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Professor of Medieval History and Researcher at Institute for Culture and Society, University of Navarra
In this globalized world it is difficult to find a suitable place to talk about History and not to tell "stories" of History. In one way or another, the new instruments of communication that mimic the costume of the social and entertainment knowledge dissemination that "have come to stay" make it difficult to build a fundamental scaffolding of the historical knowledge : where is the real heritage of the past? with what criteria should we look at past events? what is this "History"? If not, let us take a look at what is known about the episode experienced by the Order of the Temple at the beginning of the 14th century.
Far from any initial value judgment, the history of this institution remains to this day one of the great unknowns among the general public, being contaminated by all subject of interpretative errors that run rampant in the popular imagination. There is no doubt that the ingredients of its abolition, on March 22, 1312, orchestrated as a pincer movement between the French monarch Philip IV the Fair (1285-1314) and a manipulated Pope Clement V (1305-1314), have reached the media prominence of what could be a successful Netflix series or a bestselling novel: wealth, power, inquisitorial processes, bonfires, corruption and political judgment. With this, it could be said that fiction has operated a sorpasso to reality, because while the number of students who choose to graduate in history decreases significantly, those who aspire to develop historical blogs or informative novels and produce or work in historical fiction series increase. One sample, the abundance of misrepresented material circulating about the Templars in the networks.
The death of the Master of the Order of the Temple Jacques de Molay and of Geoffroi de Charney, preceptor in Normandy, at the stake on March 18, 1314, after a tormenting inquisitorial process of interrogations marked by the criminal suspicion of sodomy, internship of heterodox rites, satanic worship and economic corruption, meant the end of a golden age of an institution that wrote one of the most interesting pages of achievements of the European-Western history. Its active participation in the Crusades, protecting the iconic Holy Places or deploying a connection of people and goods between Latin Christendom and the Near East such as had not been known since the times of the greatest splendor of the Roman Empire, were of no avail.
From 1305 onwards, the order was being exposed in the papal environment and in the French court, accusations that led to a rapid and harsh process of persecution with illegal confessions obtained under torture, whose most important milestones are documented on October 13, 1307, with the arrest of the Templars throughout the kingdom of France, and on December 22 of the same year, with the publication of the bull Pastoralis Praeeminentae, which ratified the imprisonment and placed their goods under the name of the Church. Although in these weeks the monarch and the Inquisitor General Guillaume de Paris had acted against the law, the royal propaganda machine to provide as much false evidence as necessary had been activated. Faced with this status, Pope Clement V could hardly maneuver according to ecclesiastical canons, since political tension was growing. In fact, the aforementioned bull of the end of 1307 and the subsequent one of the Council of Vienne Vox in excelso, which dissolved the order without condemning it, dated March 22, 1312, evidenced a dispute between the capetian court and the papal curia for control of the process. The suspension of the inquisitor of Paris in 1308, the proclamation of innocence of 54 Templar freires who perished at the stake on May 12, 1310, or the echo of the Gallic status in the regional councils of Germany, Italy and the Hispanic kingdoms, which proclaimed the exculpation of the members of the order, had been of no use.
Prisoner of the status, Clement V, could neither stop the theopolitics of the King of France nor articulate a defense, although he had tried on a few occasions since 1308, since the Templar institution as others, born in the early days of the Crusades had the endorsement and guarantee of the papacy, as they were exempt religious in the whole of Christendom and depended directly on the primacy of the Church. The suppression of the order, by way of provision, and the submission of its goods to the knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, with the bulls Ad providam and Considerantes (except in the Iberian Peninsula, except in Navarre), result of the action of March 1312, placed in a delicate position the members of an institution, sacrificed for political and ideological reasons. Philip IV imposed the principle of the preeminence of the royal power, sovereign charisma that announced the end of the sacred vicarious model of the Age average and advanced the reason of State. Because, although the political judgment put an end to the Temple, neither the king was enriched with its "greedy" properties, nor its members were part of an obscurantist association. Those of us who know something of this history know it well.
Unfortunately or fortunately, nowadays the main way to connect with the world around us is "emotional", so that, among other things, it gives rise to an effect called to identify in the popular stories of the past (novels, TV series, podcasts) with what happens in the present, in our lives, in our relational sphere. We seek, on the one hand, and satisfy, on the other, everything that generates, in a consumerist loop of impressions, realities peppered with intrigues, magic, partisan interests and corruption, or even idealism. All this goes against the true story of history that facilitates the revalued intellectual understanding of a past, not Exempt of complexity and suitable field to understand the cultural, intellectual, social, political and religious expressions of those who preceded us in time. Now more than ever, it is more important than ever to shape the identity of a past and a present tailored to human beings, not to their ideological and emotional constructions or interests. And the process of the Temple, as can be seen from these lines, opens the door to this.