Catharists, Or Cathari (Gr. Kaθapoς, pure), a name assumed by heretics of the middle ages to justify their opposition to the alleged corruptions of the Roman Catholic church. They were also called in Italy Patavini or Paterini, in France Publicani, and at a later period Bulgarians; and from the time of the Albigen-sian war the name Albigenses became more common than any other. (See Albigenses.) According to some, the Catharists appeared as early as 1035 near Turin, but the first undisputed trace of them is in 1101 at Agen. They spread from southern France into the neighboring countries. Their central point in France was Toulouse, and in upper Italy, Milan. In order to secure uniformity of policy and doctrine, they held in 1167 a synod at Toulouse, at which even a Catharist bishop of Constantinople, Nicetas, was present. As they were protected by a considerable number of the nobles, the decrees of the popes and councils against them remained without effect, and a crusade against them in 1181, headed by the cardinal legate Henry, abbot of Clairvaux, was likewise unsuccessful. At the close of the 12th century a branch of the sect passed from Dalmatia into Bosnia, where they became very numerous.
In southern France they even became the dominant party, but the issue of the protracted and bloody Albigensian war left them without patrons and at the mercy of the inquisition. Nevertheless they maintained themselves in southern France till the 14th century, increased in upper Italy and in Bosnia and Bulgaria, where they appear to have for some time been in the ascendant, and spread more or less into other European countries. In England, where they made their appearance in 1159, they were quickly suppressed. In most other countries they succumbed to the inquisition and to crusades in the first half of the 14th century. In Bosnia, however, they became once more predominant, under King Stephen Tvart-ko, as late as 1376, and in southern France and the Basque provinces the Cagots traced their origin to the Albigenses. - Our knowledge of the Cathari is almost exclusively derived from Roman Catholic writers, and chiefly from the inquisitors, who had the mission, if necessary, to exterminate them by fire and sword. Their reports frequently differ. According to some writers, they were distributed into three chief divisions: the Albigenses, who professed dualism, and the Concorrezenses and Bagnolenses, who assumed one supreme principle.
Others do not give any of these names, and merely distinguish between the dualistic Cathari and the adherents of one supreme principle. The former assumed two opposite principles, without beginning and without end; the latter believed in one supreme God, but generally rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. All parties appear to have regarded Satan as the creator of the visible world, and as the Jehovah of the Old Testament. From him, in the opinion Of the Ca-tharists, the greater portion of men derive their origin, and they cannot be redeemed; but there is also a higher class of men, whose souls are the fallen angels, and for the redemption of whom the God of light sent the angel Jesus, who taught them that they were of a higher nature, and that by despising everything material they could emancipate themselves from the prince of this world. The ancient system of the strict dualists is said to have been considerably modified about 1230 by their bishop Johannes de Lugio, who taught that good and evil had limited each other from eternity, and had already intermingled in the world above. The Cathari rejected all the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic church, as the Trinity, incarnation, and resurrection.
They renounced baptism by water, and laid great stress on the baptism of the Spirit, which should be performed by the imposition of hands in connection with prayer. Their church edifices had neither images, cross, nor bell, and the worship consisted only of the reading and exposition of a passage of the New Testament, followed by the benediction. Marriage was classed among the mortal sins, inasmuch as it increases the number of fallen souls. One of the most important rites of the sect was the consolamcntum, consisting of the imposition of hands and the putting on of a garment; by means of this rite the members also advanced into the higher class of the perfecti, which had to practise the most rigorous asceticism, while those of the lower class (credentes) are said to have been at liberty to give themselves to a licentious life, provided they vowed to enter at some future time the higher class. Their hierarchy consisted of four degrees, the highest of which was that of the bishop. Some are of the opinion that a pope stood at the head of the hierarchy. - Besides the New Testament, the Cathari held the apocryphal book Visio Isaiae in high estimation.
A Catharist translation of the New Testament in a Romaic dialect, with an appendix containing a short liturgy, an act of confession, acts of reception among the credentes and among the perfectly some special directions for the faithful, and an act of consolation in case of sickness, was discovered in 1851. The best works on the Catharists are Schmidt's Histoire et doctrines de la secte des Cathares (2 vols., Paris, 1849) and Halm's Geschichte der Ketzer im Mittelalter (2 vols., Stuttgart, 1845-'50).