Officially known as heretics, they were actually Cathari, Provençal adherents of a doctrine similar to the Manichaean dualistic system of material evil and spiritual good (see Manichaeism; Bogomils). They held the coexistence of these two principles, represented by God and the Evil One, light and dark, the soul and the body, the next life and this life, peace and war, and the like. They believed that Jesus only seemed to have a human body.
The Albigenses were extremely ascetic, abstaining from flesh in all its forms, including milk and cheese. They comprised two classes, believers and Perfect, the former much more numerous, making up a catechumenate not bound by the stricter rules observed by the Perfect. The Perfect were those who had received the sacrament of consolamentum, a kind of laying on of hands. The Albigenses held their clergy in high regard. An occasional practice was suicide, preferably by starvation; for if this life is essentially evil, its end is to be hastened.
They had enthusiasm for proselytizing and preached vigorously. This fact partly accounted for their success, for at that time preaching was unknown in ordinary parish life. In the practice of asceticism as well, the contrast between local clergy and the Albigenses was helpful to the new sect.