"The Albigensians were a sort of Pro-Death League, opposed to marriage, children, and pregnancy (a calamity for which abortion was recommended), and if one could not follow a Pauline path of celibacy, the next best thing was fornication that did not perpetuate the species. Because matter was sinful – only spirit was pure – death was to be hurried along. Suicide was accepted. The preferred Albigensian method was self-starvation supervised by helpful hospice workers to make sure the loved one didn’t slip out for some bread and wine.
Obviously in the Albigensian heresy and its heretical cousins are the developing outlines of Reformation Protestantism. The Albigensians were puritanical, opposed to the world, the flesh, and the devil – whose satanic stand-in was the wealthy and powerful pope in Rome. The Albigensians denied the sacraments of the Catholic Church but came up with one of their own, the Consolamentum, which offered a final absolution and was available only once. The Albigensians also denied the hierarchy of the Catholic Church but divided their own ranks between the Perfect – of perhaps in Calvinist terms, the Elect – and the Believers. The Perfect kept the cult’s rigid structures of self-denial, including celibacy, non-dairy vegetarianism (though fish was allowed), poverty, no swearing (not just profanity, but any oath, including of feudal allegiance), pacifism, and so on. The mere Believers were given somewhat looser strictures, which allowed sodomy and fornication without conception. More subtly, the Albigensian division between the Perfect and the Believers was an early outline of how Puritanism and Secularism could and did march together against their common enemy in the Church.
The Albigensians were a direct challenge to the Church, because they were evangelical, spreading across southern France preaching Purity to Puritans, license to libertines, and reason to rationalists; and the vigilante violence that normally snuffed out heretics did not happen. The feudal lords of southern France prevented it, because they saw in the Albigensian heresy a way to gain money, power, and independence at the expense of the Church. - which was a major regional landowner - and the French king, who was the Church’s ally.
For the southern nobles, the issues involved were not doctrinal. They could not care less that the Albigensians denied the Trinity or the Virgin Birth or that they dismissed the whole panoply of Church custom as superstition. Nor for that matter, did the nobles care that the Albigensians were economic communists. For the southern nobles the Albigensians were merely a lever to separate Mediterranean France from the ambitious, martial minded knights of northern France. and from the powerful landed bishops of the Catholic Church. The real issue was who would rule and who would gain the wealth of the land.
Announcing their support for the Albigensians, the southern knights seized the feudal properties of abbots, bishops, and priests - representatives, or so the Albigensians said, of the Antichrist. Churches were sacked. Altars were desecrated. Crucifixes became try-your-luck targets for marksmen. The Vandal was back in Europe, preaching a liturgy of death.
The reaction of the Church was measured. By law, heresy was a capital crime. This, of course, had been true well before Christianity appeared. The Jewish penalty for heresy was death The penalty for heresy in classical Greece was death; in pagan Rome, death. In fact, Christianity had distinguished itself, in the centuries before Constantine, by not making heresy a capital crime. After the empire and Christianity became one, the imperial penalty for heresy overruled Christian practice – though most of the leading members of the Catholic Church disapproved of such capital punishment. In the courts of medieval Europe, kings and emperors of even the most skeptical stripe, such as Frederick II, enforced the death penalty for heresy. As for the medieval Catholic Church, canon law on the punishment of heresy was lifted directly from the legal code of Emperor Justinian. The Church’s process of discovering - inquisition - was taken from the judicial practice in pagan Rome and modified by the medieval royal courts of inquest that gathered evidence on matters of law and taxation…