The Teachings of Saint Louis
Following the loss of overseas territories to Tatar invaders and the renewed Saracens threats against the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Louis IX announced his resolve to lead a second expedition to the Holy Land. With his army gathered at Aigues-Mortes in 1270, the king set sail for Tunis, where the sultan Muhammad al-Mustansir was expected to make good on his promise to embrace Christianity, should he be protected from the retaliation of his Muslim subjects. As this vow of conversion turned out to be a deadly trap, the freshly disembarked crusaders were now forced to seize and hold Carthage until the arrival of reinforcements led by Charles of Anjou. Soon, outbreaks of disease were spreading throughout the fortress, exacerbating the health of an already ageing king. Sensing that his last moments were near, Louis summoned his eldest son and successor Phillip to hand him a letter containing his Enseignements — a singular collection of precepts in matters of piety and statesmanship. The French version used for its translation is taken from the critical text of David O'Connell published in 1972.
The Teachings of Saint Louis
To his dear eldest son Philip, salutations and fatherly regards.
Dear son, because I desire with all my heart that you be well instructed in all matters, I think I ought to share certain teachings with the present letter; for I have heard you say upon occasion that you wished to imitate me more than anyone else.
The first thing that I recommend is to love God with all your heart and all your strength, for without it nothing else is worthwhile.
You must abstain all you can from all things which you believe would displease him, and in particular you must have the will not to commit any mortal sin whatever event may unfold, and that you would rather let your limbs be mangled and suffer cruel martyrdom than to sin wilfully.
Should Our Lord send you any adversity or disease, you must suffer it with grace, and must thank him for it; for you must realize that he did so for what may turn out to be a greater benefit. For he must think that you were deserving of such hardships, that you have not loved and served him well and have acted against his will.
Should Our Lord send you health or prosperity or any other benefit, thank him humbly, so that you may not be puffed up with pride or any other misdeed; for it is a great sin to turn Our Lord's gifts against him.
I recommend that you get in the habit of confessing often and that you always choose confessors who live a pious life and are of sufficient erudition, by whom you will be taught what you ought to avoid and what you ought to do, and that you behave with such humble manners that your confessor and your friends will not fear to instruct and reprimand you.
Listen attentively to the service of the Holy Church, and when in the minster, abstain from distractions and from speaking vain words. Your prayers should be given with devotion, out loud or by thoughts, and you should be particularly attentive during the consecration of the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
May you keep a pitiful heart for the poor and toward all those you believe to be harbouring misfortune in their heart or body. Aid them to the best of your ability by providing relief or almsdeeds.
If you feel any secret sorrow, confide to your confessor or someone you believe to be loyal and trustworthy, so your trouble may be easier to bear, if such a matter can be shared.
Dear son, let those by whom you are surrounded be wise and loyal, be they religious or secular, and avoid the company of the wicked, and do converse with the virtuous ones; and heed the sermons of Our Lord, whether made in public or in private. Seek often the indulgence of the Church.
Seek goodness in your fellow and depart from evil. Allow no persons to discourse on subjects that might lead to sin. Neither listen to the slanders spoken against the absent.
Much less allow anyone to speak of Our Lord or Our Lady or the Saints with irreverence without exerting vengeance for it. Should one guilty of such deeds be a cleric or a man of high status over whom you do not have jurisdiction, have him reported to the person who does.
Exert yourself in such a way as to recognize the goodness and honours of Our Lord so that, should it please Our Lord that you come to govern the kingdom, you may be worthy of receiving the holy unction with which the king of France is consecrated.
Should you come to govern over the kingdom, be firm and loyal in the exertion of virtues which are expected of a king, and never depart from a just line of conduct. Should any contention arise between a poor and a rich man, lean in favour of the poor until the truth is revealed and that you may dispense proper justice.
If contention arises between you and someone else, argue in favour of his case before the council, without showing too much inclination toward your cause, this until you learn the truth, for the council may otherwise show reservations in speaking against you, which is something that you must not seek.
If you hear that you wrongly hold a possession that you have seized or received from your ancestors, return it without delay, regardless of how large or valuable that possession may be. If the matter is doubtful, reach a settlement via a council of wise men, so that your soul and that of your ancestors may not be tarnished; and though you may have heard that your ancestors have returned what they should have, make sure there is nothing left to be returned, for the deliverance of your soul and that of your ancestors.
Be diligent in maintaining the uprightness of affairs for all the people living on your land, and in particular that of the Holy Church; defend them so that they may suffer no evil nor aggression, whether against their own person or their own goods. On that matter I ought to retell what my ancestor king Phillip once said, as retold to me by one of his counsellors. The king was then in the presence of his private council, when one of them decried the encroachment of the clergy on his prerogatives, marvelling at the king's indulgence. And the king replied: "I can well believe they are doing me wrong; but when I recall the blessings that Our Lord has bestowed upon me, I would rather suffer them than to sow discord between me and the Holy Church." I report the above so you may not be too inclined to weight against the people of the Holy Church; but rather honour them so they may continue to serve Our Lord in peace.
Thus I tell you that I hold in particularly high regard men of religion, and eagerly come to their aid as needed; and those whom you believe to be more honoured and served by Our Lord, hold them even dearer to your heart.
Dear son, love your mother, honour and retain her good teachings, and be inclined to trust her good advice.
Love your brothers always, watch over them and seek their advancements, and like a father instruct them well, but do not, out of affection, depart from the right conduct nor do what you ought not to.
Confer benefits of the Holy Church on those who are deserving via the council of wise men; it seems better to give to those who have no prebends than to others; seek them well and you will find enough of those who have nothing but will employ them wisely.
Do not engage in war against Christians, and if one does you wrong, try to find ways through which you may be done right without having to wage war, with the intention of avoiding the sins that are committed in wartime. And if you decide it must be waged, because one of your men is resolute to encroach on your court, or threatens a church, or does evil to a poor person or anyone else, and does not seek your resolution, or any other reasonable cause you deem worthy, command diligently so that the poor people who have not committed any transgression may not incur any damage through arson and the like. For it serves you better to subjugate the instigator by seizing his goods or his cities or castles by siege. And seek good counsel before you engage in war, so that the cause be very reasonable, and that you have warned the instigator and given him due notice.
When wars and quarrels break out on your land or between your men, do your best to appease them; for it is something that greatly pleases Our Lord. Saint Martin gave us plenty of such examples, for he went to negotiate peace between the clerics of his archbishopric, knowing through Our Lord that his time had come, and he deemed such peacemaking vows a proper ending to his life.
Make sure that the bailiffs and provosts of your land are well chosen, and ensure their proper conduct that they may never misgovern. And likewise for those in your lodging, for you must repress those who wield power directly from you with more severity than those who do not.
Always be devoted to the Church of Rome and our father the Apostle, and give reverence and honour as you owe it to your spiritual father.
Give power to men of good will who know how to wield it, and endeavour to put an end to blasphemy in your land, that is, any sermon or act that is done in spite of God or our Our Lady or the Saints: sins of the flesh, dice games, taverns and the like. Have them shut down throughout the land in wise fashion. Have the heretics and other evildoers expelled from the land so that it may be purged of such evil as advised by a wise council.
Endeavour to learn how to recognize the blessings that Our Lord will bestow upon you and know how to thank him for it.
Take great care that your treasury be well spent and used with uprightness. And this is a quality I wish for you to have, which is to abstain from excessive expenses and that your deniers be well spent and well saved. Such a quality is taught by Our Sires along with other suitable traits.
My dear son, should it please Our Lord that I pass and depart from this life before you do, I ask that throughout the kingdom you shall have Masses celebrated and orations held for me, and that you summon the congregations of the kingdom of France to pray for the repose of my soul, and that you dedicate a share of the merit in all your good deeds to me for Our Sires to witness.
My dear son, I give all the benedictions that an affectionate father can give his son, and pray to Our Lord God Jesus Christ that he, through his great misericord and prayers, and through the merits of the blessed mother virgin Mary, the angels and archangels, and all the Saints, ward and defend you against committing acts contrary to his will, and give you the grace to accomplish it so that he may be served and honoured by you, and that through his great largesse, you and I may after this mortal life be with Him, in eternal life, where we can praise Him and love Him to no end. Amen.