History Of The Christian Church (1892) Philip Schaff

§ 60. The Military Orders


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§ 60. The Military Orders.

"And by the Holy Sepulchre
I’ve pledged my knightly sword

To Christ, His blessed church, and her,

The mother of our Lord."

Whittier, Knights of St. John.

A product of the Crusades and their most important adjunct were the three great Military Orders, the Knights of St. John, the Knight Templars, and the Teutonic Knights. They combined monastic vows with the profession of arms. Their members were fighting monks and armed almoners. They constituted a standing army of Crusaders and were the vigilant guardians of Latin institutions in Palestine for nearly two centuries. The Templars and the Knights of St. John did valiant service on many a battle-field in Palestine and Asia Minor.494  In 1187 they shared in the disastrous defeat of the Christian forces at Tiberias. From that time their strength was concentrated at Acre.495  After the fall of Acre, 1291, the three orders retired to Europe, holding the Turks in check for two centuries longer in the South and extending civilization to the provinces on the Baltic in the North. They combined the element of romance, corresponding to the chivalric spirit of the age, with the element of philanthropy corresponding to its religious spirit.

These orders speedily attained to great popularity, wealth, and power. Kings did them honor. Pope after pope extended their authority and privileges. Their grand masters were recognized as among the chief personages of Christendom. But with wealth and popularity came pride and decay. The strength of the Knights of St. John and the Templars was also reduced by their rivalry which became the scandal of Europe, and broke out into open feuds and pitched battles as before Acre, 1241 to 1243 and in 1259.496  After the fall of Acre, which was ascribed in large part to their jealousy, Nicholas IV. sought to combine them.497  The Knights of St. John were predominantly a French order, the Teutonic Knights exclusively a German order. The Templars were oecumenical in their constituency.

I. The order of the Knights of St. John, or the Hospitallers,498 derived its name from the church of St. John the Baptist in Jerusalem.499  It seems to have grown out of a hospital in the city erected for the care of sick and destitute pilgrims. As early as the time of Charlemagne a hospital existed there. Before the year 1000 a cloister seems to have been founded by the Normans close by the church of the Holy Sepulchre known as St. Maria de Latina, with accommodations for the sick.500  About 1065 or 1070 a hospital was built by a merchant from Amalfi, Maurus.501  At the time of the capture of Jerusalem, Gerard stood at the head of one of these institutions. Gerard seems to have come from Southern France.502  He prescribed for his brotherhood a mantle of black with a white cross. Godfrey of Bouillon liberally endowed it and Baldwin further enriched it with one-tenth of the booty taken at the siege of Joppa. Gerard died in 1120 and was succeeded by Raymund du Puy, who gave the order great fame and presided over it for forty years.503

The order increased with astonishing rapidity in numbers, influence, and wealth. Gifts were received from all parts of Europe, the givers being remembered in prayers offered up in Jerusalem. Raymund systematized the rules of the brotherhood and gave it a compact organization and in 1113 it gained papal sanction through Pascal II. At that time there were affiliated houses at St. Giles, Asti, Pisa, Otranto, and Tarentum.504  In 1122 Calixtus II. made the important announcement that those giving protection to pilgrims were entitled to the same reward as the pilgrims themselves and all who gave to the Hospital in the earthly Jerusalem, should receive the joys of the heavenly. Bull followed bull, granting the order privileges. Innocent III. exempted the members from excommunication at the hand of bishops and made the order amenable solely to the pope. Anastasius IV., 1154, gave them the right to build churches, chapels, and graveyards in any locality.505

The military feature of the organization was developed after the philanthropic feature of nursing and caring for unfortunate pilgrims and it quickly became the dominant feature. Raymund du Puy makes a clear distinction in the order between cleric and lay brethren. Innocent II., 1130, speaks of its members as priests, knights, and lay brethren, the last taking no vows. In its perfected organization the order was divided into three classes, knights, chaplains, and serving brethren. The knights and chaplains were bound by the threefold pledge of charity, poverty, and obedience.506  The military brothers or knights formed the majority of the order and from them the officials were elected.507  The hospital work was not abandoned. In 1160 John of Wizburg states from personal observation that more than two thousand sick were cared for in the hospital of Jerusalem, and that in a single day forty deaths occurred. After the transfer of the order to Rhodes, the knights continued to carry on hospital work.

After Clement IV., 1267, the title of the chief official was "Grand master of the Hospital of Jerusalem and Guardian of the Poor of Jesus Christ." The distinctive dress of the order was, after 1259, a red mantle with a white Maltese cross worn on the left breast that "God through this emblem might give faith and obedience and protect us and all our Christian benefactors from the power of the devil." Its motto was pro fide, "for the faith."508  The whole body was divided about 1320 into seven langues or provinces, Provence, France, Auvergne, Italy, Germany, Aragon, England. Castile was added in 1464. Affiliated houses in Europe and the East sent two-thirds of their income to Jerusalem.509  One of the interesting rules of the order was that the knights always went two and two and carried their own light with them.

After the fall of Acre, the Hospitallers established themselves on the island of Cyprus and in 1310 removed to the island of Rhodes, where massive walls and foundations continue to attest the labor expended upon their fortifications and other buildings. From Rhodes, as a base, they did honorable service.

Under the grand master La Valette, the Knights bravely defended Malta against the fleet of Suleymon the Magnificent until Europe felt the thrill of relief caused by the memorable defeat of the Turkish fleet by Don John at Lepanto, 1571. From that time the order continued to decay.510

II. The Knight Templars511 before the fall of Acre had, if possible, a more splendid fame than the Knights of St. John; but the order had a singularly tragic ending in 1312, and was dissolved under moral charges of the most serious nature. From the beginning they were a military body. The order owes its origin to Hugo de Payens (or Payns) and Godfrey St. Omer, who entered Jerusalem riding on one horse, 1119. They were joined by six others who united with them in making a vow to the patriarch of Jerusalem to defend by force of arms pilgrims on their way from the coast to Jerusalem.

Baldwin II. gave the brotherhood quarters in his palace on Mount Moriah, near the site of Solomon’s temple, whence the name Templars is derived. Hugo appeared at the council of Troyes in 1128,512 and made such persuasive appeals at the courts of France, England, and Germany, that three hundred knights joined the order. St. Bernard wrote a famous tract in praise of the "new soldiery."513  He says: "Never is an idle word, or useless deed, or immoderate laughter or murmur, if it be but in a whisper, among the Templars allowed to go unpunished. They take no pleasure in the absurd pastime of hawking. Draughts and dice they abhor. Ribald songs and stage plays they eschew as insane follies. They cut their hair close; they are begrimed with dirt and swarthy from the weight of their armor and the heat of the sun. They never dress gayly, and wash seldom. They strive to secure swift and strong horses, but not garnished with ornaments or decked with trappings, thinking of battle and victory, not of pomp and show. Such has God chosen to vigilantly guard the Holy Sepulchre."514

The order spread with great rapidity.515  Matthew Paris, no doubt, greatly exaggerates when he gives the number of their houses in the middle of the thirteenth century as nine thousand.516  Their annual revenues have been estimated as high as 54,000,000 francs.517  The order was divided into provinces, five of them in the east—Jerusalem, Tripolis, Antioch, Cyprus, and the Morea; and eleven in the west—France, Aquitaine, Provence, Aragon, Portugal, Lombardy, Hungary, England, Upper and Lower Germany, Sicily, and perhaps a twelfth, Bohemia. Popes, beginning with Honorius II., heaped favors upon them. They were relieved from paying taxes of all sorts. They might hold services twice a year in churches where the interdict was in force. Their goods were placed under the special protection of the Holy See. In 1163 Alexander III. granted them permission to have their own priests.518

Like the Hospitallers, the Templars took the triple vow and, in addition, the vow of military service and were divided into three classes: the knights who were of noble birth, the men at arms or serving brethren (fratres servientes, armigeri), and chaplains who were directly amenable to the pope. The dress of the knights was a white mantle with a red cross, of the serving brethren a dark habit with a red cross. The knights cropped their hair short and allowed their beards to grow. They were limited to three horses, except the grand master who was allowed four, and were forbidden to hunt except the lion, the symbol of the devil, who goes about seeking whom he may devour.519  The order had for its motto "not unto us, not unto us, but unto Thy name, O Lord, give the glory."520  The members in cloister observed the regular conventual hours for prayer, and ate at a common table. If money was found in the effects of a deceased brother, his body was denied all prayer and funeral services and placed in unconsecrated ground like a slave.521  They were bidden to flee from the kisses of women and never to kiss a widow, virgin, mother, sister, or any other female.522  On account of their poverty, two ate from the same dish, but each had his own portion of wine to himself.523

The head of the order was called Grand Master, was granted the rank of a prince, and included in the invitations to the oecumenical councils, as, for example, the Fourth Lateran and the second council of Lyons. The Master of the Temple in England was a baron with seat in Parliament.

The Templars took part in all the Crusades except the first and the crusade of Frederick II., from which they held aloof on account of the papal prohibition. Their discipline was conspicuous on the disastrous march of the French from Laodicea to Attalia and their valor at the battle of Hattim, before Gaza524 and on many other fields.525  The order degenerated with riches and success.526  To drink like a Templar, bibere templariter, became proverbial for fast living. Their seal, representing the two founders entering Jerusalem in poverty on one horse, early came to misrepresent their real possessions.

A famous passage in the history of Richard of England set forth the reputation the Templars had for pride. When Fulke of Neuilly was preaching the Third Crusade, he told Richard he had three daughters and called upon him to provide for them in marriage. The king exclaimed, "Liar, I have no daughters." "Nay, thou hast three evil daughters, Pride, Lust, and Luxury," was the priest’s reply. Turning to his courtiers, Richard retorted, "He bids me marry my three daughters. Well, so be it. To the Templars, I give my first-born, Pride, to the Cistercians my second-born, Lust, and to the prelates the third, Luxury."527

The order survived the fall of Acre less than twenty years. After finding a brief refuge in Cyprus the knights concentrated their strength in France, where the once famous organization was suppressed by the violent measures of Philip the Fair and Clement V. The story of the suppression belongs to the next period.

III. The order of the Teutonic Knights528 never gained the prominence in Palestine of the two older orders. During the first century of its existence, its members devoted themselves to the maintenance and care of hospitals on the field of battle. They seldom appeared until the historic mission of the order opened in the provinces of what is now northeastern Germany which were reduced to subjection and to a degree of civilization by its arms and humanizing efforts.

The order dates from 1190, when a hospital was erected in a tent under the walls of Acre by pilgrims from Bremen and Lübeck. Frederick of Swabia commended it, and Clement III. sanctioned it, 1191.529  It was made a military order in 1198 by a bull of Innocent III.530 and in 1221 Honorious III. conferred upon it the privileges enjoyed by the Hospitallers and Templars. The order was made up almost exclusively of German elements.531  The members took the triple vow. Their dress was a white mantle with a black cross. Women were affiliated with some of the hospitals, as at Bremen. The first possession of the order in Europe was a convent at Palermo, the gift of Henry VI., 1197. Its first hospital in Germany was St. Kunigunde, at Halle. Subsequently its hospitals extended from Bremen and Lübeck to Nürnberg and further south. Its territory was divided into bailiwicks, balleyen, of which there were twelve in Germany. The chief officer, called Grand Master, had the dignity of a prince of the empire.

Under Hermann von Salza (1210–1239), the fourth grand master, the order grew with great rapidity. Von Salza was a trusted adviser of Frederick II., and received the privilege of using the black eagle in the order’s banner. Following the invitation of the monk Christian and of Konrad of Morovia, 1226, to come to their relief against the Prussians, he diverted the attention and activity of the order from the Orient to this new sphere. The order had the promise of Culmland and half of its conquests for its assistance.

After the fall of Acre, the headquarters were transferred to Venice and in 1309 to Marienburg on the Vistula, where a splendid castle was erected. Henceforth the knights were occupied with the wild territories along the Baltic and southwards, whose populations were still in a semi-barbaric state. In the hour when the Templars were being suppressed, this order was enjoying its greatest prosperity. In 1237 it absorbed the Brothers of the Sword.532

At one time the possessions of the Teutonic knights included fifty cities such as Culm, Marienburg, Thorn, and Königsberg, and lands with a population of two million. Its missionary labors are recorded in another chapter. With the rise of Poland began the shrinkage of the order, and in the battle of Tannenberg, 1410, its power was greatly shaken. In 1466 it gave up large blocks of territory to Poland, including Marienburg, and the grand master swore fealty to the Polish king. The order continued to hold Prussia and Sameland as fiefs. But the discipline had become loose, as was indicated by the popular saying, "Dressing and undressing, eating and drinking, and going to bed are the work the German knights do."533  In 1511 the margrave, Albrecht of Brandenburg, was made grand master and refused to be a vassal of Poland. Following the counsel of Luther, he laid down the mantle and cross of the order, married 1523, and laid the foundation of the greatness of the duchy of Prussia, which he made hereditary in his family, the Hohenzollern.534  The black eagle passed to the Prussian coat of arms.535


Chapter 8. The Monastic Orders.

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