Albigenses (ălbĬjĕn´sēz) [Lat.,=people of Albi, one of their centers], religious sect of S France in the Middle Ages.
Beliefs and Practices
Officially known as heretics, they were actually Cathari, Provençal adherents of a doctrine similar to the Manichaean dualistic system of material evil and spiritual good (see Manichaeism; Bogomils). They held the coexistence of these two principles, represented by God and the Evil One, light and dark, the soul and the body, the next life and this life, peace and war, and the like. They believed that Jesus only seemed to have a human body.
The Albigenses were extremely ascetic, abstaining from flesh in all its forms, including milk and cheese. They comprised two classes, believers and Perfect, the former much more numerous, making up a catechumenate not bound by the stricter rules observed by the Perfect. The Perfect were those who had received the sacrament of consolamentum, a kind of laying on of hands. The Albigenses held their clergy in high regard. An occasional practice was suicide, preferably by starvation; for if this life is essentially evil, its end is to be hastened.
They had enthusiasm for proselytizing and preached vigorously. This fact partly accounted for their success, for at that time preaching was unknown in ordinary parish life. In the practice of asceticism as well, the contrast between local clergy and the Albigenses was helpful to the new sect.
Albigensianism appeared in the 12th cent. and soon had powerful protectors. Local bishops were ineffectual in dealing with the problem, and the pope sent St. Bernard of Clairvaux and other Cistercians to preach in Languedoc, the center of the movement. In 1167 the Albigenses held a council of their own at Toulouse. Pope Innocent III attacked the problem anew, and his action in sending (1205) St. Dominic to lead a band of poor preaching friars into the Albigensian cities was decisive. These missionaries were hampered by the war that soon broke out.
The Albigensian Crusade
In 1208 the papal legate, a Cistercian, Peter de Castelnau, was murdered, probably by an aid of Raymond VI of Toulouse, one of the chief Albigensian nobles. The pope proclaimed (1208) the Albigensian Crusade. From the first, political interests in the war overshadowed others; behind Simon de Montfort, the Catholic leader, was France, and behind Raymond was Peter II of Aragón, irreproachably Catholic. Innocent attempted to make peace, but the prize of S France was tempting, and the crusaders continued to ransack the entire region.
In 1213 at Muret, Montfort was victor and Peter was killed. The war went on, with the son of Philip II (later Louis VIII) as one of the leaders. Simon's death in 1218 robbed him of victory and left his less competent son to continue the fight. Raymond's son, Raymond VII, joined the war, which was finally terminated with an honorable capitulation by Raymond. By the Peace of Paris (1229), Louis IX acquired the county of Toulouse. The religious result of the crusade was negligible.
In 1233, Pope Gregory IX established a system of legal investigation in Albigensian centers and put it into the hands of the Dominicans; this was the birth of the medieval Inquisition. After 100 years of the Inquisition, of tireless preaching by the friars, and of careful reform of the clergy, Albigensianism was dead.
See S. Runciman, The Medieval Manichee (1947, repr. 1961); R. Rose, Albigen Papers (3d ed. 1979); S. O'Shea, The Perfect Heresy (2000).