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The Perfect Heresy: The Life and Death of the Cathars

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  615 ratings  ·  66 reviews
Eight hundred years ago, the Cathars, a group of heretical Christians from all walks of society, high and low, flourished in what is now the Languedoc in Southern France. Their subversive beliefs brought down on them the wrath of Popes and monarchs and provoked a brutal 'Crusade' against them. The final defeat of the Cathars was horrific with mass burnings of men, women an ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 21st 2001 by Profile Books (first published January 1st 2000)
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3.95  · 
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 ·  615 ratings  ·  66 reviews

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Richard Derus
Ye gods and little fishes, 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-clerical
Oct 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 &am ...more
Jul 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religions, history, 2019
This is the story of the Cathars whose Christian religious views were clearly more humane and anti-clerical than those of Rome.
The Cathars originated from an anti-materialist reform movement within the Bogomil churches of Dalmatia and Bulgaria calling for a return to the Christian message of perfection, poverty and preaching, combined with a rejection of the physical to the point of starvation. The reforms were a reaction against the often scandalous and dissolute lifestyles of the Catholic cle
'Aussie Rick'
Jul 04, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Geoff Boxell
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whilst working at the University of Waikato I made great use of their library for my own nefarious purposes: I was running an Executive Management programme, not anything at that time to do with history (that came later). Doing research on Simon de Montford and the Second Barons' War I came up on his ancestor of the same name - the man who did the most to crush the Cathars. Fascinated I felt compelled to read more about the Albigensian Crusade.
This book is much more lightly written than the text
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
Aug 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf-history
The book presents the history of the Albigensian crusade. The author does an excellent job in explaining the complex political feudal patchwork that was Languedoc in the early thirteen century. It opens by briefly explaining a few of the tenets of Catharism but it soon focuses on the crusade and the important historical figures on both sides: the Catholic Church, the Monforts, Capets of France, Saint-Gilles, Trencavel, Foix etc. Some of these important personalities are truly fascinating, Simon ...more
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
Nov 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, france
A wonderful book, which presents a perhaps simplified but easy to grasp history of a most difficult time - the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars in southern France. O'Shea writes engagingly and isn't afraid to voice his opinions and insights, whether these align with or oppose more standard interpretations of these painful events. From this remove in time, what happened to the Cathars might seem unbelievable ... except in this day of jihadists and terrorists, human bigotry and cruelty are ...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
Jo Murphy
May 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jeffrey Coleman
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
eloquently written, poignantly told, detailed but insightful and fun, and thorough, it's the kind of accessible academic writing I'd like to one day put my name to myself. Tragic tale, true to human experience in a beautiful locale... perfect title
Linda Humberstone
Mar 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a really engrossing book about the Cathars and life in The Languedoc of Southern France before zealots of the Catholic faith decided that no other religion could be tolerated and how they then accomplished the complete annihilation of the Cathars, devastating towns and cities in their enthusiasm to punish and loot. The author, Stephen O'Shea, explains how events came about and the gradual process of forcing submission upon the unfortunate people of the region and how they suffered. He al ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book took a while to get into, but the horror depicted with the crusades launched by Pope Innocent and continued by Gregory were ghastly. I visited the Pyrenees in 2015 and learned about the Cathars then - descended into some of their underground hideouts. And these were peaceful people!

I also learned on my trip over there that there is an emerging group of Cathars re-establishing a community.
George Ilsley
A sweeping overview of the religious persecution in what is now southern France. The only word to describe the persecution is "terrorism." This terrorism was the template for what became known as the inquisition. Now it all is a tourist attraction, And so it goes.

There are too many people named Raymond and even more than one named Raymond Roger. Please help me.
May 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I ended up liking this book a great deal by the end than I did at the outset. This book does not cover the origins of the Cathar heresy, rather it covers their persecution at the hands of the Catholic church. O'Shea is an excellent writer and this book was truly a joy to read.
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very, very good book, well worth it.
Andrew Fish
Dec 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways-trades
"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
Jun 23, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
Nov 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 09, 2017 rated it liked it
The first book of 2017 and an introduction to the events of the early 12th Century when the Catholic Church led by a new Pope Innocent III decided to extirpate a brand of christians who had developed their own brand of christianity in Languedoc and who we know as the Cathars. The book serves as an introduction to a topic of great interest but I felt it was just that: an introduction that set out the brief outlines of the plot without dwelving too deep into the heart of the matter. The book comes ...more
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2014
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
Apr 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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