This excerpt from Crusade and Christendom: Annotated Documents in Translation from Innocent III to the Fall of Acre, 1187-1291, edited by Jessalynn Bird, Edward Peters, and James M. Powell, features a translation of the Audita tremendi. This letter, written by Pope Gregory VIII in 1187, was in the words of Bird, Peters, and Powell "not only the most impassioned plea for a crusade ever issued by a pope until then, but the fullest detailed account of crusaders’ spiritual and temporal rewards and privileges to date."
The letter circulated widely throughout Europe, inspiring the group of military expeditions that came to be known as the Third Crusade. But the impact of Audita tremendi long outlasted the Third Crusade itself. It inspired a new generation of moral theologians to consider the needs of the Holy Land and to link these to the moral regeneration of Christian Europe, one of the great themes of twelfth and thirteenth-century history. Gregory’s emphasis on the bloody circumstances of the defeat at Hattin, the loss of the True Cross, and the first cities taken by Saladin (the surrender of Jerusalem on October 2, 1187, was not yet known in the West when Audita tremendi was issued) frame his insistence that God’s anger is the result of human sin, that penance is mandatory, not optional, and that a new expedition would be an opportunity for the salvation of Christian warriors. . . .
GREGORY, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to all Christ’s faithful who receive this letter, greeting and apostolic benediction.
When we heard of the severity of the awesome judgment that the hand of God visited on the land of Jerusalem, we and our brothers were disturbed by such a great horror, afflicted by such sorrows, that we scarcely knew what to do or what we should do, save that the psalmist laments and says, ‘‘O God, the gentiles have invaded your inheritance, they have sullied your holy temple, they have laid waste Jerusalem; they have left the dead bodies of your saints as meat for the beasts of the earth and food the birds of the air . . .’’ [Ps 78:1–2]. In fact, because of the conflict which the malice of [Christian] men has recently brought on the land by the inspiration of the devil, Saladin approached those parts with a host of armed troops. They were confronted by the king and the bishops, the Templars and the Hospitallers, the barons and the knights, with the people of the land, and with the Lord’s cross (through which from memory and faith of the suffering of Christ, who hung there and redeemed the human race, was believed to be a sure safeguard and a desired defense against the attacks of the pagans), and after the battle was joined, our side was defeated and the Lord’s cross was captured. The bishops were slaughtered, the king captured, and almost all our men were either put to the sword or taken prisoner. Very few are believed to have escaped. Also, the Templars and Hospitallers were beheaded in his [Saladin’s] presence. With the army defeated, we do not think our letter can explain how they next invaded and seized every place so that only a few remained outside their power. Still, though we use the words of the prophet: ‘‘Who will give me water for my head and a font of tears for my eyes, and I will weep night and day for the death of my people’’ [Jer 9:1], we ought not despair now and decide to mistrust and believe that God is so angry with his people that in his anger with their commission of a multitude of sins he will not quickly pardon when he is pleased by their penance and, after tears and groans, will lead them to exaltation.