such evil.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

THere were other Cathars than those in S France, but those ones were the ones most prevalent in their area as compared to less prevalent in other areas, and those were the ones called Albigensians.

Another name for Cathars was Bulgars/Buggers. Guess what geographic area they reached W Europe from and what practise gave rise to the dirty word Buggers, so that people from that area have another ethnonym in English.

Patarini is an Italian word for them, I guess there were some in Italy too.

R J said...

Mention of the Terri Schiavo tragedy reminds me of the fact that there were certain elements in "traditional" Catholicism - including, most notoriously, a priest named Anthony Cekada - who sought to defend Mrs. Schiavo's foul murder, as this link, among others, reveals:

Deo gratias, I have never met Fr. Cekada. I once somehow found my way onto his mailing list, until I asked in singularly astringent terms to be taken off it.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Speaking of Cathars, have you read about the Inquisitor martyrs in Avignonnet? (Le Sel de la terre, N 37, summer 2001, spells city name Avignonet, I suppose it is a respelling).

Gareth Russell said...

Fantastic post!