by Scott Higginbotham
A stroll by a military recruiting office or perusal of a military branch’s website is full of imagery and catchy marketing designed to draw the twenty-something crowd into uniform. The branches tout college money, travel, adventure, the opportunity to start a family, and camaraderie as just some of the benefits of military service. The US Navy has the Nuclear Propulsion program, which is an academic crucible and one of constant training. The life of a Reactor Operator has a certain appeal.
Is it a fraternity of the few? Indeed.
Since this concerns history let’s travel nine hundred years into the past, shall we?
The Crusades drew men and women away from their daily toils with promises of travel and adventure. Not everyone held a sword in a mail-clad arm, for medieval armies needed support personnel. Merchants could find a steady and healthy income by plying their wares to the ranks of soldiers. It becomes clear that there were solid and logical motivations for packing up and trailing behind a long column of soldiers.
However, only the most devout or pious would travel hundreds of miles under harsh conditions for certain poverty. Would a normal person choose this as a way of life? How about a young man adding chastity to the mix? Or that same young man vowing obedience to an all-encompassing set of rules where the penalty for disobedience was harsh, even by medieval standards? It should also be noted that the attrition rate from disease, thirst, arrows, spears, and scimitars was higher than most vocations of the day.
Yet in the early years as word of their formation spread, the Knights Templars’ numbers swelled; monetary and gifts of land were given and it was considered an honor to die wearing their habits.
“An astonishing enthusiasm was excited throughout Christendom in behalf of the Templars; princes and nobles, sovereigns and their subjects, vied with each other in heaping gifts and benefits upon them, and scarce a will of importance was made without an article in it in their favor. Many illustrious persons on their deathbeds took the vows, that they might be buried in the habit of the order; and sovereigns, quitting the government of their kingdoms, enrolled themselves amongst the holy fraternity, and bequeathed even their dominions to the Master and the brethren of the Temple.”1
So what was the pull? Was it the difficulty surrounding induction and remaining in good stead throughout one’s career? Those are certainly spurs for joining such an elite cadre. How about adventure and knowing that you belong to something greater than yourself? Something intangible that you can embrace with you entire being? Indeed, you cannot discount those either. But what would appeal to the medieval mindset the greatest? War was constant and persistent. And so was the need to feel that one’s soul was eternally secure. An appeal was made to both.
“To increase the enthusiasm in favour of the Templars, and still further to swell their ranks with the best and bravest of the European chivalry, St. Bernard, at the request of Hugh de Payens, took up his powerful pen in their behalf. In a famous discourse 'In praise of the New Chivalry,' the holy abbot sets forth, in eloquent and enthusiastic terms, the spiritual advantages and blessings enjoyed by the military friars of the Temple over all other warriors. He draws a curious picture of the relative situations and circumstances of the secular soldiery and the soldiery of Christ, and shows how different in the sight of God are the bloodshed and slaughter perpetrated by the one, from that committed by the other.”2
That last line should make us all shudder. With the stroke of a pen, the warlike spirit of medieval warfare was harnessed and rendered benign, if not a holy enterprise. Indeed, the Knight Templars did do some good – they protected the pilgrim routes to Outremer, aided the poor and infirm, but the later years saw much corruption enter their ranks. They answered solely to the pope and the Almighty God. And in their eyes, blinded as they were, they would not suffer a fiery judgment.
To further underscore this thought, consider, “But the soldiers of Christ indeed securely fight the battles of their Lord, in no wise fearing sin either from the slaughter of the enemy, or danger from their own death. When indeed death is to be given or received for Christ, it has nought of crime in it, but much of glory....”3
Solomon in his wisdom knew that there were seasons for everything. True wisdom is evident when one knows when to forebear. The greatness of Christ’s kingdom came not from the sword and the zeal of the apostles, nor from crusading men of iron, but from a single sacrifice: “Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:10-11).
1Addison, Charles G. (2012-01-17). The History of the Knights Templars, the Temple Church, and the Temple (p. 14). Kindle Edition.
2Addison, Charles G. (2012-01-17). The History of the Knights Templars, the Temple Church, and the Temple (p. 15). Kindle Edition.
3Addison, Charles G. (2012-01-17). The History of the Knights Templars, the Temple Church, and the Temple (p. 16). Kindle Edition.
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. His new release, A Matter of Honor, is a direct sequel to For a Thousand Generation.