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Templars

TEMPLARS

The Templars, officially the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon (Pauperes commilitones Christi templi Salomonici ), were one of the first of 12 religious military orders of knighthood that came into being between 1100 and 1300. It was founded c. 1119 to protect and guide pilgrims in the Holy Land.

Foundation and Development. The foundation of the Templars was inspired by the religious military order of the Knights Hospitaller (see knights of malta), whose purpose was to aid pilgrims upon their arrival in the Holy Land. The Hospitallers ministered to exhausted pilgrims within the city of Jerusalem; travelers, however, were exposed to danger on the way to the city and needed guides and protectors. A group of knights (seven or nine) filled this need and formed the nucleus of the Templars. It is generally accepted that the Burgundian knight, Hugh des Payens, and a knight from northern France, Godfrey of Saint-Omer, were its founders. They organized a religious community, taking an oath to guard the public routes and, in the presence of Warmund, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, promised to observe the three monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. All pomp was eliminated, and no distinctive dress characterized the new order. An order such as the Templars was unusual and new to Christianity; the older communities were reluctant to live by the sword, but the Templars unhesitatingly combined religious and military life.

Baldwin II (d. 1131), King of Jerusalem, turned over to the knights a part of his palace, believed to be the Temple of Solomon, whence is derived their name. Because of their pronounced state of poverty, they became known as "the poor brothers of the Temple." Gradually the Templars added to their original duties the obligation to fight all "infidels" threatening Christianity and to repel any force menacing Jerusalem or their religion.

As the fame of the order grew, partly through the propaganda writings of bernard of clairvaux (De laude novae militiae, 1128), it began also to increase in size. Recruiting members from the nobility and waxing rich on gifts from grateful kings and princes, the Templars developed into an efficient military organization that adopted absolute secrecy to cover all internal activities. They became extremely influentialand their influence, together with their mounting prosperity, created enemies. Applicants ranged from lords who wished only to be considered part of the order to excommunicated knights who, after absolution by their bishop, joined in active participation hoping to expiate their sins. The latter group was responsible for the eventual privilege of the order whereby no member of the Temple could be excommunicated.

At the Council of Troyes (Jan. 13, 1128), at which Hugh appeared in person, the rule of the order, prepared by Bernard of Clairvaux, was considered and approved. The Templars were permitted to wear the white mantle of the cistercians, to which, in the pontificate of eugene iii, the distinctive red cross was added. Heading the order was the Grand Master of the Temple of Jerusalem, assisted by a hierarchy of lesser officers. Though his power was not absolute, he had great authority over his subjects. Under certain specified circumstances, he was obligated to consult the general chapter, from which his authority was derived through a complicated election process. The first grand master was Hugh des Payens.

Before 1153 the order had been established in many kingdoms of Christendom: gifts of money and property were lavished upon it by royal families, and spiritual gifts and privileges were bestowed by the popes. Because the Templars were defenders of the Church, they were exempt from paying tithes and, unless referred to by name, even from the effects of general papal decrees. At first only knights were admitted, and no specific length of service was required. Gradually the order began to admit members in three categories: knights, chaplains, and sergeants. The knights surrendered all of their property, joining for life. Originally they had the prerogative to leave at will; later, however, they could leave only to join another order with stricter rules. The chaplains were priests bound to the order for life, administering the Sacraments and serving the religious needs of the knights, owing obedience only to the grand master and to the pope himself. The sergeants were a group composed of wealthy bourgeois. Since the order formed an exempt ecclesiastical organization directly subject to the pope, frequent feuds resulted betweeen the Templars and the bishops in whose dioceses they had been established. Numerous papal decrees were issued on their behalf, and as long as the defense of the Holy Land was in question, attacks on the Templars were unsuccessful.

For more than 100 years the Templars remained powerful, influential, and wealthy. Their properties were scattered throughout Europe, and in consequence they competed with other religious military orders, such as the Hospitallers. Each order rivaled the other in its holdings and membership, and on occasion the orders engaged in actual skirmishes. But perhaps the seriousness of this competition has been exaggerated. The rivalry was actually productive, for the orders strove to outdo each other in magnificence and in other accomplishments in keeping with their rule.

The fall of jerusalem to the Muslims (October 1187) was a critical event in the history of the Templars. As each new crusade, launched to recapture the city, failed, the crusading spirit waned and the military orders became largely anachronistic. After the Christians had been ousted from the Holy Land by 1291, the other religious military orders sought new goals: the Hospitallers transformed themselves into a maritime police force to combat Muslim piracy in the Mediterranean; the teuton ic knights retired to the Baltic provinces of the empire to give their full attention to the heathen Slavs. The Templars, on the other hand, seemed about to become a standing international mercenary force at the disposal of anyone who had most to offer them. They thought of retiring to France, where they were particularly rich and powerful, centering their activity in Paris. There (and in London) the Temple became the depository of their wealth at which princes and commoners banked their private property. Even the royal funds of France were deposited there.

Trial and Suppression. In 1285 when philip iv the Fair (12681314) ascended the French throne, the country was near bankruptcy. The king was constantly in need of money and land, and the Templars possessed both in great abundance. Their destruction would prove lucrative to Philip, and it would also give him an opportunity to strike indirectly at the papacy, with which he was in open conflict. He decided to humble the papacy vicariously; for if he attacked Boniface VIII directly, the pope could turn the religious military orders against the French throne.

Philip began his campaign by blaming the Templars for the loss of the Holy Land, accusing them of being more interested in banking and finance, and in their rich establishments, than in the Holy City. It seems probable that Philip was convinced that the Templars were plotting to establish a French enclave and that, consequently, they were dangerous.

For at least 40 years there had been rumors of heretical practices within the Temple, though there was no actual proof because of the complete secrecy of all rituals. This secrecy was especially strict with reference to initiation into the order; any revelation of those rites constituted grounds for expulsion. This reputation tended to bring together the enemies of the Templars and gave Philip the weapon he required. He devised false initiation rites for the order; and when these alleged rites were publicly revealed, the Templars of course denied them. The charges made by Philip claimed that the candidates had to undergo a ceremony involving sacrilegious and obscene practices. Feeling secure because of the protection of the Church and the falsity of the accusations, the Knights did nothing. By 1307, however, Philip had drawn up specific charges against the order and sent them to Pope clement v (130514), asking for an investigation. The pope promised one.

Regarding the pope's promise as consent, Philip then sent out orders to have all the Templars in France (c. 2,000) arrested on the same day, Oct. 13, 1307. The lands of the order were occupied by royal officers, and its property sequestrated. Public opinion in France was stirred up against the order by a vicious and skillful propaganda campaign, depicting the "fighting arm of the Church" as a rich, decadent organization, a malignant growth on the body of the Church and state alike.

Philip, however, was not satisfied to break the order only in France; he wanted to destroy the Templars throughout the Christian world. To do this he would have to prove to the pope that his charges were universally true. After a period of hesitation, the vacillating Clement (July 1308) approved a double inquest into the affairs of the Templars, one on the individual members, the other on the order itself. The former was to fall within the competence of the local ordinary with judgment rendered by provincial council; the latter was to await the decision of the general Council of Vienne. Philip, however, conducted his own inquestwithout papal approvalusing the services of the general inquisitor for France.

Extorting confessions under torture, the inquisitor "demonstrated" the guilt of the leading French Templars, mostly knights, including Grand Master jacques de molay. In England, Scotland, Ireland, Aragon, Castile, and Germany the Templars were found innocent on all counts; but in France and in areas under French influence, such as Provence, the Kingdom of Naples, and even the States of the Church, they were assessed guilty as charged. At length Clement brought the final decision to the floor of the Council, hoping that by satisfying Philip in regard to the Templars, he would be spared from undertaking the king's other demand: the canonical process leading to the condemnation of the memory of Boniface VIII. Early in December 1311, the Council voted over-whelmingly against the abolition of the Templars on grounds that the charges had not been proved. But in the bull Vox in excelso (Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta, 312319) of March 22, 1312, read in the second session on April 3, Clement suppressed the order by papal provision, reserving the disposition of persons and property to the pope. Nevertheless, by order of the king, Jacques de Molay and the highest dignitaries of the order were burned at the stake (March 1314), repudiating their confession and asserting the complete innocence of the order.

The pope had no alternative but to dissolve the Templars. Yet Philip had not completely won. Since the order was condemned as heretical, its possessions still remained in the hands of the Church. It was finally agreed that they be turned over to the Knights Hospitaller. In Spain and Portugal, however, their property went to such military orders as the order of christ and the knights of montesa. Philip did not accept the decision; he claimed that the Temple owed him money and presented a greatly exaggerated list of expenses incurred by the state. This enormous debt was settled by the Hospitallers.

The spectacular end of the Templars was, and remains, one of the most debated events of history. It is easy to understand that Philip the Fair, debt-ridden and desperate, would want to abolish an organization that represented a threat to his absolute power, especially if at the same time he could fill his coffers. It is likewise understandable that a weak and reluctant pope, who owed his election to King Philip, was forced to comply. It is clear also how public opinion could be turned against a prosperous and influential order that was accountable only to the pope, having an income four times that of the king of France. But it remains a mystery why the order, entrenched in the impenetrable Temple in Paris, submitted without resistance to the certainly inferior forces of the king.

Bibliography: h. finke, Papsttum und Untergang des Templerordens, 2 v. (Münster 1907). g. a. m. d' albon, ed., Cartulaire général de l'Ordre du Temple, 2 v. (Paris 191322). g. lizerand, Clément V et Philippe le Bel (Paris 1911); ed. and tr., Le Dossier de l'affaire des Templiers (Paris 1923). e. mŪller, Das Konzil von Vienne, 13111312 (Münster 1934). j. leclercq, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 15.2:297379. Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta (Bologna-Freiburg 1962) 312336. e. simon, The Piebald Standard (London 1959). t. w. parker, The Knights Templars in England (Tucson 1963). g. bordonove, Les Templiers (Paris 1963).

[g. grosschmid]

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