A Heresy of State: Philip the Fair, the Trial of the “Perfidious Templars,” and the Pontificalization of the French Monarchy
By Julien Théry
Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures, Vol. 39, No. 2 (2013)
Abstract: This article provides an outline for a new interpretation of the trial of the Templars, with special attention to the texts written by the instigators of the case, namely, Philip the Fair and his ministers. The trial had everything to do with the growth of the French monarchy. With the “discovery” and repression of the “Templars’ heresy,” the Capetian monarchy claimed for itself the mystic foundations of the papal theocracy. The Temple case was the last step of a process of appropriating these foundations, which had begun with the Franco-Papal rift at the time of Boniface VIII. Being the ultimate defender of the Catholic faith, the Capetian king was now fully invested with a Christlike function that put him above the pope. What was at stake in the Templars’ trial was the establishment of a royal theocracy.
The history of the celebrated and still mysterious trial against the Templars can be approached in two main ways. The first, which has always predominated, asks the question of the accused’s culpability. If they were at fault, what were they guilty of? Did they really commit the crimes against the faith that the king and pope accused them of? Was the Order of the Temple heretical? Were its members simply guilty of breaches of canon law that in themselves did not constitute heresy but were misinterpreted, deliberately amplified, or instrumentalized by Philip the Fair and his ministers? If this is the case, what exactly were the infringements? Were they only minor offenses? Were they widespread in other religious communities or specific to the Templars, thus accounting for their singular fate? All these questions, even those the furthest removed from the point of view of the judges, derive from the accusations and events put in motion at the initiative of the Capetian king.