Mandeville, LA – Exactly 900 years ago, in A.D. 1118-19, a small group of men came together in Jerusalem to form a religious community. They were pilgrims. The First Crusade had retaken the city from Muslim rule in 1099. The men, who were all from Europe’s knightly order, had come looking for a life of common prayer and service. They got both, but not in the way they intended.
It took the Church and royalty centuries to tame and channel it. But it provided the animating ideal at the core of the Templars: to build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity, and chastity, and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people.
As warriors, the men had skills. As knights, they came from respected families with important connections. The roads leading to Jerusalem and other holy sites were infested with brigands and Muslim raiders that would rob, rape, murder or abduct many of those making the journey. The Christian rulers of the city needed help in protecting the travelers. The men had taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Patriarch of Jerusalem. And their first task, under obedience, was to patrol the roads.
They began that work with nine men too poor to afford anything more than the clothes they were given by pilgrims. Twenty years later, the Holy See approved the rule of their religious community, the Poor Brothers of the Order of the Temple of Solomon—the Knights Templar. The Templars went on to become the most effective Christian fighting force in the Holy Land for nearly 200 years. They had dozens of recruiting and support communities throughout Europe. And they were so successful that they were finally persecuted and suppressed through the jealousy of the French king.
Knighthood in medieval Europe began as a profession of heavily armed male thugs—men obsessed with vanity, violence, and rape. It took the Church and royalty centuries to tame and channel it. But it provided the animating ideal at the core of the Templars: to build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity, and chastity, and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people, especially the weak. The ideal of this “new knighthood” was often ignored or betrayed. Then and now, humans are sinners—all of us. But the astounding thing is how much more often and how much more fruitfully the ideal was embraced, pursued and actually lived by the brothers, rather than abused. – Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., the archbishop of Philadelphia – Memory, Sex And The New Man