Cathari (kăth´ərī) [Gr.,=pure], name for members of the widespread dualistic religious movement of the Middle Ages. Carried from the Balkans to Western Europe, Catharism flourished in the 12th and 13th cent. as far north as England. It was known by various names and in various forms (see Bogomils; Albigenses). Catharism was descended from Gnosticism and Manichaeism and echoed many of the ideas of Marcion. The Cathari tended to reject not only the outward symbols of the Christian church, such as the sacraments and the hierarchy, but also the basic relationship between God and humanity as taught by orthodox Christianity. Instead, the Cathari believed in a dualistic universe, in which the God of the New Testament, who reigned over spiritual things, was in conflict with the evil god (or Satan), who ruled over matter. Asceticism, absolute surrender of the flesh to the spirit, was to be cultivated as the means to perfection. There were two classes of the Cathari, the believers and the Perfect. The believers passed to the ranks of the Perfect on acceptance of the consolamentum, a sort of sacrament that was a laying on of hands. The Catharist concept of Jesus resembled modalistic monarchianism in the West and adoptionism in the East. Persecution, such as that by the Inquisition, and the efforts of popes like Innocent III destroyed Catharism by the 15th cent.
See J. Madaule, The Albigensian Crusade (tr. 1967); J. R. Strayer, The Albigensian Crusades (1971); S. O'Shea, The Perfect Heresy (2000).