The eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries were marked by resurgence in Europe of spiritual movements of clearly Gnostic character. During the late eleventh century a Gnostic religion that had survived orthodox persecution for many centuries in the Byzantine Empire and on the Balkan Peninsula – the Bogomil religion – found its way to the Languedoc region of Southern France and to areas of Northern Italy. There it took root and flourished over the next three centuries as the Cathar religion -- the tradition of the Good and True Christians, the Bons Hommes. (The term "Cathar" was used in medieval times in a derogatory fashion by opponents of the Bons Hommes; Cathars simply called themselves "Good Christians.")
During these same centuries in the area around the Southern Pyrenees a form of heterodox mysticism took hold, a mysticism that had historical and archetypal roots in the Gnosis and Gnosticism of late antiquity. At precisely this time, and in the same area of Southern France, there came the first flowering of the Troubadour traditions and of the Jewish Gnosticism of Kabbalah. To the south in Spain, the mystical tradition that gave root to a Gnostic school in Islam took form – exemplified by Ibn 'Arabī (1165–1240), the seminal figure in Turkish, Persian and Sufi Gnostic traditions. St.
Francis of Assisi (1181–1226) was also deeply influenced by the spirit of this time and this Cathar land.
The relation of the Bons Hommes with this heterodox flowering of Christian, Jewish and Islamic mystical traditions has long fascinated historians. There is no verifiable answer to the relationship of these several movements, but the milieu in which they arose represents an obvious resurgence of Gnostic tradition: a spirit of Gnosis animated this time and region.
Unfortunately, the Crusade against the Cathars in the thirteenth century effectively eradicated the tradition and destroyed most of its primary documentary history. Only a few original Cathar texts are preserved. Among the most important surviving writing are a Gospel text from the tradition of John and an authentic liturgical text known as the Cathar Ritual. (Two manuscripts of the Cathar Ritual survive, one in Latin and one in Occitan; the version in Occitan is often referred to as the "Lyon Ritual"). The longest surviving Cathar text is the Book of the Two Principles, a sophisticated and persuasive critique of orthodox theology. We provide all three of these texts below.
We also recommend the Wikipedia article on the Cathars – we contributed major portions to an early version of this article, and it remains a useful introduction to the Cathar religion. But reading their own words, as provided below, is the best introduction to the Gnosis of the Good and True Christians.
The major and current published source on Cathar writings is: Walter L. Wakefield and Austin P. Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (2nd ed., New York: Columbia University Press, 1991). It contains many other Cathar texts not present in our collection. Buy at Amazon.com
– Lance S. Owens
Cathar Texts and Rituals
The Cathar Book of John the Evangelist - "The Questions of John"
- Interrogatio Iohannis (The Questions of John)
This is one of the most important extant Cathar Scriptures and a major addition to the apocryphal Johannine literature.
Cathar Apocalyptic (Visionary) Scripture
- The Vision of Isaiah
This is an apocalyptic work of great antiquity, probably dating to the first century and manifesting Gnostic influence. It evidences Cathar access to transmissions of early Christian literature lost to orthodoxy.
Texts from the Cathar Ritual (also known as the "Lyon Ritual")
Cathar Theological Argumentation
- The Book of the Two Principles
The Book of the Two Principles is the largest surviving work of Cathar literature; it illustrates the erudition and sophistication of the Cathar's critique of Catholic theology. (This is a very long document, about 35,000 words.)
Secondary Sources: Inquisition against the Cathars
The Cathar Prayer - Pater noster
Pater noster qui es in celis,
sanctificetur nomen tuum;
adveniat regnum tuum.
Fiat voluntas tua sicut in celo et in terra.
Panem nostrum supersubstancialem da nobis hodie.
Et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
Et ne nos inducas in temptationem sed libera nos a malo.
Quoniam tuum est regnum et virtus et gloria in secula.
Our Father, which art in Heaven,
Hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our supplementary bread,
And remit our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And keep us from temptation and free us from evil.
Thine is the kingdom, the power and glory for ever and ever.
Witness the Cathar Ritual
that conveyed this Prayer