It is the 18th of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1314.
Ok, so there is this legend. Perhaps the events took place, but whatever…. It's a legend. Hear me out. When the guillotine beheaded the dastardly Louis XVI in 1793 during the French Revolution, a freemason ran to the basket, dipped his hands in the blood, and raised the head of the dead king. He is said to have shouted, "Jacques de Molay, you have been avenged!"
Jacques de Molay was a prominent member of the Knights Templar, but by the 18th century, the Templars were long gone. But the Freemasons used scurrilous connections to the old secretive society to enhance their reputation. Nevertheless, who was de Molay, how was he avenged, and who are these Knights?
The Knights Templar are members of the society of "Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon." They formed around 1118 in response to the First Crusade into Jerusalem. These "knights" were the first of the Religious, military orders. These orders would eventually fold into the High and Late Middle ages' chivalric orders, orders that would ultimately become secular.
Think of these Templars, from around 1119 to about 1314, as religious bodyguards and travel guides. They were also bankers, and they owned an extensive network of churches, castles, and banks from Europe and into the Holy Land. After the "success" of the First Crusade, the Templars could get you to Jerusalem safely. Furthermore, you could deposit money into a Templar account at home and then withdraw the Templar bank's funds in Jerusalem or elsewhere. While some focus on their military exploits, it is helpful to remember that about 90% of the Knights Templar were non-combatants.
They were so wealthy they became a favorite to finance various royal projects. A line of credit not attached to a foreign power but a roving religious group was advantageous for many. And it was for Philip IV of France, at least for a while. Philip was known as "the fair," but by those that he opposed, he was known to be as devious as any. HIs enormous debts, mainly from trying to finance wars, led him to borrow heavily from the Lombards. When he couldn't pay them back, he seized their French lands, extracted what he could, and then charged the Lombards a fee to become citizens. You might imagine that when he fell into tremendous debt to the Knight's Templar, he might try something similar. And he did. And it was worse.
One of the reasons the Knight's Templar have garnered the attention (negative and positive) has to do with their secretive nature. When you keep your rankings, initiations, rites, etc., secret t allows others to paint you however they wish. Why do we have so many "Da Vinci Code" like goofball stories about the Knights? Because in the absence of information, anything can be substituted. And that is what Philip did. He accused the Knight's Templar of a whole host of things, including spitting on the cross, illicit physical relations, devil worship, and a host of heresies, including denying Christ. This was designed to get Pope Clement V to disband the group and thus dissolve Philip's debt. The French King had some pull with Clement V as well. Remember when the Papacy moved from Rome to Avignon, France? Yeah, that was this guy, Pope Clement.
Clement would only punish the Knights if there were confessions. And I don't think I need to tell you about some of the ways confessions were forced out of people these days. This is literally what "going Medieval" on someone refers to. Clement had his misgivings, and in 1308 he stopped the Inquisition against the Knights. But he could be convinced, and many unbelievable claims (including one about the Knight's crest, which had two dudes on one horse) led to the Pope condemning the Knights in 1312 in a Papal Bull.
In 1314 King Philip IV was going for the head of the Knights Templar, their Grand Master, Jacques De Molay. On the 18th of March in 1314, Molay was bound, tied to a stake, and set on fire near Notre Dame. Here it is claimed that Jacques De Molay cursed Philip. Essentially the curse was that Philip and Clement would soon die (they both did) and that 13 generations of French Kings would be cursed. If you use some clever counting techniques, the 13th becomes Louis XVI, hence the story from the beginning of the show. There are many other stories, including a relationship with the Cathars and the Holy Grail, even though they aren't likely true. But the Knights Templar did exist, and they were dealt a devastating blow with the execution of their leader, Jacques De Molay this, on the 18th of March in 1314.
The reading for today comes from Justin Martyr, a word on Jesus and violence from the 2nd century:
We who were filled with war, mutual slaughter, and every wickedness have each, through the whole earth, changed our warlike weapons—our swords into ploughshares and our spears into implements of tillage. In their place, we cultivate godliness, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father himself through the one who was crucified.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a 7th-degree red eagle Master-at-arms Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis, who longs to join the Stonecutters. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.