The God Divided

The historical Crusaders travelled beyond the seas, hoping to reclaim the holy places for Christianity, the religion of the God who is both One and Three; Chaz Brenchley's kingdom of Outremer is founded upon a religion, which shares many of the cruelties and certainties of medieval Christianity, but whose doctrine is significantly different. The Society of Ransom worships the God Divided, a two-souled god whose sign is not the cross but the double loop, a god of light and darkness both:

In the hall the preceptor would be calling light from darkness, in his nightly miracle; here there was only that solitary candle to speak of balance, of two paths and one promise.
Dualist beliefs, similar but not identical to this religion, also existed in medieval Christendom, where the official Catholic church condemned them as heresies.

The origins of some of these heresies can be traced to the ideas of Manes, who tried to reconcile dualist belief in the balance of forces of light and darkness, good and evil, with orthodox Christianity. Among these Manichaean heretics were the Bogomiles of Asia Minor, and the Albigensians of southern France (and in particular the region around the city of Albi, from which their name was derived). These latter were also known as Cathars (from the Greek word meaning "pure"); there is no connection between them and the Catari of Tower of the King's Daughter, the people native to the land of Outremer, of whom the Sharai are one specific group.

The Cathars believed that God had created the spiritual world, and in particular the human soul, which was originally angelic in nature. God, being good, could not have created evil, which was the work of the Devil. The Cathar version of the legend of the Fall recounted how the Devil and his fellow fallen angels were expelled from paradise to earth. The material world was the creation of the Devil, and inherently evil; this was particularly true of the human body, a mere "tunic of flesh" which the Devil had modelled out of clay, and in which he imprisoned the immaterial, immortal soul. The soul remained trapped in the body, a "ghost in the machine", until the body died, and the soul moved on to another, human or animal, until it finally came to a body in which it was saved (by the deathbed sacrament of heretication) and freed to return to heaven.

The day when all souls would be freed from their enslavement to matter could be hurried on if no new bodies were created to house them. Unlike the Catholic church, the Cathars did not believe that sex was permitted if its aim was procreation; on the contrary, procreation, the birth of children, was a major disadvantage of sexual intercourse. Guillaume Bélibaste, a Cathar holy man of the early fourteenth century, explained his opposition to marriage:

Je veux... qu'aucun homme ne se conjoigne charnellement avec une femme; je ne veux pas non plus que d'eux naissent des fils ou des filles. Car, si on s'en tient de la sorte à la stérilité, toutes les créatures de Dieu seront rassemblées sous peu (au paradis).
[It is my wish... that no man should unite carnally with a woman; nor do I wish for sons and daughters to be born to them. For if we hold to sterility in this way, soon all of God's creation will be gathered together (in Paradise).]
He accepted that many believers would marry and have children, but the holy men or parfaits were expected to be celibate. They were also more ascetic in their diet, being vegetarians. It was recognised that not everyone could live at this pitch of purity, and some argued that since everything was equally forbidden, everything must also be equally permitted. A deathbed sacrament would cause all sins to be pardoned, so all could be indulged during the lifetime; all the more so in that the sinless life was so ascetic that only a few parfaits were able to live it. By maintaining their purity, they would be able to absolve the majority of sinners when their time came.

It is no surprise that the Catholic establishment did not look kindly on these dissident believers, who attacked both the doctrine of the church (Cathars did not, for example, believe that Christ had been incarnated in a human body) and its conduct (such as its ownership of land and material goods). In the thirteenth century, the Pope Innocent III declared a crusade against the Albigensian heresy, and an army of nobles from the north of France succeeded, by a sequence of savage massacres, in reducing the heresy to a few remnants.

However, in some remote spots, Cathar beliefs lingered on into the fourteenth century. One such spot was the village of Montaillou, in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, where heresy flourished to such an extent that it attracted the attention of the Bishop of Pamiers. In 1318 he set up a panel of the Inquisition, with the power to question everyone in the village about every detail of their life and beliefs. Thanks to the records of that Inquisition, the ordinary people of Montaillou continue to proclaim their beliefs in their own words (translated from the Latin of the legal document). Grazide Lizier, a young woman from the village, has her own perspective on the division of the work of creation between God and the Devil:

Je crois... que Dieu a créé les choses corporelles qui sont bonnes pour l'usage humain, telles que: les hommes eux-mêmes et les animaux comestibles ou utiles à l'homme, tels que boeufs, moutons, chèvres, chevaux, mules; et aussi les fruits comestibles de la terre et des arbres. Et d'autre part, je ne crois pas que Dieu ait fait les loups, les mouches, les lézards et d'autres êtres nocifs aux hommes; je ne crois pas non plus qu'il ait fait le diable.
[I believe... that God created thoses material things which are good for humanity, like: mankind itself and those animals which are edible or helpful to humanity, like oxen, sheep, goats, horses, mules; and also the edible fruits of the earth and the trees. On the other hand, I do not believe that God made the wolves, flies, lizards and other harmful beasts; and I do not believe that he made the Devil, either.]
More details of the beliefs of the people of Montaillou, not to mention the life story of Pierre Maury the shepherd, and the love-life of Bétrice de Planissoles, the lady of the manor, can be found in E. Le Roy Ladurie's wonderful book Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324, available from Amazon in the Penguin translation, or from FNAC in the original French.

For a wealth of information about the Cathars, see The Legacy of the Cathars (in English) or Les Cathares (in French).

In print, Amazon has Michael Costen's history of The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade; or for an entirely different view of heresy, try Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose

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