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.