Writings of Jacques de Vitry - 578 

Writings of Jacques de Vitry

Letter I (1216)

Jacques de Vitry (c.1160/70-1240) noted preacher, historian and church leader, was a keen and often critical observer of religious life in the early thirteenth century. His writings form a uniquely valuable witness to the early Franciscan movement. An enthusiastic promoter of church renewal, he was impressed by what he saw as the radical “apostolic life” of the first Lesser Brothers. Furthermore, history placed him in a position to witness closely key aspects of the Order’s development for more than two decades.

A native of Vitry, near Rheims, Jacques was educated at Paris; after his ordination to the priesthood he worked in the diocese of Liège. There he came to be deeply influenced by Marie of Oignies, one of the early leaders of the Beguine movement; in 1211 he joined the canons regular of Saint Augustine in that town and, at Marie’s urging, took up a career as a popular preacher. His fame caused the Papal legate to commission him in 1213 to preach the Crusade against the Albigensians, and eventually led to his election as Bishop of Acre in the Crusader States. In the summer of 1216, Jacques proceeded to Italy to be consecrated by the Pope; he arrived in Perugia just after the death of Innocent III and was ordained bishop there on July 31 by Honorius III. This first selection is from a letter he wrote from Genoa in October of that same year to his friends in Liège before departing Europe to assume the care of his diocese. In it he described his stay in Italy, especially the new religious movements among the laity he encountered there.a

. . . After this, I came to the city of Milan, which is a cesspool of heretics. I remained there for some days and preached the Word of God in a number of places. In the whole city I scarcely found anyone who opposed the heretics, except for certain holy men and religious women, whom malicious lay people call “Patarines,”b but whom the Supreme Pontiff designated the “Humiliati.” He gave them the right to preach and resist the heretics and approved them as religious.c They have renounced all their goods and have gathered together in various places, living by the work of their hands. Tb 2:19 1 Cor 4:12 Eph 4:28 They frequently preach the Word of God and gladly listen to it, remaining perfectly founded in the faith and

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Littres de Jacques de Vitry, Littres de Jacques de Vitry, p. 72-76


Writings of Jacques de Vitry Letter I (1216)10

Post hoc vero veni in civitatem quandam, Mediolanensem scilicet, que fovea est hereticorum, ubi per aliquot dies mansi et verbum dei in aliquibus locis predicavi. Vix autem invenitur in tota civitate qui resistat hereticis, exeptis quibusdam sanctis hominibus et regiosis mulieribus, qui a maliciosis et secularibus hominibus Patareni nuncupantur, a summo autem pontifice, a quo habent auctoritatem predicandi et resistendi hereticis, qui etiam religionem confirmavit, Humiliati vocantur; hii sunt, qui omnia pro Christo relinquentes in locis diversis congregantur, de labore manuum suarum vivunt, verbum dei frequenter predicant et libenter audiunt, in fide perfedi et stabiles,

Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 578

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