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The Perfect Heresy: The Life and Death of the Cathars Paperback – May 21, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books Ltd (May 21, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861973500
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861973504
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #130,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jongleurs performing troubadour poetry in fields and groves frequently dominate our images of Medieval Southern France. While the 12th century reveled in songs of deferred pleasure and adulterous fulfillment, the 13th, as Stephen O'Shea makes clear, took a marked turn toward the violent and intolerant. The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Death of the Medieval Cathars chronicles the Roman Catholic Church's crusade against--and ultimate annihilation of--the Albigenses, or Cathars, a group of heretical Christians who thrived in what is now the Languedoc region of Southern France. The Cathars held revolutionary beliefs that threatened the authority of the church. The world, they maintained, was not created by a benevolent God. Rather, it was the creation of a force of darkness, immanent in all things. They considered worldly authority a fraud, and authority based on some divine sanction, such as claimed by the church, outright hypocrisy. Innocent III, resolved to eradicate the Cathar threat to church authority, recruited the military powers of France, eager to expand their territory to the south. Together, they systematically exterminated the Cathars and their supporters in a series of crusades between 1209 and 1229. The Dominican-led Inquisition that ensued built upon this momentum of intolerance and tormented Europe for centuries to come.

A journalist and translator, Stephen O'Shea relocated to Southern France for two years in order to complete his research. He writes clearly and with evident passion for his subject. Intended for the general reader, The Perfect Heresy includes historical background and explanations without interrupting the narrative flow; there is also an annotated bibliography to facilitate further reading. O'Shea's examination of the Cathars sheds important new light on Medieval France as well as on the timelessness of religious intolerance. --Bertina Loeffler Sedlack --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Although its title and subject confound such a prospect, this broadly researched, well-crafted and extensive treatment of an extinct Christian heresy would make excellent beach reading. Investing his story with the pace and excitement of a novel, journalist and translator O'Shea skillfully brings to life the tale of the medieval Cathars. A group of Christian heretics living, predominantly, in southern France, the Cathars, also known as the Albigensians, claimed to be the true Christians. Members of a church that was characterized by a poor, ascetic clergy (known as the Perfect), they stood against the power, wealth and luxury of the clerics who owed their allegiance to the bishop of Rome. They adhered to a doctrine remarkably similar to that of the Christian Gnostics and challenged the authority of the Church, claiming Catholicism was a false religion; in return, they were exterminated by the Church in the first half of the 13th century in "a ferocious campaign of siege, battle, and bonfire." O'Shea (Back to the Front) suggests that the harsh reprisal against this alternative sect both enabled the expansion of the French monarchy into the formerly independent region of Languedoc and created the first modern police stateAthe Inquisition. Cogently, provocatively and precisely argued, this volume is a sound and engaging exposition of a pivotal episode in European history. 15 b&w illus. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

This history is well written, well researched, and very accessable to the average reader.
S. Potter
Do not be mislead by the title -- the Book by Stephen O'Shea is really about the Albigensian crusades in early XII century in Occitania/Languedoc/Southern France.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in digging deeper in understanding the history of that region.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on December 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Stephen O'Shea's book, THE PERFECT HERESY is extremely readable, and if you're on your way to Languedoc and want to know more about the Cathars, this is a good read. However, be warned, the book is a bit biased, and there are some factual errors.
O'Shea relies on secondary sources, and although he quotes some "primary" sources (English translations) others have translated the passages differently. For example, in 1242 in the town of Avignonet, two Domincan priests, Stephen of St Thibery and William Arnald, were attacked and killed by the Cathers. O'Shea says, "Feverish hands rifled through a wooden chest, found the Inquisition register, and ripped it to pieces; a flaming brand was lowered to set the names alight." Malcom Lambert, in his book THE CATHERS says the registers were taken and sold by soldiers.
O'Shea's writing, including the excerpts he uses to illustrate his points are designed to enhance the sensationalism of the story of the Cathars (he is a journalist). For example, on page 5 he attributes a quote Arnoud Amaury supposedly uttered at the seige of Beziers, "Kill them all, God will know his own." This quote was written thirty years later by a chronicler not present at the seige. Mr. O'Shea acknowledges later in the book that "historians disagree" about the accuracy of Amaury's statement. The chronicler wrote a French version of a mot taken directly from the Bible and put it into Amaury's mouth. So much for verismilitude.
O'Shea's book is mistitled. He spends little time discussing Cather theology or "heresy" and much time describing Simon de Monfort's military victories (maps of field movements, etc.) which is quite interesting, and takes up about a third of the book.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By S. Kaufmann on February 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
Actually this is one of my all-time favorite books. It is one of the few histories I have read where even the notes pages are interesting to read. He also ENCOURAGES you to look into it more on your own and includes an annotated bibliography in the back. The previous reviewer is WRONG about the title. The book IS about the LIFE and DEATH of the Medieval Cathars and NOT their theology. It goes over the contextual culture and history of the area where Catharism took hold, it goes over the various events that shaped what happened to the Cathars. The title does NOT imply that it is going to be about the theology of the Cathars although he touches on that in a basic form too. This is not a book written in an academic style (admittedly so by the author himself) but designed as a version written for a larger audience than just an academic with his nose up in the air at anything that doesn't read like a lab report. This is actually a fun read. I happen to be Catholic and this is NOT a biased book I felt. O'Shea is honest about what issues the Catholic Church had at the time (and continues to have in many aspects). Although I don't agree with one reviewer that the Papacy is the Anti-Christ (what some extreme Protestant sects hold that are the inherents of the Cathars), I do think some Catholics might find the information in this book challenging depending on their knowledge of the church and its history and thier experience with it. O'Shea does miss some important facts about the Cathars - what possibly happened within their ranks that might have contributed to their demise along with the crusade; the competition with the Spiritual Franciscans and the Waldensians who shared some of their views (extreme poverty for example).Read more ›
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By John Cragg on December 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Stephen O'Shea has written a fast-paced and absorbing, though somewhat superficial, book on the crusades against the Cathars and the start of the Inquisition. Despite the title, the book is not really about the heresy. Instead, it is about the wars of conquest that were inspired in the name of stamping out heresy. O'Shea quite reasonably portrays the crusade as a land-grab by Northern barons and in particular the King of France. He sees the whole sorry business as being also an assertion of the temporal as well as spiritual hegemony of the papacy.
As such a history, the book is well done, but don't look here for any detailed exposition of the origins of Catharism and its doctrinal development, analysis of where Cathar beliefs differed from orthodoxy or how these beliefs were related to standard heresies going back to the early Church.
More puzzling is a lack of discussion in the book about why the crusade and apparently the geographical range of Catharism were limited to Languedoc. The conditions that O'Shea believes fostered the growth of Catharism surely were as prominent in Aquitaine as in Languedoc in the 12th century. Also missing is much discussion of why the English-Aquitaine crown essentially stood idle while areas (especially Toulouse) claimed as theirs fell into the hands of their principal rival.
O'Shea has written a very one-sided book. It starts with a description of the looming threat of the Cathedral of Albi, with its tiny entrance and castle-like buttresses, but O'Shea fails completely to mention the astonishing interior, with a totally different atmosphere and a concrete, positive portrayal of what the Church could offer to those within it.
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