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PostSubject: The Cathars   Wed Apr 18, 2007 3:11 am

Part One: Origins of a Medieval Dualist Dissent
Like so many other medieval religious sects, the Cathars would have sunk into historical oblivion had it not been for two phenomena that has kept the name of the sect alive: Firstly, the ruins of the Cathar fortresses have left indelible marks in the land-scape of Southern France. And secondly, the Cathars have joined the ever growing collection of allegedly mysterious medieval ( and post-medieval) organisations that have become the staple diet of conspiracy theories and other pseudo-historical fantasies. Together with the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati and the Freemasons, to name only the most popular, the Cathars have become the subject of myths, fables, and mass-produced literature. The last resurrection of the Cathars from obscurity in the early 80s must be blamed on the authors of “The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail” who began their highly entertaining, but also completely fictional, narrative of the alleged preservation of Jesus Christ's bloodline in the Cathar region of the Languedoc.

But this article will not deal with the escapist myths that have surrounded the Cathars and their history. It will attempt, in this first part, to trace the intellectual origins of a Medieval Dualist faith, and then give an account of their belief system and organisation and tell the history of the persecution and destruction of Catharism in the Albigensian Crusades of the 13th century.

Tracing the origins of the Cathar faith should also establish whether Catharism is indeed “the great heresy of Christianity” of the Middle Ages, or a phenomenon that has no parallel in the Medieval age: the introduction of an essentially non-Christian but Dualist faith into Europe, purely by intellectual dissemination and not by the usual means of being the accompaniment of territorial conquest. Catharism had such unbridgeable deviations from the Christian orthodoxy - such as its cosmic dualism, its insistence of the existence of an evil principle in creation, its interpretation of the role of the god of the Old and New Testament, its view of Jesus Christ, its rejection of the entire paraphernalia of the Christian Church - that it seems, it was not simply a significant variation of the Christian faith, but rather a separate faith alltogether, sharing a few superficial elements, but at heart being incompatible with Christianity.


I. From the East to the Roman Empire and back
Heresies are deviations of accepted and established doctrines of an existing faith and its organisation. A heresy needs an orthodoxy , the “right belief”, in order to able to depart from fundamental tenets of its mother church. Judaism or Islam can not be Christian heresies, as they have never been or have never claimed to be Christian. To be a Christian heresy, a deviation needs to have originated from the orthodoxy, or must have shared at least the basic beliefs of the Christian Church.

In the 11th,and 13th centuries, during the rise and fall of Catharism, the orthodoxy of the Christian faith was guarded by the the Roman Catholic and the Greek (Orthodox) Church which had split from the former in 1054, more for political than for doctrinal reasons. (Throughout this article, “orthodox” and “orthodoxy” will be used in their original meaning, as “rightful belief” or “correct thought,” and should not be confused with “Orthodox” as the epithet of various Christian Churches, as in the "Greek Orthodox Church". When it is used as such, it will be written with a capital letter). Christian orthodoxy was only achieved through centuries of intense struggle over the basic tenets of the faith. From the very first moment of its existence, when it developed in the first half of the first century AD, Christianity had experienced long and very fundamental debates over the exegesis of its founder's teachings which had been passed down in a very diverse collection of texts. And from the very first moment, a myriad of Christian communities had sprung up, many of which held sometimes totally conflicting views, based on sometimes totally conflicting accounts of Jesus' life and teachings. The Ebionites, Marcionites, Montanites and thousands of other now forgotten strands of Christianity contributed to the extremely heterogeneous nature of early Christianity. An orthodox Christian belief did not exist then. Only on the base of their seniority, local Churches like the one of the Bishop of Rome, could attempt to dictate their doctrines to other local groups. Only after the Council of Nicaea in 325, which anathematized Arianism, could one speak of the beginnings of a universal, orthodox Christianity. But apart from the internal discussions about the interpretation of its basic belief, early Christianity had faced another danger: being subjected to non-Christian influences.

Its origins had been in Palestine, from where it spread mainly through the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, thus remaining inside a relative coherent cultural sphere which for centuries had also been the center of cultural exchange, where ideas from as far apart as the Indus regions, Egypt and the coastal regions of Asia Minor had influenced each other. Early Christian groups thus came into contact with religions originated in the East, especially because these outside religions had begun to diffuse into the West. Mithraism was such an example of an extremely successful and serious competitor to the rising Christian church.

In this climate of religious diversity and exchange, religious strands that are very difficult to classify as being exclusive to any one major religion flourished in the region in the first centuries AD. Many of these groups were rather eclectic, taking elements from various religions and blending them into a new system of belief, a “syncretic”, merged belief.

One of such groups were the (BOLD)Elchasaites, a small sect that had amalgamated Jewish, Christian, Gnostic ( see below) and Zoroastrian elements into a new faith. Little is known about their doctrines and rites. Although they had slowly spread westwards into the Roman Empire, they had remained firmly centered in Mesopatamia. There in Mesopatamia, in the year 216, Mani the “Prophet of Babylon” was born into an aristocratic Elchasaite family. Babylon was then part of the Empire of the Parthians, which was in its very last days, soon to be replaced by the Empire of the Sassanids, who took control of Persia and its surrounds in 224/228. The first Sassanid king soon re-established Zoroastrianism as the official religion of crown and state, while practicing a relatively high religious tolerance as his Achaemenid predecessors had done several centuries before.

The Zoroastrian religion is based on the teachings of Zoroaster (Zarathrustra), whose biographical dates are somewhat disputed, with estimates ranging from 1000-500 BC. However, uncontested is that in the 6th century BC, under Cyrus II and his successors, Zoroastrianism was adopted as the quasi-official religion of the Persian Empire. Even if the Zoroastrian faith had lost its elevated status under the Achaemenids' successors, the Seleucids and Parthians, it retained its position as the most important religious and intellectual force of the entire region. That the Elchasaites were influenced by it, is proof of the continuing presence and undiminished significance of Zoroastrianism in Mesopatamia in the 3th century AD. As most highly evolved religious systems, Zoroastrianism was far from a monolithic block, but possessed different strands and went trough a series of developments. One of the interpretations was its Zurvanite variant that had redefined the inherent cosmic dualism of Zoroaster's teachings into its radical conclusion. The particular Zurvanite element that the Elchasaites had adopted into their syncretic faith, was at the core of the belief: that the material world is the battlefield of two polar principles being immanent constituents of creation. The good, the light, the truthful is locked in eternal battle with with the evil, the dark and lying. These two opposing forces are embodied in the two divinities, that of Ahuda Mazda, the wise and benevolent , and that of Ahriman, his equally divine malevolent anti-thesis, both created by Zurvan, the personified principle of time and space. Humans are presented with a free will to choose between the two forces, and by taking the right choice, can bring upon the end of the existing world, the victory of the good principle and the millenarian kingdom of Ahuda Mazda. These two notions, that of the cosmic dualism, and that of a linear course of time leading to a definite end, had a profound impact on the religions and philosophies of the entire Middle-Eastern region. Judaism, for example, certainly came into contact with Zoroastrian ideas, possibly during the Babylonian exile. Although the Jewish faith preserved its monist principle that of the one god as the sole and essentially good cosmic force to which Satan, God's adversary, is only subjugated as a mere minor being, the Jewish millenarian prophecies, that of an apocalyptic end of time heralded by a messiah, seem to owe Zoroastrianism a lot.

The Elchasaites in the 3rd century Mesopatamia had incorporated the Zoroastrian cosmic dualism and added another ancient ( gnostic) dualist principle: the notion of the superiority of the soul, of the spirit, over the body, the matter, regarding the latter as the bearer of the evil principle. To be able to join the soul in the upcoming millenarian kingdom, the Elchasaites argued that the body needed to be purified through fasts and baptismal rites. It was this last tenet, that the body could and needed to be cleansed, that brought upon the young Mani's departure from the faith of his fathers. He was still in his twenties, when Mani caused a decisive split in the Elchasaite movement. His rejection of the possibility of bodily purification and his insisting that salvation could only be achieved through a process of intellectual recognition (“gnosis”) of the underlying and dualist principles of the cosmos, let to his expulsion from the Elchasaite church. (The emphasis on "gnosis" qualifies the Manichaean belief as belonging to the very wide and very loosely connected group of Gnostics religious movements that had appeared by the 3rd century in the Near East and surrounding regions. The scope of this article does not follow the Gnostic track, especially as in the historiography of religions, "Gnostic' and "Dualist" are often synonymously used.)

About the next years of Mani's life, little is known a lot has been speculated. It seems he undertook extensive missionary travels, into the Persian East and further into the Indian sub-continent, where he was influenced by Buddhist teachings. It seems also that he had some success during his proselytizing missions. On his return to Persia he found thus the attention of the Sassanid king Shapur I. By then, around 250 AD, Mani's teaching had found its final form. Under the influences of its Zoroastrian, Jewish, Buddhist and Christian sources, it had become an all-embracing syncreticism, containing selected elements from all those religions: At its heart remained a radical Dualist cosmos, with one of the two domains as light and spirit ruled by the “Father of Greatness”, and its opposite, darkness and matter, ruled by the “King of Darkness”. In the beginning, outside space and time thw two domains co-exist, until the darkness, out of its coherent chaos, collided with the light to bring the material universe into being. A perennial battle occurred in which both realms sent a series of demi-gods to fight, with the light element attempting to rescue the “Primal man” from its bondage in darkness, the dark element trying to perpetuate its binding. The first humans are thus created by the King of Darkness, in order to bind the light in a mortal body permeated with desires. The “Father of Greatness” sent the first of a number of prophetic saviours, Jesus “the Splendour” (not to be confused with the historical Jesus, to be followed by Noah, Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ et al) to reveal to Adam the true nature of the cosmic struggle and to offer him the path to salvation through man's realisation of the eternal battle between light and dark and his repudiation of the dark. With each saviour having been sent to earth, more souls would be released from their material imprisonment until the last prophet, Mani, would come to announce the immanent, apocalyptic last battle where the the domain of light and spirit would carry the victory, and the dark and matter would be sent to eternal incarceration.

This being the foundations of Manichaean belief, it proved itself however very adoptable to its audience. Manichaeism changed the names of the protagonists of its cosmology according to that of the traditions of prospective believers. For example, Jesus “the Splendour” was identified with the old Persian deity Ahura Mazda. The organisation of the Manichaean church would provide the role model for all successive Dualist religions. The Manichaean believers were divided into two classes, a notion probably adapted from Buddhism: into the elected few, “members of Mani” who would distinguish themselves through the higher state of the “gnosis” they had achieved, and through their radical anti-material asceticism, from the mass of “listeners” who were exempted from the more extreme forms of worldly denials, and who would contribute to the upcome of the selected. (The most prominent Manichaean listener was Augustine of Hippo, who before becoming the most influential theologian of Christian orthodoxy, belonged to the Manichaean community). The elect would enter the realm of light after their death while the listeners had to wait until the last battle, after which they too would be elevated.
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PostSubject: Re: The Cathars   Wed Apr 18, 2007 3:18 am

Part One: Origins of a Medieval Dualist Dissent
Like so many other medieval religious sects, the Cathars would have sunk into historical oblivion had it not been for two phenomena that has kept the name of the sect alive: Firstly, the ruins of the Cathar fortresses have left indelible marks in the land-scape of Southern France. And secondly, the Cathars have joined the ever growing collection of allegedly mysterious medieval ( and post-medieval) organisations that have become the staple diet of conspiracy theories and other pseudo-historical fantasies. Together with the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati and the Freemasons, to name only the most popular, the Cathars have become the subject of myths, fables, and mass-produced literature. The last resurrection of the Cathars from obscurity in the early 80s must be blamed on the authors of “The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail” who began their highly entertaining, but also completely fictional, narrative of the alleged preservation of Jesus Christ's bloodline in the Cathar region of the Languedoc.
But this article will not deal with the escapist myths that have surrounded the Cathars and their history. It will attempt, in this first part, to trace the intellectual origins of a Medieval Dualist faith, and then give an account of their belief system and organisation and tell the history of the persecution and destruction of Catharism in the Albigensian Crusades of the 13th century.
Tracing the origins of the Cathar faith should also establish whether Catharism is indeed “the great heresy of Christianity” of the Middle Ages, or a phenomenon that has no parallel in the Medieval age: the introduction of an essentially non-Christian but Dualist faith into Europe, purely by intellectual dissemination and not by the usual means of being the accompaniment of territorial conquest. Catharism had such unbridgeable deviations from the Christian orthodoxy - such as its cosmic dualism, its insistence of the existence of an evil principle in creation, its interpretation of the role of the god of the Old and New Testament, its view of Jesus Christ, its rejection of the entire paraphernalia of the Christian Church - that it seems, it was not simply a significant variation of the Christian faith, but rather a separate faith alltogether, sharing a few superficial elements, but at heart being incompatible with Christianity.
I. From the East to the Roman Empire and back
Heresies are deviations of accepted and established doctrines of an existing faith and its organisation. A heresy needs an orthodoxy , the “right belief”, in order to able to depart from fundamental tenets of its mother church. Judaism or Islam can not be Christian heresies, as they have never been or have never claimed to be Christian. To be a Christian heresy, a deviation needs to have originated from the orthodoxy, or must have shared at least the basic beliefs of the Christian Church.
In the 11th,and 13th centuries, during the rise and fall of Catharism, the orthodoxy of the Christian faith was guarded by the the Roman Catholic and the Greek (Orthodox) Church which had split from the former in 1054, more for political than for doctrinal reasons. (Throughout this article, “orthodox” and “orthodoxy” will be used in their original meaning, as “rightful belief” or “correct thought,” and should not be confused with “Orthodox” as the epithet of various Christian Churches, as in the "Greek Orthodox Church". When it is used as such, it will be written with a capital letter). Christian orthodoxy was only achieved through centuries of intense struggle over the basic tenets of the faith. From the very first moment of its existence, when it developed in the first half of the first century AD, Christianity had experienced long and very fundamental debates over the exegesis of its founder's teachings which had been passed down in a very diverse collection of texts. And from the very first moment, a myriad of Christian communities had sprung up, many of which held sometimes totally conflicting views, based on sometimes totally conflicting accounts of Jesus' life and teachings. The Ebionites, Marcionites, Montanites and thousands of other now forgotten strands of Christianity contributed to the extremely heterogeneous nature of early Christianity. An orthodox Christian belief did not exist then. Only on the base of their seniority, local Churches like the one of the Bishop of Rome, could attempt to dictate their doctrines to other local groups. Only after the Council of Nicaea in 325, which anathematized Arianism, could one speak of the beginnings of a universal, orthodox Christianity. But apart from the internal discussions about the interpretation of its basic belief, early Christianity had faced another danger: being subjected to non-Christian influences.
Its origins had been in Palestine, from where it spread mainly through the Eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, thus remaining inside a relative coherent cultural sphere which for centuries had also been the center of cultural exchange, where ideas from as far apart as the Indus regions, Egypt and the coastal regions of Asia Minor had influenced each other. Early Christian groups thus came into contact with religions originated in the East, especially because these outside religions had begun to diffuse into the West. Mithraism was such an example of an extremely successful and serious competitor to the rising Christian church.
In this climate of religious diversity and exchange, religious strands that are very difficult to classify as being exclusive to any one major religion flourished in the region in the first centuries AD. Many of these groups were rather eclectic, taking elements from various religions and blending them into a new system of belief, a “syncretic”, merged belief.
One of such groups were the (BOLD)Elchasaites, a small sect that had amalgamated Jewish, Christian, Gnostic ( see below) and Zoroastrian elements into a new faith. Little is known about their doctrines and rites. Although they had slowly spread westwards into the Roman Empire, they had remained firmly centered in Mesopatamia. There in Mesopatamia, in the year 216, Mani the “Prophet of Babylon” was born into an aristocratic Elchasaite family. Babylon was then part of the Empire of the Parthians, which was in its very last days, soon to be replaced by the Empire of the Sassanids, who took control of Persia and its surrounds in 224/228. The first Sassanid king soon re-established Zoroastrianism as the official religion of crown and state, while practicing a relatively high religious tolerance as his Achaemenid predecessors had done several centuries before.
The Zoroastrian religion is based on the teachings of Zoroaster (Zarathrustra), whose biographical dates are somewhat disputed, with estimates ranging from 1000-500 BC. However, uncontested is that in the 6th century BC, under Cyrus II and his successors, Zoroastrianism was adopted as the quasi-official religion of the Persian Empire. Even if the Zoroastrian faith had lost its elevated status under the Achaemenids' successors, the Seleucids and Parthians, it retained its position as the most important religious and intellectual force of the entire region. That the Elchasaites were influenced by it, is proof of the continuing presence and undiminished significance of Zoroastrianism in Mesopatamia in the 3th century AD. As most highly evolved religious systems, Zoroastrianism was far from a monolithic block, but possessed different strands and went trough a series of developments. One of the interpretations was its Zurvanite variant that had redefined the inherent cosmic dualism of Zoroaster's teachings into its radical conclusion. The particular Zurvanite element that the Elchasaites had adopted into their syncretic faith, was at the core of the belief: that the material world is the battlefield of two polar principles being immanent constituents of creation. The good, the light, the truthful is locked in eternal battle with with the evil, the dark and lying. These two opposing forces are embodied in the two divinities, that of Ahuda Mazda, the wise and benevolent , and that of Ahriman, his equally divine malevolent anti-thesis, both created by Zurvan, the personified principle of time and space. Humans are presented with a free will to choose between the two forces, and by taking the right choice, can bring upon the end of the existing world, the victory of the good principle and the millenarian kingdom of Ahuda Mazda. These two notions, that of the cosmic dualism, and that of a linear course of time leading to a definite end, had a profound impact on the religions and philosophies of the entire Middle-Eastern region. Judaism, for example, certainly came into contact with Zoroastrian ideas, possibly during the Babylonian exile. Although the Jewish faith preserved its monist principle that of the one god as the sole and essentially good cosmic force to which Satan, God's adversary, is only subjugated as a mere minor being, the Jewish millenarian prophecies, that of an apocalyptic end of time heralded by a messiah, seem to owe Zoroastrianism a lot.
The Elchasaites in the 3rd century Mesopatamia had incorporated the Zoroastrian cosmic dualism and added another ancient ( gnostic) dualist principle: the notion of the superiority of the soul, of the spirit, over the body, the matter, regarding the latter as the bearer of the evil principle. To be able to join the soul in the upcoming millenarian kingdom, the Elchasaites argued that the body needed to be purified through fasts and baptismal rites. It was this last tenet, that the body could and needed to be cleansed, that brought upon the young Mani's departure from the faith of his fathers. He was still in his twenties, when Mani caused a decisive split in the Elchasaite movement. His rejection of the possibility of bodily purification and his insisting that salvation could only be achieved through a process of intellectual recognition (“gnosis”) of the underlying and dualist principles of the cosmos, let to his expulsion from the Elchasaite church. (The emphasis on "gnosis" qualifies the Manichaean belief as belonging to the very wide and very loosely connected group of Gnostics religious movements that had appeared by the 3rd century in the Near East and surrounding regions. The scope of this article does not follow the Gnostic track, especially as in the historiography of religions, "Gnostic' and "Dualist" are often synonymously used.)
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