Sean Martin was born in Somerset, England, and now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is the author of the bestsellers The Knights Temlpar: The History & Myths of the Legendary Military Order, The Cathars: The Most Successful Heresy of the Middle Ages and The Gnostics: The First Christian Heretics, amongst others. He has appeared on various TV programmes, including the History Channel and National Geographic.
This is a short book, just 164 pages of text (plus notes, chronology, a brief lexicon of "heretical" terms, suggestion for further reading, bibliography and index), written by Sean Martin, who is identified as a filmmaker, poet and writer.
The book has the heft and feel of a television documentary. It provides a reasonably good, if shallow overview of the events that erupted into denunciation, crusade, massacre and burning from the mid-Twelfth to the early Fourteenth Century.
The book is consistently neutral in tone. It takes no sides, although there is a certain pervasive admiration for the behavior, if not for the theology of the Cathar Perfecti. Simon de Montfort, French father of the famous English Simon de Montfort, and an unmitigated villain of the first water, is mildly chided. No reader of whatever stripe is likely to be alienated by "The Cathars," save for those who simply cannot abide neutrality in anything.
The language of the book is as neutral as its content. Incidents of highest drama, such as the scandal at Verfeil, a village near Toulouse, in which the outraged and sputtering Saint Bernard was laughed out of town when he attempted to deliver a sermon against the Cathars, are treated in the flattest of tones, as is the famous siege and massacre at Montsegur.
The words of the book are as flattened as its tone. Names, wherever possible, are provided in their English forms: all Pierres, Pieros and Pedros, for example, become Peter. Latinisms are avoided if an English term can be twisted for service. This leads to the exasperating use of English Perfect as a stand-in for both Latin Perfectus and Perfecti.Read more ›
Sean Martin's "The Cathars" book is a concise and often well-written history of Catharism. This is the 1st piece of sustained writing on the Cathars that I have read so am unable to compare to other literature available. This book is an easy read (I read it in one day on a train journey) and does not presume an knowledge of its subject. This, along with the guided bibliography and "heretical lexicon" make it a useful resource.
However, I did find the actual discussion of the Cathar's theology far too vague. For example, in his closing comments Martin suggests that the true legacy of Catharism is "their stress on simplicity, equality, non-violence, work and love" (p.163). However, throught the text Martin cites numerous examples where Cathars engage in violent acts (following their Paulician antecedents). However, there is no discussion of why these Cathars betrayed their non-violent tenets or indeed why they were pacifist in the first instance (one suspects it was because of their non-materialism but this is not confirmed).
Overall then if you're looking for a comprehensive introduction to Cathar faith and theology then I can't recommend this book. However, if your looking for an untaxing read as an alternative to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code then give it a go (it also bears, I suspect more relation to actual history)!
I think Martin is probably successful in what he is trying to achieve with this book. I suspect this is supposed to be a simple introduction and basic history of the Cathars. The strength of the book is its easy to read writing style that does not require much energy or analysis by the reader. The book gives the overview of the Cathars with some introductions of Christian heresies in an attempt to set this heresy in its context.
I have previously read about the Cathars, so was able to fill in some of the gaps in this book. Martin fails to present much depth in his writing of the theological nuances of the Cathars that make it a severe heresy of Christianity. I think he could have written more about their theology and why the Roman Catholic Church was so intent on wiping them out.
As Martin explains, the Cathars gained a sympathetic view then and now because of their asceticism and pietism. Their lifestyles and behavior exemplified many positive religious characteristics; however, their theology was heretical and misguided. Martin writes enough about it for readers to see where it differed from orthodox Christianity. I don't think theology is Martin's strong point, as he offers no value judgement on orthodox Christianity versus the heresies that sprouted.
Martin shows some of the political constructions of the middle ages that led to the ever-changing alliances between rulers and the Roman Catholic Church that determined the treatment of the Cathars in France. Here again Martin provides the basics but does not go into much depth about the relationships between the Roman Catholic Church and the leaders of France or from where the Inquisition got and sustained its power over people.Read more ›
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This is an interesting, short book about Cathars and the history of their persecution. Because of its shortness, it only gives a quick overview of the subject. It starts with a quick explanation of the Cathar movement and their philosophy. I wish it would go deeper into detail. True, there is not much that can be said about the origin of the Cathars, for their roots were never properly recorded. We have only few pieces of the puzzle and everything else is up for speculation. The Cathars themselves probably did not know their origins and history.
But as far as their beliefs are concerned, the Church and the Inquisition did obtain a large number of confessions from them and they infiltrated their movement. Numerous Cathar preachers openly debated Catholic theologians. There should be a lot more information about the details of their religion.
After a brief explanation of Catharism, the author goes into lengthy (relatively speaking) account of the wars against it. Then, we get an account of the impact of Catharism on the present day, which usually revolves around maverick historians and archeologists searching for the Cathar treasure, as well as a debate just what exactly this treasure was (gold, Holy Grail, descendant of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene).
As I said, the book is very brief. For those who are interested in Catharism, it makes a good introduction before moving on to bigger, more academic texts. For those who are only looking for quick, basic information, this is a good, easy read.
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