Current and forthcoming titles from RUDOS AND RUBES

* The Guilt of the Templars

by Gershon Legman

Guilt of the Templars Cover

These accusations have not been detailed here for purposes of comedy, but to show what was the temper of the times in the way of accusations intended to discredit an enemy, living or dead. Different centuries, different accusations. In our own century not one of the accusations brought against Pope Boniface, and later the Templars, by Guillaume de Nogaret would be employed, with the significant exception of homosexuality, which has apparently not lost its sting since the time of the Biblical persecution of the sodomites, reported—with mysterious brevity—in I Kings, xiv-xv, xxii, and 2 Kings, xxiii, as having occurred in the tenth century B.C. All else would be changed today to match the centuries’ changing shibboleths: from religious blasphemy to economic, from heresy to Communism.

In the late sixteenth century, more or less halfway between the century of the Templars and our own, in the accusations against Christopher Marlowe by the informer Baines (first printed, I believe, by Havelock Ellis in an appendix to the “Mermaid” edition of Marlowe’s plays in the 1880’s, and not supplied with all copies), the accusation of homosexuality—that Marlowe had avowed “that all thei that love not Tobacco & Boies were fooles”—is mixed prominently with the report of his mocking and irreligion: that Jesus was a juggler, i.e. impostor, that the sacrament might as well be given in a tobacco pipe, etc., tossed-off sardonicisms presumably current in the atheistic “School of Night” under Raleigh’s secret protection. This was itself perhaps derived from the Cymbalum Mundi (1537) of Bonaventure Des Périers, half a century before, leading, on the one hand, into the philosophical atheism of Spinoza and the forged De Tribus Impostoribus (on which see the extraordinary study, with the rediscovered Ur-text, in Das Buch “De Tribus Impostoribus” by Dr. J. Presser, Amsterdam, 1926) and, on the other, to the cold mockery of the eighteenth-century freethinkers, as in the epigram attributed to Piron, that he “could see nothing in the Holy Family but a whore, a bastard, and a cuckold.”

Yet what do Marlowe, Des Periers, Spinoza, and even Piron say that is not here put into the mouth of Pope Boniface, centuries earlier, in 1303 and 1311, by Guillaume de Nogaret’s witness, or his staff writer, Pierre Dubois, who is of course all the safer in saying it, that he does not give it as his own opinion, but slyly has the thrill of irreligion without the danger by giving it currency as the detestable opinion of someone else. Even assuming the writer’s or witness’s conscious sincerity, or the authenticity of the reports he retailed, this is identical with the evasive ethic of censors who spend their lives pursuing and collecting pornography—with their mouths “at an open sewer,” as the late John S. Sumner pricelessly described his lifetime activity—on the excuse that they hate it so much.

It becomes clear, therefore, that whether on the part of the accuser or the accused, a considerable body of anti-religious sentiment, or, rather, anti-Christian sentiment, had developed by the middle of the thirteenth century in Europe, taking the date of de Molay’s reception into the order of the Templars, in 1265 A.D., with denying Christ and spitting on the Cross openly admitted, as a firm date of departure. (See, further, John Mackinnon Robertson’s History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century, 1929, a work the continuation of which backwards through the centuries is badly needed.) It is in this body of anti-Christian sentiment in the Middle Ages, floating just under the level of public awareness, whether verbally cynical, as with the animadversions on immortality and the virginity of Mary ascribed to Pope Boniface, or solemn and ceremonial, as with the formal rejection of Christ confessed to by the Templars from highest to lowest, that the true origins and true meaning of the guilt of the Templars must be sought and will be found.