The Templar Rule: its multiple origin and long development

The Primitive Rule of the Temple originated as result of the Troyes Council of January, 1129. During that council Hughes de Payens, the major founding member of the group of knights that from about 1119 lived in the former Al-Aqsa mosque on Table Montain, related an account of this group's foundation and history. What is known on the origin of the Rule and its development?

According to William of Tyre, writing between 1170 and 1184, Hughes and his knights first lived as regular canons who professed vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience to Warmund, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. This can be taken as evidence that a certain form of communal rule already existed during the decade that preceeded the Troyes Council, and the Rule originating there. 

Another indication is the letter sent in about 1126 by King Baldwin II to Bernard of Clairvaux. In that letter Baldwin requested that Bernard would obtain a "certain rule" for the order and approve the "constitutions" of the Templars as well. This can be understood in the sense that Baldwin already knew of a "certain" set of rules the newly-formed knights were following and requested that these, as well as other "constitutions," be included in any document produced and approved by Bernard. Therefore the 1129 Rule probably reflects Templar customs in existence prior to 1129. This hypothetical  proto-"primitive" rule is it can also be understood as one of three central influences which constitute the original Rule.

A second influence on the 1129 Rule is Bernard of Clairvaux himself. Some modern authors believe that at Troyes it was Bernard who dictated the original Rule. However, it is more likely that Bernard, giving the Rule certain Cistercian attributes, strogly influenced the end product but that he did not as much dictate it. A more likely hypothesis is that Bernard was the Rule's main editor, not exclusive author, an editor who relied on his own knowledge of rules as well as information provided by Hugh de Payen to construct the Rule.

A third and final central influence on the Templar Rule is the Rule of St. Benedict. The Templar Rule
unquestionably owes much to the Benedictine Rule and does rely on this for a fair amount of ideas and in certain passages even quotes it verbatim.

So the Templar Rule of 1129, now called the "Primitive Rule", bears the impressions of an earlier communal, even more primitive rule, as well as Bernard of Clairvaux and the Rule of St. Benedict.

The Templar Rule did not see its completion in 1129, but rather its launch. After 1129 the Rule as it is known today evolved over almost 150 years. During this timespan the Rule expanded from the original 76 clauses to a complex of independant sections, totalling 686 clauses.
It is, therefore, not a homogeneous piece of work from the same period and by the same author. lts constituent texts were written one after another without revisions, giving rise to numerous repetitions. There are no original manuscripts extant. These were probably destroyed at the time of the arrests in France. The oldest manuscripts, of Paris and Rome, date from the end of the thirteenth century or the beginning of the fourteenth and are practically identical, indicating that they derive from the same source. That of Dijon dates from the beginning of the thirteenth century, but consists of only the Primitive Rule and the Hierarchical Statutes. The small number of manuscripts is explained by the fact that they were limited during the existence of the Order and none were recorded at the time of the proceedings against the brothers.
The whole document now considered as the Rule of the Temple is divided into seven main sections:
  • the Primitive Rule (articles 1 to 76)
  • the Hierarchical statutes (articles 77 to 197)
  • The election of the Master of the Order (articles 198 to 223)
  • The Penalties (articles 224 to 278)
  • Conventual life of the brothers (articles 279 to 385)
  • The Chapters (articles 386 à 415)
  • The Penitences (articles 416 to 542)
  • Detals of Penitences (articles 543 to 656)
  • Reception in the Order (articles 657 to 686)

Adapted and quoted from The Original Rule of the Knights Templar: a translation with introduction by Robert T. Wojtowicz (1991) and The Rule of the Templars: The French Text of the Rule of the Order of the Knights Templar the French Text of the Rule of the Order of the Knights Templar (Studies in the History of Medieval Religion) by J.M. Upton-Ward (2008). Illustration First page of the 1129 Primitive Rule of the Templars, source

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