The term "Cathars" derives from the Greek word Katheroi and means "Pure Ones". The Cathars professed a theological dualism in which two coequal divine principles, one good and one evil, struggled against each other from eternity. They believed all matter to be evil because it was created by Satan, the principle of evil. The soul, which has its origins in the realm of the good God, is trapped within the material body.
In order to liberate the soul, and thereby to achieve salvation, it was necessary to undergo a ceremony known as the consolamentum. After a probationary year of fasting and instruction the believer would be baptised by those who had already received the consolamentum. S/he would then make a vow to be celibate, not to own property, not to go to war and not to eat any food that that resulted from coition. Having received baptism the believer would acquire the title of "Perfect" and be allowed to recite the Lord's Prayer. Those who died without receiving the consolamentum would be reincarnated, only attaining salvation when their soul was purified of all material elements.
Such doctrines necessitated the reinterpretation of the Bible. Much of the Old Testament was viewed with suspicion or even discarded. The doctrine of the incarnation was rejected. Instead Jesus was regarded as an angel whose sufferings and death were only apparent.
The origins of the Cathar movement lie in the missionary work of the Bogomils, a dualistic sect that emerged in south eastern Europe in the 11th century. During the 12th century the doctrines of the Bogomils were brought to western Europe by missionaries and soldiers returning from the second crusade (1147-49). In about 1150 the first Cathar bishopric was established in France. A few years later two more bishoprics were set up in the regions of Albi and Lombardy. By the end of the 12th century the Cathars had eleven bishoprics - five in France and six in Italy.
Such was the perceived threat posed by Cathar doctrine to the mainstream church that in 1209 Pope Innocent III proclaimed a crusade against the Cathars. There followed twenty years of ruinous warfare, during which cities and provinces throughout the south of France were devastated. In one of the worst episodes of the war almost the entire population of Toulouse, both Cathar and Catholic, were massacred. Resistance continued until 1243 when the Cathar fortress of Montsegur in the Pyrenees was captured and destroyed. Those who refused to renounce their beliefs were often tortured or put to death by fire. In spite of continued persecution the Cathar movement continued through the 14th century, only disappearing in the 15th century.
The belief that all matter was evil discouraged the Cathars from using symbols, including the sacramental bread and wine and baptism by water. However, certain ritualistic actions could be interpreted as of symbolic significance. During the consolamentum the candidates were baptised by the laying on of hands, signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Perfect were distinguished from other Cathars by the black clothes they wore.
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon