The Teutonic Orders

The Teutonic Order, more properly the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, is an ancient order of knighthood most associated with the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire. Formed to establish hospitals and aid pilgrims to the Holy Land, the order took part in the Crusades throughout the Middle Ages. Due to the effects of the Protestant Reformation, the Utrecht branch of the order because protestant. However, the order as a whole is Roman Catholic is nature and profession. Today in addition to the Protestant branch, there exists the clerical Teutonic Order, which is more religious in character, and the Imperial Teutonic Order, which is more chivalric in character.

The Order was instituted in 1190 by Duke Frederick of Swabia. After the capture of Acre, the order received a permanent site in the city. The following year, Pope Clement III confirmed this order in the Bull Quotiens postulatur. The order's mission was not limited to the Crusades and the Holy Land. In 1230, following the Golden Bull of Rimini, the Grand Master, Hermann von Salza, and Duke Konrad I of Masovia launched what was known as the Prussian Crusade. This was a joint invasion of Prussia intended to Christianize the Baltic Old Prussians. The Order created the independent "Monastic State of the Teutonic Knights," adding continuously to it as they conquered Prussia's lands. Also added was conquered Livonia. The Order was accused by Polish Kings of holding lands rightfully theirs.

The Teutonic order lost its main purpose of Christianization in Europe following the Christianization of Lithuania. Thereafter the order initiated numerous campaigns against its Christian neighbors, the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Novgorod Republic. The knights were economically powerful with a strong financial foundation. They hired mercenaries from throughout Europe to augment their forces and also became a naval power in their own right in the Baltic Sea. Despite their strength, a Polish and Lithuanian army decisively defeated the Order in 1140 in the Battle of Grunwald. Following the 1515 marraige alliance between the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I with Sigismund I of Poland-Lithuania, the Holy Roman Empire no longer supported the order in its campaigns against Poland. Following the hard times and losses experienced in the 16th century, the Teutonic Order managed to keep its vast feudal holdings in the Catholic areas of Germany. In 1809, however, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the dissolution of the Teutonic Knights, their secular holdings being forfeit. Thereafter the order continued to exist for the purpose of providing for the Austrian Archdukes and the Holy Roman Emperor, and also as a means of service for its professed religious knights and priests.

Traditionally the Teutonic Order had one class of knight, which had to prove sixteen quarterings of exclusively German or Austrian nobility. This was later relaxed to four quarterings for two hundred years. All knights had to be practicing Roman Catholics. The knights were considered to be religious, subject to the discipline of the Grand Master. Following a reform in 1865, a division of Knights of Honor was introduced for candidates who only were required to prove German nobility in the paternal line. To enable the order to sustain itself against the demands on its services, Archduke Wilhelm, introduced a special category of Marian knights and dames by a decree in 1871. These special Marian knights and dames were not considered full or regular members of the Teutonic Order. However, they were entitled to wear a variant of the Cross. Originally limited to Catholics of the nobility of the Dual Monarchy, in 1880 membership was extended to Catholics of any nationality.

The Teutonic Order continued to receive Papal support. Pius IX, in the 1871 Bull Pia sodalitia, confirmed and upheld the ancient statutes and new reforms of the order. In an 1886 Papal Brief, Leo XIII gave his approval to several further reforms to the statutes established by the Grand Master, approved by the Chapter-General, and sanctioned by the Emperor. These reforms opened up all the dignities and privileges of the Teutonic Order to those who had professed simple vows, abolishing the category of solemn vows. Those who had already undertaken the solemn vows, however, retained that obligation.

The latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was a time in which the Teutonic Order was active in Austrian life. School and hospitals were under its care that served the local population. During the First World War, the Teutonic Knights notably distinguished themselves. Unfortuantely after the war, the new republican regimes were hostile towards anything reminiscent of the Habsburgs. This created problems and obstacles for the Teutonic Order. Furthermore, the rising threat of communism and anti-Catholic sentiment were opposed to all noble instituions and anything that could be considered noble. Indeed, this situation threatened the very existence of the order. Though the order was independent under Canon Law as an autonomy religious institution, and therefore not in reality part of the Hapsburg patrimony, the new republic was bent on revenge. The mere appearance of association with the Habsburgs was sufficient. The properties of the order, perceived by the new republican regimes as estates of the Imperial House, were threatened with confiscation by the new successor states. They wanted to remove every remaining association with the Habsburg dynasty, and thus the order could not continue in its old way. The last Habsburg Grand Master, Archduke Eugene, was now forced into exile along with all the members of the Habsburg dynasty.

The Archduke offered his resignation to the Pope Pius XI in 1923. Before this resignation became final, a Chapter-General selected Monsignor Norbert Klein, a priest and Teutonic Knight as the new head of the order. The republican government of Austria was now content to consider that the order was above all a religious institution. In its purely religious form, the order and its new Rule received Papal sanction in 1929. The new order consists purely of priests and nuns headed by the Grand Master, who is always a priest. Said Grand Master holds the rank and precedence of Abbot. The Teutonic Order was formally re-established in 2001 as a secular order, creating a separate arm of the Imperial Teutonic Order from the Papal clerical order. The religious order is currently headed by the Most Rev. Bruno Platter. The secular order is currently headed by H.I.R.H. Prince Karl Friedrich as Grand-and-German Master. The Imperial & Patriarchal Confraternity of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutons in Jerusalem is comprised of several divisions of the secular Imperial Teutonic Order and is headed by H.I.R.H. Cardinal Count Rutherford I, Imperial Patriarch as High-Commander. Also, the Protestant Bailiwick of Utrecht remains to this day, perhaps retaining more of the vestiges of the order than the clerical arm in Rome, and is essentially an aristocratic society, headed by H.E. Baron de Vos van Steenwijk as Land Commander.




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