The Cathars

Malcolm Lambert

Blackwell 1998
A book review by Danny Yee © 1999
A rather dense academic survey, Lambert's The Cathars is really for the specialist rather than the general reader. (I don't know, however, that there is a popular general introduction to Catharism: most of the more accessible books focus on Languedoc and the Albigensian crusade.) Lambert takes a chronological and regional approach, addressing issues of doctrine and institutional structure as they arise. He begins with chapters on heresy in Western Europe before the eleventh century and on the Bogomils and early Catharism in the Rhineland; he finishes with chapters on Pierre Autier and the brief revival of Catharism around the beginning of the fourteenth century, on the decline of Italian Catharism, and on the Bosnian Church. In between he covers the rise of Catharism in the Languedoc and the Catholic response, from Innocent III and the launching of the crusade to the gradual formalisation of the Inquisition.

It was the material on the Italian and Bosnian Cathars that I found most interesting. In Languedoc doctrinal differences were not critical and a broadly unified church structure persisted. In Italy, in contrast, allegiances to competing Eastern ordo and conflicts over doctrine split Cathars into separate communities: Lambert sorts through the evidence to reveal their differences in theology and organisation. The complex political balance in Italy between cities, Guelf and Ghibelline factions, papacy, and empire resulted in idiosyncratic variations in the treatment of Cathars, but their survival was generally assisted by the unwillingness of independent cities to grant church authorities the powers needed for forcible suppression. The Inquisition and lay Catholic confraternities certainly helped it along, but Catharism's gradual decline in Italy was largely due to changes in the Catholic Church which reduced its appeal. (Cathar remnants in the Alps, syncretising with Waldensianism, survived until the early fifteenth century.) The history of the Bosnian Church took a very different course. "[W]hen heretics had authority, freedom and a landed endowment ... [t]heir leaders became virtually indistinguishable from the wealthy and powerful hierarchies of either the Catholic or Orthodox Churches of the time."

October 1999

External links:
- buy from or
Related reviews:
- books about Christianity + Christian history
- more medieval history
- books published by Blackwell
%T The Cathars
%A Lambert, Malcolm
%I Blackwell
%D 1998
%O paperback, references, index
%G ISBN 063120959X
%P 344pp