Chivalric Military Orders


We are all called to serve God, but often we are called in different ways. Some live as pious civilians, some take vows as Priests or Monks or Nuns, some take up righteous causes.

This was no different in the Middle Ages, except that many found themselves called to serve God by putting their military talents to use in service to Christ and Christendom. The Military Orders were all founded with good intentions and often did good work, yet other times they did ill and broke the commandments.

The Knights Hospitaller are the most successful Military Order because they are one of the few that has survived until present day. They provided medical care to the sick and injured, fought to protect Europe from Ottoman Invasions, and opposed the Barbary Pirates. After losing Acre, Rome, and Malta they finally found a new headquarters in Rome and do hospital work once more. The Grandmaster of the Knights Hospitaller is Matthew Festing.

The Teutonic Knights were also founded to provide medical aid, and turned it’s attention to warfare. They used violence to force Pagan Lithuania to convert to Christianity, but afterwards waged wars against other Christians. This order’s lowest point was when the Grandmaster converted to Lutheranism and secularized the order land into the duchy of Prussia (replacing an [at least nominally] meritorious succession system with a hereditary one) yet the order survived this. Many branches of the order remained true to The Catholic Church, though Napoleon revoked all the Teutonic Chapter Houses and lands in his Empire leaving only the Austrian branch left. Since then the Teutonic Order reverted to a non-military monastic order focused once again on hospital work. The Grandmaster of the Teutonic Order is Bruno Platter.

The Livonian Order had a similar story to the Teutonic Counterpart. They fought in the Baltic, were allies of The Teutonic Order, and lost land and power when one of their Grandmasters converted to Lutheranism and secularized his order. Sadly, the Livonian Order has no successor as the order lacked chapters outside of the Baltic.

The saddest example of the Militant Order is the Knights Templar. They were founded by a handful of Crusader Knights to protect Christian Pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem and back, and gradually grew to be a major military force. They became great bankers as well, providing financial capitol and stimulating the economies of Catholic Europe. Sadly the King of France framed them for heresy and convinced The Pope to disband the order and kill all the knights. The only survivors either fled to Portugal or to The Knights Hospitaller. In Portugal they were re-branded as the Militant Order of Christ and continued their duties for a time, but gradually they were secularized until they became little more than a social club for the nobility. With the Portuguese Revolution the order was finally turned into little more than a metal of honor, and for some reason the Pope did the same thing to the Roman Branch.

What do you think of these orders? Do you think we can take any lessons or morals away from these stories of devotion to God? Do you want to talk about any other Militant Orders I left out? Do you wish some like the Livonian Order and the Templar Order would be resurrected (even if in a non-military context)?

Share and discuss.


IMHO the Knights of Columbus, founded
by Michael McGivney in the US in the
19th Century were and are true to their
mission of Charity, Fraternity and Patriotism.
They have expanded beyond the US and
now is world renowned to be a cause for
the Culture of Life and the Catholic Faith
wherever they have taken root.


Well, being that I am an instituted Knight of Malta (Sovereign Military Order of Malta i.e. SMOM, also known as the Knights Hospitaller), I am a bit biased, so I will refrain and “listen” to how others respond.

Just as an aside though, The Knights of Columbus do wonderful work and deserve much regard, but they are in fact a fraternal order and not a true “knighthood” of the Church, such as Malta, the Teutonic Knights or the Equestrian Order.


A little off topic, but how does one become a Knight of Malta?


As an instituted Knight are you then a professed religious?
I find it fascinating that the Knights of Malta have not one but two bishops - the Cardinal Patron and the Prelate, when most religious orders don’t have a bishop at all.


I looked it up, it is invitation only.

Basically you would need to volunteer for them for a few years.
Stand out from the crowd in your service and devotion, then they may invite you to join.
And like the other lay orders there is a year or two of formation before you are “official”.


Yes and No. Invitation yes, volunteer, not necessarily.

Membership in the Order of Malta is by invitation only and each prospective member must be sponsored by a member. The sponsor, a Knight or Dame, mentors the candidate throughout the year of preparation preceding his or her investiture into the Order. After approval by the Admissions Committee and the American Association Board of Councillors, final approval is given by the Sovereign Council in Rome.

Who can be considered for membership?

A good candidate is an exemplary Catholic lay person in good standing, residing in the United States, who has achieved or is achieving distinction in his/her field, who faithfully provides outstanding service to church and community and is willing and able to commit to the Order as expressed in the motto:

“Tuitio fidei et obsequium pauperum”
Nurturing, witnessing and protecting the faith and assistance to the poor and the suffering

What is the year of preparation?

Candidates spend a year in formation, during which they learn about the history of the Order of Malta, spirituality and hospitaller work. They attend Area and Association spiritual and educational events, volunteer in Order of Malta works or ministries and are invited to participate in the Lourdes Pilgrimage and Association retreats. At the end of the year, the candidates may express their commitment and complete their application.

What are the commitments?

It requires a serious intention of lifetime commitment to Order of Malta spirituality, defense of the faith and personal service to the sick and the poor, and the Lourdes Pilgrimage.

. . . and of course the ability to pay the initiation fee and annual dues, which are not insubstantial.


Yes and No.

The Order of St. John of Jerusalem is one of the oldest institutions of Western and Christian civilization. Present in Palestine in around 1050,** it is a lay religious Order**, traditionally of military, chivalrous, noble nature. Its 13,500 members **include Professed Friars and others who have made the promise of obedience. The other Knights and Dames are lay members, **devoted to the exercise of Christian virtue and charity. What distinguishes the Knights and Dames of Malta is their commitment to reaching their spiritual perfection within the Church and to expending their energies serving the poor and the sick.


FAQ - Order of Malta


:thumbsup:Very interesting post. My grandmother’s cousins the von Lillienschilds belonged to the Livonian Order, according to records the Gestapo consulted when her cousin Reinhold von Lillienschild was accused of being a jew. He wasn’t and had no jewish ancestry,. However he was warned by a friend that the Gestapo was going to arrest him anyways, so he fled to Milwaukee where his cousins the Steldts lived. He was not enarmoured of the Nazis , and so was on their list of trouble makers, though his exact activities in Germany at the time i don’t know.


They were pretty cool, but dividing the Church up into small organizations can be risky. There was plenty of infighting between the orders a long time ago.

Of course.

I’m partial to the orders from Spain. Not too many left.

I’d rather create a new order in the Americas that will work with the nations in North and South America, and actually be combat ready.


Outrageous and ridiculous. The Church is not in the “combat” business. Nor should it ever have been if it could have at all been avoided.


I didn’t say they were in the combat business. Nor does being combat ready imply instigating combat. The National Guard needs to be combat ready in case of domestic attacks, or even natural disasters.


There is nothing wrong with The Church being able to defend itself from enemies. In Rome the Pope has a Swiss Guard, but there are other churches in the world that need protection.

Imagine if there were lots of soldiers on ready who answer exclusively to The Catholic Church (either directly or through a Grandmaster). They could act as peacekeepers in civil wars in countries with Christian Majority Populations (the UN Peacekeepers are notorious for not being helpful), they could defend churches and parishes in countries where Christian Minority Populations get targeted for persecution, and I am sure revolutionary governments would think twice about launching anti-clerical or anti-christian mass-killings if they knew there were 10,000 Templars ready to ruin their day.


Wow, just wow.

Utter nonsense.


In the 1920s, a Mexican President named Plutarco Calles tried to remove religion from Mexico by effectively making Catholicism illegal; he passed violent anti-clerical laws, confiscated land that the Church legally owned, and he mass-murdered Catholics and catholic priests.
In response, the Catholics in Mexico rose up in rebellion in what would be known of as the Cristero War. During this war the Nights of Columbus raised $1 million in 1920s money (more when adjusted for inflation) to support fleeing refugees, spread information about Calles’s atrocities, and openly painted the Cristero Rebels in a positive light.

Earlier, in the 1880s, Italian Nationalists wanted Rome as their capitol despite Rome being part of The Papal States (an independent sovereign nation at the time). In order to defend his nation from Naked Italian Agression, the Pope formed an official volunteer army called the Papal Zouaves. Before the Pope surrendered, the Zouaves won several major victories and were even preparing for a counter attack.

To be clear, I am not advocating for any preemptive or offensive crusades or the like. I just want to stop seeing Christians murdered in the world and believe such things could be prevented if there was something like the Papal Zouaves around. Especially since the regular UN has a track record of doing nothing.

What do YOU suggest be done whenever a dictator or warlord decides to kill all the Christians in his country?


I heard the Swiss Guard and Gendarmerie Corps pack some nice equipment.

It would be a great thing to have a military order who could be sent to protect innocent Christians in hostile lands.


The world is already dealing with one private religious army - ISIS - and that’s quite enough. Definitely not the answer. As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye, and soon the whole world is blind.”


It’s ok, Jesus gives sight to the blind.


Even Jesus knew when to knock over market stalls.

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