Catharism’s radical dualism has often led to it being portrayed as an ascetic religion, rendering the freedom it afforded believers from the Catholic Church’s increasingly complex restrictions on the pleasures of the flesh, namely sex and food, somewhat paradoxical. Yet the Cathars also rejected the Church’s glorification of suffering and pain, as demonstrated by their critique of the iconography of the Crucifixion. In this paper I will use inquisitorial confessions to examine how ideas about sex, food and suffering interacted with the wider symbolic domain of spirit, matter and salvation both in doctrine and in the lives of individual Cathars.
Considering the example of Blanquerna, this paper is concerned with the theme of retreat and abstinence as an important motive. It considers the possible reasons and the role that the perception of pleasure played in this concept – as a part of holy life or as its counterdraft. Written in Spain in the late 13th century, this novel designs the perception of a perfect world in a time of complex religious and secular changes. The opus can partly be understood as an utopian concept but it have also the character of a sermon. Strikingly the renunciation from the world is the main aim of many characters in the novel.