Builder 1916 - Vol. 2 No. 11 - November Templars

The Builder Magazine

November 1916 – Volume II – Number 11

The Suppression Of The Order Of The Temple


By Bro. Frederick W. Hamilton, Massachusetts


CIRCUMSTANCES have conspired to single out the Order of the Temple from the other orders of Soldier-Monks of the twelfth century for the particular notice of succeeding generations. Pre-eminent for their valour and their accomplishments during the days of their magnificent success, the bitter injustice and cruel suffering attendant upon the suppression of the Order has thrown around their name a dark shadow of tragedy. Not only so, but the added horror of the accusations made against them, the whispers of still more dreadful things circulated by envious, fearful, or malignant tongues, the unusual end of the proceedings against the Order, and the conviction of many members before the ecclesiastical courts have lent an air of mystery to the whole sad story.

The very mention of the word Templar brings to many minds the suggestion of romance and of mystery coupled with a vague sense of hidden crime and lurking horror. As a matter of fact there is really very little mystery about the fate of the Templars and it is perfectly possible to find out of what they were accused and to make a fair estimate of their probable guilt or innocence. This is of particular interest to Masons because large numbers of Masons in other than symbolic degrees have taken the name of the old Order, endeavoring to practice its principles and emulate its virtues and holding in everlasting remembrance the name of the last Grand Master.

Before proceeding to tell in detail the story of the fall of the Order, let us stop to review briefly the story of its growth.

In 1118, two Knights, Hugues de Payens, a Burgundian, and Godeffroi de St. Omer, a Frenchman, associated with themselves six other Knights for the service of the Holy Sepulcher, the protection of pilgrims, and the welfare of the Church.

These men took a step beyond that taken by the ordinary crusader, in that they undertook to give their whole lives to the service of the Church militant and to found an order of men likewise devoted to the same service. These eight men took an oath to the Patriarch of Jerusalem by which they swore to fight for Christ under the three fold vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience. It will be understood, of course, that the vow of poverty, while it debarred the Knight from having any personal possessions whatever, did not apply to the accumulation of riches by the Order or to the Knight's enjoyment of those riches, while the vow of obedience had reference only to his relations with his superiors in the Order.

King Baldwin I. of Jerusalem gave them for a residence a part of his palace next to the Mosque of Aksa, the so-called Temple of Solomon, from which they took the name of Knights of the Temple. At first they had no particular regulations or "rule," as it is commonly called, and no distinguishing dress. Their first idea appears to have been to make the Order a means of reformation by opening its ranks to men whose past was one of sin and failure and giving them an opportunity to redeem their souls through offering to Christ a service of constant danger. They, therefore, admitted to their number excommunicated knights, after they had obtained absolution from a Bishop, and other men of darkened past who desired an opportunity to bring forth fruits meet for repentance. This missionary idea was soon abandoned and the Knights chosen from candidates, who showed themselves worthy. It was unfortunate, however, in that it immediately laid the Order under suspicion of both the Church and laity because of doubts of the sincerity of such repentance.

In 1127 Hugues de Payens, who had been chosen Grand Master, went to Europe with the purpose of finding support for the Order. He was fortunate enough to enlist the interest and obtain the active patronage of St. Bernard. Bernard of Clairvaux, more1monly known as St. Bernard, was the greatest and most influential churchman of his time and one of the greatest of all times. Under his patronage the Order quickly obtained favour and support and grew in members and power.

St. Bernard drew up the "rule" or series of regulations governing the organization of the Order and the lives of its members. The original "rule" of St. Bernard was written in French. Unfortunately there are no early copies of it known to be in existence. There are however, later copies together with the translation into Latin known as the "Latin Rule" and additional statutes which were adopted from time to time.

It was vehemently asserted by the enemies of the Order, in later years, that there was a secret "rule" quite different from this which entirely changed the character of the Order, coloured it with heresy, and stained it with sin. There is no evidence whatever that any such "secret rule" ever existed. Stories about it may be safely dismissed as idle gossip.

The French "rule" provided for the officers of the organization and defined their duties. It also carefully regulated the daily conduct of the Knights and provided for the support which they should receive from the common funds of the Order. It is interesting to observe that the "rule" provided that each Knight should have three horses and one squire. By favour of his commander, or prior, he might have four horses and two squires.

This effectually disposes of the legend that the great seal of the Order, representing two Knights mounted on one horse, was intended to indicate that in early days the Order was so poor that the Knights went to battle mounted thus in pairs. The second rider in the device is probably intended to represent either a wounded Knight who is being rescued by his brother in arms or a pilgrim being protected by a Knight of the Temple.

The Knights were not priests. That is to say, although under the three vows they were not in holy orders. Each priory or house of the Knights was provided with one or more chaplains. These chaplains were members of the Order of the Temple and were always in holy orders. The chaplains were exempt from ordinary ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Spiritually they were accountable only to the Pope; temporally only to the Grand Master. They were the sole confessors of the Knights, who were not permitted to accept the ministrations of religion from any but their own chaplains unless it was impossible to secure a chaplain's services.

The monastic custom of having the Bible read at meals was prescribed by the "rule" for the Knights, in consideration of the fact that they were laymen, and consequently uneducated, the Bible was read in the vernacular and not in the Latin which was customary in religious services. There is in existence an old French Bible of the Templars which shows evidences of the critical spirit on the part of the translator.

With this brief survey let us pass on to the opening years of the fourteenth century. The little band of eight Knights sworn to the service of the Holy Sepulcher and the protection of pilgrims had grown to be one of the great powers of the world. If its purpose and policy had been other than they were it might have shaken the power of any monarch in Christendom. It consisted of many thousand Knights besides the lay brothers and feudal servants of the Order. It possessed wealth far greater than that of any state in Christendom. This wealth was the result of the great stream of gifts which for two centuries had flowed steadily into the coffers of the Order, supplemented by the spoils of war, and husbanded with great financial ability. Kings, princes, and nobles throughout Europe had vied with each other in their great donations to the Order of the Temple. It owned literally thousands of estates all over Europe and wherever in the east the crusades had been successful.

The crusades being over and their immense expenditures having ceased, the enormous revenues of the Order were accumulating in its hands, and those were not idle hands, for the Templars were not content to let their gold pieces lie idly in their treasury. This was before the age of modern banking and the Templars, with their great wealth, their many establishments, and their connection with the Orient, made themselves the great international financiers of the age. Kings and merchants alike borrowed on good security and at ample interest the unused treasure of the Order. Oriental exchange, especially, was almost absolutely in their hands so that they acted as the great financial clearing house between Europe and Asia. Their establishment, commonly known as the Temple, at Paris was the center of the world's money market.

It is said that when DeMolay came from the east, lured by the treacherous call to consult about the crusade, he brought with him 150,000 florins in gold and ten horse loads of silver. With due allowance to the difference in the purchasing power of money, the gold was probably the equivalent of three million dollars today. I have no way to guess the value of the silver, but it must have been very great. This, it will be remembered, was the ready money upon which DeMolay could lay his hands at short notice.

The power of the Order matched its wealth. The Grand Master was a sovereign prince, recognized as a full peer of any monarch in Europe. The Knights, save those too old for warfare, were all soldiers trained to arms and owing no allegiance to any power but the Grand Master and the Pope. During the stormy years of the crusades, they, with the Knights of the companion Orders, formed the fighting edge of the Christian army. Combined with their lay brothers and the feudal array of their tenants they formed an army far superior to any other in existence.

That an Order possessed of such wealth and power should have been regarded with suspicion, and even fear, is only natural. It is entirely clear, however, from their entire history, and especially from their fate, that the Order had no policy in the political affairs of Europe either for its own advantage or that of any others. The Knights adhered strictly to the original policy of the Order. They had no enemies in Christendom and no friends outside of it. Their sole military and political purpose was the service of the church and the reconquest of the Holy Land. It must be remembered that while we know that the crusades were over in 1300 the men of that day did not know it. They fully expected that the crusades would be resumed, and the Knights of the Temple were maintaining their numbers and diligently increasing their wealth in order to be able to strike more effectively than ever before when the banner of the Cross should once more take the field against the Crescent.

In addition to all their wealth and power the Order had great privileges of two classes, lay and clerical. As lay nobles they held and exercised all the usual feudal rights in and over estates which had been given to them, with certain extremely important additions. The Order, being a corporation in the first rank of the feudal hierarchy, exercised in all its fiefs what was known in those days as high, middle, and low justices, that is, complete jurisdiction extending even to the infliction of the death penalty. Owing allegiance only to the head of their Order, the estates of the Knights were not liable for military service except to the Order itself. The estates of the Order were the permanent possessions of the corporation.

The greater part of the revenue of the kings of that age was derived from certain rights of taxation which were exercised on special occasions; for example, the passage of an estate by death or marriage from one holder to another involved certain payments to the king or over-lord which amounted practically to an inheritance tax. The marriage of children, the knighting of the noble's sons, or other events in the family of the noble were occasions for gifts to the king which were practically taxes. Other forms of taxation were laid from time to time on the feudal estates. But corporations do not die, do not marry, and do not have children, consequently the estates of the Templars were free from every kind of taxation, except for the benefit of the Temple itself.

This exemption from military service and from financial burdens struck at the very roots of the royal power as the state was organized in the middle ages. The Templars enjoyed all the benefits of the feudal system but bore none of its burdens. When an estate in France or England, for some reason, passed into the hands of the Templars it was to all intents and purposes taken out of the kingdom as effectively as if it had been swallowed up by the sea.

As an Order of military monks, the Knights enjoyed clerical privileges equally great.

That their spiritual affairs were in the hands of their chaplains, has already been pointed out. In addition to this, the Grand Master and others of the high officers possessed the power of disciplinary confession, but not of sacramental confession, a point important to be remembered in connection with later developments. The Order as a whole and its members individually were entirely free from the jurisdiction of bishops and other ecclesiastical authorities. They were accountable only to the Pope in person. They were not affected by general censures or decrees of the Pope unless they were especially mentioned. Their churches, of which there were great numbers on their various estates besides those attached to their houses, were not affected by ordinary excommunication and interdicts. No matter what ecclesiastical censures might hang over the people of the nation the activities of the churches of the Temple went on undisturbed. Excommunicated persons might be buried in consecrated ground belonging to the Templars, and this was not infrequently done. They possessed, by papal decree, the right to have churches not their own which were under interdict opened twice a year and services held for the purpose of presenting their cause and taking collections for the support of the Holy War. They collected the usual tithes from the churches on their estates but they did not pay any tithes, even for those churches, into the coffers of the Church.

The natural result of this condition was envy and hatred on the part of both civil and religious authorities. Civil authorities looked on with dismay while the broad lands of noble after noble passed by gift or bequest into the control of the Templars and ceased to contribute to the maintenance of the state, while the individual noble was filled with envy as he saw the Knights of the Temple enjoying privileges and powers so much greater than his own, and the law officers of the crown indignantly found their authority everywhere terminating at the boundary line of one of the Temple estates.

On the other hand the religious authorities, accustomed to control the lives and actions even of kings, were enraged beyond measure to find themselves utterly powerless before the Knights of the Temple. Entrenched behind the many privileges granted by a long line of Popes the Templar could and did snap his fingers in the face of the most arrogant archbishop or cardinal and the angry churchmen had to swallow his wrath and digest it as best he could, while he had not even the poor consolation of collecting revenues from the parishes in his jurisdiction which had passed into the hands of the Order. This sort of thing had raised tides of envy and hatred against the Order of which it seemed to be strangely unconscious.

Claims that the Knights abused their power and privileges were common. The picture of the Templar in Scott's Ivanhoe undoubtedly represents the widespread conception of the character and conduct of the members of the Order. That there were men like Scott's Templar could hardly be denied, but there is no reason to believe that they were typical of the Order generally.

One feature of the Order gave the opportunity for proceedings against it and the excuse for its undoing. The Order of the Temple was always a secret order. Its conclaves for business and for the reception of candidates were always closely guarded. It was as impossible for one not a member of the Order to get into meeting of the Knights of that day as it would be for like person to get into a meeting of one of our modern gatherings of Knights Templars.

This secrecy, as is inevitable, in all ages and especially in times of ignorance and superstition, like the thireenth and fourteenth centuries, bred all manner of suspicion. Men, and especially ignorant men, are ready to believe that evil things are done in places where they are not admitted and unfortunately there were too many who envied and hated the Templars and were ready to spread these whispered accusations. It was asserted that under cover of this secrecy the Knights not only lapsed into heresy and consorted with Saracens and other misbelievers but that they practiced idolatry and necromancy, that they performed the most blasphemous travesties of religion, and that they were given to licentiousness and practiced every conceivable crime, natural and unnatural.

We have now set the stage for the tragedy. Let us consider a little the persons and antecedents of the three principal actors. They were the Grand Master of the Templars, the King of France, and the Pope.

The Grand Master of the Templars, who had in been office since 1295, was Jacques DeMolay. He was a simple, unlettered Knight, personally brave, confiding and unsuspicious, incapable of intrigue or treachery, not very clear headed or resourceful in the face of other than physical peril. His intentions were always good; his conduct under the severe trials to which he was subjected was sometimes weak. He was a man who could be easily deceived and could be worked upon through his reverence for the Pope, his respect for the King, and his honest desire to protect the interest of the Order and the welfare of his brother Knights.

The Knights generally were fighters and some of them were men of affairs, but they were not thinkers and they were not intriguers. It has been said that they were too stupid to be heretics but this is probably an extreme statement. They were rather simple minded single hearted gentlemen thoroughly loyal to the cause to which they had dedicated their lives and for which they were ready to die.

The King of France was Philip IV, commonly known as Philippe Le Bel or Philip the Fair, a name, by the way, which would better be translated, Philip the Handsome. Born in 1268 he ascended the throne in 1285. As his name indicates, he was a man of singular beauty, being said to be the handsomest man of his time. He was cold, self-contained, far-sighted, crafty, and unscrupulous. He possessed great ability and was absolutely remorseless in the choice of means and in the pursuit of his ends. It is said that he was never known to smile and those whom he crushed in the cold persistency with which he executed his purposes said that he was not a man at all, but that his beautiful body was inhabited by a demon instead of a human soul.

It must be admitted that from the point of view of the interests and prosperity of the kingdom he was a good king. In his day France was well governed and strongly consolidated and he left it on the whole in a much better condition than he found it. He had one supreme end in life and that was to make the royal government supreme in France. He was determined that the government should be independent of priests or noble and the king should have a free hand, not limited in the exercise of his authority by any powers within or without the confines of the kingdom.

To accomplish this he believed that two things were necessary. One was that the shackles imposed by the papacy upon the King of France, in common with the other monarchs of Europe, should be broken and the crown of France relieved from the domination of the Vatican. The other was that the feudal nobles should be brought into subjection to the crown and especially that the independent power of the Order of the Temple should be broken, their wealth plundered for the filling of the royal Treasury, their great estates restored to the usual condition of feudal dependency, and their resources of men and money made available for the purposes of the kingdom.

The Pope was Clement V. In order to understand the conduct of Pope Clement, it is necessary to go back a little. At a comparatively early period in the reign of Philip, Boniface VIII ascended the throne, in 1294. The predecessor of Boniface was Celestine V, one of the most singular popes who ever occupied the chair of St. Peter.

Deeply imbued with mysticism, he was a dreamer of dreams and a writer of strange books. The sanctity of his life and the strangeness of his somewhat unintelligible writings placed him on the narrow edge between condemnation as a heretic on one side and canonization as a saint on the other. Whether saint or heretic, he was utterly unfit for the difficult administrative duties of the papacy. He never wanted to be Pope and after a short and troubled reign he was induced to resign, and sought seclusion, which was really imprisonment, in a monastery, where he died in a very short time.

Boniface was certainly the leader in the movement which brought about the resignation of Celestine and was charged with being the author of the unfortunate old man's misfortune. At any rate, he succeeded him on the papal throne. There was quite a good deal of doubt in the minds of canon lawyers as to whether a pope could resign, and therefore a cloud rested on the title of Boniface, a cloud which was only partially dispelled by the death of Celestine. The enemies of Boniface, and he had many, declared that the death of his predecessor was not a natural one and that Boniface himself was responsible for it.

Boniface was proud, arrogant, and rash. He declared himself over-lord of all the monarchs of the world, and set the high water mark of papal pretension. On one memorable occasion, when there was a vacancy in the office of Emperor, the Pope appeared in public, brandishing his sword and declaring that he was Emperor as well as Pope. He claimed, and attempted to exercise, power to set up and pull down kings and even emperors.

Naturally, Philip the Fair and Boniface very soon found themselves engaged in a deadly conflict. Boniface laid France under an interdict and excommunicated King Philip and his family. The King, supported by a host of the clergy as well as the laity of France, appealed to a future Council of the Church. It is worthy of mention that this appeal was signed by the Order of the Temple. The appeal struck Boniface in his most sensitive spot. The question of whether or not a Council was superior to a Pope had not yet been settled and the assumption that it was his superior was unspeakably exasperating to the overbearing, tyrannical Boniface.

King Philip was far too aggressive to content himself with this appeal. Seizing an occasion when the pope was absent from Rome on a visit to Anagni, his native town, and comparatively undefended, the king sent his chancellor, William de Nogaret, and Sciarra Colonna, a great Italian noble who was on bad terms with the pope, to arrest Boniface. By whom Philip expected that the pope would or could be tried is not clear. The charges preferred were intrusion, that is to say, forcing himself into the papal chair without proper title, gross immorality, tyranny and heresy.

Boniface was actually arrested and treated with great indignity. Some authorities say that he was actually struck in the face by Colonna. The people of Anagni rose and overpowered the guard and released Boniface, but the shock of his arrest with the attendant humiliation and indignation caused his death within a few days.

He was succeeded by a somewhat colorless pope, Benedict II, who ruled only from October 27, 1303, to the seventh of the following July. He released France from the interdict and Philip and his family from excommunication, but his reign was otherwise unimportant.

Now came the question of the election of a new pope, in which Philip proposed to play an important part. His attention fell upon Bertrand de Got (Gouth). De Got came from a Gascon family and was an Aquitainian, that is to say, an English subject, for it must be remembered that at this time about half of what is now France belonged to the dominions of the English kings, either by descent from the Dukes of Normandy, or by virtue of the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry III.

De Got was Archbishop of Bordeaux. He had been an early friend of Philip, who knew the man thoroughly, but in the quarrel between Philip and the pope, he had sided with Boniface. Election to the papacy was not then limited to the cardinals, and the Archbishop of Bordeaux might well aspire to the tiara. He was extremely ambitious, hungering with all his soul for wealth, honour, and power. Philip knew his man and believed that as pope he might be controlled, especially if he was made to feel that he owed his election to the king.

Philip did not see the Archbishop personally, as has been claimed by many writers, but he did unquestionably have an understanding with him through intermediaries before using his influence to secure his election. Two questions were raised by King Philip. One was the question of the suppression of the Order of the Temple, for the interest of both church and state through the abolition of the power and privileges which made the Templars so objectionable to both. The other was the question of the heresy of Boniface VIII. King Philip threatened to bring pressure to bear which would make it necessary to call a General Council before which he would impeach the late Pope of heresy. In view of the great unpopularity of Boniface and of certain things said and done by him, there appeared to be great danger that the charge could be pushed home and the memory of the late Pope attainted of heresy to the great scandal of the church and disgrace of the papacy.

De Got was unscrupulous enough to agree to almost anything in order to be made Pope and he therefore agreed to co-operate in the suppression of the Order of the Temple if the king would agree not to press the charge of heresy against his predecessor. With this understanding King Philip supported his candidacy and he was elected Pope and took the title of Clement V.

As might be expected it very soon appeared that Bertrand De Got who wanted to be Pope and Clement V who was Pope, were not quite the same person. Like many another successful politician before and since the Pope had no intention of fulfilling pre-election promises if he could get out of it.

His first movement was to propose the consolidation of the Order of the Temple with the Order of the Hospitalers. This would then enable him to reorganize both bodies and amend their charters. This project was proposed in 1306, but was abandoned on account of the vigorous opposition of the Grand Masters of both the Orders. The Pope then proposed to reform the Order of the Temple, but moved slowly in carrying out the project.

King Philip was very impatient at the Pope's delay and continually pressed him to fulfill his promises of suppression under threat of a general Council and condemnation of Boniface VIII for heresy. He was not content, however, with insistence and threats. Through his agents he found two broken Knights of worthless character, Esquiau (Squin) De Florian, a Frenchman, and Noffo Dei (Deghi), a Florentine. These men claimed to have been members of the Order of the Temple and offered pretended confessions in which they charged the Order with heresy and various abominable practices. For all this they were well paid.

On the basis of this manufactured evidence Philip submitted formal charges to the Pope. The Pope received them, but continued to delay action. Philip's determination, however, was more than a match for the Pope's procrastination. He found means to force the Pope's hand through the intervention of William of Paris, Grand Inquisitor of France. The Grand Inquisitor had been King Philip's confessor and was entirely ready to lend himself to the King's desires. By virtue of his office he had power to take summary action in all cases of heresy within the kingdom and to take such measures as he saw fit to deal with them.

Philip submitted his evidence to the Grand Inquisitor who forthwith demanded of the civil authorities the arrest of all the Templars in France. Obviously this was a very serious matter. If the Templars had taken concerted action to resist such an arrest it would probably have been impossible. Assembled in their strong houses they might have stood siege until aid could have reached them from other countries and it would have been a very serious question whether Philip could have retained his throne. Plans were therefore laid for their capture by surprise and arrangements were made for the simultaneous arrest of all the Knights throughout the kingdom on the night of October 13, 1307.

The blow came like lightning from a clear sky. It is true that the Templars had been aware of the circulation of unpleasant reports. They knew that there were whispers of evil and DeMolay had gone as far as to ask, in 1306, that an investigation be made into the conduct of the Order, but investigation was the last thing the King desired and no attention was paid to the request.

The apprehensions of the Templars were set at rest and their confidence was further deliberately strengthened by the treacherous conduct of the King. In 1306 King Philip had been assailed by a mob in the streets of Paris and saved himself from great personal danger by taking refuge in the house of the Templars which happened to be not far from the scene of disturbance. This obligation, however, rested lightly on his conscience. The Templars were accustomed to have a public reception of Knights in addition to the private initiation and King Philip attended such a public reception the spring of 1307. On October 12, the very day before that fixed for the arrest, DeMolay was present by invitation, at the funeral of King Philip's sister-in-law and was assigned a place of honour among the participants in the ceremonies. It is not to be wondered at that the blow of October 13 was an entire surprise and was entirely successful. DeMolay and all the Knights in the kingdom were arrested, their goods were seized, and their houses taken possession of, without the slightest attempt at resistance so far as we have any record.

The events which ensued are somewhat complicated and consist of two distinct sets of proceedings, first, personal proceedings against the individual Knights and second, proceedings against the Order as a whole and in all its branches.

Proceedings against the Knights were the first in time. They were begun with great vigor by the Grand Inquisitor of France, but there was some question about the Grand Inquisitor's jurisdiction. Particular rights and immunities of the Templars which have already been noted might be considered as placing them beyond the reach of proceedings not instigated by the Pope, or at least approved by him.

The Grand Inquisitor, however, would not allow himself to be troubled by questions of this sort and immediately proceeded to examine the arrested Knights under torture.

We must not forget that this was not an unusual proceeding. The examination of accused persons, and even of witnesses, under torture was the ordinary method of judicial procedure at that time. It was not a method confined to the Inquisition but was commonly practiced by the civil courts. It would have been very unusual if it had been omitted in this case. Horrible as it appears to us and useless as a method of ascertaining the truth, it was an every day occurrence in the 14th century and was absolutely relied upon as a method of getting at facts.

Torture was not confined to physical torment. The accused were promised clemency if they freely confessed the acts with which they were charged and named their accomplices. In the case of the Templars such promises were conveyed in letters under the royal seal. These letters were decoys pure and simple. They were either forgeries or deliberately written with intent to deceive and without the slightest intention of keeping the promises which they contained.

The accused were told that if they retracted these confessions they would suffer the pains of death in this world and of hell in the world to come. It was realized that men under physical torture will often say almost anything which may be suggested to them as a means of securing relief from their sufferings and these means were taken to prevent a retraction of these forced confessions.

Moreover the law of evidence in use in those days contained one provision which seems to us a peculiarly ghastly mockery. The confessions which were wrung from the lips of the tortured victims were taken down as uttered. Depositions thus obtained were taken to the victim after he had recovered from the first effects of the torture and he was asked to sign them. If he did thus sign them, aware that a refusal to do so would mean renewal of the tortures together with the before mentioned threats of death and damnation, confessions thus signed were held to be voluntary and not legally made under torture.

Naturally many of the Knights confessed. DeMolay himself made a partial confession. Most of these confessions were afterwards retracted, but for the time being they stood.

The charges will be examined further on, but the principal things confessed should be noted here. They were:

Denial of Christ. Defiling the Cross by spitting upon it and by other methods too indecent to describe.

Indecent kisses which it was claimed the initiates were compelled to give the receiving officer on various parts of his body.

Sodomy. This, by the way, was a vice much more common in the 13th century than now and was ordinarily a part of any serious accusations made against either individuals or groups of individuals. It was one of the charges against Boniface VIII when he was arrested by De Nogaret and Colonna.

Idolatry. This was based on the alleged worship of an idol, of which we shall hear more, and on the accusation that the cord which was part of the habit of every Templar was consecrated by this idol by being touched to it before the Templars put it on. Other abominations were vaguely referred to but these were the main points of the accusation.

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DE MOLAY confessed only to spitting on the cross, denying the other allegations. He seems to have been led to this partial confession, which in a way was an evidence of weakness, by several considerations. One was fear of torture. Although De Molay appears to have been a man of personal courage in the battle field and was capable of dying a painful death with heroic resignation, as we shall see later, he seems to have shrunk from the threat of torture. He was also promised clemency if he would confess and he appears to have believed that a partial confession would open the door to freedom and enable him not only to save himself, but the other Knights. We must remember that De Molay throughout was conscious of his responsibility as Grand Master, and in all his actions he appears to have felt that he must consider not only himself but the brethren of the Order who were under his command. He also feared a definite charge of sodomy aimed against himself. There is no reason to believe that there was a slightest proof for such a charge but De Molay's enemies were active, ingenius, and unscrupulous. They had manufactured a case against him and they had witnesses ready to sustain the charge by perjured testimony. In those days escape was difficult if the tribunal desired to convict and there is little doubt that if De Molay had been tried upon this charge he would have been convicted. No matter how unjust such a conviction, it would have meant death and dishonor. It is no wonder that De Molay was not willing to face this. Under these circumstances he made his confession, but he declared that he would offer satisfactory explanation if only he could be allowed to submit it in person to the King or the Pope. What this explanation probably was we shall see later. It is needless to say, however, that De Molay was not permitted to make it, and his confession was held by his enemies for all it was worth and more.

When Pope Clement heard of these proceedings he was extremely angry. He immediately issued an edict suspending the Grand Inquisitor, and sent a committee of cardinals to investigate and report. Unfortunately, however, the case had gone too far to be stopped, as the King perfectly well knew. Individuals might be punished, but in some way or another proceedings would have to go on. Philip was not in the least daunted by the Pope's anger or disturbed by his interference. He arranged for a conference between himself and Clement which was held in June, 1308. The King, who, throughout these proceedings shows himself to have been much the stronger personality of the two, took the aggressive by demanding of the Pope five extremely unpalatable things.

  1. Canonization of Celestine V.
  2. Condemnation of Boniface VIII for heresy.
  3. A general Council to take into comprehensive consideration the affairs of the Church.
  4. Papal absolution for De Nogaret.
  5. Removal of the papacy from Rome to Avignon.

Clement yielded with regard to the canonization of Celestine, the absolution of De Nogaret, and the removal of the papacy. This was the beginning of the long residence of the popes at Avignon which is known in history as the "Babylonish Captivity." The condemnation of Boniface and the general Council were two things to which he was entirely unwilling to consent. In return for the relinquishment of these points he did exactly what Philip had foreseen and desired; he abandoned the defense of the Templars.

After considerable negotiation a bargain was struck between the Pope and the King. Two sets of terms were agreed upon, one to be made public but not to bind either the Pope or the King, the other to be kept secret but to be regarded as binding. According to the first, which was a tissue of treacherous falsehoods, the Templars were to be taken from the French-authorities and placed in the hands of the Pope as representing the Church. The property of the Order was to be held in trust by the Church and the proceeds were to be used for carrying on the crusade; that is to say for the purpose for which it was originally intended. The suspension of the Grand Inquisitor and others who had been involved with him was to be removed. The terms of the private agreement were far different. The Church, on the plea that it had no facilities for the care of so large a number of prisoners, was to leave the persons of the Templars in the hands of the King. The property, instead of being held and administered by the Church, in trust, was to be held by Philip on behalf of the Church and was to be administered by a Board of Administrators, half of whom were to be appointed by the Pope and the other half secretly appointed by King Philip. In other words, the Templars and their goods were handed over to the tender mercies of the King. Such was the price in humiliation and dishonor which Clement paid for the title of Successor of St. Peter.

The next act in this tragedy was the summoning of a Council to try the Order as a whole. Henceforth here were two processes simultaneously going on, one against the Knights as individuals and one against the Order as a corporation. This gave opportunity for more treachery.

As we have seen, the King had played the game with loaded dice from the beginning and now the dice were loaded even more heavily than ever, if such a thing were possible. A net was spread from which it was well nigh impossible for any one to escape, while the proceedings were extended to other countries. It is not necessary to go into the details of the story of the proceedings outside France. In a general way, so far as the individual Knights were concerned, they were similar to the French proceedings although conducted with varying degrees of severity according to the temper of the several monarchs who were concerned in the matter. Actions against the Order as a whole were covered by the proceedings which we are about to trace.

Knights were summoned from far and near to come to the defense of the Order in its hour of trial. They were asked by the papal authorities to come and speak in its defense and they naturally understood that this implied personal immunity. They soon found, however, that nothing of the sort was intended. When each Knight appeared he was asked if he desired to defend the Order. If he said that he did he was immediately made a defendant, not only in the process against the Order but in the personal process against the Knights. If he took alarm and said that he did not wish to defend the Order, he was held as a witness, liable to examination under torture.

Many Knights, trusting to their immunity as witnesses, withdrew their former confessions which, as will be remembered, were obtained under torture. They withdrew these confessions because they were false and because they desired to defend the Order as a whole against the charges to which they had personally pleaded guilty under compulsion. Considerable numbers of those who withdrew their confessions in this way were immediately burned as relapsed heretics. This, by the way, was the ordinary procedure in those days in the case of dealings with heresy. As a rule there was very little chance for the accused to escape. If he refused to confess he was convicted and burned on the testimony of others. If he confessed and withdrew his confession he was burned as a relapsed heretic. If he confessed and did not withdraw the confession, he was burned as a confessed heretic. About the only difference was that in the last case he received absolution, which was supposed to save his soul, and was sometimes able to save his property for his family. Moreover, not content with the ordinary partiality of judicial proceedings in those days, the two sets of proceedings were made to play into each other and evidence obtained in either trial was used indiscriminately against the defendants in both.

Interest centers largely around the tragic figure of De Molay. As we have already seen, he had been examined by the Grand Inquisitor in 1306 and had made a partial confession. He was kept in close confinement although he demanded an opportunity to appear before the Pope who, it will be remembered, was the only person in Christendom to whom he owed allegiance, and submit to him an explanation of the acts with which he was charged.

In 1308 he was visited by three cardinals sent by the Pope. He was solemnly assured that he was now in the hands of the Church, from whose clemency and aversion to cruelty and bloodshed everything favorable could be expected. He was promised mercy by both the Pope and the King on the strength of a full and free confession. He renewed his confession, although he did not extend its scope, and threw himself on the mercy of the Church. He was given absolution by the cardinals, was restored to the communion of the Church, and was actually given the sacrament by the cardinals. This was distinctly stated by the cardinals in a report which they made to the Pope.

In spite of all these facts, however, he was not set at liberty, though he vigorously demanded it and urged the fulfillment of the promises which had been made to him.

In November, 1309, De Molay was brought before the Council which was trying the Order. Being asked if he would defend the Order he refused to plead. He appealed to the Pope, pleading the rights of the Order and demanding to be heard by the Pope in person. In response to the charge of idolatry he made solemn affirmation of orthodoxy. Being charged by De Nogaret with having dealings with the Saracens contrary to his vows and to the interests of Christendom, he said that the alleged dealings consisted only of truces and treaties made with them as incidents of warfare and for the sake of saving the Christians in the Orient from disaster. The charge of sodomy was brought up, but was not pressed with much vigor and the prosecution failed to establish it by even plausible testimony. De Molay then demanded to be set at liberty, claiming the failure of the accusations and the promises of both the Pope and the King. The request, however, was denied and he was sent back to his dungeon.

The tedious proceedings against the Order dragged on for three years. Every effort was made to suppress the defense and to discourage or destroy the defendants of the Order. Again and again the chosen representatives of groups of Knights were either executed or silenced. Executions continually took place as the result of the other set of proceedings and care was taken that these executions should be as damaging as possible to the defense of the Order.

The proceedings lasted until May 6, 1312, when the Pope, by a summary exercise of his authority, dissolved the Order. It is important to note that the Order was never condemned. The proceedings against the Order were never finished. While they were still going on the Pope intervened and put a stop to the proceedings and to the Order at the same time. Examination of the evidence shows that the charges were not substantiated, at least in any way which would appear to satisfy modern ideas. It is quite probable, however, that had the proceedings been allowed to come to their natural end the Order would have been condemned. It is difficult to see how the Pope and King could have permitted the proceedings to come to any other conclusion.

The intervention of the Pope was for the particular purpose of saving the immense properties of the Order for the Church. By the law of that day the property of a condemned heretic passed not to the Church but to the State. If the Order of the Temple had been condemned for heresy its immense possessions would have passed to the rulers of the countries in which they were located and the Church would not have touched a penny. Dissolution of the Order, however, without condemnation threw its numerous properties, scattered over Europe and the east, into the hands of the Church. Pope Clement was not so sincere a defender of orthodoxy that he had the slightest intention of taking all his trouble for the purpose of enriching Philip of France and other kings of Europe. He preferred to let the Order go uncondemned, to leave the Knights to the tender mercies of kings and inquisitors, and to save the money for the Church.

In this, however, he was only partially successful. It will be remembered that in France, at least, the King was the custodian of the property of the Templars and he succeeded in keeping a very large part of it. The same thing happened to a greater or less extent in the other countries. The Pope, however, succeeded in getting a portion of the wealth into his possession and a considerable part of this finally found its way into the hands of the Hospitalers. It is not to be understood that the Hospitalers were participants in the proceedings against the Templars. The Order of the Hospitalers was the greatest militant Order of Knights in existence except the Templars and the natural administrator of property given in trust for the crusades.

De Molay remained in prison until December, 1313, when he was brought before three French cardinals. The old vague promises of mercy were made and De Molay once more renewed the old confession again without extending its scope. He was taken back to his dungeon and told that at a certain time the cardinals would make their final decision in the case. Trusting to the repeated promises which had been made, De Molay came before them on March 10, 1314, expecting liberation, probably accompanied by heavy penance and possibly other penalties. To his amazement he was sentenced to life imprisonment. De Molay, it will be remembered, had been in prison for seven years. Whether he had been actually tortured or not is not quite certain, but imprisonment itself was torture in those days and De Molay was not willing to face the prospect of a further imprisonment which could terminate only in his death. He was shocked, angry, and broken hearted at the treachery which he had met at the hands of both State and Church. As soon as the sentence was announced, De Molay arose in his place and retracted his confession, declaring that it was not true, that he had confessed only out of willingness to please the King and the Pope and a desire to help his brethren, and that he now wished to withdraw his confession, proclaim its untruth, and take the consequences. The cardinals, in confusion, adjourned their court until the next day. This was something entirely unexpected and they desired time to think it over.

King Philip, however, had no intention of allowing his prey to escape him or of giving the cardinals the desired opportunity for meditation. That very night De Molay was taken from his prison by a detachment of the King's guards and burned at the stake on a little island in the Seine. In spite of the high-handedness of these proceedings, involving the invasion of the rights of the Church by taking its prisoner from its hands and putting him to death, the cardinals did not dare to raise a word of protest, so great was the ascendancy which the King had obtained over the Pope. It is stated by tradition that when De Molay went to the stake, he solemnly summoned the Pope and the King to meet him before the bar of eternal justice within one year. Whether or not this legend is true, it is true that within the year Clement and Philip were both in their graves.

Whether for good or evil the Order of the Temple was suppressed forever. No other body of men ever enjoyed such wealth, such power, such privileges, and such immunities as had been enjoyed by the Templars. Whether they had used them wisely or not, it is not always easy to say. That they were in a very real sense injurious to both State and Church, we shall probably all agree. That the Templars did not deserve so cruel a fate as that which overtook them seems clearly established. In order to make this point clear, let us make a brief examination of the indictment drawn against the Order and the probable truth, or lack of it, in the charges.

The indictment against the Order contained 117 articles, or counts as we should style them. This great number of counts was partly the result of technical repetitions. In many cases the same accusations were repeated in different forms, the first charging that a specified offense was committed by all of the Knights, the second that it was committed by most of them, and the third that it was committed by some of them.

Stripped of verbiage and repetition the charges came down to the following:

  • Denial of Christ.
  • Defiling the Cross.
  • Requiring indecent kisses from the candidates.
  • Denial of the sacrament of the altar.
  • Omission of the most significant words from the mass.
  • Granting of absolution for sins, even when not confessed, by the Grand Master.
  • Exacting an oath never to leave the Order.
  • Holding secret conclaves.
  • Permission to the members to practice sodomy.
  • Actual practice of sodomy.
  • Worship of Idols.
  • Adoration of a cat.
  • Use of cords which had been touched to an idol.
  • Murder of candidates for refusing to take the oath of secrecy
  • Murder of members for revealing the secrets ofthe Order.
  • Confession only within the limits of the Order and not to outside priests.
  • Failure to correct or reveal the evils which the members of the Order knew to exist.
  • Failure to discharge the duties of hospitality which were incumbent upon the Order.
  • Covetousness and rapacity in obtaining possession of the property of others.
  • The indictment closed by alleging the confessions which we have already considered as proof of the truth of the charges.

It would be tedious, perhaps, to examine the charges in detail, but a few of them should have careful consideration.

We know that the conclaves of the Order were held in secret and that no outsiders were admitted to their ceremonies. That was not a crime, but it was a cause of suspicion.

We have no sufficient evidence either that candidates were murdered for refusing to take the oath or that members were murdered for revealing the secrets. In this respect, as in some others, the agitation reminds us of the anti-Masonic charges of a later time and especially of those connected with the name of Morgan. Fundamentally the same human characteristics are involved.

Charges of immorality are certainly not substantiated by the evidence. That there were immoral individuals in the Order could hardly be denied. It would be impossible that so large a body of men should be free from unworthy members. It would be rash to deny that there were individual cases of sodomy. The crime was common in the middle ages and has always been the curse of celibate communities. That it was particularly common among the Templars or sufficiently common to blacken the fame of the whole Order is absolutely without proof. Indeed there is very little evidence in the trial bearing at all upon this point.

The charge that the practice was permitted finds absolutely its only shadow of foundation in the fact that a section of the "rule" provides that when there were not sufficient accommodations for each Knight to have a separate bed, two might occupy the same bed rather than that one should lie upon the floor.

The charge of covetousness and rapacity is natural. When a rich noble died and left all his property to the Order his heirs, naturally enough, were not particularly pleased. They doubtless had a good deal to say about undue influence and other things which we hear about today. That the action of the Order was particularly objectionable in this respect does not appear from the evidence.

The charge of parsimony and lack of hospitality was abundantly refuted.

The charge of heresy or the holding of forbidden beliefs was not proved and was always denied by the Knights.

The omission of significant words from the mass or any other form of blasphemy was not only unproved but was vigorously denied by practically all of the witnesses. The charges relating to heresy are denied not only by the testimony of the witnesses but by the entire history of the Order. It is extremely probable that the cosmopolitan character of the Order and the contact of its members with men of many nationalities and of different faiths had the inevitable result of broadening their views and giving them a certain toleration and largeness of personal outlook. It is very difficult for a man who comes constantly in contact with all sorts and conditions of men and with a great number of national and racial types to continue a fanatic. During the whole course of their existence, however, the Knights were the foremost to shed their blood and spend their lives for the Christian faith, that is to say for orthodox catholicism. They were the cutting edge of the crusading armies, rivaled in this regard only by the Hospitalers. Again and again detachments of the Knights were cut down to the last man fighting for the cross and refusing to surrender to the infidel or even to flee from him. Men do not show such determination as this for a faith in which they do not believe.

As for the matter of confession and absolution. We know that the rule of the Order especially provided that the members should have their own chaplains, to whom they should make their confessions when it was possible to do so. This rule was drawn up by St. Bernard and approved by the Pope. Obedience to it on the part of the Knights could hardly be considered a crime. It was abundantly proved that the Grand Master did not give ecclesiastical absolution. He did have the right to receive disciplinary confessions, to condone offenses against the Order, or to inflict disciplinary penance. This was a purely administrative matter and had nothing to do with clerical absolution. No Grand Master ever presumed to give clerical absolution.

The charge of idolatry arose from a curious misapprehension. It was alleged that the Templars worshiped a brazen head. This head, it was said, had a white beard and rested upon a tall tripod. To this head the Templars were said to pray, and it was charged that the cords which they wore as a part of their habits were consecrated to it by being touched to it. The great church of the Templars in Paris possessed a very sacred relic. It was said to be the head of one of the 11,000 virgins who were martyred with St. Ursula at Cologne. It is interesting to know, by the way, that the legend of the 11,000 virgins rests upon a misreading of an old Roman inscription. The inscription tells of "XI M Virgines." M was read as an abbreviation for "mille" but it was really the abbreviation for "martyres" and instead of being read 11,000 virgins it should have been read 11 virgin martyrs. However, the head in question was believed to be the head of one of the virgins, whether there were eleven or eleven thousand. This head was covered with a white linen cloth and was covered again by a gold or bronze case in the shape of a head. When the case was slipped over the head the linen cloth showed at the base of it. The relic was displayed on special occasions before the high altar of the church, mounted on a tripod. This was the bearded, brazen head which the Templars were said to worship. There were probably reproductions of this reliquary in other Temple churches. It is probable that the Templars were glad to consecrate their cords by touching them to this sacred relic as was a common practice in those days.

The charge that indecent kisses were required is probably true, though not as a universal practice. This appears from a considerable number of depositions. This was done probably from one or both of two reasons. It may have been required as a test of obedience. It will be remembered that the Knight swore the three great vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Obedience was held to be absolute. Once the Knight had sworn he was under this bond and was bound to do without question anything that he was told to do by his knightly superior. His obedience was immediately tested by this requirement. The second reason is almost unintelligible today but is perfectly intelligible to anyone who is familiar with the life and habits of the middle ages. It was a rough joke, and it was the kind of thing that the medieval mind considered funny. Wit and humor as we know them were very rare in the middle ages. Their places were taken by unspeakable coarseness. Anyone who is familiar with the art, literature, and drama of the middle ages is only too familiar with this fact. The more filthy and indecent the story or incident the more it appealed to the rough humor of the time and the louder the laugh which it excited. Contrasts of rough buffoonery with the most solemn incidents appealed to the minds of the people of that age. It was only in accord with the habits of the time that after the solemn ceremonies of the initiation the candidates should be subjected to a bit of foolish buffoonery.

There remains the charge of denial of Christ and defiling the cross. That there was any denial beyond the alleged defilement of the cross does not appear. That the candidates were sometimes, not always, commanded to spit upon the cross or otherwise defile it was confessed by De Molay and seems to be clearly established by other testimony. It will be remembered, however, that De Molay insisted that he could explain the fact, and the explanation appears in the testimony of some of the witnesses. Witnesses usually testified that they did not spit upon the cross but upon the ground near the cross, and some of them testified that when commanded to do so they refused. Those who refused were congratulated upon their courage and told that they would certainly be good soldiers of the cross. In other words the command to defile the cross was a test. The candidate having sworn obedience and having sworn to serve as a defender of the cross was immediately put to the most difficult and trying of all tests, a test which involved conflict of obligations. He was called upon to choose whether he would fulfill his vow of obedience at the expense of his vow of loyalty to the cross, or whether he would carry his loyalty to the cross so far as to break his oath of obedience. It must be remembered that this was an age in which obedience was a virtue and that the efficiency of the Order, or any similar body, depended upon the absolute obedience of its members to the orders which they received. As has already been pointed out the loyalty of the Order to the cross is written in blood on every page of its history, whatever may have occurred at the initiation. Undoubtedly the explanation De Molay would have made, if he had been given opportunity to do it, was the one just indicated, that this ceremonial requirement was a test and entirely void of any deeper significance.

A survey of the charges and the evidence seems to show that the condemnation of the Templars was an act of great injustice and that the suppression of the Order was certainly not warranted by the charges which were brought against it. That the privileges and immunities of the Order worked to the weakening of the state, the impairment of the king's power and authority, the injury of the Church, and the lessening of the authority of the bishops, must be clear to anyone. That both Pope and King breathed easier after the Order had ceased to exist is entirely probable, but that its crimes were such as to deserve the treatment it received certainly does not appear from any facts in our possession or brought out at the trial.

One question will at once arise in the minds of every Mason, "Did the Order survive its suppression and is there any direct connection between the ancient Templars and modern Templar Freemasonry?"

So far as we have any evidence this question must be answered in the negative. Legend states that De Molay appointed a successor and a line of Grand Masters is named connecting the ancient and modern Orders. De Molay had no right to appoint a successor. The election of Grand Master is carefully provided for in the rule of the Order and no provision is made for any other form of procedure under any circumstances. There is no evidence whatever for the authenticity of the list which is sometimes given.

Some of the Templars who survived joined other orders and some of them passed their remaining days in obscurity or imprisonment. There is no traceable connection between the ancient Knights of the Temple and any modern order. The most we can say is that it is possible that the traditions and even the secrets of the Order were cherished by its surviving members after the Order was dissolved. Men do not easily forget things which have been very dear to them, for which they have suffered, and for which they have seen their companions die. That there was any esoteric rule or belief among the Templars, we have no evidence. That there was a certain freedom of thought and breadth of view would be the inevitable result of that cosmopolitanism and contact with the outside world of which we have taken account. It may be that the survivors of the Order, hoping against hope that it might some day revive, may have communicated their hopes, their aspirations, their ritual, their views, and their secrets, if such there were, to their chosen friends and in this way the soul of the Order may have survived until it reappeared in other forms, and its ideas and ideals may have been influential some centuries later in the development of those movements which resulted in the transformation of Masonry from its old operative into its modern speculative form. But all this lies in the field of conjecture. As far as the sober historian can see the Order of the Temple ceased with the edict of May 6, 1312, which absolved the Order, and the tragedy of March 10, 1314, which ended the life of De Molay.

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