Friday the 13th
by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB. Adam Thayer
One bad leader killed our fraternal brothers. One pompous, self-righteous, egotistical bastard was singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of a holy Order that had existed for nearly two hundred years, and for the death of two men who, like our own Grand Master Hiram, became martyrs to their fidelity.
Before we even begin to discuss the end of the Templars, it’s important to understand who they were, what they stood for, and why they were a perceived threat.
The Templars sprang from somewhat humble beginnings: Hugues de Payens, along with eight relatives who had been knighted, formed the Order to protect travelers and pilgrims who were visiting Jerusalem and other sites in the Holy Lands. While there is some disagreement as to which French king first sanctioned the group, it was probably around 1118 or 1119. The rules of the Order were simple: renounce all of your titles and worldly possessions, pursue a life of purity, and take up arms to defend against Sarcean attacks.
While in Jerusalem, the Order took to living at the Al Aqsa Mosque, which was believed to be built on top of Solomon’s Temple. It didn’t take long for the knights of the Order to become associated with the Temple in the public’s mind, and soon they took the name “Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici”, or The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and The Temple Of Solomon. This, in time, was shortened to Knights Templar.
In 1129, the Templars were officially sanctioned by the Vatican. This move garnered significant criticism, as the public could not accept monks carrying weapons and committing acts of violence. The Church, for their part, supported the Templars, by explaining that the knights were charged to protect the innocent from violence, not to commit acts of war.
Through the coming years, the Templars gained significant power, through the Church and governments granting it, and through controlling the supply of money with an elaborate banking and lending system. Although the knights themselves had taken vows of poverty, the Order was exceedingly wealthy.
A thorough examination of the Templars activities is beyond the scope and intention of this paper. Those who are interested may, with minimal effort, discover a wealth of information available that discusses their actions during their active years.
By the 1300s, the Order was well established throughout the known world, was a respected and vital part of the Church, and had amassed a significant amount of money, but was not the powerhouse it had been in its heyday. In many ways, the Order reflects our own gentle Craft; it started from small beginnings, had a rapid rise to dominance, enjoyed a position of power for many years, then began a slow decline into a less powerful, but no less important, organization. Left alone, this system could have continued indefinitely, enjoying brief periods of growth, followed by another gradual decline.
Enter the bad leader.
Philip the 4th became King of France at a young age. While he was not mature enough at age seventeen to lead the country, his older brother died before taking the throne, so Philip was forced to ascend.
His youth and inexperience showed; he habitually ignored his advisors, insulted those who attempted to help him, issued poor orders, and was stubbornly inflexible. This led him into a number of unnecessary battles, forcing him to borrow more and more money from the Templars to fund his stupidity. During one war against England, he devalued the currency of France by two-thirds, causing his own people to riot against him.
Philip also chose, quite unwisely, to battle with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, which was the dominant power at the time. He expelled clergy from their positions of legal administration, and began taxing them at a high rate.
These actions caused Pope Boniface the 8th to issue a papal bull excommunicating King Philip and any leader who would attempt to collect taxes from the clergy. Philip, being too stubborn to back down, retaliated by prohibiting the export of goods and moneys from France to Rome, effectively cutting off one of the larger income sources of the Catholic Church. Pope Boniface, holding power over an ever weakening Church, rescinded his papal bull, and restored trade from France to Rome.
King Philip, however, could not accept victory so graciously. He launched into a large scale “anti-papal” campaign against Pope Boniface. He began arresting and trying clergy members on various charge, likely invented by Philip himself. Even worse, he accused Pope Boniface of committing sodomy, a rumor which haunted him even after his death, when he was posthumously tried and the charges subsequently dropped. It’s interesting to note that the charge of sodomy was a favorite of King Philips, used against many of his political enemies, as we shall soon see.
In response to these outrages, Pope Boniface again asserted that the Church was superior to the ruling class, and that the Pope held the power over Kings. Hostilities again escalated, the Pope again excommunicated Philip, and Philip responded by having Pope Boniface arrested. He died less than one month later.
The Church, and by extension the Templars, now found themselves without leadership, but not for long. Within a year, Bishop Bertrand, a French Bishop from Bordeaux, was elected Pope Clement the 5th. At the time, there were significant rumors that the new Pope had obtained power due to the political maneuverings of King Philip, and all of the subsequent actions of Pope Clement point this to be true, as he withdrew and changed the papal bulls that Boniface had released, restored King Philip to grace, moved the papacy to France, and granted the French King power over the leadership of the Catholic Church.
King Philip was in debt. His various wars, political maneuvers, and extravagant lifestyle had caused him to become deeply indebted to the Knights Templar, and unable to satisfy his debt. Worse, he saw that the Knights had significant income but did not pay taxes, significant assets that they kept to themselves, and were all well trained in the art of fighting.
What’s a King to do? The Templars were still under the control of the Catholic Church, not answerable to any king, and to lay attack on them would be seen poorly by the public, who held sympathy for the Church.
King Philip, showing unusual intelligence, determined to destroy the Templars quickly and efficiently; he would accuse the entire Order of heresy, extract confessions under brutal torture before the Church could get involved, and claim their property and wealth as French. Sealed orders were sent across all of France, to be opened on the appointed day, and the Templars fate was sealed.
Friday, October 13th, 1307. King Philip’s orders were simultaneously opened across his realm. They included a letter detailing the numerous heretical crimes of the Templars, along with the order to arrest all Templars, and a list of the highest ranking Templar officers.
Reports vary, but most agree that six hundred and twenty five Templars were arrested that day. They were tortured until they confessed to any charge that was leveled against them, and those confessions were used as proof that King Philip had acted in the best interests of the Catholic Church in apprehending the knights. Pope Clement had no choice but to issue papal arrest warrants for the remaining knights worldwide.
When the knights began recanting their confessions and imploring the Church for aid, King Philip ordered fifty four of them, including their Grand Master Jacques de Molay, burned at the stake, and forced Pope Clement to disband the Order completely.
In a final act of defiance and bravado, de Molay pronounced that King Philip and Pope Clement would both soon stand with him before God to answer for their crimes. Within a year, they were both dead.
The remaining Templars scattered. Some joined with the Knights Hospitallers, who became known as the Order of Saint John. Others fled to Scotland, where Masonic tradition tells us they joined with Robert the Bruce and formed the Knights of Saint Andrew. The rest simply disappeared, lost in the annals of history.
What lessons can we take from the ordeal of the Templars? First, we can see the danger of mixing religion and politics, which is a lesson taught repeatedly in Scottish Rite Masonry. Had the Papacy not been controlled by the French King, it would have been able to fight back, and protect the Templars from his greed.
We can also see the risks a private society such as ours takes when we attract public attention by getting too large or too powerful. No doubt is had that the Templars flaunted their wealth and power, which attracted the attention of the king to begin with, and which led to their eventual destruction.
Perhaps most importantly, we see the importance of choosing good leadership. It only took one man to completely destroy that which had lasted nearly two hundred years. We must be constantly wary not to put the vain, the egotistical, or the dictatorial into positions of leadership within our lodges, as one bad Master can destroy a Lodge. The Templars did not have a choice in who led their lodge or country, but we do. We can choose to elect someone into leadership because he is a warm body to fill the chair, or we can choose to only move our best and brightest into them. At the risk of sounding political, we should be carrying that same attitude with us when we vote for our public leaders as well.
Finally, a warning to any who would abuse their position of power: never forget that although King Philip was successful in destroying the Templars, his victory was short lived. Within eight months of the martyrdom of Jacques de Molay, King Philip suffered a stroke and died. Within a few years, his bloodline had all died out, and the subsequent battles for control of France became known as The Hundred Years’ War, but that’s a story for a different time. The only lasting memory most people now have of King Philip the 4th is the incorrect belief that his actions led to the fear of Friday the 13th, even though this connection was not discovered until 1989. It would be equally ludicrous to say that we are superstitious about Friday the 13th because of a man in a hockey mask with a machete, and I hope that a few hundred years from now there will be another Freemason, writing an education piece debunking that legend instead!
~ATWB. Adam Thayer is the Junior Warden of Lancaster Lodge No 54 in Lincoln (NE) and the Worshipful Master of Oliver Lodge No. 38 in Seward (NE). He’s an active member of the Scottish Rite, and Knight Master of the Lincoln Valley Knights of Saint Andrew. Adam serves on the Education Committee of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org