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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