Catharism was a movement that took place between the 12th and 13th centuries, in Languedoc, southern France, reaching even parts of Spain and Italy. In the Middle Ages, the Cathars accomplished an inner transformation of true spiritual transcendence. Almost unknown to this day, they undertook a silent, enlightened and profound revolution wherever they were.
The Cathars called themselves Christians, and came to be called Perfect, good men and women, or even good Christians. Among them, men and women performed priestly duties on equal terms, and they taught and participated in theological debates in the community. It was the women, especially, who shaped Catharism. The most important amongst them, Esclarmonde of Foix, is one of the personalities of the “Initiated women of the Christian Age” series. She created the Cathar homes, which were the support houses for the Cathar pilgrims, and where Cathar women weaved and produced candles, but above all, where they focused on spirituality.
The inner spiritual work done by the Cathars was called the endura, a process of demolishing a self-centered state of being, in order to initiate a self-construction of a new consciousness. Its purpose was in line with original or gnostic Christianity – without dogma, its aim was to prepare for the transformation to be accomplished through purification, with the aid of a driving force.
This driving force, or Divinity, inhabits the cosmos and the human being himself. Therefore, a direct connection with the Divine did not require intermediaries such as priests and other authorities.
For the manifestation of God and for the union of the Divine with man to take place, it was necessary to live a process of purification of the corruptibility in his own being. The Cathar initiation began inside the caves (there are thousands of them in southern France and the Pyrenees – some with a very large hall), where the initiates lived cloistered for three years, doing deep inner work, and guided by other older adherents. Crowning this period, the consolamentum, the most important Cathar ritual, celebrated the attainment of perfection by giving them the seal of “Man reborn by the Universal Spirit.”
After the consolamentum, the Cathars lived within society, among the fiefdoms or going on pilgrimages, living a simple life, working and, above all, humbly offering their spiritual gifts to those who sought them.
Around them many followers gathered: men and women from all social classes and organizations – noblemen, peasants, merchants, artisans, Jews and even Catholic priests. They believed in the Cathars practical and rational religiosity, which was truly manifested through their very pure state of being, and they supported their work, while asking them for help and advice.
The Cathars had so many followers that they established a large community in the region – that was why, later, Catholics felt motivated to undertake the Albigensian crusades, in order to exterminate them and their adherents, as well as their beliefs and culture.
We can say that the Illuminism aspirations for “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” manifested in this region in the late Middle Ages, long before the French Revolution. The ideal of Fraternity goes back to pure Christianity, as the Gospel recalls: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
These ideals were incorporated by these good men and women into a practice of balanced living, without excesses, in a calm state of mind and great physical and moral cleanness. They were recognized for their justice, kindness, purity and nonviolence.
This peaceful state is evident in the way these people were extinguished. Without resistance and never even considering fighting, they were decimated by the Albigense crusades. In the last uprising against them there are reports that they walked serenely into the bonfire in the castle of Montségur, where 205 people were burned alive.
The gradual opening of documents kept confidential by their inquisitors until the twentieth century shed new light on their history. And its resurgence shows that what was experienced by the Cathars was recorded in the Soul of the world. These good women and men invite the modern human being to undertake the same revolution within themselves.