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Pope Innocent III : Reprimand of Peter, a Papal Legate, for the Sack of Constantinople- July 1204

See also: Apology for the Fourth Crusade

Provided below is both a partial English translation as well as the full original Latin text of Pope Innocent III’s letter no. CXXVI. PETRO, TITULI SANCTI MARCELLI APOSTOLICAE SEDIS LEGATO, PRESBYTERO CARDINALI. Reprehendit legatum, deseruisse terram sanctam, etc. (VI Id. Julii.). The translation is by James Brundage and the Latin text is taken from the Patrologia Latina, Vol. 215:136.

The letter was written by the pope in the wake of the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the participants of the Fourth Crusade. The crusaders’ original goal was Egypt, but the crusade was diverted as a result of financial problems resulting from debts owed to the Venetians and a deal made with Alexios IV to restore his deposed father Isaac II to the Byzantine throne.

*The English translation provided below is copied with permission from Paul Halsall’s Internet History Sourcebooks. Here is a link to the original source.

PETRO, TITULI SANCTI MARCELLI APOSTOLICAE SEDIS LEGATO, PRESBYTERO CARDINALI. (VI Id. Julii.)

[Audito jampridem, quod tu et dilectus filius noster , tituli Sanctae Praxedis presbyter cardinalis, apostolicae sedis legatus, relicta in multae necessitatis articulo Hierosolymitana provincia, Constantinopolim navigio veneratis, mirati sumus non modicum et turbati, ejusdem terrae imminens periculum formidantes. Et  ecce, quod verebamur accidit, et quod timuimus jam evenit. Nam, praeter id, quod, bonae memoriae patriarcha Hierosolymitano tunc temporis viam universae carnis ingresso, Ecclesia Hierosolymitana vacabat, et ex guerra, quae tunc inter charissimum in Christo filium nostrum, regem Armeniae illustrem et Tripolitanum comitem, super principatu Antiocheno vertitur, inter Christianos aemulatio quaedam erat, postmodum, ex inclytae recordationis A. regis Hierosolymitani, et filii ejus, obitu improviso, regnum Hierosolymitanum pene penitus est omni regimine destitutum. Et, quia vos, qui ibidem majus debueratis exspectare subsidium, et ad succurrendum eidem terrae, tam exemplo quam verbo alios incitare, pro vestrae voluntatis arbitrio exinde in Graeciam navigastis, et non solum peregrini, sed etiam indigenae terrae, vestris vestigiis inhaerentes, Constantinopolim devenerunt, venerabili fratre nostro, archiepiscopo Tyrensi, vos pariter subsecuto; remansit ergo terra illa, recedentibus vobis, viris et viribus destituta, et facta sunt novissima ejus, occasione vestra, pejora prioribus, cum omnes amici ejus illam vobiscum reliquerint, nec sit qui consoletur eam ex omnibus charis ejus. Unde, facti videntur hostes ejus in capite, si foedus treugarum voluerint violare, quod etiam a quibusdam dicitur, rege ac filio ejus exspirantibus, exspirasse. Turbamur igitur inter nos ipsos non modicum, et contra vos merito commovemur, quod in hoc consilium devenistis, ut simul relinqueretis terram illam quam Dominus sua praesentia consecravit, et in qua nostrae redemptionis mysterium rex noster ante saecula novissimis temporibus est mirabiliter operatus. Quamvis sane venerabilis frater noster . . . quondam episcopus Vercellensis, in patriarcham Hierosolymitanum fuerit postulatus, et nos, postulationem approbantes ejusdem, jam ei pallium duxerimus concedendum, propter occupationes tamen multiplices non tam cito forsan poterit transfretare. Debueratis ergo causam vestrae legationis attendere, ac sollicite cogitare, quod non ad capiendum Constantinopolitanum imperium, sed defendendas reliquias terrae sanctae, ac perdita, si daret Dominus, restauranda, vos duxerimus delegandos, mittentes vos non ad capescendas divitias temporales, sed promerendas aeternas, cum nos, et fratres nostri, in expensis vobis providerimus competenter. Audito autem nuper, et per tuas litteras intellecto, quod universos crucesignatos, qui in defensione Constantinopoleos a praecedenti Martio usque ad proximum morarentur, a voto peregrinationis et onere crucis absolveras, contra te non potuimus non moveri, cum nec debueris, nec potueris talia ullatenus attentare, quicunque tibi contra suggererent, et quocunque modo seducerent mentem tuam. Cum enim ad hoc specialiter et principaliter assumpserint signum crucis, et hoc praesertim voverint Domino Deo suo, ut in terrae sanctae subsidium transfretarent, et, a via postmodum errantes, in nimium temporalia commoda usque hodie sint secuti, utrum tibi licuerit immutare taliter, imo pervertere potius votum tam solemne ac pium, tibi relinquimus discernendum. Ecce etenim, quod cum moerore referimus et rubore, unde videbamur hactenus profecisse, deficimus et angustiamur unde credebamus potissimum dilatari. Quomodo enim Graecorum Ecclesia, quantumcunque afflictionibus et persecutionibus affligatur, ad unitatem ecclesiasticam et devotionem sedis apostolicae revertetur, quae in Latinis non nisi perditionis exemplum et opera tenebrarum aspexit, ut jam merito illos abhorreat plus quam canes? Illi etenim, qui non quae sua sunt, sed quae Jesu Christi quaerere credebantur, gladios, quos exercere debuerant in paganos, Christianorum sanguine cruentantes, nec religioni nec aetati nec sexui pepercerunt, incestus, adulteria et fornicationes in oculis hominum exercentes, et tam matronas quam virgines etiam Deo dicatas, exponentes spurcitiis garsionum. Nec suffecit eisdem imperiales divitias exhaurire ac dirumpere spolia principum ac minorum, nisi ad thesauros Ecclesiarum, et, quod gravius est, ad ipsarum possessiones extenderent manus suas, tabulas argenteas etiam de altaribus rapientes, et inter se confringentes in frusta, violantes sacraria, cruces et reliquias asportantes. Praeterea, cum latere non possit quod inter tot millia hominum est praesumptum, nunquid Saraceni, qui, capta Constantinopolitana urbe, nimio fuerant timore perculsi, ex quo intellexerint quod crucesignati post annum sint ad propria redituri, et jam in eos ultio divina desaeviat, quae iniquitates ipsorum jam incipit flagellare, animos non resument, et pauculas oves, quas velut in deserto luporum morsibus reliquistis, nisi sola eis Dei dextera restiterit, non vorabunt? Nos quoque, qua fronte de caetero populos Occidentis ad terrae sanctae subsidium et praesidium imperii Constantinopolitani poterimus invitare; quibus, etsi non ob propriam culpam, tamen propter factum tuum, aliqui imputabunt forsitan, quod crucesignati, relicto peregrinationis proposito, absoluti, ad propria revertuntur, et, qui praedictum imperium spoliarant, illo immunito relicto, referti spoliis terga vertant? Non sit ergo in ore tuo verbum Domini alligatum, nec sis tanquam canis mutus non valens latrare; sed haec loquere publice, ac coram omnibus protestare, ut tanto te amplius pro Deo et propter Deum objurgantem inveniant, quanto magis te invenerunt hactenus negligentem. Super absolutione autem populi Venetorum, contra formam ecclesiasticam perperam acceptatam, non arguimus te ad praesens, cum per alias litteras, super hoc ad te specialiter destinatas, te duxerin us arguendum. His quoque, quae circa negotium patriarchae Antiocheni et abbatis sancti P. refertis egisse, nunc supersedere decrevimus, ne nimis exaggerare singula videamur. Caeterum, cum ad preces Constantinopolitani imperatoris illustris, dilecto filio, B. tituli Sanctae Susannae presbytero cardinali, apostolicae sedis legato, in Graeciam onus legationis duxerimus injungendum, qui jam in Apuliam est profectus, et praedictus cardinalis Sanctae Praxedis, sicut accepimus, iter arripuerit redeundi, discretioni tuae per apostolica scripta districte praecipiendo mandamus, quatenus, omni occasione cessante, in terram sanctam, postpositis caeteris, revertaris, ibique praedicti patriarchae saltem praestoleris adventum, acturus interim quae ipsius terrae necessitatibus debeant expedire.

Datum IV Idus Julii.

Taken from the Patrologia Latina, 215:126

To Peter, Cardinal Priest of the Title of St. Marcellus, Legate of the Apostolic See.

We were not a little astonished and disturbed to hear 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.

* The listed epistle on the Medieval Sourcebook is incorrect. It should be 126, rather than 136 as noted above and in Dr. Brundage’s book.

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One thought on “Pope Innocent III : Reprimand of Peter, a Papal Legate, for the Sack of Constantinople- July 1204

  1. Pingback: Apology for the Fourth Crusade | Andrew Holt, Ph.D.

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