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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 726-727

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Book Review

The Cathars: Dualist Heretics in Languedoc in the High Middle Ages

The Cathars: Dualist Heretics in Languedoc in the High Middle Ages. By Malcolm Barber. [The Medieval World Series.] Pearson Education. (Harlow, Essex: Longman, Pearson Education. 2000. Pp. xvi, 282 £17.99.)

This is a remarkably succinct account of the rise and fall of Catharism in its most famous milieu, coupled with an initial chapter on the heresy's origins, bringing forward recent revisionary views on dualism in eleventh-century European heresy, a chapter on the Cathar Church per se, with reference to its literature and Italian developments, and a concluding, gently ironic chapter on Cathars after Catharism, exposing the lack of research and historical sense of neo-Cathars and romantic writers and showing how they use Catharism and Languedoc as a peg for preformed ideas and ideologies. Shrewd realism, understanding of the social structure, especially in the fine second chapter, and mastery of the chronicle evidence underpin narration and explanation. The author keeps close to his originals and the reader is taken firmly into well-chosen extracts, integrated into his story. There are twelve pages of further reading, with comments on primary and secondary material and six maps, including one illustrating a reconstruction of the field of work of the late perfect, Bernard Acier. Barber is a clear-headed guide through the thickets of modern writing and offers corrections and original observations, aided by unpublished Doat and the theses of Claire Dutton and Andrew Roach. He is cautious on the Béziers massacre, notes how southern atrocity at Puisserguier preceded Simon de Montfort's better-known terror at Bram, spots the role of simple souls in the Liber de duobus principibus, and sees the lightening role of humor at the end [End Page 726] of an Autier sermon. Portraits of the protagonists are well drawn--Innocent III, surprisingly, in Languedoc vacillating and open to lobbying, Simon with his energy worn down by thirty-nine sieges. Barber answers the major question: what impact did Simon's campaigns have on Catharism? His answer is that Simon cut the infrastructure, checked proselytizing, and changed the environment but still left many centers untouched. The author's touch is most certain when he deals with noble attitudes, explaining, for example, the link between rendability and Aimery of Montréal's rebellion and the true basis for Raymond Roger of Foix's attitude to the Church and heresy. He is less at ease in some passages on doctrine, where the book would have benefited from the depth supplied by the third and fourth volumes of Gerhard Rottenwöhrer's Der Katharismus. The Toulouse MX 609 supports the appearance of transmigration of souls in 1245-6. He brings over ably the attitudes of patron and rank-and-file believer but does not adequately convey the driving passion associated with the position of the perfect, witnessed in the steely determination of Arnaude de Lamothe or the decision of some at Montségur to seek consolamentum at the end of the siege, even at the cost of life. But the integrity and perspective of the book illuminate its subject.


Malcolm Lambert
Eastcombe, Stroud, England



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