Greek: katharos, pure
A name specifically applied to, or used by, several sects at various periods; the Novatians and the Manichaeans were frequently known as Cathari, but in its more usual sense Cathari was a general designation for the dualistic sects of the later Middle Ages. In spite of several radical differences, there is a tendency among recent historians to consider these Cathari as the lineal descendants of the Manichaeans of the 3rd century, but conclusive proofs are lacking.
The essential characteristic of the Catharist faith was dualism, and as differences of opinion concerning this belief arose among the Cathari they became divided into various factions: the Bogomili in the East, and the Bagnolenses and Concorrezenses in Italy, professed a mitigated form of dualism, believing the evil principle inferior to the supreme beneficent principle; while the Albanenses in Italy, and almost all the non-Italian Cathari, among them the Albigenses, were rigid dualists, believing in the perfect equality of the good and evil principles.
Besides directly assailing the doctrines and hierarchy of the Catholic Church, the various tenets of the Cathari, such as the denial of the value of oaths and of the right to punish, undermined the basis of the Christian State, while its abhorrence of generation and its commendation of suicide would have meant the extinction of the human race had the Catharist doctrine been triumphant; but by the 14th century it had practically disappeared from France, Germany, and England, while the 15th century saw the disappearance of the heresy in Italy and the Balkan States.