Some of God’s People were known as Cathari – Colossians 1:9-14

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From day one, fallen Christendom has been trying to blend two opposing kingdoms – Christ’s and the world. The ages-old idea of a homogenous society was once again in people’s minds. When Constantine became emperor, claiming the banner of the cross, that goal obtained a certain degree success. By law there was only one approved religion – the Alexandrian version of Christianity. It became illegal to worship any god but the corrupted version of Christ. And so, the Romanized churches began filling with pagans wearing crucifixes (so to speak). But with so many unregenerated church people, Christianity became a sham. Multitudes, both from the laity and priesthood, made little effort to live like the Christians they professed to be. And reaction to that worldliness and heresy was a part of the rise and growth of each of the groups which we’ve already addressed – the Montanists, Donatists, and Paulicians. One of the terms thrown against those people, and one which I’ve mentioned several times was “Cathari.” As J.T. Christian says, “On account of the purity of their lives (and doctrines) they were called Cathari, that is, the pure.” On your “Trail of Blood” charts, you can see that word, linking and over-lapping the other names.

The Bible teaches us to baptize only those who “bring forth fruits mete (or worthy) of repentance.” And we hear exhortations like – “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Then there is exhortation after exhortation like what we just read from Colossians 1. Paul commanded the Thessalonians, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The Christian life is not just an improved worldly life – it is entirely different. “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” But there was growing branch of Christendom which was openly trying to draw the unconverted world into union with itself. In time, it was using infant baptism to bring the lost into its fold. It was exchanging sacramentalism for salvation by God’s grace. It was making the priesthood a vocation, rather than the ministry of God. It was creating a new rule over the people – blending religion with secular government.

In response to the slide of Christendom there were a few rocks in the stream – the churches of Montanus, and the Novatians and Donatists. They were churches of a different kind, firmly planted on the foundation stones of Christ and the Bible. And as the Alexandrian churches rushed past them down hill, they stood out like rocks in the stream.. Eventually those Romanized Alexandrian churches began to call the fundamentalists “heretics.” The word originally meant only that here was a person who made a choice. Here was someone who took a deliberate and premeditated stand. But it came to mean – a rebel – an individual who was too stupid to agree with the majority. God’s people since the 3rd century have often been unjustly called “heretics.” Then in its digression, the state religion began throwing other names at God’s people. They were meant to cut and wound, when in fact sometimes they accurately hit the nail on its head.

Have you ever been called something like “a goody goody” or even a “goody two shoes?” Most people have no idea where that term originated. It arose in 1765 when John Newbery published a children’s story supposedly written by Oliver Goldsmith. It is the tale of a little girl who was so poor that she only had one shoe. Somehow she obtained a pair of new shoes, and she dashed around to all her poor friends, exclaiming “two shoes, two shoes.” Even though she was the same little girl she had always been, she considered herself better than everyone else now that she had two shoes. By the 3rd century, the people and priests of the fallen churches began giving names to those people who were trying to live as the Bible taught them to live. They were “heretics” and they were “purists” – people who were squeaky clean – “Cathars” or “Cathari.” Robinson and others have said that all of the dissenters from the 2nd century on have at times been called “Cathari.” But as the Dark Age developed the use that name grew.

The Twelfth Century Cathari.

Remember from our last lesson, the Paulicians moved from Eastern Turkey into Eastern Europe – Thrace. From there they migrated north into the Balkans – Albania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Romania. And as we mentioned, they popped up along the Mediterranean in Southern France and Western Italy. We aren’t merely talking about a race of people but of a way of worship and a kind of faith. These strangers brought with them their “heresies,” like rejecting the authority of the bishops and pope. They abhorred the worship of idols, and they rejected the sacraments. The practiced believers’ baptism and demanded a regenerated church membership. Plus, they lived and expected other professing believers to live holy lives – they were “Cathari.”

But with that name we begin to get into muddy waters, and a word of caution is necessary. Not every person trying to live a pure and moral life is a child of God. Sometimes when I go the to grocery store, I will see ladies in long plain dresses with five or six well-behaved, well-dressed children, and my first thought is “Christian.” The truth is that there is a strict sect of Roman Catholicism in Post Falls, and sometimes that family I see is Catholic, worshiping Mary instead of her Son. Appearances can be deceiving. Some people don’t drink because their parents were alcoholics and the weakness runs in the family. Some people don’t smoke because they know that it is a poison which will likely kill them. Some people appear clean on the outside, but who are still filthy at heart. Matthew 23:25 – “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.” Some of the people who are described as “Cathari” by the Catholics of the Middle Ages were in fact Manicheans – people who believed in the duality and warfare between good and evil. But, says Verduin, “The basic error in the prevailing representation is that when men hear the word Cathar they straightway think of a gnostic sect, where the more…honest of the medieval opponents of the Cathars themselves distinguish very clearly between two varieties. It is certainly an error to think of dualism whenever one hears the word Cathar. The term was borrowed from one situation and applied to another – in an effort to discredit.” Some of the Cathari of the Dark Ages were not worshipers and followers of Christ, but were trying to live moral sin-free lives for the wrong reasons – Perhaps in order to earn salvation. In other words, “Cathari” is not to be applied only to the children of God, so it should be used with caution. And yet, it is often a word perfectly suited to God’s people.

Verduin gives another illustration of the stereotyping which was applied during the Dark Ages. For example, often in medieval times it was said that heretics were of a pale complexion. There was a medieval Catholic bishop who “when he looked at men he could tell by their pallor whether they had been to Waldensian conventicles.” This ascription of paleness may have a very natural explanation. What man, knowing himself to be a “heretic” would not grow pale when an inquisitor spoke to him, or even looked in this direction? Moreover, the heretics spent a great deal of their time in hiding, coming out mostly at night (for which reason they were often called “turlupins” – wolf-people). Verduin says, This cliche was extremely tenacious; one may hear to this day in rural France the expression: “white like an Huguenot.”

Some of the Cathari were also called Bogomiles.

Armitage quotes Herzog saying that they took their name from a Bulgarian bishop of the 10th century. The man was a Paulician who pastored a church in Philippopolis. The Bogomiles were condemned as heretics and suffered great persecution, because of their pure doctrine and pure living. Basil, one of their leaders was burnt to death in Constantinople in 1118.

Gibbons suggests they came to southern France by traveling up the Danube into German and then down. By early in the 11th century, they were without doubt settled in the Netherlands, in Orleans, France, and Turin, Italy on the other side of the Piedmont mountains. As such they played a roll in the faith of the Waldensians in Italy and the Albigenses in France. When the Bogomiles were driven out of Bulgaria they traveled to Northern Europe – Champagne and Flanders. Their followers became so numerous that the Catholics called for councils at Toulouse and Tours in order to further condemn them. But despite their excommunications and curses, Armitage says that they grew so mighty that they had a council of their own in 1167 at which time they clearly declared their faith in Christ and condemned the hierarchy and secular power of Rome.

The name “Petrobrussian” is also associated with the Cathari.

In about the year 1110 in the southern French provinces of Languedoc and Provence, Peter de Bruys was heard preaching the gospel of Christ. It is said that he had been a priest in Toulouse, but God gave him wisdom to see the sins of Catholicism so he began to consult with the Albigenses. He too condemned the superstitions of the day and exhorted faith and pure living among the believers. For several years his ministry was abundantly successful. Many awoke to put faith in the Lamb of God. He was blessed by God to have the protection of a powerful nobleman named Hildephonsus. During that period the Catholics were erecting magnificent temples filled with gold and idols of the saints. Peter de Bruys preached that “gold was not the means of building a church, but rather of its destruction.”

One of de Bruys’ chief opponents was Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Clugni. This second man wrote a book in which he described his Cathari enemy. He said that De Bruys held that the church was a spiritual body composed of regenerated people. He held that persons ought not to be baptized until they came to the use of their reason. No one was saved through the faith of another person, such as babies through their god-parents. He did not, as he was accused, rebaptize those who had been baptized as babies, because, he said, they were not baptized in the first place. In regard to the Lord’s Supper, he not only rejected the doctrine of transubstantiation, but he denied that it was a sacrament.

In the year 1126, Peter de Bruys was seized by the authorities and burnt to death. But immediately one of his students arose to pick up his mantle and to carry on – Henry of Lausanne. And later those who were not called “Petrobrussians” were often called “Henricians,” descendants of the Cathari. Henry was so powerful a preacher and yet at the same time so humble and simple in his life, that the Pope Eugene III send Bernard of Clairvaux to destroy the effects of his ministry. Bernard would become famous as the Pope’s primary heresy hunter – truth destoyer. He described the effect of Henry’s preaching, saying that the churches were deserted, “the way of the children is closed, the grace of baptism is refused them, and they are hindered from coming to heaven.” Bernard saw to it that Henry was condemn and brought before the Council of Rheims after which he was imprisoned in 1148 and soon thereafter died.

Another of the Cathari groups were the Arnoldists.

Arnold of Brescia was born at the beginning of the 12th century and died about 1148. The Roman Catholics described Arnold as “unsound in his judgment about the sacraments of the altar and infant baptism.” So he was condemned by the Lateran Council under Innocent II. The fourth Lateran Council decreed that all rebaptizers should be punished with death. Like many other Cathari, Arnold had his followers, especially in the region of Lombardy. The Catholics called those who believed as Arnold did – “Lombards.” J.T. Christians says that by the year 1184 the Arnoldists were termed Albigenses, a littler later they were classed as Waldenses. One German historian of the Waldenses affirms, “There was connection between the Waldenses and the followers of Peter of Bruys, Henry of Lausanne and Arnold of Brescia, and they finally united in one body about 1130 as they held common views.” And please note that all these men were about four hundred years before Luther and Calvin.

I realize that I’ve gone over these names rather quickly, but that was with a purpose. First, there is little need for all the details, which you can find in many other places if you are interested. And once again, these are not Biblical names and titles, so there is little reason for us to use them on ourselves. I’d prefer that you not call me a “Bogomile” or a “Petrobrussian.” But it is important to know that throughout history there have been Christians and churches which have rejected the sacraments and other heresies of the predominant church. And one of the titles which has been applied to those people of God has been “Cathari.” They were people attempting to live morally and doctrinally pure lives.