Albigensians: A tight little group that was obviously way ahead of its time

The Albigensians, or Catharists, were neo-Manicheans, regarding material creation as an evil and viewing all of existence as a conflict between evil matter and good spirit—but O’Brien says it was much more. Like all Gnostics, of which Manicheanism was a branch, they believed themselves to be the only “pure” ones and the only ones to have the truth. They were certainly a forerunner of Protestantism and even more specifically of the most ardent of contemporary fundamentalists, with their complete rejection of the Real Presence, transubstantiation, the Eucharist, and the Mass, and their belief that the pope was the Antichrist. Their teaching and practice, however, had enormous implications for marriage, sexual morality, and social and political life.

The parallels to the present are almost uncanny. While hatred for the Church is nothing new, the visceral character of the Albigensians’ hatred bears a resemblance to the ugliest side of the Reformation and today’s assaults on religion. For example, O’Brien tells us how the Albigensians were known for indiscriminately chopping down crosses and stamping on them. In America today, we see the relentless efforts by rabid, uncompromising church-state separationist groups to remove all religious symbols from public places and the heightened vandalism of crosses and other Christian monuments.

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  1. Interesting article but singing to the choir a little bit perhaps?
    The trouble with the Albigensians along with the Gnostics (whom were much earlier) is the fact that they were in the wrong time and place.
    Paganism always allowed for variation in its discourses at least in the style of western paganism (remembering that Paganism was not a single entity or religion but everything latterly non Christian) and Manicheanism had been a branch of Gnostic Eastern identity.
    Many of these local belief systems grew beside the Orthodox Catholic Church under a Roman state indifference that loomed from laissez faire to cruel persecutions. With the establishment of a Christian Orthodoxy and state backed religion the demise of such interloping churches became slowly inevitable.
    To understand Albigensianism we must try and understand the Medieval Church and its development which was still growing in an agricultural pre industrialised civilization. The world was both mysterious from medical beliefs that often were advanced but limited by resources and sat uncomfortably amongst witchcraft and animal worship. From Monarchical States that justified themselves by either papal fidelity or imperial domination a rural uneducated and often highly superstitious populace was sometimes left open to wild fancies. In that regard the article is correct in its similarities with todays populace. We have an educated western society that imagines the Divine personage of Jesus Christ to be either myth, lie or vague notion of obscurity. Left to its own devices therefore it is little wonder that modern societies armed with fallible heresy are allowed to strike out at what they neither believe nor understand.
    The point I would disagree with the author is in the slightly illogical notion that Albigensians were some kind of forerunner of Protestantism. This is a very tentative idea and not borne by historical evidence as far as I can see!
    In the first place Protestantism from both Luther and Calvin were directly internal splinters that initially could have been healed if the Papacy at the time had appreciated their severity. Luther being a monk was well educated and like the people he attracted was literate. Whilst European writing presses drove the Literal Bible into the hands of persons capable of reading and understanding languages, the Reformation took root. To imply however that the campaign was led by Albigensian type revolutionaries is to do the Reformation or its rejection an injustice.
    The attack by the Albigensian movement on the Church resulted in some of Christendom’s most beloved saints rising to the challenge to stem the tide of the heresy. It is a waning to the Modern Church that such false ideas are capable of arising from ill informed or gullible populations and despite education being flaunted in todays society as a common good for all, its affects and conclusions are by no means universally beneficial.

    • Scampy2,
      What do you think about the Extermination of the Albigensies by the Roman Catholic Church?
      It sickens me, with the stories of cruelty, for fellow man!
      What happened to God Is Love, and Love your Enemy, and Love your Neighbor…..Kill the Heretic(Never heard of that Command!)
      Ignorance and Superstition for Rural people, does not warrant Annihilaton!
      This is going to hack my fellow Catholics Off!

      • Scampy22
        Sorry…been a few days, not 2 but 22. 🙂

  2. Hello Cathy,
    That’s a very good question!

    Basically the Catholic Church is composed of sinful individuals (variations in the level or type of sin agreed) and these people work on two levels. In Theological thesis or in Hope and Desire we all work for the Good and wisdom of the Gospels to bring Christ into the world by our word deed and action. But because we are sinful we fail miserably in that lofty notion, hence we work in a sinful fallen world, redeemed by our lord but one that we still fall short to emulate. We need the forgiveness of Christ (and ourselves) to even allow us to stop us from falling into total despair.
    History likewise is full of human errors where at times and for many reasons personal behaviour left something to be desired. I think all Christians can agree that our past is often sadly a shameful reflection of what we should aspire towards.
    In the Catholic Church there has often been an almost fanatical wing that saw any difference to its viewpoint (right or wrong) as something to be destroyed. Even today there remain many Catholics that are wildly intolerant of other beliefs and sometimes this has led to incalculable harm inflicted upon mother Church by these very people that express devotion.
    As Catholics we believe that despite these errors the Church remains sanctified and the Body of Christ both in Heaven and on Earth.
    We must of course be very careful when we are presented with historical certainties as real facts because History itself can be at times little more than propaganda from the winning side. That realised Catholics ask forgiveness for past errors and harm done to our neighbour because we failed to appreciate Christ present in them.
    The Albigensians were however an extremely dangerous sect that led many astray from Catholic truths. They may have believed in their own cause but that alas does not make it right. Catholics are well aware that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions and the Church militant engaged in a war against them firstly to correct their heresies and secondly to re-establish the authority of the Bishops and monarchy. The destruction of the Heretical movement maybe compared to that of any opposite virulent ideology. The removal of Nazi Germany for example was to cause immense suffering but in the long vision of history may have been necessary. That is to allow the heretical movement to spread would at the time have been unthinkable and even a betrayal of what was then understood about Christendom.
    Both State and Church united in the suppression of the Albigensians as both saw them as a threat to power structures that helped preserve their world.
    Today we have various states and the Catholic Church fights against various heretical movements still. Yet we also have a liberal understanding of identity whether we like it or not, which makes us perceive the world in wider historical contexts so we deem for example slavery as a great wrong but that concept has grown into our psyche and we are unwise to condemn out of hand past generations that had not realised its error. We cannot properly sit in judgement of past generations or their motives and we should probably be glad that we live in todays world and not theirs. Despite film and literature; the past was a harder existence and against Rousseau and the romantic version of past simple ages we should realise that many lived appallingly hard lives and dark ones at that.
    So Cathy, your question is interesting but difficult. We are sorry for events committed in the past in the Name of Christ which may have been unworthy of that name. We also understand that many sinful people have inflicted upon the Church a disregard for our faith and its truths. Perhaps we therefore strive to live better lives today and in the future and hope in the Faith that God will forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.

  3. Scampy22,
    The Fanatical Wing, of the Holy Church, just about destroyed her!
    Look at WWII, the Nazi involvement and the Facist Croatia with the Estase horrors! Just awful, occurring in the last century! For the most part, this is hidden history, that is either not known or dismissed to the rantings of evil-doers!, that want to hurt the Catholic Church!
    As Our Lord says, Seek and you will Find….Never in history, because of the Internet, information is avaliable, to the inquiring mind, but soon censuring, will be the order! Keep all Knowledge in Perspective, who, what, when, where, and why and most importantly…..Never Lose Your FAITH!

    • Yes Cathy never lose the faith!
      But try no to worry either! Anxiety and worry are all utterly useless and the devils tools. Try not to get too bogged down with the horrors that are all around us. It is a story of woe but Christians should have no truck with such whispers.
      Remember that God loves us and the faith is something to be rejoicing over and happy in. Not much use in presenting God with a sad face and a woe filled heart! Better for us and better for our neighbour if we try to be happy, cheerful and brave.
      Not wanting to sound like a butterfly brain but always try and be of good cheer because that will inspire confidence in others and in oneself.
      So hang on in there and be glad because He whom is Almighty believes in you.

      • Scampy22,
        Thanks for your encouragement, that is something that Paul spoke of, to edify others!
        I have the Peace of Christ within me, but sometimes, I get lash out a Little Righteouss Anger. 🙂
        You must know How That Goes???
        Have an Enjoyable Weekend and try not to Sin! 🙂
        That’s my PLAN!
        Many Blessings,

      • Scampy22,
        I did not realize Cardinal Stepanic was beatified by John Paul II….How Could This Be???
        Very Sinister!
        I think MHFM may be correct, in their evaluation of JPII!
        Have Faith in God

      • Misspell: Stepinac….although Panic is better. 🙂

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