Unceasing Strife, Unending Fear: Jacques de Therines and the Freedom of the Church in the Age of the Last Capetiansby William Chester Jordan
This absorbing book explores the tensions within the Roman Catholic church and between the church and royal authority in France in the crucial period 1290-1321. During this time the crown tried to force churchmen to accept policies many considered inconsistent with ecclesiastical freedom and traditions--such as paying war taxes and expelling the Jews from the
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This absorbing book explores the tensions within the Roman Catholic church and between the church and royal authority in France in the crucial period 1290-1321. During this time the crown tried to force churchmen to accept policies many considered inconsistent with ecclesiastical freedom and traditions--such as paying war taxes and expelling the Jews from the kingdom. William Jordan considers these issues through the eyes of one of the most important and courageous actors, the Cistercian monk, professor, abbot, and polemical writer Jacques de Thérines. The result is a fresh perspective on what Jordan terms "the story of France in a politically terrifying period of its existence, one of unceasing strife and unending fear."
Jacques de Thérines was involved in nearly every controversy of the period: the expulsion of the Jews from France, the relocation of the papacy to Avignon, the affair of the Templars, the suppression of the "heresies" of Marguerite Porete and of the Spiritual Franciscans, and the defense of the "exempt" monastic orders' freedom from all but papal control. The stands he took were often remarkable in themselves: hostility to the expulsion of Jews and spirited defense of the Templars, for example. The book also traces the emergence of King Philip the Fair's (1285-1314) almost paranoid style of rule and its impact on church-state relations, which makes the expression of Jacques de Thérines's views all the more courageous.
"Jordan opens a window on a remote time. It is Jordan's genius to spot that window, his achievement to let us peer through. That alone makes this work a valuable contribution to our historical perspective. It adds yet another piece to our understanding of a critical and enigmatic period."Alan Friedlander,American Historical Review
"In this book of modest size, Jordan succeeds in leading the modern reader into the world, work, and concerns of a fourteenth-century monk and scholar who occupied a not-insignificant place in the intellectual and political life of his time. Jordan's study provides new insights into debates and dissent over major church issues in the age of the last Capetians."Kathryn L. Reyerson, Speculum
Kathryn L. Reyerson
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Unceasing Strife, Unending FearJacques de Thérines and the Freedom of the Church in the Age of the Last Capetians
By William Chester Jordan
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2004 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneENCROACHMENTS ON ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITY: TAXATION, CLERICAL IMMUNITY, AND THE JEWS
THE LITTLE FRENCH VILLAGE of Thêrines, population 155, is located in the dêpartement of the Oise, the arrondissement of Beauvais, and the canton of Songeons. Its code postal is 60380. Despite its diminutive size, the village has a mayor (in the year 2000, it was M. Roland Vasseur), and his mairie has an official municipal telephone and fax machine. By the characteristic and exacting French bureaucratic standards that are the administrative legacy of the nation's history, Thêrines has all it needs for its communal identity. What it does not have, however, is a history. Numerous Web sites exist for the French communes, designed largely for potential tourists and also for history buffs. The sites typically list a selection of published histories of the villages and cities they survey. There is no such history referenced for Thêrines, and the Web site's invitation to browsers to help redress the lack has so far gone unanswered.
Unfortunately, the village's most illustrious son, achurchman named Jacques who flourished in the early fourteenth century, was effectively deracinated by early modern humanists, who misread the subscription, Jacobus de Therinis, on one of his Latin treatises as Jacobus de Thermis, a common enough kind of error. Jacques was thereby transmogrified into Jacopo, an otherwise unattested scion of a prestigious Sicilian family with roots in Palermo and the nearby port of Termini (Latin, Thermae). Not until the great early twentieth-century medievalist Noël Valois corrected the reading was Jacques recovered for France, although the good news has been slow in reaching his childhood home of Thêrines.
The relocation of Jacques makes some aspects of his career far more commonplace than if a Sicilian lineage had been confirmed. No more the adventurous youth from the port of Termini determined on seeking his fortune in the alien north and abandoning forever the sea, the sunshine, and the fig trees of his homeland, Jacques emerges instead as a deeply rooted individual, geographically circumscribed all his life. Born in the second half of the thirteenth century, he spent most of his career in Paris and the territory bounded by the modern limits of the dêpartement of the Oise, which borders the Paris region, with only a few more distant trips, necessitated by the business of the church to whose service he gave his life.
If his family and neighbors were typical of the region's minor nobility from which monastic communities were very largely recruited, they attached themselves intimately to a small number of local ecclesiastical institutions. To this extent, the episcopal city of Beauvais, from which Thêrines is twenty or so miles distant, was a magnet for young men from aspiring village families.4 The Cistercian monastery of Chaalis (Karoli Locus), founded in 1136, was one among several prestigious and attractive centers of monastic life in the region, too, and an unsurprising place as Jacques's choice for entering upon a clerical career. In turn, he became an example. It was at the monastery of Chaalis that another Thêrines native, Jean, a bachelor in theology, served as a monk toward the end of Jacques's life; like Jacques he studied and entered upon a teaching career at Paris. That such a tiny village produced similar careers in the same narrow geographical orbit in so brief an interval matches nicely the pattern in families and among neighbors observable elsewhere in northern France.
Either with a privately hired tutor or under the care of the local parish priest or schoolmaster, Jacques learned the rudiments of reading and writing Latin. With his intellectual gifts, he was an obvious candidate to encourage toward further study, probably in the cathedral school of Beauvais with its fine library. After professing as a monk in the Cistercian house of Chaalis, he spent considerable time at the Cistercian College of Saint-Bernard in Paris in order to complete his higher education and be accorded the title master (magister). The college was the center of Cistercian learning in France and Christendom. The monks sent there and the scholars at other colleges of the university experienced a bubbling cauldron of rigorous learning, distracting activity, bitter rivalries, and intellectual arrogance. The experience had the potential to seduce many into a permanent desire for the academic life. It turned many others off to the posturing. And it provoked ambivalent feelings, comprising both repulsion and attraction, among still others. Among those at the university who heard bishops and papal legates denounce the excessive cleverness and intellectual daring of its leading scholars, not everyone responded negatively.
No firm date can be given as to when Jacques came into this remarkable environment, where he was as likely to observe the king in procession to Notre Dame as he was to see a company of miserable beggars on the cathedral porch. He was in the city by 1293, the date of the death of Jean de Weerde, one of his likely teachers, and probably by 1290, for he seems to have been there at about the time of reports of a famous miracle that occurred that year on the Place Saint-Jean-en-Grève. The erstwhile student had risen already to a professorship in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Paris when we first encounter him by name in an institutional record dated 1305-1306. He subscribes as "Jacobus, monacus de Caroliloco Ordinis Cisterciencis" and is one of several "regent masters" or professors who subscribe.
The record is a fairly typical, flowery request to the king of France imploring him to give aid to an acquaintance of the masters, a physician, one Raoul de Vêmars, with respect to a benefice in the royal gift. Jacques's knowledge of Raoul depended in part simply on the latter's long association with the university's theological faculty. Raoul had been a scholar in theology (scolaris in theologia), the request to the king explained, for approximately fourteen years and had developed a reputation as an eloquent preacher. He was of mature years and a man of great "probity," his backers also informed the king. But Vêmars is another one of those small villages slightly north of Paris and very near Chaalis. It is at least possible that Jacques's inclusion on the list of Raoul's patrons reflects an acquaintance that predated their university years. Raoul, like Jacques, was an intensely local man. The benefice at issue was near Taverniacum, modern Taverny, hardly (with a little exaggeration) a stone's throw from Vêmars and Chaalis.
Despite the conventionally flattering tone taken with the king in their request to him to help Raoul de Vêmars ("Let your most high majesty flourish in the Lord that he may magnify your prosperity and increase your days"), Jacques, like many Cistercian monks, had strong reason to be suspicious of this particular king, Philip IV the Fair (1285-1314). The difficulties went back at least to 1294-1297 when England and France were at war over their rulers' authority and power in the duchy of Aquitaine, the region in southwestern France that Edward I, the English king (1272-1307), held as a fief from Philip IV. Both sides in the war, of course, argued the justness of their cause. Both kings expected their subjects to contribute financially to the war effort. And both taxed the clergy to this end. Neither, however, received the prior papal permission formally required, at least since the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), to do so. The Cistercian Order, which was technically an exempt order, not even obligated to contribute funds to crusader princes, was nonetheless targeted along with other clergy and exempt orders, in part no doubt because of its tradition of giving voluntary or gracious grants to crusader princes despite the exemption.
In fact, the granting of gracious aids in the decades before the war with England had already laid bare to its abbots some of the financial problems of the Cistercian Order. Many abbeys, not least the nunneries, found it impossible to pay the portions levied on them by the abbot fathers (from Cteaux and her first four daughter houses, La Fertê, Pontigny, Clairvaux, and Morimond) in conjunction with the order's annual collective meetings, the General Chapters. Many houses' incapacity or reluctance to contribute perhaps also pointed to a broader financial crisis, as older orders, like theirs, suffered a relative loss of popularity with donors. It was the mendicant friars, Franciscans and Dominicans, who attracted more and more largesse in the course of the thirteenth century.
The principal abbots of the Cistercian Order in France met at Philip IV's command at Dijon in Burgundy in late 1294 or early 1295 and agreed, perhaps in a mood of "war fever," to contribute to the expenses of the war with England, but they carefully worded their response in an effort to limit the grant if a truce were to be reached between the two kingdoms. They insisted that their own people would make the collections and then transfer the tax to the secular authorities. Even so, there was grassroots opposition to the capitulation, for the king's agents in the southeastern district of Beaucaire were obliged to seize some of the order's goods for failure to pay up in a timely manner in June 1295. Opposition to the king really mounted, however, after Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) reacted vigorously to Philip's policy and to Edward's as well and issued the bull Clericis laicos (February 1296), forbidding clergy to pay such levies to princes and threatening those churchmen who did so anyway with the spiritual censure of excommunication. As a result of this declaration the Cistercians gained an excuse for resistance, and as a further consequence, as Jeffrey Denton remarks, "impressive evidence of the determination of the Cistercians to defend traditional clerical rights in the face of the king's policies" emerges from the surviving documents.
The situation continued to deteriorate, with the enraged French king prohibiting the export of precious metals to Rome. Given the papacy's extraordinary dependence on the contribution of the church in Gaul to its financial well-being, the pope was under pressure to compromise. He nevertheless continued to take a hard-line stance in defense of the freedom of the church, at least until ambassadors led by Philip's closest adviser, Pierre Flote, reached Boniface and threatened to offer support to those Italian cardinals hostile to him and his family, and to victims of his wrath who wanted to appeal to a general council against his authority. Then and only then did Boniface agree to relent. The bull Clericis laicos was now creatively reinterpreted at the papal curia as a very general statement of the customary principles governing the relations between the church and secular princes. In the new reading the bull was not understood as censuring any particular king, let alone Philip IV. Boniface also explained, in the bull Etsi de statu (July 1297), that however appropriate it was for princes to obtain papal permission before taxing the church, there were times, times of "dangerous emergency," when they could not wait for permission while also fulfilling their God-given duty to defend their realms. It was up to them, the wielders of the temporal sword, to determine when circumstances constituted urgent necessity and required access to ecclesiastical revenues, "notwithstanding any kind of privilege or exemption obtained from the apostolic see." So much for matters of principle and the Cistercian Order's perhaps hesitant and belated but ultimately vigorous resistance to Philip's demands.
At the time Boniface issued Clericis laicos, he made an angry pointed allusion to the possible role of universities in Philip the Fair's formulation of his taxation policy: "Universities, too, which may have been to blame in these matters, we subject," the pope declaimed, "to ecclesiastical interdict." The entire faculty and student body of the University of Paris, one of the universities to which he was referring, was clerical; so an interdict, a ban on ecclesiastical services, was no empty threat. Nor was Boniface misguided in assuming a role for university masters, for it was traditional for rulers, and in particular the French crown, to seek advice and support from the learned masters at the University of Paris. The university could speak "corporately" in a single voice. But the formal corporate status of the university notwithstanding, there was a cacophony of voices and had been for decades within the institution. The residents of the Cistercian College of Saint-Bernard, like Jacques de Thêrines, were pulled among several loyalties-to the university itself, to the crown, and to the pope. This pattern and the torment it provoked would soon repeat themselves, despite the evident reconciliation of pope and king in 1297.
For Pope Boniface VIII was deeply afflicted by his humiliation. Partly to recoup his prestige but more immediately to respond to an exceptional manifestation of popular devotion in Rome at Christmas in 1299, he designated the year 1300 a jubilee year. It was an unprecedented declaration. Pilgrims who visited the prescribed holy sites in Rome were to receive extraordinary spiritual indulgences. The year-long outpouring of devotion reflected in the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who made the trip delighted the pope, as it delighted innumerable municipal officials, merchants, innkeepers, and entrepreneurs of the Eternal City, and it was great fun for local clergy to have an opportunity to meet and count the myriad of foreign pilgrims who flocked to the woefully underpopulated city. A pope whose reputation had so recently suffered appeared to have recovered both his popular support and his dignity.
The recovery, however, was short-lived, and once more the Cistercians' situation in France was closely tied to the pope's difficulties. Again, the story, told as a clash of church and state, is a dramatic one. Reports reached the crown in 1301 that a southern French bishop, Bernard Saisset of Pamiers, had maligned the king. Philip was like an owl, he said, handsome, fair, "Bel," but he just stared. Someday he would be deprived of his realm. He was a useless "bastard" who did not deserve his throne, a particularly unseemly though utterly baseless slur on a "holy lineage" descended from Louis IX, whom Boniface VIII canonized in 1297. Philip, according to the recklessly outspoken southern bishop, was also more like an immaterial wraith than a human being or even a brute animal. Saisset did not desist from impugning the French ("northerners") in general; he even expressed his willingness to make common cause with the rebellious count of Foix, if he had a chance, against the French king.
When the prelate's probably drunken words were repeated to Philip, he quite unsurprisingly regarded them as a treasonous affront to the royal dignity. He was capable, on rare occasions, of forgiving insults. A preacher once recalled with admiration his refusal to punish a provincial noblewoman who said the usually taciturn monarch was a born dummy (mutum). But he considered Bernard Saisset's words particularly dangerous, because they came from a bishop whose loyalty he needed in Pamiers. The city was in the heartland of a region in which many of the inhabitants resented northern French domination, a legacy of the early thirteenth-century conquest of the south in the Crusade against the so-called Cathar or Albigensian heretics and the subsequent transfer of territorial authority to northerners working for the French crown.
The Inquisition's establishment in 1234, a critical development in this story, came five years after the treaty of capitulation that ended the twenty-year Crusade. The inquisitors' efforts were quite effective in inducing natives to repudiate the kinds of behavior and suppress their public adherence to opinions that churchmen deemed heretical and imagined as constituting a separate church. But their success came at a cost, namely, deep resentment over the interference of the inquisitorial commissions in local life and over the imposition of penalties like penitential pilgrimages, imprisonment, confiscation of property, and relaxation of "contumacious heretics" to the secular arm for execution. This undermined loyalty to the crown. Despite occasionally manifesting a certain sympathy with southerners' complaints about the inquisitors, the king always returned to supporting the heretic hunters. How serious a threat the dismay in Languedoc was to political peace may be doubted, but Philip was certainly primed to regard utterances like those attributed to the bishop of Pamiers as incendiary.
Excerpted from Unceasing Strife, Unending Fear by William Chester Jordan Copyright © 2004 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Theodore Evergates, McDaniel College, editor of "Aristocratic Women in Medieval France"
Edward Peters, University of Pennsylvania, author of "Limits of Thought and Power in Medieval Europe"
Meet the Author
William Chester Jordan is Professor of History and Director of the Program in Medieval Studies at Princeton University. His books include Europe in the High Middle Ages (Penguin) and The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century (Princeton).
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