Christians on a Mission
“Rejoice, brave warrior, if you live and conquer in the Lord, but rejoice still more and give thanks if you die and go to join the Lord. This life can be fruitful and victory is glorious yet a holy death for righteousness is worth more. Certainly ‘blessed are they who die in the Lord’ but how much more so are those who die for Him.” [i]
Bernard of Clairvaux
The Knights Templar had a simple and undramatic beginning. After the conclusion of the First Crusade nine knights banded together to apply their skills and knowledge of warfare in service to the king of Jerusalem to meet an urgent need. The group grew, slowly at first, and then seemingly exponentially in numbers and wealth. The Knights Templar was a construct that had come of age. The order enjoyed the favour of popes and kings, of nobles and peasants. The order was envied by its peers and persecuted by its opponents. Yet, in spite of all the honour and wealth the order enjoyed, their existence was short-lived by monastic standards and their demise was as meteoric as their rise in popularity. The Templars have become popularized and their history has become muddled; however, there are reliable sources that present sufficient details from which much can be learned and even applied today. This paper will review some of the thinking that led to the Templar’s genesis and growth focusing on the two primary topics of the evolution of practical theology and men’s responses to it.
To understand the thinking that underlay the birth of the Templars it is instructive to consider the teachings of Augustine on the theology of “Just War.” In his written response to the Manichean Faustus, Augustine argues the unity of the Old and New Testaments, with a particular focus on the rightness of military actions that were on the surface seemingly wrong. With specific reference to Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac, an act that in the eyes of an uninformed observer would have been incomprehensible, Augustine justifies Abraham’s action as having been specifically ordained by God.[i] Also, writing of the wars conducted by Moses, Augustine argues that the conflicts were ordered by God, which therefore made such action right. God-ordained conflict is not an evil, rather the evil would be to not enter into the conflict, which would be an act of disobedience.
…in wars carried on by divine command, he showed not ferocity but obedience; and God in giving the command, acted not in cruelty, but in righteous retribution, giving to all what they deserved, and warning those who needed warning. What is the evil in war? Is it the death of some who will soon die in any case, that others may live in peaceful subjection? This is mere cowardly dislike, not any religious feeling.[ii]
This line of thinking resulted in the first criterion for just war or conflict, that being Jus Ad Bellum– the right to go to war. Though a conflict may be justified, Augustine also argued that the motivations of those involved in the conflict could themselves be a source of evil, which leads to the second criterion for just war, Jus In Bello– the right sorts of conduct in war.
The real evils in war are love of violence, revengeful cruelty, fierce and implacable enmity, wild resistance, and the lust of power, and such like; and it is generally to punish these things, when force is required to inflict the punishment, that, in obedience to God or some lawful authority, good men undertake wars, when they find themselves in such a position as regards the conduct of human affairs, that right conduct requires them to act, or to make others act in this way.[iii]
While a fulsome investigation of Augustine’s theology on the matter of justified conflict is beyond the intent of this paper, the fundamental criteria of Jus Ad Bellumand Jus In Belloare helpful in understanding the theological logic behind the creation and operations of the Templars.
Another factor to consider is the state of European society during the 10thcentury. In general, European society was fractured and it was violent. The grand powers of the Church and the monarchy dominated the urban centres, of which there were few, while the countryside, which accounted for the majority of territory, was rampant with lawlessness. Chieftains ruled locally, in accordance with their individual desires. They fought with neighbouring lords at their discretion and for their purposes. Travel was restricted due to the inherent dangers in a lawless environment where might was the determinant factor in what was right.[iv] The mightiest was the one whose fighting men were adept at fighting from a horse, individuals that the Franks termed chevalier. Horses large enough to carry a man encased in protective and offensive equipment and those who rode them were necessarily large, healthy and well trained. These discriminators meant that only those of some degree of wealth could afford to be chevaliers. Such men came from families of at least some substance and normally enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with local clergy. Though direct lines of cause and effect are not possible to identify, the influence of the clergy and an enlightened code of conduct, evidently inherent within Germanic tribes, is viewed as a primary source for the development of a code for the conduct of mounted men. A code of behaviour which became a system of Chivalry or Knighthood. The code was not a written Rule, rather it was a series of practices that were learned through practice as well as observation.[v] Given the development of the Augustinian theology of Jus Ad Bellumand Jus In Bellothe evolution of a social code of conduct in conflicts between mounted men, who were themselves somewhat educated for the time period, is likely.
In the mid 11thcentury the Holy Land had been occupied by Muslim forces since the 7thcentury. In spite of its occupation, Church doctrine of the era, stipulated that pilgrimages to designated holy sites were “a significant penitential act after the commission of serious sins.”[vi]The need for Christians to travel to Jerusalem and environs was essential. Fortunately, Caliph Omar made a solemn promise to Sophronius the patriarch that one fourth of the inner city would remain in the hands of Christians, and pilgrims would be permitted to transit Muslim held territory to visit revered sites and objects upon the payment of a small fee. Thus a mutually beneficial, albeit unequal, relationship between the occupiers, and Christian residents and pilgrims evolved and became the source of a peaceful co-existence. There, was evidently a spiritual revival of a sort in 1064, for over 7,000 pilgrims made the long journey to Jerusalem that year. However, the year following, circumstances changed. Turcoman forces under the command of emir Ortok invaded the region. 3000 citizens of Jerusalem were murdered, and Christians specifically came under sever persecution.[vii]
Twenty years later, persecution of Christians in the Holy Land had become normalized, yet Pope Urban II saw value in liberating Jerusalem from Islamic occupation. Islamic scholars point to:wide-spread poverty in Europe and a resultant loss of faith among the populace, a power struggle between the Church and secular authorities, envy towards the wealth of the Muslim East and a papacy’s fanatical desire to export Catholicism through a militarized delivery system as precipitates of Urban’s call for crusade.[viii]While, there may be some truth within these assessments, they do not present sufficient rational to explain the overwhelming response and the apparent religious zeal that infected some who volunteered. On 27 November 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II appealed to the 300 clerics in attendance.[ix] An original copy of Urban’s speech does not exist; however, there are five separate accounts from either witnesses or those who spoke to clerics who had attended the Council. The pertinent parts of his speech as it pertains to the First Crusade were: first, the Holy Land was occupied by infidels and it was the Lord’s will that it be liberated by Christians of the West; second, that any Christian who participated in the crusade, whether they died on the way to the Holy Land or they died in battle against the pagans, would earn for himself the complete remission of all sin; and third, that resources hithertofore expended in conflict between Christians must be redirected against the infidel.[x]In the 11thcentury, salvation was works-based. Penance was a standard means by which to receive forgiveness and every sin had an associated penitential act. The life of a Christian was one of confession, repentance, and penance. People lived under the fear that they would not be able to sufficiently even the scales between righteousness and sin to assure themselves of a place in heaven. Urban II was offering the ultimate penitential act.[xi] One year later, four armies were fielded.
The Crusader armies were disjointed. The first to arrive in the East was led by Peter the Hermit, a monk of no military training. They were crushed.[xii]Subsequent, Christian forces were better trained, with leaders experienced in armed conflict. On 7 July 1099, Jerusalem was liberated, and Pope Urban’s II divinely assigned mission was complete. Western forces returned to their regions victorious and free from the consequences of their sins: past, present, and future. For those who sought pilgrimage, the road to Jerusalem had been reopened. Unfortunately, though Islamic fighters had either been killed or driven out of the urban areas, those that lived continued to operate in the country side and harassed, robbed, raped, terrorized and murdered pilgrims who were transiting.
It is within this post-crusade context in 1120 that Hugh de Payens, a knight of Champagne, along with Geoffrey de Saint-Omer and seven other knights formed a small para-military type police force[xiii]. All had distinguished themselves in the battle for Jerusalem, and having witnessed the continuing persecution of Christians by localized Muslim bandits they collectively decided to apply their knightly skills and knowledge towards ensuring the safety of pilgrims and the defence of religion. Though unpaid, they formally offered their services to king Baldwin II of Jerusalem, who evidently seeing value in such service accepted their offer. Concurrently, and at the discretion of the nine, a decision was taken that they should collectively swear a solemn vow to Guarimond, patriarch of Jerusalem, embracing the fundamental monastic vows of perpetual chastity, obedience and poverty. Initially, the nine took upon themselves the name of “The Poor Fellow-soldiers of Jesus Christ.”[xiv]Knights were not simple-minded men. By their nature, as previously intimated, they were themselves men of some degree of wealth and education. They had performed the ultimate penitential service and could return home in honour and in a state of permeant righteousness. Heaven had been earned. Yet, they remained in Jerusalem.
Military service in the Middle Ages provided the soldier with a variety of compensations: respect, honour, esteem, purpose, plunder and adventure, so there was an attraction. It also offers moral confusion and injury, physical disease, psychological misery, physical and psychological injury and death. While there were benefits to be enjoyed as a knight, one must return to the presence of family and friends and away from the risks of battle to obtain them. The nine rejected the benefits and by their actions embraced the cost.
In medieval times there were essentially two types of religious vows: the simple vow and the solemn vow. The simple vow, though given in similar manner to the solemn vow, was temporary in nature, valid only while serving with a particular congregation or order, and it could be relinquished at the will of the individual. The solemn vow was permanent, rendering the individual a religious in the canonical sense and the giver could only be liberated from his commitment at the discretion of the Church and then only in the gravest of circumstances, such as apostasy.[xv] The nine collectively surrendered themselves to the life of a religious.
Recognizing the potential value of an increased number of Templar knights, King Baldwin II sent Hugh de Payens back to France in order to further legitimize the nascent community by obtaining “from the Pope the approbation of their order.”[xvi] Seeking support for the initiative, Baldwin sent a letter along with Hugh de Payens to St. Bernard of Clairvaux requesting his assistance with the Pope.[xvii] Bernard was a French abbot and the primary reformer of the Cistercian order, an order that itself was young, having only been established in 1098. Impressed with Hugh de Payens and the concept behind the brothers of the temple, Bernard influenced the sitting of a Council at Troyes to consider Hughes application for papal recognition of the order. At the Council Hughes explained to the Council the history and purpose of the order of the temple knights of Jerusalem. Bernard, who was recognized within the Church for his wisdom and piety and who history has deemed as the last of the Church Fathers, provided his endorsement and a Rule for the new order based upon that for the Cistercians. The Council approved the establishment of knights of the Temple as a monastic order with a unique mission and the Rule by which they would live.[xviii]
A succession of papal Bulls increased the legitimacy, autonomy and power of the Templars. In 1139, Pope Innocent II issued a bull entitled “Omne Datum Optimumthat granted the Templars a range of extraordinary privileges.”[xix]Among which, the Templar order was accountable only to the Holy See, permanently; they were exempt from all forms of tithes and taxes, they retained their own clergy, and they were the “designated ‘defenders of the Catholic Church and attackers of the enemies of Christ, a licence so broad as to be effectively all-encompassing.”[xx] In 1144 Pope Celestine II’s Milites Templi (Knights of the Temple), granted all members of the order permanent relief from penance, essentially the same as that granted to participants who died in and on the way to the First Crusade. And in 1145 Pope Eugene III’s Militia Deireconfirm the Templars the right to select their own clergy, use their own cemeteries and to establish their own oratories, which would allow the order a steady and substantial cash flow through tithes and fees.[xxi]
There is no evidence as to why the nine chose to become religious. During the 11thcentury monasticism in general had been experiencing a paradigm shift. Previously, monastics were men of solitude who dedicated their lives to contemplation and prayer. The shift was towards an outward service orientation. Yet, the same underlying denial of self, detachment from earthly things and complete consecration to God remained as values in the evolving orders. Within Jerusalem were the Hospitalliers, a monastic order of the new paradigm, and at the time of the Templars inception, the Hospitalliers were solely dedicated to providing medical care to injured and sick pilgrims. It may have been that the nine were influenced by their medically oriented counter-parts, but it still would not fully explain why nine knights would surrender their lives in service to physically defending the weak and advancing the Catholic cause. It is also possible that the earlier teachings of Augustine’s Just War, and its 11thcentury interpretation and application were also influences. Initially, there was no financial gain as they lived on alms, wore old clothing and ate left over food given to them by the Hospitalliers. It is likely that these nine men were profoundly affected by: their previous training and experiences as knights; their response to Urban II’s call to arms; the immediate needs of the community in which they lived; their abilities as knights and a spiritual call to serve in the name of Jesus Christ in similar manner to their non-military monastic peers. Whatever motivation or series thereof moved the nine to take the solemn vow in 1120 in service to the sovereign and the patriarch of Jerusalem, their actions were seismic. Within twenty-five years of its inception the small band of nine had become Pope’s Special Forces, completely self-contained, self-sustaining and self-governing. Tens of thousands would line up and join. 20,000 would literally give their lives in sacrifice unto the mission. Yet, in spite of the Templar inspired spiritual revival, their unique and privileged position would eventually provide the stimulus for the order’s decimation.
President[i]John Langan, “The Elements of St. Augustine’s Just War Theory,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 12, no. 1 (Spring 1984): 21.
[iii]Augustine, paragraph 74.
[iv]Woodhouse, F. C. The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages: the Knights Templar, Hospitaller and Others.(Great Britain: Leonaur, 2010), loc. 116, Kindle.
[v]Woodhouse, loc. 159.
[vi]James R. Ginther, The Westminster Handbook to Medieval Theology, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press), 151.
[vii]C. G. Addison, The Knights Templars Third ed., (London: Longman Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1842), loc. 205.
[viii]Al Jazeera, “Shock: The First Crusade and the Conquest of Jerusalem,” Al Jazeera, December 07, 2016, accessed December 13, 2017, http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/the-crusades-an-arab-perspective/2016/12/shock-crusade-conquest-jerusalem-161205081421743.html.
[x]Charles River, ed., The Teutonic Knights: The History and Legacy of the Catholic Church’s Most Famous Military Order(Charles River Editors), Loc. 127, Kindle.
[xi]Dan Jones, The Templars: the Rise and Spectacular Fall of Gods Holy Warriors (NY, NY: Viking, 2017), loc. 309, Kindle.
[xiii]Jones, loc. 647.
[xiv]Jones, loc. 220.
[xv]Charles Warren Currier, History of Religious Orders: A Compendious and Popular Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Principal Monastic, Canonical, Military Mendicant and Clerical Orders and Congregations of the Eastern and Western Churches together with A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Relation to Religious Orders, (New York, NK: Murphy & McCarthy, 1898), pg. 31.
[xvi]Addison, loc 288.
[xvii]River, loc. 2378.
[xviii]Jones, loc. 888.
[xix]Jones, loc. 1066.
[xx]Jones, loc. 1078.
[xxi]Jones, loc. 1100.