Revised by Albert Pike
When St Jean d'Acre, the ancient Ptolemais, on the Southern side of which was Mount Carmel, was besieged for nearly two years by the Christian forces under Guy of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem; Conrad, Marquis of Montferrat; and other Princes and leaders from every country in Europe; and especially by Henry VI of Germany, son of Frederick Barbarossa (joined, near the end of the siege by Philip Augustus of France and Richard Coeur de Lion of England), the besiegers were so long afflicted with famine that they ate the flesh of horses with joy, and even the intestines sold for ten sous. Men of high rank and the sons of great men greedily devoured grass; the starving fought together like dogs for the little bread baked at the ovens; they gnawed the bones that had already been gnawed by the dogs; and noblemen, ashamed to beg, were known to steal bread. Constant rains added to their miseries; and Saladin, Sultan of the Saracens, whom his people called the Elect of God, with a vast army from every portion of his dominions, harassed them with constant attacks.
Sickness also, caused by the rains and the intense heat, decimated the Christian forces. The wounded German soldiers, whose language none of the others understood, could not make known their sickness nor their necessities. Certain German nobles from the cities of Bremen and Lubec, who had arrived at Acre by sea, moved by the miseries of their countrymen, took the sails of their ships and made of them a large tent in which for a time they placed the wounded Germans, and tended them with great kindness. Forty nobles of the same nation united with them, and established a kind of hospital in the midst of the camp; and this noble and charitable association, like the Knights of the Temple and of St John of Jerusalem, soon and insensibly became a new Hospitaller and Military Order. This was in the year 1191.
In 1192, Pope Celestin III, at the request of the Emperor Henry the 6th, solemnly approved of the Order by his Bull of the 23rd of February. He prescribed as regulations for the new Knights, those of Saint Augustine; and, for special statutes in all that regarded the poor and sick, those of the Hospitallers of St John; in regard to military discipline, the regulations of the Templars. This new Order, exclusively composed of Germans, was styled The Order of Teutonic Knights of the House of St Mary of Jerusalem. After the destruction of the Templars, they were also known as Commanders of the Temple.
The first name was given them because, while the city of Jerusalem was under the government of the Latin Christians, a German had erected there at his own expense a Hospital and Oratory for the sick of that nation under the protection of, and dedicated to, the Holy Virgin. Their dress was a white mantle with a black cross. Before assuming the habit, they were required to swear that they were Germans of noble extraction and birth and to bind themselves for their whole life to serve the poor and sick and defend the Holy Places. They, like the Hospitallers, were required to take three solemn vows: ever to adhere to the truth; to attend and nurse the sick and wounded; and never to recede before the enemy.
Truth is the first Masonic duty: to leave the path of duty is to recede before the enemy; and therefore you have taken the three vows of the Teutonic Knights and Hospitallers in a still more noble and enlarged spirit.
These were the common objects of the three great military orders which were always the generous Defenders of the Holy Land. To them was at first applied the phrase, found in the Book of Ecclesiastes, "a three-fold cord is not easily broken". The Teutonic Knights soon became one of the most illustrious of the Military and Religious Orders. The three were the chief strength of the army around Acre. The siege advanced slowly, and Acre surrendered on 13 July, 1191.
In 1223, Herman von Salza, 4th Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, was present at a celebrated assembly convened at Ferentino in Campania by Pope Honorius III to deliberate concerning the mode of raising succours for the Holy Land. It was attended also by the Pope, the Emperor Frederick II, King John of Jerusalem, the Bishop of Bethlehem, the Grand Masters of the Templars and Hospitallers, and other distinguished personages: and it was by the influence of Herman von Salza that Frederick espoused and married the daughter of the King of Jerusalem and engaged in a new crusade.
In 1226, most of the Teutonic Knights went from the Holy Land to Prussia, the people of which were still idolaters waging a cruel war against their Christian neighbours, murdering priests at the foot of the altar and employing the Sacred Vessels for profane uses. Conrad, Duke of Masovia, called the Teutonic Knights to his assistance and gave them, as a commencement for their establishment there, the whole territory of Culm with all lands they should conquer from the Infidels. Von Salza, the Grand Master, sent thither a Knight called Conrad von Landsberg, who concluded the Treaty which was signed by the three Bishops of that country. The Knights then entered those Northern Countries and by continued wars acquired in time the entire sovereignty of Royal and Ducal Prussia, Livonia, and the Duchies of Courland and Semigal, all vast provinces and capable of forming a great Kingdom. And when, in 1291, the Sultan stormed and took St Jean d'Acre, the Teutonic Knights that survived returned to Europe and joined their brethren in Prussia and Livonia.
For many years the Teutonic Knights held Prussia as a fief depending on the Crown of Poland, the former struggling for independence and the latter obstinately asserting its right of sovereignty. Albert, a Prince of the House of Brandenburg, elected Grand Master in 1511, engaged keenly in the quarrel and maintained a long war with Sigismund, King of Poland; but adopting the doctrines of Luther, he made a treaty with Sigismund by which that part of Prussia belonging to the Order was erected into a secular and hereditary Duchy, and the investiture of it granted to Albert who bound himself to do homage for it to the Kings of Poland as their vassal. Immediately afterwards, he publicly professed the Protestant faith, and married a Princess of Denmark. The Knights exclaimed so loudly against his treachery that he was put under the ban of the Empire; but he kept his possession of the Province he had usurped and transmitted it to his posterity: and in process of time it fell to the Electoral Branch of the family; all dependence on Poland was shaken off, and the Margraves of Brandenburg took the title of Kings of Prussia which so became one of the leading powers of Europe.
Times change, and circumstances: but Virtue and Duty remain the same. The Evils to be warred against but take another shape, and are developed in a different form.
There is the same need now of truth and loyalty as in the days of Frederick Barbarossa.
Qualities religious and military, attention to the sick and wounded in the Hospital, and war against the Infidel in the field, are no longer blended: but the same duties, to be performed in another shape, continue to exist and to environ us all.
The innocent virgin is no longer at the mercy of the brutal Baron or licentious man-at-arms; but purity and innocence still need protectors.
War is no longer the apparently natural state of society; and for most men it is an empty obligation to assume that they will not recede before the enemy; but the same high duty and obligation still rest upon all men.
For Truth, in act, profession, and opinion, is even rarer now than in the days of chivalry. Falsehood has become a current coin, and circulates with a certain degree of respectability because it has an actual value. It is indeed the great vice of the Age it, and its twin sister, dishonesty. Books are published and read by thousands detailing the experiences of a life of knavery. Men for political preferment profess whatever principles are expedient and profitable. At the bar, in the pulpit, and in the halls of legislation, men argue against their own convictions and, with what they term logic, prove to the satisfaction of others that which they do not themselves believe. Insincerity and duplicity are valuable to their possessors, like estates in stocks, that yield a certain revenue: and it is no longer the truth of an opinion or a principle but the net profit that may be realised from it which is the measure of its value.
The Press is the great sower of falsehood. To slander a political antagonist, to misrepresent all that he says, and if that be impossible to invent for him what he does not say; to manufacture and put in circulation whatever utterly baseless calumnies against him are necessary to defeat and destroy him these are habits so common as to have ceased to excite notice or comment, much less surprise or disgust.
There was a time when a Knight would have died rather than utter a lie or break his Knightly word. The Knight Commander of the Temple revives the old Knightly spirit, and devotes himself to the old Knightly worship of Truth. No profession of an opinion not his own, for the sake of expediency or profit or through fear of the world's disfavour; no slander of even an enemy; no colouring or perversion of the sayings or acts of other men; no insincere speech and argument for any purpose or under any pretext must soil his fair escutcheon. Out of the Chapter as well as in it, he must speak the Truth and all the Truth, no more and no less; or else speak not at all.
To purity and innocence everywhere, the Knight Commander owes protection, as of old; against bold violence or those, more guilty than murderers, who by art and treachery seek to slay the soul; and against that grim want and gaunt and haggard destitution that drive too many to sell their honour and their innocence for food.
In no age of the world has man had better opportunity than now to display those lofty virtues and that noble heroism that so distinguished the three great military and religious Orders in their youth, before they became corrupt and vitiated by prosperity and power.
When a fearful epidemic ravages a city and death is inhaled with the air men breathe; when the living scarcely suffice to bury the dead; most men flee in abject terror, to return and live respectable and influential when the danger has passed away. But the old Knightly spirit of devotion and disinterestedness and contempt of death still lives, and is not extinct in the human heart. Everywhere a few are found to stand firmly and unflinchingly at their posts, to front and defy the danger, not for money or to be honoured for it, or to protect their own household: but from mere humanity and to obey the unerring instincts of duty. They nurse the sick, breathing the pestilential atmosphere of the hospital. They explore the abodes of want and misery. With the gentleness of woman, they soften the pains of the dying and feed the lamp of life in the convalescent. They perform the last sad offices to the dead and they seek no other reward than the approval of their own consciences.
These are the true Knights of the present age: these, and the captain who remains at his post on board his shattered ship until the last boat, laden to the water's edge with passengers and crew, has parted from her side, and then goes calmly down with her into the mysterious depths of the ocean; the pilot who stands at the wheel while the swift flames eddy round him, and scorch away his life; the fireman who ascends the blazing walls and plunges amid the flames to save the lives or property of those who have upon him no claim by tie of blood, or friendship, or even of ordinary acquaintance; these, and others like these; all men who, set at the point of duty, stand there manfully; to die, if need be, but not to desert their post: for these too are sworn not to recede before the enemy.
To the performance of duties and of acts of heroism like these, you have devoted yourself, my Brother, by becoming a Knight Commander of the Temple. Soldier of the Truth and of Loyalty! Protector of Purity and Innocence! Defier of Plague and Pestilence! Nurse of the Sick and Burier of the Dead! Knight, preferring Death to abandonment of the Post of Duty! Welcome to the bosom of this Order!