Faith of Albigensians

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Faith of Albigensians

This section is relevant for those who wish to understand the faith of the Albigensians, also known as the Cathars, and their differences from major Christian denominations, in our area of course represented by Catholicism.

The Cathars formed a religious and philosophical movement in the Middle Ages that challenged the mainstream Christianity. They based their teachings on the words and texts of Jesus, his direct disciples and early Christian scholars. However, their interpretation differed from the point of view of the Catholic Church. The direction set early in the Christian history by Paul of Tarsus, was a mistake by the Cathars. The Catharist view of faith and spirituality is best defined as Gnosis.

Our game uses many theological terms and expressions related to religion, interprets them in a certain way and puts them in a specific context. We don’t do this to criticise any of the contemporary Churches or to claim judgment over which line of religious thought is the best. We simply want to play a game from a torrential period of human history when religion was the main deciding factor of everything. If you don’t agree with any of the interpretations you find below, which are of course very often oversimplified or if any of the opinions are contrary to your personal beliefs, please consider this as a part of a description of a game set in historical setting. This historical setting inevitably combines fact with fiction and it is not a precise reconstruction of history and it was not intended as a precise reconstruction of history. The opinions outlined below are a starting point for a dramatic game, and set out language we are going to use in the game.

God is eternal and omnipresent

God does not exist beyond this world, he is not a creator from “the outside”. This world is not his child, his plaything or his image, this world is his incarnation.

That is why God is not personified and it is not possible to transfer human traits and qualities to God.

God expects nothing from us, God doesn’t punish us, doesn’t praise us, gives no commands or interdicts. God doesn’t possess qualities of the Demiurge, initiator, someone perfect or “omnipotent”, at least within the limits most of us can understand the term “omnipotent”.

Human soul is a part of God

The human soul contains within itself the divine spark, a fractal of God… From the other point of view, the human souls are the part of Godly incarnation that enables growth and self-knowledge.

It is not possible to “find” God or to return to God because God is omnipresent and we are a part of divine incarnation. However, it is possible to find our own way to know and experience the divine spark within our soul.

Gnosis is a journey towards knowledge

Gnosis is a journey towards knowledge of spiritual mysteries. Towards experiencing divinity. Therefore, it does not accept decrees, resolutions, one can’t vote on it. Gnosis is a yearning for experience.

Gnosis is not faith or religion, it doesn’t need temples or the Church and its dogma. The only way to experience God is to do it on your own, find your own way. It is a journey of spiritual growth and realization. Books and teachers can help on the journey, but a Gnostic is not a follower of teachers because even the best among them can be mistaken.

A Gnostic does not believe in things he or she can’t understand or which he or she hasn’t experienced, a Gnostic seeks a way towards knowledge. All knowledge leads towards God, even “believers” seek the same goal, the only question is what way is more direct. For a Gnostic, every journey leads to God, there isn’t one that leads away from God because there is nothing without God.

Origins and history of Gnosis

Origins of Gnosis are mostly attributed to Oriental religious movements of second and first century BC. Religious turmoil at the centre of Jewish world and especially philosophical movements questioning some of the dogma undoubtedly had a large influence on the origin of Gnostic thoughts. We can find many similarities between Gnosticism and teachings of Pythagoras, we can also find Gnostic ideas in religion of ancient Gauls or in the philosophy of Greek Neoplatonists. For many people it is surprising how many similarities we can find between Gnosis and Buddhism, though we can’t be certain if there was any direct influence of Buddhism on Gnosis.   

Gnosis as an intellectual complex crystallised around the break of our era and the Nazarenes and the Essenes are considered to be the direct predecessors of Gnosticism. Jesus of Nazareth is often indicated as the first direct teacher and proponent of Gnosticism. The key gnostic texts come from the period of the life of the Apostles of Jesus – Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, Gospel of John and several other shorter texts. The Hymn of the Pearl also belongs among essential Gnostic texts as well as several apocrypha from the New Testament.    

In the second century AD, Gnosis was spreading in parallel with Christianity of Paul of Tarsus. Gnostic movement split at that time into several schools differing in their attitude towards Judaism and towards keeping mitzvoth, in the degree of influence of Hellenistic teachings, in the level of interconnectedness with the local pagan traditions and then of course in the degree to which they strived to keep cohesion of religious thought with official Christian canon. The key teachers of this period were Marcion of Sinope, Órigenés and Ephrem of Nisibis.   

After the First Council of Nicaea in 325, an irreparable rift between the official Christianity and Gnosis was apparent. The Church condemned Gnosis, its followers were persecuted and Gnostic texts were destroyed.

In the later periods there was a sharp division between official creeds of Christianity which claimed that Gnosis had never been a part of Christian tradition, and Gnosticism and Catharism which both claim that the original Christianity was Gnostic but the mainstream Christianity deviated from its origins. Until these days, this is a topic that can ignite a heated debate between both groups.

How did Gnosis get to Occitania and became Catharism?

There are several influences: When Mary Magdalene left Israel, according to the Gospel, she left to “the other end of the Roman Empire”. Which is to the West. There is a pilgrimage site in Provence where Mary landed according to the local tradition and there was a strong Mary Magdalene devotion in the area. Local legends have it that the Holy Grail was kept somewhere in the foothills of the Pyrenees (whatever it was and wherever it is today).

Over the course of the Jewish-Roman wars culminating in the Bar Kokhba Revolt, Jews were massively deported and dispersed out of Israel. Many of them left for Occitania. And they brought their religion with them, which very often wasn’t Judaism but early Christianity with Gnostic influences. Therefore, paradoxically, the version of Christianity spreading through Occitania was more archaic than the one in the East where it had undergone a quick succession of transformations.

Another strong impulse came in the 10th century, when another big Gnostic community was exiled from what we call Bulgaria today – the Bogomils – they sought refuge in Occitania, most probably due to the level of religious tolerance incomparable to other parts of Europe.  

Occitania on the verge of the High Middle Ages was therefore strongly inclined towards Gnostic interpretation of faith despite everyone knowing that this interpretation is unofficial and in fact even forbidden. However, we also can’t discount the influence of the Catholic Church itself. The behaviour of its clergy was contrary to basically all its main principles and the Catholic clergymen had very little natural authority among the locals. The moment there was an alternative devotion and the Catharist “good people” had the natural authority the Catholic clergy so sorely lacked, it was clear that people would chose the Cathars. That in itself was enough to initiate a conflict. On top of that, the real reason for the war was an ambition of King of France and his thirst for the rich region and the religious conflict was just a perfect excuse to seize the land by force.

Terminology related to faith and religion

Below, you can find some basic terms that will help in your understanding of Catharism and the nature of the religious conflict in Occitania. We are listing just the basic ones, to clearly define the terms for the purposes of our game. Our interpretation of these terms is influenced by our culture and history and their interpretation can differ in other cultural areas.

 

Atheism

When we talk of atheists, we mean the type that REFUSES the existence of God. Often, this belief is said to be based on scientific discoveries which is not completely honest – our science can’t prove the existence of God but it can’t reject existence of God either. It would be more truthful to say that an atheist is someone who in principle refuses all phenomena that can’t be positively proven (positivism). However, atheism isn’t typically positivistic because it doesn’t categorize the existence of God among the phenomena that can’t be proven but directly among those which simply don’t exist. Simply speaking, atheists believe that there is no God.

Doubters

For the lack of a better term, we call a “doubter” a person that DOESN’T KNOW if there is God and refuses to believe in God without having any experience of God. Doubters are not unbelievers, they are simply not meticulous. They refuse to accept (for various reasons) dogma of any faith. Therefore, there is a big difference between doubters and atheists.

Faith

Faith in the “religious” sense means that one doesn’t doubt the existence of God even though it is impossible to prove it. A believer does not need to prove the existence of God or to justify it, it is accepted as an obvious truth. The existence of God (or in general spiritual phenomena) is among axioms of worldview of a believer.

Gnosis

A Gnostic believes that the only way to know God is a direct spiritual experience. He or she seeks a personal union with God. However, by that the Gnostic refuses faith. The Gnostic is not a believer because he doesn’t categorize God’s existence as an indisputable and unprovable axiom. Gnosis can be seen as a spiritual state; a Gnostic is then a person that experienced he or her own positive experience of God’s existence. Even at that point a Gnostic is not a believer because his or her perception of God is not based on faith but on his or her own experience. At the same time, a Gnostic can’t be labelled as an unbeliever in the usual sense.

Agnosticism

Agnosticism is defined by the view that God or rather the existence of God is unknown and unknowable. An Agnostic (similarly to a Gnostic or a believer) accepted a thesis that God (if God exists) is not a material phenomenon but a spiritual one and as such God can’t become known through intellectual or material (generally scientific) tools and methods. An Agnostic is not an Atheist and not all doubters consider themselves to be Agnostics because many doubters admit that it is possible to form a more definitive opinion through experience or by obtaining more information.

Christianity

A religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ who is considered to be the Redeemer of humanity from the Original sin (christos – the saviour in Greek); redemption or salvation can then be found only through one’s faith in Jesus Christ, in his divine nature and in his purpose. This definition of course would of course be a cause for a lot of disputation – direct disciples of Jesus were in their opinions basically Gnostic and Jesus himself probably didn’t consider himself a founder of a new faith or even a saviour but rather he considered himself to be a teacher guiding Jew closer towards Gnosis or Essene branch of Judaism. The founder of Christianity was therefore more likely Paul of Tarsus despite him never meeting Jesus in person and despite his immediate conflicts with direct disciples of Jesus Christ.

Catholic Church

The Catholic Church (ecslesia or more specifically ecslesia ekatholica) as a structured organization with a defined hierarchy and preordained role in the society was defined by Bishop Jerome at the beginning of the 5th century.

There are many different Churches in the modern world. Still, when the Church is mentioned without further explanation, it is usually a reference to the Roman-Catholic Church led by Pope. It is the same in the game.

Catholic means universal in Greek. Originally this meant that the Church arches over all branches and movements within Christianity. That no longer holds, when we want to cover the whole Christianity with one term in the modern world, we use term “ecumenical”.

The original meaning of expression ekatholikos is universal, therefore in the understanding of Christians of the break of 3rd and 4th century, the Catholic Church was a unifying intellectual and spiritual platform, to a certain extent an intersection of different schools of religious thought within Christianity and an open platform for religious disputation. However as early as the First Council of Nicaea, this concept started to crumble and the limits of acceptable ideas narrowed significantly. The Gnostics ended up beyond these acceptable limits just like Arians – a Christian movement that disputed the concept of the Holy Trinity.  

Were the Cathars against religion?

That is a sensitive topic and it is better to clarify it right away. Especially when some historians interpreted the Hussite movement and later reformation and Protestantism as a fight against religion. They were not against religion, neither of these movements were. On the contrary, the Cathars were devout people, deeply religious, who wanted to experience their relationship to God purely and with authenticity. They refused the Church as an institution and refused many aspects of the Catholic canon which were at that time already taken as given. However, their aim was not to suppress religiousness, on the contrary, they strived for a direct, simple and deep spiritual experience.

We know that they were vegetarian (because they followed commandment “thou shalt not kill”), their Parfaits could even be considered vegan from the modern point of view. They were strictly against all violence. By the end of the Cathar wars they sometimes resorted to violence (killing of inquisitors at Avignonet), but it was always an act of desperation, the last resort.

 

Cathars and Catholics, differences you may encounter and use in the game:

This is EXTREMELY simplified and intended as a quick reference tool for the game especially for those who are not interested in fine details of religious history:

 

Good Christians, Good People, Albigensians (derogatory: heretics or Cathars): Catholics, faithful Christians (derogatory: Papists):
They don’t believe that Mary, mother of Jesus, was a virgin because a virgin can’t conceive a son. Jesus was conceived by Joseph just like any other human was conceived by his or her mother and father. Mary, mother of Jesus, was a virgin and conceived by the action of the Holy Spirit descending onto her.
God materialized into this world. God is not an “external” creator or somewhere above, but he is present in every piece of this world. God created the world. God built the world piece by piece.
Every human soul is an integral part of God. Just like a bay is an integral part of the sea. God is in us all. Human soul is God’s creation. The human soul and God are two separate entities. God exists out and above us.
Jesus is not God, he was a human that taught how to find God in oneself. He was a real paragon and he is worthy of our reverence and an example to be followed. Everyone can follow in his footsteps because the Divine Spark is present in each and every one of us. Everyone can save oneself by finding God within one’s soul. They believe that Jesus is God that was sent to our world to take human sin upon himself, to suffer and die on the cross for our sins and then to be resurrected. For a Catholic, the only way to find salvation is through the Church.
There is no need to thank God for the harvest. A harvest is a result of natural processes and human effort (and maybe some luck). God “governs” this world and it is possible to ask him to make good things happen… for example one can ask God for a better harvest or for a cure. One should also thank God for making good things happen.
Sculptures, paintings, relics or symbols don’t wield any miraculous powers. Those are just things and there is no point in worshiping them. There is no need to adhere to fasting periods or any other directives ordained by the Church. The Catholics have many rites and sacraments, they worship the images of Jesus and the Saints. Among the most important sacraments are the Baptism, the confession (Sacrament of Penance), the Eucharist, the Matrimony, the Final Anointing (Extreme Unction). Of course, there are more of them and some of them are quite complex, but we will not go into details here. The Catholics attribute miraculous powers to holy objects, like bones of the Saints, various statues and religious relics
The soul is connected to blood and as there is blood in both humans and animals, also animals have souls. Animals have no soul and therefore there can be no salvation for them.
The Cathars meet at ordinary secular places, usually at one of the believers’ home. There, they all read the Bible or their Parfait reads to them or anyone else who owns the Bible and can read. Then they discuss faith, everyone can express their opinions and defend their standpoints with regards to the part that was read. They often disagree and discuss their differences. At times of persecution, they meet in secret.

There is no transubstantiation taking place at their rites (an integral part of Catholic sacrament of the Eucharist – the transformation of sacramental bread and sacramental wine into the body and blood of Christ) but instead they perform a ritual of passing light in a circle. The one leading the gathering has a lit candle and lights a candle of the one to his or her right. One passes the Divine light this way – while keeping “his” or “her” Divine light. The ritual proceeds this way clockwise until everyone has “their” Divine light.

The Catholics gather in places dedicated to their religious gatherings – in churches. Their sacraments have set rules defined by the tradition and the Church. Some of them are called “services”. Some of these services are then called the masses. The Catholics believe that as part of one of their sacraments, the Eucharist, sacramental bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. The Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ and the rite symbolizes a constant reminder and re-creation of the Last Supper.

We will all experience such rites; several masses will take place and we will experience what it was like in Languedoc in the Middle Ages.

A Parfait can be both a woman or a man. A person performing ceremonies for the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church can only be a man – a priest.
They have no Church, priest, hierarchy – there is no head of Church. They have the Church, hierarchy within the Church, Pope is the head of the Church.

Since 1209, the Church claims that Pope is infallible. Only priests can interpret faith.

There is a non-zero probability that human souls resurrect and therefore can live multiple lives. Life doesn’t end with death but it continues with afterlife. At the end of all time, all people will be resurrected, their body will reunite with their soul and, in the Last Judgment, every person that has ever lived will be judged with perfect justice by God. That is also why it is so important to lay dead in the ground with bodies intact and with appropriate sacraments.

 

The Cathars have a special sacrament that is called the Consolamentum.

It is a sacrament of passing on the blessing of Jesus. According to the Bible, John the Baptist baptised Jesus with water, but Jesus “baptised” his followers with the Holy Spirit.

The Consolamentum is performed by placing the Bible on the head of the one receiving the blessing and something along the lines of “Let you find the Diving Light within yourself” is uttered (improvise on the topic). If there is no Bible at hand, the Consolamentum is passed by the laying on of hands, by placing hands of the one passing on the Consolamentum upon the head of the one receiving it.

Sometimes a hand was placed upon the heart of the one receiving the blessing.

Anyone who has received the Consolamentum, becomes a Parfait. A Parfait must adhere to a strict set of rules – one is not allowed to kill (anything living, including animals) or to eat meat, one must live a modest and exemplary life, one must always speak truth. Such person was sometimes called Parfait (perfect) by the Catholics which was used as a derogatory term. For the purposes of the game, we ignore the derogatory context of the word and we simply use it as a term that refers to a certain position within the community of the Cathars. Should a Parfait ever break any of these rules, he or she would destroy all the blessings he or she has ever given to other Cathars or Parfaits. Accepting the Consolamentum is a great responsibility.

Avoiding killing and in fact effectively following the vegan diet was typical for the Cathars (the Bible commands “Thou shalt not kill”, therefore it is not limited just to humans which is why the Cathars can’t kill animals). There are only two known occasions when Cathars fought and killed, there might have been more situations like that, but definitely not many.

The Consolamentum is typically passed on immediately before death. It is one of the most important sacraments that every good Cathar wants to receive.

consolamentum - ritual of albigensiens