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The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Spectacular Death of the Medieval Cathars
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The Perfect Heresy: The Revolutionary Life and Spectacular Death of the Medieval Cathars

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  357 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Chronicles the life & death of the Cathar movement, led by a group of heretical Christians whose brutal suppression by the Catholic Church unleashed the Inquisition.
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published July 1st 2000 by Walker & Company (first published January 1st 2000)
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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Ye gods and little fiishes, what a ghastly thing the Catholic Church is. Reading this book about the treatment meted out to the unquestionably heretical Cathars, or "the Perfect" as they called themselves, makes me feel sorry for the "saints" and "holy" men involved in the brutal and complete suppression of this dualistic religion.

Hell, in which they seem to have believed unquestioningly, must resound with their cries and pleas for mercy and understanding.

The political threat of the anti-clerica
Gives a great account of the persecution and genocide of the Cathars in Languedoc in 13th century France. It is very readable history, the author has a lovely humour in his writing style and although the book obviously covers some horrific violence that occurred this is dealt with in a factual style that does not disturb the reader. A very satisfying read.
From the author of another fine and original book, Back to the Front, The Perfect Heresy provides an insightful up-to-date review of that most difficult subject, the Albigensian Crusade and the story of the Cathars, whose (lost) lives were at the heart of it. Yes, this is the story (more or less) which inspired some of the most insipid best-selling writing in recent years: Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Fortunately, the story is a good deal more interesting than Mr. Brown would have us believe, ...more
The Cathar's; their dualist belief system was such a threat to the Catholic church that the church launched an all out assault for a hundred years to stamp them out, thus giving birth to the inquisition. Pope Innocent III, the same pope that granted legitimacy to St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic, paves the way for hundreds of years of future brutal repression by endowing Simon de Montfort with the task to make war on anyone who harbors Cathars at the same time increasing his own fortune & ...more
Lissa Notreallywolf
I enjoyed this book thoroughly-It doesn't give much information of the belief system of the Cathars, but is does a great job of explaining the political and economic reasons for the Albigensian crusade. We tend to think of France in it's familiar squarish shape, but before the country was united by the intervention of Rome it was a collection of small kingships. Shifting power by burning heretics and granting kingdoms as rewards consolidated the country into what we now understand as France. Thi ...more
Nov 21, 2012 Ann rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
The history of the Algigensian crusade is a case study in senseless violence. So readers of this book must brace themselves against stories of relentless sieges, mass burnings, atrocious mutilations and the like.

That being said, the book is a fascinating read. It is well written, flows well and stays on subject. The author does a great job of explaining the complicated feudal relationships between the various barons, kings and other warlords. the real story here is not one of religion, but one
Aug 29, 2007 Zoe rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: intrigued by the Da Vinci Code? Try this...
Shelves: history, religion
This is a very readable historical account of the Albigensian heresy, commonly known as the Cathars. The Albigensians were the target of a crusade within Europe, actually in France. I find it no coincidence that this heresy was strong in the region where the Templars were active and that Eleanor of Acquaitane herself was raised in this area. The "heresy" was pretty much egalitarian and eschewed the idea of sin. It also required no priests, but functioned with practictioners who had become "perfe ...more
Jo Murphy
Excellent history. It covers a period of about 100 years in which the Catholic Church make it their crusade to wipe out the Cathars in what is now southern France. And some pretty horrific atrocities it throws up too. Their major crime was to show up the hypocrisy, corruption and greed that was rife through the establishment. Someone is reportedly to have stated "kill them all God will know his own" - perhaps Obama could adopt this slogan for his drone strikes.
Apryl Anderson
A fascinating overview of the political and religious conflicts centered around les Cathars. As helpful as this guide was for its length and breadth, I was often frustrated for want of backstory. So many lives, so many circumstances, so many seemingly insignificant events leading to unity and division, and only the headlines ended up between these covers.

I think I would've enjoyed more Epilogue and less Introduction. O'Shea's personal explorations in Cathar country are more telling--and enjoyabl
"How many armed knights you'd have seen there, how many good shields cleft, what ribs laid bare, legs smashed and arms cut off, chests torn apart, helmets cracked open, flesh hacked, heads cut in two, what blood spilled, what severed fists, how many men fighting and others struggling to carry away one they'd seen fall! Such wounds, such injuries they suffered, that they strewed the battlefield with white and red". - An eyewitness account to the Battle of Toulouse, 1217

The Perfect Heresy: The Rev
Note added 12/31/08: O'Shea attributes the phrase, "kill them all, God will know his own" to Pope Innocent III. In Kirsch's The Grand Inquisitor's Manual: A History of Terror in the Name of God the phrase is attributed to The Abbott of Citeaux outside the walls of Beziers, where all the inhabitants were slaughtered. The Wikipedia has this to say: The Béziers army attempted a sortie but was quickly defeated, then pursued by the crusaders back through the gates and into the city. Arnaud, the Ciste ...more
The Cathars are a fascinating subject that, going in, I didn't even know existed. However, this book is just not written in a way that sustained my interest. Mr. O'Shea is obviously highly literate, and there are no editing errors that I came upon, but it just wasn't written very well. I was also irritated when I reached the footnote section. There was nary a hint that there were footnotes as I was reading, and for the best comprehension, I think footnotes should be read at the point to which th ...more
'Aussie Rick'
In my library I have three books that cover the Crusade to destroy the Cathars in Southern France. This is one of the first I read and I found it be very enjoyable. In around 264 pages the author, Stephen O'Shea, gives you a decent overview of the life and death of these so-called `heretics'. The author also supplies numerous notes and a decent bibliography along with a guide to recommended reading. There are a number of small black & white illustrations within the narrative but it would hav ...more
A joy to read: As a newcomer to Languedoc at this period and not knowing a lot about the dualist Cathar faith, I enjoyed this book immensely. It is both accessible and entertaining in it's fast and light prose. One can really sense the author's enthusiasm for the subject while reading it, which is always enjoyable. You can almost use the word "absorbing" about the book, although I suspect that this would only apply to the newcomers to the place and the era.
It leaves one with a clear picture of
Andrew Fish
To the majority of European Christians, and indeed to Muslims, the Crusades are regarded as a period of war between two great faiths, when successive popes sent armies to enforce a claim to the Holy Land, committing brutal acts and occasionally, somewhat overzealously, attacking the wrong people.

The people of the Languedoc region of southern France have a different view, however, and if you visit the great citadel of Carcassonne you will find people still defined by one crusade - the Albigensia
Since the name is "Perfect Heresy" I was expecting more details about the actual heresy, the theology, doctrine of the Cathars etc. Instead is was a detailed (reality based) history of the Cathars in what is now southern France. When things started, the region the Cathars were living in was an semi-independent area with its own language, not quite French or Italian or Spanish, but related. Not everyone was a Cathar but non-Cathars respected and protected them. This was beacuse the Cathars, for t ...more
My first introduction to the Cathars was in Kate Mosse's Labyrinth. They and their philosophies sounded interesting, so I went looking for a book about them. This one seemed to fit the bill. It went over what their beliefs entailed, introduced the key players (on both sides), and outlined the history of the movement. If you like your history full of lots of blood and drama, this is a story to check out, because the Catholic church really pulled out all the stops on this one.

I'm really going to t
Distrust any history or biography that insists the past is noble and admirable and heroic. Scratch the surface and it's full of nastiness and violence and brutality (rather like our time and ordinary people, in fact). The story of the Albigensian Crusade, undertaken against the dualist believers now known as Cathars, and the Inquisition that was instituted to root out its last adherents, provides something even nastier than usual and a useful reminder (becoming increasingly necessary these days) ...more
Filippus Sergius Angelus
A good little introduction to the Albigensian Crusades and in a way also the Cathars. Although there's really not much useful information on their theology, which would have made this book much better. Or comparisons to other Gnostic sects from before and after. Mr. O'Shea is obviously very passionate about the historico-political aspect of these crusades and he lays the facts down both clearly and concisely. I personally, was just not a fan of his style for a history book, at times it reads lik ...more
The Cathars were Dualists, a sect of gnostic Christians who believed that mankind is trapped in a world created by a false and evil God. Think the Truman Show. The God the Cathars worshipped was the one true God, the God of the etheral, spiritual plane who didn't intervene in this corrupt, material world of ours. The Cathars renounced all materialism and earthly concerns. They were pacifists and vegetarians. Because their values contrasted so sharply with the vast wealth and power of the Catholi ...more
Enjoyed it! The author really succeeds in setting the scene for the brief existence and brutal suppression of this radical religious grouping. He gives a brief introduction to the gnostic and dualistic theology that underlay their beliefs and how this effected their daily lives but doesn't go into too much theological detail which might deter the non-initiate. His descriptions of the landscape and culture of the Languedoc region really add colour and texture to the story. The detail he gives of ...more
Having just finished a series of historical fiction by French author Bernard Mahoux entitled La Malédiction des Trencavel which I highly recommend to anyone who reads French,I wanted to re-read The Perfect Heresy to confirm some historical points. O'Shea's book is very readable and seemingly accurate. It was interesting to read his attutude regarding Innocent III as compared to John Julius Norwich in his excellent The Popes. O'Shea also has an exhaustive bibliography from which my next book Mont ...more
An accessible introduction to the history of the Cathar heresy in medieval France. O'Shea doesn't go particularly deep into their history, or the origins of their particular brand of Christian theology, but he's good at mining the sources—which are almost all from an orthodox Catholic perspective—to see what they can tell us of the views and the lives of the Cathars. If you have read much about the Cathars before this, then The Perfect Heresy might well be a little too simplistic for you; if not ...more
Dee Renee  Chesnut
This book contains the notes, selected biography and index that reflect the amount of scholarship that went into the writing of this book. The narrative is compelling enough to read all of the book. If you are only interested in why Languedoc-Rossillon tourisme says, Bienvenue en Pays Cathare, then reading the introduction and epilogue may be sufficient to separate history from souvenir-vendor hype.
The Perfect Heresy is a very well written and extremely engaging history of the medieval Cathars, the Catholic Church's extermination of these people, and the beginning of the Inquisition. O'Shea does a great job of providing an overview of the key events and personalities involved while always keeping the narrative interesting. This is popular history at the highest level.
Truth to be told, this is a re-read for me, but then I do that fairly regularly. Stephen O'shea is one of those rare breed that can merge pure history, biography, and travelogue. The result is flat-out fascinating, even if you're not particularly interested in the Albigensian crusade or the Languedoc region. Read, enjoy, try not to hold it against the catholics.
Keith Davis
The story of the Cathar heresy and its suppression is a fascinating event in the history of Medieval France and the in history of the Catholic Church. O'Shea does a good job of explaining the beliefs of the Cathars in their historic and cultural context and why the Catholic Church responded in such a violent manner.
While it's a good read, and vivid in its portrayal, I'd have liked more follow-up on how the heresy affected the region in subsequent decades, and notes on how other heresies were treated. I also think more on the Roman Catholic orthodox position might have been useful.
Almost perfect in its genre: popular history. Well written, a good level of detail, a balanced judgement and a good last chapter to put the story in perspective. Those with an esoteric interest in the Cathars may however be disappointed.
This was a great introduction to a pocket of the world I was not familiar with. O'Shea is a good writer of Narrative Non-Fiction and tells a compelling tale of how the south of France held out against the Church and Inquisition.
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