Pope Innocent III:
Reprimand of Papal Legate
[Adapted from Brundage] Pope Innocent III was furious at the
conquest of Constantinople. He wrote the following letter in anger
to the papal legate. Despite these bitter words, there was little
that the Pope could do to alter what had happened and so, as his
initial anger subsided, Innocent first recognized and then embraced
the new order in Constantinople.
To Peter, Cardinal Priest of the Title of St. Marcellus, Legate
of the Apostolic See.
We were not a little astonished and disturbed to bear that you
and our beloved son the Cardinal Priest of the Title of St. Praxida
and Legate of the Apostolic See, in fear of the looming perils
of the Holy Land, have left the province of Jerusalem (which,
at this point is in such great need) and that you have gone by
ship to Constantinople. And now we see that what we dreaded has
occurred and what we feared has come to pass.... For you, who
ought to have looked for help for the Holy Land, you who should
have stirred up others, both by word and by example, to assist
the Holy Land on your own initiative you sailed to Greece,
bringing in your footsteps riot only the pilgrims, but even the
natives of the Holy Land who came to Constantinople, following
our venerable brother, the Archbishop of Tyre. When you had deserted
it, the Holy Land remained destitute of men, void of strength.
Because of you, its last state was worse than the first, for all
its friends deserted with you; nor was there any admirer to console
it.... We ourselves were not a little agitated and, with reason,
we acted against you, since you had fallen in with this counsel
and because you had deserted the Land which the Lord consecrated
by his presence, the land in which our King marvelously performed
the mystery of our redemption....
It was your duty to attend to the business of your legation and
to give careful consideration, not to the capture of the Empire
of Constantinople, but rather to the defense of what is left of
the Holy Land and, with the Lord's leave, the restoration of what
has been lost. We made you our representative and we sent you
to gain, not temporal, but rather eternal riches. And for this
purpose, our brethren provided adequately for your needs.
We have just beard and discovered from your letters that you have
absolved from their pilgrimage vows and their crusading obligations
all the Crusaders who have remained to defend Constantinople from
last March to the present. It is impossible not to be moved against
you, for you neither should nor could give any such absolution.
Whoever suggested such a thing to you and how did they ever lead
your mind astray?. . .
How, indeed, is the Greek church to be brought back into ecclesiastical
union and to a devotion for the Apostolic See when she has been
beset with so many afflictions and persecutions that she sees
in the Latins only an example of perdition and the works of darkness,
so that she now, and with reason, detests the Latins more than
dogs? As for those who were supposed to be seeking the ends of
Jesus Christ, not their own ends, whose swords, which they were
supposed to use against the pagans, are now dripping with Christian
blood they have spared neither age nor sex. They have committed
incest, adultery, and fornication before the eyes of men. They
have exposed both matrons and virgins, even those dedicated to
God, to the sordid lusts of boys. Not satisfied with breaking
open the imperial treasury and plundering the goods of princes
and lesser men, they also laid their hands on the treasures of
the churches and, what is more serious, on their very possessions.
They have even ripped silver plates from the altars and have hacked
them to pieces among themselves. They violated the holy places
and have carried off crosses and relics. .
Furthermore, under what guise can we call upon the other Western
peoples for aid to the Holy Land and assistance to the Empire
of Constantinople? When the Crusaders, having given up the proposed
pilgrimage, return absolved to their homes; when those who plundered
the aforesaid Empire turn back and come home with their spoils,
free of guilt; will not people then suspect that these things
have happened, not because of the crime involved, but because
of your deed? Let the Lord's word not be stifled in your mouth.
Be not like a dumb dog, unable to bark. Rather, let them speak
these things publicly, let them protest before everyone, so that
the more they rebuke you before God and on God's account, the
more they will find you simply negligent. As for the absolution
of the Venetian people being falsely accepted, against ecclesiastical
rules, we will not at present argue with you....
Given July 12
Pope Innocent III, Ep 136, Patrologia Latina 215, 669-702,
translated by James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History,
(Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 208-09
Copyright note: Professor Brundage informed the Medieval
Sourcebook that copyright was not renewed on this work. Moreover
he gave permission for use of his translations.
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© Paul Halsall December 1997