knightBy Peter Paul Fuchs, 32

“Templar: Was’t not that good fellow, the Lay-Brother,

Whom the Patriarch so gladly uses

To scent out matters…

The trick’s not bad, to send

Simplicity, before rascality.


Nathan:   Yes the stupid, –not the pious.


Templar:  In the pious no Patriarch will believe…

So he pretends….”


  • Lessing, Nathan the Wise, Act V[1]

The idea that Freemasonry is deeply connected with Templarism goes back a long way. Modern scholarship has disproved any direct line of connection. But there remains a veritable cottage industry devoted to trying to revive the idea. Perhaps we can see in the persisting desire to see a connection a more profound point. Let’s consider whether there is a more basic fundamental sense that Templarism and Freemasonry share in light of intellectual history. It is going to be quickly clear that the problem in this is that Templarism was not a movement given to intellectual expression per se. To answer the question we will have to reconstruct these matters using the probabilities of cultural history. The great importance of the symbol of Templarism for the Craft surely provides justification for this approach.

The attraction to Templarism as a  type of philosophy runs into an important roadblock.

Likely no such thing ever existed. Yet if we proceed with a notion of the “philosophy” of the Templars, the quotation marks can help us distinguish this difficult sense from the ideology which can be more clearly described, as Edward Burman has done. Still, the case can be made that discussing a Templar “philosophy” is necessary at this point for two reasons. 1.) Given the plethora of speculations on Templar thought, which assume the de facto existence of such a philosophy, there would seem no real way to counter it but by trying to sketch what their “philosophy” would have been even if quite secondary or tertiary in importance for them. And 2.) Given the uncontroversial fact that Templar imagery has been and continues to be very attractive in Freemasonry, it is useful to have a deeper sense of what their “philosophy” would have been, both to simply avoid exaggeration, and to perhaps make some very general and potentially poignant links if such exist. Such linkage will clearly come in general cultural history, not exact historical correspondence.

First it is wise to keep in mind what the world of the general knight of the period would have been to set all of this in context:

“Fighting was the chief function of the feudal male….Throughout his life the knight spent most of his time practicing with his arms or actually fighting.  Dull periods of peace were largely devoted to hunting on horseback such savage animals as the wild boar. The knight ate enormous meals of pastry and game washed down with vast quantities of wine or ale. He kept his wife continuously pregnant, and saw that his house was well supplied with concubines to while away his leisure hours. In short the ordinary knight was savage, brutal and lustful. At the same time he was in his own way devout. He accepted without question the teachings of the church and was deeply interested in the welfare of his soul. He had a private chaplain, commonly chosen for the speed with which he could say mass…Most knights scrupulously observed the rites of religion. They were, however, little troubled by Christian ethics.”[2]

Having this realistic perspective on what the proclivities of the knightly class would have been is very helpful in diverse direction in terms of the Templars. On the one hand, it removes any real expectation that they would have had a philosophy per se. As knights we should not be surprised that they were devoted to other things, for generally the sociological  ethos of the knight  simply meant something else. On the other hand, though still knights, the Templars were different. Their status as a religious order of sorts, and the severity of their Rule they chose, makes it prima facie likely that the very scrupulosity towards the rites of religion described above would have, in the context of a quasi-religious order,  at the very least provided for some increased ambit of reflection on the themes of the religion. So with justice, comparatively, we can speak of a “philosophy” of these historical actors as long as the realistic limits of the knightly class are factored in.

But whereas our discussion of a Templar “philosophy” must be thoroughly contextualized to make sense, a Templar ideology is a much more straightforward matter. Edward Burman has made this brilliantly clear especially in his emphasis on the formative role of Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard “embodied the complex aims and inherent contradiction of the Knights Templar in his own person.”[3] What matters for our line of thought here from Burman’s careful summary is that the famous Rule of the Templars is conceptually connected with the severity of Cistercian discipline. Of course this is saying a lot in itself. But what might not be as obvious is that this very gestalt, again embodied in Bernard himself, seems to imply a certain agonistic relationship with high-flown intellectualism and specious reasoning. “[Bernard] challenged…philosophical speculations and rationalism…”[4] in his very activities of supporting the burgeoning Templar ideology and rule. That the Templars’ most important champion engaged agonistically with high-flown speculation in relation to the founding of the order tells us something important. Even though most Templars were probably illiterate[5], and probably only one in ten was actually a knight[6], still the vigor of Bernard’s ideal for a knightly religious order had a profound effect. We know at least some Templars were literate, and it is therefore justified to assume that their point of view would have reflected the general impatience of Bernard in respect to high-flown speculation. This leads us into a very interesting consideration based on intellectual history.

The quotation from Nathan the Wise by Lessing, a famous Freemason, poetically brings us close to an important starting point. Lessing meant by “Lay-Brother” specifically a mendicant friar[7]. This famous Freemason’s connection of a Templar with a mendicant friar is very telling. For certainly it has not been noticed enough that the period when the Templars had trouble is close to the period of the infamous Antimendicant Controversy in the Church as well. The Antimendicant movement was very complex, and its intricate waxing and waning around this period is far beyond our scope here. But it is important that it involved “demonstrations and riots”[8] against the begging friars like the Dominicans and Franciscans. One of the most crucial characters in the drama was a character named William of Saint –Amour.  He wrote one of the most important Antimendicant manifestoes in which he, “warned of imminent dangers of antichrist and his ministers.”[9] by which he meant the Mendicant Friars! So we should not be surprised that even a famous scholar like Thomas Aquinas suffered repeatedly and considerably from abuse because of this. This even rose to the point of being attacked in the street, and having to live in house -of -residence under armed guard.[10]

Since both the Templars and the Mendicants came under attack at times not too distant from each other, there seems room to consider what a connection might be between them. Of course this is not immediately easy to do for simple reasons. The Mendicant Friars, like Aquinas, came under attack partially because some of them were great scholars and thus threatening the careers of scholars from the secular (diocesan) clergy at places like the University of Paris.[11] But the Templars were knightly sorts, and hardly scholars. But this does not mean prima facie that there is not a connection. But it does mean that whatever the connection is, it will probably not be in direct expository concurrence, but somehow in a cultural ethos, affirmatively or negatively.

A great impetus for the special Papal provisions given to Mendicant orders was based on the hope that they would revive the teaching of theology. This need was seen as especially pressing because of the perceived need to gear- up to intellectually fight the infidel. But there was a problem. The average member of the secular clergy was very poorly trained in theology and philosophy. Furthermore, the instructors at the famous Universities who came from the secular clergy were blamed for having created a deplorable state. The complexity of the Antimendicant Controversy comes largely from the seculars feeling threatened by the more rigorous approach of friars like Aquinas the Dominican and Bonaventure the Franciscan.[12]

Yet as a general matter we are certainly justified in seeing the Templars’ attitude in relation to this as one, comparatively speaking,  of reflecting the more “tolerant” and “broad-minded” notions of those who actually had contact with the Holy places. This often overlooked attitude, as described so trenchantly by Ernle Bradford, sharply distinguishes those who had contact with the more complex religious realities of the East from those more religiously fanatic views of Western Europe. Bradford ascribes this both to contact with Islamic civilization with its sometimes complex creedal tolerances at this period, as well as the more general ethos of Byzantium which was far more religiously inclusive than the West. This more “tolerant” sense that Bradford identifies forms a rich background for any more particular description of phenomena in the period. Especially since, in popular lore, it seems counter-intuitive to the crusading ethos. With this insight we can see that almost paradoxically the very activity of crusading, and it locus,  being closer to Islamic civilization and Byzantium perforce facilitated a more “broad-minded” set of assumptions, even within the more aggressive (protective)  intents of military orders.[13]

A layer of detail  enters our argument at this point because it is clear that many Templars were illiterate, as was the most famous Jacques DeMolay. One scarcely needs to observe that this was not an indication of lack of intelligence or class at this period, as most knights were probably unable to read or write. But what does need to be explicitly clarified is that in the Templars’ peculiar case this illiteracy of some did not mean that they were outside the realm of religious, philosophical, or theological foment and detail. Unlike a very high percentage of the population in Western Europe who would never have the least personal experience of syncretic religiosity in a very religiously homogeneous culture, the Templars were in a rarefied position. Even if their  personal experience of the infidel was limited to highly antagonistic engagement, that still meant that they were in some touch with a religion that was utterly unlike Christian culture particularly as it concerns  its univocal religious character. As the great Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis tells us:

“The vast expansion of Arabs under the early caliphs brought into the Islamic fold great numbers of imperfectly Islamicized converts who carried with them from their Christian, Jewish and Iranian background many religious and mystical ideas unknown to primitive Islam…Most of these had traditions of political legitimism, the latter exemplified in Judeao-Christian Messiah of the House of David, and the Zoroastrian Saoshyant of a God-begotten line through which the divine light is transmitted from generation to generation.”[14]

The insight we should draw from this is not that the Templars would have had some hidden or cryptic gradual identification with such syncretism. Rather we should see the opposite as the road to real insight here. The Templars would have been aware, as those in Europe would not have been, that what had to be fought conceptually and theologically was not the grave “errors” of Islamic belief, philosophy, and theology, but a grab bag of religious ideas in the syncretic soup of Islam at that period. In fact if we pause to anatomize what this syncretic mixture would have been, we easily come to several further insights:

1.) The Templars would likely have had much more real- world experience of syncretic religiosity than almost anyone ever in Western history. But this would likely have made them more hostile to the “heathen” than before. The temper of the age, as seen in burgeoning of scholastic theology was to argue against the  exact peculiarities of  of what was assumed to be orthodox Moslem belief, and its use of philosophy. The Templars would have been both attuned to the true syncretism of the matter as a live, weird reality, and simultaneously understood  that the  tenor of  the Scholastics’ arguments missed the mark from the propaganda perspective.

2.) At the same time knowledge of the possibility of the syncretic construction of religiosity inexorably changes perception generally, and surely would have done so for the Templars who did not have the possibility of hyper-rationalization as an internal defense. It could easily dove-tail with the basic skepticism as a given in the personality of the man of action.

3.) This knowledge of syncretism may provide a better way of understanding why the Templars themselves came to be accused of heretical beliefs. In dealing with an increasingly scholasticized ecclesiastical culture, these men-of-action – some of the even illiterate!  —  would have had a hard time explaining what they had experienced. Imagine, for sake of argument, myriad interactions between at least some Templar representatives and ecclesiastical grandees coming from the increasingly scholastic culture. In trying to explain that in fact what they were fighting was not so much Islam but a weird, syncretic  mixture of beliefs, a tragic misunderstanding could easily have occurred. The scholastically- minded could easily have mistaken the skepticism of the Templars as to the aim of scholastic polemics ( i.e., that they were in fact not aimed at the syncretic realities on the ground) for a confused defense of such bizarre syncretism. In a culture with an increasingly high-flown scholastic edifice as its bulwark of faith against the infidel, any questioning might surely have been seen as odd identification with the other side. Not as a loyal probing from the same side. This was both a misunderstanding based information, and on temperament.

So with these three factors in mind we can see how this deadly miscommunication could likely have occurred. The Templars were both better informed from having been “on the ground” with the infidel, but also gradually uniformed about the increasing change in the culture at home,  in terms of gradual efflorescence of canonical legalism bolstered by the expanding culture of Scholasticism. This last point on legalism has been made widely by many sources as an explanation of why the Templars, and particularly De Molay, missed so many cues that might have saved those more clued- in. But with our foregoing insights we should see the Templars’ misapprehension of growing scholastic  legalism as related to their real world skepticism, and  also their rather flummoxed inability to handle to complexly burgeoning scholastic  culture  thrust upon them. The syncretic religious “apple of good and evil”, if I may put it that way, was likely something few had experienced in Western culture ever. But the Templars experienced it because they wanted to fight for their faith, and were thrust into a odd environment religiously. This is the rub. Yet as we said, the reality could have made things so difficult that only a great intellectual could have parsed it. Very few Templars, if any, were probably even  intellectuals, to say nothing of great ones. Even so, I think the very religious topography itself , which we know historically they would have encountered, would have  inexorably forced them into a crucible of philosophy, theology, and syncretic belief. A crucible  for which they were ill- prepared. If we can balance this vexed conceptual state with the native smarts and skepticism which we must assume of people with the Templars’ business acumen, we get a more realistic picture by which to assess a very delicate state of affairs. Given the great financial success[15] of the Templars, which is in no way historically in dispute, we must assume a great deal of intelligence on their part. This intelligence makes it likely that they would have, on some level, understood the basic outlines of this vexed matter. A matter so delicate that it lead to their utter demise.

Though Masonry itself has often dealt with the Templars from a legend-making impetus, even so, significantly, a sleuth’s ambition specifically informed by  the wise symbolism of Masonic ritual may have its place, in an ambit where so much precise historical debate to really solve the case has had varying results.  Almost oddly this Masonic view may be  an historically canny take on the very predicament that produced the Templar’s demise. Let me say in passing that, generally, I believe it strongly shows the wisdom of the Masonic ritual perspective, even for wider analysis.  Because  a Masonic scholar has come up with one of the best explanations, presumably using the Craft’s wisdom to explain the matter. Masonic scholar, John H. Van Gorden, has  forthrightly[16] highlighted some of the less appealing aspects of De Molay’s Grand Mastership in a way that resonates with the candor of which we have been speaking. “[DeMolay] began to crush intellectual tendencies in the Order.”[17] But with all we have essayed here we can also discern how DeMolay’s anti-intellectual fervor, even seizing of books, was related to a state of overwhelm brought on by the complex realities of the rising culture of Scholasticism we have described.

Further, this confused state of a very noble man could have made him a real “mark” for royal schemes. Since we now understand how the scholastic maze could well have been used against the Templars, we can read Gorden’s very shrewd observation with comprehension for the wider realities implied:

“DeMolay consistently followed a course that could not have suited Philip more if the French king had directed the Grand Master’s every move. Perhaps Philip did. A suspicion –a suspicion supported by little evidence except DeMolay’s actions —arises that Philip or the Pope …duped the Grand Master into a disastrous course.”[18]

With this poignant understanding it becomes even more crucial to understand the means by which all this could have happened. Namely the other side of this balance needed to complete the picture, the Mendicant friars themselves, the avante-garde of the burgeoning scholasticism. Though the Mendicants might have been unaware of the reality on the ground, a reality the Templars understood very well, certainly in terms of intellectual understanding they were scarcely on the same earth. They were also easily ahead of the secular clergy doctors who were antagonistic against them. But if this whole matter ultimately revolved around religious complexity and the conceptual ability to understand it, then there is  a more detailed  layer relating to these daring scholastic innovators themselves. While it is easy to acknowledge these famous Mendicant scholars as more rigorous in comparison to what existed, there is an important caveat. And it is the following.

It is crucial for the argument presented here to stress that much of their thought was based on an historical misunderstanding. And to stress further that this is not a matter of intellectual dispute. It is necessary to tread carefully, still,  through this matter of verifiable intellectual history. For, with our overarching theme of Masonic philosophy, must come a respect for creedal assertions. Even so, it has for a long time been understood that an important part of their intellectual deliberation came from the source now called the Pseudo-Dionysius. All surveys of medieval philosophy treat the pseudoepigraphical nature of this source candidly, and have done so for a long time. But strangely few distill the central importance of this source as cumulative matter  so candidly as Weisheipl   does  in his  biography of Aquinas, when he notes that, “the one who influenced Thomas and indeed all his contemporaries was Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a man purporting to be the disciple of St. Paul mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles….The alleged antiquity …gave…an authority second only to the canonical books of Scripture.”[19] We should focus on what enormous influence this would mean.  Also the obvious fact that using a corpus of thought like this which had a status second only to scripture would have been likely been the driving reason for using it in the first place. If the principle work given preeminence second only to Scripture itself  was the Pseudo-Dionysius then this reorients, or at least should, why so much of  intellectual history was involved with the corpus. Again, to say the obvious, it was a matter of authority, a grave matter indeed in medieval society.

On the other side, one of the reasons that it has been difficult to limn the broad characteristics of a Templar ethos is that their essentially non-intellectual character is seen as a potential detriment vis-à-vis a philosophy. In other words, if you are looking for a Templar “philosophy” the lack of an explicit one is an obvious problem. And this problem is compounded by the fact that in their famous trial all sorts of false things were imputed to them partly because they had not explicit notions to offer as a check to those assertions. But perhaps we can see their lacunae as something more than knightly bravado, being too busy for fancies like thinking. It would strain all credulity to believe that the men who joined the Templar Order and brought it such riches and success, were not clever. By commonsense, based on their practical success, we can reasonably impute to them a basic worldly candor, cleverness and even hard-nosed skepticism.

With this sense we can quickly see that the vast realm of intellectual life of the period, which was almost one hundred percent theological, could easily have given a smart, worldly person some pause. Part of the reason this has been difficult to discern is because the massive influence of the Pseudo-Dionysius has been systematically down-played in philosophical histories, though the pseudoepigraphy per se has not. Not only in religious ones, but in general. The reason is simple, to my mind. If the Pseudo-Dionysius was the principle philosophical source, and its authority for all of life only slightly behind Scripture, then Western philosophy and intellectual history has a pedigree problem. Notably, by contrast, those who treat the influence of the Pseudo-Dionysius in the arts are more candid. Perhaps because the grandiose Neo-Platonism of the Pseudo-Dionysius’  thought resulted in some  truly lovely works of art eventually by attenuated influence. By contrast in general  intellectual terms, as opposed to aesthetic ones,  “the first resounding case of a fraud in the history of letters,“[20] is more of a  foundational problem as the primary  authoritative non-Scriptural  basis for much of traditional Western  thought for so long.

Indeed, the odor of sanctity can be said to have surrounded not just saints’ bodies, but works like those of “St. Denis” (Pseudo-Dionysius) as well. But it is hardly much of stretch to assume that worldly types could have smelled something else when they came into contact with work generally based on it. We can assume that Templars came into contact with such things because of a curious aspect of intellectual production of the era. Many quasi-manuals of theological apologetics, against the religious assertions of the dreaded Moslems, were produced specifically to help missionary efforts. The most famous of these without a doubt is the Summa Contra Gentiles of Thomas Aquinas. Typically, like so much else at this period the Summa Contra Gentiles is substantially based in the Pseudo-Dionysius. “The first three books develop the basic [Pseudo-] Dionysian theme of God and all that man can know of Him reasons with the aid of philosophy.”[21] We should keep this fact in mind when we discern further that this conversion –manual, paradoxically as it were, often jumped, in a potentially contradictory way, right into a heady mix of ideas developed in  Islamic philosophy itself . Amazingly, in a way that says so much  universally about broader intellectual issues of veracity and credibility, in this case Thomas also jumps in to disparage them, while anonymously appropriating, without credit, the very thought he is disparaging:

“Since the infidels against whom the missionaries would debate [using a book like his Summa Contra Gentiles], were familiar with the philosophy of Aristotle and the writings of the [Islamic scholar] Avicenna, the first three books rely heavily on Aristotle and Avicenna [as well as the Pseudo-Dionysius, as per above]. Although Thomas occasionally mentions Avicenna only to reject his errors, elsewhere Thomas’ exposition of Avicenna’s doctrine may be taken as implicit acceptance of it. The metaphysical apogee of Thomas’ natural theology is found in chapter 22, where he argues that esse and essence are identical in God. This chapter adheres almost verbatim to Avicenna’s metaphysics VIII, 4, but Avicenna’s name is never mentioned in it”[22]

Thomas’ astute biographer Weisheipl, himself a Dominican, helps us assess an astounding reality of cross- cultural complexity here. Essentially it means that the most famous theologian of the era had based his aid for missionaries to the Moslems both on an antique “resounding case of fraud” and on some  plagiarism[23] on his part. It is striking that the “metaphysical apogee of Thomas’ natural theology” is given unembarrassed identification here in a case of cribbing from an Islamic author, who is simultaneously denigrated. Let me hasten to add that my point is not to make a grandiose assessment[24] of a signal moment in Catholic theology being based on plagiarism by a famous saint. Nor is to argue that the Islamic scholars were prima facie more admirable or correct. My claim is the much more modest one.  Namely, that those who actually were coming into contact with the “infidels” and could have had reason to have and use, or be instructed from,  manuals such as these, might have reasonably smelled something curious going on. Namely, that all the fighting and dying for a cause might have simply involved some ultimate,  commonsense conceptual ambiguity. And further, that this ambiguity could have been discerned somehow by canny and  smart real-world types, like the Templars,  by even casual   (oral)[25] acquaintance with  intellectual products of the age, and those offering  them. It should be emphasized that this is especially likely because many of those intellectual products were being produced for the ambit in which they were precisely engaged: the confrontation with the heathen by men of action. Also, that this somewhat skeptical attitude may well have developed into a quasi-philosophy, which involved some de facto freedom of thought based on skeptical (critical) insights, perhaps gleaned from the scent of fraudulence in the theological productions of the age.

This real-world sense of things is in fact bolstered also by the fact the most famous intellectual of the age, again Thomas Aquinas, did manage to uncover textual fraudulence when it hurt the other side, so to speak. This involved the famous Liber de Causis, which was so important to the development of orthodox Islamic Philosophy. With little trouble it seems Aquinas quickly sniffed -out that this work was not a theological  work of Aristotle, as  Islamic philosophers had assumed [26]. Rather Aquinas rightly identified it as the work of Proclus. We are, therefore, then  lead to what must be in some sense an inescapably deliberative  judgment call. But I think it can be strongly supported that the textual confabulations and anachronisms involved in the attribution of the Liber de Causis to Aristotle, are in fact far less egregious than the Pseudo-Dionysius.[27] In fact, if one assumes even a very rudimentary knowledge of theology, the idea that the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus could be accepted as the work of contemporaneous with St. Paul is revealed as simply incredible. Even by contemporaneous medieval standards. The only explanation for the lack of realistic assessment can only be the near canonical status of the corpus, second only to Sacred Scripture, for general culture at the time, and fear of speaking against it.

What makes this matter even more complex was the whole question of Aristotle as an influence. The Philosopher was both being used to perfect theology, and also thus  to fight the infidels  thereby. Paradoxically, this periodically came along with ecclesiastical bans of Aristotle’s works for study. To these cross-purposes can be added the simple fact that many of Aristotle’s works were only known through Arabic sources. As well as the fact that  the supposed danger of Aristotle was interwoven as a partial impetus for the  whole Antimendicant controversy as an intellectual  cudgel against the friars. The cherry on this curious cake comes from the fact that the famous Arabic philosopher Averroes was, in turn,  a nettlesome source for some of the very same Aristotelian ideas. This created some odd contradictions,  as Weiheipl  describes some of the interesting details of the Aristotelian  sources:

“The only one available was the composed by Averroes who in many passages was not so much an Aristotelian as a perverter of Aristotle. The shocking truth was that young men, trying to understand the Philosopher, and using the only exegetical guide available, were led into heresy and thereby incurred excommunication. Here was a situation that cried out for help early enough in the philosophical formation of young men. In the 1270s there could no longer be suppressions and proscription of Aristotle’s works. As late as 1263 Urban IV renewed the ancient prohibition against the study of Aristotle’s writings, but to no avail…”[28]

So here is the picture that is created. The infidel heresy in particular, as well as  heresy in general in the West, were being fought using Aristotle, who was himself periodically condemned. Averroes, who was a conduit for this thought, was battled against and anathematized,  even though, paradoxically,  he was the preeminent  source for the basics of the Aristotelian thought in the first place. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to assume that those with even a cursory knowledge of these controversies and the excommunications of young men they occasioned, would very probably have  applied a  real -world   skepticism to this matter. And these same types could have seen in the broad sweep of these controversies a lesson, as they watched innocent young men condemned for heresy bizarrely on the basis of the “study of Aristotle [that] was mandatory for students in arts from at least 1255 onward”[!][29]

There seems to be no good reason to assume that individuals like the Templars would have been utterly disconnected from all this theological foment. It strains credulity. That is unless we buy into the mythically false popular lore of a distant remote knightly realm that they somehow occupied, which is not supported by historical fact generally. There has been a tendency to rope- in Templarism generally with knightly culture as a whole. But even here there is a telling corrective notion. Less noticed is the fact that precisely at this period the decline of courtliness was specifically linked with the contrasting  rise of rigid intellectual activity as a societal force. As C. Stephen Jaeger tells us in his  perceptive analysis of Courtliness leading up to the period under our consideration: “At the same time the humanist schools were in a period of decline. Scholasticism guided thought and inquiry into the rigid structures of its method. Poetry fell into discredit as a means of conveying truth.”[30] The fact that rigid structures of Scholasticism could interject themselves  into the fabled realm of Knightly poetry may be a surprise. But it is less surprising if we factor- in one of Jaeger’s fundamental theses about Courtliness, so central to the knightly idea. Namely that it substantially originated in the ideals for the behavior and demeanor of Bishops in royal service.[31]

Thus the common picture of knightly activities as a realm unto itself in medieval society needs adjustment for sure, if we are going to understand the Templars. Jaeger describes how the ideals of Courtliness, many of which originated in ideals for the clergy’s episcopacy, were later intensified as a de facto psychologically internalized ethical system for  society as a whole.[32] With this in mind it would in fact be surprising if there were not some reaction to the generally theologically controverted nature of the broad medieval culture.

Very tellingly there is a precise historical and intellectual factor that contextualizes so much of this. Significantly, a  proto-Masonic sensibility in history  has been identified, by the  sharp Masonic scholar  Zoller,  with the developing emphasis on the Arts in medieval education generally, and in the pioneering work of the famous medieval figure  Hugh St. Victor in particular. [33] It is important to grasp comparatively that this was a matter of emphasis within a still very orthodox system of belief. But in the dogmatically charged Medieval era, it is clearly justified by historical events to regard these matters of emphasis as capable of producing near revolutions and foment. For the emphasis on the arts amounts to a distinct way of looking at belief, and a potentially very humane way. As Hugh St. Victor’s capable modern editor Jerome Taylor has put it:  “In such a view as this the pursuit of the arts becomes, in effect, convertible with religion –an equivalence…” [34]

But at this point the story becomes quite counter-intuitive, and may account for why

it has been so difficult to unravel  insightfully,  in terms of the historical record. For while it was true generally that the secular clergy were woefully uneducated, and that the secular University masters were blamed for allowing higher learning to degenerate, there was a remaining critical and contradictory  detail. The secular Masters of the University supported a  humane system of education in the Arts which had developed over the last century. This was, in fact, a bone of contention between the secular and the Mendicants, of great relevance for our argument, as a careful historian tells us,

“For the arts course, as it had taken shape at Paris and Oxford by the beginning of the thirteenth century had become an indispensable grounding for the would-be theologian….But the Mendicant Orders followed a well-worn monastic tradition in regarding the arts as a mundane secular diversion, a regrettable if unavoidable staging-post on the way to the study of the Scriptures…’let them not study in the books of the pagans and philosophers though they look at them for a time, let them not learn the secular sciences.‘ This grudging permission of the early Dominican statute in effect debarred friars from attending arts schools in the universities, and the other orders of friars adopted the same policy.”[35]

So, though it is true that the secular attack on the Mendicants does seem substantially to have been a turf battle for personal ambitions in retrospect, there was also a clear matter of principle involved, which rises above the pettiness in the light of history. That is, the question of training in the arts, and a general viewpoint that took the balancing view of the arts as central.  Thus the Dominican attempt to demean it[36], or de-emphasize it met with resistance based on real principle: “The refusal to allow their men to take the arts course was contrary to established university practice, and it offered a point of attack by their secular colleagues in the faculty”[37]

It is not hard to see, in contrast to high-flown and arts- anathematizing tendencies of the Mendicants, the development of some sort of long- standing reaction to this, not just petty academic skirmishes. That is, especially, in relation to the development of an humane, arts-centered view of life and religion in society as a whole. But the manner in which we have threaded- through the history of Mendicant controversy here has an emphasis not usually found. For the eventual triumph of the Mendicant philosophy and theology goes beyond the real-world truth of history being written by victors. The simple truth is that it became history itself. And in this simple historical fact lies the reason why a more judicious and realistic picture of the Templar ethos has been elusive. Myriad histories which mention the Mendicant controversy in passing, or as a mere episode, avoid a more fundamental observation. Brilliant as the Mendicant thinkers were, they represented something extremely novel, for all their supposed grounding in ancient wisdom. The tracts of William Saint -Amour and others averring “Anti-Christ” status to these Friars need to be read with contextual  historical perspicacity, not just as crazed zealots from the past. By the lights of intellectual history per se, as opposed to the party campaign -themes of the time, still what the Mendicants were developing was radically new and different, and quite opposed to a lot of traditional, hallowed and humane tradition. Surely then the   treatment of the critics of the Mendicants  must be more than seeing them as crazed by up-to-the-minute pettiness,  yet somehow damnably old-fashioned, which seems contradictory. And all this merely, it seems, because they did not come out on top in ecclesiastical history, whereas the Dominicans gained much more influence, eventually being given almost complete control of the  Holy Office of the Inquisition.

What the Anti-Mendicants  were defending in fact was the received cultural humanism of the West to that point. No small thing. Further, since Robert Zoller has so elegantly described an initial connection of this humanistic- artistic viewpoint to the Masonic ethos[38], we are pushed to look more closely at the matter in regard to the Templars. As a general matter, in regards a military order, certainly history is filled with examples of military men being interested in the arts as well. But at this very period as an heir to the long development of   the whole chivalric ethos of knighthood, and its famous proximity to the arts of courtliness, we seem to have a special latitude to consider some identification with this arts-centered viewpoint. On reflection the whole notion of chivalry per se would seem to demand it in some form, even with a special religious case like the Templars. Yet this is only possible fairly if we look at the matter as it would have been before the utter triumph of Mendicantism. The surprising fact is that it would  not even that hard to do based conveniently on the literature on the Mendicants themselves. The reason for this should be obvious. Like all conquerors the Mendicants wanted to assume the position of seeming inevitable for their philosophy based on the best of the past. To say the least  a philosophy which suggested a radical change does not fit the view of those aspiring to utter orthodoxy.

To a degree hard to fathom now, there is another important part of this puzzle,  Christendom’s philosophy prior to the Mendicants had a strong skeptical current which manifested in vigorous disputation in all academic training. It will come as a surprise to some that the most widely read treatise for most educated people was Cicero’s De Officiis, and not a Christian theological tome. We should note in passing, too, that this continued to be the case for many years  even after the period we are considering. But the de facto skeptical views which  inform Cicero’s De Officiis  likewise informed a culture which had to be realigned in order to be changed. With the decline of Feudalism, and the rise of merchants at this period, both Kings and Popes were losing power. The de facto skepticism implied by the strong Ciceronian culture now had become threatening and had to be put in its place. We can see Aquinas’ whole project, considered as a cultural phenomenon, as very brilliantly accomplishing this aim. But clearly he could only have done so if his thought both embodied some aspects of the previous culture, and yet had the ambition to change it. Is there any wonder why the Mendicants had Papal support, and why they canonized Thomas so quickly?

We can see how Thomas Aquinas and the Mendicants did it by noticing how they took the very humanistic-arts tradition embodied in varied ancient traditions and proceeded to turn them on their heads. As a sharp analyst of St. Thomas and the Greek Moralists tells us:

“Stoicism…exerted a partial but continuous influence in almost every century of Christian moral thinking. With Epicureanism, it was the dominant practical philosophy of the pagans throughout the early centuries of the Catholic Church. The Fathers were much more favorable to Stoicism than Epicureanism. The first great moral treatise of the Latin Church, is the De Oficiis Ministrorum  written in the fourth century by St. Ambrose. It is not too much to say that no mediaeval work on morality is without some debt to this pioneer treatise of the Bishop of Milan [sic] thoroughly Christian in its spirit this De Officiis is constantly modeled on the work with almost the same name by Cicero…the weight of the moral conviction in the early Church is in good part Stoic….some of this carries over into Thomism” [39]

Fascinating as these lines of influence are for the intellectual historian, the point for our argument is much more simple, yet dependent on this complexity. The persistence of several aspects of ancient culture, often piggy-backed on Ciceronian ideas and vaguely Stoic ones, allowed a general practical skepticism inherited from the ancient world to continue to thrive even in very Christian times. This is a vast issue, and much of it not germane to our line of thought here. But it is significantly entwined with the very strong persistence of Platonic ideas generally in Medieval period. The underlying influence of skepticism in Plato has been poorly understood in turn because of the triumph of Neo-Platonic thought. By contrast Paul Shorey, the great historian of Platonism: Ancient and Modern notes, “the relation of Plato to the skeptical school”[40], and especially broadly in contrasting the debating nature of the Socratic Dialogues to the mystical dogmatics of  later Neo-Platonism. Of Sextus Empiricus, who made direct use of skeptical currents in Plato’s thought, Shorey slyly observes, “[He] quotes everything in Plato and in the philosophic literature of antiquity that could be given a skeptical twist, and its influence on probably on the Middle Ages…is far greater than….histories of philosophy recognize.”  As a modern interpreter has said very broadly, and perhaps almost humorously of this difficult, widespread issue:  “Plato’s Platonism is everywhere complicated by his own anti-Platonic skepticism.”[41]

When we meditate on the foundational status of Platonism for the whole Realist metaphysical structure of Medieval society, we really are clued-in to the conundrum here. Thus we really have a much more curious situation in the period leading up to the Mendicants than is often realized. And the Mendicants’ radicality only appears in a clearer light thereby. Namely that the underlying skeptical culture, conveyed through the persistence of Stoicism and Platonism[42] in general society was so strong that even those who sought to practically destroy it  could only do so by incorporating some of its very essence! If Mendicancy has been seen as a reaction to the great rise of the merchant class[43], then clearly something important is left out if we do not connect the de facto views of that class to the those who fought against them. As regards the Templars, I dare say it is axiomatic that the Ciceronian skeptical culture of those people basically educated would have been necessitated by being successful in business per se. To be a successful merchant requires shrewdness akin to a certain skepticism, and there is no doubt that this would have been supported more by the general Ciceronian culture than by the, to most people, abstruse philosophy and theology of the Mendicants.

As in so many aspects of history the truth is stranger than fiction. And the strange truth is though the Ciceronian skeptical culture was a necessity as background for the rise of the merchant class, and continued to be so, it had to eventually concede first societal place to

a highly intellectual worldview put forth by Mendicant Friars. How this came to be is extremely complex, and again mostly beyond out scope here. But a few points should be obvious. The rising merchant class had to be moderated. They could not be guided or controlled with their own Ciceronian culture anymore, since the persistence of that very culture is what helped bolster their rise to begin with. We can quickly see then how the Mendicant alliance with the Papacy against the diocesan clergy served the interest of all those in power. The normal clergy were too close the situation on the ground of rising merchant power.

Complex as this matter is, the wonderful thing is that it makes the Templar case very simple in a sense. We lack much written expository evidence from them. So in a sense we do not know what they thought. This seeming vacuum, along with the drama of the Trial  itself, is what has allowed a Pandora’s Box of diverse ascriptions of them to be opened. But it seems the most obvious one, from the cultural history perspective,  has not been engaged. Simply put, we have massive evidence that they were very financially successful. This is not a matter of debate. Naturally, many have ascribed the royal hostility towards them to simple avarice.  The explanation given here, does not negate that underlying possibility, but fleshes it out realistically based on  the basic thematic friction that made it possible.

The cultural facts tell us that Templars’  own thought, therefore,  could only have been basically in line with this  classical, skeptical Ciceronian culture of the general society. This does not negate their status as a quasi-religious order, anymore that would be negated for a pious merchant.  But the point is they were not Mendicants, and opposed to the general ethos of such, and that meant something in terms of character. As a rather societally prominent group, their espousal of this basic default skepticism would clearly have been problematic for a society that was being realigned. Of course, this has absolutely nothing to do with denials of faith per se. There is no question that for everyone, of every class, even a more classical skeptical outlook had to be conceptualized in the tropes of orthodox belief generally. Simply from the basic facts of cultural history, then, we can assume that the Templars’ main crime was, in contemporary parlance, and inability “to get with the program.”  And that meant, essentially, the Dominicans’ program. This is utterly supported by the cunning observation of one of the shrewdest of all critics of the whole affair, Malcolm Barber. This great scholar of the Trial notes that the Franciscans, no less, who certainly had considerable numbers of intellectually dexterous adherents, suffered persecution under the rising ideology, “more vehement than anything suffered by the military orders [!] and certainly would be regarded by posterity in a different light had [the] order had been brought to trial.”[44] This amazing statement automatically makes things clear in two directions. First, that the ability to have avoided being put through a “trial” was to some extent dependent on fluency with the new scholastic intellectual regime, which the Franciscans had famously mastered to some extent, as seen in a a number of luminaries of scholasticism in the Order. Second, the fact that, paradoxically, the Franciscans were not utterly in synch with the regnant Dominican scholastic notion of orthodoxy[45], yet still as Mendicants were  part of that very movement, shows I think conclusively that a very fine amount of deviation was enough to get a group in trouble.  Even if you were literate, and very practiced  in the intellectual themes, and thus  part of the movement itself in some wise. In this environment, comparatively, the Templars scarcely had a prayer.   They were not alone in this, as the Mendicant controversy as an historical whole  makes massively clear. But they were also high-profile, and rich. I suggest that the real –world probabilities not only support the general analysis of Philip the Fair’s motives, but inexorably indicate what the real nature of the Templars’ so-called heterodoxy was.

Based on this I believe some further cultural connections or speculations are warranted.

It is significant to note the rather  telling view of  the more this-worldly and  non-theological realities  by an  economic historian  who emphasizes the great animus of, “the Dominicans, who were bitter foes of the Templars.”[46] The general reasons we have just clarified speak to why this was so. But this  further economic basis allows a next step. Unlike many in the general merchant class the Templars were likely in contact with conversion tracts, like Thomas’ Summa Contra Gentiles. Since we now understand that their general world-view would have had a fundamental skeptical aspect, we can well imagine how Aquinas’ increasing acrobatics based the Pseudo-Dionysius seemed to the average person. Even if they were not a scholar.  Templar skepticism was a sort of threat to the very ambitions of the Mendicants. A threat to their very worldview. Again, we must look at this from their perspective, before the utter  triumph of the Mendicant thought. We look at things now, in analyzing Catholic Church history,  from the perspective of the virtual identification of Catholic philosophy with the creations of the “Angelic Doctor” famous for distinguishing  “angels dancing on the head of a pin”. But how would it have looked to a serious, skeptical Christian in the late Middle Ages is quite different.  Clearly, they did not understand how deadly serious all of this had become.

We are dealing in the Mendicant philosophy  with a massive intellectual edifice which is undeniably brilliant on its own terms, but was founded on something undeniably wobbly from an intellectual point of view. That is, with all due respect for intellectual trajectories,  on a simple fraud. Namely the Pseudo-Dionysius. [47] Yet this somehow had become, increasingly,  the overarching structure of the age. It is not too much to suppose that an average intelligent person in the Templar order could have easily seen prima facie that there was a difference between the high-flying, anti-skeptical rhetoric of the Pseudo-Dionysian themes, and its apotheosis in the Mendicant thought, and someone who would have known St. Paul. The idea that the ideas woven in from Pseudo-Dionysius were like those contemporaneous with St. Paul is so outlandish that anyone with a basic skeptical sense would have seen through it. Thus we have a strong speculation detailing  in what  actually consisted the real heresy of the Templars. Native cleverness and real- world skepticism of the successful was their heresy. If they had opposed the Mendicant theories enough to make real enemies of the Dominicans, as historians make clear, that automatically tells us something. Namely, there had to be a reason. They, like so many others at the time in the anti-Mendicant brouhaha, were likely basically  opposed to the over-all attitude of this  new hyped-up theology. But clearly from the Dominican point of view, which gradually was eliminating the equilibrating influence of the training in the arts as we have seen, there would be another step. They saw their work as shoring -up orthodoxy, especially in the fight against the infidel. If they were opposed in a noticeable way, with the mocking and opprobrium common elsewhere by report in Anti-Mendicant episodes they might take that  further step. They could easily impute much worse crimes and heresy to their competitors. The irony is that the Templars were likely  not even at the forefront of  this developed  conceptual and philosophical opposition. But the cultural logical, by processs of elimination, tells us they would have supported it. Their truly bad fortune was to have had money as well. But more than that they were at the forefront or society, and their temperate views in a sense damned them in an age of royal and Papal ambition.

It might seem strange that a military order could ultimately have  been understood to be involved in a controversy of doctrines entwined with religious orders. But the facts of their lives suggest this broadly.  Some religious orders were indeed created in connection to  the crusading impulse, for instance the Carmelites. In addition, it has always been accepted that the Templars were understood to be performing a sort of propaganda function for the faith as well. Lastly, since much of their wealth and fame came from providing for myriad pilgrims, it would be almost inconceivable that they did not converse, interact, and even debate with people who both  were wealthy enough and sufficiently educated to undertake pilgrimages. Finally, we could see their famous unwillingness to allow the host to be  elevated at Mass to be a  practical, liturgical indication  of visceral resistance to the  more high-flying intellectualism  represented so crucially in the development of the doctrine of transubstantiation. We know from critical history that they were not alone in this sense.

Speculative Conclusion: The Hermeneutics of the Real Templar-Masonic Connection:

Having seen an historical and intellectual trajectory which indicates what a Templar “philosophy” would have been, we are in a position to finally address why Templar symbolism and ethos have been so profoundly attractive for Freemasonry. As to a direct, perduring underground connection throughout Western history, one can only say it does not exist. That is the starting point.  But that does not mean that there is not an hermeneutical relation across time and space, with a fusion of horizons. This ambit is open precisely because of the truly all -encompassing nature of the triumph of scholasticism generally, and the odd negative continuity that creates for those reacting to it in diverse centuries. Though it clearly conquered institutional means of expression, its very high-flown nature logically tells us that there had to be a field of expression not directly circumscribed by such intellectual extremity. This hermeneutical ambit allows us to see a variety of dissenting, and/or, default contradictory stances towards scholasticism as having more than an ad hoc character for time and place. The hermeneutic allows us to see them in strong conceptual kinship. But once we make that clear, it only becomes more evident that   the romantic and star-crossed search, perforce, previously  obfuscated a more obvious one. This shows why the greatest of Masonic scholars, such as De Hoyos, while appreciative of the Templar themes in Freemasonry, have observed the great danger historically of, ““foisting … distortions of Templarism on an uninformed Masons and a gullible public.”[48]  The more temperate hermeneutic then closely relates to the more unflinching historical view that sees that the type of hyper-scholasticism we discussed, in reference to the Templars’ likely reaction to it, lamentably only became more triumphant. Thus, historically, this is ultimately not a romantic knightly tale of gloriously victorious struggle, even spread across the expanse of European history.  To wit, at the Council of Trent the Summa Theologica of Thomas was placed on the altar alongside the Bible![49] Much of the earlier sense of things theologically and practically was left in the Tridentine dust. If the Templars represented a sort of masculine archetype for bottom-line faith of the active man, then it was not the masculine side that won long-term but the opposite pole: namely,  the florid distaff perorations  of scholasticism, which  certainly left the former truly in the  theological dust. If we search for a resurrection of that more even-headed view, at the very least for balance religiously, we have to eschew the unlikely idea of  fantastically “underground”  and  hidden agglomerations of knowledge of a cryptic nature. We must look in the open-air of intellectual history, where we are likely to find , as we have, an hermeneutic that speaks to  more  of an attitude, but still a vigorous one.

In fact, it is not even hard to do it this way. Though scholasticism was triumphant, it was not utterly so. One of the most famous and honored Christian intellectuals, Erasmus, was a brilliant fighter against the same hyper- intellectualism and conceptual fraud that the Mendicants likely represented for many, if we read of their themes and struggles with any context of the history of ideas. And though Erasmus’ view was never triumphant, it also never disappeared[50]. It remained in the background, but not merely cryptic, for much of the  progressing centuries.  The excesses of Scholasticism only got worse meantime. Eventually the Thomistic cause was taken up by the Jesuits who made it something more detached from basic faith. The famous Jesuit theologian Suarez was the apotheosis tendency. “[T]his Suarezian interpretation of human nature as the rule of morality has been the simplistic conviction…that, once this rule has been grasped, one may almost automatically distinguish good from evil acts.”[51] This very tendency also reaches an even greater apotheosis with the famous Luzon Catechism of Cardinal Richelieu which helped spark the great Jansenist controversy[52] , and further tore the Christian world apart and led to persecution based on religion. This was the absolute nadir of this type of thought, the dogma that morality is ultimately reduced entirely to fear of hell, and the inherent fanaticism that goes naturally with it.

As a reaction to this benighted reduction of religious faith, it is easy to see the Erasmian sense we have posited as a background for what eventually became Freemasonry, as including some hermetic valences as well.  But it is crucial to factor in the insights we have gained through this argument. The sense of skepticism and real-world assessment and candor, inspired in some sense by a confrontation with syncretism, must be applied to oddly Platonizing valences of hermetic disciplines as well. Just as we can see the Templars as living in some reaction to the scholastic apotheosis of the figure of the  Pseudo-Dionysius, so also we can see the proto- Masonic ethos, even if hermetic, as having some of the same skepticism. For the ad hoc character of all sorts of thinking in history is unlikely to escape the scrutiny of the seasoned, world-weary man. Even the founder of Renaissance thought himself, Ficino, the veritable nexus in his own person of hermetic and mainstream European philosophy at the period, played rather fast and loose with things. As Paul Shorey masterfully notes:

“Notable for the history of Platonism is the fact that Ficino wrote a book upon Plato before he knew much Greek, or had begun the serious study of the Platonic text. He was able to get together from Cicero, Apuleius, Macrobius and the Christian Fathers a very respectable body of Platonic doctrine. This transmission of Platonism through secondary sources[53] is….a fundamental fact never to be lost sight of in the history of Platonism. “[54]

This shows that a certain amount of the confabulatory tendency never died, even in figures not directly tied to ecclesiastical matters. So even in the thick of the nexus of hermetic and unorthodox thinking the need for a certain skepticism would have been needed.

So, in sum, the fundamental insight is this: When it becomes clear what was  generally being reacted against, then the connection is  correspondingly clear. We can easily see the smart savvy men in early craft guilds as being quite impatient with this type of thought generally. This is so whether this came in the form of hyper-scholasticism, or even later hyper- hermeticism, as a sort of opposite pole,  in other fields. It is hardly difficult to see how the very ethos of the Grand Lodge in 1717 embodies a similar reaction. The real Templar-Masonic connection then is much simpler and more solid than has been imagined, based on intellectual history. It represents a type of continuing, pragmatic Erasmian reaction to the  hyper-intellectualism  of scholasticism, and the like,  in its many  evolving forms, based on  the native skepticism of the solid- citizen- of -society. In manifold ways it is clear that this tendency was always present and never died, and could not be eradicated. Our forefathers in the Masonic Craft were just continuing a very beautiful and culturally healthful tradition, which, it seems clear now, some of the knights of old held dear as well.

[1] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Nathan the Wise. Glasgow: James Maclehose and Sons, 1894, pp. 215-216.

[2] Sidney Painter.  [Marshall W. Baldwin, Editor] “Western Europe on the Eve of the Crusades” in A History of the Crusades. Volume 1.   Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1955, p. 15

[3] Edward Burman.  “The Templar Ideology”  in The Templars: Knights of God.  N/p:  The Crucible Press, 1986, p 27

[4] Edward Burman, p. 28. Burman is specifically referring to the particular example of Bernard’s fight against the rationalism of Peter Abelard.

[5] See Burman generally on these points. Yet the most realistic and unflinching discussion  generally of the actual characteristics of the Templars is, of course, found in the best book on the subject: Malcolm Barber. The Trial of the Templars, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,

[6] See  Burman, and Barber.

[7] See footnotes for Lessing quote above.

[8] James A.Weisheipl, O.P. Friar Thomas D’Aquino: His Life, Thought and Work. New Yok: Doubleday and Company, Inc. , 1974, p. 87

[9] Weisheipl,  p. 89.

[10] Weisheipl has many intriguing descriptions all throughout his study of this phenonmenon.

[11] See Weisheipl.

[12] Weisheipl gives an excellent and evocative description of this complicated matter throughout his biography of Thomas.

[13] Ernle Bradford’s enlightening comments on this matter make clear that the military orders would have shown this tendency less than those not engaged in fighting, but he explicitly makes clear that they would have to be included in this general characterization. See Ernle Bradford The Shield and the Sword: The Knights of St. John, Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta. New York: Dutton, 1973, Chapter three, esp. p. 29.

[14]Bernard Lewis. [Marshall W. Baldwin, Editor]  “The Ismailites and the Assasins”  in the The History of the Crusades, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania press, 1955, p. 100

[15] Having reviewed the literature, one of the  curious lacunae seems to me to be the thought-provoking difference in the medieval context between illiteracy and innumeracy. If many Templars were illiterate, some significant number must have not been innumerate, since their financial success would then seem impossible to explain. It goes without saying that great intelligence can be shown by numeracy as by literacy!

[16] Let us recall that an admirably forthright part of Masonic sociology has been the willingness to appreciatively assess one’s Brother for good and ill.

[17] John H. Van Gorden. “Molay, Jacques De (Molay, James De): Folly” in Medieval Historical Characters in Freemasonry. (Published for the Supreme Council, A.A.S.R., N.M.L, Lexington) Bloomington: Masonic Book Club, 1987, p.229.

[18] John H. Van Gorden. “Molay, Jacques De (Molay, James De): Folly” in Medieval Historical Characters in Freemasonry, p 233.

[19] Weisheipl,  p. 173-174.

[20] Antonina Vallentin. El Greco. Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc. , 1955, P. 29. I think it is important to use the case of  how Pseudo-Dionysian thought  influenced El Greco, as Vallentin contends, to make the important collateral cultural observation. Namely, that throughout history, many unfortunate aspects of deception in society can have surprisingly beautiful outcomes, especially in the arts. What this says about human cultural adaptability should be obvious, and encouraging overall.

[21] Weisheipl, p. 132

[22] Weisheipl, p. 133.

[23] Since a scholar of Avicenna (see footnote 36) commenting on Aquinas has specifically interjected the notion that an  “unfriendly eye” may be an useful heuristic to analyze Thomas’ use of Avicenna, it hardly seems inappropriate to describe it  as we have. And at least for this specific analysis, to invoke that “unfriendly eye” to label Aquinas’ appropriation as plagiarism. It is clear that  Aquinas has had largely “friendly” and very respectful  eyes from interpreters, in a scholarly sense generally, and incredibly “friendly” eyes in the specifically Catholic realm. So, his stature as an intellectual, which is not in dispute in terms of Western culture, can surely withstand some candid description. It seems that Thomas’ variably attributed use of Avicenna, for whatever reason, extended beyond the Summa Contra Gentiles, and thus can be confirmed as a pattern of use  generally for him. Or one might say fairly from the perspective of  Islamic sources, abuse, as a scholar who identifies Aquinas’ appropriation as “misinterpretation” and “flattening” of his source, and specifically confirms Thomas’ use-without-attribution in another source: “Thomas Aquinas took over many of Ibn Sina’s  [Avicennna’s] ideas and incorporated them into his philosophy. For example one of Aquinas’s earliest book De Ente et Essentia (Essence and Existence), covers the distinctions of essence and existence, following strongly Ibn Sina’s ideas, whether or not  “Avicenna” is mentioned in specific passages.” (Kiki Kennedy-Day. Books of Definition in Islamic Philosophy: The Limits of Words. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003, p. 155.)

[24] Whatever one thinks of the historical effects of Thomistic philosophy, as evidence of the conceptual brilliance of the Western mind it cannot, and should not be denied. It deserves respect also for its unique position in world  religious history ,  as the only intricate  philosophy which  itself, quite oddly,  has taken on the status of  religious belief per se for Catholics. Its status at Trent, and in Papal encyclicals extolling it, speak to this.  (As an aside let’s say that it would be like Nagarjuna’s  thought being a required belief amongst all Buddhists, which of course is far from the case.) But granting such respect does not mean not being able to  critically assess its historical effects. Further, it would be absurd to believe that extending such respect would mean not looking at it in terms of source-critical valences themselves.

[25] We should not see this oral sense as a particularly degraded form of influence in the Medieval context, or lacking the power to stimulate, because as scholars have noted, the very transfer of the scholarly tomes themselves happened orally, as in the case of some of Ibn Sina’s works being translated from Arabic to Castillian originally in a purely oral manner. (See Kiki Kennedy-Day. Books of Definition in Islamic Philosophy: The Limits of Words. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003, p. 155.)

[26] Majid Fakhry. A History of Islamic Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970. (See index for Liber de Causis.) Fakhry weaves a complex argument about the reasons for the acceptance of the Liber de Causis as Aristotle’s work, which bear no resemblance to the near canonical acceptance of the Pseudo-Dionysius in the West. So I feel strongly that Aquinas’ correct identification of this source as the work of Proclus also had a polemical intent, not just an intellectual one.

[27] It is worth reflecting on the important aspect that the Pseudo-Dionysius was somehow supposed to be connected with St. Paul. Since the Pauline corpus would have been very familiar to actors in society from its almost constant use in liturgy, through daily readings, the difference between Pauline prose and the incredibly recondite and florid philosophical perorations of the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus must have been the most obvious thing in the world, even for those just “hearing the Word.”

[28] Weisheipl, p. 280.

[29] Weisheipl, p. 280.

[30] C. Stephen Jaeger.  The Origins of Courtliness: Civilizing Trends and The Formations of Courtly Ideals, 939-1210.  Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985, P. 257

[31] See “The Courtier Bishop” in C. Stephen Jaeger, pp. 19-48.

[32] Jaeger makes this point throughout his study, but especially in his Conclusion.

[33] Robert Zoller. “Freemasonry, The Medieval Tradition of the Arts and Sciences, Hermeticism, and Hugh of St. Victor’s Didascalicon”  Transactions of the American Lodge of Research. Volume XXV, 1999, pp. 8-16.

[34] Jerome Taylor. “Introduction” in The Didascalicon of Hugh St. Victor. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961, p. 15


[35]  C.H. Lawrence. The Friars: The Impact of the Early Mendicant Movement on Western Society. London: Longman Group, 1994, p. 133

[36] The exact philosophical objections of the Scholastic view to the more arts-centered one would entail an  extensive description, and thus beyond the scope here. But it would surely involve distinguishing the extent to which the created world is felt to be good, or not. And aesthetics in the Medieval perspective can be situated along a continuum of feelings goodness for the world, which the arts would celebrate, or its negation,  and the limitations of finitude. It was surely a matter of emphasis in some ways. But a strong case can be made, against the apotheosis of Scholastic thought in Aquinas, that there is something intrinsically philosophical about their negation of the  life-affirming arts-centered view. As a scholar of Avicenna says, a little oppositionally perhaps, and with a poise with which I concur for this analysis: “Thus Thomas Aquinas combines the optimistic view of the world as God’s handiwork with a Platonizing argument from ‘the gradation to be found in things.’ As if to add irony, Thomas’ appeal from relative to absolute perfection is sandwiched between his argument from providential design and his own version of Avicenna’s argument from contingency. To an unfriendly eye this may seem to say that the world both is and is not good enough to bespeak divinity…Such apparent waffling takes many forms…” (Lenn Evan Goodman. Avicenna. Ithaca:  Cornell University Press, 2006,  p. 97.)

[37] C.H. Lawrence, p. 134.

[38] It should be emphasized that Zoller’s brilliant contention about Hugh St. Victor is remarkable  also for  historically being a rather careful one. Thus, it fits well  the very restricted ambit of possible dissent and belief, or even the very possibility of variation, within the rigid framework of medieval conceptualization of religion. It was this realistic quality, that inspired the present writer  to develop the further arguments, related to Zoller’s, contained in this article. I am deeply grateful to Brother Zoller for his great insight.

[39] Vernon J. Bourke. St. Thomas and the Greek Moralists. Milwaukee: Marquette University press, 1947, p. 12

[40] Paul Shorey. Platonism: Ancient and Modern.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1938. , p. 9

[41] Jonathan Levin. The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism, and American Literary Modernism.  Durham: Duke University Press, p. 206, Note 7.

[42] It is crucially important to precisely distinguish between persistent Platonic tropes, and the very strong Neo-Platonic influence of the Pseudo-Dionysius especially in elite philosophy and theology.

[43] See the cumulative point on the matter in:  James Westfall Thompson.  Economic and Social History of Europe in the Later Middle Ages (1300-1530). New York: Frederick Ungar Publsihing Co, 1960,

[44] Malcolm Barber. The Trial of the Templars, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 17.

[45] Broadly speaking, Franciscan theology, following Bonaventure,  also had a highly developed scholastic character, not unlike the Dominican variety. But it tended to emphasize Love, and later on, Will, in line with St. Francis of Assisi. Thus, it is considered by many quite distinct.

[46] James Westfall Thompson.  Economic and Social History of Europe in the Later Middle Ages (1300-1530). New York: Frederick Ungar Publsihing Co, 1960, p. 29

[47] This does not negate the importance of Aristotle for Aquinas. But as Weiheipl has made clear the prime mover of this thought is the Pseudo-Dionysius, whose importance was doubly bolstered because St. Denis was second only to Sacred Scripture in importance for orthodoxy generally. But whereas previous thought used the Pseudo-Dionysius only generally, Aquinas created an entire  intricate edifice on the impetus of the thought. One can only assume that the Pseudo-Dionysius’  mammoth influence has been downplayed for apologetic purposes.

[48] Arturo De Hoyos, “Preface.” Albert Pike, Symbolism of the Blue Degrees of Freemasonry: Albert Pike’s “Esoterika” (Washington, D.C.: Scottish Rite Research Society, 2005.), p. xvii. De Hoyos’ comments are, of course, in reference to Pike’s general attitude as well.

[49] Thus providing a “distant mirror” for how previously the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus, had been second only to Sacred Scripture.

[50] If we understand Erasmus’ critical desiderata as the excellent Erasmus of the Low Countries by James Tracy does, we can quickly see how this viewpoint could at once essentially disappear as an overt, expository ecclesiastical position after the triumph of Thomism at Trent; and yet remain a sort of default position for so many down through the centuries, based on the extreme conceptual brilliance of the position itself.  This attitude  was based largely in an attitude of impatience and resistance to viewpoints which negated a  humane view of Christianity based in bonae literae. To say the obvious, this view dove-tails well with the views of Hugh St. Victor. (James Tracy. Erasmus of the Low Countries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. )

[51] Vernon J. Bourke, p. 52, Note 27.

[52] Marc Eschollier. Port Royal: The Drama of the Jansenists.  New York: Hawthorn Books, 1968. The crucial issue of Richilieu’s catechism is complexly woven into this truly incredibly varied historical development.

[53] It is clear from the history of Platonism, and its relation to hermetic thought, that the “secondary sources” were an unreliable guide to Plato’s philosophy itself. But that is even taking at face value that such a vaunted return to classical sources, so often in vogue, was ever a serious goal in intellectual history, and not just a convenient prop. The spirit of some sort of skeptical inquiry inherent in the Socratic dialogues seems less appreciated for sure by those searching for some surety.

[54] Paul Shorey, p. 120.