Militant Monks Essay, Research Paper
Militant Monks The Knights Templar, a military order of monks answerable only to the Popehimself, were founded in 1118. Their primary responsibility, at leastinitially, was to provide protection to Christians making pilgrimages to theHoly Land. They rose in power, both religious and secular, to become one ofthe richest and most powerful entities in Christendom. By the time of theirdisbandment in 1307, this highly secretive organization controlled vastwealth, a fleet of merchant ships, and castles and estates spanning theentire Mediterranean area. When the crusaders captured Jerusalem from the Muslims in 1099, the Churchencouraged all faithful Christians to visit that holy city in order toaffirm their faith. The area, however, was still subject to sporadic attacksfrom various non-Christian factions. A small group of knights, led by Hughde Payens, vowed to protect the pilgrims. The group was grantedquasi-official status by King Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who allowed themquarters in a wing of the royal palace near the Temple of Solomon. It isfrom this initial posting that the order derived its name. They took thestandard vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and were bound to the rulesof the Augustinian order. [Upton-Ward 1] The order languished in near-anonimity for several years, despite generouscontributions from various European personages. In 1126, Count Hugh ofChampagne, having donated his estates to Bernard of Clairvaux for use inbuilding a monestary for the Cistercian order, arrived in Jerusalem to jointhe Templars. This action indirectly obligated Bernard to support the newlychosen advocacy of his benefactor. He wrote to the count, “If, for God’swork, you have changed yourself from count to knight and from rich to poor,I congratulate you.” [Howarth 49] In the year 1126, King Baldwin found two reasons for wanting officialrecognition of the order. First, he had, perhaps prematurely, bestowed uponHugh de Payens the title of Master of the Temple. Second, the king had theopportunity to launch an attack on the city of Damascus, but he needed moreknights. Papal recognition would allow open recruiting in Europe for theorder. King Baldwin sent a letter to Bernard of Clairvaux, the order’sprimary patron, later known as Saint Bernard, asking him to petition thePope for official recognition of the order. [Howarth 50-51] The King’sletter was hand-carried to Bernard by two loyal and trusted knights, Andrewde Montbard, maternally related to Bernard, and Gondemare. Upon theirarrival at Clairvaux, the two knights presented Bernard with Baldwin’sletter, which came right to the point. [Upton-Ward 3] “The brothers Templar,whom God has raised up for the defence of our province and to whom he hasaccorded special protection, desire to receive apostolic approval and alsotheir own Rule of life … Since we know well the weight of yourintercession with God and also with His Vicar and with the other princes ofEurope, we give into your care this two-fold mission, whose success will bevery welcome to us. Let the constitution of the Templars be such as issuitable for men who live in the clash and tumult of war, and yet of a kindwhich will be acceptable to the Christian princes, of whom they have beenthe valuable auxiliaries. So far as in you lies and if God pleases, striveto bring this matter to a speedy and successful issue.” [qtd. in Howarth 50-51] Bernard realized at once the genius of the proposal to combine religiousand military endeavors. Through such organizations, the borders ofChristendom could be extended and fortified. He immediately granted hisapproval of the plan and pledged his full support. He petitioned PopeHonorius II for a special council to consider the matter, and he notifiedHugh of his actions. [Howarth 51] The Council of Troyes convened on January 13, 1128, a bitterly cold SaintHilary’s Day, for the primary purpose of considering the request of theKnights Templar. Despite the delays of written communications, Hugh dePayens, accompanied by several brother knights, arrived from the Holy Landin time to attend the meetings of the Council. [Howarth 51] William of Tyre wrote an account of the events: “Nine years after thefounding of this order, the knights were still in secular garb. They woresuch garments as the people, for salvation of their souls, bestowed uponthem. During this ninth year, a council was held at Troyes in France. Therewere present the archbishops of Rheims and Sens, with their suffragans; thebishop of Albano, the Pope’s legate; the abbotts of Citeaux, Clairvaux,Potigny; and many others. At this council, by order of Pope Honorious and ofStephen, patriarch of Jerusalem, a rule was drawn up for this order and ahabit of white assigned them.” [qtd. in Burman/Templars 27] Although referred to in William’s account by the generic title Abbott ofClairvaux, Bernard, in actuality controlled the proceedings of the council. There was little doubt Bernard’s request would be met with approval; he waswell known for his successes in reforming monastic life. He was held in theutmost respect by religious and lay leaders alike; in many circles he wasreferred to as the second pope. In fact, many of the popes were supplied bythe mendicant orders. [Robinson 66-67] At a time when monks were more highly regarded than priests, and consideredcloser to God because of their ascetic life-styles, Benard said, “The peoplecannot look up to the priests, because the people are better than priests.”[Robinson 67] Bernard’s offer to personally assist in the formulation of the Rules of theorder was gratefully accepted by all. Bernard based his Rule of the Templarson that of his own Cistercian order, which was itself based on the olderBenedictine Rule. [Robinson 67] The Rule of the Templars was a strict and complex system of 686 writtenlaws, meant to cover every possible aspect of daily life. As an example,Rule 25, On Bowls and Drinking Vessels, states: Because of the shortage ofbowls, the brothers will eat in pairs, so that one may study the other moreclosely, and so that neither austerity nor secret abstinence is introducedinto the communal meal. And it seems just to us that each brother shouldhave the same ration of wine in his cup. [qtd. in Upton-Ward 26] In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a Bull, titled Omne Datum Optimum,declaring that the Knights Templar were under the direct and sole control ofthe Pope. This freed the Knights to operate throughout Christendom and theLevant unencumbered by local ecclesiastical and secular rulers. Thisunprecedented autonomy was due, in no small part, to the personal petitionsof the new Grand Master, Robert the Burgundian. While Hugh had been anexcellent warrior, Robert was an ideal administrator who understoodpolitics. [Howarth 80] The Order was authorized to have chaplain brothers, who were authorized tohear the confessions of their fellow brothers, and thereby absolve them oftheir sins. There were, however, five specific crimes for which granting ofabsolution was reserved by the Pope. These were: “the killing of a Christianman or woman,; violently attacking another brother; attacking a member ofanother order or a priest; renouncing holy orders in order to be received asa brother; and entering the order by simony.” [Upton-Ward 5] It was also during the mastership of Robert that the Rules were translatedfrom Latin into French. Church documents were normally in Latin only, butsince most of the Knights were soldiers rather than educated clerics, theywere unable to read Latin. In 1147, the Knights were authorized to wear ared cross upon their white mantles, despite rule 18, which forbade anydecorations on their clothing. [Upton-Ward 12] As the Knights Templar gained political and economic strength, they foundthemselves involved in many aspects of secular life. They established thefirst truly international banking service; travelers not wanting to travelwith large sums could deposit their monies at any Temple and collect a likeamount at their destination. [Burman/Templars 85] The Templars were theprimary bankers for the Holy See. Since the order was a papal creation whichwas administered directly by the Pope himself, their significance as papal
bankers is understandable. Less obvious is the Templars’ function as royalbankers for several of Europe’s royal houses. The two greatest Templesoutside the Levant were located in Paris and London. These two Templesoffered a full range of financial services to the royal houses, includingcollecting taxes, controlling debts and administering pension funds. [Burman/Templars 87-88] The treasury of the King of France was kept safelywithin the vault of the Temple of Paris. [Sinclair 36] The Templars owned a great fleet of merchant ships with which to convey allmanner of goods, e.g., pepper and cotton, as well as pilgrims, betweenEurope and the Holy Land. People wanting to make a pilgrimage to the HolyLand, but lacking the resources to do so, were allowed to assign rights totheir houses and property, upon their death, to the Templars in exchange forpassage on a Templar ship. To avoid accusations of usury, this procedure waslegitimized by the papal bull Quantum Praedecessores, issued by PopeEugenius II in 1145. [Burman/Templars 75-78] The Holy Land was divided into four Crusader States: Jerusalem, Antioch,Tripoli and Edessa. Shifting alliances, complicated by the plotting ofindependent Arab emirates, posed a complicated and often confusing backdropfor the Knights’ military operations. Their first action was in the northernsector of the Principality of Antioch. They captured the March of Amanus,which formed a natural barrier between the city of Amanus and Asia Minor. [Burman/Templars 50] The Knights Templar frequently fought side-by-side with their counter-parts, the Knights Hospitaller, another military order, founded to provideshelter to sick, wounded or destitute pilgrims. Together, these two warriororders afforded the Holy Land a formidable fighting force. Although somehistories allude to a deep and bitter rivalry between the two, it is morelikely that they cooperated well during the battles, keeping any suchpettiness for the monotonous weeks between actions. [Upton-Ward 6-7] The first military action of the Templars was in the northern sector of theHoly Land. In 1131, they captured the March of Amanus in Antioch. It was anatural barrier between the city and Asia Minor, which afforded control oftwo roads into Antioch. The same year, King Fulk, Baldwin s successor,travelled to the site and granted ownership to the Templars. [Burman/Templars 52] Control of the various areas of the Holy Land see-sawed back and forthbetween the Crusaders and the Arabs, with neither side enjoying a decisivevictory. Then the balance of power began to change with the rise of thegreat Arab leader Salah-ad-Din Yusuf ibn-Aiyub, known to westerners asSaladin. Descended from a long line of military heroes, he was born in 1138in Baalbek, Syria, where his father was military governor. He began todevelop his warrior skills by accompanying his father and uncles on variouscampaigns. [Burman/Templars 98] Saladin’s rise to power was rapid and successful. His adherance to theorthodox Sunni faith caused him to initiate dramatic changes in his Shi-itearmy. Upon his ultimate rise to the position of Sultan, he declared a’jihad’, or holy war, against the Crusaders. This intense re-focusing of theMoslem effort began a gradual shift in power. Christian strongholds fell inincreasing numbers, creating a domino effect. By the middle of 1187, Saladinhad captured Acre, Nablus, Jaffa, Toron, Sidon, Beirut and Ascalon. Jerusalem fell on 2 October, 1187. [Burman/Templars 108] The fall of Jerusalem was a disaster from which the Crusades neverrecovered. Among Saladin’s prisoners were the King of Jerusalem and Raynaldde Chatillon, commander of the fortress at Moab. After entertaining the twoin his tent, Saladin had Raynald killed. The King saw his fellow prisonerexecuted and thought he was surely next, but Saladin had him brought back into his tent and told him, “It is not the habit of kings to kill kings.”Saladin’s victory was complete. [Payne 223-4] In the disarray that followed, the orders began to disperse. TheHospitallers removed their headquarters, first to Rhodes and then to Malta;and, with the ultimate fall of Acre in 1291, the Templars lost their base ofoperations and relocated to Cyprus. In effect, the orders had lost theiroriginal reason for existence. [Upton-Ward 9] As the Knights had their policital patrons, so had their enemies. In 1305,Philip IV of France, known as Philip the Fair, seized control of the HolySee and relocated the papacy to Avignon. From there, he initiated a seriesof papal decrees, ostensibly issues by Pope Clement V, a puppet pope underhis absolute control. Eyeing the vast fortunes and resources of theTemplars, he conceived a plot of treachery against them. Since he alsocontrolled the Inquisition in France, he had no difficulty leveling a wholelaundry list of horrible, but adsurd and largely unsupportable, crimesagainst the Knights. [Burman/Inquisition 95] The role of the Inquisition, under the auspices of Chief InquisitorGuillaume of Paris, was to obtain confessions and conduct trials. On Fridaythe 13th of September, 1307, the warrant was issued for the arrest of theKnights and seizure of their property. Many of the Temples were ‘tipped off’by the local sheriffs about the impending sweep, but Grand Master Jacques deMolay and his associates were arrested in their bed clothes. Theinterrogations, aimed at soliciting evidence of any wrongdoing with which toprove the allegations against the order, dragged on for years. Ultimately,the Grand Master, along with other high-ranking Templars, were executed byburning in March, 1314, on an island in the Seine. [Howarth 17] The years between the arrest of Templars and the order’s final dissolutionafforded plenty of time for knights on the lam to become absorbed by theunderground. Knights in England were never pursued, due largely to a riftbetween the King and the Church, and many were thought to have participatedin the war between Scotland and England, on the side of Robert the Bruce. [Robinson 150-51] The vast fleet of Templar merchant ships was never found. There is norecord of the 18 Templar ships which had been based at La Rochelle on theFrench coast, nor any of the various Templar ships normally anchored in theThames or other English seaports. There is some speculation that the BarbaryPirates, who gained worldwide noteriety by plundering European shipping wellinto the 19th century, were founded by seagoing Templars with revenge ontheir minds. Many of the order’s ships were galleys, which were particularlysuited for piracy. [Robinson 165] One of the more mysterious tenets of the Freemasons can be found in theinitiation of a Master Mason. The initiate is told his degree “will make youa brother to pirates and corsairs.” [Robinson 165-66] In 1813, a merchant ship, captained by a Freemason, was captured andboarded by pirates. In desperation, the captain rendered the Grand HailingSign of Distress of a Master Mason. The pirate captain apparently recognizedthe secret sign and allowed the merchant ship to proceed unharmed. [Robinson166] The destruction of the Knights Templar by Philip the Fair was due to whathe saw as wealth, arrogance, greed and secrecy on the part of the order. Even Philip’s lawyer admitted “perhaps not all of them had sinned.” It tookmore than suspicion of guilt to bring about the downfall of such a powerfulentity as the Knights Templar. The final blow, however, was probablythree-fold: a general unpopularity of the order among the Europeanaristocracy, due in part to jealousy; a chronic shortage in the Frenchtreasury, despite heavy taxation; and Master de Molay’s refusal to considera merger of the Templars with the Hospitallers, as suggested by the Pope. The fact remains, however, that no evidence of heresy was ever found. [Burman/Templars 180] An order founded by nine knights in Jerusalem came to amass great wealthand power, which speaks well of their integrity and discretion. They becamethe “shock troops” of the Holy See. When they lost their original mission ofprotecting pilgrims upon the fall of Jerusalem, their downfall becameinevitable. [Sinclair 37]
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