de Vitry, the newly appointed Bishop of Acre, describes his journey out
to the Holy Land in 1216 and his impressions of the society that he found
there. The first part of the letter was written between his arrival in
the East early in November 1216 and February 1217, the second part probably
in March 1217, and before Easter, which is not mentioned (Easter in 1217
fell on 26th March). Jacques was a Frenchman, educated at Paris, who was
Bishop of Acre from 1216 until 1228, and subsequently Cardinal Bishop
of Tusculum. He died in 1240. This letter has been translated by Iris
Rau, who completed an M.A. in Medieval History at Leeds in 2001, with
assistance from I.S. Moxon and G.A. Loud, from Lettres de Jacques de Vitry,
ed. R.B.C. Huygens (Leiden 1960), pp. 79-97 no. 2.
To the venerable men and most dear in Christ, the Parisian masters [lacunae]
William du Pont de l’Arche and Raoul de Namur and Alexander de Courcon
and Philip Archdeacon of Noyon, with Divine mercy permitting, James, the
humble minister of the Church of Acre, in order to help the Holy Land
of the promise of the Lord with [lacunae] execution.
To the Lady Lutgard of Saint Trond, his most spiritual friend, and to
the convent of Aywieres, James, by the mercy of God, the humble minister
of the Church of Acre, in order that they may go up from excellence into
excellence until they see the God of Gods in Sion.
which the Holy Spirit has joined cannot be divided by being in different
places, but they are impressed upon the minds of friends by the seal of
love. They do not slide away easily from the memory because of the interval
of time. ‘The Lord is my witness’ (1) that
I am afflicted by constant suffering on behalf of his grace, [and that]
I am exposed to daily dangers on behalf of his name, that I hold the memory
of thee without intermission, with burning desire and intense affection,
desiring to see you again in this world. But if God arranges [things]
in another manner, I often beg him that I shall see you after death in
the splendour of the saints and in the council and congregation of the
just. I desire that, as long as you live, you should have a fresh memory
of my humble self, just as I always have the memory of you. By means of
[this] letter, when I am able to obtain a messenger, I willingly impose
myself upon your memory and I wish to inform you about my situation. Therefore,
let your love know that I am through the grace of God safe and unharmed,
as are all the people who are with me, and I wish to hear the same thing
we left the harbour of the city of Genoa to set out across the sea, we
toiled for five weeks at sea with many hardships and underwent many difficulties
in different places. When we had sailed past Sardinia, we found an island
surrounded by the sea on every side, in which a hermit was living alone
amid snakes and wild beasts without any companion or servant. He never
ate bread, except for a biscuit given to him once or twice a year by those
passing by. Before we went past, he complained that winter was already
approaching and so far no one had passed who would give him bread. To
him it was replied by the Holy Spirit that ships would soon pass from
whom he would receive biscuit and other necessities. When our ships were
passing near the island of the said hermit, we passed straight by at speed
with no intention of looking back at the island or of visiting the hermit.
But after we had sailed many miles past the island, a strong wind suddenly
rose up against us, the force of which drove us and our ships back to
the hermit’s island. Seeing out arrival the hermit, a very old man and
‘full of days’, (2) came to us and presented
cabbages and a bunch of berries to me, while near his cell we found wild
cattle and rams and many deer, of which we received fourteen, which we
ate. Leaving behind bread, oil and some clothes for the hermit we departed.
long after this a great and very fearful danger threatened us. Another
ship was heading towards our ship at great speed. If it had collided with
our own ship, we could hardly have escaped without one or both [of us]
being dashed to pieces, nor could we turn aside in the opposite direction
because there was a rock that was dangerously close; thus we would be
forced either to undergo ramming by the other ship or to drive our ship
onto the rock. Then ‘there arose a great cry’ (3)
[and] in both ships people were heard weeping tears and confessing their
sins. People jumped from one ship into the other or vice versa, depending
on whether someone believed that one ship was stronger or if another believed
that the other ship was. Others took off their clothes and bound what
they had in terms of gold and silver to themselves in case they might
be able to escape by swimming. Some of the sailors, feeling sorry for
me and showing their respect, tried to persuade me to enter a little boat
that had been attached to the great ship, but I absolutely refused to
comply because of the bad example [that this would set], for I wanted
to experience the common danger with the others. But ‘the Lord had seen
our affliction’, (4) for while we were pushing
away the ship which was pressing upon us with lances and staffs, neither
one of ships was broken into pieces, even though they were banging into
each other. However, as the result of the violence of the collision our
ship was turned some way to the left and left the rock behind on the right
hand side. The other ship was already near to the rock and was about to
be holed and sunk, but with its sails furled and anchors cast out it stood
still and as if by a miracle escaped unharmed through God’s grace. Indeed,
some people threw their gold and silver out of this ship into ours.
we had a most unfavourable wind when we sailed from there, we gained harbour
as best we could on another island where we stayed for some fifteen days.
Since the weather was continuously unfavourable and winter was very close,
we now almost gave up [the idea of] crossing over the sea, greatly fearing
that we would have to winter on this other island. The captain of our
ship wished make all the poor people from our ship disembark and leave
them behind on the island, for he lacked sufficient provisions. I entreated
him that he should await the mercy of God for a little longer and should
not expose these poor people to the danger of death. While the captain
was by no means willing to agree, the Lord suddenly sent upon us such
a mighty storm that the fifteen anchors which we cast in the sea could
scarcely hold our ship fast and save us from perishing. The fore part
of our ship was now lifted up towards the stars, the next moment it was
sunk into the depths. The storm lasted continuously for two days and nights;
so that some of our people could hardly bear the violence of the winds,
which laid low the forecastle of our ship, and broke down [in panic],
while others did not eat nor drink for the fear of death. Indeed, I did
not eat anything cooked for no one dared to light a fire on our ship.
When I drank, I held the cup with one hand and held on for dear life with
the other hand for fear that I might fall or spill the cup. Because we
feared that our water would run out, we stretched out our linen clothes
to the rain, and so consequently we gained a double advantage - we were
both washing our clothes and drinking the water which washed them.
storm did however cast out a storm from the minds of many sinners, for
a number of people came to me in tears to make their confession, even
though they had for many years remained immured in their sins. [Both]
merchants and powerful men received the sign of cross from my hand. With
them ‘crying unto the Lord’, (5) and He sent
us calm weather and bestowed a suitable wind from astern upon us, ‘as
a help after our distress’. (6) Thus within
a few days we sailed past Sicily and Crete, leaving behind Scylla and
Charybdis to the left and Malta, where Saint Paul spent the winter after
his ship had been wrecked and where a snake bit him while he was collecting
twigs, (7) on our right, [and] coming close
to the island of Cyprus. The sailors realised that we were not very far
from land because of the great fish that both followed and swam in front
of our ship, and played around it, leaping [out of the water].
the sixth day after the feast of All-Saints we approached the port of
the city of Acre. (8) The whole city ran
out to meet us with great joy, yet I found the town of Acre, like a monster
or a beast, having nine heads, each fighting the other. There were at
that place Jacobites with their archbishop, who in the manner of Jews
were circumcising their children and revealed their sins in confession
to no one except to God. Though some of them were uncircumcised and confessed
their sins to priests, both the latter and the former when making the
sign of cross signed themselves with one finger. I gave a sermon to them
in their church through an interpreter who knew how to speak the language
of the Saracens, explaining to them that if they were circumcised Christ
would not profit them and that they had to be cured from the leprosy of
sins through priests, whose duty was to discriminate between leprosy and
leprosy, (9) as the Lord said in the Gospel,
‘go and show yourselves unto the priests’. (10)
Listening to the word of God, which they had not been accustomed to hearing,
they were through the grace of God strongly pierced by the stings of conscience,
with the result that they earnestly promised to me that they would not
circumcise themselves in the future and that from now on they would make
their confessions to priests. Concealing, so to speak, my true thoughts
I allowed them to sign themselves with one finger, because of the unity
of the Essence and the Trinity of the Person, for in one finger there
are three parts, and thus we too sign ourselves with three fingers joined
in one hand in the name of the Trinity and Unity. But someone afterwards
secretly pointed out to me that they signed themselves with one finger
because they believed that there was in Christ only one will, although
the will of the Divinity was one thing and the will of humanity was another;
and one of them was put under the other, just as has been written in the
Gospel, ‘ not as I will, but as thou wilt’. (11)
I found the Syrians to be traitors and very corrupt men, for having been
brought up among the Saracens, they had adopted their bad character, and
some of them, who had been bribed, revealed the secrets of Christianity
to the Saracens. Because they administered the sacraments with leavened
bread according to the Greek manner, they scorned our sacraments which
we administered with unleavened bread, to such extent that they refused
to respect them or [even] to bow their heads towards them when the Holy
Body of the Lord was brought by our priests for the sick. Furthermore
they were unwilling to celebrate [the mass] on our altars unless they
had first washed them down. Although their priests wore [clerical] headgear,
they dressed their hair in the manner of lay people. These priests took
wives after the fashion of the Greeks, and they did not allow their lay
people to marry for a third time. The daughters of these Syrians went
about with their faces veiled so that no one could recognise them, not
even those to whom they were betrothed until they were joined in marriage.
I arranged for both men and women to be assembled on the instructions
of their bishop, and through the interpreter I presented to them ‘the
Word of life’. (12) Through the grace of
God they were so struck by conscience that both their bishop and his followers
manifested their obedience to me and promised me faithfully that they
would live according to my recommendations.
of them, so I heard, baptised themselves on the day of the Epiphany every
year. I also came across Nestorians, Georgians and Armenians, but because
they did not have bishops or any other official leader, I have as yet
been unable to assemble them. The Armenians administer [the sacrament]
with unleavened bread, but they do not put water into the wine for the
sacrament. Furthermore, I found that there were men who were disobedient
to our church but on their own authority installed chaplains in their
own chapels and did what they liked with impunity. These people, from
the communes of the Genoese, Pisans and Venetians, were contemptuous of
a sentence of excommunication that we imposed. They rarely if ever listened
to the Word of God. They even refused to come to my sermon. However, I
went to them and presented the Word of God to them on the street in front
of their houses. Making the sign of the cross and having said their confession,
they piously received the Word of God. After that, they willingly listened
to the Word of God on Sundays outside the city, where was accustomed to
preach, ‘with repentant and humble heart’. (13)
addition, I found that the men born in this land were called Pullani,
which in French is translated as Poulains. They alone acknowledged that
they were under my concern and jurisdiction. It was hard to find one in
a thousand who was willing to keep his marriage lawfully for they did
not believe that fornication was a mortal sin. They have been spoiled
from childhood and they are utterly devoted to the pleasures of flesh.
They were unaccustomed to listening to the Word of God and seemed to regard
it as worthless. I found, moreover, foreigners who had fled from their
own lands as outlaws because of various appalling crimes. Having cast
aside their fear of the Lord, they were corrupting the whole city by their
wicked deeds and evil example. The last type of people I found, worse
than all others, more intransigent and completely blinded, are the ‘scribes
and Pharisees’. (14) Taking only ‘milk and
wool’ (15) from the sheep and not looking
after their own souls, they corrupted the lay people by word and by example.
While other people had been pricked by the sting of conscience and turned
towards the Lord, these people alone resisted the Word of God and all
that is good. As a result what is written [in the Gospel] will be fulfilled:
‘the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of Heaven in front of you’.
I entered this horrible city and had found it full of countless disgraceful
acts and evil deeds, I was very confused in my mind. ‘Fearfulness and
trembling are come upon me and horror hath overwhelmed me, (17)
because I had received such ‘a heavy burden and grievous to be borne’
(18) and I was about to give an account for
these people to the stern Judge. Murders took place, both in public and
private almost every day and night. Husbands strangled their wives by
night when they displeased them. Women murdered their husbands with poisons
and potions in accordance to ancient custom so that they might marry someone
else. There were people selling deadly potions and poisons in the city.
Hardly anyone dared to entrust himself to somebody else, ‘and a man’s
foes shall be they of his own house’. (19)
One man admitted to us that he was feeding certain animals in his house.
From the dung of the animals he mixed the potions in such a skilful manner
that the person who wanted to destroy his enemy found there the means
through which he could kill him in the way he wanted. Thus his enemy might,
if he wished, be weak for a year, or a month, or if he wanted to hasten
his death then his enemy would not live for more than a day. The city
was everywhere filled with prostitutes, and because these prostitutes
paid higher rents for their lodgings than did other people, not only laymen
but even churchmen and some members of the regular clergy rented out their
lodgings to public prostitutes through the whole city. Who would be able
to list all the crimes of this second Babylon, where Christians refused
baptism to their Saracen servants, even though these Saracens earnestly
and tear fully begged for it? For their masters used to say – ‘Oh my soul
come not into their counsel! (20) – ‘if those
people should be Christians, we shall not be able to exploit them as we
put in such great and unhappy confusion I took refuge in the unique and
singular help of the Divine piety, ‘who has no pleasure in the death of
a sinner but that he should turn from his way and live’. (21)
And since the grace of the Holy Spirit does not work slowly, once they
began willingly and eagerly to hear the word of God, ‘that cures all’,
(22) ‘where sin abounded, grace did abound
more exceedingly’. (23) For within a short
time they had turned towards the Lord, so that both by day and night they
ran unceasingly to me with tears and groans and confessed their sins to
me with contrition. I gave the sign of the holy cross to almost everyone,
enjoining upon them that they should prepare arms and the other things
needed for the rescue of the Holy Land. I gave orders to the women who
had been signed by the cross that they give money to the army according
to their own resources. Nevertheless I imposed a moderate penitence upon
them for their sins. Some of Saracens, hearing how the Lord worked, ‘flowed
together to baptism’. (24) Many of them,
so they claimed, had been warned in a dream, either by Lord Jesus Christ
or by the Blessed Virgin or by some other saint, that they should bring
themselves over from the error of Mohammed to the grace of Christ. They
declared that the Blessed Virgin had said to them that if they did not
become Christians, they would soon die an unhappy death when the Christians
arrived and obtained victory.
what happened in the city of Acre the Lord ‘opened a great door unto me’,
(25) for the remaining cities of our land
in which Christians live desired to follow the example of Acre and to
hear the word of Divine preaching. After receiving the sign of the cross,
they wanted to hand over themselves and their own property to the Lord
for the defence of the Holy Land, on account of their sins. These places
were Tyre, Beirut, Gibelet, the town of Crac, Tortosa, Margab, Chastel
Blanc, Tripoli, Antioch, and the island of Cyprus – it had an archbishopric
with three bishoprics – as well as Jaffa and Caesarea. These are the cities
and towns which the Lord has left to us. They were very much in need of
Saracens were very afraid of the arrival of the pilgrims, whereas with
joy and with longing we looked forward to the help of the Holy One and
the early arrival of the faithful pilgrims to succour Holy Land. Thus
the ‘heritage of the Lord’ (26) might be
liberated from the infidel, the Church of God might be rebuilt in the
East, and the Saracens, who were still held back by the fear of other
people, might be securely converted to the Lord, while our Christians
in the East who were oppressed under the lordship of pagans might be set
free. I believe, as I learned by report from many people, that there are
almost as many Christians among the Saracens as there are Saracens themselves
and that they are every day waiting tearfully for the assistance of God
and the help of the pilgrims. Yet I did not enter the promised land, the
holy and ‘pleasant land’, (27) although the
city of Acre is not far away from the land where Jesus Christ lived –
where he was conceived and brought up and [where] the Angel Gabriel announced
the unique joy to the Virgin – that is no more than eight miles from Nazareth,
and no more than three miles from Mount Carmel, where the Prophet Elias
led the life of a hermit, which I looked at with deep sighs every time
that I opened the windows of my house. Through fear of the Saracens I
have not yet visited the Holy places; it is as if I have water at my chin
but have not yet drunk it. However, I am waiting for the help of God,
which He will send to us at an appropriate time.
as the bond of Christ’s love joins our minds together, I want to link
our names by means of the present letter and to write to you jointly in
order that there may be shared joy about my success and shared suffering
about my failures. You are to write back about your situation and about
these matters from which my soul may derive some consolation.
the army arrived I arranged my life in the following way. After mass was
celebrated at daybreak I receive sinners right through until after midday.
Finally, once I have with some difficulty taken food - for I have lost
my appetite for eating and drinking since I entered this land beyond the
sea – it is my duty to visit the sick throughout the city up until nones
or vespers. After this there is an upsetting and most anxious matter,
for I receive the pleas of orphans, widows and other people upon whom
the injustice of men had brought such great evil that I am unable to describe
it. As a result I do not have leisure time for reading unless I hide myself
at mass or at matins or some other moment for a very short period of time.
I have indeed reserved time for prayer and contemplation at the dead of
night. Yet there were moments when I was upset that I could not have time
either for prayer or for the consideration of my weakness. You, my dearest
friends, pray for me that God should give me true humility and patience
to endure suffering for the salvation of my soul and to assist the Holy
Land, that the good Lord should deem to lighten the darkness in the East,
that he should advance the affairs of the Holy Land and that he should
grant me and all my friends a good life and a happy end, in order that
in this way we may pass through good things in this world and that we
may not lose the eternal things [to come].
I had ‘sown the Word’ (28) of God by Divine
grace among the people of Acre throughout the entire winter period and
[after] a great multitude from this totally depraved city had been converted
to the Lord, other cities heard how the Lord was working and inspired
by the example of the people of Acre sent frequent messengers to me, begging
that, moved by charity, I should visit them. I realised that ‘a great
door had been opened unto me’ (29) – since
Lent was approaching – even though the route was very difficult and dangerous,
for I had to go through the land of Saracens, and in particular through
the land of the people who were called the Assassins. Trusting in the
help of the Lord, I set out on my journey, with many people lamenting
my arrival in the city of Tyre I was received with joy and love both by
clerics and by the laity, to whom I preached the word of God for several
days. The seed ‘fell on good ground’ (30)
because of Divine grace; for almost all of them, after making confession
of their sins and receiving the sign of the cross, presented themselves
and their property to the Lord. I saw the well of waters upon which it
is said that the Lord rested when he came to the districts of Tyre and
Sidon. Solomon described it literally in the Song of Songs, as ‘a well
of living waters, which flows with a rush from Lebanon’. (31)
Mount Lebanon is not far away from that place. Through underground channels
the abundant waters flow all the way down to that place where they form
a great well, almost like a small lake, which does not have, as I believe,
anything like it in the whole world. The knights of Tyre led me all the
way to Sarepta [Zarephath], which belongs to the people of Sidon, where
I made a delay over night, preaching to the Christians whom I found there.
I made it clear to them how they ought to live properly among the Saracens,
‘that the name of the Lord should not be blasphemed’ (32)
among the Gentiles because of them; for they were very corrupted [living]
in the city of Saracens. I uncovered to them to the best of my ability
the deceit of Mohammed and his damnable teaching because some of them
were limping along, as if hesitating between the law of the Christians
and that of the Saracens. I visited a small chapel that lies abandoned
in the field outside the city, where Elias came to a widow who was collecting
firewood in Zarephath. (33)
I was about to go from there to Beirut, past the city of Sidon, which
the Saracens hold, I sent messengers in advance so that the knights of
that city might come to meet me. Meeting me with a large number of armed
men, they escorted me and my companions through the territory of the Saracens.
The archbishop of the Syrians, who was living in Sidon among the Saracens,
rushed out to me on foot outside the city. I passed through the place
where the woman of Canaan shouting after the Lord ran [towards him] and
declared with all humility that ‘the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall
from their masters’ tables’. (34) I passed
by two springs at the foot of Mount Lebanon, namely Jor and Dan, from
which the River Jordan has its source and from these the name ‘Jordan’
is drawn. When the heat is very great in summer, snow is brought forth
from Mount Lebanon and kept safe under straw and sold at great price so
that it may be mixed with wine to cool it and make the wine chill.
After I had stayed for several days in the city of Beirut and preached
the Word of God to its inhabitants, with both women and men and even children
all having been marked with the sign [of the cross] and having given this
sign [also] to the lord of the city along with his knights, (35)
I passed on to the city of Biblos. It is said in the Book of Kings that
the elders of Biblos used to send wood from Lebanon for the building of
the temple of the Lord. (36) The people of
the city, from the most humble to the greatest, received me with great
joy. Having heard the word of God, they were contrite and moved their
to penitence. This city was most corrupt and the bishop of this place
was extremely poor but generous and humble. He received the sign of the
cross along with the lord of the city and all its people. I then set off
for Tripoli, and I found vineyards which were harvested twice a year and
a spring irrigating a large number of vineyards, which fulfils to the
letter what the Song of Songs says about ‘a fountain of gardens’. (37)
As I approached Tripoli, the count of the city and prince of Antioch came
out to meet me with many knights. (38) In
this city I had to fight ‘with beasts at Ephesus’. (39)
Seeing that everyone was turned towards the Lord, I stayed in the city
for a month. Because the general language of the city was the Saracen
tongue, I often used interpreters to preach and listen to confessions.
there I passed on to a town which was called Crac. This was next to the
land of those people who were called the Assassins. Everywhere men and
women and little children hastened to me with great devotion. Since we
did not dare to send the messengers in advance, we despatched pigeons
which carried our letters under the wings to the effect that the men of
the city should run to meet us because of our fear of the pagans. From
there we came to a certain town of the Templars, which is called Chastel
Blanc. After I had preached the word of God for several days there, the
brothers of the Military Order of the Temple escorted me with an armed
troop all the way to the city which was called Antaradus [Tortosa], so
called because it was situated opposite the island of Aruad. On this island
there used to be pillars made of glass. [And] in the island the blessed
Peter found a woman of noble birth – the mother of Saint Clement, who
was begging for alms on that island – and brought her back to her son,
who had lost her for many years. In that city there was a certain small
and very holy chapel, which Saint Peter – while passing through to Antioch
– built in honour of the blessed Virgin, [and] which was the first church
built in honour of the blessed Virgin, so it is said. The Lord performs
so many miracles in the chapel that not only Christians but also Saracens
came to it for the sake of pilgrimage. After I had celebrated mass in
this church and had given a sermon to the people, I baptised two Saracens.
When I had returned to my lodging, one of the Assassins, who had followed
me over both sea and land in order to kill me, was caught after he was
denounced by those who had converted to the Faith. He was put into prison,
and thus the Lord delivered me from his hands.
there I travelled with an armed guard to a city that had a most strongly
fortified citadel. This castle was called Margab. There I preached the
word of God for several days. I had intended to go on to Antioch by sea,
for the lord of the city along with the clergy and people were eagerly
expecting my arrival. But the Patriarch of Jerusalem (40)
sent a letter telling me to return because the fleet had been announced
and we were expecting the arrival of the pilgrims. I then returned to
Tripoli, intending to sail to Cyprus. Because the king of Cyprus sent
a letter to me along with his messengers, I had a galley prepared. However,
I waited for fifteen days and could not get a favourable wind. Then I
heard that one of hermits of the Black Mountain – which is called Nero
in Greek – had crossed to Cyprus; he, so he claimed, having a cross branded
on his flesh which the blessed Virgin had indented onto his breast, and
that she had sent him to Cyprus. I was reluctant to go there since this
hermit had [already] given the sign of the cross to the king, the clergy
and people. Therefore, through the grace of God and avoiding the many
deadly dangers, I returned to our city.
people of Acre had been annoyed my absence and they frequently went out
of the city when they had been told that I was about to return. After
they had been going out to meet me for several days, they received reliable
news of my arrival. They rushed out to meet me with their women and little
children. Now in the city of Acre I usually look out to the sea with tears
and great longing, expecting the arrival of the pilgrims, for I believe
that if through the grace of God we had four thousand armed knights, we
would not find anyone able to stand against us, for there is great division
among the Saracens. Many of them, indeed, realising the error of their
ways, would be converted to the Lord, if they dared and had the help of
the Christians. I believe too that Christians who live among the Saracens
are more numerous than the Saracens. Many Christian kings living in the
regions of the East as far as to the land of Prester John, hearing of
the arrival of the crusaders, would come to help them and make war on
they have many different sects, the Saracens are very much divided among
themselves. Some observe the law of Mohammed, [while] others treat it
with little respect and so they drink wine and eat pork against the teaching
of Mohammed, nor do they circumcise themselves after the manner of other
Saracens. The old abbot of the mountain belongs to the cult of Brothers
of the knife, who do not uphold any law except that they believe they
will be safe by obedience [to him], no matter what instruction is given
to them. These people are called the Assassins. They kill both Christians
and Saracens. There are other Saracens who are called members of the Hidden
Law. They observe a law which they reveal to no one except for their sons
when the latter are already of advanced age, with the result that their
wives know nothing about what their husbands believe. They allow themselves
to be killed before they reveal the secret of their law to anyone except
to their sons. There are other people, miserable and without any law,
who say that on the Day of Judgement when the Lord will ask: ‘why have
not you uphold the law of Jews?’, they will respond: ‘Lord, we were not
bound to follow it, because we have not accepted it and we were not Jews’.
‘Why have you not upheld the law of the Christians?’ ‘Oh, Lord, we were
not bound to uphold it, because we have not been Christians; similarly,
we have been under no obligation to uphold the law of Saracens, because
we have not been Saracens.’ In this way they believe to escape on the
Day of Judgement by separating themselves off from others. Nevertheless,
the Lord says ‘He that is not with me is against me’. (41)
I found other people who say that their souls die along with their body.
Hence they follow their worst instincts and do anything they want to,
just like beasts.
I could not preach in the land of the Saracens, I preached whenever I
could on the frontier between the lands of the Christians and the Saracens.
Through a letter written in the Saracen language, which I sent to them,
I showed them their faults and the truth of our law. Many Saracens had
their sons baptised by Syrian priests with the sole purpose of them living
longer. Among those who are reckoned by the name of Christians I found
many who through a lack of sound teaching were erring greatly in our faith.
They are divided into four principal groups. The Syrians, just like Greeks,
say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. The Nestorians
assert that there are two persons in Christ, just as there are two natures
and two wills in Him. Hence, although Christ is God, they say that Mary
was the mother of Christ, but not the mother of God. All the inhabitants
who live in the land of Prester John used to be of this denomination,
or so I was told by a merchant who had recently come from there. They
recently all became Jacobites, who say that there is only one nature and
one will, just as [there is] one person in Christ. For His human nature
was taken away, as they wrongly assert, by the Divine nature, just as
a drop of water which is poured into wine will be absorbed by the wine.
However, the Patriarch of the Maronites, along with his archbishops and
bishops as well as people of the Maronites who are subject to him, has
abandoned all his errors and placed himself under obedience to the holy
and catholic Roman Church. In my opinion, many people, both from the heretics
remaining in the Eastern regions and from the Saracens, would be easily
converted to the Lord if they heard sound doctrine. [I ask] you [to] pray
to the Lord, who ‘hates nothing of those that he has made’ and ‘who will
have all men to come unto knowledge of the truth’, (42)
that He should see fit to enlighten the darkness of the East in these
for me and for my companions and especially for my chaplain and most faithful
friend, John of Cambrai.
2 Genesis, xxv.8.
3 Acts, xxiii.9.
4 Genesis, xxxi.42; cf. Exodus, iv.31.
5 Cf. Psalm, iii.4, lxxvii.1, cxli.1
6 Psalm, cvii.13.
7 Acts, xxviii.1-6.
8 Friday 4th November 1216.
9 Deuteronomy, xviii.8.
10 Luke, xvii.14.
11 Matthew, xxvi.39.
12 John, vi.69.
13 Psalm, L.19
14 Matthew, xxiii.13 &15.
15 Cf. Ezekiel, xxxiv.3.
16 Matthew, xxi.31
17 Psalm, liv.6 (Vulgate), lv.5 (AV).
18 Matthew, xxiii.4.
19 Matthew, x.36.
20 Genesis, xlix.6.
21 Ezekiel, xxxiii.11.
22 Wisdom, xvi.12.
23 Romans, vi.20.
24 Sulpicius Severus, Life of St. Martin, III.5.
25 I Corinthians, xvi.9
26 Psalm, cxxvi.3 (Vulgate), xxvii.3 (AV).
27 Psalm, cv.24 (Vulgate), cvi.24 (AV).
28 Mark, iv.14.
29 I Corinthians, xvi.9 (cf. above).
30 Mark, iv.8.
31 Song of Solomon, iv.15.
32 I Timothy, vi.1.
33 I Kings, xvii.10.
34 Matthew, xv.27.
35 John of Ibelin (died 1236).
36 Cf. I Kings, v.6-10.
37 Song of Solomon, iv.15 (cf. above).
38 Bohemond IV (1201-33).
39 I Corinthians, xv.32.
40 Ralph of Merencourt, Patriarch 1215-24.
41 Matthew, xii.30
42 Wisdom, xi.25; I Timothy, ii.4.
A LETTER OF JACQUES DE VITRY