This is another of those Masonic mysteries, this one even some Freemasons believe. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your point of view) there is a lot in our rituals that come from the fertile and imaginative minds of our forebears of the 18th century. This time it is our French and German brethren (beginning with a Scotsman in France). Interestingly, there is quite a lot of information to be found; the earliest reference to Knights Templar and the crusades comes from an oration by ‘Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsay,1’ said to have taken place in 1737 in France. In this oration Ramsay, in his enthusiasm, compares the philanthropy of Freemasonry to the failings of many of the worlds historic leaders, stating that “,,,all political legislators have failed to make their institutions lasting. However wise their laws may have been, they have not been able to spread through all countries and ages. As they only kept in view victories and conquests,,,”
He states that military conquests cause only “the elevation of one people at the expense of another” whereas in Freemasonry “Mankind is not essentially distinguished by the tongue spoken, the clothes worn, the lands occupied or the dignities with which it is invested. The world is nothing but a huge republic, of which every nation is a family, every individual a child.”
He points out that the “interests of the fraternity shall become those of the entire human race, whence all nations shall be enabled to draw useful knowledge and where the subjects of all kingdoms shall learn to cherish one another without renouncing their own country.”
These are fine words that must be qualified with the inclusion of the word ‘voluntary,’ as membership of Freemasonry is simply that, voluntary. However, it is in this oration that the first known connection to the Knights Templars is made as this speech continues with this line:
“Our ancestors, the Crusaders, gathered together from all parts of Christendom in the Holy Land, desired thus to reunite into one sole Fraternity the individuals of all nations.”
The interesting theme from Ramsay is that of Christianity, his thoughts being that Freemasonry is descended from the Crusades, more over from the Knights Templar; their full name being ‘Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.’
It is possible that the inclusion in the full name of ‘Temple of Solomon” could be one reason for Ramsay’s ‘leap of faith’ into his belief that these were “our ancestors.” But there are many tall stories linking the Crusaders with Freemasonry.
The Templars, however, originally consisted of a group of knights who protected Christian Pilgrims travelling to the Holy Lands against attack from brigands and Saracen pirates, after the crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099. They took monistic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and pledged themselves ready to die for their faith. They were gradually transformed into a chivalric order of warrior monks who fought with distinction and great skill in the crusades.2
This is a powerful statement of Ramsay’s desires for Freemasonry. Ramsey was born in Scotland on January 9th 1681, raised as a Calvinist and later to convert to Catholicism in 1709 (although never entirely orthodox). He met with Duc d’Orleans who admitted him into the ‘Military Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem,’ giving him the title of Chevalier. James the Old Pretender was apparently persuaded to grant him a certificate of nobility. After travelling to Rome in 1724, he was introduced to Philip, Duke of Wharton. In 1729 he travelled to London where he was elected to fellowship of the Royal Society and was initiated into Freemasonry the following year before returning to Paris.
Chevalier Ramsay was once widely credited with introducing the Knights Templar lineage into Freemasonry, termed the ‘Orders of Chivalry,’ and for creating several such degrees. However, he did nothing more than deliver the above thinking in his oration, in which he expounded a Crusader transmission of Masonic teachings.3
Ramsay’s Oration includes this paragraph:
“At the time of the last Crusades many Lodges were already erected in Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and from thence in Scotland, because of the close alliance between the French and the Scotch [sic]. James, Lord Steward of Scotland, was Grand Master of a Lodge established at Kilwinning, in the West of Scotland, MCCLXXXVI, shortly after the death of Alexander III, King of Scotland, and one year before John Baliol mounted the throne. This lord received as Freemasons into his Lodge the Earls of Gloucester and Ulster, the one English, the other Irish.”
He concludes within this paragraph the following:
“In this happy age, when love of peace has become the virtue of heroes, this nation [France], one of the most spiritual of Europe, will become the centre of the Order.,,,,,”
Whilst Andrew Ramsay may have summed up Freemasonry during this oration, he completely fabricates (or misbelieves in) the connection of the Templars of the Crusades with Freemasonry. Prior to this oration there is no mention of any such connection at all.
It is necessary to point out that in the first acknowledged ‘Book of Constitutions’ [Anderson 4 1723] includes a “history of Freemasonry.” This book is actually entitled ‘The Constitutions of the Freemasons containing the History, Charges, Regulations, etc. and the history’s opening words are: “Adam, our first parent, created after the image of God, The Great Architect of the Universe, must have had the liberal sciences, especially geometry, written in his heart,,,,,,” It is important to note here the first of the ‘Ancient Charges,’ which states:
“A Mason is oblig’d, by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and If he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Centre of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.”
Definitely not requiring Christianity above all others.
An older, but similar Book of Constitutions, this one entitled “The Old Constitutions belonging to the Ancient and Honourable Order of Free and Accepted Masons,5” and immediately following this it states “Taken from a Manuscript wrote about 500 years since,” dated MDCCXXII (1722). This also contains a history, and is simply entitled “The History of Free Masons, etc.”
Note here that the Regis MS has now been dated to around 1390, the Cooke MS to the 1400’s.
This ‘older’ history begins: “The Almighty Father of Heaven, with the Wisdom of his glorious son, through the goodness of the Holy Ghost, be with our beginning, and give us his grace to govern our lives, shall come to his beliefs (spelt ‘blifs’) that never shall have end.” You will no doubt acknowledge from this introduction the heart of the Christian belief of The Holy Trinity of ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Spirit).’ The book of Constitutions, although published in 1722, is believed to belong to a guild of operative masons as it contains a date of 1663. It is also important to note the first of the ‘Ancient Charges’ here:
“I am to admonish you to honour God in his Holy Church, that you use no heresy, schism or error in your understandings, or discredit men’s teachings.”
Here, however, the term “God’ in his Holy Church” does appear to imply Christianity, especially as the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity is the foremost statement in this history.
But also note that there is no mention of Crusades, Knights Templar or any such ancestry in either of these Books of Constitution. I have also searched through the ‘Ancients’ (England’s alternative Grand Lodge) constitutions, the Ahiman Rezon of 1756 (some 19 years after Ramsay’s Oration), and no such mention is made here either.
However, after his oration, and in France, many Rituals were created, the first being that of ‘Scots Masonry’ which must be noted has absolutely nothing to do with the Grand Lodge of Scotland, nor with the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. The chief idea that runs through the Scots Masters is the discovery in a vault by Scottish Crusaders of the long lost and ineffable word – also, that in their search they had ‘the sword in one hand and trowel in the other.” This epoch refers to the crusaders, not that of Zerubbabel’s (or the second) temple. It is stated also that “we do not even know if the title referred to one degree only or to a series; the former is probable.” It is believed that the Scots Master degree (or degrees) were created around 1740. This would be the first ritual whose theme is the crusades and is a departure from that of ‘pure Freemasonry” that evolved from the guilds of operative masons, and to which all the above constitutions belong.
A point of interest, the Scots Masters claimed to be superior to that of a Master Mason, “he wore distinctive clothing and remained covered in a Master Masons’ Lodge and in every Lodge, even as a visitor, he ranked before that the Worshipful Master.” Scots Masters Lodges were “Mother Lodges” with the power to warrant other Lodges. They also developed extended systems of degrees of their own.** The earliest of all, it is suggested, was by the Masons of Lyon, who manufactured the Kadosch Degree (in 1741) which represented the vengeance of the Templars. One of these Scots Masters Lodges warranted a great number of Lodges throughout France, also in the Levant and the colonies. This system travelled to Germany and established Lodges there, but they were short lived as they were soon absorbed by the Clermont System. They became stepping stones to the lowest Chapter degrees and shortly after the Clermont Chapters were annihilated by the Templar system of the Strict Observance. At this time new rites multiplied in France and Germany, and all those of French origin contained Knightly, and almost all, Templar grades.
Many of these Rites took the name ‘Scottish’ to designate the whole system, for example the Scottish Philosophical Rite. The Chapter of Clermont was a Templar continuation of the Scots Degrees, which probably grew (according to Gould) into the Emperors of the East and West, which in turn blossomed into the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite 33° some time later.
**According to a MS in the possession of Dr Georg Kloss when he wrote his “History of Freemasonry in France,” (as referenced in Gould’s Vol III 1) the date of which he fixes at 1751 (latest), the sequence of degrees apparently in most general use in France shortly before the rise of the Chapter of Clermont was as follows: 1°, E.A.; 2°, F.C; 3°, M.M.; 4°, Perfect Master, or Irish Architect; 5°, Select Master; 6°, Scots Apprentice; 7°, Scots Fellow Craft; 8°, Scots Master; 9°, the Knight of the East.
The Chapter of Clermont remains a bit of a mystery, except that it took its rise in France. According to French Historian, Claude Antoine Thory, this system was based on the first three degrees in Freemasonry, the Scots or St Andrew’s Degree, and three ‘higher’ degrees, 5° The Knight of the Eagle or Select Master, 6° The Illustrious Knight or Templar, 7° The Sublime Illustrious Knight.
This brings us to the next two Rites, or groups, namely the ‘Knights of the East’ and the ‘Emperors of the East and West.’ According to German Masonic historian, Dr Georg Kloss, the Knights of the East was one of the earliest systems of “improved” Masonry. Other well known historians apparently overlooked them, or considered them an offshoot of the Emperors of the East and West. But if Kloss’s account is to be believed, the rivalry between these two systems must be attributed the sorrowful picture of discord presented to the Grand Lodge of France, 1660-1680. It is considered that the Emperors were a continuation of the Clermont system. In 1766 the Knights took a defeat in this rivalry, thereby the newly established ‘Sovereign Council of the Knights of the East’ issued a circular instructing them to cease working all Templar degrees; the Emperors certainly did still work the Templar Degrees.
The bickering continued in France leading to the compulsory closure of the Grand Lodge in 1767 (it resumed work in 1772). Meanwhile, a body called the Sovereign Council of Paris united in 1762 with the Sovereign Council of the Princes of the Royal Secret to formulate the grand constitutions of the system, or the Rite of Perfection, or Heredom, or the Emperors of the East and West (apparently all these names refer to the same association.) This Rite comprised 25 degrees in 7 classes: the first class comprised Freemasonry, the second 5 additional degrees, in the fourth class we find the 13° to be the Knights of the Royal Arch, in the fifth class, 15° Knight of the East, 17° Knight of the East and West, 18° Sovereign Prince Rose Croix and the number 5° in the seventh class being the Sovereign Prince of the Royal Secret. It is interesting to note that these constitutions are still acknowledged (at least at the time of Gould’s writing Vol III1) by the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite 33° as the groundwork of their parent system.
The final Rite to be mentioned in this sorry tale of rivalry is the Rite of Strict Observance, of which Gould opens his sketch with these words: “Of all the wonderful perversions of Freemasonry which owe their origins to the fervid imagination of our brethren of the last [18th] century, none can compare in point of interest to the system of the Strict Observance.” For the first 20 years this system either lay dormant or made minimal progress, during the next 20 years it pervaded all continental Europe to almost the entire exclusion of all other systems, within the next 10 years it practically ceased to exist. These words, taken directly from Gould’s Vol III1 sum up what I am sure many a Mason and non Mason alike has a tendency to believe, however, as the opening of this paragraph implies, this is a complete fabrication:
“The whole system was based upon the fiction that at the time of the destruction of the Templars a certain number of Knights took refuge in Scotland, and there preserved the existence of the Order. The sequence of Grand Masters was presumed never to have been broken, and a list of these rulers in regular succession was known to the initiates; but the identity of the actual Grand Master was always kept—during his life-time—a secret from every one except his immediate confidants, hence the term, “Unknown Superiors.” In order to ensure their perfect security these Knights are said to have joined the Guilds of Masons in Scotland, and thus to have given rise to the Fraternity of Freemasons.”
This was a bold claim of the continued existence of the Ancient Order of the Temple (or the poor fellow soldiers of Jesus Christ) and to endeavour to reinstate it in its former possessions, organisation and privileges. The hitherto restricted numbers were to be expanded only from the ranks of Freemasons, and only at the “proper period” (whenever that may be) would the Grand Master make himself known. In the words of Robert Freke Gould, “all this was extremely ridiculous,,,, and it was suspected that this [secretive] Grand Master was the Young Pretender (Charles Edward Stuart 1720-1788).
Much of the Rite of the Strict Observance is attributed to Von Hund, but he was not quite the first link in the chain, his forerunner was C. G. Marschall von Bieberstein, whose identity remans slightly a matter of doubt, this may be because the Principle Grand Master of Upper Saxony was H. W. Marschall.1 However, after Marschall’s death in about 1750, Von Hund assumed the position of Provincial Grand Master. Note here that he was not the ‘Grand Master’ of the Rite of Strict Observance as he, and his confidants, were kept strictly ‘secret,’ assuming they ever existed at all (They were thought to reside in England4). Von Hund conferred with brethren who were supposed to be in Marschall’s confidence, but Von Hund himself stated that, failing advice from his superiors, he determined to carry out the restoration of the Templars as best he could. He (Von Huns) and two other brethren of the Naumburg Lodge (Bros. Schmidt and Von Tanner) are believed to have arranged the rituals and all other matters. It was in the Naumburg Lodge that the first financial scheme was worked out, as without funds it would be impossible to restore the Order of the Temple.
A special dress or uniform that resembled the Old Templars was adopted. In the very first, or Entered Apprentice Degree an oath of implicit and unquestioning obedience to the superiors was exacted, hence the title of Strict Observance. The 5° was the Noviciate, the 6° and last the actual Knighthood.
Freemasonry in Europe in the mid 1700’s was in a sorry state, with the take over of the Rite of Strict Observance almost completely obliterating English (pure) Freemasonry, especially in Germany, whilst in France a solitary Lodge, remained loyal to it’s English constitution and maintained working the three ‘pure’ degrees.
To sum up this interesting history from the fervid minds of our Masonic ancestors in Gould’s words:
“Foolish and unnecessary as it will always appear to destroy the original beautiful simplicity of the Craft, the great evil of these innovations lies in their destruction of an important principle. Freemasonry is founded upon the perfect equality of all its members, and its governing body is an elective and representative one. In fact the Craft governs itself. But in almost every one of these new systems, with scarcely an exception, the governing power is autocratic and irresponsible. A hierarchy is formed, each superior degree directs without appeal those below it, and the highest class rules all the others. Each class is self-elected, that is, it receives into its sacred circle those only whom it pleases, so that those of the lower classes have no voice whatever in the administration of their affairs or in the election of their rulers. This one consideration alone precludes these systems from ever being entitled to call themselves Masonic. They are not and never can be Freemasonry. They are simply separate societies, all of whose members happened to be Freemasons.”
But as Freemasons are aware, Templar and Knight degrees are still practiced. In the York Rite (USA), the third group is The Grand Encampment, Knights Templar (the Chivalric Orders) and comprises the following Degrees:
- Order if the Knights of Malta
- Order of the Temple (broken into three portions)
- Knight Crusader of the Cross
Membership of this section is restricted to Christian Freemasons only; a definite violation of the ‘Ancient Charges” of 1723.
In the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite 33° there are several Rites within the overall Scottish Rite (as in York Rite), they are:
- Lodge of Perfection, degrees numbered 4°-14° comprise no Templar or Knight degrees.
- Chapter of Rose Croix, comprising:
- 15° Knight of the East or Sword
- 16° Prince of Jerusalem
- 17° Knight of the East and West
- 18° Knight Rose Croix
- • Consistory, comprising 14° of which four are Knight degrees:
- • 25° Knight of the Brazen Serpent
- • 28° Knight of the Sun
- • 29° Knight of St Andrew
- • 30° Knight Kadosh
Finally, in England, under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Mark Master Masons comes the Knights Templars, which peculiarly has a full title of:
‘The United Religious, Military and Masonic Orders of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta in England, Wales and Overseas.’
One description of this group begins “The Sublime Order of Christian Freemasonry is open to Royal Arch Masons of good standing and who express a belief [in] the Christian Faith. Once again, in total violation of the ‘Ancient Charges” of 1723.
So, despite Templar and Crusader degrees having been easily shown to have no connection with the true Knights Templars, or the ‘Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon,’ they are still in full swing today across the world, with two of the groups unashamedly violating the original principles and tenets of Freemasonry with respect to the first ‘Ancient Charge.’
These may have been derived from the imaginations of our 18th century Brethren, modified and perfected over the years, today they must surely still carry a lesson in moral and social behaviour, and that of a daily improvement of ones self, else how could they belong as concordant degrees in Freemasonry?
Being an English Freemason, with only ‘pure’ Freemasonry running through my veins, I have not ventured further than the first three ‘pure’ degrees, a double ‘serving’ in the Chair of my Lodge, and completed my third degree in a Royal Arch Chapter. Also, being of curious mind, I have enjoyed the degrees of Mark Master Masons and Royal Ark Mariners. However, as Pure and Ancient Freemasonry is open to all who express a belief in a Supreme Being, be that connected to any organised religion or simply a belief in God, I would decline membership of such groups that exclude brethren from different faiths.
In this sketch I have tried to be as concise as possible, but as there is much written regarding Templar Masonry I recommend that if the reader wishes to read further, he/she consults my first reference1, and any other reference to be found within this volume.
1 The History of Freemasonry – Vol III – Robert Freke Gould
4 The Constitutions of the Freemasons containing the History, Charges, Regulations, etc. of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity.
5 The Old Constitutions belonging to the Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons
These articles are written by W Bro Steve Froggatt PPJGD, former Chaplain of Neptune Lodge No 5150 EC. Steve was initiated into Freemasonry in 1986.They do not represent the view of any Grand/Provincial Grand Lodge.
© Copyright 2019 Al-Khabar/Stephen Froggatt all rights reserved