Albigensians

albigenses. Adherents of a religion derived from the teaching of Mani who lived in Persia in the third century. In a modified form his ideas spread into Asia Minor in the late Roman period, and from there into the Balkans in the early Middle Ages. By following the trade routes they appeared in northern Italy and southern France by the eleventh century. Although given various names such as Cathari* and Bogomiles,* in the West they were generally called Albigensians because the center of their greatest strength was the town of Albi in Languedoc. This religion was dualistic, with a god of light (Truth, the god of the NT), and a god of darkness (Error, the god of the OT). Life on earth was a struggle between these gods and their principal forces, spirit, and matter. The good life for man was a gradual purification from matter. Hence the Albigensians condemned marriage, procreation, eating food, war and the use of anything material in worship. Because they refused to take oaths they were subversive to a society that rested on the oath of a vassal to his feudal lord. They also believed that human government was wicked and evil. All of these positions represent the extreme of Albigensian doctrine and in most cases the teaching was compromised. For example, a good Albigensian did not have to stop eating, but he was required to be a vegetarian.

The followers of this religion were divided into the few (perfecti, their clergy) and the many (credentes, the believers). The perfecti lived up to the rigid asceticism of their faith, and the credentes tried to become perfecti. This was accomplished by receiving the only sacrament allowed, the consolamentum. If the newly consecrated perfectus showed signs of not being able to live up to the ascetic discipline of his calling, his friends could insure the salvation of his soul through a ceremonial death by self-starvation (the endura). The Albigensians, however, did not believe in hell or purgatory. The only “hell” they taught was imprisonment of the soul within the body. This led some to licentious living, so many of their leaders began to teach that the souls of those who were not saved transmigrated into the bodies of lower animals.

The Albigensian homeland, S France, at the end of the twelfth century was a pleasant, tolerant, prosperous land, the center of a flourishing Provençal civilization. One of the rulers of this area, Count Raymond VI of Toulouse, was also the leading supporter of the Albigensian cause. Raymond's agents murdered a papal legate, thus provoking a crusade which crushed the religion and the Provençal civilization (1209-1229).

See S. Runciman, The Medieval Manichee (1947).