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The Holy See and the Order

T he initial attitude of the Papacy towards the Temple was most cordial; after all, the Templars were helping pious Catholics to embark upon pilgrimages, and they helped to hold the Holy Land. Therefore, popes were willing to issue bulls to the effect that Templars should prosper. Examples of such bulls are Omne Datum Optimum of 1139, in which the Rule of the Order was officially approved, papal protection given to the Order, spoils from Muslims promised to the Templars, and the Order also was made exempt from tithes and taxes. In 1144 the reigning pope Celestine II issued Milites Templi, which awarded indulgences to the benefactors of the Order. Perhaps the most influential, though, was Militia Dei of 1145, issued by Lucius II, in which the Holy See awarded the Order the right to build their own churches and bury their dead on the church grounds. This freedom eventually raised the false assumption in popular mind, and in some cases even the Templars's own mind, that the Order's high officials were allowed to hear confessions and give absolution (for more on this, see the fourth group of The Accusations).

H owever, as time went on and the Order grew wealthier, it also grew more arrogant. This connected to the enviable papal privileges soon had the general populace behaving so irreverentially towards the Templars that already in the 1160's the Pope was obliged to write another bull restraining people from harassing knights, for example by pulling them off their horses or slinging mud in their general direction. Then, in 1179, archbishop William of Tyre led an attack on the Order, claiming that they had lost their original purpose and become worthless. He recounted four incidents where he claimed the Order had behaved wrongly, and the Church actually rebuked the Templars.

S till later, in 1207 Pope Innocent III wrote a bull condemning pride among the Templars, reminding them of the original vows of chastity and poverty. Again in 1265 Pope Clement V demanded the Order to show greater humility in the face of the Church, since it was still in many respects under the protection of the Holy See which did not wish to hear accusations of arrogance against the Order. The Order was also under pressure from claims such as the one stating that the Grand Master of the Order had refused to attack, thus being guilty of desertion. Actually this happened in 1248 during the Egyptian Crusade and was because of sound military reasoning, but it was made to appear cowardly. In 1291, after the fall of Acre, Pope Nicholas II attempted to weld the Hospitallers and Templars into a new Order, but this plan was very quickly buried by the Templars, who detested the Hospitallers (and vice versa).

F inally, in 1306-07 King Philip the Fair saw that his time was come. There was a French Pope, who was strongly under the influence of the King. As Philip moved in and had the Templars arrested on November 13th, 1307, the Pope issued the bull Pastoralis Praeeminentiae on November 22nd. In this bull he ordered all Christian rulers to arrest Templars in their domains and to hand over all their property to the Holy See. He also formed ecclesiastical courts to handle the trial of the Templars. By 1308 the pope had become wary of Philip's motives, and he halted the trial in progress, stating that the final decision would be made at a council in Vienna in 1310. He did this by issuing four bulls: Regnans in Coelis invited all relevant parties to the Council in Vienna, Faciens Misericodiam appointed commissions to take account of all Templar property, Deus ultionum Dominus appointed the Church as administrator of all Templar property, and finally, Ad omnium fere notitiam recalled all Templar property already confiscated by others to the Church.

T he Templars tried to mount a defense while the trial was suspended, but in 1310, when the Vienna council was postponed until 1311, Philip pushed Clement to surrender his position and had 54 Templars burned at stake to discourage the rest. This worked, the defense collapsed, and Templars were either sentenced to imprisonment, or, as in the case of Jacques de Molay and Geoffroi de Charnay, burned as relapsed heretics in 1314.

T he last papal moves in this ballet of death were the bulls Vox in Excelso, given on March 22, 1312, in which the Order was officially suppressed, and Ad Providam of May 2, by which the Pope granted the bulk of Templar property on to the Knights Hospitallers. King Philip did receive a hefty payment from the Hospitallers for his part in bringing the Templars down, but the Papacy was still not too happy about the whole affair. Ad Providam is a significant document, because it clearly shows that the Templars were suppressed not on judicial grounds but as a matter of expediency. This was also for a large part the general opinion, even given the massive smokescreen Philip set up.

An image of a Pope by the Scribe

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