Jacques de Vitry

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Jacques de Vitry

(c. 1220)

Bishop of Acre, subsequently Cardinal Bishop of Tusculum, Legate in France and Germany, and Patriarch of Jerusalem.

Historia Hierosolymitana.


LXXV. Moreover, there are in the Holy Land, and in other parts of the East, other barbarous nations who differ in many points from the Greeks and Latins. Of these, some are called Jacobites, from a teacher of theirs named Jacobus, a disciple of one of the Patriarchs of Alexandria. They were a long time ago excommunicated and cast out of the Greek Church by Dioscorus, Patriarch of Constantinople, and inhabit the greater part of Asia and of the entire East: some of them dwell among the Saracens, others possess countries of their own, and do not consort with infidels, to wit, Nubia, which adjoins Egypt, and the greater part of Ethiopia, and all the countries as far as India — more than forty kingdoms, they declare, belong to them. They are all Christians, and were converted by the Apostle St. Matthew, and other Apostolic men; but after- wards the enemy sowed tares^ among them, and they have for a long time wandered in lamentable darkness and error. They for the most part circumcise their children of both sexes after the fashion of the Saracens, not understanding that baptismal grace hath made circumcision of no effect, even as flowers fall off and wither when fruit is ready to come. Wherefore St. Paul says to the Galatians: 'If ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing'; and again: ' For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is debtor to perform the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.' Another error of theirs, no less than the aforesaid, is that they confess their sins not to priests, but to God alone in secret, setting frankincense on fire beside them as though their sins would ascend unto God in the smoke thereof. They do miserably err, not understanding the Scriptures, and perish through false doctrine, concealing their wounds from their spiritual leeches, whose duty it is to distinguish between leprosy and leprosy, to weigh the circumstances under which men have sinned and impose penances upon them, to bind and to loose according as they have received the keys, and to make special prayers for those who confess to them. Wherefore in the Gospel the Lord said to the lepers: ' Go, show yourselves to the priests.'^ And we read of St. John the Baptist, that men 'were baptized of him, confessing their sins.' Now, blushing and anxious shame and humble confession is the greatest part of penance. Men are made more apt to sin if they think that they need not disclose their evil deeds to men; for it is written, 'He that covereth his sins shall not prosper, but whoso confesseth and for- saketh them shall have mercy.' The third error and crass ignorance, and, as it were, darkness that may be felt, of the aforesaid Jacobites or Jacobins, is that many of them, before baptism, burn and mark their children with a red-hot iron, making a cautery upon their foreheads. Others mark their babes with a cross on both cheeks or both temples, wrongly supposing that they make atonement for their sins by actual fire, because it is written in St. Matthew's Gospel that St. John the Baptist said of Christ: 'He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire;' though it is plain to all believers that the remission of sins shall be performed by spiritual fire, that is, by the Holy Ghost, not by visible fire. Wherefore, in the books of the Prophets, the Lord often reproves the children of Israel, and terribly threatens them because they passed their children through the fire as the Gentiles did. For the Lord says in Deuteronomy, by the mouth of the prophet Moses: 'Thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations; there shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire.' And all Christians know that neither our Lord nor His Apostles, nor any of the holy Fathers, left any custom of this sort in the Church, or ordered any such brandings to be done. I have seen both the Jacobites and the Syrians who dwell among the Saracens with crosses branded on their arms with hot irons; they say that it is to distinguish them from the infidels, and out of respect for the holy Cross, that they have the figure of the cross thus imprinted upon them. I made diligent inquiry of the Greeks and Syrians wherefore they abominate the Jacobites, and have cut them off from their communion. They said that the chief reason was that they had fallen into the most evil and damnable heresy of declaring that, as Christ had only one person, so He had only one nature. Now, heretics of this kind were excommunicated and condemned by the Council of Chalcedon. Some of them erroneously affirmed that Christ after He had taken our nature upon Him did not exist in two natures, but that the Divine nature alone existed in Him. This error was brought into the Church by Eutyches, an Abbot at Constantinople. Others declare that the two natures in Christ are made one ; the authors of this error are certain Bishops of Alexandria, named Theodosius and Galanus. Yet we know for certain that Jesus Christ hungered, thirsted, and felt other needs according to His human nature, and even suffered death upon the cross, while according to His Divine nature He raised the dead and wrought other miracles; it was according to this nature that He said, 'Before Abraham was, I am'; and again, I that speak unto you am the Beginning'; and yet again, ' I and My Father are One.' The same said according to His human nature, ' My Father is greater than I.' And again, when He would have had the cup pass away, ' Not as I will, but as Thou wilt.' Now, when I made most careful inquiry of the aforesaid Jacobites whether they held that there was only one nature in Christ, they said that they did not; I know not whether they were influenced by fear or some other reason. When I asked them why they used only one finger to cross themselves withal, they answered that by the one finger they symbolized the One Divine Being, the Trinity in Three Persons, and that thus they fortified themselves with the sign of the cross in the name of the Trinity in Unity. But the Greeks and Syrians say in reproach that they sign themselves with one finger be- cause of the one nature which they believe Christ to possess. Some of them use the Chaldean alphabet, some the Arabic alphabet, which we call Saracenic. Their laity use divers' idioms in their common speech, according to their various nations and provinces, and do not understand the language which their clergy use for Holy Scripture; for though these use the Saracenic alphabet, yet what is written is not the vulgar Saracen tongue, but a peculiar language understood only by the learned.

Selected editions

Jacques de Vitry, The History of Jerusalem, trans. A. Stewart (London: 1896).

Histoire orientale de Jacques de Vitry, trans. M.-G. Grossel (Paris: 2005).