The Philosphy of The Cathars

Since arriving here in the UK, I have spent a great deal of time reading. Novels remain my favourite books … novels that depict stories set in the distant past ~ i.e. historical fiction. Recent reads include The Savage Garden and Labyrinth … and currently I find myself one-third of the way through The Vault of Bones. The pile of “future reads” includes The Other Boleyn Girl and Sovereign, among others. It may sound strange, but … I’ve learned alot about medieval history as a result of my recent voracious reading behaviour. Labyrinth, particularly, got me interested in researching the Langedoc region of France, the Crusades, the Inquisition and the savage intolerance of the Catholic Church. +/- expand post

Having grown up in quite a devoutly Catholic family, I find myself intrigued, mildly repulsed, cynically amused at the failure of the Church to teach its congregation about its history ~ its true history. Of course, I suppose its only human nature to cast oneself and one’s group in a positive, flattering light. Nonetheless … this behaviour, in the context of faith and soul matters … seems tantamount to some sort of brainwashing or manipulation. In my experience, Catholic followers seem to know little about the brutal history of their faith. Like I said, intriguing … in a pathetic sort of way.

So … I became interested in the Cathars, the Crusades/Inquisition and Langedoc. Here’s an interesting tidbit ~ inquisitors required heretical sympathisers – repentant first offenders – to sew a yellow cross onto their clothes and also, to live separately from the Catholics. Hmmm …. considered in the context of 20th century history …. what does this yellow cross remind you of? Perhaps a certain yellow star? Perhaps a certain dark event known as the holocaust? D’ya think …? I do.

Aside from that interesting detail … I find it interesting how many of the basic tenets/concepts of Catharism linger in present-day spiritual thinking. The notion, for instance, of this earthly existence as the Hell, and the rejection of hell and purgatory as destinations in the afterlife. Also, the notion of physical, material matter as rooted in evil ~ constricting the spirit. This makes me think about the struggle that many of us feel between the pureness of spirit and the heavy, vileness of the physical, material world. These notions have their roots in Catharism. And … the concept of the resurrection as symbolic considered in the sense of reincarnation ~ also rooted in Catharism. Sounds sort of eastern, doesn’t it … the idea that one continues to live successive lives until s/he breaks the enslaving chains of earthly matter that hold the soul in bondage.

So … simply … what exactly does Catharism mean or entail? Essentially, Catharism centres around dualism. God, being perfect, did not create the evil, earthly, world. Rather, the Devil ~ Satan ~ created the world and all its enslaving evil materials, as a sort of prison. In each of us resides a divine spark of God ~ we call this the soul ~ that thirsts to rejoin with its maker ~ God. The purpose of life, then? As I mentioned earlier ~ to break free from, to transcend, the bondages of the material world. Many souls do not succeed in achieving this purpose in the miniscule time span of one lifetime. And, hence, they must endure successive lifetimes; the soul reincarnates itself until such time as it achieves divine freedom, and then it may rejoin its maker. Cathars did not believe in the Trinity … or Jesus as the Son of God. Rather, they viewed Jesus as the Holy Spirit … a type of divine phantom, a messenger sent to us from The Divine ~ not a human being.

The Cathars thought of the Catholic Church as corrupt and misguided. They did not believe in worshipping idols, the trinity, the eucharist, or the concept of a priesthood. And … interestingly, they did not promote procreation, believing that it propagated the slavery of the spirit to flesh. Hence, they considered informal relationships preferential to marriage. Their rejection of marriage also stemmed from their rejection of oaths and vows. And, in fact, to survive a trial of the Inquisition, a Cathar only needed to provide proof of a positive marital status to have his case dismissed.

I will refrain from completely lambasting the Catholic Church, Pope Innocent III and the like. Suffice it to say the following, which summarizes the mentality. Arnaud, the Cistercian Abbot, when asked how to tell Cathars from Catholics, replied, “Kill them all, the Lord will recognise His own.” The Church massacred hundreds upon hundreds of Cathars and their supporters, and burned as many more on giant pyres. In fact, I have read that these pyres held so many people, condemned for heresy, that some of them collapsed under the weight of all their bodies.

Funny … sadly, cynically funny … that Catholic school, and Sunday Mass failed to teach me about this shameful heritage of the Catholic Church and faith. Interestingly, this new-found knowledge has helped me shape and solidify what I believe. And, yes, I definitely do believe something, as in my heart, I always have believed (despite, at times, my refusal to admit such). Only, I have never felt quite sure exactly what I believed, when it came to the spiritual. I recall a university professor once telling me that, in order to learn about and know one’s POV and beliefs, one must also learn about opposing views and beliefs. Intuitively, this has always made sense. However, its taken me many years of living to really see and feel the practicality in this statement.

And so it is.

[the inquisition]
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~ by frizzyscissorhands on March 19, 2008.

5 Responses to “The Philosphy of The Cathars”

  1. as an undergraduate i became interested in the middles ages ..
    the art, the culture ..
    i learned about the cathars, not in detail but enough to leave me with the creeps. i remember a fairly historical novel i read several years ago about that era too. can’t remember who it is by though anymore.

  2. hey foamy ~

    the more i learn about the catholic church/vatican, the more creeped out i become about organized religion. it seems like politics in the name of god.

  3. basically i think all organized religion sucks ..

  4. well said; ditto.

  5. really interesting stuff.

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