chapter  22
16 Pages

Towards a History of Military-Religious Orders

ByJonathan Riley-Smith

Military orders are orders of the Roman Catholic Church, the brothers (and occasionally sisters) of which are professed religious, subject to the usual obligations of, and constraints in, canon law, except one: some of them had the right and duty to bear arms. Since priests are forbidden by canon law to use force, these orders were – and one of them still is – unusual in that they were run by their lay brothers, the knights. Many fl ourished in the central Middle Ages, ranging from international organizations such as the Temple, through smaller bodies like St Lazarus, to the Iberian Orders of Calatrava, Aviz, Santiago, Alcántara, Christ and Montesa, the German Brothers of the Sword and Knights of Dobrzyn, and the tiny English Order of St Thomas, but only two, the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (the Sovereign Military Order of Malta) and Order of St Mary of the Germans (the Teutonic Order) survive today as orders of the Church, although they are no longer military in practice. The priests of the Teutonic Order run parishes and the members of the Order of Malta care for the sick poor.