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Chivalric Orders

The “degrees” of the commandery

The chivalric orders represent a new direction of Masonic thought and experience, in that they no longer refer to Ancient Craft Freemasonry, but to ideals and practices of chivalry and Christianity. The first order, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, presents the story of the Jewish Prince, Zerubbabel (in Hebrew: זְרֻבָּבֶל‎), and his efforts to secure permission of King Darius (in Farsi: داریوش) I of the Achaemenid Persian Empire to rebuild the Second Temple at Jerusalem. The next order, Knight of Malta, is a complete departure from Masonry based on the Tanakh (in Hebrew: תנ״ך‎) (the “Old Testament” of the Holy Bible) and is the first Christian order. Here, the candidate represents a knightly warrior of the crusades prior to his departure for Terra Sancta, the “Holy Land”. The last order is that of Knight Templar, the crowning glory of the York Rite system. Again, in this quite decidedly Christian order, the candidate represents a knightly postulant who desires to unite with a commandery of Knights Templar during the era of the crusades. After several trials to test his faith, courage, and humility, he is rewarded by achieving his desire.

•  Illustrious Order of the Red Cross
•  Order of Malta or Knight Hospitaler of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta
•  Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple
•  Past Commander or Knight Crusader of the Cross

Illustrious Order of the Red Cross:

In the middle of the Nineteenth Century, the feeling had become almost universal that the Order of the Red Cross was of slight importance, and was at best little more than a social observance. Hence the ceremonials were hurried over, the candidate was practically told that it was mere matter of form, and he went away profoundly impressed that the commandery was indeed a jovial institution. Never was a graver mistake, and the impression so made was more injurious than beneficial. The ritual now adopted can not fail to correct that erroneous view of the value of the order.

The Order of the Red Cross is generally conferred upon classes, and made the occasion of social intercourse among the members; for the healing of wounds, and the forming of new bonds of fraternity. The lessons of the ceremonies tend to these noble ends, and by conferring them with the dignity and pathos they merit those ends are attained.

This order consists of two sections:

(1) Zerubbabel (in Hebrew: זְרֻבָּבֶל‎) [the candidate’s] admission to the Jewish Council at Jerusalem, in which he is invested with permission and authority to travel to Babylon and attempt to obtain leave from King Darius (in Farsi: داریوش) I to stop the enemies of the Jews from hindering their progress in building the Second Temple at Jerusalem, as well as to recover the holy vessels of the First Temple which were taken as booty to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar II when he destroyed the First Temple, as depicted in the Super Excellent Master degree ritual. Zerubbabel is also given a sword to defend himself; a sash to remind him of his cause; and a password to get him by Jewish sentinels on his journey. Unfortunately, he is captured and made prisoner upon reaching the domains of King Darius.

(2) At the court of Darius, Zerubbabel renews his earlier friendship with the king, and is granted a position in the royal household. He then participates in a friendly contest with other nobles of the realm regarding the question: “Which is greater: the strength of wine, the power of the king, or the influence of woman?” Zerubbabel contends for the latter, and adds an additional factor: The force of truth. After delivering his declamation on women and concluding in favour of truth above all, Zerubbabel is declared the winner of the contest and is granted his desires by the king. To commemorate the occasion, His Majesty creates a new order, the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, and after an obligation, makes Zerubbabel its first member. Next follow the signs, grips, and words as well as a historical lecture. The body is styled a council. The cornerstone of this order is the all-important attribute of truth, and the importance of keeping one’s word. It foreshadows the words of Jesus Christ of Nazareth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the Life,” as quoted in John 14:6.

The banner of the order is green in colour. In its centre is a star of seven points, painted on gold, within which is painted the blood-red cross of the order, surrounded by the motto, Magna est Veritas, et Prævalebit, “Truth is mighty, and will prevail.” The letters on the arms of the cross are black.

The red cross of the order is of blood-red colour, of equal arms and angles, with the letters on the extremities of the arms, D T J L, in black. The four arms, thus indicating Deity, Truth, Justice and Liberty, commemorate our faith in God, and in the grand characteristics of the order. This cross is the jewel of the order, and may be properly worn by the members thereof, suspended by a green and red ribbon.

Order of Malta

or Knight Hospitaler of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Palestine, Rhodes and Malta:

The original Knights of Saint John, or Hospitalers of Saint John, afterward known as Knights of Rhodes, and finally called Knights of Malta, were a military-monastic order, established in 1080 C.E. to care for sick and injured pilgrims, and was militarised nineteen years later during the First Crusade. As early as 1018 C.E., some merchants from Amalfi, in the Duchy of Naples, being struck with the misery to which the pilgrims were exposed on their road to Terra Sancta, the “Holy Land”, obtained permission of Tāriqu l-Hākim, the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt, to erect a church and build a monastery near the site of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, which they dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. They entertained all pilgrims who came for devotion, and cure, the diseased among them. They became eminent for their devotion, charity, and hospitality. Saint John the Baptist, being their patron, they were called Brethren Hospitalers of Saint John the Baptist of Jerusalem, in order to distinguish them from the pre-existing Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. They took the black habit of the Hermits of Saint Augustine, and on the left breast wore a cross of eight points. In war, they wore crimson, with the white cross, but in their monasteries, and on the day of their profession, the black garment only.

This order actually consists of two: The Order of Saint Paul, or the Mediterranean Pass, which is a preparatory order, and the Order of Malta itself. The Order of Malta may be conferred in either full or short form. The full form is quite elaborate and beautiful but, alas, is not conferred by many commanderies. The short form is but a summary of the lessons taught in the full form, and this is what is described here.

The Order of Saint Paul is the first of the Christian orders contained in the chivalric system, and is based upon the story of the Apostle Paul (née Saul) who, en route to Rome for trial, was shipwrecked on the island of Melite (n/k/a Malta) in 60 C.E. The candidate represents a knight preparing to depart for the crusades in the Holy Land. He receives sustenance, both spiritual and physical, to gird him for the ardours of his journey.

In the next portion of the order, the history of the Knights of Saint John (Knights of Malta) is explained and the periods of the order’s history are paralleled with the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. While Freemasonry often comes under attack by fundamentalists who accuse the fraternity of being un-Christian, the candidate for admission into this Christian order can offer clear argument to the contrary.

The Order of Malta is a suitable preparation for the Order of the Temple, in that it provides the candidate with additional New Testament instruction, particularly in the Eight Beatitudes. The symbol of the order is the Maltese cross, its eight points symbolic of the Beatitudes and of the eight languages which once were spoken by its members. The candidate is created a Knight of Malta and invested with words and signs specific to the order. The body is called a priory.

The jewel of the order, depicted here, is the only jewel required for wear at all times on the uniform of a Knight Templar. Two bars are typically worn on the jewel: the upper bar identifies the fratre's grand commandery (generally his home state) on a black background, while the lower bar identifies his individual commandery on a white background. An eight-pointed Maltese cross is used for the jewel across the world, but the rendering varies by jurisdiction. The centre of the American version features eagle design, derived from pre-1885 renderings of the Great Seal of the U.S.

Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple:

The original Pauperes commilitones Christi Templique Solomonici (Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon), remain the most famous of the Christian military-monastic orders. Founded in 1119 C.E., following the First Crusade, to protect the safety of thousands of Christian pilgrims to the Regnum Hierosolimitanum (Kingdom of Jerusalem), the organisation existed until 1312 C.E. when Pope Clement V disbanded the order in the Vox in excelso and tendered most Templar assets to the Knights Hospitaler in the Ad providam.

This order begins with the candidate, a Knight of Malta, who, after soul-searching reflection and suitable answers to certain questions, seeks to unite with a commandery of Knights Templar.

To test his faith, he is directed to perform a certain number of years of pilgrimage. Being full of zeal and wishing to accomplish more useful deeds, he requests and is granted remission. He assumes a most solemn obligation, and then is obligated to a certain number of years of knightly warfare, as a test of his courage and constancy. Having satisfactorily performed these, he is admitted to the asylum of the Knights Templar, where he is a participant in certain memorial exercises to King Solomon (שְׁלֹמֹה) of Israel (יִשְרָאֵל‎), King Hiram (חירם) I of Tyre (צור), Grand Master Hiram Abif, and Simon of Cyrene. Accompanying these exercises is a reading of New Testament scripture and an inspirational slide presentation. He is then required to perform a time of penance in token of his humility. Following this, he seals his membership in the order in the most solemn, impressive and binding manner, and is duly dubbed a member of the Valiant and Magnanimous Order of the Temple. Again, he receives certain signs, grips, and words, as well as an explanation of the important accoutrements of Templary: the Grand Standard, the baldric, the commandery’s beaucéant, the sword, and the spur. The body is called a commandery. The relevance of this sublime order to the Christian Freemason can scarcely be overstressed. It provides a vivid connection between the Craft and Christianity. Especially relevant and meaningful is the address given by the Prelate (chaplain) during the course of the ceremonies.

Past Commander:

The Order of Past Commander is a side or “chair” order conferred upon present or past Eminent Commanders of commanderies in this state by the Illinois Knights Templar Past Commanders Association since the 1980s. It is conferred during the association's annual meeting held the day of the annual conclave of the Grand Commandery. While the presiding officer is styled "President", the subordinate officers' titles parallel those of the commandery, such as Generalissimo, Captain General, Prelate, Senior and Junior Warden, and so-on.

The induction ceremony, taken around a large cross-shaped table, involves brief lectures reflecting on each of the twelve principal degrees & orders of the lodge, chapter, council and commandery. With each lecture, the exemplar and the respective degree lecturer light a candle upon the table. The ceremony teaches the fratre to remember, and rededicate himself to, the oaths he took in each degree and the lessons he learned in them.

The symbol of the order is a bi-coloured shape of Illinois' territorial borders, in the centre of which is a blood-red crux ordinaria with a sunburst emanating from the intersection of the cross' arms. The two colours of the state outline are white over black, diagonally separated, alluding to the commandery's beaucéant. The blood-red crux ordinaria, or "passion cross" recalls the crucifixion of Jesus, circa 33 C.E., and his subsequent resurrection. The sunburst modifies the cross and forms the style of cross used by sitting and past commanders on their caps, left mantle breast, uniform cuffs, and uniform shoulder boards.

Knight Crusader of the Cross:

The Knight Crusaders of the Cross is a side or “chair” order conferred upon present or past Eminent Commanders of commanderies. It is not used everywhere, but is gaining in popularity across the country. The degree originated in Florida in 1969 and spread north. Typically it is conferred during the annual conclave of the state’s Grand Commandery. The body is styled an asylum, and has eight officers, the highest being the Knight Crusader of the East.

The induction ceremony opens with three brief lectures on Masonic Templary and the duties of a commander, followed by the arrangement of the candidates into a cross formation in the centre of the asylum, where they receive refreshment and are dubbed Knight Crusaders of the Cross. It concludes with a brief lecture on the ancient Knights Templar and an explanation of the Jerusalem cross, as well as the modes of recognition among knight crusaders.

The Jerusalem cross represents Jesus’ instruction to proselytise Christianity around the world, a mission that started in Jerusalem. It was part of the coat of arms of the Regnum Hierosolimitanum (Kingdom of Jerusalem) (1099-1203 C.E.). The most common heraldic interpretations are:

•  Four tau crosses, symbolising the Tanakh (“Old Testament”); and four crux immissa quadrata (Greek crosses), symbolising the New Testament.

•  The Four EvangelistsMatthew, Mark, Luke, and John – with Jesus in the centre.  Note also how the Evangelists’ Cross eludes to the banners of the four cardinal Tribes of Israel, and thus the supreme degree of Holy Royal Arch Mason.

•  Christianity, represented by the Teutonic cross, or “cross potent,” in the centre; proselytised by missionaries to the four corners of the world, represented by the four crux immissa quadrata.

•  Five crosses representing the Jesus’ five wounds when crucified.

The similar crusaders’ cross was borne on the crusaders’ banner prescribed by Pope Urban II for the First Crusade in 1096 C.E. The Jerusalem cross is distinguished from the crusaders’ cross by the bars at the ends of the Jerusalem cross’ arms.


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This site was last updated 09/06/14