Cathars are known for having been a community which did not believe good things about the Old Testament deity and were based in the Languedoc region of today's southern France around the 12th century. Given that most Christian denominations in existence base their beliefs partly in the Old Testament deity, I was wondering, did the Cathars use as a guide any books of the Bible and if so, which? Were those books different than the ones we know? Did they have additional gospels besides the canon used by most Christians today?
Answer to Questions
Did the Cathars use as a guide any books of the Bible and if so, which?
They only accepted a few of the Old Testament books (the rest they regarded written by Satan). They accepted the New Testament but hold a different interpretation of the Book of Revelation, not as prophecy, but as an allegorical chronicle of what had transpired in Satan's rebellion, with numerous elements characteristic of Gnostic literature.
Were those books different than the ones we know?
About their use of the New Testament
Four website articles in the Resources section below said simply that they use the New Testament which they attribute to the benevolent God, without saying whether they use a different version. Maybe we can safely assume that they use the same books since by that time (12th century) the canon has long been established. Of course they read it with a different interpretation, since the mainstream Christian interpretation depends on many typological/ prophetic fulfillment of many Old Testament verses and mainstream interpretation also assumes that the same God was worshiped by the people mentioned in the New Testament.
About the few books they use from the Old Testament
I cannot find a list of books they use from the Old Testament (yet)
Did they have additional gospels besides the canon used by most Christians today?
Yes, The Gospel of the Secret Supper (also called John's Interrogation).
The alleged sacred texts of the Cathars, besides the New Testament, included the previously Bogomil text The Gospel of the Secret Supper (also called John's Interrogation), a modified version of Ascension of Isaiah, and the Cathar original work The Book of the Two Principles (possibly penned by Italian Cathar John Lugio of Bergamo). They regarded the Old Testament as written by Satan, except for a few books which they accepted, and considered the Book of Revelation not a prophecy about the future, but an allegorical chronicle of what had transpired in Satan's rebellion. Their reinterpretation of those texts contained numerous elements characteristic of Gnostic literature.
2019 Book edited by Sebastian C. Garreau: The Cathar Bible: Translated from the Original Languages and Modern Sources. The volume contains the Gospel of John, the Interrogation of John (the Book of the Secret Supper) and the Book of the Two Principles.
Gnosis.org has Cathar Texts and Rituals
Cathar Holy Books
There are mentions of Cathar holy books like the Book of Two Principles, The Secret Supper, and the Interrogation of John, but the Inquisition zealously destroyed them. Denying the heretics their gospels was seen as key to defeating them. Catholic critics frequently accused the Cathars of witchcraft and sexual perversity.
Various web articles
- ChristianHistoryInstitute.org article #211: Cathars Recorded as Heretics
- Medievalists.net article A Five-Minute Guide to the Cathars
- SacredMysteryTours.com article Faith of the Cathars
- GotQuestions.org article What is Catharism?
- Christianity.SE question Question:What was the explanation for why Catharism identified the Old Testament God as Satan?
The name ‘Cathars’ was given to Christians who adhered to and believed Scripture. They were also known as Puritans. The name ‘Novatians’ was also given to them, though Novatian was not their founder. It was the Donatists in North Africa who were influenced by Novatian, particularly on points of discipline and purity of character for those who would take the sacraments. After he had been excommunicated in AD 251 by a synod at Rome, then martyred, many Christians who sympathized with his strict standards for Christians spread widely. They ceased to recognize the Catholic churches or to acknowledge any value in their ordinances. Thus the Catholic church would call them ‘heretics’.
In Bosnia, in the 1200s, there was an Italian Inquisitor, Reniero Sacconi, who called some of the disparate groups of non-Catholic Christians “the church of the Cathari” or pure-living, the name used from before the time of Emperor Constantine, and he said they extended from the Black Sea to the Atlantic. The persecutions against them caused them to find refuge from Rome with the Muslims Turks. They preferred the mercies of the Turks to the horrors of the Inquisition.
Rome called these various groups many names, including Manichaeans, in an attempt to blacken their name and justify their persecutions. Rome also destroyed as many of their writings as possible, so we have very little about them apart from what Rome said. Mani, a Persian, lived AD 216-76 and taught dualism (a form of Gnosticism) which led to him leaving the Jewish Christians he’d been brought up amongst. Yes, his views were heretical but such views were in great decline by the sixth century in the West. From the seventh to the twelfth centuries the Paulician movement in Armenia spread, though it repudiated Manichaeism. Still, it resembled it in its dualism views, and helped develop the Bogomils in the Balkans. The Bogomils, in turn, stimulated the Cathars or Albingensians, who were dominant in southern France and northern Italy up till the thirteenth century. The crusade against them by Pope Innocent III in 1208 finally suppressed them by the fourteenth century.
Here is a quote from the book below. It deals with this crusade against such groups in France:
“The people brought for trial then made a confession of faith which did not differ much from what a Roman Catholic might have made; but as they had a conscientious objection to taking an oath in confirmation of what they had said they were condemned. This confession, including as it did a declaration of belief in infant baptism, shows that those affected by the religious movements of the time differed among themselves in their degree of divergence from the teachings of the dominant Church. In a time of such spiritual unrest, all kinds of strange and fanciful ideas took root, and both truth and error found fruitful ground. Some persons who were examined and punished appear to have been Mystics, and although many who were accused of being Manichaens had no sort of connection with them, yet instances were found of those who held Manichean doctrine, and these were readily confounded with others innocent of such teaching.
Among the people the brethren were most frequently called “Good men”, and there is general testimony to the fact that their manner of life was a pattern to all, and especially that their simplicity and piety were a contrast to the self-indulgence of the clergy.” The Pilgrim Church by E.H. Broadbent, pages 15, 62, 85 (Pickering Classic 1985)
Bear in mind that many people accused by Rome were burned alive at the stake. The goods of the executed would be divided between the church and the civil authority.
“Pope Gregory IX, in 1263, declared, ‘We excommunicate and anathematize all heretics, Cathars, Patarenes, Poor Men of Lyons, Passagini, Josepini, Arnaldistae, Speronistrae, and others, by whatever names they may be known…” (Ibid. p 89)
It seems that Rome felt threatened by these different groups of non-conformists and decided to lump them all together (in order to tar them with the same brush) and to persecute them to extinction. However, if anyone today is under the impression that the Cathars did not believe good things about the Old Testament God, only believing certain parts of the Bible and not all of it, the onus is on them to give documented evidence for that charge, and not just any vague claim that they've heard. Bear in mind, also, that the Cathars were also called by other names, so that any historic search for facts will descend into very muddy waters indeed.
EDIT: One group that did, indeed, repudiate some of the things in the Old Testament were Marcionites. Marcion was born in 85 and published his views when aged nearly 60. His group
“spread so widely as seriously to rival the Catholic system… He adopted a form of dualistic theory such as was prevalent t the time; asserting that the world was not created by the Highest God, but by a lower being, the god of the Jews… but he was not in agreement with the Gnostic sects… He applied his theory to the Scriptures and rejected all in them that was in manifest opposition to it… Thus, although he had formerly accepted, he later rejected the whole of the Old Testament… To [his] abridged New Testament Marcion added his own book, ‘Antitheses’, which took the place of the Book of Acts.” (Ibid., pp 13-14)
Then the development of resistance groups within decadent churches is related. They hoped to reform the whole but some were cast out and met separately:
“These would often reinforce those others which, from the beginning, had maintained primitive practice. There is frequent reference in later centuries to those churches that had adhered to Apostolic doctrine, and which h claimed unbroken succession of testimony from the time of the Apostles. They often received, both before and after the time of Constantine, the name of Cathars, or Puritans, though it does not appear that they took this name themselves. The name Novatians was also given to them, though Novatian was not their founder.” (Ibid., p15)
It is too easy to lump groups that disagreed with Rome under the stigma of that genuinely heretical group, the Marcionites. They certainly rejected the Old Testament God and even began disagreeing with parts of the New Testament but the Cathars were a different group. Here, now, is a quote from an answer to the question, “Who were the Cathars?” published in a newspaper many years ago. Although I kept the clip, I did not put the date on it, but here is the whole answer:
“Further to earlier answers, the roots of the Catholic Church’s Inquisition can be traced to the suppression of the Cathars in the 13th century. The success of the Cathar movement, particularly in southern France, made the Church fearful of losing power. So it embarked on a campaign to ‘bring the heretics to justice’, which normally involved confession under torture and burning at the stake. Thus arose some of the most feared names in history: Simon de Montfort, Bernard Gui and Conrad of Marburg.
One of the most infamous was the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury, Abbot of Citeaux, who carried out one of the worst atrocities in Church history. On July 22, 1209, de Montfot’s ‘crusaders’ took the strategic town of Beziers which housed several important Cathars.
When asked how to discern the Cathars from the Catholics in the town, Arnaud-Amaury is supposed to have decreed: ‘Kill them all; God will recognise his own.’ As many as 15,000 men, women and children were massacred, sending shock waves of fear through the region. Arnaud-Amaury wrote to Pope Innocent III that: ‘Neither age, nor sex, nor status has been spared’.” (Hillary Thompson, Leeds, in Answers to Correspondents in The Daily Mail newspaper)
Unless sources can be cited to disprove all the sources I have quoted, caution must be maintained so as not to assume that anyone calling the Cathars ‘heretics’ (who didn’t believe in the God of the Old Testament) were correct. As my answer shows, the Marcionites definitely answered to that charge, but where is the proof that the Cathars shared the same heretical views?