The Knights Templar held fast to the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Austerity was the hallmark of their lives, even going as far as disavowing their families and loved ones when they joined the order. Fellow knights in this fraternity were referred to as brethren, effectively creating a strict, yet rather large extended family that followed The Rule. “The rule enjoins severe devotional exercises, self-mortification, fasting, and prayer, and a constant attendance at matins, vespers, and on all the services of the church, 'that being refreshed and satisfied with heavenly food, instructed and stablished with heavenly precepts, after the consummation of the divine mysteries,' none might be afraid of the fight, but be prepared for the crown.”1 Among the many restrictions of the 72 chapter Rule, feminine contact was strictly forbidden!
|Image by Scott Higginbotham|
However, there was a reasoning to what modern people would call this madness. In addition to constant training, a newly-inducted Knight Templar was stripped of all vestiges of his former life. One would be “broken down”, then remade into the Templar mold. Looking back to the preceding quote, the harshness of their lives and how they lived as brothers served to create a culture that resulted in fearlessness in battle, unity of mind, order, and obedience, even unto death where they would receive their heavenly crown.
These well-disciplined soldiers could be likened to the present day US Navy SEALS or the British SAS based on their military bearing and quiet confidence - soldiers who have been remade for a specific purpose. “An eye-witness of the conduct of the Templars in the field tells us that they were always foremost in the fight and the last in the retreat; that they proceeded to battle with the greatest order, silence, and circumspection, and carefully attended to the commands of their Master.”2
Moreover, concerning a Templar who had been captured by Saladin around 1180 A.D., Charles G. Addison provides some illumination into the brotherhood’s proud culture: “Saladin offered Odo de St. Amand his liberty in exchange for the freedom of his own nephew, who was a prisoner in the hands of the Templars; but the Master of the Temple haughtily replied, that he would never, by his example, encourage any of his knights to be mean enough to surrender, that a Templar ought either to vanquish or die, and that he had nothing to give for his ransom but his girdle and his knife. The proud spirit of Odo de St. Amand could but ill brook confinement; he languished and died in the dungeons of Damascus, and was succeeded by Brother Arnold de Torroge, who had filled some of the chief situations of the order in Europe.”3
But, these formidable knights were still constrained by human limitations. There were harsh consequences for cowardice or even having its appearance. Breaking faith on the field of battle brought disunity and disorder, potentially poisoning the ranks. Offenders were shunned and penance was meted: “If any one of them should by chance turn back, or bear himself less manfully than he ought, the white mantle, the emblem of their order, is ignominiously stripped off his shoulders, the cross worn by the fraternity is taken away from him, and he is cast out from the fellowship of the brethren; he is compelled to eat on the ground without a napkin or a table-cloth for the space of one year; and the dogs who gather around him and torment him he is not permitted to drive away. At the expiration of the year, if he be truly penitent, the Master and the brethren restore to him the military girdle and his pristine habit and cross, and receive him again into the fellowship and community of the brethren.”4
|Photo by Scott Higginbotham|
Play the short video below for some dramatized "Templar" action and see just a glimpse of history's most fearless knights and how they pressed into the fray. Bear in mind that the scenes are violent, yet, the actors portray the discipline, zeal, and military precision previously described.
Scott Higginbotham is the author of A Soul’s Ransom, a novel set in the fourteenth century where William de Courtenay’s mettle is tested, weighed, and refined, and For A Thousand Generations, where Edward Leaver navigates a world where his purpose is defined with an eye to the future.
1Addison, Charles G. (2012-01-17). The History of the Knights Templars, the Temple Church, and the Temple (Kindle Locations 339-342). Kindle Edition.
2Addison, Charles G. (2012-01-17). The History of the Knights Templars, the Temple Church, and the Temple (Kindle Locations 1099-1103). Kindle Edition.
3Addison, Charles G. (2012-01-17). The History of the Knights Templars, the Temple Church, and the Temple (Kindle Locations 1160-1165). Kindle Edition.
4Addison, Charles G. (2012-01-17). The History of the Knights Templars, the Temple Church, and the Temple (Kindle Locations 1094-1096). Kindle Edition