Jacques de Vitry: Sermons to a Military Order

Translated by Helen J. Nicholson

Sermons 37 and 38 from his sermon collection, Sermones Vulgares, ‘Sermons to the People’, published by J. B. Pitra, ed., Analecta novissima spicilegii Solesmensis: altera continuatio 2, Tusculana (Paris, 1888). This translation is copyright H. J.Nicholson. Explanatory additions to the text are in square brackets.

Sermon 37: to the brothers of a military order, marked with the sign of the Knighthood of Christ.

Summary: Jacques de Vitry, bishop of Acre 1216-28, is addressing the brothers of the Order of the Temple. He begins by describing the enemies of the Church and explaining that military orders have been set up to defend it. He tells the Templars that they must live a pure life, and should not be proud. He goes on to discuss the sins of pride; envy; and finally greed, then describes people who enter a religious order only to become worse Christians than they were before. He concludes with an admonition to the brothers to live in peace. He then discusses the problems of laity (i.e., members of religious orders who have not been ordained, which means the majority of the Templars) who have not had a proper religious education and do not know how they should live. He relates a few anecdotes of the Templars as exempla to demonstrate his points: the story of ‘Lord Bread and Water’, a story of the siege of Ascalon, 1153, and another of the martyrdom of a pilgrim. He ends with a fable about a blind man escaping from the lordship of the devil. The final paragraph is an exhortation to fight humbly for the Lord .

The text is Zechariah 9 [verse 8]: “I will surround my house with those who fight for me.”

This is speaking about the Church. Just as a lily among thorns is pricked on all sides, or a small boat among waves is tossed on all sides, or good is continually being tested in the middle of a furnace, or grain is crushed among the chaff, in the same way as a fortified city is besieged on all sides by enemies, so the Church is attacked on all sides. Yet the Church is fortified and protected on all sides by the Lord. As the Lord said through Zechariah: “I will surround my house with those who fight for me.”

The Jews attack Christ’s incarnation, the heretics attack the truth of Scripture, and both of these attack the faith of Christ; schismatics undermine the obedience and unity of the Church, Saracens and pagans undermine the peace of Christendom, tyrants and evil Christians attack the liberty of the Church, and false brothers undermine love. The Church puts up holy teachers to defend it against Jews and heretics, who reveal the meaning of the Scriptures to them so that they may understand them. Against schismatics it puts up the communion of saints, the government of prelates and the obedience of its subjects. Against the violence of the pagans and Saracens it uses the physical sword. Against tyrants and false brothers it uses a spiritual sword, which it also uses against heretics and schismatics in order to compel them to enter and return to the Church.

Since the Church has two swords, which the Lord said “is enough”, [Luke 22 v.38], one is to be exercised in a spiritual sense by the prelates, the other by princes and military Christians. One is to be exercised through the office of prelates and the other with the prelates’ approval. For this reason, Bernard [of Clairvaux] wrote to [Pope] Eugenius: “The Lord said to Peter on the subject of the physical sword, ‘Put your sword in its sheath’, and you should do the same. It should be drawn at your word, but not by your hand. Both are your swords, but one is the sword of the Church and the other is to be exercised for the Church. One is to be employed by the priest’s hand, the other by the knight’s hand; at the priest’s approval, but by the emperor’s order.”

So the brothers of a military order are appointed in order that they may defend Christ’s Church with a physical sword, especially against those who are outside it, that is against the Saracens in Syria, against the Moors in Spain, against the pagans in Prussia, Livonia and Cumania [SE frontier of Hungary] and also, if they are ordered to do so by a superior, against the schismatics in Greece and against heretics wherever they are scattered throughout the whole Church.

These military orders seem to be prefigured in Zechariah 1 [verse 8], through four horses which are ruddy or red, white, black and dappled. The red signifies the brothers of the knighthood of the Temple, who bear a red cross; the white, the brothers of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, who are marked with a white cross; the black indicates the brothers of the Hospital of St Mary Teuton in Jerusalem [the Teutonic order] who bear a black cross; the dappled horses indicate the brothers of the Sword and of Calatrava in Spanish parts, and the brothers who are called ‘the knighthood of Christ’ in the Livonian region and Prussia, who differ from each other in their various statutes and customs. All, however, come together in defence of the Church against the infidel.

The Lord says of these, “I will surround my house with those who will fight for me, going out and returning.” They go out in time of war and return in time of peace; they go out to action and return to contemplation. They go into war to fight, and return in peace to rest and to take time to pray: so that they are knights in battle, and like monks at home.

For this holy and venerable order is a dual order, based both on the order of martyrs and the order of monks or claustrals. This is to fulfill what is written in Isaiah 11 [verse 6]: “the calf and the lion and the sheep will live together.” For to the enemy they are calves who slay themselves for Christ’s sake and lions, and to friends they are sheep – that is, straightforward and gentle; like the noble hunting hound, who is gentle to people in the house but fierce and savage to beasts in the field.

It is advisable for them to be purified and prepared by vigils – that is by fasts and prayers – in time of peace, so that they may be ready to lay down their lives in battle for the defence of the Church. As it is written: “My life is always in my hands,” that is, I am always ready to offer my life to God and to give it up when He asks. For those who have a pure conscience and a just cause to fight for can be very bold and secure. As it is written, in Proverbs 28 [verse 1]: “the just man is like a lion, without fear,” and again in Proverbs 30 [verse 30]: “the lion, the strongest of beasts, will fear no one’s attack.”

In a situation where the martyr’s crown is expected, one just man ought to defeat many infidels. Deuteronomy 32 [v.30]: “And one will overcome a thousand, and two will overcome ten thousand.” So he ought not to shudder before the great numbers of the enemy: as in Deut. 20 [v.1]: “If you go out to war against your enemies, and see the adversary’s army has more horsemen and chariots than you have, do not fear their great numbers, because the Lord your God is with you.” And when you fight false religious men who have a bad conscience, [remember that] Isaiah 33 [v.14] says, “It is [only] the hypocrite who possesses fear.” Therefore the knights of Christ should be completely pure and holy, so that they are always ready to die, and not dare to live one day in a state in which they would not dare to die:

“Believe that every day that dawns is your last.”

Besides, in Deut. 23 [v.9] it says: “When you are fighting your enemies, guard yourself against everything evil.” Therefore it is clear that the knight of Christ ought to guard himself from pride and over-excitement and boasting and vanity, from anger and envy, from idleness and laziness, from greed and carnal desire, and from every other evil thing.

He should not take pride in noble family, or wealth, or power. We are all born children of anger, we are all born from corruption, as is written in Job 17 [v.14]: “I said to rottenness, ‘You are my father’.” Ecclesiasticus 10 [verse 9]: “Why are you proud, when you are only earth and ashes?” The psalm [58 v.6?] is also evidence of this: “The Just Lord will cut the necks of the sinners,” that is the stiff-necked and proud sinners. God destroys all pride, as it is written [Psalm 75 v.10]: “I will break the horns of sinners.” One horn lifts itself up against God, another against the next; one horn boasts about its noble family, another about its wealth and power.

“What threats he bears in his mouth! He

crushes everything with such desdain!”

These words should never be spoken by your mouth in our house: “As sure as I am the son of such-and-such a count, you will not get away with this.” Isaiah 2 [v. 22]: “Observe from the behaviour of each person whose spirit is in them.” It is miserable to rely on someone else’s reputation.

“Do you remember the stories and empty names of Cato?

Nobility is only in the mind, and is a virtue, nothing else.”

What is more, the Lord says through the Psalmist: “He who acts proudly will not live in the midst of my house, and the Lord will greatly punish those who act proudly.”

Even if you possessed grace, wisdom and good looks,

Pride alone could spoil everything, if it ruled you.

Ecclesiasticus is also evidence for this: “Pride will annihilate the house which is excessively wealthy.”

All proud people have the devil as their king. It is written in the Book of Job, 41 [v.34] about the devil, “He is king over all the children of pride.” In fact it was pride which made the devil out of an angel, which expelled our first parents from paradise, which confused the languages of all races, which transformed Nebuchadnezzar into a beast, and threw down Saul from his kingdom.

What is more, the Lord says through Amos 4 [verse 9?]: “You are struck through by the burning wind,” that is, I have permitted you to be struck by pride, which is a harsh, dry and howling wind. So, in Proverbs 8 [more like 10 v.12]: “Among the proud there is always conflict.” And again, 11 [verse 2]: “Where there is pride, there are always blows.”

The person who boasts and puffs himself up stirs up brawls. With the boasting, quarrelling and brawls it is like the bladder which becomes inflated, blows up and gives off an ugly sound and does not go down again except when it rattles in death. It seems full, but it is empty; i.e. it represents greed. It holds wine, which makes it filthy and burning, so that it is called inflamed: i.e. it represents burning with sensual lust. So as regards this little container, follow the instructions which we read in Leviticus 1 [???]: “throw it aside from your sacrifice, in order that you may fight worthily for God.” [Don't act like the bladder; be humble.]

Infirm and humble brothers and the children of humble parents are not to be despised. Romans 12 [v.3]: “Do not think highly of yourself, but be in accord with the humble.” Never should boastful or vain words come out of the mouth of a fighting man, no matter what an active warrior he is. The victory does not come from people but from God. For it is written [Psalm 44 v.6]: “I will not hope in my bow, and my sword will not save me.” [and in Psalm 147 v.10:] “Nothing in the legs of the people is well-pleasing to God.” For giants have great legs [and they are God's enemies]. “Neither is a person made strong by their own fortitude, but by God’s fortitude.” Therefore both victory and fortitude are to be attributed to God, according to this statement: “My fortitude is a protection for you.” Therefore the knight of Christ does not seek his own glory, or people’s praise.

In the First Book of the Maccabees it is said that when the priests wished to act bravely and to fight and to make a name for themselves they fell and were destroyed [????]. So certain people fight for people’s praise, and such people are easily overcome by the enemy. David says, speaking in the role of such presumptuous people [Psalm 30 v.6]: “I have said in my wealth: I will never be moved,” in wealth, that is, of good works. He adds that because of this boast, “You turned your face away from me, and I am thrown into confusion.” And Job 31 [v.7]: “If I kiss my hand with my mouth.” The person who kisses his hand with his mouth is the one who praises his own deeds. Besides, it is frequently said in the Book of Kings, on the subject of the kings of Judah: “However, he did not take away the high places,” and frequently accuses them of making offerings in the high places. [The hill-shrines to pagan gods.] These are those people who take pride and glory in their own achievements, to whom the devil says, “Flee into the mountain like a sparrow.” [Psalm 11 v.1]

The greed for human praise is like a brigand on the road who walks along intending to creep up on the pure person from the side and slyly shoot them. Haggai 1 [v.6] is also evidence for this: “The person who gathers up money puts it into a sack full of holes.” The sack full of holes is the human mouth, in which the foolish person places their hopes, craving praise which all vanishes.

It is the characteristic of the proud to equate themselves with their betters, to prefer themselves to their equals, to despise lesser people, to raise themselves up against God, to give rein to their tongue and stretch out their hands. They raise themselves up to boast, they give rein to their tongues to criticize, and they stretch out their hands to oppress. Isaiah, however, was amazed at proud religious people and said, in ch.22 [v.16]: “What is it to you, if you ascend the roofs?” As if he meant that you are foolishly raising yourselves up like worldly people do.

It is also a characteristic of proud people to be easily angered, and to pine away with envy. For two proud men cannot ride in one saddle. [Reference to Templars' seal?] In this case not only two brothers, but two sisters, i.e. two religious houses take sides and cannot abide each other. Besides, it says in Proverbs 29 [v.22]: “The angry man provokes brawls, and the person who easily becomes indignant will be more inclined to sin.”

On the subject of envy, Cyprian describes it as: “That zeal which never ends, continuing constantly without an ending when everything else is finished. The jealous person burns in such a great fire of livid flame that they can only get success when they are jealous of someone. This person has a threatening expression, a fierce appearance, a pale face, trembling lips, gnashing teeth, rabid words, uncontrolled protests, and hands which are always ready for violence. Even if the hand has no sword, it is always armed with the hatred which comes from a frenzied mind.”

We encounter all these things in some regular clergy sometimes, not only by hearsay but also at first hand. There is no peace for this sort of impious person; they are always bitter and contemptuous, like two Frenchmen who, although they have no reason to fight, as soon as one sees the other they fight each other. In the same way these people are malicious and unclean like the night owl, which is a nocturnal bird: it sees by night but by day it is blind and blunders about. In the same way the envious person is blind to the good in others and cannot see them, although it willingly notices bad things. The night owl lives in ruinous places, while jealousy is attracted by the weaknesses of others and takes pleasure in them.

“Keep away from laughs, in case they cause sorrows.”

Look, brothers: in the Book of Hebrews the Apostle admonishes you, chapter 12 [v.15]: “Don’t let the bitter root grow up and impede you from serving Jesus Christ.” For James 3 [vv.14, 15] gives evidence: “If you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, it is not wisdom which has come down from Heaven, but earthly, unspiritual and of the devil.” And a little after he adds the cause of discords and sedition, saying, ch.4 [v.1]: “What causes wars and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your greed?”

This is the one and principal cause of jealousy, i.e. greed for earthly possessions, where one person is jealous of another’s, such as one acquires a house which the other wishes to acquire. They say that they have all renounced everything as individuals, but they wish to keep everything which they have in common. But how can they follow their rule individually, when they are worldly en masse? How can they be saved as individuals, when they perish in common? They think that mercy is a thing to be bought, and they never hold their hands back from receiving gifts. They

“Hunt the greedy widow with crumbs and apples.”

What is more, Ezechiel 33 [v.27] says: “Those who live in ruinous places will fall by the sword, and whoever is in the fields will be dragged away by beasts to be devoured, while whoever is in garrisons and caves will die by the plague.” Those who trust in temporary things are living in ruinous places. Those who walk in the wide road where there is plenty of room and do not restrain their carnal desires are living in the field. Those who defend their sins are living in garrisons. Those who walk in fraud are living in caves.

As a result of this plague of greed they honour the wealthy and spurn the poor; so that their faith equals the number of coins they each store in their vaults.

“O, money, money! He gives you honour now.”

Jerome is a witness of this: “There are those who give a little, in order to receive more, and under the pretext of giving alms, they hope to gain wealth – which is called hunting rather than almsgiving. This is how beasts, dogs and fishes are caught. A little bait is placed on the fish hook, in order that ladies’ fine purses may be pulled out on it.”[John of Salisbury uses this quotation from Jerome when writing against the Hospitallers.] How can the person who loves money also love God? For this reason Hosea 4 [v.17] says, “Ephraim began to go after filthy things,” that is, after things which are not eternal, which are as worthless as dung.

They especially receive money from robbers and usurers, since their money is not allowed to be dedicated to God because it is bloodmoney. Indeed, Jerome gives evidence of this: Christ’s militia should not seek worldly gains. And Seneca says: “If you wish to grow wealthly, it is not necessary to gain money but to lose greed.” And again he says: “There is nothing great in human affairs except the mind which despises great things.”

Bernard [of Clairvaux] also spoke against the avaricious: “Sons of Adam, sons of avaritious and ambitious men, hear: what do you want with earthly wealth and temporary glory, which is neither yours, nor true? Gold and silver – aren’t they just red and white earth, which only human error creates or reckons beautiful? If they are yours, take them with you. But when someone dies they do not take everything with them. Therefore, true wealth is not possessions but virtues, which are made and carried by your conscience in order to make you wealthy in perpetuity.”

“Therefore, store up your treasure in Heaven.” (Matthew 6 [verse 19].) For the soul contracts filth and the rust of anxieties from the earth – Exodus 8 [verse 17] says: “The dust of the earth turns to maggots,” yet it is earthly matters which trouble and irritate you! As Exodus 7 [verse 20] says: “Therefore the waters of Egypt are turned to blood.” This happens when certain regular clergy take delight in consuming quantities of the plentiful temporary things, while they ought to be considering how they are spending the goods and possessions of the Church, which were given for the defence of the Church; especially since they are really the possessions of Him in Whose name they possess them. While, however, they are growing the hair of temporal things, many of them end up suspended by their hair like Absalom, in an oak tree. The oak bears the food of pigs – this is sensual living, which is the food of demons. Because they are held in high honour, they are like mules and do not understand that the psalm says about them: “I said, you are gods, and all sons of the most high: like men, however, you will die and you will fall, like one of the princes.” – Like men, that is, fragile like men, you die through sensual living, and ‘like one of the princes’, that is, Lucifer, you fall from your high position through your pride. Genesis 40: Because of their prosperous success many forgot the one who had interpreted for them, and Pharaoh’s butler forgot Joseph. The true Joseph [Christ] interprets dreams for us when he gives us a great supply of wealth, but because of our prosperous successes, we forget him. The Lord said through Isaiah 1 [verse 2]: “I have nurtured children”, – through many successes – “and raised them up”, through conferring dignities on them, “but they have rejected me, because I gave them too much and they are spoilt.”

Such people are similar to the demon-possessed people about which Mark 5 speaks, who lived in the cemetery, and the demons entered the pigs and the pigs were thrown into the sea. Those who inhabit the graves of voracity and sensuality, like pigs in the mire of sensuality, will be at last thrown into the sea of Gehanna.

In Mark 13 [verses 15-16], the person who is on the roof is the person who has overcome carnal things in their mind and lives spiritually, freely in the courtyard. This person does not come down to take anything from the house – that is, they do not come back to the weak behaviour of their previous condition. Such a person does not return again to the carnal desires they have left. The house is in fact the world, or the body in which this person lives.

Indeed, many people, when they have joined a religious order, wish to have the sort of things which they could not have in the world. People who, as Jerome says: “Born in a poor house and in a rustic’s cottage, who could scarcely fill their rumbling stomach with millet bread and rye bread, now despise wheatbread and mead.” I have heard about a man who never in his whole life in the world laid his head on a pillow. Having entered a religious order, one night he was without a pillow because the linen cover was being washed. He disturbed the whole convent with his muttering and complaining.

Also, certain men who were poor and needy in the world, after they are received into a religious order of noble people and are assigned to guarding the doors or another minor duty, become so haughty and fierce that they provoke worldly knights and abuse them, saying that their religious habit and the honour of the house require them to attack them!

There are three illnesses which attack regular monks. First, when a person tries to acquire what they could not have when they were in the world. They are exemplified by Gehazi in 2 Kings 5, who wickedly obtained the money from Naaman the Syrian for himself. Secondly, when they want to get back the things that they have given up, like Judas who wanted to recoup the money which he had earlier left behind when he followed Christ. Third, when they serve the things which they ought to have renounced, like Ananias and Sapphira his wife in Acts 5. However, it is written in Deut. 20 [verse 8]: “Whoever is fearful and has a quaking heart should not proceed to battle.” Hence, those who keep up secular practices when they are in a religious order are like Achor of Joshua 8 who took a measure of gold and two hundred shekels of silver and silken cloth from the accursed city of Jericho. Today, many keep the gold of secular wisdom, the silver of lucrative eloquence, and the cloth of worldly behaviour, scarlet, [a type of cloth] the colour of sin. However, Achor was stoned for taking these things. Those who are not prevented from sinning secretly and openly by fear of God nor worldly shame are much more worthy of this punishment!

So, whoever comes to a religious order should lay down worldly habits and not seek to find in religion what they did not have in the outside world. Bernard says about them: “I see certain people who, after having spurned the pomp of the world, learn pride in the school of humility and grow seriously haughty under the mild and humble master, and become more impatient in the cloister than they were in the world. And what is more contrary, very often those who cannot be anything but contemptible in themselves cannot bear to be held in contempt in the house of God.”

I see others, sad to see, who after entering the knighthood of Christ become entangled again in worldly affairs and immersed in earthly greed, with great anxiety to erect buildings, and neglecting their own spiritual improvement. Again, under the pretext of its being for the common benefit, they sell their words to rich men, and their greetings to married women. Against the edict of their emperor, they covet other people’s goods, and they seek to recover their own property in the lawcourt, not paying any attention to the Apostle trumpeting the king’s order in 1 Corinthians 6 [verse 7]: “This is a fault in you, that you go to law. Why not rather suffer loss?”

If only they would pay attention to this! – those who annoy the prelates of the churches everywhere, and punish the churches of God by abusing their privileges, and plunder their tithes and rights. The tithes and offerings belong to the prelates, because they administer the sacraments to the faithful people. As the Lord says in Exodus 22 [verse 29]: “Do not delay in giving your tithes,” as Augustine explains, it is not only a sin not to give, but also to give too late.

Therefore, beloved brothers, so that you may often be prepared to die for Christ, keep yourselves in peace, so that you can advance securely to the battle. Take time to pray, perform spiritual exercises and fasts and other spiritual things, and do not put temporal things before spiritual things. For the person is much to be pitied who thinks more about his horse than he does about Christ!

Laity should not usurp the duties of priests – either in giving out penances for faults, or in letting people off penance. The ‘keys of the kingdom’ have not been committed to the laity, nor do they have the power of binding and loosing. For this reason the masters of houses ought to send literate brothers to schools of theology, not to learn secular skills. In Genesis 42 Jacob sent his sons into Egypt to collect wheat to save them from starvation – but these masters send their brothers to collect chaff. Besides, Jeremiah says, chapter 14 [verse 3]: “The greater sent the lesser to water, and they brought back empty vessels,” i.e. increased skill but full of emptiness and litigious knowledge. For as it is said in the Book of Wisdom, ch.25 [???]: “Empty are all who have no knowledge of God.” And Jeremiah 25 [verse 4?]: “They throw away the Lord’s word, and there is no wisdom in them.” Therefore it is necessary for you to have literate priors and priests who are sufficiently instructed in God’s law, so that you may do everything by their instruction according to the advice in Holy Scripture.

For we see certain knights in your order who are so fervent in fasting and afflicting their bodies that they become extremely weak and easily succumb when they are bearing weapons in battles against the Saracens. We heard of a certain very religious man – religious, but not well-informed – who in an engagement with the Saracens fell from his horse at the first blow of the lance. A certain brother of his picked him up, at great danger to himself, but he at once fell again at another blow. His brother – i.e. the knight who had lifted him up twice and saved him from death – rebuked him for his uncontrolled fastings: “Lord of bread and water,” he said, “take care of yourself from now on, because if you fall again, you will never rise again with my help.”

He called him ‘Bread and Water,’ because by frequent fasting on bread and water he had weakened his body so much that it was useless for fighting. You ought not to test God, but do what you are capable of with Heaven leading the way, and then you can safely receive death for Christ’s sake. Whenever people die for the defence of the Church they are reckoned to be martyrs.

We read in ancient history that when the king of Jerusalem had besieged Ascalon for a long time [in 1153], and could not capture it in any way because of the Saracen resistance, certain very active knights from the Templars were captured by the Saracens and hanged over the city gate, in affront to the name of Christ and in full sight of everyone. When the king and the brothers of the Temple saw this their minds were paralysed with grief and they desperately wished to retreat from the siege. A pre-eminent man of great faith, the master of the Temple, forbad them to do so. “See those martyrs hanged on the gibbet,” he said. “Be sure that they have gone before us and proceeded to God, and they will give the city up to us.” The outcome of the affair proved that this was the case. Against everyone’s expectations two days later they captured the city, which they had believed could not in any way be captured.

At the beginning of this religious order, the brothers were held dear by everyone, and so they were greatly hated by the Saracens. It happened that a certain noble knight who had come overseas from French parts on pilgrimage was captured with certain knights of the knighthood of the Temple. Because he was bald and bearded, the Saracens believed that he was a Templar, and should be killed with the Templars. The others, however, who were secular knights, were not killed and were led off as captives. When they said to him, “Are you a Templar?” and he, as was true, said “I am a secular knight and a pilgrim,” the Saracens replied, “No, you are a Templar.” Inflamed by zeal of faith, he stretched out his neck and said, “In God’s name, I am a Templar.” When he had said this he was cut through by the sword with the brothers of the Temple. The new Templar travelled to the Lord, happily crowned with martyrdom.

However, because your religious order is more perfect, the devil pursues you more closely and strives to trip you up. So it is necessary for you to have great caution and be like a certain wise man, who, since he was blind and wealthy and greatly feared a certain tyrant under whose lordship he had long been, permitted all his goods to be sent secretly to another region. At last he himself wanted to flee. He concealed a red horse and made a boy sit with him on the horse to guide the horse and show him the way. As he was riding away, however, his lord sent someone after him to prevent him from leaving. The boy said, “Look! a man on a black horse is galloping after us to seize us.” The fugitive replied, “We will escape successfully, in God’s name.” He spurred, and escaped the horse. A little while after the boy said to his lord, “Look! a man is following us quickly on a white horse, and he has already almost seized us.” The man replied, “Don’t be afraid, because with God’s help we will also escape this one.” He urged his horse with the spurs and galloping swiftly escaped unharmed. But a little while later the boy said to him, “Look, a man is following us more quickly than the rest, and is trying to catch us.” The man said to him, “What sort of horse has he?” The boy said, “A red horse, very like your horse.” Then he was very much afraid, and said to the boy, “Turn from the stony road.” When they had done this, the one who was following them began to get very close. And when the boy said, “Look, he has almost caught us,” the man said, “Lead the horse through those waters, and we will enter a muddy road.” When they had done this, the one who was pursuing them could not follow them. So the blind man escaped every danger.

Through this story, the persistent sinner should understand that he cannot guide himself; he needs the boy to lead him. That is, through the grace of enlightenment, Reason, in order to escape from the cruel tyrant lord whom he has long served, that is the devil, sends ahead all his possessions to be spent on the poor, renounced everything, as you have done, fled on a red horse, on fire with love, and prepared to shed blood for Christ’s sake. However, the devil follows him with a black horse, launching against him various troubles. Then with the white horses, so that he may carry the man away and seduce him by prosperity when he cannot throw him off by adversities. However, when he cannot catch up with him by adversities or carry him away with prosperity, he launches a more difficult and dangerous temptation than all the others, following him on a horse similar to his own. He has him praised for his holy lifestyle and his fervour of religious life, and it is then necessary for him to march along a stony road, by humiliating his heart by contrition and his body by affliction. If he cannot escape and flee vainglory in this way, a last and special remedy is to enter the mud in the mire of his life, and continually recall his former sins to his memory.

So also you, dearest brothers, should fight with all humility and precaution for the Lord, and do not fall back from the Lord because of adversity, prosperity nor the empty admiration of those who praise you. Then this saying will be fulfilled in you: “I will surround my house with those who fight for me, going out and coming back,” according to the Lord’s promise, when He says, “the exactor will not overcome them any further.” You will escape from the hands of this exactor, with the help of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives through all ages forever, Amen.

Sermon 38: Sermon to the brothers of a military order

Summary: Jacques begins with a description of the history of the Church, depicting the Church as the army of Christ. He goes on to describe the enemies of the Church, who are inspired by the devil; he compares the devil to an eagle; he explains how to withstand the devil. He goes on to describe heretics, whom the devil uses to undermine the brothers’ beliefs. Heretics argue that it is not Christian to fight and cite scripture to prove this. Jacques refutes their arguments. The Templars must always be ready to shed their blood for Christ. He tells some anecdotes as exempla to demonstrate his points: the pious Templar going to battle; Templar’s leap. They must trust in God alone, and not in human praise: he tells the story of Renard the fox and the crow. He ends with an exhortation to trust in God.

The text is from Song of Songs 5 [chapter 1 verse 9], ‘I will liken you to my body of horsemen going against the chariots of Pharaoh, my beloved.’ The Beloved of Christ, that is, the Church, or the holy soul, is likened to the body of horsemen, that is, to an army, because it is as terrible as the ordered ranks of an army. As stronger knights are placed in the vanguard and rearguard of an army, and the weaker in the middle, so in the Early Church God ordained the strongest knights, that is the apostles and holy martyrs; and at the end, in the time of Antichrist, there will be very strong men who will sustain the greatest tribulations. Hence it says in Proverbs 15 [v.25]: ‘And he will make the widow’s boundaries firm,’ – the widow is the Church, widowed of the visible presence of her spouse; in the time of Antichrist he will make his last knights firm in patience and constancy, as it says in Revelation 1 [v.15], ‘His feet were like brass glowing in a furnace.’ That is, the last faithful people in the time of Antichrist will be like glowing brass, because they will be boiled in the furnace and fire of tribulation, and purged like brass, which – while it burns – is embellished with a purer colour.

However, weaker knights are placed in the middle: that is, in that time when the filth of vices is flowing down into the middle of the ship [of the Church], into the hold, so to speak. For we are those who will bring about the End of the Age. In Hosea 1 an adultress gave birth first to a son, secondly a daughter and then to a son; by the ‘adulteress’ it means the Church, before it was converted to the Lord. However, infirm and weak brothers should not despair, provided they act with a willing mind as best as they can, according to their own strength. Romans 7 [verse 18]: ‘For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ In 1 Kings 30 [1 Samuel 30 v. 24], those who remain with the baggage receive the same share of the booty as those who fight in the battle – although those who guard the baggage are only guarding themselves.

The body of horsemen also means Christ’s army, which is ridden and governed by Christ; for Christ is the horseman and we the horses. So, following another interpretation, in the last chapter of Habbakuk [?] it says: ‘His cavalry is its salvation, and the fight and the victory.’ Exodus 14 [v. 14] says: ‘The Lord will fight, and you will stay silent.’ And Habbakuk says [?]: ‘Lead me as a victor in the singing of psalms.’ The evil horses are called demons and the Devil is the horseman. So, in Exodus 15 [v. 1]: ‘He threw the horse and rider into the sea.’ That is, into the bitterness of eternal punishment.

‘I will liken you to my body of horsemen going against Pharaoh’s chariots,’ that is, at the time of chariots, that means the time of running persecution. ‘Pharaoh’ is interpreted as meaning crushing or scattering; this represents the Devil, who tries to crush and scatter us. [God says] ‘As I liberated your predecessors from Egyptian captivity, so I will free you from the hands of persecutors.’

The army of Christ is likened to a body of horsemen in Pharaoh’s time for another reason: for, as Pharaoh pursued the fugitives, so the Devil increases his attacks on those who retreat from him. So we read in Exodus 14, that the first halt of the sons of Israel as they left Egypt was at Mamerse [?], which is interpreted as the ‘agitation of the worm,’ for the Devil is like a worm, who eats up our property as worms do [e.g. woodworms]. When we begin to retreat from sin he is strongly stirred up against us, and strives to upset us. And the stronger and greater Christ’s knights are, the more he strives to attack them. So we read in Jeremiah 52 [vv. 17-20] that Nabusard bore the bronze pillars with him to Babylon, that is the greater and stronger, and the bronze ‘sea,’ that is those who are stronger in the grace of compunction for their sins, whom the Devil sometimes draws into sin. Similarly Nabusard led away a eunuch [v. 25], who was the chief manager of the warriors, which means he was the greatest prelate and lived chastely; and he also led away seven men who used to stand in the king’s presence.

How much misery and how much sorrow there is, when those who are filled with the sevenfold Spirit and who see God in contemplation are led into the confusion of sin! Habbakuk is the witness of this, i.e. ‘of His chosen food.’ In Daniel 1 [vv. 3-7] it is said that Nabug ordered the chief of the eunuchs to introduce into his palace boys from the sons of Israel who were without blemish, and he changed their names, which happens when just people are made into unjust. And in 2 Maccabees 3 we read that the impious Jason, who is a ‘type’ of the Devil, placed some of the youths into prostitution.

What is more, in Genesis 49 [v. 17] it says: ‘Dan becomes an adder in the road, a horned serpent on the footpath.’ Dan represents judgement and symbolises the Devil, who was judged and tempts those who are on the wide, public road, with open sins (that is secular sins). He is also called a horned serpent on the footpath because those who are on the narrow way and walk in the well-advised paths he tempts with the ‘horns’ of pride and dignity – this is how he tempts religious men.

But Solomon gave witness in Proverbs 1 [v. 17]: ‘it is pointless to throw a net before those who have wings.’ Those who are still impeded with many temptations, walk after God, begging Him to help them; those who are retarded a little with worries about their subjects, run; those who are freed from all worldly responsibilities fly. And so the saints, whose knowledge enables them to see everything and whose virtues give them wings, are not easily caught in the Devil’s nets; but sinners fall into his nets.

So David, who had eyes and wings, gave thanks to God, saying: ‘Blessed is the Lord my God, who trains my hands for the battle’ [Psalm 18 v.34]. For it is necessary to take great precautions and have great diligence in the battle, so that the first finger on the fighter’s hand is discretion; the second, choosing the better part; the third, a readiness to pay careful attention to when and how he ought to fight; the fourth, practical ability, so that he can strongly and constantly put his intentions into effect; fifth, moderation, so everything may be done with modesty and discretion. We can tell all this about the individual fingers when he says: ‘and my fingers to the war.’ Therefore the Lord trains the hand for battle so that the enlightened soul can interrupt the enemy’s cunning: i.e., one moment he carries off booty by oppressing you, then he gets around you with insinuations and cunning, then he terrifies you by threatening, then he flatters you with persuasion, then he breaks you down and reduces you to despair, then he deceives you with promises.

‘To my band of horsemen against Pharaoh’s chariots,’ that is, ‘I have likened you to a band opposing the Devil’s charge.’ As Christ’s knight says in the Psalm [20 v.7], ‘these trust in chariots and those in horses, but we will fight in the name of our Lord,’ in fact, ‘the horse is deceptive; it may not ensure your safety.’ The Devil strives to attack the knights of Christ in his chariots of high rank and pride and with the horses of secular power. The Lord comes against him, overcoming pride (which is symbolised by the proud people of Pharaoh) with humility – St Augustine [of Hippo] is witness that the Lord can tame lions and savage beasts, if He wishes, ‘but He prefers to send in flies and worms, so that He may overcome pride with the least of things.’ However, Pharaoh has as many chariots as there are types of vices: but when one vice is overcome the devil who presides over that vice is overcome, so that from then on he may not tempt you with that vice, and so he is gradually destroyed, and the army of demons becomes smaller. So the saints who are manfully fighting against demons scatter all who work in iniquity from the Lord’s city. For the hand of Ephraim is heavy over Amorites – that is, the demons who turn from their good works those who bear fruit and are growing in their Christian life. If we cannot completely expel these demons, we can make them pay us tribute and become our subjects – for when we get exercise through fighting them, they are in effect serving us.

Sinners build at the expense of the Church; in other words, they have prolonged their wickedness at the expense of the sufferings of the saints, which form vessels of grace. Their wickedness will never stop from the Beginning to the End, nor will it ever be satisfied, but neither will justice ever stop enduring. This was shown when Cain attacked Abel, that is when the sons of humanity fought the sons of God before the Flood, when Ishmael attacked Isaac, when Esau attacked Jacob, when Pharaoh attacked Moses, when Saul attacked David, when Judas attacked Christ, when idolators attacked worshippers of the One God, when false prophets attacked true prophets, when pagans attacked Christians, when the Jews attacked the early saints, when persecutors attacked the martyrs, when heretics attacked holy teachers, when false brothers attacked those who witnessed to Christ. At the End one persecution will be forged from every persecution, in the time of Antichrist.

Besides, Ezechiel 17 [vv. 3 - 4] says, ‘The large eagle with great wings and long limbs, with full and various forms of feathers, came to Lebanon, and took the heart of the cedar, tore off the tip of its foliage, and carried it to the land of Canaan, placing it in the city of traders.’ The Devil is called ‘the eagle’ because he tempts the will. Habbakuk 1 [v. 8] says: ‘They will fly like an eagle hastening to devour.’ The eagle is also called large because of its high status, or because the Lord has permitted it to have power to harm. So Isaiah 27 [v. 1]: ‘ I will go to look over the large whale which is in the sea.’ The eagle is said to have great wings with which it flies to its prey in order to tear apart and devour those whom it catches. Its wings are the devil’s agile nature and subtlety in deceiving. It has ‘long limbs’ because from the beginning of the world he has not stopped attacking the saints and enveloping the human race in various errors and drawing them into Hell. ‘Full of feathers,’ because of his lighthearted changeability, and ‘various forms’ because of the various means by which he harms and his many forms of deception. The Devil is said to be full of feathers and variety because he has a retinue of many different malign spirits.

The eagle came to Lebanon, that is, the Church, to the radiance of religion, because he strives to trip up the just religious people. ‘He took the heart of the cedar,’ that is the devotion of the sweetest heart; he tries to take serenity and sweetness from spiritual people, ‘and it tore off the tip of its foilage,’ that is the usefulness of words; for the devils make words which rise up to heaven descend to the earth. As Isaiah 29 [v. 4] says: ‘From the earth his eloquence is silent.’ And the eagle ‘carried the tip into the land of Canaan,’ that is to the land of commotion, because he makes people restless and unstable, into the city of traders, because they exchange spiritual things for bodily things.

Behold how the infernal eagle attacks and overcomes religious people, unless they resist strongly and persevere to the end. Hence it says in the Book of Judges, 5 [v. 22], ‘the hooves of horses fell while they were fleeing from an attack.’ The hoof fell when man lost final perseverance and did not remain in his fortitude – which happens often to those who flee from an attack. For many begin impetuously and indiscreetly with a great deal of fuss, and do not complete the task. Of such it says in Luke’s Gospel 14 [v.30], ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

Therefore it is necessary for knights to trust in divine help and not in their own strength, because there is no power on earth which can be compared to the Devil’s power; indeed, as is said in Job 40 [v. 23], ‘He will swallow a river, and not be dismayed’ – that is, he swallows up those who are caught up in pleasures or wealth – ‘and he that has faith that the Jordan will flow into his mouth,’ – that is, holy and and righteous men will fall into his mouth. So in his great pride, boasting and presumption he says, as in Isaiah 37 [v. 24]: ‘I ascended in my multitude of chariots, the multitude of people and yokes of Lebanon,’ – that is, in the clash of secular pomp he overcame the prelates of the Church and comtemplative people and those who are radiant with virtues and good works – ‘I overcame and crushed his cedars,’ – that is, he overcame those who are erect out of their love for earthly things – ‘and his choice silver firs,’ – that is the saints, who set us a useful example. ‘I will run across to the sea.’ To recall others from shipwreck of this sort a ship of firwood is useful for crossing the sea; and the pavement of the Temple is covered with silver fir wood, so that by meditating on the example of the saints, we may trample on the things of this world.

And Isaiah adds in the same chapter [37, v. 24]: ‘I will enter the height of its summit, and the distant pass of Carmel.’ The preeminent saints go across the height of its summit. The evil and unfruitful lettered people go through the pass of Carmel; although they have enough knowledge to circumcise themselves and others, they are sluggish in good works. Still the proud and arrogant man boastingly says – as Isaiah adds – “I will dig out and drink water, and with my footprints I will drain all the brooks of the fields” [37 v. 25]. He digs out water of earthly wisdom, which comes from below and not from Heaven, and with his footsteps he dries up the brooks of the fields of spiritual doctrine. He does this by using those on whom he leaves his imprint and who imitate him, like the heretics, through whom the devil fights and corrupts the truth of the Scriptures as if they were his spiritual servants.

For this reason says in Revelations 9 [vv. 1 -2] that John saw a star fall from Heaven to Earth, “and the key of the pit was given to him, and he opened the pit of the abyss, and the smoke of the pit rose like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and air was obscured by the smoke of the pit.” The star is Lucifer, who inhabits those who love earthly things; the pit of the abyss is the depth of iniquity, whose key is given to him so that he may reveal the evil latent in the heart of heretics and bring it into operation. Today this pit is open everywhere, so that heretical people may fall into it; for the pit of the heresiarchs who immerse others in perverted beliefs is a shadowy place. From these people the devil receives the key, that is power. The heretics are also allowed to multiply today because of our sins. The keys are also evil princes, through whom heretics work. And their blinding smoke and treacherous mist covers everything, for their doctrine blinds many people and turns them astray; like a furnace it purifies good people and reduces evil ones to ashes. The sun and air, i.e. the enlightening and enlightened people, are darkened by this smoke: that is, the prelates and subjects who are infected with the heretical poison.

It adds at the beginning of the same passage [v. 3]: “and from the smoke of the pit came locusts,” i.e. disciples and those who believe heretics. Through these people whom they turn astray the heretics promote the fog of their treachery and corrode and wear away the Church of God. It is because of them – as the Book of Joel bears witness – that the wheat is destroyed, that is the wheat of Holy Scripture, and the medicine becomes weak; that is the medicine of Scripture. They are also comparable to locusts because they rise up high, but they then come down to the ground again, because they are quickly defeated by holy teachers and fall to the ground; although they fight back and resist as far as they can. For this reason it is added: “Power is given to them like scorpions have” [v. 3], because although they have an alluring appearance, they have a hidden sting in their tails. At first they flatter, but in the end they spread poison, as John 2 [v. 10] says: “Everyone brings out the good wine first, then when the guests are drunk they bring out the worse wine.” When a scorpion stings, it is not felt at once. In the same way those who are deceived by heretics do not notice it at once, but afterwards die…

… So through these people the devil strives to attack your beliefs, and to completely destroy the substance of your order and smash it to its foundations. They lying assert that it is not permissible for you to take up a physical sword, nor to fight bodily against the enemies of the Church. They abuse the authority of the Scriptures and present petty reasons, such as the Apostle saying in Romans 13 [verse 19] “not defending yourselves, dearly beloved, but leaving a place for God’s anger.” And in the gospel of Matthew 26 [verse 52]: “Whoever takes the sword will perish by the sword.” And Luke 6 [verse 29]: “And whoever strikes you on one cheek, offer them the other.” And the Lord said to the servants who were wishing to gather the wheat, “allow both to grow until harvest, and then I shall say to the harvesters, collect the wheat and gather the tares for burning.” And they produce many similar arguments, in order to seduce the simple and unguarded.

The order to be patient which they quote is not to be fulfilled in action but in the heart: patience and good will are to be maintained in the inner soul. When Our Lord was struck on the cheek He did not visibly extend the other, but he bore it patiently and gave His whole body up to death. Similarly also Paul, when he was struck on the face, Acts 23 [v. 3], said to the chief priest, “May the Lord strike you, you whitewashed wall!” Those orders to be patient, according to Augustine’s testimony, are to be fulfilled through the constant attitude of the heart. In the same way good will, not returning evil for evil, is to be displayed in your constant attitude of mind [rather than your action]. In any case, exterior wars are not waged without good will; many things we do to our enemies have a certain benevolence mixed with harshness. Although we are forbidden to act wickedly, we are allowed to act usefully. And if we did not resist the Church’s enemies, the Saracens and heretics would have already devastated the whole Church. The poisonous members are to be cut off from the body, and the rotten flesh cut off, so that the sound part may not be infected. The mad are to be bound, and the infidel exterminated, in order to preserve the good unharmed. So John [the Baptist] said in the Gospel to the soldiers, ‘Be content with your pay.’ Indeed, Augustine [of Hippo] notes that when he ordered them to be content with their wages, he did not forbid them to fight, for they did not carry a sword without good reason.

In fact knighthood was set up in order to repel violence, repulse injuries and exercise justice on evildoers. So Augustine says: ‘Don’t reckon that no one who serves with warlike weapons can please God. The holy David used weapons; that centurion in Luke 10 [in fact chapter 7, vv. 6-8] who said: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: I have soldiers set under me,” used weapons. The Lord gave testimony to that centurion that He had not found such great faith as his in Israel. You should know this when you are arming yourself for the fight, because your strength, your corporal strength, is the house of God.’ And a little after Augustine says: ‘War ought not to be fought because you wish it, but out of necessity, in order that God might free you from necessity and conserve you in peace.’

For you do not seek peace in order to exercise war, but you wage war in order to acquire peace. However, Christ instructed that tribute be given to Caesar [Luke ch. 20 v. 25], because necessary pay is given to knights because of wars. Stipends for knights have been fixed and collected in advance so that the robber is not allowed to wander about while the expenses to pay the knight are being collected. Wars are not waged from greed or cruelty but from eagerness for peace, in order to repress evil and uplift the good. So also Paul, in Acts 25 [Acts 23], implored the secular powers to act against those who had conspired to kill him. The tribune had him escorted in peace by armed knights.

Ambrose says: ‘Fortitude, which guards the homeland from barbarians through war, or defends the weak within the home, or comrades from brigands, is fully justified. For anyone who can oppose and perturb a perverse person and does not do so is in fact favouring their impiety and is secretly in league with them if he stops opposing open crime.’

So we see what reasonable foundations your order has and how necessary it is to God’s Church, especially in these days in which not only knighthood but also evil hood is the life of people on earth. So that you may be useful to others you should begin with yourselves, so that you do not turn out like the elm which supports the fruitful vine but is itself sterile; and the ass carries the wine, but does not drink from it; and in the same way you are like oxen who do not pull the plough for your own benefit.

Therefore, you should always be prepared to shed your blood for Christ, that is to say, to lay down your lives for God with desire and the sword, following the example of a certain knight of Christ who when he saw the great number of Saracens, began to speak out of his great faith and the joy of his heart, and to say to his horse: ‘Oh Blackie, good comrade, I have done many good days’ work by mounting and riding on you; but this day’s work will surpass all the others, for today you will carry me to eternal life.’ After this, he killed many Saracens, and at last fell himself, crowned in battle with fortunate martyrdom.

I have heard from a certain Templar that at the very beginning of the order, while they were still poor and very fervent in religion, that he himself was coming from the city of Tyre, bringing money and alms which they had received to the city of Acre. He came to a certain place, which has been called ‘Templar’s Leap,’ ever since. For the Saracens had placed an ambush for that noble knight, in a place where on one side there was a sheer cliff and on the other the deepest sea lay below, while the Saracens besieged him from in front and behind on the narrow path. As he had no where to turn, he urged his horse with the spurs, and leapt from the lofty cliff with the horse into the depths of the sea. But the horse – as it pleased the Lord – carried him unharmed to the shore. However, as soon as it came out on to the land it burst in the middle because it had been so strongly dashed against the waves of the sea when it leapt. So the knight of Christ returned on foot to the city of Tyre with the money. Thus this man placed his hope in God alone, and the Lord freed him.

For the brothers who are enrolled in Christ’s knighthood ought particularly to guard themselves against two things, (1) not to seek their own glory in Christ’s knighthood, or submit to human praise; (2) not to place hope in people, but trust in God alone, as it is written in Jeremiah 20 [in fact ch. 17 v. 5] ‘A curse on him who trusts in man.’

The first is exemplified by the raven: when it was holding cheese in its mouth, the fox whom they call Renard began to praise him, saying that he knew how to sing well and that his father Croard, while he lived, was praised by all the birds for the beauty of his song; and he began to ask the raven to sing, because he would be very glad to hear his song. Then the raven, vainly glorying in his praises, began to try to open his mouth, and to sing in a high voice, so that the cheese fell from his mouth. Having got what he wanted, Renard snatched up the cheese and ran off.

So many who seek their own glory are vainly carried away by other people’s praises and lose the grace given to them by God. Indeed, it harms fighters if they have the wind in their eyes, the wind of vanity, that is, which stirs up lust for empty glory; or if they have the sun in their eyes, i.e. the splendour of human praise. Those who place their hopes in people, and especially in worldly people, are exemplified by the unfair, prejudiced, impatient Joseph of Genesis 40 [v. 14], who placed his faith in Pharaoh’s butler and said to him: ‘Remember me, since I have done you a good turn, ‘ but for two years he was left in Pharaoh’s prison. Similarly in 1 Maccabees 4 [in fact, chs. 8-9], after they had placed their faith in the Romans, they fell in battle and yet the Romans in those days, although they were Gentiles, kept faith with their friends, as is said in the same book of the Maccabees. Now, however, Christians are allowed to judge how far they keep their faith, and how far they are unfaithful, and ungrateful, and how they attack God’s Church, from which they have received many benefits. Don’t believe me – believe St Bernard, who knew them well and said: ‘What is so notable down the ages as the impudence and arrogance of the Romans? A people unaccustomed to peace, accustomed to disorder, a harsh and intractable people, who have never to this day been subdued except by someone they could not resist.’

So don’t trust in false Christians, nor in Saracens or Bedouins, although they sometimes flatter you, and do not be familiar with them, or reveal your secrets to them. But place your hope in Him alone and strive for Him, for He is a faithful Friend, powerful to aid in tribulations, and to help you in perils, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed.

These texts have been translated by Helen J. Nicholson. We thank Professor Nicholson for her permission to republish these items.

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