There is a troubling problem, one that no one has been able to answer in a fully satisfying way. It’s connected to the First Cause, the question of How did something come out of nothing? How did the perfect Oneness hypothesized by most religions give rise to multiplicity, in all its complexity and chaos? The problem gets more personal when we confront it on a daily level. Why do things fall apart? Why is that that bad things happen to good people?
The medieval Cathars developed their own response to the vexing problem of evil. Unable to reconcile the idea of a benevolent God with disaster, disease and depravity, they posited a cosmic dualism much like the Manichaens and early gnostics. In my upcoming novel Elmina’s Fire, this is how the Cathar bishop Guilhabert describes it to Elmina:
“The world is overrun with evil,” Guilhabert told us. “Most men look no further that the selfish cravings of their own bodies, and there is no end to their cruelty. . . . Look at the violence that pervades the Languedoc, the horrid diseases that ravish our towns, and the wickedness of the Roman Church. A loving God would never have created a world so given to lust and devastation. Nor would He allow so much misery to still surround us.’”
“Guilhabert went on to explain that there must be two gods, a Good One and a Bad One. The Good One is the God of the New Testament, the God of Light and Love who shimmers as the backdrop underneath the world of matter. It is the Good God who
created our souls and to whom our souls will finally return. This God abides in heaven and sends the Holy Spirit to accompany and strengthen us, but He cannot enter into the morass.
“The other God is a Bad God, a kind of demiurge whom some people call Satan or the Devil. This God was the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the God who created our world as his own playground. He is a jealous God, one who requires unwavering loyalty and obedience to his laws. When his people disobey, Jehovah extracts cruel retribution.
“Our problem,” Guilhabert went on, “is that this Jehovah has entrapped our souls in a prison of flesh. He has created all manner of temptations. He’s made the warmth of spring, the petals of the rose, even the tender beauty of a maiden to keep us tethered to this world. It is the illusion of pleasure and beauty that keep us mired in his own sinful playground. When we look for the hand of God in the physical world, we fall prey to Satan’s clever scheme.”
The Cathars believed that there was a way out of the human predicament. God had sent Jesus Christ to show them the path back to spiritual perfection by fasting and cleansing the body of all sin, receiving the sacrament of the the Consolamentum, and becoming a perfect. The receipt of the Spirit prepared the perfecti to live free of carnal desire and to offer healing ministrations. And by liberating the spirit from the confines of flesh, it promised an end to the cycle of rebirth and a return to God.
This mandala shows a monument to the Cathars at Minerve depicting the descent of the Spirit superimposed against the flower of life.