Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Priscillian, the Good Man...?

So what, then, is the world?

Simply put, hell.

This, folks is the realm of the Devil - you are in the Matrix, trapped on the island like Truman and the only way you are going to break out is to come to the realisation of what you are, where you have come from, what binds you to this world of suffering, and what you have to do to extricate your soul.

And you'd better wake up soon or you are destined to continue to be trapped in ignorance for many lifetimes.

Some very notable comparisons between the Cathars and the Priscillianists can be made here: both groups were vegetarians eating no meat or meat products, although fish appears to have been allowed since fish, according to the Cathars, did not have sexual intercourse to reproduce. Neither group drank wine as it was considered not only intoxicating to the spirit but contaminated with the earth of the material world. I am not sure what they thought about leeks and carrots. But I digress.

Both groups were expected to pray, day and night, but while Priscillian asked his followers to read all books including the Apocrypha it seems more likely that such books were not available to the Cathari who seemed to take much of their doctrine from the Gospel of St. John. This is not to say however, that there could not have been an oral tradition of additional material or perhaps they may even have had one or more of the so-called heretical writings as part of the much-written about "Cathar treasure".

The Cathars had no respect for the cross likening it to "the gallows on which your father was hanged". Instead their symbol was the dove of peace. Scorning the visible opulence in which the clergy, and particularly the Pope lived, they sought voluntary poverty. They denied the Apostolic Succession believing the Catholic Popes to be the Antichrist. The Perfecti aimed to live their lives in purity. Once they had taken the Consolamentum they became quite literally Christs themselves, and it is for this reason that the credentes would worship them, often by prostration, not because of any attempt at worldly glorification on their part but because they beheld the living God.

Friday, 26 November 2010

A World Made in Error...

Following Jesus' perhaps most difficult exhortation, the Cathar perfect once they had received the Consolamentum, were expected to leave their wives, husbands, families. They lived together in houses. When death was close, rather than submit themselves to the decay of the flesh, they would starve themselves to death in fast called the Endura. Not surprisingly, most credentes waited until their deathbed before asking to receive the Consolamentum. In the Roman Catholic church, the rite of Extreme Unction was introduced at about this time to compete with the deathbed ritual of the Cathars.

The Cathars had no doubt that the world and the association with the world was linked with Satan. Jesus could not have died on the cross as what perished was the body, not the spirit. The true world, they said, was spiritual, eternal, immaterial in fact the antithesis of matter. The world eternal was the spiritual renewal of the elected day by day, the knowledge of Christ's kingdom and never of this world. Satan was the king of the world, the visible, temporal world of the named and thus the desired. As Jehovah in the Old Testament he had showed his true colours by pretending to be, or perhaps even believing that he was God, the Creator of all. Satan for the Cathari was the lord of the physical person, the decaying flesh which lusts and covets and makes people sin.

Simply put, for the Cathars - and Priscillian - we are not meant to be here. Humans are the production of the fall of certain angels who followed Samael the Blind One in his fall to earth and were persuaded by him to enter into the bodies of the creatures he made out of sand and dust. When the angels realised the trick that had been played upon them, they longed to escape from their material bodies to return to their celestial selves of pure spirit from which they were taken by false promises and to which they hoped one day to return. The aim of life for the Cathars, then, was to reverse the fall: to re-unite the spirit with the body and in so-doing free oneself from the imprisonment of the soul.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Cathars...

The Cathars or Albigenses lived, worked and preached in the areas of France from Toulouse to Beziers and from Albi to Foix in the foothills of the Pyrenees. There were, of course, Cathars outside of these areas. There were other sects whose practices were very much alike to Cathar practices such as the groups in Cologne in Germany, and the Bogomils from what is now Bulgaria and associated regions. It has been suggested often that Catharism originated with the Bogomils and was brought to the Languedoc by Bogomil missionaries. While this is indeed a possibility there are subtle differences between the two groups which suggests perhaps another, more home-grown and indigenous dualist tradition was already there. I suggest that perhaps the Cathars had a Priscillianist root system which in its turn, like many similar so called 'heresies' could trace themselves back to the Essenes of Jerusalem among whose members most likely was counted Jesus and most of his followers. It would only take a seed, a contact or contacts from this region to France or in the case of Priscillian, Spain, for this "heresy" to take root. And not only to take root but to spread.

What we have not been able to access in the history of the spread of Christianity, early Christianity that is, is that Priscillianism was widespread in the latter part of the 4th century; there were Priscillianist followers not only in Galicia, but the whole of Northern Spain, into areas as far south as Córdoba, and then into areas such as the Languedoc and Aquitaine of "Gaul": even into the northern part of Italy!

Priscillian's message was a serious threat to the power of the newly established Roman church: it said that priests and bishops were not necessary to understand the world of God. Not surprisingly it had to be stamped out!

But what is interesting is to see Priscillian's message re-emerge, centuries after Priscillian's death, but perhaps not so long after Priscillianism was forced underground in Spain. When we put Priscillian's message and the message of the Good Men side by side, the seams are almost flawless. How could this be? Many have suggested an influence from the Baltic areas, but do we really have to look that far?

Whatever the reason for their being, by 1143, the majority of Christians in the region were Cathar. Bernard of Clairveaux campaigned in the region against their practices but had no success whatsoever. Increasingly, the Popes, not surprisingly, became alarmed.

Like the Priscillianists, the Cathars had two levels of believer: most were the ordinary people who were allowed, though not encouraged, to marry - although strictly as a bond and not a sacrament - and bring up their families. These were the credentes. They were craftsmen and women, hard working weavers, metalworkers and potters. Above them were the Perfecti. It is hard for us to image the status these men and women had. Like their counterparts amongst the Essenes, these were the Pure Ones, those who had achieved perfection and redemption in this life. These Parfaits and Parfaites had renounced the earthly realm by receiving the only sacrament valid for the Cathars: the Consolamentum. To call this a baptism would be highly misleading. The Cathars renounced baptism as being of the material world. The Consolamentum meant baptism with the spirit and through it the supplicant received the Holy Paraclete, the gift of the Holy Spirit in exactly the same way that Christ had received it at the time of his baptism. For the Cathars the water was not only unnecessary but tainted. This was more a symbolic baptism of fire after which the Parfait became a comforter and a preacher of the only true way to the resurrection they had received, in this life. This is in many ways the core of the Gnostic beliefs and there is little doubt that both Cathars and Priscillianists were Gnostics especially when this realisation of the truth is linked to their dualism. Both groups rejected the Trinity, both made the extraordinary claim that redemption flowed from the understanding of the true nature of man's being, as pure spirit trapped in matter through either curiosity, or the machinations of a devilish trickster who wanted us to believe that faith in Jesus` death on the cross was all we needed to know for our salvation after death.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

On Pain of Death...

The church forbade the reading of the Bible. Catholic Christians were forbidden from reading the Bible, or possessing one in any language, including Latin! Theological discussion with Jews was expressly forbidden since there was no such prohibition in the Jewish faith. St. Louis admonished any Christian upon hearing of the law from a Jew to "thrust his sword into the Jew's belly as far as it will go".

It was considered tantamount to proof of heresy that anyone would feel the need to look for proof of the church's teachings by resorting to bible study. In England, William Tyndale was burned as a heretic for translating the Bible into English and anyone owning or reading his translation was treated likewise.

Not surprisingly, the various translations into the vernacular in the Aquitaine and the southern regions of France had to be stopped and toute de suite!

So who were the Cathars and what did they believe?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Hunting of Heretics: The Cathars

The term "Cathars" was never used by those who simply called themselves Les Bonhommes, or Good Christians. While some scholars have claimed the word comes from the Greek Kataroi, meaning the Pure Ones, others, most notably Nicolas Gouzy of the Centre d'Etudes Cathares in France, have suggested that the name was more comparable to an insult deriving from the German "die Ketzerei" meaning "cat worshippers" and indeed in the iconography of the Middle Ages they were almost always accompanied by cats, a symbol of evil for all of Christendom at the time. They have also been often referred to as The Albigenses, after the chronicler Geoffrey of Vigeous in 1181, especially in the scholarly literature. But this too may be a misnomer as the town of Albi was not notably Cathar with the greatest concentration of believers to the south and south east of the Languedoc and towards the foothills of the eastern Pyrenees.

Why were the Cathars (and for ease of recognition, I'll use this term throughout) such a threat to the Roman church that it was deemed necessary to persecute and exterminate them in their hundreds, perhaps thousands?

Notable in the Cathar writings of the 13th century we find this:

"The Roman church is not ashamed to say that they are the lambs of Christ. They say that the heretics they persecute are the church of wolves. But this is absurd. The wolves have always pursued and slaughtered the sheep. It would have to be the contrary for the sheep to be so mad as to hunt down and kill the wolves, and for the wolves to be so passive and patient as to let the sheep devour them."

The early 11th century brought about a crisis of faith. The world had not ended with the Millennium as most expected it to do according to prophecy. The clergy were seen as corrupt, seeking only power and riches; the Latin litany droned on with no-one understanding a word. No-one spoke Latin anymore and comprehension of the mass was reserved only for those who could read and write in that language; this did not even seem to include some of the priests themselves who used onlywell-used psalms and prayer books. In fact, as I shall mention later, the ownership of a bible was a capital offence since it pre-supposed heretical interests! People began to speak openly of the inconsistencies of the Catholic faith and Catholic practices. They spoke out about the usury of the church; of the fees collected by avaricious churchmen and their superstitious rites. The moneys they collected for holy water, oil, and earth for burial. Ordinary people began to move away from the massive cathedrals and abbeys and began to go - as the comedian Lenny Bruce has termed the 20th century spiritual comparison - "...back to God".

What can the world be other than created by the devil, they said. They began to preach detachment from this realm whose prince was Satan and sought ways to "a new heaven, and a new earth where justice will dwell".