Travel in Languedoc France: France gite vacation rentals, Carcassonne France hotels, Cathar castles

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Travel Article on Languedoc France & Carcassonne France

Three Cathar Castles - Languedoc-Roussillon, France

Excerpt from Ockham's Razor - Part 3
by Wade Rowland

Part of Catharism's appeal was certainly economic: its demands for tithes and other taxes were trivial compared to those of the Catholic church, since it had very little administrative overhead and almost no real estate, and its clerics lived on handouts, or by the fruits of their own labours as weavers or doctors or in other well-paid trades.

Southern France Languedoc region Cathar castles In this exclusive excerpt from Ockham's Razor: A Search for Wonder in an Age of Doubt, author Wade Rowland, his wife Christine, and their two teenagers explore the romantic ruins of Cathar castles in southern France's Languedoc region.

The Cathar Perfecti believed in the discipline of labour (a notion that was largely alien to medieval Europe, but would appear again with the Protestant Reformation) and since they were engaged in crafts important to the prosperity that was developing out of increasing trade in the Mediterranean basin, they could relate to the booming mercantile class better than could the Catholic clergy, who harboured a deep suspicion of trade and secondary economic activity of any kind. St. Jerome had said, "The merchant can please God only with difficulty"; trade, buying low and selling high, seemed to Church authorities to be another form of usury and the official Church was actively hostile to the revival of commerce. Cathars seem to have had no such scruples, and some even engaged in banking (or so the evidence would suggest), a vocation few devout Catholics would consider at that time, since the collection of interest of any kind, however disguised, was condemned as usury.

Beyond the tales of conspiracy and treasure, and the poetry and romance is much in Catharism itself as it was practised in Languedoc in the thirteenth century that is attractive, at least superficially, to a modern mind. As champions of individualism, we moderns bridle at the medieval notion of individual identity, or the lack of it. Catholic doctrine saw men and women - Christian men and women - as having their way of life circumscribed by their Christianity, that is, their membership in the Church. The saving grace of this position was that just as the Church was a divine institution, so the Christian was more than simply an ordinary Homo sapiens; membership in the Church, freely available to all through baptism, meant that he or she took part in the attributes and essence of God.

Nevertheless the focus of the Church was on the collective rather than the individual, and while it did offer the individual a special human dignity, it did not recognize inherent individual rights in the modern sense. (Slavery, for instance, was not a pressing issue for the medieval Church.) The Cathars, in dismissing the authority of the Church as it then existed as spurious, or worse, a manifestation of the devil, freed men to act as autonomous agents in a context in which it was increasingly possible, and profitable, to do so. Catharism freed its followers to look after number one.

Nowhere was the difference over the issue of individual identity more starkly drawn than in the case of suicide, which was anathema to the Catholic church, as an interference with the prerogatives of God, but which was tolerated, even sometimes encouraged, among Cathars. Their clerics, the Perfecti, a disproportionate number of whom were also doctors of medicine (a notably modern profession), when giving the deathbed consolamentum to believers encouraged them to refuse food and drink following the ceremony in order to maintain their purity unto the end. This naturally hastened death in some cases; which is not to say that the Cathars actively promoted suicide, but neither did they abhor it, and they certainly did not forbid it. How, indeed, could they, given their belief that the body was the creation of the devil, and that the spirit was in no way reliant on its existence?

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World Travel Guide .com - Travel article about travel in Languedoc France: long-term vacation rentals in France, gite rentals, Carcassonne France hotels, Cathar castles, and essential advice for travel in France and worldwide travel.

In this World Travel Guide .com exclusive excerpt from Ockham's Razor, the author Wade Rowland and his family explore the romantic ruins of Cathar castles in southern France's Languedoc-Roussillon region.

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