Post-classical history

James of Vitry (d. 1240)

Crusade preacher and writer; active in the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229), the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221), and the Crusade of Frederick II (1227-1229).

Born in France sometime between 1160 and 1170, James studied in Paris before joining the canonry of St. Nicholas at Oignies in the diocese of Liège. He recruited for the crusade against heresy in southern France and wrote a life of the mystic Mary of Oignies as antiheretical propaganda at the request of Fulk, bishop of Toulouse. Although his recruiting work for the Fifth Crusade meant that he was proposed as a potential replacement for Robert of Courson as legate for the crusade in France, James was instead elected bishop of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) in Palestine. There he attempted a program of reform in preparation for the arrival of a crusading army, conducting a revivalist preaching tour and debates with representatives of various native Christian and Muslim sects.

During the campaign of the Fifth Crusade, James collaborated closely with Oliver of Paderborn and joined him in sending reports of its progress to Pope Honorius III and preachers active in the West, publicizing prophecies that predicted that the combined advent of a Western emperor (identified as Emperor Frederick II) and King David (identified as an Eastern Christian potentate) would see the capture of all Egypt and the recovery of Jerusalem.

After the fall of the city of Damietta in 1221, James returned to the West and helped organize the delayed crusade of Frederick II, mediating between the emperor and the pope on numerous occasions. Shortly after resigning his bishopric, he was appointed cardinal of Tusculanum (1229-1240). As cardinal, James compiled his numerous sermons into four major collections and continued to actively support the mendicant orders and Pope Gregory IX’s use of them as crusade preachers, missionaries, and inquisitors. He died on 1 May 1240.

James was the author of extensive writings that dealt with crusading, including the Historia Iherosolimitana, a tripartite work begun during the campaign of the Fifth Crusade. Its first book, the Historia Occidentalis, outlined the reforms he felt necessary for the success of the crusade. A far more copied and translated companion volume, the Historia Ori- entalis, described the successes and failures of past crusades while outlining the beliefs and customs of the inhabitants of the East and the geography, natural phenomena, and resources of these regions. James never completed a third book, meant to describe the course of the Fifth Crusade and the triumph of the Fourth Lateran Council, but an immensely popular substitute was soon compiled from various materials by anonymous copyists , including the Historia Damiatina of Oliver of Paderborn. James evidently intended all three books, known collectively as the Historia Iherosolimitana, to serve as a manual for future crusade recruiters and planners. The Historia Orientalis and the anonymous third book proved widely influential, inspiring missions, attempts at church reunion, and crusade proposals into the early modern era. James’s Historia Occidentalis and model sermons (including homilies for crusaders and pilgrims) also influenced crusade propagandists and reformers, including Guibert of Tournai and Humbert of Romans.

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