As Carl Olson is reporting over at Ignatius Insight Blog, NBC is in production with a mini-series designed to take advantage of the da Vinci Code craze. This current production, The Last Templar, is based on a book of the same name, written by Raymond Khoury.
Of course, this new production will undoubtedly engage in some pretty awful Catholic-bashing. BUT IT’S ALSO ANTI-CHRISTIAN. Carl links his readers to an article by Robert Lockwood. Bob Lockwood is on the Board of Directors for the Catholic League (very good organization), and serves as Director of Communications for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Here are two partial quotes from Lockwood’s article:
In The Last Templar, our intrepid couple track down the diaries of Jesus, which had been discovered in the Holy Land during the Crusades by the Knights Templar. The diaries reveal that all that stuff about miracles, salvation and the Resurrection was a fabrication of the Church to consolidate its power.
Khoury’s book takes that anti-Catholic tenet and gives it a New Age twist. He describes the alleged purity of the original teachings of a thoroughly human Jesus mouthing pious platitudes.
In each case, however, is the clear idea that the Catholic Church had repressed the true teachings of Jesus and is simply the invention of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century.
So, in an effort to do what I can, let me offer some facts about the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar did indeed grow out of the Crusades. The Crusades, of course, were a series armed pilgrimmages (1095-1270), designed to free the Holy Land from Islamic tyranny and ease passage of Christian pilgrims to these places. As time went on, these Crusades became less of a Church-organized activity, and more of an attempt by the growing secular rulers to gain wealth/power for themselves.
The word “crusade” comes from the insignia that all these armed pilgrims wore – a cross sewn onto the clothing. The first Crusade began in 1095 after Pope Urban II made a call for the armed passage at the Council of Clermont (“Dieu le veut” – “God wills it”). The first Crusaders, against odds, reclaimed Jerusalem in 1099, with Godfrey of Bouillon taking the title “Defender of the Holy Sepulchre” and controlling the city and its environs.
In 1118, while the Crusaders still held Jerusalem, but the position was becoming difficult to maintain, nine French knights took a vow of defending the city. The king at the time, King Baldwin II, allowed them to use the Temple area of the city as their headquarters; therefore, the new military order took the name “Knights of the Temple”. The Knights adopted the Benedictine Rule and its white habit, adding a red cross.
To start with, the Knights Templar were poor. Their original seal shows their poverty by depicting two knights having to share one horse! (But Wikipedia has a good discussion concerning the seal and other explanations.)
However, their order began to grow in number as it combined two key ingredients: 1) religious fervor and 2) military prowess. Plus, the order quickly became the darling of Church officials, and the Knights’ property became exempted from any church – or even secular – taxes and tithes. (Ah, the good old days when kings listened to popes!)
They were also a favorite beneficiary when people wanted to make a donation or to leave property in a will to a monastic order . Consequently, the Knights became very wealthy as an organization.
Soon, other military orders began to grow. (See: the Knights of Malta and Teutonic Knights.) An idea was floated to combine the military/hospitaller orders to prevent rivalries. It didn’t get anywhere – yet.
The Templars owned land north-and-south, east-and-west across Europe to the Holy Lands. Soon, their monastic houses became centers of the early banking industry. For example, a pilgrim heading to Jerusalem could deposit money in a Templar house in Paris. He would be given a coded receipt. As the pilgrim moved across Europe, he need only find the Templar house in the area to present his receipt and make a withdrawal in…Rome, Athens, Jerusalem, anywhere.
Soon, very rich people – AND THIS IS KEY – including the King of France, began saving money with the Templars and borrowing money from them. King Philip the Fair was at war with England and in debt with the Templars to pay for that war. If he could find a way to put the Templars out of business, and get his hands on the Templar holdings in France … well, that would be sweet.
So, King Philip begins an investigation into accusations that heretical things happened at the secret Templar initiations and meetings. Philip issues secret orders for the mass arrest of all Templars on the same day – Friday, Oct. 13, 1307. As the Templars were technically under the authority of the pope, however, Philip was not authorized to conduct the investigation. Using torture, Philip extracts confessions from some Knights.
(In the backgroud, we must remember that Philip had been giving Pope Boniface VIII fits about taxing church property to pay for his secular wars. It was at this time that Pope Boniface issues Unum Sanctum, which contains the famous phrase, “extra ecclesium nulla salus” or “outside the Church there is no salvation”. Philip actually sends an armed guard to arrest Boniface, who dies shortly after being released. The next pope elected, Pope Clement V, is actually an old friend of Philip. Clement V is anxious to mend the relationship between the papacy and the king, and e moves his palace from Rome to Avignon – starting the long Babylonian Captivity of the Avignon Papacy.)
So, here we have Philip conducting illicit investigations and torture of Templar Knights – and he gets a confession. (Most Knights will later admit that they lied about their “heretical” activities in order to save their lives.) Some Knights are burned as heretics when they refuse to admit any heresy, and some Templar property is taken. Philip appeals to the pope to declare the whole order heretical, and to place Philip in charge of the property.
Pope Clement V, however, finally puts his foot down; and he orders an investigation of the order. This is when many of the “confessed” knights are given a chance to recant. Across Europe an investigation is carried out. When the verdict is returned, there is NO EVIDENCE that the Knights Templar is an heretical organization (though it might contain the individual heretic or two).
Pope Clement V, however, concedes that the reputation of the Knights is now such that it could cause scandal to the Church. So, Clement dissolves the Knights and gives all its property to the Knights of Malta.
As an end to this long post, let’s examine the legend of the Grand Master of the Knights Templar – Jacques de Molay. De Molay had pled guilty of certain acts, notably forcing the new recruits to deny Christ and spit on the crucifix. By pleding guilty, a person accused of heresy would be turned over to the Church for punishment – and not to secular officials and certain death.
As it was, de Molay was set to be reconciled to the Church with public admission and some sort of penance. At the last moment, however, in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, de Molay declared his complete innocence of all charges. Unfortunately for him, this made him a relapsed heretic – a heretic hopelessly beyond all reconciliation and fit only for the stake.
By Philip’s order, de Molay was burned at the stake. Legend has it that from the midst of the smoke and flames, de Molay called Philip the Fair and Clement V to appear with him before the tribunal of God. Both the king and the pope died shortly within the year, their fate being known only to God at this time.
So, it remains to be seen what NBC will do with the story of the Templars. I have a feeling they just won’t get it right. What do we do if they completely get it wrong, and make the Catholic Church out to be the bad guys? Do we send them to Spain for the Inquisition?
Naw, that might be too good for them.