Jacques de Molay, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was burned at the stake by the Inquisition, in Paris in 1314. Reportedly, his last words, as the flames rose, were "Vekam, Adonai!" — which is Hebrew for "Revenge, O Lord!"

It is further reported that when Adam Weishaupt of the Bavarian Illuminati received news of the French Revolution and the execution of the French royalty and nobility, he was heard to intone: "Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged!"

The interpretation of these quotations is a matter of great mystery, of which five possible explanations come to mind:

  1. The French monarchy was corrupt and evil, and fed on the ignorance of the masses. The Templars and Illuminati, along with the Freemasons of the time, served God — or at least served enlightenment. The Adonai referred to is the Masonic God, the Great Architect. The Masonically-inspired French Revolution was aimed at enlightenment and the extirpation of ignorance.
  2. The accusations against the Templars were true; both the Knights and the Illuminati served Satan — in the guise of Baphomet in the first case, and a secular "enlightenment" in the second. De Molay's Adonai referred to his lord Satan. The French monarchy, fiercely loyal to the Catholic Church, was righteous all along — and after all, the Revolution was anticlerical as well as anti-aristocratic.
  3. The Templars, after meeting up with the Sufi, Ismaili, or other mystical Muslim sects, became converted to an intellectual species of Islam. Throughout the Renaissance, Muslim-influenced rationalism plotted against the reactionary, anti-intellectual Church in Europe — and the Illuminati were its final expression. Adonai is the liberal Muslim's Allah, finally having revenge upon the ignorant and tyrannical infidel.
  4. There was no direct connection between the Templars and the Illuminati, but Weishaupt thought, or wished, that there was. Perhaps he was inspired by the tale of the Templar's final resistance to persecution. Perhaps he believed his movement to be descended in spirit, if not in historical lineage, from the Knights Templar.
  5. Neither De Molay nor Weishaupt actually said the things attributed to them. Both quotations were invented by romantic historians, the grapevine, or a latter-day conspiracy which wanted to concoct evidence of a centuries-spanning conspiracy of enlightenment.
Which one is true? Damn if I know.
    Most serious historians seem unanimous in their affirmation that no chronological event has produced so much amateurish and inherently biased history as the Crusades. Gross forgery, unfounded speculation, spiritualist parallelism, linguistic anachronism, shoddy translation, overt politicizing, outright propaganda, along with cultural, racial and religious bigotry of almost every persuasion have colored nearly every extant document. From the first widely-read Latin transcript of Pope Urban II & his Clermont sermon (not rendered into print until ten years after the success of the First Crusade by a monk who’d never attended the mass on which he reported1), there was rampant manipulation, from November 1095 onward.
    The Knights Templar and the Grail are easily the two overarching mythic elements to emerge from the heavily doctored and twisted testimony of the period. To even try to unravel the pseudo-historical mess here alluded to, and try for even a moment to garner any insight into the actual events, circumstances and written record – you have to start surely with the reputation of the Crusaders from the outset. No better testimony exists than that of the monk who helped establish the Templar Order, Saint Bernard, who wrote:
”It is really rather convenient that you will find very few men in the vast multitude that throngs to the Holy Land who have not been unbelieving scoundrels, sacrilegious adulterers, plundering homicides and perjurers, whose departure from Europe is a double benefit, seeing that people here are glad to see the backs of them, and the people to whose assistance they are going shall be delighted to see them…indeed, the Knights of Christ fight the battles of their Lord in safety, by no means either fearing to have sinned in slaying their foe, nor fearing the peril of their own death, for dying, when for Christ’s sake, contains nothing criminal but merits rather a most glorious reward…the knight serves his own interest in dying and Christ’s interest in killing.” 2
    In other words, the Templar and Hospitaller Orders were set up specifically to deal with a very real image problem. Make no mistake – our modern notions of chivalrous knighthood were not shared by the people of the past, the ones who actually co-existed with the warrior class. Our visions of knighthood derive almost wholly from 18th century Orientalism and a 19th century neo-Medievalism. One of the driving motivations behind the declaration of the Crusading movement was, in fact, to engineer the removal of the idle, excess warrior youth from the villages and towns of Europe, largely as a matter of public safety.3
    Bernard, in his description of the new Christian military orders, especially the Templar Knights, was not being cynical, least of all ironic, but merely pragmatic. Hugh of Payens came to Bernard in 1127, for advice after returning to France from Palestine, asking the monk how best to regulate and tame his troops, which he’d gathered in Jerusalem in 1118. Bernard was, if anything, a brilliant logistician and fund-raiser (he’s already ‘consulted’ for the Cistercian Order) – his first advise was to seek written Church recognition, as a corporate body governed by papal authority and Catholic law, for his new Order. The Templars obtained the proper paperwork from a diocese council (one conveniently chaired by Bernard) the next year, 1128, and within a decade sanction had been secured from Rome.
    Through such sterling connections and pious publicity, the Templars became a cause celebre with the noblemen and merchant classes of Europe – endowments from rich widows, estates from retiring legates and donations from the penitent of all classes poured in. In 1147, when the Frankish king set out with much pomp on the Second Crusade, 140 white-robed Templars rode in his ornamental procession – which is to say they trotted out of Paris with him to the roar of the crowd.
    After all, the Templars, by this point had essentially become the middle-men and negotiators for the wealthy European noble classes tourist-like escapades in the Levant. They were travel-agents, interpreters, scouts, advisors and bankers all rolled into one – that last one being particularly important.4 Only the Templar Knights had moved enough goods and currency, to and from Paris to Palestine, to really have the monetary infrastructure in place to handle the movements of armies and payment of troops. And as a result, while the vast majority of other crusader-folk (princes and barons included) were selling their estates, mortgaging their farms or borrowing heavily just to get to the Holy Land, the Templars, by most accounts, though piss-poor on that First Crusade in 1099, had carved out a nice niche for themselves. They became a military off-shore bank for European nobles fighting war abroad.
    By the 13th century however, the political, economic and religious atmosphere of Europe had been completely transformed – two centuries of battle, trade and travel between the Moslem and Christian worlds had left no part of people’s lives untouched. New words, sciences, philosophies, agricultural methods, financial modes, forms of education had all begun to emerge – scholars traveled from across Europe to study the mathematicians and logicians of Islam, nestled in the vast libraries of Toledo, Saragossa and Cordoba. At the same time, the corporate holdings of the Templars had swollen, with extensive interests in finance, shipping, and importing as well as transporting troops and pilgrims.5 However, as the 14th century dawned, the impact of heresy and the Inquisition, as well as the growing concern among the hereditary, monarchal elite about the ever-expanding middle classes’ political clout, finally culminated in a back lash.
    Philip IV (the Fair), King of France, was hell-bent on cementing his power and the identity of a sovereign French state and culture, fully-independent of Viennese financiers or Roman clergy. His early clashes with Boniface culminated (in Sept. 1303) with the Pope’s villa at Anagni being surrounded by Philip’s mercenaries and very nearly held hostage.6 But Boniface soon passed away, a much-meeker Clement V took the papal seat, and suddenly Philip had free reign. The French king had already secured the cooperation of the Inquisition by playing along with their persecution of the Cathar heresy throughout France, so the tribunals in essence played ball when he went after the Templars – greedily seizing the assets of these nouveau elites and politicos, to spite both their membership and Rome. Clement himself even signed a condemnation of the Templars at the Council of Vienna in 1312, so the stage was set. Very quickly, Paris was ablaze as the knights refused to recant for the absurd crimes they were accused with.
    Soooooo…, to get back to the question: just what is this Templar/Mason nonsense all about? In essence, all convoluted claims to the contrary, Freemasonry is an entirely 18th c. Enlightenment upper-middle class phenomena which hoped urgently to establish a historical dignity much older than its actual fledgling membership. Just prior to that time, fashions ran the gamut from the gothic to the bizarre – occultism, spiritualism, mesmerism, numerology all carried away the public imagination, right in the midst of the so-called Age of Reason. David Hume was fond of saying there were more astrologists in London than bakers. In addition, the courts of Europe had been handing out ceremonial ‘knighthoods’ to every curtsying courtier, yet even then the demand outstripped the supply. There were always people who felt honorable, but had not title. Freemasonry provided that and more.
    In the 1740s, a mission of Scottish Masons were traveling together in France, and managed to convince several disgruntled French noblemen that the Scots were the heirs to the secrets kept safe by the survivors and exiles left after the Templar trials of the 1300s. The Frenchmen bought this wonderful tale, wholesale, and quickly spread the ‘secret’ throughout all of Europe. The Germans were particularly smitten with the notion. Soon various rival Lodges in Germany were donning vintage armor, participating in outlandishly silly ceremonies, even going so far as to mount a mock siege at an abandoned castle in Thurungia.7 But the final masterstroke of Enlightenment paranoia came with the oft-repeated idea, circulated exclusively by Parisian bishops after the Terror, that the Templars had magically engineered the French Revolution, after four centuries in hiding, as an act of vengeance against the nobility.
Notes:

1 “…when Pope Urban had said these and very similar things in his urbane discourse, he so influenced to one purpose the desires of all who were present, that they all cried out, “Deus lo volt! God’s Will!,” from Cantor’s Medieval Reader (NY: HarperCollins, 1994), p. 92.
2 Saint Bernard, “Liber ad Milites Templi de laude novae militae,” from Sancti Bernardi opera, ed. J. LeClerq (Rome, 1963)
3 P. Partner, God of Battles: Holy Wars of Christianity and Islam (Princeton: 1997), p. 105. Partner has been a historian and journalist with publications like The Economist and London Observer for almost forty years.
4 Naturally, this meant according even the enemy some occasional dignity, as noted in the Memoirs of Usamah Ibn-Munqdih (trans. P. K. Hitti, Beirut, 1964, pp. 163-4), a Syrian prince from the time of the Second Crusade, who wrote the Good Knights of the Temple never denied him access to their headquarters, which had been the al-Aqsa mosque, allowing him time and freedom to pray according to his faith and custom. They even ejected some French militia on one visit, who had been shocked to see a Moor openly praying to Allah, and apologized profusely for the rude manners of their own countrymen, who were so knew to the lands of the East.
5 Malcolm Billings, The Crusades: Five centuries of Holy War (NY: Sterling, 1996), p. 81.
6 Thomas Bokenkotter, Concise History of the Catholic Church (NY: Image, 1979), pp. 186-189.
7 P. Partner, The Murdered Magicians: The Templars and their Myth (Oxford, 1982)

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