Molay, Jacques De

Molay, Jacques De the last grand-master of the Knights Templars, was born about the year 1244 in Burgundy, of the families of Longvic and Raon. He was admitted to his order at Baune, in the diocese of Autun. Of his subsequent history but little is known until he was promoted to the grand-mastership about the year 1298. Pierre Dupuy, a French writer, insinuates that he did not obtain his election by his own merits, but through the intrigues of the nobility of France. If this were true it might account for the suspicions and fears which animated Philip IV. against the establishment of the Order of the Temple in France just at this time, when monarchy was endeavoring to rear itself on the political abasement of the Church and the feudal lordships. But there is nothing to prove this assertion, for it is difficult to conceive how the nobility of France could influence an election contested at such a distance. The affairs of Christianity in the East were at this time in a grievous condition. Several important towns had fallen into the hands of the Mohammedans. Many of the last defenders of the Cross had perished. One of the most illustrious grand-masters of the order had recently died. Syria was lost to the Christian arms, and the Templars and Hospitallers had taken refuge in Cyprus and Tortosa, whence they invoked the aid of the Holy See, the princes and people of Europe. All Europe being engaged in great internal contests — monarchy and feudalism and the Church arrayed against each other — help was looked for in vain by the poor Christians of the East. Besides, the Cross had not fallen in Palestine without embittering numbers against the cause, leading many to say that men should not persist in a contest which God himself had abandoned. Jacques de Molay, however, had no sooner been put at the helm than he went forward with his task. He did not wait for succor from Europe, but endeavored to derive some benefit from the projects, of the Mogul Tartars of Persia against Egypt and Syria; so that in the spring of 1299, when the grand khan assembled a powerful force, Jacques de Molay commanded one of the wings of the Tartar army. With the troops confided to him he invaded Syria, and subsequently, under the conduct of the Tartar general, recovered Jerusalem from the infidels. This unexpected event was received with delight by the Christian world. The Mogul Tartars, counselled doubtless by some of the Christian chiefs, sent messengers to Europe, to the pope and the kings of France and England, urging them to engage in a new crusade, which should strike a final blow at the Mohammedan power in the East. But the Tartar messengers had scarcely returned before reverses and treason had destroyed the army of the grand khan. Jerusalem was lost in 1300, and the Templars under Jacques de Molay were obliged to retire to the island of Tortosa, near Tripoli, whence they could simply watch and harass the movements of the enemy. But in 1302 they were finally surprised and defeated, and the grand-master, with those that remained of the order, took refuge in Cyprus, now and then renewing the contest by sudden incursions upon the Mohammedans. The brother and successor of the grand khan still looked for aid from Europe, and even approached the pope, but the replies were evasive. Philip IV, in his attempt to check the feudal power and all ecclesiastical control, feared that the papacy might recover, in an institution like that of the Temple, the military force it needed to defend its theocracy. He dreaded leaving to the nobility an order so entirely filled with its members and benefits, and an organized constitution as a means of rallying and defence; for the Templars had become in almost every kingdom of the West a formidable republic, governed by their own laws, animated by the closest corporate spirit, under the severest internal discipline, and an all-pervading organization; independent alike of the civil power and of the spiritual hierarchy; possessing fifteen thousand of the bravest and best-trained soldiers in the world, armed and accoutred in the most splendid fashion of the time, ready at the summons of the grand-master to embark on any service, their one aim being the aggrandizement of the order. Philip, fearing the strength and the wealth of the order, claiming allegiance only to the pope, as the supreme head of the Church, and greatly desirous of possessing their lands, munitions, arms, ships, and treasures, determined upon its destruction; but, lest his influence might be overpowered in an open contest, he resolved to make the pope his instrument. A new crusade, he saw clearly, would only revive religious passions favorable to the Holy See, and render necessary, inviolable, more important, and more powerful still, these soldier-monks; consequently Philip promptly opposed the opening of a new crusade. June 6, 1306, Clement V summoned the grand-masters of the Templars and Hospitallers to Europe, under pretext of consulting them in regard to the proposed crusade, and some previously advanced plans for uniting the two orders of Templars and Hospitallers. Promptly Molay returned to Europe, but the manner in which he came was not of a nature to stifle the ambitious designs of his enemies. With sixty of the most distinguished knights of the order and a vast amount of treasure, he made an ostentatious entry into Paris, August 1306, where he was received by the king with great courtesy. If De Molay had been of a less generous and unsuspicious character, he would have understood that every motive that influenced Philip was concentrated in great intensity against his order. The grand- master, lulled into security by the apparent kindness of the French king, proceeded to Poitiers to pay his allegiance to the pope, and to present two memorials drawn up by himself, relative to the state of affairs in the East, and the projected union of the different existent military orders, which he opposed on the ground that by such act their power would only be augmented, and thus consequently provoke greater envy, of which even now there was more than enough; and, so far from suppressing prevailing jealousies among the knights, it would only embitter the strife among the brethren, and cause more frequent collisions. He begged the pope to examine into the sinister rumors which had spread abroad concerning the faith, morals. and secret mysteries of the order; for they had been accused of treachery, murder, idolatry, Islamism, and many other villainies; and demanded a rigid investigation, in order that. if proved innocent, they might receive public absolution; if culpable, suffer condemnation. Under these pretexts, Philip strongly urged the pope to proceed against the Temple, and the latter, finally yielding to the king's importunity and threats, inaugurated the investigation, and sent to Philip for all possible information. Philip affected to take the request for information as a permission to proceed against the order himself. Accordingly, on October 13, 1307, every Templar in the realm was made a prisoner. Jacques de Molay was seized in the house of the Temple, and summoned before the Inquisition of France, October 24, 1307. According to the report of his interrogatory, he made full confession of having denied Christ, and of having been guilty of other crimes. Confession was bribed out of some by offers of indulgence; wrung from others by the dread of torture, or by actual torture. The pope, enraged by the king's liberty, suspended the powers of the inquisitor, and forbade the bishops to continue their proceedings against the Temple. Philip IV simulated ready and complete submission; but at the same time he urged all the princes of Europe to follow his example, endeavored to embitter the French against the Templars, and finally invented a circular letter from the grand-master to all the brethren and subjects in prison, advising them to acknowledge the crimes he himself had confessed. August 20, 1308, Jacques de Molay himself was subjected to a second examination by a special commission of cardinals and agents of the king; but as the commission proved very treacherous in their conduct towards him, he finally tired of the proceedings, and demanded that he be brought before the Roman pontiff; "for," said he, "to the pope alone belongs the power of judging the grand- master of the order, and to his judgment I refer." March 2, 1310, he was again summoned by the papal commission, but persisted in his determination to be judged by the pope only. While the papal commission was still in session, Philip IV, tiring of their slow progress, and fearing that the power of the Temple was not yet crushed, summoned fifty-four more of the Templars before a council at Paris, and caused them to be burned the same day, May 11, 1310. The pope now became anxious for his own authority, appointed a new commission to hasten a decision in the case of Jacques de Molay, and he was by it condemned to death. Just as the fatal sentence was about to be pronounced, De Molay arose, and in a calm, clear voice thus addressed his judges: "Before heaven and earth, on the verge. of death, where the least falsehood bears like an intolerable weight upon the soul, I protest that we have richly deserved death, not on account of any heresy or sin of which we ourselves or our order have been guilty, but because we have yielded, to save our lives, to the seductive words of the pope and of the king; and so by our confessions brought shame and ruin on our blameless, holy, and orthodox brotherhood." The cardinals stood confounded, the people could not repress a profound sympathy, and the assembly was hastily broken up to meet another day. But the king, who had been informed of all, ordered the grand-master to be burned immediately. He was led forth to the flames, a feeble old man, loaded with fetters, bent and whitened by age and captivity. He sustained his sufferings with perfect firmness and resolution, protesting to the end in favor of the innocence of his order. and perishing bravely — the last champion of Christianity against the Orient, the last liberator of Jerusalem, the last grand-master of the Temple. See Porter, History of the Knights of Malta, 1:180, 190 sq.; Sutherland, Achievements of the Knights of Malta, volume 1, chapter 9; Milman, History of Latin Christianity, volume 6, book 12, chapter 1 and 2; Hase, Church History, page 319; and especially the excellent article in Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, 35:79 sq, (J.P.L.)

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