Many religious groups have come and gone through the ages. Some have been clearly Christian, many were obviously not, and some have been far enough on the fringes of Christianity to be rejected by mainstream believers. One such fringe group was called the Cathars.
The Cathar religious movement flourished in southwestern Europe in the 11th through 13th centuries. Although its adherents called themselves “Good Men” or “Good Christians”, they came to be known as Cathars (from the Greek word for “pure”). They did not have church buildings, but they did have a religious structure including bishops and deacons. Pentecost was a main festival for them because the Cathars were very devoted to the Holy Spirit. For the most part, the Cathars were pacifists who lived lives devoted to spiritual practice and religious service, and who got along well with their Roman Catholic neighbors.
The issue with the Cathars was that their beliefs included strong dualistic and gnostic elements which were highly offensive to the Roman Catholic Church. There were some attempts by the Church to send missionaries to “convert” the Cathars, but those attempts met with little success. Ultimately, Pope Alexander III anathematized the Cathars in 1179. The Albigensian Crusade was launched against them soon after. This was the only crusade ever authorized by the Church against other Christians. The Cathars were persecuted and massacred, and then the Inquisition was set up specifically to hunt them down and exterminate them. After they were wiped out in their main regions in France some survived for a time in Italy. There were probably some secret groups elsewhere in Europe as well, but there is no more history of them after the 13th century.
What was so offensive to the organized church that they would literally declare war on the Cathars? It was gnosticism, which had been preached against as far back as the original apostles. Stay tuned for my next post in which I will share my research on gnosticism.