Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Chapter 17

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 disgrace 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 (p 210). 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 practised 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) (p 209) 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.