In 1312, the Poor Knighthood of Christ and the Solomon Temple of Jerusalem, better known as the Templar Order, was abolished by Pope Clement V. At that time, the Pope did not act freely, but under pressure from Philip IV, King of France. A large number of groups from Catholics, Protestants, Gnostics to Freemasons today refer to the Templars and claim to have succeeded them. What is it all about?
The Templar Order was founded in 1118 by Crusaders in the Holy Land to protect the Holy Places, as the Crusade armies returned to Europe after their successful or failed military operations. The monastic knightly orders, including the Order of the Templars, were to support the Crusade armies, but above all to ensure the defense and protection of the Holy Places in their absence. The Knights Templar, which had its focus on French chivalry, became the militarily and economically strongest knightly order. Until 1302, this elite of Western knighthood defended the last base in the Middle East, the island of Arwad off today's Syrian coast.
While the Teutonic Order had found a new task in Prussia and the Baltic States and the Order of Malta (at that time still The Order of St. John) had found a new task in the Aegean, such a task was still missing for the Templars, who retreated to their European enclaves at the beginning of the 14th century. Whether France's king also feared their now idle military power is unclear. It is certain that he considered them obsolete and, due to his financial hardships, wanted to lay hands on the proverbial Templar treasure (better, Templar possessions). The Order had built this up through a large number of foundations over two centuries to finance its very costly presence in the Holy Land (construction and maintenance of castles, maintenance and armament of the brothers). In contrast, Philip IV was on the verge of national bankruptcy.
The biggest judicial scandal in the history of the Church
Pope Clement V, a friend of the French king, had led the papacy into exile in Avignon in 1309 and thus made it a "prisoner" of the French king. Clement V, a weak pope in the See of Peter, conducted a lengthy, confused and opaque show trial against the Templars on behalf of Philip IV, which culminated in the condemnation and violent annulment of the Templar Order. Pope Benedict XVI had the trial files made available in 2007. Since then, there is no longer any doubt that the Templars were victims of a judicial scandal. It is also documented that Clement V [Despite being a French puppet, himself] not convinced of her guilt, was too weak to prevail against Philip IV. Nevertheless, a revival of the Order was refrained from in the late Middle Ages, because the reputation of the Order was considered too damaged by the trial and its destruction.
Most of the Templars surrendered to their fate, disappointed and broken. They had defended themselves as well as possible in the trial against the heinous accusations. They could have taken up arms, but a struggle against the legitimate authority of the Pope and the King was beyond the realm of possibility.
Its twenty-third and last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, had been arrested in 1307, like many other Knights Templar, on the orders of Philip IV. Under severe torture in 1309, he confessed to abominations charged to the Order, but immediately recanted his confession. The proceedings dragged on and the members of the order, since they had nothing to expect from the secular power, placed their hope entirely on the Pope, from whom they saw themselves betrayed in the end.
In order to stifle any resistance in the Order, Philip demonstratively had 54 Knights executed in 1310. The Order, rendered leaderless by the arrests, was paralyzed. In 1314, the king also ordered the execution of the Grand Master, although he had previously been sentenced to life imprisonment. Molay was burned at the stake in Paris, one of many breaches of the law in this sensational smashing of a hitherto so respected and important order, to which so many members of the most distinguished families had belonged in two centuries.
The abolition of the Templars differed from the abolition of other orders in history because of the violence used against them, but otherwise it was comparable. The property was confiscated and mostly passed into secular, less often into spiritual hands. The surviving and non-imprisoned members of the Order had to lookfor a new place to stay, each for themselves. Deprived of leadership, dispossessed and threatened by severe repression, the Order simply dissolved.
Only on the Iberian Peninsula, where the Reconquista against the Muslims was still in progress, were new knightly orders founded by the kings of Aragon and Portugal, to whom templar ownership was transferred in these countries, and thus offered a new home to the Knights Templar there, who were knights and monks, which must not be forgotten.
Did the Order live on in secret?
Claims that the Templars persisted in secret in some areas of Europe lack any historical basis. Such theses only emerged in the 18th century in the context of the Masonic guilds that appeared at that time, which absorbed everything that was "tangible" for them and their intentions in terms of actual and even more supposed pre-Christian and non-Orthodox "knowledge", in historical personalities, organizations and currents. The judicial scandal that had led to the end of the Templars for political reasons was particularly predestined to be co-opted by Freemasons and lovers of the mysterious. Until then, it was not so much the Order, but emblematic for it, that the tragic figure of the last Grand Master had been in the public interest. The apparently instinctively recognized judicial scandal was condensed in the narrative that Grand Master Molay had cursed Pope and King at the stake or at least prophesied their death in the same year – and with the king the end of the Capetians – since both Clement V and Philip IV died in 1314.
It was only in the context of "enlightened" circles of the 18th century that imaginative stories and claims about the Templars really shot into the weeds. Only since then have there been ex novo claims of a secret continued existence of the Templar Order and mysterious symbols and signs by which they would recognize themselves. Centuries later, the spectacular and tragic judicial scandal was accompanied by a gigantic humbug.
Since the knightly orders, the Crusades, the Holy Land, the ideals of the Crusaders, their castles, their monastics and knighthood, their military and political power, their defensive spirit and overall, their quarrelsomeness, obviously inspire the imagination and exert a certain attraction to this day, a wide variety of groups around the world, often more bad than good, try to follow in the footsteps of the Templars.
According to the Ecclesiastical understanding, an order can be suppressed, but not abolished. It therefore rests only, because the Order continues to exist in the already deceased members of the Order in heaven and purgatory. The Templar Order could therefore also be revived at any time with ecclesiastical permission. So far, however, the Church has refrained from doing so. It would necessitate the annulment of the 1312 conviction, which was long considered a hardly feasible undertaking due to the time distance, lack of documents and witnesses. Since Benedict XVI opened the Vatican archives, it has been known that the annulment of the judgment is possible and would even be necessary. However, there is no one to be seen who could legitimately demand such a repeal. Above all, however, this would compromise the highest ecclesiastical authority, which at that time could be made the instrument of Philip IV. in the Vatican, this is considered an unnecessary mea-culpa compulsory exercise, since there is no need for a revival of the Order.
A Revival of the Templar Order: Claim and Reality
Thoughts about a possible reactivation did not appear in the ecclesiastical scene until 1847, when the Ottoman Empire – five and a half centuries after the fall of the Crusader states – allowed the re-establishment of an ecclesiastical hierarchy in the Holy Land. However, a revival of the Templar Order contrasted with the understanding of the papacy established by the First Vatican Council at the same time, in 1870. The Church met the now existing need for the preservation of the Holy Places by constituting the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in 1868. This was done without possibly provoking the Ottomans by a reappearance of the Templars and, above all, without "damaging" the papal authority at a delicate moment by admitting that a pope had supported and facilitated a serious judicial scandal in 1312. The "delicate moment" concerned the often misunderstood Dogma of Infallibility of 1870, which caused sufficiently violent conflicts within the Church and even more so hostility from outside. In the Second German Reich, proclaimed shortly thereafter, there was therefore a "culture war" against the public influence of the Catholic Church.
Today, however, the Church recognizes a number of lay associations that were founded after the Second World War and are close to the Templar Order without being able to claim its succession. They follow the ideals of a Christian life and charity, as sought and promoted by the three great ecclesiastically recognized knightly orders, the Maltese, Teutonic Knights and Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, for their lay members. In addition, there are also several "connections" in the Catholic field that are not recognized by the Church, which are committed to more or less the same goals. They usually make a valuable contribution to the Church and society, especially for persecuted Christians.
In addition, there is also a large number of would-be Templars outside the Church and mostly without a religious reference. These groups come together for historical, social or sometimes political reasons. Overall, today's "Templar landscape" is characterized by a high fluctuation: groups, sometimes small and smallest, often arise and dissolve again soon.
Since the end of the 19th century, this has also included a myriad of imaginative organizations in the haze of esotericism and gnosis and, of course, groups that belong to the Masonic cosmos and somehow refer to the Templars.
This myriad of very different groups, none of which can claim an actual succession to the Templar heritage, creates a mess and sometimes exposes even church-recognized organizations to suspicion, as the name "Templar" is discredited by dubious, Gnostic and Masonic initiatives. Overall, it has caused no minor damage to the memory of the Templar Order. A precise distinction is therefore needed.
However, this is made more difficult by groups that are close to the Church, but are on the verge of dubious intellectual property. Father Paolo Maria Siano of the Franciscans of the Immaculate, one of the best Catholic connoisseurs of Freemasonry, deals with them. He shows the confusion that seems to prevail in some circles that claim foundations ecclesiastically and are according to their outward appearance. These include the so-called Frederick Templars or Frederician Templars. The self-designation alone mixes the ecclesiastical with the secular and seeks the aura of the mysterious, the resistant and the criticism of the Church.