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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 ›
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 a clear, concise and very well researched look into one of the darkest corners of the History of Western Civilization. It is far easier to make excuses for behavior in Christian wars against the alien and poorly understood Muslim nations, who themselves had an unpleasant history of military conquest and forced conversion. While the assault on the Cathars and their fellows covers all of the Occitan, I will focus my review on The Albigensian Crusade and the inquisition in the Languedoc, the area of South Western France, that I know. The Albigensian Crusade' was a war made on peace-loving, gentle and profoundly decent Christians, which makes it far more difficult to justify or even to understand on theological grounds.
As your introduction says: "Without lifting a sword, the Cathars posed a threat to Catholicism greater than the Muslims or Jews--or so the Church believed. " Yet, the Cathars posed no threat to the Catholic religion. They challenged the absurd claim of the Roman Catholic Church that it was -- and as the absurdity continues into our day is -- the "Only True Religion," while by every criteria of their shared "Christian" religion these "heretics" were far better men than the popes who ordered their murder.
I invite you to read this thin book, as an introduction to a visit to the community where I live -- the Languedoc, in the south west of France.Read more ›