Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
516
CATHARS

Imprisoned in the garment of flesh, burdened with its sin, souls long to be clothed upon with the habitations they left in heaven. So long as they are at home in the body, they are absent from the Lord. They would fain be at home with the Lord, and absent from the body, for which there is no place in heaven since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor corruption inherit incorruption. There is no resurrection of the flesh. The true resurrection is the spiritual baptism bequeathed by Christ to the boni homines. How shall man escape from his prison-house of flesh, and undo the effects of his fall? For mere death brings no liberation, unless a man is become a new creation, a new Adam, as Christ was; unless he has received the gift of the spirit and become a vehicle of the Paraclete. If a man dies unreconciled to God through Christ, he must pass through another cycle of imprisonment in flesh; perhaps in a human, but with equal likelihood in an animal’s body. For when after death the powers of the air throng around and, persecute, the soul flees into the first lodging of clay that it finds.[1] Christ was a life-giving spirit, and the boni homines, the “good men,” as the Cathars called themselves, are his ambassadors. They alone have kept the spiritual baptism with fire which Christ instituted, and which has no connexion with the water baptism of John; for the latter was an unregenerate soul, who failed to recognize the Christ, a Jew whose mode of baptism with water belongs to the fleeting outward world and is opposed to the kingdom of God. It would be interesting to trace Bardesanes and the Syriac Hymn of the Soul in all this.

The Cathars fell into two classes, corresponding to the Baptized and the Catechumens of the early church, namely, the Perfect, who had been “consoled,” i.e. had received the gift of the Paraclete; and the credentes or Believers. The Perfect formed the ordained priesthood, were women no less than men, and controlled the church; they received from the Believers unquestioning obedience, and as vessels of election in whom the Holy Spirit already dwelt, they were adored by the faithful, who were taught to prostrate themselves before them whenever they asked for their prayers. For none but the Consoled had received into their hearts the spirit of God’s Son, which cries “Abba, Father.” They alone were become adopted sons, and so able to use the Lord’s Prayer, which begins, “Our Father, which art in heaven.” The Perfect alone knew God and could address him in this prayer, the only one they used in their ceremonies. The mere credens could at best invoke the living saint, and ask him to pray for him.

All adherents of the sect seem to have kept three Lents in the year, as also to have fasted Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays of each week; in these fasts a diet of bread and water was usual. But a credens under probation for initiation, which lasted at least one and often several years, fasted always. The life of a Perfect was so hard, and, thanks to the inquisitors, so fraught with danger, that most Believers deferred the rite until the death-bed, as in the early centuries many believers deferred baptism. The rule imposed complete chastity. A husband at initiation left his wife, committing her “to God and the gospel”; a wife her husband. A male Perfect could not lay his hand on a woman without incurring penance of a three-days’ fast. All begetting of children is evil, for Adam’s chambering with Eve was the forbidden fruit. It is good for a man not to touch a woman; a man’s relations with his own wife are merely a means of fornication, and marriage and concubinage are indistinguishable as against the kingdom of God, in which there is no marrying or giving in marriage. Those only have been redeemed from earth who were virgins, undefiled with women. The passages of the New Testament which seem to connive at the married relation were interpreted by the Cathars as spoken in regard of Christ and the church. The Perfect must also leave his father and mother, and his children, for a man’s foes are they of his own household. The family must be sacrificed to the divine kinship. He that loveth father or mother more than Christ is not worthy of him, nor he that loveth more his son or daughter. The Perfect takes up his cross and follows after Christ.

Next he must abstain from all flesh diet except fish. He may not even eat cheese or eggs or milk, for they, like meat, are produced per viam generationis seu coitus. Everything that is sexually begotten is impure. Fish were supposed to be born in the water without sexual connexion, and on the basis of this old physiological fallacy the Cathars equally with the Catholic framed their rule of fasting. And there was yet another reason why the Perfect should not eat animals, for a human soul might be doing time in its body. Nor might a Perfect or one in course of probation kill anything, for the Mosaic commandment applies to all life. He might not lie nor take an oath, for the precept “Swear not at all” was, like the rest of the gospel, taken seriously. This was the chief of their “anarchist doctrines.”[2]

The Cathar rites, which remain to us in a manual of the sect, “recall,” says the Abbé Guiraud, no too favourable a witness, “those of the primitive church with a truth and precision the more striking the nearer we go back to the apostolic age.” The medieval inquisitor saw in them an aping of the rites of the Catholic church as he knew them; but they were really, says the same authority, “archaeological vestiges (i.e. survivals) of the primitive Christian liturgy. In the bosom of medieval society they were the last witness to a state of things that the regular development of Catholic cult had amplified and modihed. They resemble the erratic blocks which lost amid alien soils recall, where we find them, the geological conditions of earlier ages. This being so, it is of the deepest interest to study the Cathar cult, since through its rites we can get a glimpse of those of the primitive church, about which want of documents leaves us too often in the dark.”

The central Cathar rite was consolamentum, or baptism with spirit and fire. The spirit received was the Paraclete derived from God and sent by Christ, who said, “The Father is greater than I.” Of a con substantial Trinity the Cathars naturally had never heard. Infant baptism they rejected because it was unscriptural, and because all baptism with water was an appanage of the Jewish demiurge Jehovah, and as such expressly rejected by Christ.

The consolamentum removes original sin, undoes the sad effects of the primal fall, clothes upon us our habitation which is from heaven, restores to us the lost tunic of immortality. A Consoled is an angel walking in the flesh, whom the thin screen of death alone separates from Christ and the beatific vision. The rite was appointed by Christ, and has been handed down from generation to generation by the boni homines.

The long probation called “abstinence” which led up to it is a survival of the primitive catechumenate with its scrutinies. The prostrations of the credens before the Perfect were in their manner and import identical with the prostrations of the catechumen before the exorcist. We find the same custom in the Celtic church of St Columba. Just as at the third scrutiny the early catechumen passed a last examination in the Gospels, Creed and Lord’s Prayer, so after their year of abstinence the credens receives creed and prayer; the allocution with which the elder “handed on” this prayer is preserved, and of it the Abbé Guiraud remarks that, if it were not in a Cathar ritual, one might believe it to be of Catholic origin. It is so Christian in tone, he quaintly remarks elsewhere, that an inquisitor might have used it quite as well as a heretic. In it the Perfect addresses the postulant, as in the corresponding Armenian rite, by the name of Peter; and explains to him from Scripture the indwelling of the spirit in the Perfect, and his adoption as a son by God. The Lord’s Prayer is then repeated by the postulant after the elder, who explains it clause by clause; the words panis

  1. Here we have a doctrine of metempsychosis which seems of Indian origin (see Asceticism). But Julius Caesar (de B.G. vi. 13) attests this belief among the ancient Druids of Gaul.
  2. The Abbé Guiraud remarks that in refusing to take oaths the Cathars “contraries the social principles on which the constitutions of all states repose,” and congratulates himself that society is not yet so thoroughly “laicized” as to have given up oaths in the most important acts of social life.