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By Dr. Stephen Haliczer
Northern Illinois University
(edited from an interview by David Rabinovitch)

The Cathar heresy was a major challenge to the Roman Catholic Church. It combined a tradition of itinerant preachers in the forests of France with a very ascetic quality. The Cathars rejected the Roman Catholic, the entire church structure. They said they were the only true Christians. They developed an alternative religion, an alternative hierarchy, an alternative priesthood that attracted many adherents in that period, which is why the Cathar heresy above all occasioned the founding of the inquisition.

The Roman Catholic Church in the late twelfth and early thirteenth century was at a high point of its power and influence. The popes of that period were very powerful and they interfered very broadly in the affairs of secular monarchies. They had tremendous power over religious orders and very significant authority over the appointment of bishops. It was a very powerful church but it was also a church that was troubled by corruption. It was struggling with the problem of clerical celibacy, whether or not to allow priests to be married, what sort of relationships should they have with women? So it was very troubled on the one hand but very powerful on the other.

The Cathar movement rejected the material world. In so far as the Church had become enmeshed in the material world, it was no longer really a spiritual movement. It was now a movement that had brick and mortar churches and episcopal hierarchy and an elaborate bureaucracy and it collected tax money from all over Europe. Some of its prelates lived in great splendour, they were like feudal lords themselves. In so far as the Church was enmeshed in the world the radical rejection of the world by the Cathars posed an enormous threat... 

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