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Military Orders and Hospitallers

In the 11th centory, sprang up a new class of religious orders which, from a certain point of view, are connected with the monastic order, while possessing their own marked characteristics. Some of these were purely military in character ; others were concerned also with the care of the sick (hospitallers). The hospitallers pure and simple form a third category. The military orders were regarded by the Church as true religious orders. They had the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, celebrated the divine office, were under the discipline of a Rule and an observance of fasts and abstinence, and enjoyed the same privileges as the monks, being exempt from episcopal jurisdiction and immediately subject to the Holy See.

Some followed the Cistercian statutes, others the Rule of St. Augustine, and others that of St. Benedict. It is for this reason that they are regarded as belonging, in a sense, to the monastic order. Contemporary with the Crusades, their principal object was to fight against the Saracens and to protect the Christian pilgrims to the holy places. Their life may, in fact, be regarded as a permanent crusade against the Muslims. In these orders, at their origin, there was united in one the ideal of the monastic life and of the life of chivalry of the Christian knight. This ideal stood them in good stead in an age when all institutions were so profoundly imbued with the spirit of religion. Unfortunately such an ideal proved to be too high, and elements so incongruous as the religious and the military could not long endure together.

Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem was the most ancient of all the military orders. In 1048 some Italian merchants built a hospice or hostelry for pilgrims and for the sick in Jerusalem. Certain French noblemen who served it formed themselves into a religious congregation. Tliis was the cradle of the order. Gerard de Tenqne (of Martigues in Provence) organized it into a military order, i.e. an order in which there were brethren attendant on the sick and members who were knights, and who had as their special object to defend pilgrims against malefactors and infidels. The order was approved by Pope Pascal II in 1113 under the name of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem. Later its members were known as the Knights of Rhodes and, later still, Knights of Malta, from the fact that they defended both these islands against the Musalman. Foundations were soon established along the shores of the Mediterranean, and at one period of their history they possessed houses to the number of 13,000.

The knights acquired a wide-spread influence and power and also considerable riches, which enabled them to serve as money-agents or bankers to princes and kings.1 They rendered great services to the Christian religion, and their prowess in the wars against the Turks won them great renown. Their heroic defence of Rhodes and of Malta against an enemy six times their number forms a veritable epic. The most illustrious of their grand masters were Pierre d'Aubusson, Villiers de 1'Isle Adam, and La Valette. Napoleon confiscated their property in France, and Nelson annexed Malta for the "English Government. The title of Knights of Malta still exists as a title of honor. Those who bear it form a society and give themselves to works of charity.

The Knights Templars, although of more recent date than the Knights Hospitallers, t soon became of greater importance and greater power. Their founder was Hugues de Payens, a French noble, who in 1118 gathered together a number of companions for the defence of the pilgrims to the Holy Land against the Saracens. The name of Templars, or 'Order of the Temple," was given to them because their house in Jerusalem was built on the site of the Temple of Solomon. St. Bernard, in 1128, drew up a Rule for them, adapted from the Rule of St. Benedict and the Statutes of Citeaux.

The order was purely military. We need not here enlarge on the great part played in mediaeval history by the Knights Templars, on the influence which they wielded far and wide (they had in the 12th cent. 9000 manors distributed through every land in Christendom), on the services which they rendered to Christianity against the Saracens in Palestine and in Egypt, the riches which they accumulated and which were the cause of their downfall, the abuses which crept into the order, or, finally, their lamentable end under Philip le Bel and Clement V. after the cruel execution of their grand master, Jacques de Molay, and his companions in 1307.

The Templars were succeeded in Portugal by the Order of Christ, and in Spain by the Order of Montesa. Other orders were founded on the model of the Templars and the Hospitallers, but we shall speak only of the principal of these lesser orders-the Teutonic Knights, the Knights of St. James, and the Knights of Calatrava and Alcantara.

The Teutonic Knights were founded about 1128 or 1129 a rich merchant of Germany who had taken part in the siege of Jerusalem. Struck with compassion at the sight of the sufferings of the pilgrims, built a hospital for them, in honor of the Blessed Virgin. He was soon joined by others, with whom he organized an order on the model of the Hospitallers of St. John, to care for the pilgrims and protect them against the Saracens. After the capture of Jerusalem by Saladin they were constituted one of the military orders (1190 or 1191) and changed their name from 'Hospitallers of the Blessed Virgin' to 'Teutonic Knights of the Hospitality of the Blessed Virgin.' They adopted a Rule similar to that of the Templars and the Knights of St. John.

The members of the order were always of German nationality. The knights took part at first in the struggle against the Saracens, then joined forces with another military order, the Knights of the Order of Christ in Livonia, which had been founded to fight against the pagan nations of the Baltic. While thus devoting themselves specially to the war against these pagans, they diu not cease to take a part in the Crusade against the Saracens hi Palestine. The emperors of Germany, Frederick I. and Frederick II., gave the order their protection and endowed it with vast possessions.

When at the time of the Reformation the grand master became a Lutheran, the order was divided, one part following the grand master in his apostasy, the other taking up the cause against the Protestants. The order fell from its first fervour, and Napoleon took measures to abolish it in 1809.

Other military orders were founded at the same time in Spain and in Portugal, on the model of the above, in order to fight against the Moors. That of Aviz in Portugal arose in 1147, in the reign, it is believed, of Alfonso I. The knights followed the Rule of St. Benedict in its Cistercian interpretation. They were known at first as the 'New Soldiers,' then as the Knights of Evora, and finally of Aviz. Their campaign against the Moors was conducted with success. The Order of St. James of Compostella was founded to protect the pilgrims to the shrine of that saint against the brigands and the Moors. Those of Calatrava and Alcantara had also as their aim to make war against the Moors.

The Order of Calatrava owed its origin in 1158 to a Cistercian abbot who became its first grand master, his monks being transformed into knights. It remained in union with Citeaux and was victorious against the Moors. Unfortunately its members took part in the civil and political contests in Spain and ended by falling completely into the power of the Spanish kings, ceasing to be a religious order and becoming an honorary order of knighthood. Meanwhile it became united with the Orders of Aviz and Alcantara. The latter, founded probably in 1158, also followed the Rule of St. Benedict and was affiliated to Ctteaux. The knights also made war on the Moors, but, like the Order of Calatrava, they took part in politics and ended, like them, in becoming a courtly order of knighthood.

The Knights of the Order of Christ, otherwise known as Brethren of the Sword, was founded in the year 1201, by a Bishop of Riga, under these circumstances. The province of Livonia, bordering on the Baltic, and having considerable maritime advantages, had been originally evangelized by a Missionary Bishop, without any definite " See." But after a time matters had become so far settled that the Bishop was enabled to set up his "chair" at the town, which then became the city, of Riga. But the province of Livonia, of which Riga was the capital, was by no means in a state of peaceful submission to the Christian authorities. And in order to protect himself, and those who owned him as their liege lord, from danger, and to extend the Christian power over a larger area, Albert, the third Bishop, had, with the sanction of that most powerful of all the Popes, Innocent III., founded an Order similar in all respects to the Templars, except that the field of their operations was to be the area occupied by the unconverted heathens of Northern Europe, instead of Palestine and the Holy Places there. This Order adopted the habit, as well as the rule, of the Templars; and wore the white mantle with the red cross on the breast worn by the more famous community, but distinguished by a blood-red sword placed athwart the cross, from which they derived their second title of Brethren of the Sword.

The Order of St. Lazarus, of which St. Basil was the reputed founder, and which was united with that of St. Maurice de Savoy for the care of lepers, had several dependencies and annexes in Palestine and was also an order of military hospitallers. It acquired its military character after the first Crusade, and resembled closely the Templars and the Knights of St. John. This order constructed a vast number of leper-housea (or 'lazar-houses') in France and in the other countries of Europe.

Among less celebrated orders are the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, which claimed to go back to the time of St. Helena ; the Order of Christ or of the Sword, founded by Guy de Lusignan, king of Jerusalem, for the defence of Cyprus against the Turks; the Order of the Cross or Army of St. Dominic, against the Albigensians ; the Order of St. Thomas of Canterbury, an offshoot of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, for the service of pilgrims in England, etc. The innumerable orders of knighthood founded by kings and princes in order to confer honor upon and to reward their dependents were not religious orders and do not belong to this subject.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:05:00 ZULU