Who Are The Cathares?

The Name Cathar

Before I get into the meat of this book I want to tell you why I use the word Cathar rather than the normal English word Cathari. First of all, I was introduced to this people in France, and in France they are called Cathares.

Secondly, I like the French word better because it is closer to the Greek word from which it comes. The Greek word is katharos, which means pure or clean. These people were called the pure ones because they lived holy lives and taught pure Bible doctrine.

A name that is probably more familiar to many who have studied Baptist history is Albigenses. Many Baptist histories include the Albigenses in the line of Baptists, and rightly so. They get their name from the city of Albi in Southern France. I have visited this city a number of times, and sadly, there is no trace left of these faithful Christians. In France the two names refer to exactly the same people. There was a strong group of Cathares in Albi, and therefore the second name was also used.

There is another name that also shows up about the same time in history as Cathar. It is the name Anabaptist. Some want us to believe this name is first found around the time of the Reformation. They do this because that is when it first shows up in English. The term means re-baptizers, and was first used at least as early as the third century, and possibly as early as the second century.

There are two things to remember about these names. First, they were all used to designate the same people. Secondly, they were also applied to anyone who disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church, no matter what they believed.

A word about their beginnings

I want to distinguish between the Cathares as a pure people, and Catharism, which was a movement of churches that insisted upon purity of doctrine and life. They are both comprised of the same people, but they have different times of origin.

While the Cathares began as far back as the Book of Revelation, Catharism as a movement, didn’t start until there was a clear difference in the types of churches. It is often difficult to determine where historical movements start, and the Cathar movement is no different. We can, however, place the origin of this movement sometime in the middle of the second century.

The spread of Catharism from east to west across Europe. It most likely started in the Church of Philadelphia, since that is the eastern most city where the Cathares had a center of influence.

For this reason I believe that it is probable that the faithful churches first received the name Cathar in the city of Philadelphia, and that the church in Revelation Chapter three may have been the first to carry this name. Can I prove this? No, but since Jesus said the gates of Hell would not prevail against the kind of church He started, since the expansion started there, and since this church had no condemnation from Him, it makes perfect sense to me that this church was the first to stand firm on pure doctrine.

In reality, the first pure (Cathar) church was the church started by Jesus, Himself. It traveled with Him in the beginning, and then settled in Jerusalem after His death and resurrection. All the churches started by the Apostles and other missionaries in the first 100 years after Christ would have been of this type. It wasn’t until about 150 AD that there were enough differences between churches to require names to identify them.

The two major groups after the division were the Cathares, by whatever name they may have been called at different times and in different locations, and the churches that eventually became known as the Catholic Church. The Waldenses of the French and Italian Alps were also called Cathares.

Do they exist today?

When you trace the growth and movement of these people, they expanded across Europe from east to west. They spread as far as the British Isles and had centers it what we call Wales today as early as the 5th century. The Cathares have never disappeared, today they are called Baptists. The Baptists in America, to a large part, are descendants of these Welsh Baptists, who largely settled in what is today, North Carolina.

The famous Bible Belt of the southeastern United States stems from this movement.

The Origin and Legacy of the Cathares: Tracing the Roots of Purity

In the rich tapestry of Christian history, few groups have sparked as much intrigue and admiration as the Cathares. Known for their unwavering commitment to purity in doctrine and life, the Cathares have left an indelible mark on the religious landscape of Europe and beyond. I will look at the origins of the Cathares, the etymology of their name, their historical significance, and their enduring legacy.

The Etymology of “Cathar”

The term “Cathar” is derived from the Greek word “katharos,” meaning pure or clean, a fitting name for a group renowned for their holy lives and pure Bible doctrine. The choice of the term “Cathar” over the more commonly used “Cathari” in English is influenced by my introduction to the group in France, where they are referred to as “Cathares.” I prefer this name because it more closely resembles the Greek word from which it came. This preference reflects a desire to stay true to the group’s original attribute of scriptural purity.

Cathares, Waldenses, Albigenses, and Anabaptists: A Unified Identity

Historically, the Cathares have been known by several names, including Waldenses, Albigenses and Anabaptists. The name Albigenses originates from the city of Albi in Southern France, a stronghold of Cathar believers. Interestingly, in France, the terms Cathares and Albigenses are used interchangeably, referring to the same group of people. The term Anabaptist, meaning re-baptizers, emerged in English around the time of the Reformation but was, in other languages, associated with similar groups as early as the second or third century. These various names, while distinct, were all used to designate those who stood purity in doctrine in opposition to the Roman Catholic Church. They were also used for any group that disagreed with Catholicism, regardless of their specific beliefs and purity.

The Beginnings of Catharism

Distinguishing between the individuals known as Cathares and the movement of Catharism is crucial for understanding their origins. While the roots of the Cathares as a people can be traced back to the Book of Revelation, Catharism as a movement emerged in the middle of the second century. This movement, characterized by a demand for purity of doctrine and life, likely began in the Church of Philadelphia, the easternmost city where the Cathares had a significant influence. I believe this church, praised in Revelation Chapter three, may have been the first to adopt the Cathar name, embodying the pure doctrine that Jesus advocated.

The First Pure Church and Its Expansion

The inception of the first pure (Cathar) church is attributed to Jesus Christ himself, with its foundations laid in Jerusalem following His death and resurrection. The apostles and early missionaries propagated this pure form of Christianity throughout the first century. However, it wasn’t until around 150 AD that significant doctrinal differences necessitated distinct names to identify various groups. This period marked the division between the Cathares and what would eventually become the Catholic Church, with the Waldenses of the French and Italian Alps also being recognized as part of the Cathar tradition.

The Cathares Today: From Europe to the Bible Belt

The Cathares’ influence did not wane with time; instead, it expanded across Europe, reaching as far as the British Isles. By the 5th century, they had established centers in what is now Wales. The Cathares have never truly disappeared; today, they are known as Baptists. Many Baptists in America, particularly those in North Carolina, trace their lineage back to Welsh Baptists, descendants of the Cathares. This connection underscores the profound impact of the Cathares on the formation of the Bible Belt in the southeastern United States.

In conclusion, the Cathares represent a pivotal chapter in Christian history, embodying a relentless pursuit of purity in faith and practice. Their legacy, marked by resistance to doctrinal compromise and a deep commitment to the teachings of the Bible, continues to inspire and influence contemporary Christianity, particularly within the Independent Baptist tradition.

For more information on these people, see my book “Les Cathares” available on my website (