Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Do Gooders Get Lucky

It was only a matter of time. You all knew I would stumble down this road. But I promise that I will stick to the facts. We won't go chasing any buried treasure or call up T. Hanx for his opinion (though that would be amazing, huh?). We are going to venture down the dark and murky tale of the Knights Templar.

What is it about the Knights Templar that intrigues people? Why did I buy this book by Piers Paul Read when I was 16 years old and had little interest in the Medieval World? I suppose it is all the fantasy and mystery that surrounds the story. But this isn't about fantasy. I'll get my share of fantasy when I go home and listen to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on audio book! No, here we care about the facts. And, surprisingly, at least to me, the facts are even more intriguing than the myth.

As I read about the Knights of the Temple, I try to keep an open mind and forget the things that Dan Brown and Orlando Bloom tried to teach me. Pop culture wants to emphasis the bad and the mysterious. But the genesis of the Order was founded in a desire to serve, to do good. When the Christian armies finally secured Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, the crusaders figured their jobs were done. They headed home with some pockets full of loot and all of their sins forgiven! Well, those who survived anyway. This left the new Christian kingdoms with a very big problem. As the fighting men emptied from the realm, hundreds and thousands of pilgrims and sight-seers were pouring in. Baldwin and the rulers had no way to protect these people from the Saracens who seemed to be just waiting in the shadows for a chance to pounce on the Christians.

It was Count Hugh who saw the solution. And it was revolutionary. The problem was that pilgrims were being attacked, so Hugh and his chums put their heads together in order to create a police force. But they didn't want an ungodly horde of knights roaming around where Jesus had walked. So they proposed a monastic-knighthood. Up to this there were Christian knights and even military orders with Christian knights in them. But no one had ever tried to impose the classic Benedictine monastic life on military men. The idea was magical. King Baldwin saw this police force as a necessity and backed it wholeheartedly. Hugh and his cronies traveled back to Europe to get some recruits. Not only were the officially recognized by the Pope, but he once again gave his papal stamp of forgiveness to anyone who joined. The monarchs and royalty of western Europe saw the Order of the Knights of the Temple as a wonderful undertaking and gave generously to the order. Plots of land, pockets of money, and young, strapping men were given up to the order, and through the order, to the Lord.

The young men couldn't have asked for a better deal. As the order grew in numbers, it grew in wealth. Men looking for adventure, wealth, glory, or even just a stable job. With all the land endowments, the Knights of the Temple became a better administrative entity than a military force. Previously the best job one could get was within the church, but now, with the order growing, you could get a variety of jobs and work your way up to Master. Sure there were the downsides to monastic life. No sex with women. . .I'm sure there were other downsides, too. But think about it: you're just sitting around at home when some big time knights come recruiting and offer you a gig thousands of miles away. Not only will you get paid (with some possible booty to claim), you get to fight the evil Saracens AND YOU ARE FORGIVEN OF ALL YOUR SINS!! Now, I'm probably beating a dead horse with this papal decree, but you have to appreciate the religious implications of this edict. For the first time since the death of Jesus, the Christian followers had a real and tangible act they could execute that absolved their sins forever. It's baffling. The closest thing they had before the Crusades was communion. Martyrdom was close, but it meant you had to die. That was kind of a bummer. But if you took the cross and joined the order, you were forgiven and cared for. It was a young man's dream (not that kind of dream, though. They were still quasi-monks!).

And so for the first time since the fall of Rome, an organized and disciplined military force was under the direct rule of one entity, with no wavering or faltering allegiances to other barons. United under the cross of Jesus Christ and disciplined in the Benedictine tradition, the Knights Templar were formidable to say the least. And if all this wasn't enough, in 1139 Pope Innocent II let this hammer fall: The Order of the Knights of the Temple answered to no one but the Pope. What?! Do you think Innocent realized what kind of monster he just guaranteed? Policing the holy neighborhoods was one thing. But the order was growing increasingly wealthy with all the gifts the loyal European Christians were handing over. And now they were guaranteed relatively absolute autonomy wherever they went. Innocent basically told the entire world that if the Knights of the Temple get out of hand, that's my problem, not yours. And as we shall see, they became quite a handful for Jerusalem, Europe, and eventually the Pope himself.

What lesson can we learn? You can have too much of a good thing, and if you do, you can probably rule the world! So go do some good, everybody!

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