What is Knight Templary?
The fourth, and last, of the York Rite Bodies of Masonry, Commanderies of Knights Templar serves as the crowning glory in completing the Christian Path towards Masonic Light. This is the only recognized Masonic Body that has religious connotations, since it is based on the Christian Religion and virtues. As a consequence, while not all Masons will become Knight Templars, every Christian Mason should to complete his Masonic journey. Today’s Knight Templar is a man dedicated to the living Christ, and the defense of the virtues contained in the practices observed by all true Christians.
In the Commandery, there are three ‘degrees’ or steps, which are called Orders. These are The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, The Mediterranean Pass and Order of Malta and The Order of the Temple; after the Orders of Knighthood and Chivalry as known in Europe before the reformation. Hence, we are called Chivalric Masonry.
History of the Knights Templar
The Order was founded in Jerusalem in 1118 by Hughes de Payens Geoffroy de St. Omer and seven other French knights. It was consecrated to the protection of pilgrims and the defense of the Holy Land. The founding knights took monastic vows and were known as “The Poor Knights of Christ”.
King Baldwin II, the French King of Jerusalem (1118-1131) installed the Order in a part of his Palace, on the site of Solomon’s Temple, for their residence, stables and armory, from which it took its name of Knights of the Temple or Templars.
At the Council of Troyes in 1128 Pope Honorius II, who gave it the strict Rule dictated by St. Bernard, a monk of the Cistercian Order who became the first Abbot of Clairvaux, confirmed the Order. The Knights also received the white mantle as a symbol of purity of their life, to which in 1146 Pope Eugenius added the red Templar cross.
The Order’s battle honors in defense of the Holy Land were many. Following the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 the Templars withdrew to Acre. They remained at Acre with Grand Master William de Beaujue until 1291 when the city was captured and he was killed. The surviving Templars, with their new Grand Master, were the last to leave the city. The Order withdrew to Limmasol, Cyprus and had its Headquarters at the Temple Monastery in Paris.
After many years of sacrifices and rendering services to both Christianity and civilization, this very rich and powerful Order excited the envy and greed of others. The principal malefactor was Philippe le Bel, King of France, who was financially indebted to the Order. In 1307 Philippe arrested all serving Templars in France with the intention of sequestrating all the Order’s possessions.
However, these were hidden in a secret place and have never been found to this day. Not able to judge the Order himself, (it was only answerable to the Pope) Philippe set about to coerce the Pope to suppress the Order, but the Pope refused. Whereupon, the king dismissed him and created his friend, the Bishop of Bordeaux, Pope Clement V, who readily issued a Bull suppressing the Order in 1312. The Order then reverted to its original status of a Secular Military Order of Chivalry.
Only in France were the Templars treated with any severity, with Grand Master Jacques de Molay and others burnt at the stake in March 1314 on an island in the Seine. In England, Edward II (a patron) at first did not take any action against the Order, but finally, he allowed the inquisitors to judge the Order at the Church of All Hallows By-the-Tower. Edward then set about reclaiming English Templar lands and possessions including the London Temple, rather than passing them to the Hospitallers. After Edward’s actions The Templars sought refuge in Scotland where they were welcomed.
Prior to his martyrdom in 1314 Grand Master Jacques de Molay invested Jean-Marc Larmenius with his powers. Larmenius was unanimously recognized as the new Grand Master following de Molay’s death. He gathered together the dispersed remnants of the Order and in 1324 gave the Order the Charter of Transmission. This Charter is still one of the governing documents of the Present Order.
The Order continued in secret with an uninterrupted line of Grand Masters until 1705. In March of that year a number of French nobles held a convention of Templars at Versailles. They elected Philip, Duke of Orleans, later Regent of France, as the Order’s 41st Grand Master. Thus as Regent of France and Grand Master of the Temple it provided an official renewal and legitimization of the Order of the Temple as a Secular Military Order of Chivalry and also its right to resume the use of “sovereign” in its title.
After the death of the Duke of Orleans in 1723, three Princes of Bourbon were Grand Masters of the Order until 1776. That year the Duke of Cosse Brissac accepted the Grand Mastership and remained in office until his execution during the French Revolution in 1782. Having foreseen the coming events he passed on the Order’s archives and the Charter of Transmission to Radix de Chevillon. The Order survived the Revolution and went through a period of prosperity in France during the early C19th with many people of high office asking to be admitted.
Between 1818 and 1841 the Order expanded greatly with over 20 Convents in France and Priories set up in Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. Legations were also established in Sweden, Brazil, India and in New York.
History of the Knights of Malta
The Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem, called of Rhodes, called of Malta (generally known as the Order of Malta), came into existence between c. 1080 when a hospital for pilgrims was established in Jerusalem near the Abbey of St Mary of the Latins, and 1113, when the hospital, its administrators and dependencies were recognized by the Pope as an Order of the Church, dedicated to the care of the sick poor. Half a century after its foundation it assumed military as well as Hospitaller functions, and by 1200 it was playing a major role in the defense of the Christian settlements in Palestine and Syria which had been set up by the Crusaders. From its origins it was endowed on a massive scale in Western Europe and it developed an international structure to manage these properties for the benefit of its work in the East.
Driven from Palestine with the rest of the Catholics in 1291, the Hospitallers of St John took over the island of Rhodes, off the coast of Asia Minor, which became their base for naval operations against Muslim shipping. They ruled the island as a semi-independent state until 1522. They were then given the island of Malta, which they held until 1798. During the centuries of the Order’s government of Rhodes and Malta it became recognized as a sovereign power.
With the loss of Malta the order’s military functions ceased, and Hospitaller work again became its only duty. It moved its headquarters to Rome in 1834. It is still regarded by many states (though not by all) as a sovereign subject of international public law. The seat of the Grand Magistracy in Rome, under the present Grand Master, HMEH Fra´ Andrew Bertie, has the right of extra-territoriality recognized by the Italian state.
The Commandery of Knights Templar
The Commandery orders represent a new direction of Masonic thought and experience, in that they no longer refer to Ancient Craft Masonry, but to ideals and practices of chivalry and Christianity. The first Commandery order, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, presents the story of the Jewish Prince, Zerubbabel, and his efforts to secure permission of the Persian King Darius to rebuild the second temple at Jerusalem. The next order, Knight of Malta, is a complete departure from Masonry based on the Old Testament and is the first Christian order. Here, the candidate represents a knightly warrior of the Crusades prior to his departure for the Holy Land. The last order is that of Knight Templar, the crowning glory of the York Rite system. Again, in this totally Christian order, the candidate represents a knightly postulant who desires to unite with a Commandery of Knights Templar during the era of the Crusades. After several trials to test his faith, courage, and humility, achieving his desire rewards him. Let us consider these orders in more detail.
The Orders of Knighthood, the Commandery of Knights Templar, are three in number. The Order of the Red Cross, The Order of Malta, and The Order of the Temple. Each of these portrays beautiful and impressive lessons and explains the Christian interpretation of Freemasonry.
Order of the Red Cross
This order consists of two sections: (1) Zerubbabel’s (the candidate) admission to the Jewish Council at Jerusalem, in which he is invested with permission and authority to travel to Babylon and attempt to obtain leave from King Darius to stop the enemies of the Jews from hindering their progress in building the Temple, as well as to recover the holy vessels of the Temple which were taken as booty to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar when he destroyed the First Temple. Zerubbabel is also given a sword to defend him; a sash to remind him of his cause; and a password to get him by Jewish sentinels on his journey. Unfortunately, he is captured and made prisoner upon reaching the domains of King Darius. (2) At the court of Darius, Zerubbabel renews his earlier friendship with the king, and is granted a position in the royal household. He then participates in a friendly contest with other nobles of the realm regarding the question: ” Which is greater? The strength of wine? The power of the king? Or the influence of woman?” Zerubbabel contends for the latter, and adds an additional factor: The force of truth. After delivering his declamation on women and concluding in favor of truth above all, Zerubbabel is declared the winner of the contest and is granted his desires by the king. To perpetuate the occasion, Darius creates a new order, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, and after an obligation, makes Zerubbabel its first member. Next follow the signs, grips, and words as well as a historical lecture. The body is called a Council. The cornerstone of this order is the all-important attribute of truth, and the importance of keeping one’s word. It foreshadows the words of Jesus: “I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life.”
Order of Malta
This Order actually consists of two: The Order of St. Paul, or the Mediterranean Pass, which is a preparatory order, and the Order of Malta itself. The Order of Malta must be conferred in either full or short form. The full form is quite elaborate and beautiful but, alas, is not conferred by many Commanderies. The short form is but a summary of the lessons taught in the full form, and this is what I will describe here. The Order of St. Paul is based on the story of Paul’s shipwreck on the island of Melita (Malta). The candidate represents a knight about to depart for the Crusades in the Holy Land. He receives sustenance, both spiritual and physical, to prepare him for the ardors of his journey. The Order of Malta is a suitable preparation for the Order of the Temple, in that it provides the candidate with additional New Testament instruction, particularly in the eight Beatitudes. The symbol of the order is the Maltese cross, symbolic of the Beatitudes and the eight languages, which once were spoken by its members. The candidate is created a Knight of Malta and invested with words and signs specific to the Order. The body is called a Priory.
Order of the Temple
This Order begins with the candidate, a Knight of Malta, who, after soul-searching reflection and suitable answers to certain questions, seeks to unite with a Commandery of Knights Templar. To test his faith, his directed to perform a certain number of years of pilgrimage. Being full of zeal and wishing to accomplish more useful deeds, he requests and is granted remission. He assumes a most solemn obligation, and then is obligated to a certain number of years of knightly warfare, as a test of his courage and constancy. Having satisfactorily performed these, he is admitted to the Asylum of the Knights Templar, where he is a participant in certain memorial exercises to KS, HKofT, GMHA, and Simon of Cyrene. Accompanying these exercises is a reading of New Testament scripture and an inspirational slide presentation. He is then required to perform a time of penance in token of his humility. Following this, he seals his membership in the Order in the most solemn, impressive and binding manner, and is duly dubbed a member of the Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple. Again, he receives certain signs, grips, and words, as well as an explanation of the important accoutrements of Templary, the Grand Standard, Baldric, Beauceant, Sword, and Spur. The body is called a Commandery. The relevance of this sublime Order to the Christian Mason can scarcely be overstressed. It provides a vivid connection between the Craft and Christianity. Especially relevant and meaningful is the address given by the Prelate during the course of the ceremonies.
A Knight Templar Commandery has 12 officers, in order of rank: Eminent Commander, Generalissimo, Captain General, Recorder, Treasurer, Prelate, Sr. Warden, Jr. Warden, Standard Bearer, Sword Bearer, Warder, and Sentinel. Some jurisdictions also have a Marshal. Members are styled “Sir Knight”. At least 9 Knights must be present to open a Commandery. Commanderies usually meet monthly. The state governing body is the Grand Commandery. The national body, to which Grand Commanderies must belong, is the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States of America.