Who Were the Cathars?

Who Were the Cathars?

Whenever the Templars are mentioned, the Cathars are generally not far behind. Tied together with some interesting data and facts, they tend to be the focus of intense esoteric and mystical knowledge. Taking a look at them with the facts we have may answer questions, or create deeper ones.

The Cathars were the followers of a 12th to 14th C.E. Gnostic movement in Southern France and Italy. This movement, Catharism, comes from the Greek word katharoi, or “Pure Ones.” Scholars agree that the people who practiced this religion did not call themselves by this name; in all honesty, it seems unclear what they did call themselves except “The Good Christians.” The movement first took hold in the small town of Albi, in France, and the followers were also known as the Albigensians, especially to the CatholicsThe ideas of Catharism were around for centuries before this larger movement took place, and possibly has its roots in what is called Paulicianism.

In the Paulicianism belief system, the adherents do not believe in the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and in fact believe that Jesus was “adopted” by God to be his “son” and endure the necessary trials. Paulicianism was vibrant around the 7th to 9th centuries C.E., particularly in Armenia. Cathars, like the Paulicians, primarily believed in a dualistic Christian system, wherein the were two “Gods,” one good, one evil, as well as deeper Gnostic concepts. The basic tenants of the Cathar religion seem to have come from a single priest, Bogomil, during the First Bulgarian Empire in the 10th century C.E. as a response to the rise of feudalism. In other words, the oppression and slavery of Feudalistic ideas spurred this priest and his followers toward a mindset of individual freewill and worth. Like later Cathars, Bogomilism did not believe in the ecclesiastical hierarchy nor did they believe in the need for church buildings. In a sense, Bogomils, and then Cathars, were an itinerant religion, spread by men and women of the church elite – Travelers.

Most of their beliefs were radical to a still-struggling Catholic Church, and in a time prior to Luther, Catholic ideas were the only “Christian” meal to be had. The church had struggled for over a thousand years to get itself “right,” and it did not need yet one more renegade group to get in its way. Cathars believed in reincarnation of humans and animals, and did not eat the flesh of animals for this reason. They had a vibrant tradition in their troubadours, and were traveling craftsmen of many trades. Men and women were mainly seen as equals, although it is thought that their last incarnation needed to be male in order to be “close to God.” Their Good God was the creator of all that was spiritual, ethereal and thought, while the Evil God was the creator all that was material. They did not believe in hell, it being the earth in which we currently live, but heaven was populated by angels and spirits performing the will of the Good God. By living their aesthetic life, they believed themselves to be the truest Christians, where the Catholic Church was a corruption of all of the Christian teachings.

Cathars had two levels of knowledge, for lack of a better term, to distinguish the teachers from the lay follower. Know as “Perfects,” or “Parfaits,” both men and women could be come one of the elites and were both known to travel and spread the doctrine. This seems to mimic some of the early Christian sects, who also adopted from the Cult of Mithras, Bacchus, and a few other mystery schools.

What is important to note as that for the first 500 to 700 years of its life, Christianity was nowhere near the juggernaut that it became in the 14th to 19th centuries. Out of the remains of the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church rose to reinvent itself to be that empire once again, using religion instead of soldiers to find its way. There was not just one Council of Nicaea but seven over the course of 400 years.

The doctrine of the church was not set in stone – more like several tributaries that were flowing to a single great river. It took hundreds of years and thousands of theological discussions to get to where it is today – still fragmented but fairly solid. It is in the period of the Bogomils and Cathars that we see the Catholic Church coming into its own power, and asserting its right as the divine authority over layman and royalty alike all through Western Europe. It is also important to remember that this was a time before Luther – before the idea that the human could come to God in other ways and not via their connection to a priest. At this time, the spiritual afterlife of every person lay in the hands of the Catholic Church.

Clearly, the Catholic Church had money. And royalty. There was not much that was going to get in the way of it becoming the dominant force in Western Europe. In fact, many new ideas of suppression were tried on the Cathars, tools the Catholic Church would further expand as it moved through Europe imposing its will. The Catholic Church did see the Cathars as a heretical sect; yet, they debated whether they were even Christians. Either way, they could not survive.

In 1208, Pope Innocent III declared a crusade on the Albigensian region of Languedoc, which was not part of France at the time but its own kingdom. Known as the Albigensian Crusade, or later by the name of Cathar Wars, the killing of human beings was indiscriminate. Many Catholics, Jews, and Cathars died in these wars. This genocide bred the first use of the now-common phrase, “Kill them all. God will know his own.” This was the first time a crusade had been waged within the confines of conventional Western Europe, and by all accounts the Catholic Church called it a success. This was followed by what would be called the first Inquisition, whereupon torture and death were used to force conversation back to the true religion, Catholicism. The Crusade itself was ended in 1244, the date when the castle at Montsegur fell to the crusaders. The Inquisition continued well into the 14th century. The last known Cathar elite (called Perfect, as was their custom) was burned there in 1321 C.E..

Cathars did continue to exist in hiding and by all accounts, had eventually died off as a continuing sect. There are some who believe that that elements of the Cathar religion rose with Luther and Protestantism but there are no real supporting documents or links to this supposition.

Additionally, there was and is a supposition that the Cathars held a secret “treasure” which was spirited away prior to the fall of Montsegur; no evidence has been found of this treasure, although some believe it is knowledge rather than an actual treasure. There is also an idea that this treasure went to the Knights Templar, who were just being formed. Indeed, the one link between the Templars and the Cathars was Bernard of Clarvaux, later St. Bernard. Bernard is seen to have held some of the same ideas of the Cathars, even if he did see them as heretics to be eradicated. He had continued correspondence with a bishop of the Cathars and indeed visited. Bernard was also prominent in bringing the worship of the Virgin Mary to popularity, which was in keeping with Cathar beliefs.

The Cathars were and are an interesting off-shoot of the Christian religion from its earliest days, and it is a shame that not more of its own writings exists. Many have speculated if the Cathars still exist and if so, in what form. It may just be a single, dead branch of a tree that has its roots in far older and mysterious teachings. There are a few books about the Cathars; the one by Malcom Barber, who also wrote about the Templars, is interesting and factual. There is also another book about a woman who remembers her past life as a Cathar, in the 13th century C.E., titled “The Cathars and Reincarnation,” by Arthur Guirdham. It is relatively short with some descriptions of places and drawings associated with them. It is an entertaining read, and will leave it up to the reader to validate their own beliefs about the teller’s story. There is also a very thorough website, which has a lot of great references for anyone who wants to know more.

What was the Diet of Worms, and how does it relate to Freemasonry?

What was the Diet of Worms, and how does it relate to Freemasonry?

In 1521, an Imperial Council, referred to as a “Diet,” was convened at Worms, a city situated on the Rhine River in Germany.  This assembly was called by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to consider the growing crisis caused by the Reformation, particularly Martin Luther’s instrumental role in igniting the movement and promoting his protest against the Catholic Church.

Europe was in a state of transition in the first decades of the 16th century as the revolutionary philosophies of the Renaissance had brought many of the accepted practices and beliefs of the Church into question. The Holy Royal Empire was ruled by the Emperor and Path_of_Luther_Mapthe Pope, creating a joint spiritual and political leadership structure. Emperors were elected by a majority vote of four secular and three ecclesiastical princes. Frederick the Wise, ruler of Germany, was one of the secular princes who voted in favor of Charles V.

When the Papacy moved to silence Luther, Frederick provided protection to Luther and insisted that the Professor be given the opportunity to respond to the charges on German soil, surrounded by political forces which were sympathetic to his cause.

Martin Luther’s Stand

Martin Luther was an ordained priest in the Catholic Church and a Professor of Biblical Interpretation at the University of Wittenberg in Germany. In 1517, he wrote “95 Theses of Contention” and nailed the document to the door of the Wittenberg Church. The list of theses condemned the Catholicluther hammers 95 theses church door of wittenberg Church on a variety of charges including the practice of selling “indulgences” for the forgiveness of sins. As a priest he had become disillusioned with the Catholic doctrine of salvation as laypersons could only obtain salvation through good works and the purchase of indulgences.

An “indulgence” was a certificate that had been signed by the Pope which pardoned a person’s sins and promised the individual access to heaven. One could also purchase indulgences for dead relatives to relieve them of their sins and free them from Purgatory. Luther vehemently opposed the concept of purchasing salvation, radically arguing that salvation required no intermediary papal authority to act as an agent between God and man. Moreover, Luther believed that the Bible was the written word of God and should be the primary source of God’s wisdom on Earth.

The Diet of Worms

On April 16, 1521, Martin Luther was called before the Diet to testify and respond to the charge of heresy. The council members of the Diet urged him to recant his beliefs, renounce his writings, and affirm the Catholic teachings regarding salvation. He spent the night before he would deliver his final response in contemplation, praying to God, “Behold me prepared to lay down my life for thy truth… suffering like a lamb. For the cause is holy; it is thine own.”LutherTestifyingThe following morning Luther stood fast in his truth, which he saw as God’s will. He refused to yield to considerable pressure, instead he reaffirmed his writings and stated beliefs. He concluded his testimony by stating, “I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s word. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.”

The Outcome

In response, the assembly issued the Edict of Worms on May 25, 1521, which declared Luther should be cast out of the empire, as well as, excommunicated from the Catholic Church. The Edict was never fulfilled as Martin Luther was protected by Frederick the Wise and continued to live in Germany. The professor went on to publish the first translation of the New Testament of the Bible in German in September of 1522 and published the first German translation of the entire bible in the 1530s. The invention of the printing presLuthersBibles allowed Luther the capability to spread his theology in writing across the empire and ultimately lead to the widespread public reading of the Bible with his publishing of the translated German text. The Diet and Edict of Worms catalyzed the growing Protestant reformation, which led to a schism within Christianity.

In the 21st century, Pope Francis affirmed Luther’s reasoning of relying on one’s conscience as means of achieving salvation. When asked to respond to whether God’s mercy is open to atheists, Pope Francis wrote, “God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.” Following this logic, Luther’s decision to stand firm in his beliefs, convicted by his own conscience, was ultimately justified by the head of the Catholic Church.

Duty and Freemasonry

What is duty? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines duty as, “a moral or legal obligation.” Thus, duty is what we morally or legally are obliged to do. It is a responsibility toStatue_of_Martin_Luther act in a manner that is in accordance with our morality and our obligations in life. Martin Luther was convinced that he had a duty to God and mankind to spread God’s truth. He began his 95 theses with the preamble, “Out of love for the truth and desire to bring it to light…”

Once convinced of the righteousness of his beliefs, he stood firm against intense pressure from the Church and the Roman Empire. He was so sure of his truth that he accepted excommunication and severe restrictions on his personal liberty. When Frederick the Wise arranged the Diet of Worms, how easy would it have been for Luther to acquiesce to the Council’s request that he disavow his stated beliefs? He could have stopped his excommunication from the Church and protected himself from banishment from the Empire. Yet, he did his duty. He stood firm in his truth and changed the course of history. How many today would risk such dire consequences to demonstrate our faith in God and our charity to man?

Freemasonry teaches that we have a duty to God and mankind. We are instructed to live honorably, to speak truth, to practice justice, to love our neighbor, to serve God, and to work to the betterment of humanity. To do our duty regardless of the consequence is not always easy, but it is the task we are obligated to accomplish.