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Knights Templar Papal Absolution after 700 years of persecution

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When Jerusalem fell to Muslim rule in 1244, many rumours were spread that the Knights Templar were heretics who worshipped idols in secret initiation ceremonies.

In 1293 King Philippe IV ‘the Fair’ of France stripped all the French assets of his brother in law, the English King Edward I which inevitably caused hostilities between England and France leading in 1294 to war between the two nations.

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Philippe IV Le Bel

The Scots took this opportunity to join with the French in a secret Franco-Scottish pact of mutual assistance to fight against Edward I. The expense of this war led Philippe to search for income to fund this military expenditure, this together with his expensive and flamboyant life style led to him targeting the rich and wealthy. His financial victims included Jews and in July 1306 he arrested them and expelled them from his territories for oppressive money-lending policies which enabled him to seize their assets. He also focused on rich Abbots, he debased the coinage and levied heavy taxes on the French clergy of one half of their income. This drive to gain income created many enemies including the Catholic Church in general and Pope Boniface VIII in particular.

In 1307, Philippe was still in desperate need of funds, and grew more and more dependent on money lenders to finance his flamboyant life style. A major money lender was the Order of the Temple who had been acting as bankers in Europe for some 200 years. As the popularity of the Crusades decreased support for the Templars waned and Philippe took this opportunity to use numerous rumours to turn the Church against the Order in an attempt to destroy the debts.

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Philippe IV Le Bel

The Templars were answerable only to the Pope; however, Philippe had enormous influence over Pope Clement V to whom he made numerous accusations against the Order of non-Christian worship and holding obscene rituals of a heretical nature, as well as accusations of sodomy and idol worship.

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Pope Clement V

Pope Clement authorised Philippe to lead an inquiry and on Friday 13th October 1307, he dissolved the Order denouncing the Knights Templar as Heretics and issued arrest warrants for all remaining members. Following this decree, Philippe the fair had hundreds of Knights Templar simultaneously arrested. These Knights were tortured in a form of Inquisition to force confessions which supported Philippe’s accusations.

In 1314, in Paris, the Templars’ Grand Master Jacques de Molay was subjected to torture by being slowly roasted over an open fire and was burnt at the stake for the confessions of his sins. Legend says that when he was publicly burnt at the stake he cursed that within a year he would see both Philippe the Fair and Pope Clement V summoned before God’s Tribunal - they both died within the year.

In 2001 a scrap of parchment, which had been filed in a wrong archive in the 17th century, was discovered in the Vatican's secret archives by Professor Barbara Frale. This long-lost document was a detailed record of the trial of the Templars before Pope Clement V, and ends with a papal absolution from all heresies. The document, known as the ‘ Chinon Parchment’, dated 17th to 20th August 1308 was an investigation of the accused Templars carried out by agents of the Pope in the castle of Chinon in the diocese of Tours.

The document states that: The cardinals thus:

"…declare through this official statement directed to all who will read it... the very same lord Pope wishing and intending to know the pure, complete and uncompromised truth from the leaders of the said Order, namely Brother Jacques de Molay, Grandmaster of the Order of Knights Templar, Brother Raymbaud de Caron, Preceptor (of) the commandaries of Templar Knights in Outremer, Brother Hugo de Pérraud, Preceptor of France, Brother Geoffroy de Gonneville, Preceptor of Aquitania and Poitou, and Geoffroy de Charney, Preceptor of Normandy, ordered and commissioned us specifically and by his verbally expressed will in order that we might with diligence examine the truth by questioning the grandmaster and the aforementioned preceptors — one by one and individually, having summoned notaries public and trustworthy witnesses."

Raymbaud de Caron was the first to be interrogated on August 17, 1308. After the interrogation, the cardinals granted absolution thus:

"…After this oath, by the authority of lord Pope specifically granted to us for that purpose, we extended to this humbly asking Brother Raymbaud, in a form accepted by the Church the mercy of absolution from the verdict of excommunication that had been incurred by the aforementioned deeds, restoring him to unity with the Church and reinstating him for communion of the faithful and sacraments of the Church."

Second to be interrogated on the same day was Geoffroy de Charney. He was also absolved. The third to be interrogated on the same day was Geoffroy de Gonneville. He too was absolved.

On August 19, 1308, Hugo de Pérraud was fourth to be interrogated. He was likewise absolved.

The Grandmaster was interrogated last on August 20, 1308. The cardinal interrogators also gave their absolution. According to the document, all interrogations of the accused spanning the 17th to 20th of August 1308 were always in the presence of the notaries public and the gathered witnesses. Among the accusations were sodomy, denouncing God, illicit kisses, spitting on the cross, and worshiping an 'idol'.

The body of the text details the appearance of the accused, the swearing in of the accused, charges against the accused, and the mode of questioning of the accused:

in Molay's interrogation, "When he was asked whether he had confessed to these things due to a request, reward, gratitude, favor, fear, hatred or persuasion by someone else, or the use of force, or fear of impending torture, he replied that he did not. When he was asked whether he, after being apprehended, was submitted to any questioning or torture, he replied that he did not."

The text further details the denunciations, requests of absolution by the accused, and the granting of absolution by the agents of the pope; all of these were always in the presence of witnesses. An excerpt of absolution given to Molay thus reads:

"After this, we concluded to extend the mercy of absolution for these acts to Brother Jacques de Molay, the Grandmaster of the said Order, who in the form and manner described above had denounced in our presence the described and any other heresy, and swore in person on the Lord’s Holy Gospel, and humbly asked for the mercy of absolution, restoring him to unity with the Church and reinstating him to communion of the faithful and sacraments of the Church."

So, the parchment reveals that the Templars had an initiation ceremony which involved ‘spitting on the cross’, ‘denying Jesus’ and kissing the lower back, navel and mouth of the man proposing them. This was explained that the initiation mimicked the humiliation that knights could suffer if they fell into the hands of the Saracens, while the kissing ceremony was a sign of their total obedience.

The Pope concluded that the entrance ritual was not truly blasphemous, as alleged by King Philippe when he had the knights arrested. However, he was forced to dissolve the Order to keep peace with France and prevent a schism within the church.

On Thursday 26th October 2007 the Vatican published the Chinon Parchment and Monsignor Sergio Pagano, head of the Vatican's Secret Archive stated:

"We have no intention of celebrating or rehabilitating the Order of the Knights Templar. Our job does not go beyond historical studies." He added "The trial of the Knights Templar was forced on Pope Clement and he sacrificed the Order to avoid a schism and to save the unity of the Church".

The head of the Archive denied that the parchment containing the 14th century pope's absolution of the Templars had been kept secret, noting that it had been catalogued in the Secret Archive. He stated that “The Vatican Secret Archive is called 'secret' not because the documents in it are classified but because they are private. To view them, historians must go through an application process, proving their credentials and outlining their research project.”

So one might well wonder why this document never came to light earlier, or why it took a Professor to find it, however the Vatican has now acknowledged that the Templars were not heretics and that the Pope was obliged to ask pardon from the Knights after having tortured and put all known members to death.

For 700 years the Templars have been accused as ‘heretics’ and have now received absolution.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_IV_of_France

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Clement_V

http://www.italymag.co.uk/italy/religion/vatican-sheds-light-knights-templar

http://www.redicecreations.com/article.php?id=1982

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Knights_Templar

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2671684.ece

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article2648422.ece