The ancient Gnostics were the first to conclude that the world, so full of trouble, could not possibly have been created by the Good (God), but was a creation of Evil (Satan). It followed that the right thing to do was to have as little as possible to do with it, and to seek the good through purity. This dualistic philosophy with a Christian slant re-emerged with the ninth-century Bogomils in Bulgaria before spreading to Languedoc, where its followers became known as Cathars.
The Cathars, or ‘Good Christians’ as they were called, wanted to live according to the Bible, without buildings, tithes, priests or swearing oaths. They were vegans, as they believed in reincarnation; money was easily loaned, unrestricted by Catholic rules against usury; sins, being unavoidable, were easily forgiven, and disputes were settled by mediation. Men and women were equal, but non-procreative sex was preferred, so as not to bring more people into the Evil World. The spiritually inclined could take a sacrament called the consolament and become a parfait or parfaite, and lead an ascetic life of work and prayer. Cathar ideas resonated across all social classes in Languedoc. The great lords, the Count of Toulouse and Viscount of Carcassonne, sympathized and protected their Cathar subjects. In 1206, Dominic de Guzmán founded the Dominican Order in Toulouse to convert the Cathars. Only a few listened.
Although the Albigensian Crusade ended with the capture of Montségur (1244) and 220 Cathars burned at the stake, some did take refuge in the castles south of Carcassonne and held out until 1255. The Inquisition, founded in Toulouse in 1229, would spend decades destroying the last remnants of the heresy, until the last Cathar was burned in Villerouge-Termenès in 1321.
© Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls