Catharism was a dualist heresy that swept through Latin Christendom during the High Middle Ages; its growing popularity alarmed Church authorities. It was called by many names (the Catholic Encyclopedia lists twenty-two) but historians prefer to refer to them collectively as Cathars (“pure ones”, or “puritans”). They believed the physical world was the creation of the evil God of the Old Testament and the spiritual world was formed by the God of the New Testament. It was just the latest version of the recurrent dualist heresies like Gnosticism and Manichaeism, but also resembles elements in contemporary secular society in disturbing ways.
This heresy’s primary requirement was the repudiation of marriage and family. Since the evil physical body was only meant to entrap spirits, marriage and procreation were forbidden. Their spirit-liberating ritual known as consolamentum, similar to the Catholic Last Rites, would be denied to children and pregnant women. Their distain for the human body was so extreme that Cathars celebrated suicide with a ritual of its own known as endura, a form of assisted suicide. Their goal was the destruction of the human race thus enabling the liberation of the spiritual world.
Two things might have accounted for the heresy’s increasing popularity. First, it is agreed among historians that Catholic clergy at the time were generally dissolute and corrupt. In 1100 most priests were married or were living with a concubine and busy pursuing wealth in the manner typical of feudal society. The Cathar equivalent of priests were the perfecti, “perfect ones”. They wore black robes and were chaste, lived in poverty, and were considered incapable of sin. Admired by many for their outward piety, they stood out before the hypocritical Catholic clergy.
The other reason that might explain Catharism’s popularity is rather curious. Cathars who were not one of the perfecti, and this was the vast majority of them, were not held accountable for sin. They were eventually cleansed from all sin by the rite of consolamentum administered on their deathbed, but unlike the Last Rites, remorse for past sins was not a requirement. Since the body was evil, and sin was of no consequence, Cathars became known for their sexual depravity. They specialized in avoiding insemination through medieval methods of contraception, which generally took the form of alternate forms of intercourse or homosexuality. One influential Cathar sect from Bulgaria was known as the “Bugri”; from which the English word “buggery” derives.
Ultimately, this attack on not just marriage and family, but on the human race, would have to be forcibly suppressed (respected historian Denis de Rougemont estimated their number in the millions). Pope Innocent III initiated the Albigensian Crusade in 1209. It succeeded because laws were enacted allowing land-hungry nobles to seize the property of Cathars they defeated in battle. Following the crusade, the newly-formed Inquisition rooted out Cathars that had gone underground, lining up villagers and giving anyone a chance to renounce the heresy. Those that did were taken and then interrogated about the others.
In an address to the priests of Cologne dated around 1153, St. Hildegard prophesied regarding the fate of the Cathars:
“…[A]fter their perverse worship of Baal and their other depraved works are made known, princes will rush upon them, and will kill them like rabid wolves, wherever they can be found.”
The parallels between Catharism and today’s secularized culture are striking. Today’s leaders advocate the same things: abortion and contraception, homosexuality, assisted suicide, etc. And yet, like the perfecti, they often exhibit a passionate religiosity, claiming the moral high ground while at the same time promoting sexual immorality in spite of its consequenses. There are many in the Church who defend these leaders. The civilization that grew out of the family-oriented culture of Latin Christendom now celebrates its negative birth rates and sexual license as a liberation of humanity.
In the Middle Ages, God used the Cathar perfecti to shame the corrupt clergy to the point of making them social outcasts. This aided the Church’s efforts at reform. By the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) historians generally agree that the reform of the clergy had been achieved; the Cathars were no longer needed and were relatively quickly wiped out.
Today, it is clear that from decades of immigration into Europe from predominantly Muslim countries where birth rates are high, the anti-family ideology of political-correctness will soon be replaced by the religion of Mohamed. Perhaps God will use the Muslims to shame and persecute not just civil society but the Church as well. And like the reform movement of the twelfth-century, the troubled Church will be given an opportunity to achieve a spiritual revival. It is even conceivable that the future renewal of the Church would include a military dimension.