Papal Orders of Knighthood

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The emblem of the Papacy

Papal Orders of Knighthood or Pontifical Orders of Knighthood are awarded in the name of the Pope, by his authority as Head of the Catholic Church and as the head of state of the Holy See. Historically, membership in these orders was conferred by papal bulls, which were not signed by the Pope, or by Apostolic Letters, which were signed by the Pope himself. Since the reforms made in the structure of these orders at the beginning of the 20th century, the diplomas have been signed by the Cardinal Secretary of State.

Papal Orders generally refer to the Holy See's five Equestrian Orders awarded directly by the Supreme Pontiff as head of the Catholic Church and the Holy See: the Supreme Order of Christ, the Order of the Golden Spur, the Order of Pius IX, the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, and the Order of Saint Sylvester. However, the term often includes the Order of the Holy Sepulchre as it is under the direct protection of the pope, who is sovereign of the order, and which has a cardinal as grand master. This is not the case with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta which is an internationally recognized sovereign order of chivalry represented at the Holy See by an ambassador.[1]


The Papal Equestrian Orders[edit]

Of the Papal Orders the highest, and most infrequently awarded, is the Supreme Order of Christ. The second Order is the equally rare Order of the Golden Spur, the third is the Order of Pius IX, the fourth is the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, and the fifth is the Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr. The awards of the Orders of Christ and the Golden Spur are made at the express wish of the Pope, in consultation with the Cardinal Secretary of State. Awards of the Order of Pius are made to heads of state and senior members of their household at the time of official visits to the Holy See, to senior members of diplomatic missions accredited to the Vatican, and exceptionally, to those who have particularly served the Pope or the Holy See, at the discretion of the Cardinal Secretary of State. Awards of the latter two orders are generally made on the recommendation of diocesan bishops, with the support of the Apostolic Nuncio.

Supreme Order of Christ[edit]

Tracing its origins to the dissolution of the Knights Templar, the Military Order of Our Lord Jesus Christ was established in 1319 in the Kingdom of Portugal. Its founding was confirmed by the papal bull Ad ea ex quibus on 15 March 1319, given by Pope John XXII.[2] Some historians claim that under the terms of the bull, the Popes created the right to award the Order themselves, though the text of the bull does not explicitly cover this right.[3] The view of the Catholic Church is that the Pope is the head of every religious order, and thus he can grant admission to these orders without the permission of the superior general.[4] The Pope's awarding of the Order of Christ motu proprio brought the Papacy and the Crown of Portugal into conflict on several occasions, as the King of Portugal believed himself to be the only legitimate fons honorum. Protests regarding this conflict were made to Rome as late as 1825.[2]

During a reorganization of the Papal Orders in 1905, Pope Pius X made the Supreme Order of Christ the most senior Papal honor. On 15 April 1966, in the papal bull Equestres Ordinis, Pope Paul VI limited the award to Roman Catholic heads of state in commemoration of significant events where the Pope himself was in attendance. The most recent presentation of the Order was to Frà Angelo de Mojana, 77th Prince and Grand Master of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, in 1987. The last living holder of the Order was King Baudouin of Belgium, who died in 1993.[5]

Order of the Golden Spur[edit]

The second-highest Papal Order is the Order of the Golden Spur, also known as the Order of the Golden Militia. There is a lack of clear historical evidence of the order's founding, but it is certain that it is the oldest of the Papal Orders. Broad authority to grant the order diminished its prestige, and led Pope Gregory XVI to place the order under the patronage of the Order of St. Sylvester in 1841. As part of this reorganization, the Pope limited the ability to grant the order and revoked the appointments of those who were not granted by papal brief. In 1905 Pope Pius X separated the order from the Order of St. Sylvester, establishing it as the Order of the Golden Militia.[4] He also limited the number of knights to one hundred. A papal bull in 1966 further limited it to Christian sovereigns and heads of state. That bull also called it the Order of the Golden Militia, but the Annuario Pontificio lists it under two names, both as the Order of the Golden Spur and as the Order of the Golden Militia.[6] HRH Jean, Grand Duke of Luxembourg is the only living knight of the order.[7]

Order of Pius IX[edit]

Main article: Order of Pius IX

The third-highest Papal Order is the Order of Pius IX, founded 17 June 1847 by Pope Pius IX.[4] The Order of Pius IX is the highest Papal Order currently awarded.[8] There previously existed an Order of Pian knights, founded in the 16th century, which later fell into abeyance. It is not related to this order. The Order of Pius IX is the first of the Papal Orders, by order of precedence, to include different grades. The highest grade is the Collar, followed by the Grand Cross, Commander with Star, Commander, and Knight. The order may be presented to non-Catholic Christians and to non-Christians.[6]

Order of St. Gregory the Great[edit]

Insignia of the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great

The fourth Papal Order is the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great. Pope Gregory XVI established the order on 1 September 1831 by the papal brief Quod Summis. It is awarded in four classes, with military and civil divisions. It was initially founded to reward meritorious civic or military service to the Papal States.[4] Through the reforms of 1905, the Order was modified so that the classes paralleled those of the Order of Pius IX, excluding the Collar. The Order is currently awarded for conspicuous service to the Catholic Church, without regard to religious affiliation.[6] These awards are typically made based on recommendations from diocesan bishops or nuncios for specific services rendered to the Church. Membership in the Order of St. Gregory does not carry the religious obligations of the military orders, making it the preferred award of merit for individual service to the Church. Since 1994, women have been appointed as Dames in the same classes as men.[9]

Order of St. Sylvester Pope and Martyr[edit]

The fifth Papal Order is the Order of St. Sylvester Pope and Martyr. In 1841 Pope Gregory XVI reformed the Order of the Golden Spur as an order of merit, with recipients appointed by papal Brief. This reformed order was known as the Order of St. Sylvester and the Golden Militia. The reforms of 1905 resulted in the separation of the order into the Order of St. Sylvester and the Order of the Golden Spur.[4] The Order of St. Sylvester is presented in the same classes and grades as the Order of St. Gregory, and is typically used to recognize and reward members of the laity for active service to the Apostolates. It may also be presented to non-Catholics.[6]

Orders of knighthood associated with the Holy See[edit]

In addition to the Papal Orders of Knighthood given by the Pope as temporal sovereign and font of honours (similar to the orders given by other heads of state), there are several military religious orders which have existed since the time of the Crusades. The Order of the Holy Sepulcher is under the direct protection of the Holy See and a cardinal is grand master while the pope is sovereign of the order. The order is headquartered at Vatican City State. The Order of Malta is an sovereign order of chivalry, fully recognized as such by the Holy See. The Order of Malta and the Holy See exchange ambassadors. The pope is not sovereign of the order nor does he appoint members to the ranks of knighthood. He does however approve the appointment of the elected grand master. The grand master, a layman, but also a professed religious, ranks as a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church and his accorded the title, "Eminent Highness" and "Prince".

Order of the Holy Sepulchre[edit]

The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem traces its founding to the First Crusade. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1182, the order ceased to exist as a crusading order. In 1847 Pope Pius IX reorganized the order and placed it under the direct protection of the Holy See. In 1949, Pope Pius XII decreed that the Grand Master of the Order be a cardinal appointed directly by the Pope, who is sovereign of the order, and who serves at the pleasure of the Pope. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem is, ex officio, Grand Prior of the Order, while the lay head is the Governor-General.[10] The present Cardinal Grand Master is Edwin Frederick O'Brien, who was appointed on 15 March 2012.[11]

Sovereign Military Order of Malta[edit]

The Order of Malta traces its history to the late 11th century, but it first became a religious military order by a bull of Pope Paschal II of 1113. The Grand Master, as of 2013 Matthew Festing, is elected by the professed religious members of the Order and serves for life, or until his abdication. Elections of the Grand Master must be approved by the Pope as the religious superior of the Order, who also appoints a cardinal patron and a Prelate of the Order.[12]

Teutonic Knights[edit]

Main article: Teutonic Knights

The Teutonic Order was founded as a hospital brotherhood in 1190 at Acre. In 1198 the order became a religious military order of chivalry. However, since 1929 it has been a purely religious order of priests, brothers, and sisters, with a category of twelve honorary knights and an unlimited number of associates, known as Marianer. Its headquarters is in Vienna. The current Grand Master is Bruno Platter.[13]

Other Orders[edit]

In response to a proliferation of self-proclaimed chivalric orders claiming recognition from the Roman Catholic Church, the Holy See's Secretariat of State issued a statement clarifying that 'other than its own Equestrian Orders... the Holy See recognises and supports only the Sovereign Military Order of Malta... and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre'. All other self-styled chivalric orders, the statement continued, 'whether of recent origin or mediaeval foundation, are not recognised by the Holy See' and 'the Holy See does not guarantee their historical or juridical legitimacy, their ends or organisational structures... to prevent the continuation of abuses which may result in harm to people of good faith, the Holy See confirms that it attributes absolutely no value whatsoever to certificates of membership or insignia issued by these groups, and it considers inappropriate the use of churches or chapels for their so-called "ceremonies of investiture".'[14]However the Order of Mercy(Mercedarians) a Military Order founded in 1218 to ransom and rescue Christian slaves held by the Moors,and converted into a Clerical Order in 1398, re-established Knighthoods in 1926.This was reaffirmed in 2002, so the Order of Mercy is now like the Teutonic Order, a religious order of the Catholic Church that has Knights as it had at the time of its foundation.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Press Release of the Secretariat of State (Holy See), December 2012: http://www.news.va/en/news/note-of-clarification-from-the-secretariat-of-stat
  2. ^ a b de Bragança, José Vicente. "The Military Order of Christ and the Papal Croce di Cristo". Portuguese Military Orders. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  3. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair. "The Papal Orders". Chivalricorders.org. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Wikisource-logo.svg Rock, P.M.J. (1913). "Pontifical Decorations". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  5. ^ Todorov, Borislav (15 April 1966). "Association of Papal Orders in Great Britain". PapalKnights.org.uk. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d Sainty, Guy Stair. "History of the Papal Orders". Burke's Peerage. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  7. ^ World Orders of Knighthood & Merit. "Did you know?". wokm.co.uk. Retrieved 8 April 2012. 
  8. ^ Todorov, Borislav. "Association of Papal Orders in Great Britain". PapalKnights.org.uk. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  9. ^ Sainty, Guy Stair (7 February 1905). "The Papal Order of Saint Gregory the Great". Chivalricorders.org. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  10. ^ "Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem". Vatican City. Grand Magisterium of OESSG. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine, 15.03.2012". press.catholica.va. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  12. ^ "Sovereign Order of Malta". Orderofmalta.int. 11 March 2008. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  13. ^ "Deutscher Orden". Teutonic Knights. Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  14. ^ Press Release of the Secretariat of State (Holy See), December 2012: http://www.news.va/en/news/note-of-clarification-from-the-secretariat-of-stat

Sources and external links[edit]