By Mark Gregory Pegg
Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 27 (2001)
Abstract: This essay proposes a re-evaluation of how Cathars, Albigenses, and the heresy of the good men are studied. It argues that some commonplace notions about the Cathars, virtually unaltered for over a hundred years, are far from settled — especially when inquisition records from Languedoc are taken into account. It is this historiography, supported by a tendency to see heresy in idealist and intellectualist bias, suggests how the history of the Cathars and the good men might be rethought.
The article on the ‘Cathars’ in the splendid 11th edition (1910) of the Encyclopædia Britannica, written with a kind of giddy elegance by Frederick Conybeare, begins by noting that these medieval heretics ‘were the de´bris of an early Christianity’. The Cathars were, and Conybeare had no doubts about this, the direct descendants of late antique Manicheans who, after a long and hidden diaspora, resurfaced between the tenth and fourteenth centuries as Paulicians and Bogomils in the Balkans and, with somewhat less discrimination in western Europe, as just about any heretic with vaguely dualist tendencies. Catharism, in this epic narrative, reached its apogee in the heresy of the good men (boni homines, bons omes) of Languedoc. No matter the time, no matter the place, all were one and the same heresy. Five volumes earlier in the eleventh edition (skipping, though not ignoring, Moses Gaster’s pithy sketch of the ‘Bogomils’ as the heirs of the Manicheans and frequent tourists in northern Italy) the entry on the ‘Albigenses’ by Paul Daniel Alphandery adopted a slightly more restrained tone than Conybeare. The Manicheans were ignored, the inﬂuence of the Bogomils and Paulicians taken seriously, and the Albigenses, as Catharist heretics, initially appearing in the Limousin between 1012 and 1020, ﬁnally immigrated to the Toulousain in the early twelfth century. Conybeare and Alphandery neatly abridged what was assumed about the Cathars, the Albigenses, the heresy of the good men, indeed all medieval heresies, in the century before them. Yet, somewhat more surprisingly, these two Edwardian scholars in their verve, erudition, and sheer wrong-headedness, anticipated what a great many historians have thought since.