|The Knights Templar
Rivalry With Hospitallers
De Molay Burnt Alive
The Spoils Divided
Lessons to Learn
Fight for Freedom
More to Do!
The True Kadosch
See also:Degree XXX — Question Set 1
Degree XXX — Question Set 2
Degree XXX — Question Set 3
In a little time the Order largely increased. Princes of sovereign houses and Lords of the most illustrious families of Christendom joined it, and brought to it immense wealth, so that it soon became so rich and powerful as even to overshadow the Knights of St John. Raimond Berenger, Count of Barcelona and Provence, became a member and, too old to go to Jerusalem, sent large sums of money to carry on the war against the Infidels, laid down his power as sovereign Prince, and died among the Templars. Alfonso, first King of Navarre and Arragon, made the Knights of St John, the Templars, and the Monks or Knights of the Holy Sepulchre heirs of his Kingdom in 1131. In 1150, they distinguished themselves by defending, with the Knights of St John, the city of Jerusalem, and routing the Infidels, in the absence of Baldwin III; and in 1154 at the siege of Ascalon.
In 1243, the Knights of the two Orders fought a battle lasting two days against the Corasmins, who had taken and pillaged Jerusalem. They performed prodigies of valour, and were almost annihilated, only twenty-six Hospitallers and thirty-three Templars escaping, and the Grand Masters of both Orders being slain. In 1251, the quarrel between the two Orders again breaking out, they fought a battle in which the Templars were so cut to pieces that hardly one survived to bear the news of the defeat; and so few Templars were left in Palestine that they were compelled peremptorily to summon all their knights in the West to repair thither.
In 1270, the Templars mortgaged all their lands in France to Philip III, the Bold, son of St Louis, King of France, as security for twenty-five thousand marks of silver, borrowed by Pope Gregory X to carry on the wars against the Infidels: and in the General Council at Lyons that year, the Grand Masters of the two Orders sat above all the Ambassadors, the Peers of France, and the other great Lords who were present. In 1291, when Acre, with a garrison of 12,000 men, mostly Hospitallers, Templars, and Teutonic Knights, was besieged by the Sultan at the head of 160,000 infantry and 60,000 cavalry, Pierre de Beaujeu, Grand Master of the Templars, was chosen Commander-in-Chief, and defended it bravely to the last, until he was slain by a poisoned arrow, the city carried by storm, and its defenders slain.
The conclave of Cardinals then assembled at Perouse and remained in session nearly a year, divided into two factions, and resolved never to agree to the election of any one of themselves. Cardinal Francis Gaëtan, nephew of Boniface, and who had inherited his hatred of the Colonna, the partisans of France, was at the head of one of these factions; and at that of the other, which was devoted to Philip, was Cardinal Duprè, intimate friend of the two cardinals Colonna; whom, as well as their whole house, Boniface, through his hatred to France, had cruelly persecuted.
Cardinal Duprè at length proposed to Cardinal Gaëtan that, as they must needs select someone not in the conclave, one of the two factions should name at its pleasure, three ultramondane Archbishops, and the other faction should within forty days afterwards choose one of the three to be Pope; and offered, as if from generosity and regard for the good of the Church, to permit the party headed by Cardinal Gaëtan to make the nominations. The latter communicated the proposition to his party, by whom it was assented to, and embodied in a solemn agreement drawn up and signed by all the Cardinals.
Gaëtan then nominated three ultramondane Archbishops, all of whom had been creatures of his uncle, and espoused his interest against the King. The first of them was the Archbishop of Bordeaux, named Bertrand de Got, a Prelate of a great family in Aquitaine, but fond of pleasure, devoured by ambition, an intimate friend of Gaëtan, whose entire confidence he had, and a subject of the King of England who was then Duke of Aquitaine. Besides, he was a personal enemy of Philip le Bel, and especially of Charles of Valois, his brother, who, during the wars between France and England had ravaged the chateaux and lands of his brother and other relatives.
Cardinal Duprè, knowing the character of this Archbishop, dispatched a courier to the King of France bearing a copy of the agreement, and a letter from himself advising him to make terms with the Archbishop. The King wrote to the latter that he desired to meet him on important business at an abbey in the midst of a forest near St Jean d'Angely on a certain day. They met in the church of the abbey where, after hearing mass and swearing the Archbishop with his hand upon the altar to inviolable secrecy, he showed him the agreement, and informed him that it was in his power to make him Pope.
The Archbishop threw himself at the King's feet and embraced them, with assurances of his profoundest gratitude, pledging himself that if he became Pope, the King should share his authority, and offering to give him any assurances to that effect that he might require.
The King told him that, when he reached the chair of St Peter, he wished him to grant him six favours, all just, he said, and which would redound to the good of the Church and the State; but of which he desired to be assured before entering into any more particular engagements with him. The first five conditions he made known to him. The sixth, he said, he would not make known until after his coronation as Pope. The Archbishop swore upon the holy sacrament to grant these requests, and gave his brother and two nephews to the King as hostages for performance. Information of this was sent by the King to Cardinal Duprè, and he, with the consent of his party, nominated Bertrand de Got, Archbishop of Bordeaux, to be Pope, and he was immediately elected to the great joy of the nephew of Boniface and his party.
He was installed in the College of Cardinals, held at Lyons, and took the name of Clement V. After the installation, the King made known his sixth condition, which was the execution and abolition of the entire Order of Templars. Clement was greatly surprised; but the King, averring that they had been guilty of the most fearful crimes, of which he had good proof, the Pope agreed to institute secret investigations, and requested the King to communicate to him his proofs that he might comply with his promise. Having for his Mistress the beautiful Countess of Perigard, daughter of the Count de Foix, and avaricious even to the practice of the grossest simony, this base Pontiff was prepared to commit any crime which his interest prompted.
In 1307 he summoned to his court at Poitiers Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Templars, of an illustrious house in the County of Burgundy, who had repaired thither with most of his Knights, abandoning the Island of Cyprus. The Knights had dispersed themselves through the different States of Christendom in which they had a great number of wealthy commanderies. It was reported that the Grand Master had brought from the Levant immense treasures, which were deposited in the House of the Order at Paris. The Grand Master with his principal Knights repaired to the Court of the Pope and were graciously received, the Pope carefully concealing the secret motive which induced him to require their attendance; but he consulted him in regard to a new Crusade which he had in view, called upon him for information, and proposed to unite the two Orders of Templars and Hospitallers as one Order under one Grand Master. Perhaps he hoped thus to enable them to escape the vengeance of the Royal assassin. History has preserved the responses of de Molay to the memoirs of the King. He showed the impracticability of the proposed union for several strong reasons; but proposed, if the Pope desired, to hold a Chapter of Priors, Bailiffs, and principal Commanders in the presence of the King, where he could learn their views and decide as he might think best. The response breathed the purest spirit of religious piety and submission to the Pope, coupled with military frankness and fearlessness.
The King communicated these accusations to the Pope in an interview at Lyons, and urged him more pressingly on the subject at Poitiers the following year. On the 9th July, 1307, the Pope wrote to the King that if the corruption charged upon the Order was so general, and it must be abolished, he willed that all their wealth should be employed in the recovery of the Holy Land, and would not suffer the least part of it to be diverted to other uses: whence it is to be presumed that he suspected that in the persecution about to begin against the Templars, their crime was their great wealth rather than their irregular morals.
Philip, not brooking the delays of the Pope, by a secret order executed on the 13th October caused to be arrested in one day the Grand Master and all the Templars that were found in Paris and the different parts of his realm. All their property was confiscated, for which proceeding several reasons were assigned. Some said it was because the Templars had furnished money to Boniface, to enable him to make war upon the King; others added (and the formal accusation contained the charge) that they had even obtained part of that money from the King's Treasury, by means of a Templar who was Treasurer. Others said that the Templars had stirred up sedition in Paris, that grew out of the King's having debased the coin. The people insisted that no better reason need be sought for than the avarice of the King and his Ministers, and their greediness to handle the vast property of the Order. Philip had the year before arrested all the Jews in one day, despoiled them of their property, and driven them and their families out of his Kingdom, half naked, and with scanty means for their subsistence on the road. And he had lately taken the principal share of the plunder of Italy when Anaquia was pillaged by a band of adventurers secretly in his service.
When Edward II of England heard of the arrest of the Templars, he wrote to the Pope and most of the Sovereigns of Europe, begging them to close their ears against the calumnies circulated against the Knights, "the purity of whose faith", said he, "whose good morals, and whose zeal for the defence of religion, all England reveres." But the haughtiness and ambition of the Templars had made them many enemies, and prejudiced most of the Bishops, their judges, with whom, indeed, as well as with the Hospitallers, they had had difficulties in regard to their independence and the privileges of the Order. By appointment of the King, these Prelates, assisted by William of Paris, a Dominican and Inquisitor and the Confessor of the King, held the first examination of the prisoners which William de Nogaret conducted.
The Pope was surprised at this proceeding, and regarded the matter as an invasion of his rights. He suspended the powers of William of Paris, interdicted the Bishops from proceeding with the case, and wrote to the King claiming the jurisdiction and requiring him to deliver over to two Cardinals or to his Nuncio the persons and property of the Templars. The King replied boldly and contemptuously: the Pope yielded, and allowed the King's Tribunal to proceed, the persons and property being, to save appearances, in form but not in reality placed in the hands of the Pope's Nuncio.
The Pope himself interrogated seventy-two, who confessed. One Knight of the Order, and officer of the Pope, pretended to reveal all the wicked practices of his Brethren. The Pope then ordered the Grand Master, the Grand Priors, and the principal Commanders of France, of beyond seas, and of Normandy, Aquitaine, and Poitou to be brought before him. It was pretended that the Grand Master had at Poitiers, and also at Paris, confessed most of the crimes imputed to him and the Order, and had written a circular letter urging all the Knights to do the same. The Apostolic Commissioners, on their return from Chinon, laid the pretended proces-verbal of his confession before the King and Pope.
But when measures were about to be taken to extinguish the Order, based on the confessions of a great number of Templars, the Royal and Ecclesiastical miscreants were surprised to learn that the greater part of the Knights had revoked their confessions and averred that they were extorted from them by torture; that they detested the pardon which the officers of the King had offered them, and regarded it as the price of infidelity and the shameful reward of prevarication, as injurious to their honour as to their consciences.
The Kings of England, Castile, and Arragon, the Count of Provence, most Christian Princes, and even the Archbishops of Italy, had in the meantime, on the urging of the Pope, arrested all the Templars in their dominions. Garrisons were placed in their commanderies, their property was seized, and everywhere the proceedings against them went on. The Templars of Arragon at first took refuge in their fortresses, built by them to defend that country against the incursions of the Moors, and wrote to the Pope justifying themselves and asserting their innocence. They urged that the charge against them that they were Infidels was particularly absurd, because many of their Brethren were captives among the Moors and treated most cruelly as Christians: and they claimed the right to prove their innocence, as Knights were entitled to, by wager of battle. The Pope is not known to have answered their letters; and James II of Arragon besieged them, took them prisoners, and confined them, to be tried by the Bishop of Valencia.
Most of the prisoners of France were collected in Paris. The revocation of the confessions embarrassed the Judges; but they finally determined that they should be treated as relapsed, and as having renounced Christ. De Molay was again brought before the Commissioners and asked if he had anything to say in defence of his Order. He answered that he would cheerfully undertake, and would be delighted with the opportunity, to prove in the face of the Universe the innocence of his Order; but that (like most of the nobility) he could neither read nor write. He demanded to be allowed to employ an advocate; "though", said he, "I have not four farthings left to defray the costs of so great a suit."
The Commissioners told him that persons accused of heresy could be allowed neither counsel nor advocate, and advised him, before undertaking the defence, seriously to reflect, reminding him of his pretended confessions which were thereupon read to him. Never was astonishment like that of the Grand Master. When he heard them read, he made the sign of the cross and said that of the three Cardinals, before whom he appeared at Chinon and who had signed the examination, were not what they were, he should well know what to say. Being urged to explain himself more openly, he said (not being able to control his anger) the they deserved the same punishment which the Saracens and Tartars inflicted on forgers and liars, whose bellies, he said, they rip open, and cut off their heads.
The authentic proceedings show that before the assembly at Chinon, and upon the promise of immunity of the King and Pope, he had on two occasions confessed a part of the crimes charged against him. Apparently the clerk had added aggravating circumstances — perhaps all the crimes imputed to the Order; and to conceal the cheat had not read the paper to him.
De Molay claimed to be sent before the Pope, who had reserved the right of trying him; and added that he had but three things to represent in favour of the Order:
The Commissioners told him that all was useless without faith. He replied that the Templars firmly believed everything that the Catholic Church believed; and that it was for the maintenance of so holy a belief that so great a number of those Knights had poured out their blood against the Saracens, the Turks, and the Moors.
Brother Pierre de Boulogne, a Priest, and Procureur General of the Order, pleaded on its behalf. He represented the means by which confessions had been extracted: by promises of pardon in letters patent under the King's seal and, those failing, by torture. He said that many Knights had died in their dungeons, and he invoked the jailers and executioners to prove that they had invariably died protesting their innocence. And he demanded to be heard in full Council with his Superiors and the Deputies of the whole Order, "to prove", he said, "their innocence in the face of all Christendom".
But all was prejudged, and the Commissioners proceeded accordingly. Those who had confessed were either discharged or condemned merely to a canonical penance. Those who had revoked their confessions were treated with every species of rigour. Fifty-nine were degraded, as relapsed, by the Bishop of Paris, and given over to the secular arm. They were taken out of the gate St Antoine and burned alive by a slow fire. In the midst of the flames, all invoked the Holy Name of God; and what was most surprising, not one of the fifty-nine would deliver himself from so awful an agony and death by accepting the amnesty from the King which relatives and friends were holding out to them if they would renounce their protestations of innocence.
And a great number of Templars in other parts of France, in the midst of the flames, showed the same firmness. They burned them; but they could not extort from them any admission of the crimes charged against them. "It was an astonishing thing", says the Bishop of Lodévre, a contemporary historian, "that these unfortunates who were delivered over to the most cruel punishments, gave no other reason for retracting their confessions than their shame and remorse for having, under the influence of torture, confessed to crimes of which they now declared themselves perfectly innocent."
The King, with his relatives and chief nobles, repaired to the Great Council held at Vienne in Dauphiny, the first session of which was held on the 16th October 1311, when there were present more than three hundred Bishops, besides the Abbots, Priors, and most celebrated Doctors of Christendom.
The Pope had the proceedings against the Templars read, and the question as to suppressing the Order was then put to each of the fathers in turn. An Italian Prelate advised it; but all the Bishops and Archbishops of the Council, and the most celebrated Doctors, unanimously represented to the Pope that before extinguishing so illustrious an Order, and one which had from the time of its institution rendered so important services to Christianity, they ought to hear the Grand Master and Principal of the Order in its defence, as justice required, and as they had themselves demanded so urgently by many petitions.
All the Bishops of Italy, save one, were of this opinion; and with them agreed those of Spain, Germany, Denmark, England, Scotland, and Ireland, and all the Prelates of France except three, the Archbishops of Rheims, Sens, and Rouen, so that only four Prelates out of more than three hundred were found to deny the right of defence, contrary to the first principles of natural equity. But the time had come for the knavish and unprincipled Pope to comply with his oath to the Kingly assassin, torturer, and robber. He delayed the matter by conferences, and at last declared that if the Templars could not be otherwise condemned without the formality of being heard in their own defence, the plenitude of the Pontifical power would supply everything, and that he would condemn them by way of expedient rather than that his dear son, the King of France, should be disappointed.
The question then arose as to the disposition to be made of their property. The Pope proposed to give it to the Knights of Rhodes (the new name of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem). The partisans of France proposed to found a new Order to be receivers of the spoil. But the Pope, by large promises of reforming the Order of St John, prevailed. All the property of the Templars was given to the Knights of Rhodes, except so much as was in Spain, which by special provision was to be applied to the defence of that country against the Moors, who yet occupied Granada.
The next year, and after the adjournments of the Council, the next act of the tragedy was performed. The Pope, who had promised to try the Grand Master and the Grand Preceptors or Grand Commanders, devolved that business to two Cardinals, who went to Paris and associated themselves with the Archbishop of Sens and some other Prelates of the Gallic church. These apostolic Commissioners caused the Prevôt of Paris to bring before them Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master, whose rank was equal to that of a Prince; Guy, brother of the Dauphin of Viennois, Sovereign prince of Dauphiny; Hugues de Peralde, Grand Prior, or visitor of the Priory of France; and the Grand Prior of Aquitaine who had, before his arrest, had the direction of the finances of the King.
It does not appear that the Prelates put any new questions to the prisoners, or that they were confronted with the witnesses, although the proceedings aped the ordinary judicial forms. The tribunal was content with the confession which they had already made before the Pope and the King; and upon that, and following the intentions of the Pope, the Judges agreed, if the prisoners stood to their first confession, to condemn them to perpetual imprisonment only.
But as it was important to calm men's minds, astonished at so many fires lighted in the different provinces of the realm, and above all to convince the people of Paris that so great a number of Templars had justly been burned alive, the four prisoners were required, if they would save their lives and have the benefit of the Pope's promise to that effect, to make in public a sincere declaration of the abuses and crimes committed in their Order. For this purpose a staging was erected in the nave of the Cathedral Church upon which the archers and soldiers led the accused. One of the Legates opened the ceremony by a harangue in which he expounded at great length all the impieties and abominations whereof, he said, the Templars were convicted by their own admission. And, to leave no doubt on the subject, he called on the Grand Master and his companions to make anew, before the people, the confession which they had made before the Pope, of their crimes and their errors. As if to induce them to make this declaration, they were on the one hand assured of a full pardon, while on the other, to intimidate them, the executioners prepared a pile of wood as if they were to be burned on the spot if they revoked their first confession.
The Priors of France and Aquitaine adhered to their confessions, terrified by the immediate prospect of an awful death. But when it came to the Grand Master's turn to make his declaration, all were surprised as, rattling the chains with which he was loaded, he advanced with a bold countenance to the very edge of the staging and, raising his voice that he might be the better heard, cried aloud: "It is very right that on this terrible day, and in the last moments of my life, I should uncover all the iniquity of the lie, and cause the truth to triumph. I declare, then, before Heaven and Earth, and I avow, although to my eternal shame, that I have committed the greatest of all crimes; but only by acknowledging the truth of those so foully charged against an Order of which the truth today compels me to say that the Order is innocent. I agreed to the declaration demanded of me solely to procure a respite from the excessive agony of the tortures, and to endeavour to move those to compassion who left me to suffer. I know the punishment which has been imposed on those who have revoked similar confessions; but the fearful spectacle that confronts me cannot make me confirm a first lie by a second. Upon a condition so infamous, I heartily renounce a life already hateful to me. And what would it avail me to prolong a miserable life which I must owe to the basest calumny and slander!"
He would have said more, but they forced him to be silent. The brother of the Prince Dauphin, who came after him, held the same language, and loudly protested the innocence of the Order.
When the Grand Master could at length move only his tongue and was nearly stifled with smoke, he in a loud voice summoned the Pope, that iniquitous judge and cruel butcher, to appear before the tribunal of the Sovereign Judge in fifty days, and Philip within a year; and both afterwards died at the times specified in his summons.
All the people shed tears at the tragic spectacle of this execution. Before his execution, the Grand Master offered up this prayer: "O God, permit us to meditate on the pains that Jesus suffered that we might be redeemed; and enable us to imitate the example of endurance which he gave us when he submitted without a murmur to the persecutions and torments which bigotry and injustice had prepared for him. Forgive, O God, those false accusers who have caused the entire destruction of the Order whereof Thy Providence has made me the head. And if it please Thee to accept the prayer which we now offer, grant that the day may come when the world, now deceived, may better know those who have sought to live for Thee. We trust to Thy goodness and mercy to compensate us for the tortures and death which we are now to suffer, and that we may enjoy Thy Divine Presence in the mansions of happiness."
Convinced of his innocence, many holy persons and devotees gathered the ashes of these noble victims and preserved them as precious relics.
Charles II, King of Naples and Sicily, and Count of Provence and Fortalquiers, pursued the same course. He burned a great number of Templars who would not confess, and gave the lands of the Order to the Hospitallers, but divided their money and personal effects between himself and the Pope. The Kings of Castile, Arragon, and Portugal seized on most of the property within their respective realms; but in England the Hospitallers obtained the whole, and in Germany shared the property with the Teutonic Knights.
Hated and persecuted by the Pope, by all the Sovereigns and Princes of Christendom, and by the Hospitallers, who had become mighty by means of their ill-gotten wealth, the remaining Templars knew that it was entirely useless to attempt to revive their great, illustrious, and unfortunate Order. Having in Palestine become intimate with the Knights of St Andrew and other gallant and noble Masonic Knights and Princes, and many of them having been made masons in the Holy land, they sought to unite themselves with our ancient Fraternity, hoping, by thus gaining accessions to their Order among the Military masons, one day to be able to recover their estates, and again to become the defenders of the Holy Land and the shield of Christendom against the Infidel. The Masonic Knights and Princes, who by this time were to be found in every part of Christendom, gladly agreed to this union, and most of them were initiated into the Order of Templars, who first discarded their white habit and red cross, and assumed a Masonic garb; and also adopted Masonic signs and words, and assumed the name of Knights and Princes Kadosch, to protect themselves against traitirs for whom to arrive at this exalted degree would be impossible in consequence of the assurance which, during their progress towards it, they would be compelled to give of their fidelity, their courage, and their discretion. Hence the hostility which the Knights of St John, or of Malta, have always shown against Free Masonry: for even so late as 1740, the Grand Master of that Order caused to be published and enforced in Malta the Bull of Pope Clement XII, worthy successor of Clement V, against the Masons, and forbade their meetings; and in 1741 encouraged the Inquisition to persecute them.
Grand Commander: The Templars, my Brother, have seen in the legend of the Master's Degree, which was fully explained to you in the Degree of Knight of the Sun, a striking resemblance to the tragic fate of their Order and their Grand Master Jacques De Molay. It has been often said that we have been taught to see in the Grand Master Hiram, our murdered Grand Master De Molay, and in the three assassins the three first informers against the Templars, Squin de Florian, Noffodei, and the Prior of Montfaucon.
The Templars have not taken so much pains, my Brother, merely to perpetuate the memory of the crimes of three worthless knaves who long since found their due reward: one being hung, another assassinated, and the end of the third being unknown.
No, my Brother. The good De Molay was a victim: but there was a nobler victim than he — the Order itself, of which he was but a part. In the persecution and destruction of that Order, we have seen renewed under another form the legend, ever varying, yet ever the same, of Hiram and his assassins, of Osiris and Typhon, of the Light and the darkness, of the Good Principle and the Evil. And the three assassins of the Widow's Son we see reproduced in the Royal Power of France, embodied in Philip le Bel; the Papal Power, in Clement V; and the rapacious Order of the Knights of Rhodes, or the Order of St John of Jerusalem.
The feeling of vengeance, at first personal in its character, soon became ennobled by being directed against the abuses of which Philip, Clement, and the Hospitallers were the types and embodiment. After Philip's death, the Order laboured to subvert kingly despotism and feudal oppression. After that of Clement, it checked and thwarted the arrogant assumption of temporal power by the Popes, and inspired the Gallican Church and the Jurists and Parliaments of France with a feeling and spirit of sturdy independence. In the Order of the Hospitallers, it fought against an odious monopoly of wealth and power, against privileges granted at the expanse of the people, and against abuses licensed by charter, and for ages beyond the reach of the law.
Professed Catholics, they made no war on the Catholic religion. They strove only to set limits to its extravagant claim of temporal power; to check its intolerable usurpations; and to apply the knife and cautery to its rank abuses. They had not those exalted ideas of the Supremacy of the Roman Bishop required in those days of all Catholics: though they admitted that, by the consent of Christendom, he held the highest rank. Many of the Crusaders had learned in the East the doctrines of the Gnostics and Manicheans, which seemed to them less altered from the original revelation than those of Rome. They adopted the doctrines of St John, rather than those of the successors of St Peter or of St Paul. There is reason to believe that there was a secret schism between them and Rome, and that their Johannite doctrines, with the mysteries which they learned in the East, were the sole foundation for the charges of monstrous crimes brought against them, and so confidently alleged to have been fully established by testimony and confession. De Payens was learned in the esoteric doctrines and formulas in Initiation, of the Christians and of the Orient: and he was, say the chronicles, clothed, in 1118, with the Patriarchal power, in the legitimate order of succession to St John, who never went beyond the East and whose doctrines seemed to the Templars more pure than those of Peter and Paul who, carrying the word of Christ to the remotest nations, conceded something to their manners and customs, and allowed other rites to be practised than those of the East.
The race of Philip le Bel no longer sits upon the throne of France: but, in their place, a Monarch elected by the People. The Templars bore no small share in the first French Revolution. They were represented in the National Assembly among the members of the Third Estate, and aided in making the Monarchy constitutional. But equally opposed to despotism and licence, they were not found among the Jacobins. They looked with horror on the days of terror. They were seen in the ranks of the Republican Army, when the soil of France was invaded by the enemy. They had fought under the banners of Washington. They assisted to raise the first Napoleon to power. They have been found wherever the armies of freedom have met those of tyranny; and they look forward hopefully to the day when unlimited and licentious power will no longer oppress the Earth.
The Hospitallers fell in 1798. The Order had long before lost its object, and with it its dignity and strength. The Knights possessed large estates in different countries; but though their duty was to protect the Christian nations against the Barbary States, and to destroy the infamous pirates that infested the Mediterranean, they maintained no efficient naval force, and their Bailiffs and Commanders, spread over Christendom, consumed the revenues of the Order in luxury and indolence. There was not a single Knight who had ever been engaged with the Barbary Corsairs. The possessions of the Order had been taken from it in France and seized by Napoleon in Italy, and no one cared enough for the effete institution to remonstrate in its behalf.
On the 10th June, 1798, Napoleon landed on the Island of Malta, and captured it almost without opposition. The Grand Master accepted the promise of a Principality in Germany or an annuity of 300,000 francs, and an indemnity of 600,000 francs in ready money; and to each French Knight an annuity of 700 francs was granted, or of 1000 if they were sixty years of age. The Grand Master kissed the hand of the Conqueror; and the Order of Knights of St John of Jerusalem expired.
The same great Conqueror laughed to scorn the temporal power of the Pope, and defied the lightnings of excommunication. He brought the Pope to France and made him a Prisoner of State. The doctrine of temporal authority over Kings has become a mere idle theory, set at naught even in Sardinia and Spain.
And thus the warfare against the Powers of Evil that crushed the Order of Templars goes steadily on; and freedom marches ever onward towards the Conquest of the World. The vast power of public opinion reaches and controls even the occupants of despotic Thrones. A mighty Republic in the West, already stretching from ocean to ocean, menaces with speedy overthrow the abuses and hoary oppressions of the old world. The infamous tortures of the Middle Ages are no longer known. The persecutions for opinion's sake are remembered like plague and pestilence that swept the Earth with the besom of destruction centuries ago. The rights of the People are daily rising into sight; and the will of the people is everywhere coming to be recognised as the foundation of all civil power and government.
See the power of some special truth upon a single man. Saul of Tarsus sees that God loves the Gentile as well as the Jew. It seems a small thing to see that. Why did man ever think otherwise? Why should not God love the Gentile as well as the Jew? It was impossible that He should do otherwise. Yet this seemed a great truth at that time, the Christian Church dividing upon that matter. Burning in the bosom of Paul, what heroism it wakened in him, what self-denial. For he bore want, hardships, persecution, the contempt and loathing of his former friends and companions, shipwreck, the scourge, prisons, and at last death. A Truth inspired him, and these compared with that were nothing. He became eloquent and his letters powerful with the force of this new truth. Everywhere he finds foes and a world bristling with peril; but everywhere this Truth and the Heroism it wakes in him make him friends. Men saw the new doctrine and looked back on the old error — that Jove loved Rome; Pallas, Athens; Juno, Samos, and Carthage most of all; Jehovah, Mount Zion; and Baal his Tyrian towers; while each looked frowningly and sternly at all the rest of men. They see now that all this was an error out of which came great evils, incessant wars, and ages full of strife, national jealousies, wrangling between Babylonian and Theban Priests, the antagonism of the Gentile and the Jew, and afterwards the Christian hatred of the Saracen, the Moor, and the detested remnants of the Hebrew race, imagined to be hated of God — and so despised.
And what an influence has a great Truth, or a great idea, upon masses of men! Some single man sees it at first, dimly, perhaps for a long time, without power of sight sufficient to make it clear, the quality of vision better than his quantity of sight. Then he sees it clearly and in distinct outline. The truth burns mightily within him, and he cannot be still. He tells it, now to one, and then to another, and they see it also. It wakens a love for itself: a few minds prepared for it half-welcome it; and thence it timidly flashes into other minds, as light reflected from the water. Then those who receive it form a family of faith, and grow strong in the companionship. The circle grows wider; and men oppose the new idea, with little skill or much, sometimes with violence, sometimes with intellect only. Then there comes a pause. The interruptions to a great idea are of corresponding value to its development in a man, a nation, or the world. Those baptised with the fire of the new idea pause and reflect to be more sure, perfecting the logic of their thought; pause, and devise their mode to set it forth, perfecting their rhetoric, and seeking to organise it in an outward form: for every thought must be a thing. Then they tell their idea more perfectly: in the controversy that follows, errors connected with it get exposed; all that is merely accidental, national, or personal gets shaken off; and the pure truth goes forth to conquer. In this way, all the great ideas, political, religious, moral and philanthropic, have gone their round. Soon the truth has philosophers to explain it, orators to set it forth, institutions to embody its sacred life: and it has become a new Force in the world; and nothing can destroy or withstand it.
Not many hundred years ago, the great leading Truth asserted in this Degree began to be obscurely seen. Man has natural empire over all institutions. They are for him, according to his development; not he for them. That seems to us a very simple statement, one to which all men everywhere ought to assent. But once it was a great New Truth. It has led to much. Its application to the Catholic Church, that mighty institution that for centuries had ruled over the souls of men, was gradually seen. The Church gave way, and recoiled before the tide of Truth. Afterwards men saw its application to the temporal despotisms that had long ruled over the bodies and chained down the souls and intellects of men. That helpless Truth has inspired millions, has built institutions, has called a multitude of men into life. As it first gained foothold, revolutions followed thick and fast in Holland, England, America, and France; and one day all Europe and the World will be ablaze with that idea. Men opposed it; one of the Stuarts said, "It shall not cross the four seas of England"; but it crossed the Stuart's neck, and drove his children from the faithful soil. At first destructive, it was destined to be creative and conservative. It came to America in company with those who fled from England and France across the wild Atlantic, little knowing what fruit would come of their planting; and lo! what institutions have sprung up on the soil then shaded by interminable forests, and hideous with wild beasts and wilder men! Out of the old Truth, what great constitutional ideas have blossomed! Under the shadow of this idea, what a family of States, clasping friendly, brotherly hands across the great central mountains and deserts, have sprung up!
And now this great Truth, long since recognised as true, and now by experiment proved expedient and practicable, goes back over the sea, and earnest nations welcome it to their hearts — this Sovereign Truth: Man Is Supreme Over Institutions, Not They Over Him. How it has startled the enthroned masters of Europe, and how it still rings there in people's hearts! Before it, Thrones and Hierarchies and Privilege are doomed to go down, and at last lie grovelling in the dust: for it belongs to the nature of man, can perish only when the race gives up the ghost, and all the armies of the world cannot crush it. It has the omnipotence of God on its side, and can no more be overcome than He.
The truths we slowly learn will be added to the people that come after us: the great political truths of America will go round the world, and clothe the Earth with greenness and with beauty. The truths we bring to light are dropped into the world's wide treasury, and form a part of the heritage which each generation receives, enlarges, holds in trust, and of necessity bequeaths to mankind; the personal estate of man, entailed of Nature to the end of time. He who sets forth or develops any truth, or any human excellence of gift or growth, greatens the spiritual glory of his race. The spiritual truths we learn, the intellectual wealth that we acquire, all the manly excellence that we slowly meditate and slowly sculpture into life, go down in blessing to mankind, the cup of gold hid in the sack of those who asked only for corn, richer than all the grain they bought.
For much still remains to do. Tyranny is weakened, but not overthrown. The chains still weigh on human thought and conscience. Monopolies and privileges in the hands of favoured classes still impose burdens on the people: and the Elect are still needed to do vengeance on these abuses. It is the old contest between Good and Evil, between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. With the tongue and the pen, with all our open and secret influences, with the sword, if need be, we advance the cause of human progress and labour to enfranchise human thought, to give freedom to the human conscience, and equal rights to the people everywhere. Wherever a nation struggles to regain its freedom, wherever the human mind asserts its independence, and the people claim their inalienable rights, there go our warmest sympathies.
This, my Brother, is the true Vengeance, symbolically represented in the Elu Degrees: a lofty, noble vengeance on Wrong and Oppression. Opposition to regal tyranny made the internal government of Masonry democratic. Hatred of sacerdotal usurpation and intolerance caused the dedication of its Lodges to the Holy Saints John, and its adoption of Hiram, a founder and worker in metals, the son of a poor widow, as the Hero of its Legend, the successor of the God Osiris, the typification of Light and the good Principle; the search for him by his companions, the sturdy common people, workers in stone and wood; and the new dignity given by Masonry to industrial associations evidence its opposition to the unjust privileges of the higher classes and to Orders that enjoy monopolies that they may be enabled to live in contented indolence.
Behold, Illustrious Brother, how and why this Order and Masonry became connected! Persecuted and impoverished, the Templars came to have sympathies with the Common People. The Elus, with whom they had formed habits of friendship in the Holy Land, succoured and protected them. The Hospitallers, the Papal power, the Despotism of Kings, were the common enemies of both. Hoping to obtain thereby the means of regaining their rights and possessions, the Templars gladly associated themselves with those who by their virtues and courage had acquired rights, privileges, and consideration such as birth alone had accorded to their own ancestors. You are from this time their equal, but no longer in danger from the rancour of envy or the fires of persecution.
We have confidence in your discretion, and faith in your zeal and fidelity. We have not hesitated to make known to you the true purposes of our Order; and we hope that, zealously co-operating with us, you will by sincere obedience to our laws and your superiors acquire that perfection which is the aim of every Masonic Knight.
You are now truly a Knight, elected to a great work. May the excellence of your life and conversation conduct you to that happiness which they alone can give!