The heresy of Catharism was a complicated mix of non-Christian religions reworked with Christian terminology. The Cathars had many different sects but they had in common a teaching that the world was created by an evil deity.  This, in turn, meant that they held the Manichaean belief that all created matter was evil.  The Albigensians formed one of the largest Cathar sects. They taught that the spirit was created by God, and was good, while the body was created by an evil god, and the spirit must be freed from the body. Having children was one of the greatest evils, since it entailed imprisoning another “spirit” in flesh. Marriage was thus scorned because it legitimized sexual relations, which Catharists identified as the Original Sin. Fornication, on the other hand, was permitted because it was temporary and secret.  In medieval Europe, marriage was an integral part of feudalistic society and Catharism threatened to undermine the very fabric of that society.

In addition, Catharists practiced tremendous fasts and severe mortifications of all kinds, vandalism of churches, and even encouraged infanticide and ritualistic suicide.  Catharists refused to take oaths, which, in a feudal society, meant they opposed all governmental authority.  Cathars created tremendous upheaval in their communities and led to mob mentality as communities began seizing and executing people as heretics.  In an effort to control this mob mentality, Pope Innocent III attempted to end Catharism by sending missionaries and persuading the local authorities to hold organized trials. In 1208, Pierre de Castelnau, Innocent’s papal legate, was murdered while returning to Rome after excommunicating Count Raymond VI of Toulouse.  This sparked what became known as the the Albigensian Crusade and the first inquisition, known as the Medieval Inquisition (see Bernard Gui 1261-1331, Dominican friar, Bishop of Lodève, and a papal inquisitor during the later stages of the Medieval Inquisition).


  • Gui, Bernard; Shirley, Janet (2006), The Inquisitor’s Guide: A Medieval Manual on Heretics, Welwyn Garden City: Ravenhall Books
  • Barber, Malcolm (2000), The Cathars: Dualist heretics in Languedoc in the High Middle Ages, Harlow: Longman

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