Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon
The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, later known simply as the Knights Templar, were men who often came from mid-level aristocrats and merchants. They had training before they took their vows, and got more specialized training when they were in the order. Think of them as the special forces of their time. At the beginning of this order they faced criticism from many Christians who did not think that monks should enter into combat, but in 1129 St. Bernard of Clairvaux expressed his support, and the Pope quickly followed giving them his endorsement.
Not everyone that was in the order was a Knight. Many of the members of the order were in support roles or finance. This is similar to the current U.S. military where the vast majority of members of the armed forces are support, with a select few being in combat roles.
There were two main purposes of this religious order at the beginning.
1.) To ensure safe passage between Europe and the Holy Land
2.) To provide banking services in support of the safe passage of pilgrims.
Safe Passage to the Holy Land
This was the main reason for the founding of the Knights Templar. Many Europeans wanted to visit the holy land on pilgrimage, and some HAD to for penance. During the middle ages it was not terribly uncommon for a priest to give you a pretty intense penance after you confession. Pilgrimage. If you had been especially bad it may be the path of the current Camino in Europe, or it could be all the way to the Holy Land.
On these paths the church had to be sure that its members would be as safe as possible, which was the reasoning for the founding of Military Religious orders. The Order of Santiago protected the Camino pilgrimage path, and the Knights Templar protected the Holy Land pilgrimage path.
The Knights Templar are far more well known due to their public fall and scandal, which we will talk about a bit further down.
An important consideration for pilgrims traveling to a different land was ensuring that they had adequate money to eat and live when they arrived. If bandits knew that travelers were carrying a large amount of money, they were far more likely to rob them. The Knights created a clever way around this.
They created a vast banking network that connected all European countries with Jerusalem so that a pilgrim could deposit his money in his home country, and withdraw it hundreds of miles away. This led to less robbery. Due to a lower amount of cash carried not he paths, in addition to regular patrols by the Knights, it was not worth the risk to rob pilgrims. The actual Knights were not the ones who created and managed this banking network.. At the founding of the order the sole duty of the Knights was to protect the route to the Holy Land. Banking, and eventually managing of wars were added in later.
The day to day operations of this sprawling early banking system was done by members of the order who had no combat training. They were taught in an early form of apprenticeship. Almost like the MBA program of it’s day.
The great wealth that started to accumulate, and the power it had over the local kings and queens started to become a source of jealousy from the royal class in Europe. This all came to a head when the King of France, King Phillip IV. King Phillip was the most powerful King in Europe, and also had taken out massive loans from the Templars to finance his Kingdom and their wars with England. At this point the French Kingdom was basically insolvent. This led the King to taking matters into his own hands.
Fall of the Knights Templar
King Phillip IV was an altogether nasty and brutish King. He was not above assassinations or torture to get what he wanted, and he did not care who it was. His view was that God had placed him on the throne and no one, not even the Pope, had more right to create law than he.
King Phillip IV got into an argument with Pope Boniface VIII because he did not want to submit to his will. He trumped up charges of Heresy and and Illegitimacy and sent soldiers to capture and torture the Pope. The Pope was able to escape, but died of his wounds a few months later. This was the start of King Phillip IV greatly overstepping and believing that no one could tell him what he should do, and shows the character of the man.
He was willing to do whatever was necessary to get his way. When the Knights Templar started to get in the way and he believed they had more power than him, he took action.
The new Pope, Clement V, was much more amenable to the King of France, and many called him a pawn of France. The King was able to convince the Pope to declare the entire order of the Knights Templar heretics, and allowed the King of France to seize their property in France.
It is difficult to know exactly what the charges were and if there was any truth to them. In any group of people there are good and bad. We have seen that in the Church through the centuries, I do not dispute that. What seems interesting to me, is the timing. When the King needed funds to finance and war and fight devaluation of his currency, he “discovered” that the Knights were heretics.
It also begs the question, if this was the most powerful military in the world, how were they able to be taken and disbanded without a fight? My guess is that they were overall good men of Christ, and submitted to the will of the Pope. Even in the face of false accusations. Some of the members were allowed to join a brother order, The Lazarus Knights. These Knights were in charge of protecting the most vulnerable of the time, lepers.
Why talk about this?
At this point you are probably asking why I went into this history lesson and how this related to you or the current time we are in. Honestly, I just think it is fascinating, and I like to educate on the history of the Church. We hear things, and take them as the truth, even if the story is more nuanced.
The Knights Templar were not a perfect order, and I am certain that during the Crusades atrocities were committed. Where I often pause is this; any time the media or popular culture makes something Catholic out to be completely evil, it often is more nuanced. They are almost always wrong. Nothing the Church creates can be WHOLLY evil, though members in that same Church can do evil acts.
We as Christians have a long history of times in the church that look dark. We often think that we are alone and that God has forsaken us.
He has not.
Covid-19 is a difficult time for the world, and a difficult time for the Church. Never in our lifetimes have we had to refrain from Communion completely. Even if we did not go every day, we had the option for daily communion. Weekly Communion was always a guarantee no matter where you were in the World.
We can learn from the Knights who were disbanded and submitted to the will of God. It likely made no more sense to these men why their order was being attacked by the institution that they swore to protect than it does right now for us. It seems the world is out to get us and this virus is punishment. It is not.
This is a time for great conversation, if we allow it to be. God is giving us the gift of being able to slow down and trust in his will. Some of us will get sick, but God will be with those of us who do.
I ask you to watch the video in this link and pray for this man. Matt Fradd is a Catholic speaker who is well known as the point of the spear in the war against pornography. He is awaiting test results to see if he has Covid-19. He is scared, but not despairing. He is a testimony to the beauty you can allow God to bring through suffering.