Friday, June 18, 2010

History of the Bogomils

People have been asking for more information on the Bogomils, whom I mention briefly in The Night's Dark Shade. Here is an article which makes some interesting points, tracing the origins and spread of the old dualism which later became known as Catharism. (Much of what it says about the Catholic Church is business as usual.) According to High Nicklin of the Ariège Aude Forum:
From very early times people had struggled with a theological problem. Assuming that there is only one God, and that He is all powerful and wholly good, where does Evil come from? An obvious response is to say that evil proves that there must be at least two Gods, and one of them must be bad. An idea like this which proposes two opposing principles in the world is said to be ‘dualistic’. The idea that there were two ‘Gods’ a good one and a bad one, was expounded by Zoroaster (c.12,000 BC) so ‘Zoroastrianism’ is such a religion. The idea that the material world is intrinsically evil was stated as early as 500 BC by the Buddha with the words ‘all life is suffering’. The Buddhist Heaven is ‘nothingness’. At about the time of Jesus ‘Gnostics’ made the acquisition of esoteric knowledge a feature of their theology. The main ingredients of the Cathar religion are, therefore, of great antiquity.
Christianity, the second oldest of the three great monotheistic religions, was boosted by being adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire which occurred in the reign of Constantine, around 330 AD. France became Christian as a result. One of the great early Christian church councils took place at Béziers in 356 AD. At about the same time, a Persian named Mani was also wrestling with the problem of evil. He agreed that it proved that a single God cannot be omnipotent. The word ‘Manicheanism’ came to represent all dualist theology. (It is as unjust as naming America after Amerigo Vespucci).
By the 500s the Roman empire had split in half. The Eastern half remained Christian and Roman, and both church and state were ruled by the Eastern Roman, or ‘Byzantine’ emperor. In this eastern half attention was focussed on ‘the problem of evil’ and dualist, ‘Manichean’ ideas were debated. The Byzantine emperors disliked their religion being criticised, so Dualists were exiled to Bulgaria, where they were called ‘Bogomils’. The Bogomil church flourished, and some of its members sneaked back from Bulgaria to the Mediterranean coast at Antioch....
The Crusaders spent time at Antioch in 1098. Many sincere Christians in the army were horrified to discover that their leaders were prepared to abandon the attack on Jerusalem (their official target) once they had acquired Muslim towns which they could profitably rule. It seems likely in their perplexity they met the Bogomils of Antioch, who gave them a convincing explanation of the evil they were witnessing. The Bogomils (or Cathars, for it is they) explained that the earth we know is not in the middle between Heaven and Hell, but is Hell itself. The Old Testament God was the Devil. By being good in this world, souls might escape back to Heaven, from which they had been kidnapped by the Devil. All the powers of this world, including the Catholic church and its Crusade, were therefore evil. This explained the wealth and corruption of many church leaders, their failure to address the problems of human life and the embarrassing course that the Crusade itself was taking.
Dualist ideas appeared shortly after the crusade in north-eastern France, and we are entitled to infer a connection, since north-eastern France was where many of the crusaders (such as Godfrey of Boulogne) came from. It was at this point that the term ‘Cathar’ was applied to the dualists for the first time. Other Crusaders had come from the Midi in the entourage of the count of Toulouse. Those of them who were influenced by the Cathar point of view gave sanctuary in the Languedoc to Cathar refugees expelled from their homes in the north east of France.
Cathar numbers grew rapidly. The more the Catholics enjoyed earthly wealth and power, the more effectively they recruited Cathars. Every fat, grasping, lecherous, violent bishop was a godsend to Cathar propaganda. It is not easy to say what positive appeal the Cathars had, since we hear about them almost exclusively from Catholic sources, and it would seem to have been difficult for Cathars to suggest any particular lifestyle, since all human life was corrupt. The Cathar ‘Perfect’ who had led a simple and blameless life and finally starved himself to death was regarded as having qualified himself to break out of the cycle of birth, sin, death and reincarnation. His disembodied soul would thereby re-enter the Heaven of the good God from which Adam and Eve had been kidnapped by the Bad God. Since not even the Cathars expected that every human would be able to escape at the first attempt, some interesting moral crevices opened up. If one had committed robbery, murdered someone or had sex once, the game was up, so there was no reason not to do it again, and again, and again… [bold type mine]
Whatever its appeal, by the 1190s Catharism was booming. In Languedoc the Cathars organised a whole parallel church, aided and abetted by local lords such as the Counts of Béziers and Toulouse. In 1198, in the last year of Richard the Lionheart’s reign, Innocent III became Pope. As well as trying to make the clergy more respectable, he decided to turn up the heat on the Cathars, whose critique of the Catholic Church was particularly painful. Apart from mentioning the 'fat, grasping, and lecherous bishops' they did not hesitate to point out, in addition, how difficult it was to reconcile crusading with the pacifist ideas of Jesus. (Innocent was a keen crusader). Several churchmen had written to him anxiously about the increasing number of Cathars, who had resisted the efforts even of great preachers such as St Bernard to convert them: when Innocent sent his own ‘legates’ to show the Cathars the error of their ways, they were attacked, and one was assassinated. In 1209 Pope Innocent declared a crusade against the Cathars, which is always called ‘the Albigensian Crusade’ because some high profile Cathars came from Albi.

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