Answers, Round One

I forgot to mention, when I said you could ask me questions, that you can, if you wish, ask me more than one. So, y’know. If you blew yours on the Cathars or something, or even if you didn’t, you’re welcome to ask more.

(Yeah, I knew as soon as I put the Cathars into that list, that at least one person was going to jump on it.)

Having said that, I guess I might as well pick out the heresy-related questions and answer those first.


arkessian asked, So, the Cathar heresy then…

Most of what I know about them, I got from Stephen O’Shea’s book The Perfect Heresy: The Life and Death of the Cathars. Which is eminently readable, in terms of its writing; it hooked me by describing the variation of accents within modern France thusly: “Whereas the hubbub of cafe debate in say, Normandy, sounds like a mellifluous exchange between articulate cows, the tenor of the same discussion in Languedoc is akin to a musician tuning a large, and very loud, guitar.”

I’m not a very good judge of whether it’s a good history of the Albigensian Crusade, for the aforementioned reason that this is basically the only thing I’ve ever read about it. I liked it, though, and felt it did a very good job of conveying why Catharism (which is, of course, not what its adherents called it; they just thought of themselves as “good Christians”) was a threat to the foundations of medieval monarchy, not to mention papal authority. And it horrified me with tales of just how that war was conducted, which I think is about the right result.

As for the Cathars themselves — well. I don’t agree with a lot of what they thought (I tend not to agree with any religion that views the world as inherently bad, and escaping it as the ideal goal), but I am pleased by some of the odd pragmatism that can crop up when you believe in the transmigration of the soul. Okay, you should be a hard-core ascetic trying to leave this fallen world behind . . . but if you’re not ready for that in this lifetime, maybe the next. Also, maybe you were a different sex last lifetime, so really, how much does it matter what sex you are now? Europe might be a fascinatingly different place if the Cathars had somehow managed to win out. But they didn’t — they got rather brutally obliterated instead — so that sort of makes me feel automatically sorry for them.


mrissa asked, What I want to know about the Cathars is why they didn’t use their heresy as an excuse to get more names. They seem to have kept using the same three or four names for everybody. This is not an ideal system, I feel.

Well, it was the thirteenth century, which I believe was the height of the Great Nomenclatural Famine in Europe, so there weren’t enough names to go around to begin with, and of course Innocent III moved very quickly to cut off their baptismal supply lines. But that didn’t bother the Cathars nearly as much as he intended it to, because of that whole reincarnation thing; they preferred to limit themselves to a small pool of names, because it increased the odds that you would bear the same name from one lifetime to the next. And, with any luck, the sheer boredom and lack of variety would encourage people to let go of their attachment to this sinful world all the sooner. So it was kind of a win-win for them (unlike the bit with the swords).


And with that, I sleep.

0 Responses to “Answers, Round One”

  1. swords_and_pens

    As an aside: if you want to read an excellent book on the the Cathars, I highly recommend “Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error” by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. ( It’s basically a study of the court records and interviews done by Inquisition in a Cathar village in southern France. The author is an anthropologist by training, IIRC, and looks into how the Cathars saw & practiced their belief system. It’s been ages since I read it, but it is one of the history books I will never get rid of, and one that made a huge impression on me for its writing and use of non-typical primary source material.

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