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
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.)
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