Friday, 22 October 2010

"For your own good...!"

By applying this name of heretic, it was a simple step to branding the Cathars as a dualist movement, inspired from the east, and thus led to them being also referred to as "false prophets": heretics for whom the ultimate penalty of burning was appropriate, if they did not immediately recant, "to save their souls". After Constantine the emperor in Rome had "converted" to Christianity, the church achieved the highest power over life and death: those who lapsed from the state religion could be saved from eternal perdition by torturing and if necessary putting them death as cruelly as possible! A law of 407 against the Donatists puts heretics on the same level as traitors to the emperor. The punishment for treason was to be burnt alive. Such extraordinary thinking allowed the Roman church to accuse, and arrange for the torture and murder of those who sought to exercise their "choice" - the true meaning of the Greek word "hairesis", and with a clear and divinely- justified conscience that they were acting in the best interests of the accused! In this way, of course, the Dominican friars in the 13th and later centuries were able to carry out their gruesome and loathsome task with impunity, afterwards handing over the sacrificial victim to the secular authorities for burning.

And so to return to the time of the Cathar persecutions, perhaps what worried the church most of all was the translation of the Bible into the vernacular. In France, this meant Provencal and the Langue d'Oc (quite literally the Language of Yes). Magee, in Heresy and the Inquisition, says that by 1100 educated people were starting to read the bible by themselves, but the Pope was roundly against it. If people could read God's words for themselves they might begin to doubt or to dispute the Catholic practices which were not in line with the scriptures. Magee claims that the Popes wanted to see the power of the church, which was their own power, dominating men's lives. He quotes the novelist HG Wells in saying:

"It was just because many of them secretly doubted the soundness of their vast and elaborate doctrinal fabric that they would brook no discussion of it. They were intolerant of doubts and questions, not because they were sure of their faith, but because they were unsure.".

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