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Knights Templar, condoned by the Catholic Church, represents a religious order committed to the seemingly opposing principles and ideas of Christian peace and brotherhood of man while remaining dedicated to war and death. Through efforts to demonstrate this thesis, an effort will be made to document the manner in which the Catholic Church has justified this order in spite of its allegiance to opposing principles.
The Order of the Knights Templar was both a military and religious order, founded in the early 12 century, for the purposes of protecting Christian pilgrims who were traveling to holy places after the Catholic conquest of the Holy Land. The Order of the Temple was a military order, a type of religious order and was condoned by the Catholic Church from its onset due to its protective role. The order received its name after the King of Jerusalem gave the order his palace in the al-Aqsa mosque to serve as their headquarters. Over time, the role assumed by the order was expanded to include the protection of Christian territory in Spain. While there has been some suggestion that females were also accepted into the order, most of what has been recorded has suggested that the order consisted of men exclusively who took the normal three vows of chastity, poverty and obedience while coming to represent the Western world's first military order.
When considering the history and traditions of the Knights Templar, it is important to note that these men virtually left no written record by which their own thoughts and actual behavior could be examined. The recorded history of others has suggested that the members' lifestyle was much like that of ordinary monks, with the order's rule having laid down a strict regime on clothing, diet, charitable giving and other living arrangements. While the Knights Templar was the first military order, the order was soon followed by others including the Hospitallers and the Teutonics.
As has been explained by some, the concept of the military order emerged out of conceptualizations relating to crusade. Rather than being recognized as crusaders, who only took up weapons for a short period of time to defend Christ's people, a military order assumed this role for life. In exchange for their willingness to commit themselves to this responsibility, members of a military order expected that they would receive pardon for their sins and immediate entry into heaven if they died in action against the enemies of Christianity.
Criticisms of the Knights Templar
On the basis of the records of popes and chroniclers during the period of in the 1128-1291, information suggests that while extensive criticism was directed at all three military orders, the Templars did not receive more severe or frequent criticism than did the other two groups.
In fact, the Order may have been more protected from criticism as it was what was known as an exempt order, subject only to the rule and guidance of the Pope while the other two groups were subject to Episcopal (i.e., that which is pertaining to authority of the Bishop) monastic visitations. For clarification purposes, it is important to note that a visitation was an occasion when an external ecclesiastical authority (i.e., an authority under the rule of the bishop) inspected a monastic community to ensure that the latter was functioning properly. Exemption was granted to some orders to varying degrees, having obtained by legal efforts, petitioning to the pope, or through other methods. In cases such as that of the Knights Templar, the pope can exempt an order without the order having petitioned him, making the order subordinate only to him and under the authority of papal legates (i.e., a representative of the papacy, usually either a cardinal dispatched from Rome, an archbishop, or sometimes a bishop).
Most criticism leveled at the Templar order tended to focus on its reported arrogance and pride, its perceived responsibility for some of the military failures in the Holy Land, and, most of all, its alleged possession of wealth and power. However, some failed to recognize that the Templars' role as international bankers and money did not equate into very large amounts of money with the Templar treasury. Similarly, it as also been suggested that the perceived arrogance on the part of the order emerged from the expertise that the Templars' possessed regarding the Holy Land, their established cooperative relationships with the Muslims, and their power in determining military rule and efforts within the Holy Land.
Criticisms also emerged that were based on questioning by some religious leaders as to whether a military order truly could also serve the functions of a religious order. Evidence suggests that efforts were directed at attempting to convince the pope that the Templars should be recognized only as knights and not monks, while also suggesting that fighting the Muslims overseas was less important than dealing with problems at home in Western Europe. The military orders had become well established as part of the religious establishment by 1200, with most criticism ceasing as to whether they should be allowed to represent both a military and religious order.
Persecution and Destruction of the Templars
Other influences, however, led to ongoing problems for the Templars. During the years of 1229-1250, as the pope and emperor were engaged in political disputes, those who supported the emperor tended to direct criticism at the Templars and other military orders. As well, ongoing disputes regarding the generous donations of money and privileges given to the military orders remained a source of discernment, with particular resentment directed at the legal privileges granted them by the pope. In 1236 Pope Gregory IX wrote to the Templars and Hospitallers in western France and ordered them not to abuse the privileges granted to them. Between 1307 and 1311, the Templars were charged with permitting and even advocating heretical acts, with members subsequently imprisoned, interrogated by tribunals of the Inquisition, and charged with up to 127 articles of heresy, blasphemy, sacrilege, improper religious practices, and other allegations regarding their faulty religious life. Approximately sixty members of the order were executed in 1310, with actions taken against the Knights done in the name of the pope when King Philip IV of France was actually the one who had initiated the events that occurred. In fact, the pope was said to have complained in writing to the king about his interference in matters that should have been strictly left within the hands of pope. However, others have reported that Pope Clement V, unable to judge the Templars himself, relinquished his papal authority to the coercive demands of Philip IV and issued a Bull in 1312 suppressing the order. Reportedly, Philip IV had needed money to finance his Flemish war and the Templars became his target when he was unable to obtain the resources he needed. By 1314, the Templars were completely destroyed, with much of their property and resources ending up in the coffers of secular rulers. Reportedly, the leaders of the order were sentenced to life imprisonment, but after alleging that their confessions to the charges brought against them were coerced, they, too, were burned at the stake.
What was left of the members of the Knights Templar reportedly continued to operate in secret until 1705. During March 1705, a convention of Templars was held at Versailles during which a new Grand Master was elected, providing an official renewal of the order as a Secular Military Order of Chivalry. The order continued to expand, with 20 convents emerging in Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland and legations established in Sweden, Brazil, India and the U.S. during the 1800s.
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