Letters of Pope Alexander II concerning just warfare against the forces of Muslim Iberia (1063-1064)

Translations and notes are copyright John S. Ott.  Classroom use is freely conferred; other use forbidden without permission. Last revised 22 October 2012.

Letters 1.-2. Trans. John S. Ott, from S. Löwenfeld, ed., Epistolae pontificum Romanorum ineditae (Leipzig, 1885), nos. 82-83, pp. 43-44.
Letter 3. Trans. John S. Ott from J.-P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae latinae cursus completus, vol. 146 (Paris, 1884), Letters and diplomas of Pope Alexander II (Alexandri II pontificis Romani epistolae et diplomata), no. 101, cols. 1386D-1387A.

The following letters date approximately to the end of 1063-early 1064, during the early years of Alexander II's pontificacy. As they have come down to us they are not complete letters, but rather extracts from letters that circulated later in collections of canon law as decretals.  The timing would appear to coincide with an expedition of northern European warriors against the Muslim stronghold of Barbastro, Spain, which took place in 1064. The fragmentary nature of the letters has led to a great deal of speculation about Alexander's role and intention in sponsoring, organizing, or encouraging the expedition. The precise place of the letters in the history of crusading and papal indulgences is still open to question; many of the difficulties of interpretation have been discussed by Marcus Bull, Knightly Piety and the Lay Response to the First Crusade. The Limousin and Gascony, c. 970-c.1130 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 72-81.

In any case, the conquest of Barbastro was but a momentary success for the northern armies (which included contingents from Aquitaine, Normandy, Burgundy, and Catalonia). The city was retaken by al-Muqtadir, the king of Zaragoza, the following year, and held until 1100. For background on the debates surrounding the letters, one may consult, besides Marcus Bull, Carl Erdmann, The Origin of the Idea of Crusade, trans. Marshall W. Baldwin and Walter Goffart (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977), 134-140, and, more recently, Joseph F. O'Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 23-27.

(1)  Letter of Pope Alexander II to the clergy of Volturno (1063, late)

To the clergy of Volturno.[1]  We urge with paternal charity that those who are determined to set out for Spain think with maximum care about what they, divinely inspired, have decided to carry out.  Let a measure of penance be imposed on each and every one of them who shall confess, according to the quality of his sins, to his bishop or spiritual father, so that the devil may not accuse them of impenitence.  We, accompanying [them] with prayer, by the authority of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, [thereby] lift their penance and give them remission of sins.

(2)  Letter of Pope Alexander II to Gaufrid, archbishop of
Narbonne (1063, late)

To [Arch]bishop Gaufrid.[2]  All laws, both ecclesiastical and secular, condemn the shedding of human blood, unless by chance they punish by judgment a crime already committed, or, as in the case of the Saracens, a hostile provocation occurred.  Thus, you acted advisedly and laudably because you did not allow the Jews to be persecuted without cause.  We urge you to act again in a similar fashion if necessary.

The following letter, although dated by its editor no more specifically than 1061-1073, was probably also written about 1063 or 1064.

(3)  Letter of Pope Alexander II to all the bishops of Spain (1063 or 1064)

Pope Alexander, to all the bishops of Spain.  The news which we recently heard about you was pleasing to us, how you protected the Jews who lived among you so that they would not be annihilated by those who had set out against the Saracens in Spain.  Indeed, those people, moved either by dull ignorance or by blind avarice, wished to bring slaughter upon those whom divine piety predestined for salvation.  Thus blessed Gregory [3] forbade certain men who burned to exterminate [the Jews], denouncing as impious the wish to destroy them who were saved by God’s mercy, so that they—cast out from homeland and liberty, damned to a lengthy punishment by the prejudgment of the father for spilling the Savior’s blood—might live dispersed to the ends of the earth.  The situation of the Jews and Saracens is completely different.  For war is waged justly against those who persecute Christians and expel them from their cities and own homes; these were everywhere created to be enslaved.  But [blessed Gregory] even prohibited a bishop who wished to destroy [the Jews’] synagogue [from doing so].

[1]  The precise identification of 'Volturno' has been much discussed. Possible candidates include: Castel Volturno in Campania, southern Italy; Volterra, in Tuscany; and an unidentified French diocese (with its name garbled in the historical record), though this appears rather less probable to the translator.
[2] Also called Wilfrid or Guifrid, archbishop of Narbonne from ca. 1019-1077. Narbonne is located just inland from the Mediterranean, along the southwestern coast of France.
[3] Pope Gregory I, ruled 590-604.