Theses Doctoral

Heresy, Money, and Society in Southern France, 1175-1325

Shulevitz, Deborah Gail

This study contributes to the ongoing debate about the existence and nature of the Cathar heresy in Languedoc in the long thirteenth century. Using testimony of accused heretics, it traces a network of fundraising, donations, testamentary bequests, deposit-holding, moneylending, and other types of financial transactions that evidences the existence of a discreet group of people traditionally called ‘Cathars’. This study demonstrates that, unlike many other medieval religious movements, this group did not practice voluntary poverty as part of a holy life. Since the Cathars are traditionally thought to be radical dualists who rejected the material world in all its forms, and because their clergy professed asceticism in other aspects of life, the failure to embrace holy poverty struck contemporary observers as hypocritical and self-serving. Many modern historians have agreed with this assessment, while others have argued that the Cathars did, in fact, embrace poverty. This study serves as a corrective to both points of view: the ‘Cathars’ in thirteenth-century Languedoc neither embraced poverty, nor cynically claimed to do so while disregarding their principles. Rather, repudiation of money was not part of their way of life. That the Cathars of Languedoc did not embrace apostolic poverty is not surprising when we consider that they were embedded in a local culture with strong moneylending traditions. These local practices did not conform to the norms of the Catholic church, rendering the region vulnerable to charges of usury as well as heresy. As part of its effort to standardize religious practice, in the thirteenth century the papacy waged an aggressive campaign against Cathar heresy. Uneasy with the rapid economic expansion of the high Middle Ages, it also stepped up attacks on usury, which was seen by some as a kind of heresy. Seeing that Cathars did not embrace holy poverty – and, in fact, participated in the economy – contemporary critics accused them of practicing usury and pursuing wealth. Languedoc, already deeply associated with Catharism, came under attack in the thirteenth century for its credit culture as well. Using case studies of early thirteenth-century Toulouse and late thirteenth-century Albi, this dissertation examines the association between heresy and usury and argues that attacks on their practitioners were intended to enforce conformity to orthodox norms and eradicate difference within Latin Christendom.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Kaye, Joel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 5, 2017