The Knights Templar is an international philanthropic chivalric order affiliated with Freemasonry. Unlike the initial degrees conferred in a Masonic Lodge, which only require a belief in a Supreme Being regardless of religious affiliation, the Knights Templar is one of several additional Masonic Orders in which membership is open only to Freemasons who profess a belief in the Christian religion. The full title of this Order is The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta. The word “United” in this title indicates that more than one historical tradition and more than one actual Order are jointly controlled within this system. The individual Orders ‘united’ within this system are principally the Knights of the Temple (Knights Templar), the Knights of Malta, the Knights of St Paul, and only within the York Rite, the Knights of the Red Cross. The Order derives its name from the historical Knights Templar. One theory of the origins of Freemasonry claims direct descent from the historical Knights Templar through its final fourteenth-century members who took refuge in Scotland, or other countries where the Templar suppression was not enforced. Although the theory may not be dismissed, it is usually deprecated on grounds of lack of evidence by both masonic authorities and historians.
Knights Templar can exist either as part of the York Rite or as an independent organization. Though the York Rite and the independent versions share many similarities there are key differences which are described below.
Knights Templar as a part of the York Rite
A Knights Templar commandery is traditionally the final body that a member joins in the York Rite after the chapter of Royal Arch Masons and a council of Royal & Select Masters. Some jurisdictions, however, allow members to skip over membership in a council. A local Knights Templar commandery operates under a state-level Grand Commandery, however American commanderies also operate under The Grand Encampment of the United States. This is unique among American Masonic bodies, as most report to the state level alone.
While a chapter bestows the Royal Arch degrees, and a council bestows the Cryptic degrees, a Knights Templar commandery bestows three orders and one passing order onto its members. This is opposed to the standard degree system found elsewhere in Freemasonry, and they are the only ones not to deal with the Hiramic Legend. The York Rite orders are:
- The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross
- The Passing Order of St. Paul, (or Mediterranean Pass)
- The Order of the Knights of Malta (or simply Order of Malta)
- The Order of the Temple
Knights Templar as an Independent Body
The Cross pattée, symbol of the Order of the Temple in the independent body and Illustrious Order of the Red Cross.
Outside the York Rite, membership is by invitation only. Candidates are required to be Master Masons, and Royal Arch Masons, and to sign a declaration that they profess the Doctrine of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. In some Australian States, the requirement of being a Royal Arch Mason no longer applies.
Local bodies of Knights Templar are known as Preceptories; local bodies of Knights of St Paul are known as Chapters; local bodies of Knights of Malta are known as Priories; all operate under a Grand or Great Priory, often with an intermediate level of Provincial Priories. Although some jurisdictions maintain a separate Great Priory of the Temple and Great Priory of Malta (as, for example, in England), the Grand Master and other officers of both Great Priories hold simultaneous equal office in both bodies. Three degrees are administered in this system:
- The Degree of Knight Templar (Order of the Temple)
- The Degree of Knight of St. Paul (incorporating the Mediterranean Pass)
- The Degree of Knight of Malta (Order of Malta)
The Degrees or Orders
The Degree of Knight of the Temple (Order of the Temple)
The original medieval Order of Knights Templar was established after the First Crusade, and existed from approximately 1118 to 1312. There is no known historical evidence to link the medieval Knights Templar and Masonic Templarism, nor do the Masonic Knights Templar organizations claim any such direct link to the original medieval Templar organization. Though it has been said that its affiliation with Masonry is based on texts that indicate persecuted Templars found refuge within the safety of Freemasonry, the order itself states that “there is no proof of direct connection between the ancient order and the modern order known today as the Knights Templar.” The official motto of the Knights Templar is In Hoc Signo Vinces, the rendition in Latin of the Greek phrase “εν τούτῳ νίκα”, en toutōi nika, meaning “in this [sign] you will conquer”.
The Knight Templar degree is associated with elaborate regalia (costume) the precise detail of which varies between nations. The ritual draws upon the traditions of medieval Knights Templar, using them to impart moral instruction consistent with the biblical teachings of the Christian tradition.
The Degree of Knight of Malta (Order of Malta)
This degree is universally associated with the Masonic Knights Templar. In the York Rite system it is conferred before the Templar Degree; in the ‘stand-alone’ tradition it is conferred subsequently to the Templar Degree. It is known by varying degrees of formality as the Order of Malta, or the Order of Knights of Malta, or the Ancient and Masonic Order of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes, and Malta. In practice this last and fullest version of the name tends to be reserved to letterheads, rituals, and formal documents.
The ceremony for conferring the degree (which is always worked in full) contains a mixture of masonic tradition, historical accounts of the Order of St John, moral teaching, and the communication of modes of recognition between members. A series of banners is employed in the ceremony, each representing one of the great battles of the historic medieval Order of St John, whose story is the basis of the moral teachings of the degree.
The Degree of Knight of St Paul (Order of St Paul)
This degree is conferred as a prerequisite to becoming a Knight of Malta, in both the York Rite and independent ‘stand-alone’ versions of Knight Templar Freemasonry. The “Preliminary Declarations” of the Order of Malta ritual in England state of a candidate for the Order of Malta: “He must also have received the Degree of Knight of St Paul, including the Mediterranean Pass”. The exact status of the ‘Mediterranean Pass’ has at times led to confusion as to whether this is the ‘stub’ of a separate degree. The English ritual book clarified this in its 1989 edition (and subsequent editions) by stating: “The Mediterranean Pass is one of the secrets of the Degree of Knight of St Paul”.
This degree is close to being a true ‘side degree’, in that a small group (usually three) of members of the degree take the candidate “to one side” (i.e. apart on his own) and simply communicate the secrets of the degree to him, without actually working the ceremonial ritual of the degree. The only respect in which the degree fails to meet the definition of a true ‘side degree’ is that a Chapter of the Order is formally opened and closed by the presiding officer, on either side of the secrets being communicated.
The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross (Order of the Red Cross)
Unique to the York Rite, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross continues or reverts to the period of the Royal Arch Degree when the Israelites were returning from Babylon to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. Zerubbabel, their leader prevails upon King Darius to restore the Holy Vessels to the new Temple. They had been carried away by the Babylonian armies when the first Temple was destroyed. In presenting his plea before the King, the companion gives a powerful testimony to the almighty force of Truth.
The ritual places the candidate in the role of Zerubbabel and follows him through his journey to King Darius and his role in the Immemorial Discussion, as found in the apocryphal book, 1 Esdras. The purpose is to bridge the gap between Royal Arch Masonry, and the Chivalric Orders as well the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross teaches the lessons of the triumph of truth.
This Order is often considered a compressed version of the Order of Knight Masons.
It should not be confused with the Masonic Order known as the Red Cross of Constantine.
The Maltese cross, also known as the Amalfi cross, is identified as the symbol of an order of Christian warriors known as the Knights Hospitaller or Knights of Malta and through them came to be identified with the Mediterranean island of Malta and is one of the National symbols of Malta. The Maltese cross was depicted on the two mils coin in the old Maltese currency and is now shown on the back of the one and two Euro coins, introduced in January 2008.
In the mid 16th century, when the Knights were at Malta, the familiar design now known as the “Maltese Cross” became associated with the island. The first evidence for Maltese Cross on Malta appears on the 2 Tarì and 4 Tarì Copper coins of the Grand Master Jean de la Vallette-Parisot (Grand Master 1557-1568). The 2 and 4 Tarì Copper coins are dated 1567. This provides a date for the introduction of the Maltese Cross.
The cross is eight-pointed and has the form of four “V”-shaped elements joined together at their tips, so that each arm has two points. Its design is based on crosses used since the First Crusade. It is also the modern symbol of Amalfi, a small Italian republic of the 11th century.
In the 15th century, the eight points of the four arms of the later called Maltese Cross represented the eight lands of origin, or Langues of the Knights Hospitaller.
The eight points are said to symbolize the eight points of courage:
- Glory and honor
- Contempt of death
- Helpfulness towards the poor and the sick
- Respect for the church
Both the Order of Saint John (in German, the Johanniterorden) and the Venerable Order of St John teaches that the eight points of the cross represent the eight Beatitudes. The Order’s main service organisation, St John Ambulance, has applied secular meanings to the points as representing the traits of a good first aider:
The Maltese cross remains the symbol of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and other Orders of St John, and St. John Ambulance. In recent centuries, it has come to be adopted as the insignia of numerous orders of chivalry (for example, the Order of Saint Lazarus uses a green Maltese cross). In Australia, the Maltese Cross is part of the state emblem of Queensland.