Some consider the Freemasons to be the direct successors of the Knights Templar. What are the facts?
Indeed, the Knights Templar degree is one of several additional Masonic degrees and Orders in which membership is open only to Freemasons who profess a belief in the Christian religion.
The individual Orders 'united' within this system are principally the Knights of the Temple (Knights Templar), the Knights of Malta, the Knights of St Paul, and only within the York Rite, the Knights of the Red Cross. The Order derives its name from the historical Knights Templar, but does not claim any direct lineal descent from the original Templar order.
The earliest documented link between Freemasonry and the Crusades is the 1737 oration of the Chevalier Ramsay. This claimed that European Freemasonry came about from an interaction between crusader masons and the Knights Hospitaller. This is repeated in the earliest known "Moderns" ritual, the Berne manuscript, written in French between 1740 and 1744.
Knights Templar can exist either as part of the York Rite within Free Masonry or as an independent organization outside of Freemasonry. Though the York Rite and the independent versions share many similarities there are key differences which are described below.
As a part of the Freemason York Rite a Knights Templar commandery is traditionally the final body that a member joins in the York Rite after the degree of the chapter of Royal Arch Masons and a council of Royal & Select Masters. The York Rite orders are: 1) The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, 2) The Passing Order of St. Paul, (or Mediterranean Pass), 3) The Order of the Knights of Malta (or simply Order of Malta) and 4) The Order of the Temple.
For the Knights Templar as an Independent Body outside the York Rite, membership is by invitation only. Candidates are required to be Master Masons, and Royal Arch Masons, and to sign a declaration that they profess the Doctrine of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Three degrees are administered in this system: 1) The Degree of Knight Templar (Order of the Temple), 2) The Degree of Knight of St. Paul (incorporating the Mediterranean Pass) and 3) The Degree of Knight of Malta (Order of Malta).
Despite Freemasonry's general disclaimer that no one Masonic organization claims a direct heritage to the medieval Knights Templar, certain degrees and orders are obviously patterned after the medieval Order. These are best described as "commemorative orders" or degrees. Nevertheless, in spite of the fraternity's official disclaimers, some Masons, non-Masons and even anti-Masons insist that certain Masonic rites or degrees originally had direct Templar influence.
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