Were the Knights Templar really monks?


Templars burned at the stake.
Templars burned at the stake

The Knights Templar are routinely referred to as ‘warrior monks’.  But were the Templars really monks in the accepted sense.  In her book ‘The Templars – The Secret History Revealed’, well respected author Barbara Frale makes the point that strictly speaking, they were not.  Why?  Well – let’s start with one basic point – the Templars were never actually ordained as priests.

The knights went through some form of initiation and took the monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.  But they did not have the powers of a priest to administer the holy sacraments.  A Templar knight could not give communion for example.  One reason for this was that priests were not allowed to go in to battle and kill – which obviously Templars did routinely.

Pope Innocent II (1130-1143) reigned during the early formative years of the Templar order.  He ruled that the Templars needed ordained chaplains who had received holy orders before joining a Templar house.  They could minister to the Templars’ religious needs but under no circumstances could they take to the field of battle.

Frale believes that by the early 1300s, the number of chaplains in Templar preceptories had collapsed.  Given that under the Rule set down by Bernard of Clairvaux, the Templars had to pray nine times a day – they must have had trouble guaranteeing the presence of a chaplain to minister to their needs.  It was Bernard who said the Templars had to be “meek as lambs and, at the same time, as ferocious as lions”.  They were supposed to be intensely prayerful but also ready to raise their sword high and slay the Saracen.

Meek monks and courageous warriors but not properly ordained.  Little wonder that some in the church did not regard them as part of the club and even a little suspect.

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4 thoughts on “Were the Knights Templar really monks?

  1. Monks are not priests anyway. They live the contemplative life and pray multiple times daily – but no monks – medieval or modern – are ordained as priests. They have priests attached to the order for priests were not allowed to fight. Monks cannot hear confessions nor administer the sacraments, so the arguement that the Templars were not monks because they were not ordained as priests does not hold water.

    1. You make a completely valid point and I doff my proverbial hat to you. This rather shoots down the point raised by this historian. It’s almost a non-point. I’ll keep the post up though to show the argument and its refutation. Many thanks!

    2. If you are talking about monks in a monastery, some are ordained priests who will first have studied for the priesthood and then entered a monastery, or they entered a monastery and then after the years it takes to become a full monastic study for the priesthood through the monastery remaining monks, (i.e. Dominican order) others remained lay monks. So no you can’t say that monks are not priests, and that Templars were not monks and therefore not priests, that is also incorrect.
      In my limited knowledge about the Templars, they originated as a monastic order which then devoted their dusty to God by protecting pilgrims to the holy land. In the early time pilgrims were attacked and killed and protecting those who made pilgrimages to the land where Christ was born and lived and died was seen as a sacred dusty. Pilgrimages were done not as tourists do today, they were done for redemption, sacrifice for sins, to find Grace and entry into heaven, they were prayerful but also torturous because many were done totally on foot over unimaginable distance. Even on horseback this was not a pleasure tour. The Templars order came about specifically to protect and guide such pilgrims and pilgrimages protected from “heathens” attacking the Christians.
      It is very possible that the order had its share of ordained priests. To say that priests or monks could not kill and therefore the Templars could not have been either priests and/or monks is to say that it was okay for a lay person to kill? First Commandment is after all They shall not kill and applies to all Christians, monk, priest or lay person.. Did the order of Templars have dispensation from this Commandment from the pope? That is a possibility, the church and with it the pope was so very different in that time, 700 + years ago.

      1. All the points you raise are very interesting and pertinent. It is true that the Templars lived by a Rule that was essentially the Cistercian rule – as followed by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the Templars’ strongest supporter in the early years. They observed the same daily rhythm as monks punctuated by the usual prayers from dawn till dusk. I’ve often thought of them as the military wing of the Cistercians and the two orders operated in close contact in places like Portugal. The Templars would help conquer territory and the Cistercians would move in behind with their abbeys and skills at land management. Of course the Templars had their own medieval agri-businesses that funded their crusades. So were they priests? No – but they did have their own chaplains to administer the sacraments. In fact they were short of chaplains in the later years of the order. As regards being monks, I get your point. The question then is whether the military orders – Templars, Hospitallers, etc – were regarded as monks at the time. The fact they were directly answerable to the pope points to an affirmative answer and I hear what you’re saying about the distinction between being a monk and a priest. But I think the military orders were seen as distinct from the traditional monastic orders such as the Benedictines, Cistercians, Augustinians, etc. I agree with you about killing people – everybody could do that in the Middle Ages including bishops and priests. And in fact, Bernard of Clairvaux exhorted the Templars to kill in the name of Christ calling it “malecide” (the killing of evil) as opposed to homicide (the killing of another man/woman).

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