Were the Knights Templar heretics?

What heretical ideas might the Knights Templar have adhered to or imported from the east into the very heart of western Christendom?

There’s an interesting section in the book The Templars History and Myth by Michael Haag on medieval heresy in relation to the Templars that is a good starting point. Let’s look at three heretical movements that could have influenced the Templars:

  1. The Cathars

burning_heretics_02Guillaume de Puylaurens was born in Toulouse some time after the year 1200 and lived to witness the region he grew up in convulsed by a heretical movement called the Cathars. He was in turn a priest, then worked for the local bishop and eventually rose to become chaplain to Raymond VII of Toulouse – who was basically a medieval warlord resisting the authority of the King of France.

Guillaume would spend his closing years freelancing for the Inquisition and sending heretics to the flames. The 13th century saw the emergence, through clerical orders like the Dominicans, of that frightening ecclesiastical phenomenon that would bring so much misery to Europe – the Inquisition or Tribunal of the Holy Office.

Guillaume spotted heretics all over the place in southern France. Arians, Waldensians and Manichaeans were actively spreading their ideas if his chronicles are to be believed. Common themes in all these heresies, particularly the Cathars, were a questioning of the divine nature of Christ, the promotion of poverty as a virtue, a rejection of the material world and a scathing criticism of the wealth and power of a church that falsely claimed it ruled in the name of Christ.

We think of the Middle Ages as a time when the Catholic church exercised total authority over the people of Europe but the truth was very different. Ask a priest, bishop or pope at the time and they’d have listed the many threats out there to church dominance. It would have felt to these men that Roman Catholicism was under constant attack from powerful and evil forces.

The Languedoc region, with its capital at Toulouse, was the centre of the Cathar heresy that led to a papal crusade and the burning of their leaders, many of whom were local aristocrats. It was also a region where the Templars had ties of family, wealth and property. Michael Haag argues that some of the Templar patrons were known Cathar supporters.

It would take forever to detail all the Cathar beliefs that so offended Rome. In short, they continued a dualist tradition that had existed in early Christianity with a belief that the world was so corrupt and evil, it could not have been created by a good God. Therefore, a malign force had conjured up the material world while the true God was calling us all to rejoin him in the spiritual realm.

If this was true, Jesus Christ could not have been tainted by human flesh and was therefore an entirely spiritual entity. Again, an idea that many early Christians adhered to. This meant the Virgin birth story was a lie. This contempt for the carnal led some Cathars to reject meat and dairy products as well as abstaining entirely from sex.

TLSMacCullochThe argument runs that the Knights Templar were noticeably absent from the so-called “Albigensian crusade” launched by Pope Innocent III against the Cathars. That name derives from the town of Albi, a hotspot of Cathar activity. It’s also conjectured that the Templars wanted to carve out their own state in southern France, in opposition to the king, with the help of local magnates and Cathars.

Some have argued that the Cathars were in possession of the treasure found under the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. They reputedly hid it down a well in the fortified town of Caracassonne.

The problem with arguing a Templar/Cathar connection is that the knights were repeatedly held up as exemplars of the church militant.  They were protected by the papacy, lauded by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and fought tenaciously to extend Catholic dominion in the Middle East and the Iberian Peninsula. So surely they were on the pope’s side against these accursed Cathars?

However, the Templars also came to a barbaric and disgraceful end at the hands of that very same church. Their leaders and last Grand Master faced the same flames that engulfed many a Cathar. Both Templars and Cathars endured horrific torture and interrogation from priests and bishops. So can we deduce some kind of link from this?

It’s maybe not so surprising that the man entrusted with crushing the Templars, the King of France’s keeper of the seal Guillaume de Nogaret, was from a family that had fallen in with the Cathars. Possibly, Nogaret felt he had to over-compensate for this unfortunate treachery in his background by being ultra-loyal to king and pope.

  1. The Gnostics

I shudder every time I decide to touch this subject. Gnosticism almost defies description. But let’s have a go. I apologise in advance for the crudeness of this summary if any Gnostics are browsing this blog.

gnosisFirst thing to say is that elements of Gnosticism predate Christianity. You can find some of the basic tenets in Plato and other philosophers as well as the beliefs of certain ancient religious cults.

Basically, there have always been thoughtful people who have looked at the horror of the world around them and thought – this runs counter to who I am and what I should be. This world is false and empty. It’s a distraction. There must be a path back to a better kind of existence in tune with a true God who would not have wanted this to happen.

“Gnosis” = knowledge. Our world is the result of a cosmic catastrophe. We must acquire the knowledge that takes us back to our true essence. That will reunite us with the true God. When the catastrophe occurred, it sent millions of pieces of divine essence hurtling through the universe. Some of us have a piece of the divine within us and our aim must be, through total rejection of everything we see around us, to make our way back to God.

Like the Cathars, the idea of a bodily Jesus being born and dying was complete anathema. Jesus had come to impart knowledge – not drink wine, eat bread and die on a cross. The Gospel of John reads in a very Gnostic manner once you know the basics. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and God was the Word”. Gnosticism on a plate!

abraxasThose who support the idea of a Templar/Gnostic connection point to the use of certain symbols on their seals, for example the demi-god Abraxas. This entity had the body of a man and head of a cockerel.

Abraxas was one of the Archons – servants of the evil or creator God that had landed us in the mess we find ourselves in today. These Archons, 365 in total, stand between humanity and the true God to whom we must return, though not all of us can.

The Catholic church viewed Abraxas as a pagan god so what is this creature doing popping up on Templar seals?

  1. The Assassins

assassinThose of you acquainted with Assassin’s Creed will view the Templars as diametrically opposed to the Assassins, locked in a centuries old conflict. But there’s a different view.

James Wasserman, in his book Assassins: The Militia of Heaven, writes that through contact with the Assassins, the Templars imbibed Islamic forms of Gnosticism.

Wasserman thinks the Templars were swayed by the occult practices and teachings of the Assassins. They also shared the selfless bravery of this murderous organisation. Templars were always first in and last out of any battle and never flinched in the face of furious Saracen onslaughts. The Assassins performed a ritual where their own adepts were ordered to leap to a certain death from a precipice – which they duly did.

There is also a sense of both the Templars and Assassins being outsiders. The Templars were feted then rejected and crushed by the Catholic church. They had their own organisation, ethos and objectives. The Assassins, who belonged to the Shia Ismaili sect of Islam, killed both crusader and Saracen leaders.

Allegedly off their heads on hashish, the Assassins turned political assassination into something of an art form. They managed to murder Raymond II, count of Tripoli in 1152; Conrad of Montferrat, king of Jerusalem, in 1192 and made an audacious but unsuccessful attempt on the life of Saladin. The Templars justified their killing for Christ by calling it “malecide”, the murdering of evil, not people. These were two groups with very strange morals from our point of view.

The Templars and Assassins were physically based very closely to each other in the Holy Land. Did that proximity lead to a cross-fertilisation of ideas?

Your thoughts on this would be very welcome!

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Templar hotspots mentioned in Quest for the True Cross

Here’s a great idea for a Templar holiday this year – visit all the Templar hotspots mentioned in my book Quest for the True Cross. I’ve been to all of them (barring one) and can guarantee – they are fascinating places. So – let’s start our quick journey!

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT ONE: Edessa

220px-Battle_of_Edeesa_1146This city is now in modern Turkey – which is appropriate as it was the Seljuk Turks who drove the crusaders out of Edessa on Christmas Day in 1144. The city had been the capital of the County of Edessa, one of the first Christian kingdoms established after the First Crusade. The unsuccessful defence of the city was led by its Latin archbishop Hugh who was either trampled to death by his own fleeing flock or killed by the Seljuks as they stormed the city’s fortifications. I begin Quest for the True Cross with the siege of Edessa in full swing and two unscrupulous thieves using the tumult to steal the True Cross from a church in the city.

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT TWO: Jerusalem

source_4b7ebd592258c_hartmann-schedel-hierosolima-1493_2-bw-1147x965Jerusalem had been taken by Christian forces in the First Crusade – in the year 1099. A contemporary chronicle claimed that the massacre perpetrated by crusaders against the populace was at such a level that blood splashed up from the streets on to the knights’ stirrups. In the years that followed, a crusader kingdom was established with the Al Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock converted from Muslim to Christian use. This was reversed back again when Jerusalem fell to Saladin eighty years later. We meet the hero of Quest for the True Cross, Sir William de Mandeville, in Jerusalem as he helps to defend it from encroaching saracens.

 

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT THREE: London Templar church

Knight Templar church in LondonThe Temple church in London was the second Templar preceptory in the city and stands between Fleet Street and the river Thames. You need some imagination to picture it as part of a complex of medieval buildings long gone that would once have served the knights’ requirements. It’s now surrounded by law firms. In my novel, Sir William returns to the Temple to discover his father’s body hanging from an apple tree. This is based on a factual account of a failed rebellion by the 1st Earl of Essex Geoffrey de Mandeville’s against King Stephen. The Earl was subsequently declared an outlaw and killed. His body was forbidden a Christian burial but was rescued by the Templars. I won’t spoil what happened next – you’ll have to read Quest for the True Cross.

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT FOUR: Cressing Temple

The_wheat_barn_at_Cressing_Temple,_Essex_-_geograph.org.uk_-_255587Sir William is forced to return to the Templar preceptory where he began his life as a knight. It’s an unhappy return. The preceptory is run by a bitter old curmudgeon by the name of Wulfric who detests the young and valiant Sir William. Cressing Temple is in Essex and was once a major centre of the Knights Templar in England – founded during the unhappy reign of the aforementioned King Stephen. You can still see remains of a huge barn that I mention in the novel. I grew up in Essex and it’s with great pride that I bring this Templar gem to your attention!

TEMPLAR HOTSPOT FIVE: Clairvaux

Bernard_of_Clairvaux_-_Gutenburg_-_13206Leaving England, Sir William journeys to Clairvaux to see his old mentor – Bernard. The French Cistercian Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was a titanic figure in the Middle Ages – a reformer, ascetic, advocate of the crusades and supporter of the Templars. With the fall of Edessa to the Turks, he gave a series of rousing sermons urging the European nobility to make haste to the Holy Land and defend the Christian kingdoms. I depict Sir William as being one of many knights swept up in this fervour. Unfortunately, the Second Crusade suffered many setbacks, which hit Bernard hard. In my book, I convey his bitterness at the turn of events. I also touch on the intellectual battle that Bernard fought against a rival cleric called Peter Abelard. The latter was a worldly philosopher who offended the more spiritual Bernard.

Find out more about all these places when you order Quest for the True Cross on Amazon.

Interview with the Grand Master – The Grand Commandery of Knights Templar

English: Knight Templar
English: Knight Templar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been asked by many of you – where are today’s Knights Templar? Well, here is an interview with Sir Mark Borrington – Grand Master of The Grand Commandery of Knights Templar and he explains the organisation and the work that it does:

>  Tell me what The Grand Commandery is, for those who don’t know?

I probably don’t need to do any more than point you to the foundation statement I wrote for our Rules & Constitution which states: The Grand Commandery of Knights Templar is a chivalric order of like-minded individuals who demonstrate seven core principles: Chivalry, honour, integrity, humility, courtesy, wisdom & charity. Members take their inspiration from the highest ideals of the medieval Order of Knights Templar, originally founded by Hugues de Payens and eight fellow noblemen in Jerusalem circa 1118. These core principles have strong correlations to the Latin Rule of Templars, adopted by Hugues de Payens and others under the guidance of St Bernard of Clairvaux and Council of Troyes on 13th January 1129. It is expected that members commit themselves to these core principles at all times. 

 

> What charitable work are you currently involved in?

We have numerous projects on the go at any one time. Currently, we are raising money for Cancer Support Services, UNICEF, Water Aid and pretty much anything that fits in with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Some of the senior members of the Order are currently undergoing training in readiness for a 26 mile hike to raise money for the MacMillan Cancer Support charity in the UK. In situations like this, we tend to set targets with all donations being sent direct to the charity. So far we’ve raised £840 out of the £1000 target. As a chivalric order, members tend to get involved with our ARK project – that’s Acts of Random Kindness. These endeavours can be as diverse as donating financial aid to a member’s local hospice, donation of food to food banks, clothes to clothes banks or toys to orphanages. Members also volunteer time and energy to local projects around the world such as helping in cleaning off graffiti from public places, marshaling and supporting charitable events, handing out sleeping bags & blankets to the homeless or just baking in Medieval Templar Armour at summer fayres whilst collecting money on behalf of numerous worthy causes.

>What is your relationship to the original Knights Templar?

We don’t claim to have any relationship to the original Knights Templar other than what has been mentioned in our foundation statement. Just like Hugues et al., the founding members of the Grand Commandery of Knights Templar came together for a specific purpose whilst wishing to live by a certain code. Compared to our medieval Templar brothers who ended up with over 650 rules by the turn of the 14th century, we narrowed these down to our modern seven core principles which means, quite simply put, doing the right thing, by yourself and others, and seek the truth at all times. We founded a new Templar Order to try to show that convictions such as chivalry and honour, commitment and dedication still have a place within the modern world – following exactly on the same principles the original nine noblemen had back in 1117. Thankfully, however, gone are the days when Templars were charged to take up arms and fight in Holy Wars. The world is packed full of diversity, different ideals, philosophies, good and evil. Our battles today are not military in nature against those who do not happen to follow the same religious beliefs. We are no longer told that it is God’s will to kill our fellow brothers or sisters. Our modern day battles are more spiritual in nature and we actively fight against hatred, intolerance and prejudice within the world whilst helping our fellow mankind by promoting peaceful co-existence and acts of humanitarian work and aid.

 

>How does one become a member?

Individuals can join the Order by completing an initial enquiry form online at www.knightstemplar.gckt.org/apps/initial. Once we’ve reviewed an applicant’s resume and agreed an application in principle, references are sought from someone of professional standing to vouch for the applicant’s character and suitability in joining the Order. If everything is acceptable, the applicant is granted entry into the Order at Preceptor level. Normally after two years of proven merit and charitable action, the member is promoted up to the rank of Knight Templar.

Martin Moniz – Portuguese crusader hero – an interview with him…

Martim Moniz was a Portuguese crusader who fought with the first king of PortugalDom Afonso Henriques – when he conquered what was then the Islamic city of Al-Usbuna which would subsequently become the Christian capital of Portugal…Lisbon. Many Templars assisted in this battle with Bernard of Clairvaux hoping that the new kingdom of Portugal would be a dagger in to the western flank of the Islamic realms.

Moniz did not survive the battle as, according to legend, he rammed his not inconsiderable frame in to an open gateway to prevent the Moors closing it on the invading crusaders. His body was crushed between the gates but his heroism allowed the Portuguese to enter and win.

This story has been challenged but I’ve incorporated it in to my fictional account of that siege which features in my book Quest for the True Cross

The Portuguese comedian Herman Jose lampooned this story in his show, broadcast in the 1980s, where he played Moniz being interviewed…and as he comes on, the scenery crushes him. If you speak Portuguese – this may be treat, depending on your sense of humour.

 

The Jews and Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux was the great spiritual force behind the Templars – the Cistercian ascetic who promoted the Order in its early years and is believed to have largely authored the Rule. As I’m in Jerusalem and have just visited the museum commemorating the Holocaust – an emotionally draining experience – I thought it was worth recalling what Bernard thought about the Jews.

In the twelfth century, anti-semitism was on the rise as the Crusades often swept up the Jews in the role of infidels – also, often being money lenders it was a chance for gentiles in debt to hit out at their creditors. Bernard was a man of his time and could have been a vicious anti-semite but on purely theological grounds, he argued against any bloody violence against the Jews. Why?

Well, Bernard believed that the Jews had to be present on Judgment Day to see that the Christians had been right about Jesus as Messiah and they had been wrong. That’s a crude summing up but I think I’m basically right.

Bernard wrote: “The Jews must not be persecuted, slaughtered, nor even driven out”.  How much happier history might have been if Christians had listened to Bernard and not the raging bigots.

Here is an unbelievably touching and poignant image in the museum in Jerusalem which I had to photograph even though visitors are not supposed to take any snaps. It made me terribly sad and I wanted to share it with you. These are people who died in the concentration camps in happier times.

Origins of the Knights Templar

cropped-templar-artworkAs is often said, the Templars were the first multinational corporation – through a network of preceptories across Europe and the Middle East, engaged in farming, shipping and finance to fund their crusading activities.

The Templar Timeline

  • 1118 – Foundation of the Knights Templar by nine knights
  • 1118 – Hugh de Payens becomes first Grand Master
  • 1127 – First Templar church and preceptory in London
  • 1129 – Council of Troyes establishes the rules that will govern the Templars
  • 1139 – Omne datum Optimum – a papal bull makes the Templars answerable only to the pope
  • 1147 – the Second Crusade with the fall of Edessa and its aftermath brings the Templars centre stage in the Holy Land
  • 1174 – the rise of Saladin
  • 1187 – disaster at the Battle of Hattin and the loss of Jerusalem
  • 1192 – Templars in Acre
  • 1204 – the Fourth Crusade ends with the plundering of Constantinople
  • 1248 – the crusade of King Louis
  • 1291 – Acre falls to the Mamluks and the Templars edged out of the Holy Land
  • 1302 – Ruad falls and Templars massacred
  • 1307 – Templars arrested under orders of the King of France and Pope Clement V

Here’s an interesting video on the origins of the Knights Templar: