Templetown Priory & Church
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DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLAR KNIGHTS
The destruction of the Templar order was relentlessly insisted upon by Philip the Fair, and accomplished with the reluctant co-operation of Clement V. In vain did the king strive to hide the sordidness of his purpose under the thin mask of religious zeal. At Clement’s coronation, if not before, Philip brought charges against it. About the same time, in the insurrection called forth by his debasement of the coin, the king took refuge in the Templars’ building at Paris. In 1307 he renewed the charges before the pope. When Clement hesitated, he proceeded to violence, and on the night of Oct. 13, 1307, he had all the members of the order in France arrested and thrown into prison, including Jacques de Molay, the grand-master. Doellinger applies to this deed the strong language that, if he were asked to pick out from the whole history of the world the accursed day, – dies nefastus, – he would be able to name none other than Oct. 13, 1307. Three days later, Philip announced he had taken this action as the defender of the faith and called upon Christian princes to follow his example. Little as the business was to Clement’s taste, he was not man enough to set himself in opposition to the king, and he gradually became complaisant. The machinery of the Inquisition was called into use. The Dominicans, its chief agents, stood high in Philip’s favor, and one of their number was his confessor. In 1308 the authorities of the state assented to the king’s plans to bring the order to trial. The constitution of the court was provided for by Clement, the bishop of each diocese and two Franciscans and two Dominicans being associated together. A commission invested with general authority was to sit in Paris.
In the summer of 1308 the pope ordered a prosecution of the knights wherever they might be found. The charges set forth were heresy, spitting upon the cross, worshipping an idol, Bafomet – the word for Mohammed in the Provencal dialect – and also the most abominable offences against moral decency such as sodomy and kissing the posterior parts and the navel of fellow knights. The members were also accused of having meetings with the devil who appeared in the form of a black cat and of having carnal intercourse with female demons. The charges which the lawyers and Inquisitors got together numbered 127 and these the pope sent through France and to other countries as the basis of the prosecution.
Under the strain of prolonged torture, many of the unfortunate men gave assent to these charges, and more particularly to the denial of Christ and the spitting upon the cross. The Templars seem to have had no friends in high places bold enough to take their part. The king, the pope, the Dominican order, the University of Paris, the French episcopacy were against them. Many confessions once made by the victims were afterwards recalled at the stake. Many denied the charges altogether. In Paris 36 died under torture, 54 suffered there at one burning, May 10, 1310, and 8 days later 4 more. Hundreds of them perished in prison. Even the bitterest enemies acknowledged that the Templars who were put to death maintained their innocence to their dying breath.
In accordance with Clement’s order, trials were had in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and England. In England, Edward II. at first refused to apply the torture, which was never formally adopted in that land, but later, at Clement’s demand, he complied. Papal inquisitors appeared. Synods in London and York declared the charges of heresy so serious that it would be impossible for the knights to clear themselves. English houses were disbanded and the members distributed among the monasteries to do penance. In Italy and Germany, the accused were, for the most part, declared innocent. In Spain and Portugal, no evidence was forthcoming of guilt and the synod of Tarragona, 1310, and other synods favored their innocence.
The last act in these hostile proceedings was opened at the Council of Vienne, called for the special purpose of taking action upon the order. The large majority of the council were in favor of giving it a new trial and a fair chance to prove its innocence. But the king was relentless. He reminded Clement that the guilt of the knights had been sufficiently proven, and insisted that the order be abolished. He appeared in person at the council, attended by a great retinue. Clement was overawed, and by virtue of his apostolic power issued his decree abolishing the Templars, March 22, 1312. Clement’s reasons were that suspicions existed that the order held to heresies, that many of the Templars had confessed to heresies and other offences, that thereafter reputable persons would not enter the order, and that it was no longer necessary for the defence of the Holy Land. Directions were given for the further procedure. The guilty were to be put to death; the innocent to be supported out of the revenues of the order. With this action the famous order passed out of existence.
The end of Jacques de Molay, the 22d and last grand-master of the order of Templars, was worthy of its proudest days. At the first trial he confessed to the charges of denying Christ and spitting upon the cross, and was condemned, but afterwards recalled his confession. His case was reopened in 1314. With Geoffrey de Charney, grand-preceptor of Normandy, and others, he was led in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, and sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. Molay then stood forth and declared that the charges against the order were false, and that he had confessed to them under the strain of torture and instructions from the king. Charney said the same. The commission promised to reconsider the case the next day. But the king’s vengeance knew no bounds, and that night, March 11, 1314, the prisoners were burned. The story ran that while the flames were doing their grewsome (sic) work, Molay summoned pope and king to meet him at the judgment bar within a year. The former died, in a little more than a month, of a loathsome disease, though penitent, as it was reported, for his treatment of the order, and the king, by accident, while engaged in the chase, six months later. The king was only 46 years old at the time of his death, and 14 years after, the last of his direct descendants was in his grave and the throne passed to the house of Valois.
As for the possessions of the order, papal decrees turned them over to the Knights of St. John, but Philip again intervened and laid claim to 260,000 pounds as a reimbursement for alleged losses to the Temple and the expense of guarding the prisoners. In Spain, they passed to the orders of San Iago di Compostella and Calatrava. In Aragon, they were in part applied to a new order, Santa Maria de Montesia, and in Portugal to the Military Order of Jesus Christ, ordo militiae Jesu Christi. Repeated demands made by the pope secured the transmission of a large part of their possessions to the Knights of St. John. In England, in 1323, parliament granted their lands to the Hospitallers, but the king appropriated a considerable share to himself. The Temple in London fell to the Earl of Pembroke, 1313.
The explanation of Philip’s violent animosity and persistent persecution is his cupidity. He coveted the wealth of the Templars. Philip was quite equal to a crime of this sort. He robbed the bankers of Lombardy and the Jews of France, and debased the coin of his realm. A loan of 500,000 pounds which he had secured for a sister’s dowry had involved him in great financial straits. He appropriated all the possessions of the Templars he could lay his hands upon. Clement V.’s subserviency it is easy to explain. He was a creature of the king. When the pope hesitated to proceed against the unfortunate order, the king beset him with the case of Boniface VIII. To save the memory of his predecessor, the pope surrendered the lives of the knights. Dante, in representing the Templars as victims of the king’s avarice, compares Philip to Pontius Pilate.
"I see the modern Pilate, whom avails
No cruelty to sate and who, unbidden,
Into the Temple sets his greedy sails."
(Purgatory, xx. 91)
The house of the Templars in Paris was turned into a royal residence, from which Louis XVI., more than four centuries later, went forth to the scaffold.
The Council of Vienne, the fifteenth in the list of the oecumenical councils, met Oct. 16, 1311, and after holding three sessions adjourned six months later, May 6, 1812. Clement opened it with an address on Psalm 111:1, 2, and designated three subjects for its consideration, the case of the order of the Templars, the relief of the Holy Land and Church reform. The documents bearing on the council are defective. In addition to the decisions concerning the Templars and Boniface VIII., it condemned the Beguines and Beghards and listened to charges made against the Franciscan, Peter John Olivi (d. 1298). Olivi belonged to the Spiritual wing of the order. His books had been ordered burnt, 1274, by one Franciscan general, and a second general of the order, Bonagratia, 1279, had appointed a commission which found thirty-four dangerous articles in his writings. The council, without pronouncing against Olivi, condemned three articles ascribed to him bearing on the relation of the two parties in the Franciscan order, the Spirituals and Conventuals.
The council has a place in the history of biblical scholarship and university education by its act ordering two chairs each, of Hebrew, Arabic, and Chaldee established in Paris, Oxford, Bologna, and Salamanca.
While the proceedings against Boniface and the Templars were dragging on in their slow course in France, Clement was trying to make good his authority in Italy. Against Venice he hurled the most violent anathemas and interdicts for venturing to lay hands on Ferrara, whose territory was claimed by the Apostolic See. A crusade was preached against the sacrilegious city. She was defeated in battle, and Ferrara was committed to the administration of Robert, king of Naples, as the pope’s vicar.