The Knights of Holy Wisdom

A Homily for the Day of the Martyrdom of the Holy Templars

by Bishop Steven Marshall

In commemorating the Martyrdom of Jaques de Molay and the Holy Templars, we do not so much commemorate their martyrdom but their legacy of the Gnosis to us, their heirs. The Gnosis of which they were the custodians might be symbolized in the image of an underground stream traveling through time and geography to surface and appear at various times in history. The Templars then are one such upwellings or surfacings of the Gnosis within the various and superficially dissimilar trappings of time and culture.

Like many potent symbols of the Gnosis, the legacy of the Templars must be approached as a mystery rather than a collection of historical facts or various opinions about who they were. They bear both a historical dimension and a mythical dimension. Historically, the Templars were a military monastic order of knights charged with defending pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land in Jerusalem. They were called the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem. The historical and worldly facts concerning the Templars are not that impressive or inspiring. Their military campaigns in the middle east were mostly failures, as measured by the ambitions of the Roman Catholic Church. Their greatest claim to fame, according to historians, was that of serving as the first bankers. Yet, in a mythic dimension, they have served as a potent symbol of the guardianship of an esoteric and secret Gnosis. They are immortalized in the Grail story of Wolfram von Eschenbach as the custodians of the Holy Grail. Their rule was written by St. Bernard of Clairveaux, who himself was a mystic and devotee of Sophia in the Wisdom tradition. The mythic image of the Templar adept who is a keeper of the ancient wisdom of the East still lives in the hearts of the people of France. In the Templars’ travels to the holy land it is quite possible that they came into contact with a number of Gnostic-oriented groups, such as the Johannite Order of Oriental Christians, the Nazoreans, the Mandaeans and other esoteric traditions of the Middle East, and thereby came across such an ancient stream of Gnosis. From this may have developed a small enclave within the order who sought secretly to preserve these esoteric teachings and practices.

As a monastic order of traveling knights, they not only left their families but also their homelands to defend the passage to the Holy land. The standard which they wore was a red cross on a white tabard. In this way they left their families and took up their crosses to follow the road to the Holy City, Jerusalem. It is within this light that we might interpret the following saying from the Gospel of Thomas.

“Jesus said: Whoever does not hate his father and mother will not be able to be a disciple to me, and whoever does not hate his brethren and sisters and does not take up his cross will not be worthy of me.”

In the time of the Templars, to become a part of a monastic order was to leave the ties of family and to join a fraternity of similarly oriented people in an intentional and consciously chosen community. Those of the monastic community became one’s mother and father and sister and brother. As stated slightly differently in the Gospel of Matthew:

“And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me is not worthy of me. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother and my sister and my mother.”

For the Gnostic one of the important meanings of monastic life is the leaving of one’s biological and earthly family to join a spiritual fellowship. As St. Francis prays to God, “Wean my heart from all that is under heaven,” so the ties to our biological family are one of the things from which we must free ourselves, one of the things that is under heaven from which we must be weaned as well.

The Gnostic realizes that there is no guarantee that our family members are going to support us in our spiritual goals, but most often may even distract and obstruct us, particularly if we go against the worldly values of the culture into which we were born. As the Mandaean psalmist records, “In father or mother, I have no trust in the world. In brother or sister, I have no trust in the world.” Certainly the history of many gives more evidence for there being strife and enmity between the members of the family household. “And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” (Gospel of Matthew) Of course, this does not mean that we should have malicious intent towards our family members, or that we should eschew the love and friendship that may be there. What it means to the Gnostic is that the unconscious ties to the world represented by our biological parents are a limitation and must be broken before we can go on with our spiritual task. We even have idioms that describe this in our culture, when we talk about “untying mother’s apron strings.” Perhaps our living parents are not so much the problem, as are the interiorized parents, our Freudian super-egos which continually distract us with reminders of our worldly duties and obligations, and criticize us when we take an alternative direction in following the life of the spirit. It is these same voices of the herd mentality that prevent us from hearing the Call to our spiritual identity and purpose when we are called to take up our cross. We must break these unconscious ties to the world before we can take up our cross and become the errant knights of the Temple on the road to the Holy Land.

The Coptic word translated in the Gospel of Thomas as hate certainly did not have the connotations that the word “hate” has for us today. The word would have been originally spoken in Aramaic, a language noted for hyperbole and overstatement, then written down in Greek and Coptic, finally translated into English. In this process of crossing language barriers there are many opportunities to alter the intended meaning. As is the case in most religious literature, when a superficial interpretation of the text seems most obviously wrong, then another more symbolic and esoteric meaning is most likely intended. Ultimately we must dig to the source to find the meaning that a religious saying has for us as Gnostics; we must go to our connection to the root of truth, the Gnosis of the Heart. The insights that we receive may not be popular, and we may feel pressure to discount them so that we may keep peace with our friends, relatives and society at large, which we intuitively feel would be antatogonistic to an unpopular world-view. As stated in the Hermetic scriptures, “The gnostic pleases not the many, nor the many them.” Our first exposure to the many, our first source of the conventional world-view is through our association with our parents and siblings. And so the statement in the Gospel of Thomas, “Whoever does not hate his mother and father can not be a disciple to me.”

The message of liberation is not about keeping the peace in an oppressive world. An unjust peace is a false peace. It is simply the preservation of a status quo no matter how unjust and oppressive that status quo might be. The realization of the Knights Templar is that inaction or compromise to the darkness of this world was not a peace worth having. They did not join the crusade against their brother and sister custodians of the Gnosis, the Cathars; on the contrary, many of them fought to defend the Cathars against the armies of King Phillip of France. They did not blandly let them be destroyed to bring about an unjust peace.

To compromise with the world is ultimately to lose one’s “rest,” which can only be found in freedom from the shackles physical, psychological and social that prevent us taking an alternative direction away from the world and setting our destination on the Holy Land symbolic of our true rest in the Pleroma. “Jesus said: Men possibly think that I have come to throw peace upon the world, and they do not know that I have come to throw divisions upon theworld: earth, fire, sword, war.” (Gospel of Thomas) This is not a “namby pamby” Jesus who is going to come down from heaven and bring everyone peace and happiness on earth. The redeemer comes not to make a worldly peace but to overthrow the hold that the world has on us spiritually. Our part in this work is to strive to break away from our conventional status quo view of the world, we must undergo a fundamental alteration in our perception with insights into the existential realities of the world, insights that we must guard until we are wholly afire. The fire is a fire of transformation. “Jesus said: I have cast fire upon the world and lo I guard it until the world is afire.” The Redeemer both stirs and awakens that within us that calls forth conflict and resistance from the world, but also gives us that secret fire of Gnosis that we must guard and defend from that resistance. When we undertake the work of light, the darkness, the chaos of the world is not going to be nice to us. There is a divine darkness, a cloud of unknowing out of which the Light springs, but there is another darkness of this world that strives against the bearers of the Light. The many of the world may not like us; they may even persecutute us. This reaction of the world must be expected, and we must prepare to defend ourselves against it. “Therefore I say: if the lord of the house knows that the thief is coming, he will stay awake before he comes and will not let him dig through into the house of his kingdom to carry away his goods. You then must watch for the world, gird up your loins with great strength lest the brigands find a way to come to you, because they will find the advantage that you expect.” (Gospel of Thomas)

One essential insight of the Gnosis is that we live in a world of oppositions, that there is no transformation without conflict, no liberation without a corresponding resistance, no apotheosis of mortal to immortal without a struggle. As stated in the Gospel of Thomas; “Blessed are those who have been persecuted in their heart; these are they who have known the Father in truth.” Even as coal does not become a diamond without a great deal of heat and pressure, so we cannot come to perceive our own immortal and incorruptible light until we have burned away our attachments to that which is burnable and corruptible. As we break these worldly attachments and chains, the same cross which we take up in defense of the Gnosis, is the cross by which we crucify the world. “Blessed are they who have crucified the world and have not let the world crucify them.”

The Redeemer comes to liberate us from the Rulers and the Archons of this world. Yet the history of the world does not evidence that the transformation has been too successful thus far. This and the fact that most Messengers of the Light have had their missions cut short by persecution and death, shows that things can go wrong. There is not some great divine plan of redemption that does not require us to do anything in response to the darkness that we see around us. There are many plans and designs that are being worked out in this world, and not all of them are good, or in our best spiritual interests. Things can go wrong! The Gnosis can be lost, if when we receive it, we do not defend it. We must guard it, until the world is afire.

When we really know something, when we have an insight of Gnosis we must guard it. No one or no thing else is going to do it for us. The thrust of the world is to make us sleepy, make us forget that we ever had a transformative insight. Many social and psychological forces may encourage us to discount or deny it. However, in guarding our Gnosis, we must also guard against the tendency to get trapped by egotistical self-righteousness and an “I’m right and your wrong” mentality. The insights of Gnosis are a personal treasure and have nothing to do with who is right and who is wrong. The Templars guarded themselves aginst this ego-inflation by beginning each day with the following verse: “not unto me, O Lord, not unto me, but unto thy name be the glory.”

This guarding of the Treasure of the Gnosis takes place on both a personal and a collective level. The Templars banking activity grew out of the practice of guarding the wealth of those on pilgrimage to the Holy Land from thieves and brigands who lined the road to Jerusalem and delivering it safely to the pilgrims at the end of their journey. Even so, as a Church we have a role in guarding and enhancing the spiritual wealth of our Gnostic community, as we each make our pilgrimage back to the Light.

The historical role of the Templars was to guard the way of pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, the Holy Land. In their spiritual role they were the guardians of an esoteric stream of Gnosis, the knowledge of “the truth that sets free” that can show us the way to the Heavenly Jerusalem, that can guard us from the spiritual thieves and brigands, the archons of this world, that attempt to steel our treasure of Gnosis.

We are Knights of the Temple, the Knights of this Temple of the Gnosis. We have left the many of this world to stand alone and to stand with an invisible fellowship with which we have united ourselves in spirit, as we unite with a fellowship of Gnostics who exist everywhere, in every creed and race. We are guardians of a very sacred way, the holy road to the Heavenly Jerusalem. This is ours to guard and defend that the way of the Gnosis, that the road of the “truth that sets free” may remain open to the lost and exiled pilgrims of this world. In this way we take up our crosses as images of that Cross of Light which is the blazon of our way back to the Light that is the place of our true inheritance and our True Home.