Timothy H. Darnell, 32
This three-part series retells the life of Jacques
DeMolay, Martyr of Masonic Chivalry, and namesake of the International
Order of DeMolay. Part I appeared in the January 1998 Scottish Rite Journal.
The Knight In Armor
When squire Jacques DeMolay turned 21, he underwent an elaborate ceremony as he became of military age. He was now a knight, the most exalted rank next to the high dignitaries of the Church and State. Wherever he might go now, he would find other knights, similarly trained and under the same vows, who would receive him as a brother in arms, because knighthood was a kind of Freemasonry for the times.
Jacques DeMolay elected to enter the Knights Templar. He won high honors as a Templar, was sent to duty in Palestine, and was finally elected Grand Master of the Order. The war against Islam had not been going well. Antioch, Tripoli, and Jerusalem, among other cities, had fallen. The Crusaders had been killed or had fled back to Europe, and the Templars alone were left to fight the enemy.
The Death Of The Crusades
After 200 years, Europe’s crusading spirit had died out. Men were thinking new thoughts and cherishing new ambitions. The masses began to say that God Himself had evidently left Jerusalem to the infidel. With their great houses, rich estates and treasures of gold, the Templars were strongly entrenched in Europe. Their leaders were respected by princes, but there was little or no popular support for them in their war plans. Internal forces in France would prove to be more damaging to the Templars than any Moslem army. King Philip the Fair (1268–1314), ruler of France from 1285 to his death, was hatching a scheme to destroy the Order. The Templars had grown rich and powerful. Their great officials were on par with princes; their Grand Masters were respected almost as equals with kings. Multitudes of the poor made them innumerable presents; hundreds of lords gave them gold, jewels, houses, and large estates. At the time DeMolay was received, the Order may have possessed as many as 7,500 manors from Spain and Scandinavia to Palestine and Britain. With such resources, the Order became a kind of super state, before the power of which even a king might be compelled to humble himself.
A Desperate Need For Money
It was such splendor and power that confronted Philip the Fair when he became king of France, the most powerful monarch in Europe, at the age of 16. Ambitious, eager for war and extravagant in his plans, the new king found himself in everlasting need for money. After he had ground from his own people every possible penny of tribute and taxes and even debased the national coinage in a desperate attempt to fill his own treasuries, it was no wonder that he cov- eted the overflowing Templar wealth.
In 1305, after many years of conflicts with the papacy, Philip arranged for a French archbishop to be named Pope, taking the name of Clement V. This aged pontiff was essentially a puppet of France. Clement moved the papal court to Avingnon, where for 71 years he and his successors lived in luxury, courtesy of the French monarchs.
In their beginnings, the Crusades strengthened the papacy because it was the Pope alone who could speak for all of Europe and function as the general leader. When the Templars were formed, the Popes welcomed them because of the military support the Order gave them in their wars against Islam. Eventually, however, the papacy released the Order from obedience to the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem. Bishops were given no authority over the Order, Templar lands were released from tithes, and princes were not permitted to demand feudal service from the Knights Templar. The brothers of the Order were set apart, a distinct and favored class, unconnected with any of the Church’s orders. The Order became a kind of nation in itself, an empire existing among governments but not subject to them.
Philip the Fair knew that in spite of its appearance of strength, there was a mortal weakness at the heart of the Templars. The Order was a child of the Crusades, but now the Crusades were over. Why should the people continue a great but now useless Order? Knighthood itself was decaying; the system of chivalry was falling apart. Private, humble men, forced to pay for the upkeep of so many great houses and so many men and horses that produced nothing, began to wish the Knights Templar out of the way. Kings also wished out of existence what might be seized by the papacy to bring each monarch once again to the heel of the Church.
Philip understood all of this, and it emboldened him in his plans, while the gradually growing resentment among the masses began to manifest itself. People whispered among themselves of strange happenings behind the carefully guarded doors of the Order. Renegade knights told tales of initiates being forced to spit upon the cross and deny Christianity; of rampant idolatry worship; and that the Templars were in fact Moslems and responsible themselves for the Crusades’ failure. Rumors spread like wildfire of knights worshipping a Moslem idol, Baphomet, kidnapping children, burning babies alive, and invoking the devil.
Philip took depositions of these accusations and sent them to Pope Clement. On August 24, 1305, Clement said that, while he found these charges hard to believe, the Templars themselves had written him about these rumors and had asked for an investigation. One year later, Clement sent a rather affectionate letter to Jacques DeMolay, asking him to come with some of his knights for an interview. The Pope wrote about several general subjects in his letter, including the prospects for another Crusade, but said nothing about the charges. DeMolay and his knights came to Paris and were received by Philip with much respect and courtesy.
The Terror Begins
In April 1307, DeMolay and some of his knights again visited the Pope to inquire about the accusations, rumors of which were steadily increasing. Clement evidently reassured them, for the Templars returned and went about their business as usual. Whether or not this was all part of a plot between King Philip and Pope Clement to render the knights unawares is unclear.
In any event, on September 14, 1307, Philip ordered the arrest of every Knight Templar. At the dawn of October 13, knights everywhere were taken into custody by surprise. DeMolay and 60 of his brethren, completely shocked by this turn of events, were arrested in Paris. They were then taken before the heads of the University of Paris, where they met with a number of bishops and abbots, many of whom had long awaited such an opportunity. They were presented with a long list of accusations, calling them everything from bloodthirsty wolves and heretics to idolaters, traitors, and perjurers.
Pope Clement vigorously opposed Philip’s actions, and on October 27, the papacy suspended the powers of the Inquisition in France. But this didn’t stop the persecution. Then, on November 2, the Pope, fearing the entire proceedings might be snatched from the Church’s control by secular forces, called for the arrest of Templars everywhere.
End of Part II. Part III will conclude this series
in the March Scottish Rite Journal. The information for this article was
taken from Jacques DeMolay by H. L. Haywood, 1925, Order of DeMolay, Kansas
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