The Knights Templar combined the most valued qualities of both military and religious men -- unswerving obedience and total dedication to the cause. The cause in this case was their self-proclaimed role as defenders of Jerusalem and other Mideast lands that were important to Christians. Originally united by the crusader's vow to defend Christianity, they further swore adherence to the three perpetual vows of the Catholic Church -- poverty, chastity and humility.
Who They Were
The Knights Templar were a group of nine nobles who had returned from the Crusades early in the 1100s. Their original bond was a vow to defend Christianity against infidels; their early efforts were limited primarily to providing protection for groups of religious pilgrims travelling within the Holy Land. They lived in virtual poverty in a small room off the temple of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, hence the name Templars. They became the first recognised military religious order.
The Three Perpetual Vows
The original Knights Templar took the traditional monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They divested themselves of all earthly possessions, with the exception of one set of clothing and their weapon. They survived off the generosity of Christian patrons and also were at times reduced to begging for alms. Despite this austere existence, they were successful at attracting other like-minded religious adherents to their order and were eventually recognised by authorities throughout Europe as the defenders of the earthly kingdom of Christ -- Jerusalem.
The members of the Templars personified the combination of two seemingly incompatible "career fields" in one man -- a fearless and ferocious military crusader and a docile, humble and totally obedient servant of the church. The common theme through both of these -- the military and the monk -- was the willingness to show complete obeisance to the cause. Their successful defence of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land garnered them tremendous support from wealthy patrons across Europe, who donated huge fortunes and land to the order.
Too Much Success
The wealth of the Templars was in direct contrast to their vows of poverty and humility, while the influx of new personnel, some of questionable character, threatened their vows of chastity. More importantly, the order's wealth began to be viewed as a considerable threat to political leaders, such as King Phillip the IV of France. When the Templars would not bankroll his military adventures, he ultimately sought their downfall through kangaroo trials at which tortured Templars were forced to admit to heresy, costing them their credibility. A papal commission in the early 1300s forced their disbandment under threat of excommunication.