question to a friend about Agen France and its low birth rate and curious attitudes

about Agen France and its birth rate
Do you know anything about Agen France?
I've been watching these Yale History Courses with John Merriman:
It seems that in France the birth came down much earlier than it did in other countries.  From around 1850 forwards, France ran around zero population growth.
The messages put out by Bishops have been preserved, "no dark secrets" is what they preached.  This means no contraception.  In some regions of the country people listened, but in others not.  Some areas started "de-Christianizing" with the 1789 revolution.
The birth rate stayed low, and this encouraged the aggressors in WWI.
It stayed low up through 1940.
After 1945 it went back up some for a while, but still not to anything like the level it is at in the US.
Merriman cites Agen as one of the places where upon having a second child people receive condolences cards.  He says it was like that even in the 19th Century.
Have you ever heard of anything like this, condolences cards upon having a second child?  I can't imagine such a place.  As I know, most places are pronatalist.
Do you know anything about Agen?  Anything about these sorts of attitudes?
The only thing I can imagine is that this might go back way way before 1789, that it might be a continuation of the ideas cultivated by the medieval Cathars.
Any possibility of this?

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Yes, I got it right here:

The German tank in the first picture is a Tiger II / King Tiger / Panzer VIb. Americans first ran up against these in the Battle of the Bulge. The burning wreck is a Sherman

The twin engine jet in the third picture is an ME-262. Not that many made and not many saw combat. Their other Jet the ME-163 was prone to explode either on take-off, or if it ran out of fuel. Not much use.

But the ME-262 was potentially quite useful. Substantial speed, manueverability, and climb advantages over the next best planes, P-51's and P-38's.

Yes, you have provided me with a piece of the puzzel. I have been trying to find a connection between Agen and the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade.

Agen is not that close to Monsegur. Its almost on the opposite side of Toulouse, in a differnt dioscese and a differnt province.

Condolances cards upon the birth of a second child? And even back in the 19th Century? I've never heard of such a thing.

The only time I've every heard of such attitudes has been in connection with Gnosticism.

Here is a map of the de-Christianization of France:

De-Christianization had not been one of the original 1789 goals. But shortly into the revolution, it became clear that there was popular support for reinstating the monarchy and that this was closely tied to support for Catholicism.

So eventually they wanted priests to take oaths of loyalty to the Revolution. When they did they were granted the role of Juror - Priest. This is what the map shows. It gives a sense of the level of support for secularity.

According to Yale's John Merriman, the map is almost identical to a map which shows the support for Mitterand.

France is different than the US. In the US the usual alternative to Catholicism is Protestantism. And Protestantism restarts every few decades that is, the non-denominationals turn into denominations. And so a new crop rises, quoting Paul of Tarsus even more out of context and claiming that they are even more Christian than anyone else.

In France Protestantism never got very far. Mostly the Rhone River Valley as it comes out of Switzerland. America's Dupont family are French Protestants. They tried to launch a Fascist Coup against Franklin Roosevelt.

But for most in France the alternative to Catholicsim is this de-Christianizing or Anti-Clericalism.

This is not the same as Bertrand Russel styled atheism either.

In a book I read about the Cathars, the author visited Montsegur. There people told him that everyone there was a Cathar. And that everyone there still is a Cathar.

Cathars mixed in fully with Catholics and even attended Catholic services. Their cession is private. They don't reject all of it, they just understand it differently. They don't seek to make a new Church to replace it.

Mostly what seems different in their views is how they see the Church and how they see procreation. You could say that in each they see error.

Very very different from Protestantism.

Condolances cards? Anyone ever heard of such a thing?


more about Gnosticism

That Gnostics were dualistic, or more dualistic than Orthodoxy is not clear.  That is, most what we know about them has been written by their detractors.  One detractor is Iraneaus, writing against Valentinus.

It is not clear that all Gnostics were influenced by Manicheanism.

Also, I will concede that the Orthodox doctrine of The Incarnation and Fully Human and Fully Divine is actually the most radical.  When Gnostic groups have been based on teachings which opposed this, like in the early centuries, they were not very sensical.

But there is also dualism in Orthodoxy, with the Augustinian notion of The Fall and Original Sin.  Its just that the lines are drawn differently.  Most doctrines are dualistic.  Maybe not Taoism, but most everything else is based on drawing a line of distinction.

The cosmological texts of the Gnostics really don't seem that important to me.  Rather, Gnosticism is more about opting out.  And the means of doing this are usually private.  When really pressed what the difference seems to come down to is two things:

1.  They see Christian Orthodoxy as part of this fallen or demiurgic world.  This is not so strange.  Martin Luther said that the Pope was the Anti-Christ.  Luther was seeing only part of the picture.

2.  Gnostics tend not to be pro-natalist, where as Christian Orthodoxy is always decidedly so.  Gnosticism has always been pluralistic and usually secretive.  Often Cathars are presented as extreme aesthetics and you will hear this kind of criticism coming from Catholic sources.  But I think this is being misunderstood.

Gnostics did not see sex as sinful.  But they tended to see procreation as an error, "sowing children to the Demiurge".

But again, I don't think their mythology is intended to be taken as objective truth. 

You know all those Baby Jesus's put out in Manger Scenes at Christmas time?  Well, the Catholic Church feeds off of them.  It feeds off of children.  It feeds off of them just like a Moloch.  It sucks the life out of them.  It needs them in order to regulate the lives of adults into their 3 approved States of Life.  It needs children to use, to legitimate itself.

There is one escape route from the Family System, and it is the one they control.  Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience.

Anything else, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, non-procreative sex, is sinful.

In recent decades as these other ways have become more accepted, religious vocations have dropped to to a trickle of what they once were.

The Catholic Church really doesn't care if Priests are homosexual.  I've heard inside estimates about the Jesuit Order of 70%.  They don't even really care if they abuse children either, so long as it doesn't effect the Church's finances.  Everything about Catholicism is based on abusing children in one way or another.

What is important is that they keep it concealed so that they can control the laity and enforce procreative heterosexuality.

So we can now review the vows,

Chastity, meaning an exemption from the Family System.

Poverty, meaning being able to live with greater material security than all but a very very few will ever enjoy, and a quite comfortable life as well.  I remember not too far back being introduced to a 300lb Carmelite as he was opening the door to a walk in freezer.

Obedience, meaning one must never stop preaching about the virtues of the Good Family, and one must always be able to give the "I Love My Mother" sermon.

The Albigensian Crusades were the first of the crusades.  It was after this that the crusades into the Holy Land and wars with Islam came.

About Europe and birth rates.  As I remember, it was West Germany that had the lowest birth rate.  Definitely negative population growth.  I believe that this was because the Right was discredited and kept under wraps.

I believe that their birth rate would have gone way up after reunification.

The Netherlands was low, and Scandinavia almost as low.

France was not as low, over all.

But what I have learned from John Merriman is that France was lower before 1945 and that from about 1850 thru 1940 France stood out as being very low.  Certainly it was much lower than German and Italy, and even lower than England.

The explanation Merriman offers is contraception and de-Christianizing.  That is, Bishops were saying, "No dirty little secrets".  Some people listened and some did not.  Enforcing procreation was and still is a central part of Catholic practice.

As far as the regions, what Merriman explains is:

Cities tend to have lower birth rates.  More people die in cities than are born their.  Cities will tend to be more de-Christianized.

But Paris and Lyon are exceptions.  They are "lost to the Church".

Agen is not that large of a city.  It is also not the only place with a very low birth rate.  But it is the one Merriman tells of as people receiving condolences cards upon the birth of a second child.  It was like this even in the 19th Century.

I have never heard of such a thing or of a place where people think like that.  The only explanation I could hypothesize would be Gnosticism.  Merriman does not talk about anything like this.

You folks have taken this to the next level, providing evidence of a connection between the Cathars and Agen.

As far as contraception:
To me it seems like there has likely been contraception for as long as people have lived in cities.  Maybe not everyone knew about it, and maybe it didn't work so well.  But I am convinced that it existed.

Never been able to find much written about this.

My feeling is that modern science is not really the issue.  Rather, its changes in people's thinking that make them want contraception.

And likewise, if there was more demand for it, billions of dollars could be spent per year to develop contraception which is more idea.  So far this is not happening.

about Gnosticism and the idea of opting out:

That Cathars were sometimes referred to as Pater Nosters.  That is, they would recite the Lord's Prayer over and over and over.

I saw in a video once one of their artifacts.  On the front side it is a Crucifix.  On the back though it says Pater Noster.

It seems that there have been many ways of opting out of Christian Orthodoxy.

According to Joseph Campbell the Parceval stories were one such.  They follow many themes which are different from what Christianity promotes.

There were Medieval small breviaries.  These were hourly prayer books intended for laity.  They would have the same 8 hour Benedictine hours which  the official breviary used.  But the books were small and simple.  The hours were often understood as being a meditation on Jesus's last day.

The effect of this was to give one a level of personal contemplative prayer.  Every hour of every day became sacred.

So Sunday, and Mass, and sermons, and Confession before Communion, became less important.

The Rosary may also have originally been something like this, a way of opting out.

Francis of Assisi is the one who really pushed for veneration of the Holy Family and the use of Manger Scenes.  He was trying to oppose the non-pronatalist views of the various Gnostic groups, including the Cathars.

Francis himself was a layman who never took vows.  But he did opt himself out of the Family System and did have a very strong emotional need to promote it.

Francis came from a well off merchant family.  Giving away everything, even the clothes off his back, was a way of opposing his father.

As depicted in film, his father was angered by this.  And because of his social position he started giving orders to the Bishop.  "Don't just stand there, do something!"

"Here my son, take this to clothe your naked body," as he gives him his own magnificent robe.

Francis then proceeds to give the BIshop's robe away too.  Then with no coverage except for his hands, he runs off into the woods.

It was and still is very common for celibate religious vocations to come from well off families.  You see, such people would have zero excuse for failure to perpetuate the Family System.  They have zero economic hardship or other lack of advantages.  So the only legitimate way out would be Chastity, Poverty and Obediance.  And the cost of this, not really a cost, an obligation, is that one must keep on preaching and preaching the virtues of the Good Family.  One must stay in denial.

I want to know more about these regions of France with very low birth rates and I want to understand what their attitudes really are, and where they come from.

You folks have provided me with the link between Catharism and Agen.  Now it would be interesting to see if people really do think in similar manners.  I don't see it as being tied to comological narratives as I don't see these as important.  Rather, its more about opting out of certain aspects of Christian Orthodoxy and refusing certain patterns of denial.


Here, trying to find information about Agen I just stumbled across this:,8599,1991216,00.html,8599,1925944,00.html

I knew that West Germany had a very low birth rate during the 1960's, lower than the Netherlands or Scandinavia, the lowest anywhere in the world.  But I assumed that after reunification, as the Right resurfaced. the rate would go way up.  The Right did resurface, separating people by race in train stations for Customs processing, attacks on Muslims, holocaust denial, anti-abortion laws, talk about making two tiers of health care benefits.  But seemingly the birth rate has not gone back up.  They are talking about 1.5, which is very low for any country, and even 1.38.

But these sorts of numbers are misleading, as they give the impression that the country is entirely homogeneous.  I'm sure it is not, that it is stratified in all sorts of different ways, including by region and by the influence of religion.  So its going to be very similar then to France.

In the US I believe the number is more like 2.1 or 2.2, very high for industrialized nations.

Some of the groups in the US with a very high rate are ultra conservative factions of of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews.  According to Kevin Philips, its these very groups, with their high birth rates, which provided the support for the war in Iraq.

The above article talks about issues with state run day care.  Well, the US has zero state run day care.  So the explanations given in the above two articles are just a small portion of the story.

In the 1970's Congress passed legislation for Universal Day Care, but Richard Nixon vetoed it, saying that it would "Sovietize the American Family".

The population of the entire world still grows by 100,000,000 per year, and then a billion per decade.  This also means that the average age continues to get younger, and so it is still a geometrical explosion.  Maybe its not as steep of a curve as the worst predictions made 50 years ago, but it is still a geometrical explosion.

What I'm interested in are the psycho dynamics which underlie the regions and social segments of the industrialized countries which have very low numbers.

So I am still hoping someone might know more about Agen and regions like that.  And as far as the condolences cards upon the birth of a second child, and even in the 19th Century, I really am looking for information about that.


In this course session Merriman goes into it, the de-Christianization:

Here, at 16:30 he talks about the recorded sermons of Bishops in 19th Century France, saying, "No dark secrets!"  Well in a land of falling birth rates, that means no contraception.

At 22:00 he starts telling the story.  He mentions a couple where they had 12 and 13 siblings.

At 22:40 he starts to talk about Agen, the Prune Capital.  And he explains about the condolances cards.
shows pronunciation marks

here, still working on my Chance to Survive website text:

More About French Birth Rates, a reply to a friend
Thank you for sharing all of that with us.  Yes, those are very large family sizes.  Hard for me to imagine what that would be like.
Yes of course I know about the Basque.  I had not known that Basque shepards emigrated to Nevada and California.
The Basque are in the South, in the Pyrenees, right?  Guernica Spain is Basque.  I believe the Basque were active in opposing Franco.
According to Yale's John Merriman the areas with the super low birth rates are Agen and Provencal, in the South.
Its the area around Agen where they send the condolences cards.
That's very funny, your grandmother cursing out the priest!
I think everyone who has any connection to the Catholic Church knows that the big drop in vocations is directly tied to the smaller family sizes.  Priests will say that its because parents want grandchildren, and so they don't want to give up any children to religious vocations.
But I have listened to stories where they've had shows of hands in seminaries as to how many children there were, and it runs from around 5, up to about 22.  Priests tend to come from large families, and not many of these exist any more.
I don't think its really just about grandchildren.  I think the religious vocations always were about escaping from a compulsory family dynamic.  Its just that they aren't honest about it.  Never have been honest, and aren't even honest with themselves.
The South of France has always been curious.  Merriman says that Lourdes always did have high church attendance.  Not de-Chrisitanized at all.
By tradition and legend, Mary Magdalene spent her last years in the South of France.
According to Merriman, "The 1789 revolution was primarily a civil war against the Catholic Church."  I know that most people are not aware of this and don't see it as being related to birth rates.
According to him, this is why you have these areas with low birth rates, and overall a lower birth rate than other countries had, and much earlier.
Do you know anything about the Cathar movement and then the Albigensian Crusade which crushed it?
When I first listened to Merriman explain about the condolences cards, the only explanation I could think of was the Cathars.  Only with them and with some of the other movements which influenced them, might you find such attitudes.  So I started looking at maps to figure out where Agen was and if there could be any connection.
I was just speculating, because I have never heard of anything like such condolences cards.
So someone on another board give me this:
Yes, Agen was a Cathar stronghold and it was a place where Cathars were burned.
So if there is a connection, then the change in thinking started way before 1789.  The Cathars go back to the 11th and 12th Centuries.
Do you know if there is any connection between the low birth rates and continuing Catharism of some sort?
Always Good to Hear from You

a reply:

I'm glad you listened to Merriman.  Thank you.  Yes, the condolences
cards are kind of nasty.  At least they could be.  I'm not really
encouraging that.  I just want to understand it.

France has universal access to health care.  I live in a country which
doesn't have that, but where the Born Again Movement is extremely
popular.  So I don't know how common the condolences cards are.  This
is why I'm posting about it.  I'm hoping someone will know.

The only time I have ever heard of people who might think that way is
associated with Gnosticism.  But actually not with Cathars, with one
of the predecessor groups which influenced them, Bogomils.

But again, most of what is known about Gnosticism is what has been
written by its detractors, so you have to take it with a grain of

An anti-natalist position could be nasty.  But pro-natalism is also
nasty, and it preys on children.

Most of what the Recovery Movement puts out is really just Liberal
Pedagogy, Rousseauism, and this most certainly is pro-natalism.

As far as Roman Catholic celibacy, yes, everything it says in your two
links is true.  Its only for the Latin Rite, and its not always been
this way.  There are about 10 or so Eastern Rites, and they do not
require celibacy for priests.

The Anglican Church has three parties, a mainline protestant styled, a
fundamentalist protestant styled, and the Anglo-Catholic party.  The
parties are barely on speaking terms, and none of them look to the
Arch Bishop of Canterbury for their leadership.  They each look
outside of England.

In England itself, not talking about Ireland, just talking about
England, Roman Catholic Sunday attendance exceeds Anglican attendance,
even counting all three of its parties.

Many in the Anglo-Catholic party want some sort of reunification with
Rome.  But they want it with some special status still preserved.
Because of these Eastern Rites, there is precedent for this.  There
are also married Lutheran clergy who have been allowed to become
Catholic Priests.  So it could happen.

But, the Anglo-Catholic party is the most liberal of the three
Anglican Church parties.

I don't feel that going to married priests would solve much within the
Roman Catholic Church.  I don't think the way it has worked in the
Anglican Church would give one much reason to be hopeful about it.
See, once you do that, then you are making marriage part of one's
social legitimacy.  Historically, they had to be married before
Ordination, and a divorce would mean they were out.

Familiar with the Zen teacher Alan Watts?  He was quite iconoclast and
decided that he wanted to become a priest in the Anglo-Catholic wing
of the American Episcopalian Church.  He was married to an English
woman from a wealthy and well connected family.  So they shopped the
entire United States for a suitable diocese, and one where they would
let Watts prepare for the priesthood by self study.  They found what
they wanted in Chicago.  So Watts was soon the Chaplin for I believe
Northwestern University.  He never wanted to be a parish rector.  The
agreement he had with the Bishop was that he would chase after wealthy
Episcopalians who had strayed from the fold, and try to present them
with a thinking person's approach to Christianity and bring them back.
 At doing this Watts proved quite adept, hosting cocktail parties
twice per week.

But then his marriage fell apart.  What Watts wanted was something
very different, much more bohemian.  So they were divorced.  Then the
wife wrote a letter to the Bishop denouncing Watts as a sexual
pervert, and explaining how penitent she was and that she wanted to
make herself ready for "Christian Marriage".  Her family really was
loaded, so staying in good graces with their church was really
important to her.

Watts then pre-empted the Bishop by writing a letter denouncing
Christianity.  Then he went on to write one of his best books, The
Wisdom of Non-Belief.  This was around about 1950.

In the decades since its been republished along with his last book
written while wearing the Episcopalian collar, Behold the Spirit.
Watts has written in the new editions a suggestion that the two works
be read back to back.

Anytime you make marriage a matter of social identity, then very soon
you are also going to be making children part of this.

A big part of the argument against gay clergy among protestant groups
is that an unattached person is potentially on the make, and so they
are a threat to the congregation.

Watts used to say that for an Episcopalian Priest, alcoholism, traffic
citations, and bank over draws would always be forgiven, but an affair
with the secretary would be inexcusable.  Watts said that churches are
little more than "sexual regulation societies".  This would seem to be

It would be in the mid 60's that Watts would be in San Francisco and
would meet up with the Episcopalian Bishop James Pike, who welcomed
him to celebrate in the Cathedral.  From then on, Watts would often be
asked to do funerals and weddings for friends, though the weddings he

Ideally the Catholic Clergy Abuse Scandal would have prompted a deeper
look at what their attitudes really are.  But nothing of the sort has
happened.  Rather they've just gotten tougher about making people tow
the line, and they gotten less tolerant about lots of things not
directly related.

So no, I don't think eliminating the celibacy requirement for Roman
Catholic Priests would solve anything.  The denial about the Family
System runs very very deep.  I feel that it is the core of
Catholicism, and in large measure it is also for all of the Abrahamic

Celibacy is a kind of a protest.  It was 2000 years ago, it was for
Jeremiah, and it still is today.  It suggests that one may be engaging
in spiritual warfare.  So I do see value in it.

It is not clear that Gnostic groups were influenced by Manicheanism.
This is just something which has been speculated.  But one man who was
most certainly saturated with Manicheanism was Augustine.

Augustine wanted to be baptized for over a decade, but he still
declined until he was also ready for celibacy.  This required a change
in him, and also his teenage son died and he dismissed his common law

I've tried to present Gnosticism as a kind of opting out, and to
downplay their various cosmological doctrines.  The orthodox doctrine
of one creator God and of the Incarnation as meaning fully human and
fully divine, is actually a more radical doctrine.  Celibacy is also
radical, but the way that they do it is in support of pro-natalism.

What I've always said is that the Clergy Abuse law suits should be
just the first step.  Religious Addition plays out in families.  So I
say, figure out ways to sue for all the ramifications of familial
religious addiction.  Sue until there is nothing left but the bones of
Simon Peter.

requesting international assistance in process service:

I really do want to understand what it is like in Agen and these other
areas of France with the very low birth rates.  It sounds like there
are also such areas in Germany as well.

one of my favorite recordings, especially the opening;
I like the stereo mastering too.  They say that Keith Richards
plays just very slightly behind the beat, and that this lets the drumming
stand out and gives the music a distinctive sound.  To actually hear this
you really do have to listen close.

I'm not against acoustic or semi-hollow guitar music.  Its just that I like
the solid body music so much that I rarely have patience to listen to
the others.

Cathar Feminism?

Interesting.  I read the hail to you blog and try to understand it.  Seems like the blog is intended to advance a racist agenda, and that this is why they are interested in birth rates.

Anyway, it does give birth rate info for the US in recent years, racially.

In France today the birth rate is not that low.  They try to understand why it went down before it did so in other countries.  Not clear that they know.  They do mention that Napoleon changed the inheritance laws, and this is something I am also interested in, as it still effects places like Puerto Rico, Louisiana, and Quebec.  Sounds like inheritance was not discretionary.

But the best they can come up with for the early drop in birth rate still seems to be de-Christianizing and 1789.

They don't go into the various regions of France.  So they aren’t talking about super low birth rates or condolences cards.

Here, this gives current birth rates for every country.  Very low is Germany, and some others you would not expect.  France is not that low.
Here they give EU birth rates.  France is near the top.  Though still nothing like the US.

The bottom of the list is
Germany, Italy, Spain, and Greece, not what I would have expected at all!

All of this talk about how Europe has moved in recent decades brings to mind a book I have found most interesting.

Here, this ties the Cathars to all of the heterodox teachings.  As I have always argued, there is no real line between heterodoxy and orthodoxy.  Heterodoxy is already included within orthodoxy.
( A couple years ago I listened to Da Vinci Code read aloud on audio tape.  There comes a point when they realize that they have gone the wrong way and are on the wrong track.  At that point I
 guess exactly where the spot is, I mean a place with a street address, and with a specific
 individual responsible for it.  I don’t want to spoil this for others, so I am being vague.  But some of the best kept secrets are hidden by being right out in the open, and with lots of people knowing about them.)

Cathar Feminism?
EJ Conroy 1994 Florida State paper.  I’ve excerpted some of it below.


Talks about Albi, another place I’d never heard of, as a Cathar region.  Everything seems to revolve around Toulouse.  Agen is to the North West, Albi to the North East, Montsegur and Lourdes to the South.

Excerpted from the EJ Conroy 1994 Florida State paper:

Such conditions, of course, varied from region to region. In Occitania, no feudal lord had overriding influence in ecclesiastical appointments, nor was any court active enough to serve as a training ground for bishops. The bishops therefore represented either the interests of a small region or the triumph of one local faction over another. Unable to cooperate effectively, the bishops did not consider the common welfare of Occitania or of Christendom. The papacy, aware of this weakness in the hierarchy of the universal church, had much bigger problems to contend with in the twelfth century.
The lack of ecclesiastical organization in Occitania fostered a slightly deviant society, which in turn contributed greatly to the evolution of the Cathar heresy. But what made the movement so successful was the willingness of the local people to accept Catharism. "The people of Occitania had lost much of their zeal, much of their devotion to the faith"1. Only a minority ever became Cathars, yet the Catholic majority seemed unconcerned about the heretical threat. The majority never expressed an aversion to the Cathars who were trying to subvert the fundamental institution of the society.
General concepts of Catharism originated in the dualist philosophies of pre-Christian Zoroastrianism and third- century Common Era Manicheanism. Essentially, dualist doctrine advocates the existence of two divine figures. One divinity is good, the god of light and the spiritual world, while the other indulges in evil, the god of darkness and the material world. These two bipolar powers were in constant conflict, which would eventually be resolved in favor of the god of light.
While Catharism was similar to the older dualist traditions, it developed independently, and was in no way a continuation. It was, by all standards, overwhelmingly more Catholic that Manichean or Zoroastrian. In Catharism, the gods of light and dark became the Christian God and Satan. The good God, the God of light, created only the spiritual world while Satan, the god of darkness, was responsible for the creation of the material world. Spirit was intrinsically good; matter was intrinsically evil. Similarly, the soul was good while the body remained evil. The human world served as a battleground between the forces of light and darkness, spirit and matter. Human life, then, freed the soul from the entanglement of the body so that it could enter the spiritual world of light after death.
As all material things had been created by Satan, the Cathar teaching claimed the perfect life was asceticism. Ideally, the Cathars needed to be absolutely celibate, to deny themselves all earthly things, and consume barely enough food and drink to sustain life. The problem of how this sect aspiring to such inhuman principles could survive was solved with the evolution of two classes of Cathars. The perfecti were bound to lead this ideal life of rigid asceticism, and constituted the priestly class. Through a ceremony called the consolamentum, the laying on of hands, a Cathar was inducted into the perfectus class. The ceremony not only eradicated any previous sins, but swore the Cathar to commit no more for the duration of their lives.
However, Catharism took human nature into consideration. It was recognized that a very few could ever become perfecti before their demise became imminent; simple Cathars were not made to feel guilty for their shortcoming. It is important to note that the high standards set for the perfecti were in no way intended to be met by average believers. This much larger group, the credentes or the true believers, were subjected to no restrictions of their lifestyle. Any vocation could be followed. Unlike orthodox Christianity, Catharism imposed no restrictions on eating or drinking. Most significantly, the codes of sexual morality were lax. The only crucial obligations for a Cathar were to renounce all allegiance to the orthodox church, and to undergo the consolamentum before death.
A Medieval Catholic would find surprisingly little in Cathar practice strange or offensive. He would hear verse after verse of familiar passages from the New Testament, repeat the Lord's Prayer, and ask for his sins to be forgiven. Much of what would be found in the Catholic Mass had been omitted, but very little contradiction was added. However, Catharism contradicted Catholicism on the most fundamental of tenets. Most sources on the Cathar beliefs come from the writings of their orthodox Christian enemies. Accordingly, the best-known features of the doctrine are those that directly opposed the teachings of the church. The one real hope of the Medieval people was the blessed life of those who would be called to salvation. Only the church could put men on the path to salvation. Only by believing those eternal "truths" taught in the church, only by receiving grace through the sacraments, could salvation be possible. Anyone who denied these "truths" and the church was therefore the greatest enemy of mankind, "a murderer who sought to kill the immortal soul rather than the earthly body"1.
The Cathars believed in reincarnation and repudiated the tenet of eternal damnation for sinners. A soul was obliged to live many lifetimes in a human body until it achieved salvation. If earthly bodies were evil, as the Cathars taught, then God could not become incarnate in a man. Therefore, according to the Cathars, the Christian Christ was not God, only an emissary of God; he became a man in appearance only. To the Cathars, the sacraments that the Catholic church claimed to confer divine grace through material elements such as water, bread and wine were inherently blasphemous. Marriage was also condemned, as it led to the production of children and so entrapped more spiritual souls in evil, material bodies1.
This last item provides a good starting point for the exploration of a Cathar feminism. The condemnation of marriage was particularly obnoxious in the eyes of their orthodox opponents. Instead, the Cathars advocated a complete reversal of orthodox teaching. Catholicism championed that sex belonged only in marriage, and that sex in marriage must be for reproduction and without pleasure. While the Cathars thought childbearing a great sin, they did not object to sexual motivations other than reproduction. Coupling the indifference placed on performance in the material world with the belief that all bodily sins would be erased by the consolamentum before death, Cathar society virtually destroyed any orthodox restrictions on sexual conduct. It is interesting to note that the population of Occitania grew rapidly during the years of the Cathar expansion.
How this relative sexual liberation affected Cathar women varied from area to area1. In the village of Montaillou, the philosophy of sex and marriage was summarized by Guillaume Belibaste, a Cathar holy man. He saw no purpose in adopting the Catholic theology which had governed sternly the institution of marriage. However, he realized that simple Cathar believers would never adopt the perfectus ideal of absolute chastity. "It amounts to the same, and the sin is the same, to know one's wife carnally or to do the same with a concubine. This being so, it is better for a man to attach himself to a definite woman"2.
Whether Cathar or Catholic, every married woman could expect a fair amount of beating1. As the man possessed the initiative in the courtship, he later on claimed the right to violence. The reaction to Guillemette Clergue's black eye is indicative of the sort of behavior expected from husbands. Through some accident or infection, Guillemette had a bad eye, and was travelling to find a cure. On the way, she encountered the perfectus Prades Tavernier, who assumed she had been beaten2. Later, in her testimony to Jacques Fournier, Guillemette admitted to keeping her rapport with Tavernier a secret from her husband for fear of abuse, perhaps even death3.
Certain enlightened Cathars who had carefully studied the Bible advocated more humane treatment of women. But as far as the institution of marriage was concerned, civilization was misogynous. Pierre Authoe himself, despite his affection for his daughter, generally considered women as something base1. Belibaste, who married and unmarried his mistress to Pierre Maury within a few days, never made a mystery of his male chauvinism and masculine imperialism. According to Belibaste, a woman's soul could not be allowed into paradise after her death, and would only achieve that glorious end after being reincarnated as a man2.
One area in which Catharism differentiated sharply from orthodox Christianity was the opportunity offered to women in the hierarchy of the religion itself. An imperfect parallel can be drawn between orthodox monasticism and the perfecti. Both were committed to lives of celibacy and self-denial. Although certain monasteries allowed women to participate, and a few convents existed, women were generally relegated to lower, insignificant positions.
Women could, however, be accepted among the perfecti; it is widely speculated that this was the main appeal of Catharism for women. The perfecti were the ministers of the Cathar faith, wandering in pairs through the countryside to be with the credentes. Women and men worked together to gain converts to the faith and maintaining devotion. To be a perfecta gave a woman a higher status than she could ever attain in the Catholic church1.
A connection that cannot be overlooked is the development of courtly love ideals in the area most permeated by Catharism. Some explanation of courtly love and its origins is a necessary contribution to this overall investigation. In Occitania, the noblewoman was subject to her husband, but was also mistress of her household. Servants performed their tasks and children received their training under her supervision. In the absence of the lord, the woman took control of both household and fief.
The ideas of courtly love first appeared in the lyric poetry composed by the troubadours of Southern France. In Occitania, many of these wandering minstrels were also Cathar. Speculatively, the Occitanian troubadour ideas of love and relations with women grew spontaneously out of the environment supplied by the region in the eleventh and twelfth centuries1. A popular anecdote of the first troubadour poetry begins around 1150. A hungry minstrel, wandering around the duchy of Aquitaine, came to a castle where he hoped his tales of battles, broad stories and tumbling tricks would earn him a good dinner. Unfortunately, the lord was absent; the lady of the castle had become weary long before of boring tales of endless battles and masculine aggression. It occurred to the minstrel that if he composed a song in praise of the lady's beauty and virtue, whether or not she had either of these, and described the effect they had on him in glowing terms, he may be fed after all. The experiment must have been successful. Soon, the halls of Occitania were ringing with songs in praise of ladies who were able to dispense lavish hospitality. While the minstrels sang for a living, barons and knights indulged in the musical fad because it was pleasant and fashionable2.
Courtly songs were inspired by a new conception of love. Love was the emotion produced by the unrestrained adoration of a lady. Love might be rewarded by smiles, kisses, or higher favors, but their presence or absence had no essential effect on love itself. All the benefits and torments which came to the lover grew out of simple worship of a worthy woman. This love would be inspired by the lady's good qualities, such as her beauty, wit, charm and character.
The effects of this love were not purely emotional and physical; it improved a man in every way. By developing the idea that a noble could not be a perfect knight unless he loved a woman the Cathar troubadours laid the foundation of courtly chivalry. Women were bound to enjoy a more elevated position in society, Although she could not fight herself, she could make a man a better warrior. The women of Occitania were accorded a great deal more respect than was common, and in this way did there exist an ideological, courtly, and chivalric kind of feminism1.
That courtly love did at least improve women's collective egos in this period is probable. However, ladies were revered as passive goddesses, who were adored whether they wished to be or not. Women played no active role in the poetic courtship1. Additionally, the ideas of courtly love had little effect on the lives of wives and maidens.
The essentially innocent practice of courtly love might furnish temptation. An orthodox rebuttal to the Occitanian troubadours can be found in Andrew the Chaplain's De Amore1. The attitude of the church was fully explained and supported with solid arguments; in arguing for the traditional customs of the feudal world and Catholic church, Andrew's heart was fully in his work. The section entitled De reprobation amoris consists largely of a furious diatribe against women. "Love for a woman is a passion which comes from looking at and thinking too much about the body of the other sex"2. Geoffrey de la Tour Landry composed a book of advice for the instruction of his young daughters. He rejected without hesitation the precepts of courtly love. Accepting fully the feudal and ecclesiastical attitude toward adultery, he had nothing but condemnation for any woman who slipped from the path of strict virtue. He was careful to point out that a woman who lost her reputation for chastity would be scorned by all worthy people; however, a promiscuous male would be lauded. La Tour Landry bemoaned the fact that such excellent ancient customs as burying illicit lovers alive had fallen into disuse3.
How fully the courtly love philosophy was developed in practice among the Cathars is virtually undocumented. "Though it is certain that the joyous love songs of the troubadours and the worship of the pure ones were often heard together, that one influenced the other to any degree can only be speculated"1. Only an educated guess can be made as to how much courtly love affected the life of the average Cathar woman.
Although it appears that feminism would be an exaggeration in describing the status that Cathar women enjoyed, the difference between their lives and the lives of their orthodox sisters is still significant. That Cathar women had the chance to become perfectae is difficult to credit fully from the modern viewpoint. In allowing women to join its most holy ranks, the Cathar church deviated wildly from orthodox Christianity; in attaining this status, the Cathar women discovered a success in their lives that has no modern parallel.
The body was by definition evil, woman's body was no more so. Yet only in rare cases was this theoretical equality actualized, the general Cathar acceptance of sexuality being such a case. Holy or courtly pleas to respect one's spouse or daughter were nodded at politely in public, but ignored in the home. The gentility of the Cathar faith could not overcome the ruthless patriarchal domination of the feudal system.

Cathar Feminism?   Part II

Here I draw attention to  a smaller section:

Marriage was also condemned, as it led to the production of children and so entrapped more spiritual souls in evil, material bodies1.
This last item provides a good starting point for the exploration of a Cathar feminism. The condemnation of marriage was particularly obnoxious in the eyes of their orthodox opponents. Instead, the Cathars advocated a complete reversal of orthodox teaching. Catholicism championed that sex belonged only in marriage, and that sex in marriage must be for reproduction and without pleasure. While the Cathars thought childbearing a great sin, they did not object to sexual motivations other than reproduction.  

Again I want to state that it is not clear that Catharism or Gnosticism is actually dualistic, or at least not any more dualistic than orthodoxy.  Though there are cosmological gnostic texts, it is not at all clear to me that gnosticism depends upon these, or that it actually depends at all on rejection of the orthodox doctrines of one creator God and of the Incarnation.

It is not clear that Cathars or Bogomils were influenced by Manicheanism or Zoroastrianism.  Or I should say, it is not clear that they are any more influenced by these things than are Christian and Islamic orthodoxy.

As far as what the differences of significance are then, mostly it seems to be how one views the Church.

Beyond that there do seem to be attitudinal differences about procreation and sex.  But I feel that these matters are actually quite complex and conflicted.

The harsher anti-natal attitudes I have heard of are attributed to Bogomils and not Cathars.  But as with everything else about gnosticism, these are anecdotal accounts coming from detractors.

Could it be that some aspect of Cathar thinking still continues in France and has contributed to de-Christianizing, an early drop in birth rate, and some regions with extremely low birth rates and the condolences cards?

Again, it was Francis of Assisi who promoted veneration of the Holy Family and the use of Manger Scenes.  He was trying to counter the Bogomil and Cathar influence.  Francis himself remained a layman and did not take vows.  But he still was following the clerical example, Augustine's example, of do what I say and not what I do.

Consider this when you read accounts which say that Gnosticism was dualistic.

funny you mention; some 'rep' you know types that get american tax funds and 'decide' what to do with...

he said contraception pills are going to kill the population!?!? what crack is he schmokin' ?

Listening to the above audio.  Most interesting.

They go into something interesting, why Innocent III and the Church accepted Francis of Assisi, while condemning the Cathars.  After all, just like the Cathars, Francis was an extreme aesthetic and he could be seen as embarrasing the clergy.

Well, the Church accepted Francis because Francis was not anti-clerical.  Also, Francis was specifically anti-Cathar.

In the audio they say that Francis rejected the dualism and accepted all of creation.  This is conveyed in the images of him giving sermons to birds.

Well again, I wish to add my own take on this.  I see in Francis something like what I see in Augustine.

And it seems to have been in response to the Cathars that the Church revived the most extreme anti-contraception doctrine, Augustine's.

 Francis endorsed the family system.  He endorsed the view that sex is for procreation and procreation is good and so sex used for procreation is good.  But other sex is bad bad bad.

Francis emulated the clergy, preaching the good family, while claiming for himself a personal exemption.  So for all effective purposes Francis was clergy.

Also, it was Francis who promoted veneration of the Holy Family and the use of Manger Scenes.

And again, I am not personally endorsing Cathar dualism.  Frankly I don't think we really understand it and I don't think it really matters.

But I do feel that in some areas orthodoxy is also based on dualism and extreme extreme denial, and that it feeds off of children.





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