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 Main Index : History : Sketches of Church History : Part 2, Chapter XVII
Chapter XVI | Chapter Index | Chapter XVIII

Part 2
CHAPTER XVII: THE POPES AT AVIGNON; THE RUIN OF THE TEMPLARS (AD 1303-1312) PART I

      The next pope, Benedict XI, wished to do away with the effects of Boniface's pride and ambition, and especially to soothe the king of France, whom Boniface had so greatly provoked. But Benedict died within about seven months (June 27, 1304) after his election, and it was not easy to fill up his place. At last, about a year after Benedict's death (June 5, 1305), Bertrand du Got, archbishop of Bordeaux, was chosen. It was said that he had held a secret meeting with King Philip in the depths of a forest, and that, in order to get the king's help towards his election, he bound himself to do five things which Philip named and also a sixth thing, which was not to be spoken of until the time should come for performing it. But this story seems to have been made up because the pope was seen to follow Philip's wishes in a way that people could not understand, except by supposing that he had bound himself by some special bargain.

      For some years Clement V (as he was called) lived at the cost of French cathedrals and monasteries, which he visited one after another; and then (AD 1310) he settled at Avignon, a city on the Rhone, where he and his successors lived for seventy years-about the same length of time that the Jews spent as captives in Babylon. Hence this stay of the popes at Avignon has sometimes been spoken of as the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Church. Although there were some good popes in the course of those seventy years, the court of Avignon was usually full of luxury and vice, and the government of the Church grew more and more corrupt.

      Philip the Fair was not content with having brought Boniface to his end, but wished to persecute and digrace his memory. He caused all sorts of shocking charges to be brought against the dead pope, and demanded that he should be condemned as a heretic, and that his body should be taken up and burnt. By these demands Pope Clement was thrown into great distress. He was afraid to offend Philip, and at the same time he wished to save the memory of Boniface, for if a pope were to be condemned in the way in which Philip wished, it must tell against the papacy altogether. And besides this, if Boniface had not been a lawful pope (as Philip and his party said), the cardinals whom he had appointed were not lawful cardinals, and Clement, who had been partly chosen by their votes, could have no right to the popedom. He was therefore willing to do much in order to clear Boniface's memory; and Philip craftily managed to get the pope's help in another matter on condition that the charges against Boniface should not be pressed. This is supposed to have been the secret article which we have heard of in the story of the meeting in the forest.

      PART II

      I have already mentioned the order of Knights Templars, which was formed in the Holy Land soon after the first crusade. These soldiers of the cross showed at all times a courage worthy of their profession; but they also showed faults which were beyond all question. As they grew rich, they grew proud, and, from having at first been very strict in their way of living, it was believed that they had fallen into habits of luxury. They despised all men outside of their own order; they showed no respect for the kings of Jerusalem, or for the patriarchs, and were, indeed, continually quarrelling with them.

      At this time the number of the Templar Knights was about fifteen thousand-the finest soldiers in the world; and the whole number of persons attached to the order was not less than a hundred thousand. About half of these were Frenchmen, and all the masters or heads of the order had been French.

      But, although the charges which I have mentioned were enough to make the Templars generally disliked, they were not the worst charges against them. It was said that during the latter part of their time in the Holy Land they had grown friendly with the unbelievers, whom they were bound to oppose in arms to the uttermost; that from such company they had taken up opinions contrary to the Christian faith, and vices which were altogether against their duty as soldiers of the Cross, or as Christians at all; that they practiced magic and unholy rites; that when any one was admitted into the order, he was required to deny Christ, to spit on the cross and trample on it, and to worship an idol called Baphomet (a name which seems to have meant the false prophet Mahomet).

      Philip the Fair was always in need of money for carrying on his schemes, and at one time, when some tricks which he had played on the coin of his kingdom had provoked the people of Paris to rise against him, he took refuge in the house of the Templars there. This house covered a vast space of ground with its buildings, and was finer and stronger than the royal palace; and it was perhaps the sight which Philip then got of the wealth and power of the Templars that led him to attack them, in the hope of getting their property into his own hands.

      Philip set about this design very craftily. He invited the masters of the Templars and of the Hospitallers (whom you will remember as the other great military order) into France, as if he wished to consult them about a crusade. The master of the Hospital was unable to obey the summons; but the master of the Temple, James de Molay, who had been in the order more than forty years, appeared with a train so splendid that Philip's greed was still more whetted by the sight of it. The master was received with great honour; but, in the meantime, orders were secretly sent to the king's officers all over the kingdom, who were forbidden to open them before a certain day, and when these orders were opened, they were found to require that the Templars should everywhere be seized and imprisoned without delay. Accordingly, at the dawn of the following day, the Templars all over France, who had had no warning and felt no suspicion, were suddenly made prisoners, without being able to resist.

      Next day, which was Sunday, Philip set friars and others to preach against the Templars in all the churches of Paris; and inquiries were afterwards carried on by bishops and other judges as to the truth of the charges against them. While the trials were going on, the Templars were very hardly used. All that they had was taken away from them, so that they were in grievous distress. They were kept in dungeons, were loaded with chains, ill fed and ill cared for in all ways. They were examined by tortures, which were so severe that many of them were brought, by the very pain, to confess everything that they were charged with, although they afterwards said that they had been driven by their sufferings to own things of which they were not at all guilty. Many were burnt in companies from time to time; at one time no fewer than fifty-four were burnt together at Paris; and such cruelties struck terror into the rest.

      Some of the Templars on their trials told strange stories. They said, for instance, that some men on being admitted to the order were suddenly changed, as if they had been made to share in some fearful secrets; that, from having been jovial and full of life, delighting in horses and hounds and hawks, they seemed to be weighed down by a deep sadness, under which they pined away. It is not easy to say what is to be made of all these stories. As to the ceremonies used at admitting members, it seems likely enough that the Templars may have used some things which looked strange and shocking, but which really meant no harm, and were properly to be understood as figures or acted parables.

      The pope seems, too, not to have known what to make of the case; but, as we have seen, he had bound himself to serve King Philip in the matter of the Templars, in order that Pope Boniface's memory might be spared. At a great council held under Clement, at Vienne, in 1312, it was decreed that the order of the Temple should be dissolved; yet it was not said that the Templars had been found guilty of the charges against them, and the question of their guilt or innocence remains to puzzle us as it puzzled the Council of Vienne.

      The master of the Temple, James de Molay, was kept in prison six years and a half, and was often examined. At last, he and three other great officers of the order were condemned to imprisonment for life, and were brought forward on a platform set up in front of the cathedral of Paris that their sentence might be published. A cardinal began to read out their confessions; but Molay broke in, denying and disavowing what he had formerly said, and; declaring himself worthy to die for having made false confessions through fear of death and in order to please the king. One of his companions took part with him in this; but the other two, broken down in body and in spirit by their long confinement, had not the courage to join them. Philip, on hearing what had taken place, gave orders that James de Molay and the other who took part with him should be burnt without delay; and on the same day they were led forth to death on a little island in the river Seine (which runs through Paris), while Philip from the bank watched their sufferings. Molay begged that his hands might be unbound; and, as the flames rose around him and his companion, they firmly declared the soundness of their faith, and the innocence of the order.

      Within nine months after this, Philip died at the age of forty-six (AD 1314); and within a few years his three sons, of whom each had in turn been king of France, were all dead. Philip's family was at an end, and the crown passed to one of his nephews. And while the clergy supposed those misfortunes to be the punishment of Philip's doings against Pope Boniface, the people in general regarded them as brought on by his persecution of the Templars. It is not for us to pass such judgments at all; but I mention these things in order to show the feelings with which Philip's actions and his calamities were viewed by the people of his own time.

      In other countries, such as England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and Spain, the Templars were arrested and brought to trial; and, rightly or wrongly, the order was dissolved. Its members were left to find some other kind of life; and its property was made over to the order of the Hospital, or to some other military order. In France, however, Philip contrived to lay his hands on so much that the Hospitallers for a time were rather made poorer than richer by this addition to their possessions.

Chapter XVI | Chapter Index | Chapter XVIII




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