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Council of Vienne
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Council of Vienne

Above all else, the Roman Catholic Council of Vienne was the Ecumenical Council that withdrew papal support for the Knights Templar, confirming the destruction of the rich Order by the bureaucrats of Philip IV of France.

Pope Clement V, by the bull Regnans in coelis, August 12, 1308, called a general council to meet at the fine old city of Vienne on the Rhône River, technically outside the jurisdiction of the king of France, but quite convenient to Paris, avowedly regarding not only the Order of Knights Templar, but also, perhaps ominously, "its lands." The archbishops and prelates were also invited to bring proposals for improvements in the life of the Church, but special notice had already been sent to the Templars directing them to send suitable defensores to the council, and the Grand Master Jacques de Molay and others had been commanded to appear in person. Molay was already imprisoned in Paris. Trials of the Templars that were already under way, above all in France, where Philip IV's ministers were proceeding willy-nilly, delayed the opening of the council, and the process respecting the late Boniface VIII which was being taken up by his old implacable enemy Philip's chief minister William of Nogaret.

The council finally convened in October 1311. The Acts of the council have disappeared, with the exception of a fragment in a manuscript in the National Library in Paris, along with the financial documents of the Templars that were requisitioned. The work of the Council was not done in plenary session, but a commission was appointed to examine these official records concerning the order, with a smaller committee of archbishops and bishops presided over by the Archbishop of Aquileia, which was to examine exhaustively the official records and the abstracts. The pope and the cardinals negotiated with the members of this commission respecting the matter.

A majority of the cardinals and nearly all the members of the commission were of the opinion that the Order of Knights Templar should be granted the right to defend itself, and that no proof collected up to then was sufficient to condemn the order of the heresy of which it was accused by Philip's ministry, without straining canon law. The pope was in a difficult position, particularly when in February, 1312, the King of France himself with a great retinue appeared before the gates of the city of Vienne and vehemently demanded the suppression of the Templars in a letter of 2 March, addressed to the pope. Clement adopted the expedient of suppressing the Order of Knights Templar, not by legal method (de jure), but on the special plea of solicitude for the general welfare of the Church and by Apostolic ordinance (per modum provisionis seu ordinationis apostolicae). The pope announced this decision to the cardinals (the Bull Vox clamantis being dated March 22, 1312) before publicly pronouncing it, on April 3, at the second formal session, with the royal contingent present. For their part, the royal ministry dropped the threatened charges of heresy against the late Boniface VIII. Nevertheless, an earlier decree was renewed, whereby the King of France was absolved from all responsibility for whatever he had done against Boniface, though the notorious "Outrage" at Anagni (q.v.) was never actually mentioned.

In what seemed then as now a side issue, the synod also took up the question of the Holy Land. A Crusade was always in order. The king of Aragon's delegates suggested that the best way to weaken the Muslim hold on the Holy Land would be by attacking and holding Granada. This time, at the third and final formal session, held May 6, a letter from the King of France was read aloud, in which he promised to take up the cross, together with his sons and large numbers of the nobility, and to begin the Crusade within six years. If he should die before this time his eldest son would undertake the expedition. The usual reaction to such a declaration was to lay a church tithe: the tax was levied throughout Christendom for six years for this purpose, but in France the revenues drawn from the six years of tithe were held by the king, who in fact used the funds to wage war against the Christians of Flanders. The Crusade never took place.

The written suggestions for discussion by the council as to the reform of the Church, turning not unexpectedly on improvement of morals, on just how much poverty "poverty" entailed and on protection of the Church's independence of action (an urgent question, under the circumstances) were later (1317) published by Clement's successor as the collection of canon law called the "Clementines".

Giovanni Villani discussed the Council of Vienne in his Chronicles, IX, XXII.

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