My first assignment as a brand new commissioned Army officer was a disappointment for me, at least initially. Due to the on-going Vietnam War I was assigned to the Quartermasters Corp, located at Fort Lee, Virginia. I hadn't left the South yet! Actually the work was important, even though I carried out most of it from an office. It was about supporting our combat troops, seeing to it that they received the materials and equipment that they needed.
Being a quartermaster warrior was actually a serious learning experience, in that the work provided me with a comprehensive overview of Army operations all over the world. Looking back, it was a good first assignment for a greenhorn. Also, this particular assignment did me another favor.
The Citadel military institute is actually a state-sponsored school, hence all its cadets are members of the R.O.T.C.. So initially I was commissioned as a Reserve Officer of the Army. But because of the Vietnam War I was activated into the Regular Army and given my assignment to Fort Lee. Thus, I decided to make my future career continuing as an officer in the Regular U.S. Army.
Nearing the end of my Quartermasters assignment, I requested and received an assignment into the U.S. Army Chemical Corps. This assignment corresponded more to my academic background. Hence I headed off to Fort McClelland, Alabama. I was still in the South. First in training and then into work, I remained pretty much office bound. But eventually that would be interspersed with field work, which entailed temporary duties at various biological and chemical warfare establishments--such as Fort Detrick in Maryland, Pine Bluff in Arkansas, and the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, Finally I was beginning to break loose and get around to other parts of the country.
But back at Fort McClelland I once spotted an old cemetery right in the midst of the base. A small cemetery, it was strangely arrayed with iron crosses. This puzzled me, but I eventually discovered what this was all about.
Being a bachelor officer, naturally I spent a lot of my spare time at the Officer's Club. The Fort McClelland Officer's Club was a splendid place, burnished brown with mahogany woods, its walls were studded with Army heraldry. Anyway, one night I was talking to a couple of older officers at the Club--and I asked them about that cemetery. Turned out to be a fascinating story. During World War II Fort McClelland was the site of a prisoner-of-war camp for German captives. Some of these P.O.W.s died here, hence the small cemetery full of iron crosses.
Hardly thinking, I blurted out suddenly a question about the Iron Cross. I wondered aloud where the idea of the Iron Cross came from, what was its history? The two older officers became more enlivened and told me that initially the Iron Cross was the symbol of the medieval Teutonic Knights. This excited me. I knew a little about these Germanic knights, but not much. I told my fellow officers about my interest in knighthood; and they responded positively, mentioning that they too entertained a similar interest.
Quickly I was back in the library, checking out books on the Teutonic Knights. They were a religious warrior order that crusaded against the pagans in Middle Europe, though they did have a small presence in Outreemer during the Crusades--in Jerusalem and the Middle East. They were not dissimilar to the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar.
The Knights Hospittaler were the earliest of these religious warrior orders, founded in 1080 c.e.. They were monastic-oriented knights originally formed to build and oversee hospitals in Jerusalem, which were designed to care for sick pilgrims. Eventually the Hospitallers extended their duties, providing an armed escort for pilgrims.
The Knights Templar initially were originated in 1118-1119 c.e. At the beginning they were a small unit, composed of only nine knights who bound themselves to defend the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. They were provided quarters in a part of the remnant of Solomon's Temple, and they were assigned to escort pilgrims from Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan.
And returning to the Teutonic Knights, they were the last of these medieval religious warriors to be formed. Following the Hospitallers and the Templars, they were founded at the end of the 12th century. Though mainly German-based, in the Baltic States, they did play a small role in the Middle East--controlling the port tolls of the Syrian port of Acre.
As I was ploughing through the general background of these religious warrior orders, I began to realize that I wasn't going to get very far towards understanding the nature of these special knights unless I came to grips with the history of the medieval Crusades in the Middle East. This seemed a very huge task, indeed. But I was determined. These nearly mythical knights were almost like ancient Greek sirens, luring me towards them.
After more research I discovered that actually there were some six Crusades that spanned over nearly two centuries. As follows:
- The First Crusade essentially began in 1095 c.e., when the Pope put out a call to the knights of Western Europe to undertake a holy war to free the Holy Land from Muslim control.
- The Second Crusade was preached up in 1146 c.e. by Bernard of Clairvaux.
- The Third Crusade, ranging from 1189 to 1192 c.e. was organized to recoup the losses of the second.
- The Fourth Crusade lasted from 1202 to 1204 c.e.
- The Fifth Crusade went on about a year, in 1228-1229 c.e.
- The Sixth and final Crusade ranged from 1248 to 1254 c.e. And in 1291 c.e. the last of the Crusader Kingdoms in the Holy Land fell to the Muslims.
Lots of blood was spilled over this two-century period. And in the end, all for nought. From what I could glean, at the beginning of this period there was a desire to unify Christianity--or at least towards bringing more closely together Western Christianity (centered in Rome) and Eastern Christianity (centered in Constantinople). However, early on Constantinople was under the threat of a Turkish attack. So the First Crusade started out, perhaps, as a rescue mission. Unfortunately, along the way--at about just every stop--Christian forces massacred Jewish inhabitants who had the misfortune to live in these areas. While there was a crusading army present nearby, the crusaders went on to capture the city of Jerusalem.
The following five Crusades focused on keeping the Holy Land under the control of the Christians. There surely was also an economic reason lurking behind all this endeavor as well. Western knights established principalities and kingdoms in the Holy Land. Also the control of the Holy Land and outlying lands in the Middle East--oft called "Outreemer"--prompted trade between this area and Western Europe. Besides all this, there was the religious tourist business called "pilgrimages."
So it was not surprising that the three major religious-warrior orders were at first called to protect the pilgrims as they moved into the Middle East and the Holy Land. Traveling along these routes was dangerous, where one could be robbed or lose their life.
As for the crusading knights, well a goodly number of them were what we might call "free-lancers." Factually a far cry from those mythical knights we so honor, Western knights were a rough lot--mostly illiterate, and sometimes downright thugs. The popes probably had it in the back of their minds to channel these knights into what they deemed a more honorable cause. Send them off crusading for the honor and expanse of Christendom would keep them from causing trouble in their own neighborhoods. To expedite the mobilization of these knights into the Crusades there was the granting of papal indulgences on a large scale. These indulgences stated that participation in the Crusade would ensure the bearer--upon death--of an immediate entry into Heaven. Also, due to some theological manipulation, it was deemed no sin to kill a non-Christian.
So off these knights went, fighting back and forth with the Muslims, only by the end of this two century period to retreat in defeat--leaving the bloodied Holy Land to the Muslims. I guess that's war, popping up, going forth to and fro, only in the end to stop, to be forgotten over time, yet *so* serious for those thrown in its midst. And it's with this that I started targeting in on the religious warrior orders.
War often results in a lot of chaos, if there isn't much discipline. These religious warrior orders rose to the task of discipline. They were knights who made specific religious commitments, and ultimately grew into very powerful medieval organizations. These religious knights became the shock troops, the spearhead of the Crusades.
As I continued to review these three orders of religious knights, I felt more and more drawn to focus mostly on the Knights Templar. Starting from the "Poor Knights of Christ," those first nine knights, they literally exploded upon the scene, racing over their own two-century history like a wildfire.
In the meanwhile I had temporarily to give up my research into the Crusades, and especially that which focused on the Knights Templar. I received another Army assignment and was transferred to the White Sands Proving Ground near Los Cruces, New Mexico. This proved to be an interesting assignment, in that it involved advanced weapons testing and development. Historically, the testing range included the old Trinity site where the first atomic bomb was exploded, where Robert Oppenheimer quoted a Hindu saying: "I am become Death." Looking back, one can say that all these weapons we have developed hence conform to the ominous thinking of this nuclear scientist back in 1945.
But I hadn't yet been swept into this kind of ominous thinking. I was an Army officer, an imaginal knight, standing on the front lines of the Cold War, serving the military interests of my nation. So being stationed at White Sands was a step up for me. Not only the Army, but also the Navy and Air Force were involved in special weapons development at this base. Even NASA had a research project related to the astronauts program at this base. It was like a dream from my old Citadel days, back even then when I was thinking of working in the area of advanced weapon systems.
And, occasionally, I escaped the desert of White Sands. Periodically I would have the occasion to go up the road, where I consulted with scientists at the famed Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratories--oddly nestled in the remote beauty of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. I was in my milieu!
I was still a bachelor and happy, too! But early into this new assignment I met someone with whom I wanted to share my life and raise a family. Unfortunately it didn't turn out for me. A failed relationship can eat the life out of you. I spent months walking around in a daze, only eking out just enough energy to keep my mind and work afloat. Finally I decided I needed to talk over this issue with someone. Though not a church-going person, I decided to talk with the base's chaplain. That was a good move on my part, in more ways than one.
Through the chaplain's kindness, I worked through my failed romance and eventually just let it go. Once again there was a bounce in my step and a sparkle in my eye! But looking back with hindsight, meeting with this particular chaplain proved most profitable in another way. It turned out the chaplain was actually a Benedictine monk. That seemed the darned-est thing meeting a monk in an army uniform! Quite awhile later I found this good chaplain-monk very helpful in yet another way.
Finally, after a long hiatus, I once again jumped back into the Crusades; but, this time, I narrowed my research--focusing strictly on the role of the Knights Templar. Something deep within me was stirring. Even before really understanding much of who the Templars were, I felt a kinship.
As I mentioned earlier--nine knights under the leadership of one Hugh de Payens arrived in Jerusalem sometime around 1118 c.e. Jerusalem's King Baldwin granted them housing near the Temple as their residence. Eventually their association became permanent, in that this small group of knights took monastic vows before the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Their early seal depicts two knights astride one horse, not only reflecting their monastic poverty but also their vows of obedience and chastity. As one historian put it, "To combine monasticism and war was to make a temporary departure from scriptural teaching into a permanent change of attitude."
These Poor Knights of Christ were urgently needed to defend against the infidel. So these poor knights went quickly from just protecting pilgrims unto militarily helping to preserve the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In turn these poor knights not only made a job change but, also, a role change!
Due to the considerable influence of Bernard of Clairvaux, who at the time was a very popular Cistercian abbot, the Church provided these knights with a new name and a new rule. These poor knights were inducted into the new "Order of the Temple," ostensibly penned after their living quarters in Jerusalem. Originally following a simple rule provided by Augustinian canons, they were now given a new Rule written by St. Bernard himself. Often people figure this new Templar Rule was a partial from a Cistercian Rule, but that is not the case. The New Rule of the Knights Templar is actually a mix of the Benedictine Rule and good common horse sense!
The Cistercians were (and are) a monastic order that actually follows the Benedictine Rule, only in more "strict observance." Much later I acquired both the later Templar Rule and the Benedictine Rule; and, putting them side-by-side, sometimes the wording of the two rules--at least in parts--was virtually the same.
At this point I decided that eventually I would have to learn more about the monastic lifestyle. I suppose like a lot of folk who are interested in the Knights Templar, one must wonder about their being warrior-monks or particularly monks. From what I could glean, these tough knights really did take their monastic duties seriously. So right off I felt that I needed to understand what these duties might entail.
Consequently I decided to go talk to my chaplain friend, who also happened to be a Benedictine monk. I didn't tell him of my interest in the Knights Templar, but did make mention that I was involved in a personal project wherein I needed to understand the monastic lifestyle. Perhaps thinking I was considering a more religious life, he suggested I pay a visit to a nearby Benedictine abbey located fairly nearby in the mountains between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. I had some annual leave coming, so I let the chaplain make the arrangements for a week's stay at this abbey.
Driving up to the abbey I had to admit that this all seemed one of the strangest things I had ever done in my whole life! Need I say that I was a wee bit nervous about this venture. But Fr. Dunstan, a friend of my chaplain, who met me, immediately put me at my ease. Throughout the week I lived in the monastery and essentially followed the rituals of being a monk. I attended their call to prayer, four times a day, starting incredibly early in the morning until compline at night. I also attended their daily liturgy at noon, where a monk-priest called their congregation to share in communion.
The abbey itself was interesting. Roman Catholic, it nevertheless exhibited a very ecumenical perspective. Much to my surprise, this Benedictine abbey specialized in Jungian Studies as such applied to the spiritual life. Still very much a muddlehead, I barely knew anything about modern psychology. Talking with Fr. Dunstan, I finally blurted out my interest in the Knights Templar--trying to figure why they seemed so important to me. He gave forth with a laugh. Smiling, he simply mentioned that likely I was groping with an "inner archetype" and projecting it onto the Knights Templar. Well, once I returned to base, I knew right off that I was going to look-up the meaning of "archetype". Beyond this, Fr. Dunstan very kindly gave me a Benedictine reading-list about the monastic lifestyle--along with a little booklet containing the "Rule of St. Benedict." Armed with all this, I headed back to White Sands.