Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Knights of Malta: Past and Present

Within the Commandery of Knights Templar, there are conferred 3 chivalric orders: the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, the Order of Malta, and the Order of the Temple. The Order of Malta is an order which emphasizes the lesson of faith. The pass degree of the Mediterranean Pass, or Knight of St. Paul prepares the candidate for the Order of Malta by introducing the lesson and example of the faithful martyr of Christianity. After passing through the preparatory degree of the Mediterranean Pass (which surrounds the story of Paul on the island of Malta from which this Order receives its name), the candidate solicits himself to become a member of the Order of Malta. This ceremony teaches the history of the Maltese Order as inheritors of the crusading Knights Hospitaller. The preparatory degree emphasizes the need for faith while the lessons of the Order express examples of love, mercy, and the unfearing and faithful martyrdom of Christianity. The body is called a Priory and the conferral of this order is presided over by a Prior.

It is important to note that the Order of Malta that started in the medieval ages still exists today, but the Order of Malta conferred in the Commandery only commemorates the medieval knights until their time in Malta from which they took their name. The Sovereign Military Order of Malta, headquartered in Rome, is the only valid continuation of the medieval Knights Hospitallers and Knights of Malta. There are a variety of different groups who take the name of Order of Malta, but used the name out of inspiration and commemoration. The Masonic order only follows the Knights of Malta until the 16th century with their famous battle against the Ottoman Empire.

The candidate, going through the Masonic Order of Malta, is given only a brief history of the original medieval knighthood. While we Masons commemorate this order it is important to understand the history and see how the order evolved over the years. A proper understanding of history will give us better insight and guidance as men, as Masons, and as Knights.

History of the Order

The common history, covered here, will take us from its legendary founding in the 11th century to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

Today the order is known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta, or better known as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM), is a Catholic-based religious order and one of the world's oldest surviving orders of chivalry.

In 623 AD, Abbot Probus was commissioned by Pope Gregory the Great to build a hospital to care for and treat pilgrims in the Holy Land. This hospital was enlarged in 800 AD by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, and added a library to it. In 1005, Caliph Al-Hakim destroyed this among other Christian buildings in Jerusalem. In 1021, Caliph Ali az-Zahir of Egypt, the Seventh Caliph of the Fātimids, took over governance of the Holy Land. In 1023, he gave permission to merchants from Amalfi (Italy) to rebuild the Hospital in Jerusalem. This hospital was located near the Abbey of St. Mary of the Latins. This hospital was served by Benedictine monks. After the First Crusade, the hospital would be expanded by the efforts of a monk referred to as "Brother Gerard," who is said to have been a native of southern Italy.

On February 15, 1113, the order was formally named the Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem and recognized by the Papacy with the issuance of the Papal Bull "Paschal II." Their original goal was not militaristic, but only medicinal; it wouldn't be for several decades (circa 1200 AD) that existing documentation shows that knights were being used as escorts for pilgrims as well as in the battle against the Saracens. The Knights Hospitallers were originally led by a "Master of the Hospital", but this would change in 1267 to "Grand Master" who was elected to serve for life with the permission of the Pope.

By donation by appreciative patients and the efforts of Gerard, the Hospitallers grew. But, as they grew, so did the number of patients and pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. There was enough demand that the Hospitallers expanded to include a class of knights who would escort and protect pilgrims throughout the Holy Land. Along with the class of knights, the order also employed two others: a chaplain class and an infirmary class.

The knights were themselves also again divided into two classes: secular knights and professed knights. The secular knights would only serve for a short period while the professed knights took vows of permanent allegiance to the Hospitaller order. These knights were led by an officer known as a "Marshal." Fighting alongside the knights, but not coming from noble stock was "Turcopeles" and these were supervised by an officer called "Turcopiliers."

The Hospitaller's rivals, the Knights Templar, were known for their famous uniform of a white mantle emblazoned with a red cross. To differentiate themselves, the Hospitallers wore a black mantle with a white cross except in battle when they wore a red mantle with a white cross, which uniform was approved by Pope Innocent IV in 1248.

Eventually, the Holy Land was lost and the Kingdom of Jerusalem fell to the Muslims led by the Sultan Salah ad-Din (or Saladin), founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187 and the Hospitallers fled to Margat, then to Acre in 1197, which fell in 1291. When Acre fell, the Hospitallers fled to the coastal town of Limassol on the island of Cyprus. Most likely due to the politics of the Kingdom of Cyprus and wishing to be independent, the Grand Master, Guillaume de Villaret, made plans of acquiring the island of Rhodes as their new domain. This island rests just off of what is now Turkey. While Guillaume de Villaret made the plans for Rhodes, it was his successor, Fulkes de Villaret, who executed the plans.

On August 15th, 1309, the island was surrendered to the Knights Hospitallers and essentially came to rule as an independent state with all the rights of privileges that belong to a sovereign state. With the control of Rhodes, the knights also gained control of smaller surrounding islands. The acquisition of this island changed the mission and operations of the Knights Hospitaller who also became to be known as the Knights of Rhodes.

There were very few pilgrims on the island, and with the dissolution of the Knights Templar, the order became more militaristic with most of its battles taking place on the sea rather than land. In 1334, the Knights of Rhodes defeated Andronicus III Palaeologus, the Byzantine Emperor, who still claimed to own the island of Rhodes. In 1440, Az-Zahir Sayf ad-Din Jaqmaq, the Sultan of Egypt attempted to attack the Knights of Rhodes, but the island had been strongly fortified so the forces rebelled and a naval battle followed without either side gaining a decisive victory. This Sultan attacked Rhodes again by siege in 1444, but this ends after 40-days.

On May 29th, 1453, the tides would start to turn against the Knights of Rhodes. On this date, the Ottoman Turks under Mehmed II captured Constantinople. With the Byzantine Empire gone and the Ottoman Empire established the Knights of Rhodes became an important aspect of the security for Christians and merchants in the Mediterranean, particularly against Barbary or Ottoman pirates. It is also said that they committed acts of piracy themselves against Muslim ships and ports, particularly along the North African coastline.

Seeking to unseat the Knights of Rhodes, Mahomet II attacked the island in 1480, but this attack failed. Under the governance of Suleiman (II) the Magnificent, the island was attacked by an armada of around 400 ships and an army composed of around 150,000 men while the Knights of Rhodes consisted of only 7,000 knights. The Knights of Rhodes were able to hold up for 6-months, but their supplies ran out and so on December 22nd, 1522, the knights surrendered to the Ottomans. So impressed by their bravery, Suleiman decided to spare their lives and even had his own ships carry the survivors to Sicily. Due to his valiant conduct and leadership during the siege, and even in the face of defeat, the Grand Master, Philippe de Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, was proclaimed a Defender of the Faith by Pope Adrian VI.

Until 1530, the Knights Hospitallers (or formerly Knights of Rhodes), were homeless. They sought assistance from the monarchs of Europe, but with the loss of the Holy Land and the rise of the Ottoman Empire, no one was willing to listen. Finally, in 1530, the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V of Spain, with the approval of Pope Clement VIII, gave the order to the island of Malta. In return, the knights would have to give an annual payment of a Maltese falcon to the Viceroy of Sicily on All Souls Day. For getting the island, the order promised to resume its previous mission of securing safe passage for Christian merchants through the Mediterranean Sea and fighting back against the Muslim pirates that infested the waters.

It was from this period, that the order would be known as the Order, or Knights, of Malta and started to wear the famous Maltese cross. The 8-points of the cross are said to represent the 8 obligations and aspirations:

Live in Truth
Have Faith
Repent of sins
Give proof of humility
Love justice
Be merciful
Be sincere
Endure persecution
With the acquisition of much of the Templar property and the general growth of the order, the holdings increased and were so organized. They were organized into "tongues" or nations (Aragon, Auvergne, Castile, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Provence). Each of these was supervised by a Prior; if there was more than one priory in the tongue, by a Grand Prior. On the island of Malta, the resident knights of each tongue were headed by a Bailli. Each tongue was divided into Priories who were composed of Bailiwicks which were comprised of Commanderies

The return of this order to the Mediterranean and their actions against Muslims enraged Suleiman, who had shown them mercy on Rhodes. He mustered all the strength of the Ottoman Empire that he could afford and set sail for the Maltese archipelago; had the Ottomans taken the island of Malta this would give them a launching point for invasions into Western Europe. He threw his might against the Knights of Malta on May 18th, 1565. The Turks fought with monstrous ferocity, but the knights were able to repel several of their attacks and maintain control over most of the island. By August the Knight's numbers were dwindling though. Some knights suggested abandoning the island, but Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette refused to follow such ideas. On the 23rd of August, the Turks attempted, what would be, their last great assault on the Maltese fortifications. The Knights of Malta were able to keep fortifications strong by working day and night, and even the wounded had to sometimes take part in battles. The Ottomans were not spared from the troubles as the disease was spreading through the overcrowded quarters and supplies were starting to run short. The morale was also diminishing because of the ability of the Knights to hold off such a stronger Turkish force. Sicilian reinforcements started to arrive in September in Mellieħa Bay. The Ottomans didn't realize that the reinforcements were a small force and retreated on September 8th. This would immortalize the Knights of Malta, but would eventually cause problems for the order.

Once the Ottomans had retreated, it was time to rebuild the cities that had been destroyed. The old capital city had been destroyed so a new one was erected which was named Valletta in member of the Grand Master who had weathered the Turkish siege.

The Protestant Reformation

Spiritually, the Order of Malta was subservient only to the Pope, and with the 16th century, came the Protestant Reformation. This Reformation would cause lasting political and religious changes that would affect Europe that is still seen today.

The Protestant Reformation was a movement initially aimed and reforming the Catholic Church, but this was not the first time this occurred. Some like Jon Wycliffe attempted to make reforms and stop what they saw as abuses of power. The Protestant Reformation is formally recognized to have started with the publication of the "95 Theses" by Martin Luther, a German Augustinian monk. This publication challenged some of the doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church. This movement spread throughout Europe and the prospects of reforming the church faded so the reformers were forced to separate from the Catholic Church. Many different denominations popped up throughout Europe. In the German states, Lutheranism had become a prominent religion which would cause a rift between the northern and southern German states; Germany would not become a unified state until after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. In Switzerland, you see the rise of Calvinism and in England, you see the rise of the Anglican Church under the reign of Henry VIII.

Fights between Protestantism, Catholicism, and the Vatican's influence on the secular rule (among other things) would lead to the Thirty Years War and to the Peace of Westphalia. The Thirty Years War was one of the most destructive conflicts on the continent and included most of the European powers. Initially sparked over religious practices, it started to turn into a fight between the French and the Hapsburgs. In 1648, the Peace of Westphalia would be signed which resulted in Protestants being allowed to continue religious practices within their state, marked the decline of feudalism, the rise of the Bourbon dynasty, the Hapsburg supremacy stopped, and the decline of the influence of the Catholic Church in states by establishing the rights of sovereignty of a state. This would change how states interacted with one another and cause grievances for future wars

It is during this time that Protestant versions of the Order of Malta were established in England, Germany, Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, France, and Austria. We also see that monarchs and states that were previously Catholic and were now Protestant stopped giving donations to the Catholic Order of Malta. This is also around the time that the Masons no longer track the history of the Order of Malta. The Protestant Reformation would cause the Order of Malta to lose footing in England and northern Germany, adopt new ways of income, and ultimately their ties to the Catholic Church would spell the end of their time on the island of Malta.

The Post Reformation Era

The Order of Malta continued to operate in the Mediterranean as a counter to the Muslim pirate and merchants. In 1571 combined their fleets with Charles V and several other European powers to attack and devastate the Turkish navy at the Battle of Lepanto. This battle took place on October 7th, 1571, on the northern edge of the Gulf of Corinth (western Greece). This victory would virtually destroy the Ottoman navy and prevent any further spread of the Ottoman Empire into Western Europe.

The Knights of Malta continued to construct fortresses, watchtowers, churches, hospitals, and other buildings on the island. The main hospital was massive and also contained schools for studying anatomy, surgery, and pharmacy. As mentioned above, a new capital named Valletta was started in 1566. It was designed by a military engineer named Francesco Laparelli then finished in 1571 by Ġlormu Cassar. Even with all of these projects, the relationship between the knights and natives was still poor as the latter felt they were treated as second-class citizens.

In a time where religious and secular control of the Catholic Church was starting to decline, it is not surprised to see that the Grand Master of the Order of Malta was granted the status of "Prince of the Holy Roman Empire" in 1607, and a few decades later the Grand Master was awarded ecclesiastic equality with cardinals.

Their relative power in the Mediterranean, the victory against the Ottoman Turks in 1565 and 1571, and the dissolution of their rivals, the Templars, seems to have given the Maltese order an inflated ego. Financially they were declining, but this only encouraged them to start plundering and which led to idleness and the practicing of licentious habits. Soon discipline among the ranks degraded and members of the Order started selling their services to other navies for a price; discipline became so degraded that, in 1581, the Grand Master, Jean de la Cassière, was made prisoner by his own knights. The French Navy was the most common destination for Knights of Malta, which is ironic seeing that the French had trade agreements with the Ottoman Empire, the sworn enemy of the Order of Malta. Soon the Order of Malta was accused of committing acts of piracy, even against Christians. The crimes committed by the Knights of Malta would be another nail in their coffin.

The French National Assembly in 1789, by decree, abolished the Order of Malta in France, and, by 1792, the French government seized their assets and propertyThe Order of Malta was headquartered on the island of Malta until June 12th, 1798, when Napoleon Bonaparte captured the island during his conquest of Egypt. This may not have been the intent of Napoleon, but Grand Master Ferdinand von Hompesch zu Bolheim refused to allow Napoleon's ships to enter the Maltese port en mass. He laid siege and captured the island within a day. The Maltese Order was against dispersed. The island was going to be returned to the Order in 1802 with the Treaty of Amiens, but in 1814 the Treaty of Paris gave the island of Malta to the British Empire.

The Order found strong support in Russia, most likely due to the presence it had had in the Imperial Russian Navy. On November 24th, 1798, Paul I, Emperor of Russia, was elected as the new Grand Master, after the abdication of the previous Grand Master. He created an additional Grand Priory to the Roman Catholic one known as "Russian Grand Priory" which dwarfed the rest of the Order. Because of the loss of the Maltese island and the Protestant Reformation, income from European sources had dwindled and most of their income was now coming from Russian. The problem was that Paul's election as Grand Master was never approved by the Papacy, which made Paul the de facto rather than de jure Grand Master of the Order. The Papacy removed the position of Grand Master after the problem over Paul and until 1879 the Order was governed by Lieutenants. The position of Grand Master was restored by Pope Leo XIII in 1879 which he bestowed upon Geschi di Sancta Croce.

It was in 1834, during the time of the Lieutenants, that the Order of Malta was headquartered in Rome. It was here that the original work of the order, hospital work, became their main concern once again; losing their military side except for the traditional attire. In the Crimean War and WWI, they contributed to hospital and relief efforts on a large scale which only intensified during WWII. Today the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) has a presence in over 120-countries, with 12 Grand Priories and Sub-Priories and 47 national associations, as well as numerous hospitals, medical centers, daycare centers, first aid corps, and specialist foundations. In 1994, SMOM was given the same status as the Red Cross as an Observer Member of the UN.

The Ancient and Masonic Order of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes, and Malta

The Masonic Order of Malta was most likely introduced into the United States from Scotland or Ireland along with the Order of the Temple. According to Francis J. Scully in his work, "History of the Grand Encampment Knights Templar of the United States of America," stated that:
"The original work of the Knights of Malta was introduced into New England along with the Order of the Temple. In the early years it probably consisted only of a series of questions and answers and the signs of recognition which were communicated to the candidate. Later on, the ritual was revised and elaborated."
Reading through the first volume of this work, he cites J.W.S. Mitchell who stated the following of the Order of Malta:
“The degree, so called of Malta, or St. John of Jerusalem, crept in we suppose, by means of a bungler, who, not knowing enough of the ritual to confer it properly satisfied himself by simply addressing a few words in the ceremony of dubbing; and thus, by the addition of a few signs and words but imperfectly understood, constituted a Knight Templar also a Knight of Malta, and so the matter stands to this day.”
It was through the efforts of Sir Knights Thomas Smith-Webb and Henry Fowle that it continued to exist as an appendant Order in America, primarily in Massachusetts. When a national body, now known as the Grand Encampment, was formed in 1816, the Constitution adopted stated that the rule of succession is: “Knight of the Red Cross, Knight Templar and Knight of Malta.” Today it falls second in line in the succession of conferral, but this was not always so. Some thought that it should be a separate degree, some thought it was an appendant order to follow the Order of the Temple, and some thought that one receiving the Order of the Temple was automatically a Knight of Malta as well. Until the 20th century, the Order of Malta was a point of contention in American Templary. Debates ensued for years and Grand Masters of the Grand Encampment gave their differing opinions on the matter. In 1865, the Grand Master, Benjamin B. French pushed for the Order of Malta to be second in line of succession, but the special committee on this subject did not want to introduce "new difficulties" so they proposed that "and Knight of Malta" be added. In 1874, the Committee on Digest of Templar Law inferred that the Order of Malta should be conferred as a separate Order. The Grand Master at the time, John Q.A. Fellows agreed, stating, "The true work of the Order is really sublime and accords well with the ceremonies of that of Knights Templar.”

At the 1880 Triennial, Grand Master Vincent L. Hulburt held an unfavorable view of the Order of Malta when he stated:
“It is not pretended that the Order of Knight Templar and the Order of Knight of Malta bear any historic relation to each other. In origin and purpose they are distinct and dissimilar. Does the Order of the Templar require the adoption of this alien adjunct? Is it so imperfect, so wanting in all the essentials to secure the admiration, the love, and the loyalty of its champions, that it must call in the aid of this foreign elements to give it strength and permanent success? Let the experience of every valiant Sir Knight of this vast convocation furnish the answer. Giving every degree of every grand and order of Masonry all the merit it can justly claim, it remains true that Knight Templarism stands unapproachable and alone, the colossal monument of human aspiration and heroism and faith. Above all the shadows and vapors of our selfish life it rises adorned with all that art, inspired by genius, could contribute; its tablets gleaming with the names that have made its history immortal; its summit, bathed in the prophetic splendor of the dawn and the high noon of consummation, surmounted by the cross, the sign of the invincible spirit and purpose that reared and consecrated, a pledge of final triumph. There is no yearning for human sympathy, no plea for real brotherhood, no prayer for human progress and freedom and ultimate redemption, that does not find an answer here. Let this divine form stand unaided to challenge veneration and worship; let it not be obscured by adventitious props and aids. At most, we should only allow the attributes of the Order of Malta to be conferred, as heretofore; and I trust that the Grand Encampment will plainly and finally declare that the Order of Malta is not required as an adjunct of Templarism.”
Many feared that the Order of Malta being full ceremony may overshadow the ritual of the Order of the Temple. It would take until 1919 for the Order of Malta to be given full recognition as an individual order to be conferred in a Commandery of Knights Templar. So that it didn't eclipse the Order of the Temple certain changes in the ritual were adopted at that Triennial and in 1934 the Constitution was revised to reflect the changes as follows:
“The Orders shall be conferred in the following succession: Red Cross, Knight of Malta, and Knight Templar.”
While the Masonic Order of Malta is not tied to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, we still commemorate a common history, that of the Knights Hospitaller who as we see became known as the Knights of Malta. All Masonic Knights of Malta should remember the allegorical elements and important lessons taught in this Order of Knighthood.


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7. Protestant Reformation. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Protestant_Reformation

8. Scully, F. J. (1952). History of the Grand Encampment Knights Templar of the USA. Greenfield, IN, USA: Wm. Mitchell Printing Co.

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