Holy See Clarification about Equestrian Orders

From VIS:


Vatican City, (VIS) – In response to frequent requests for information concerning the recognition by the Holy See of Equestrian Orders dedicated to the saints or to holy places, the Secretariat of State considers it opportune to reiterate what has already been published, namely that, other than its own Equestrian Orders (the Supreme Order of Christ, the Order of the Golden Spur, the Pian Order, the Order of Saint Gregory the Great, and the Order of Pope Saint Sylvester), the Holy See recognises and supports only the Sovereign Military Order of Malta – also known as the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta – and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The Holy See foresees no additions or innovations in this regard.

All other orders, whether of recent origin or mediaeval foundation, are not recognised by the Holy See. Furthermore, the Holy See does not guarantee their historical or juridical legitimacy, their ends or organisational structures.

To avoid any possible doubts, even owing to illicit issuing of documents or the inappropriate use of sacred places, and 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”.

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  1. Matt R says:

    What other equestrian orders would the Holy See be talking about?

  2. Geoffrey says:

    There are numerous fraudulent “orders”. They are all over the Internet.

  3. mcferran says:

    There are numerous other equestrian orders which have been recognised by papal bull: the Golden Fleece (Habsburg), the Annunciation (Savoy), the Starry Cross (Austria), the Constantinian Order of St. George (Two Sicilies), the Holy Ghost (France), St. George (Bavaria), St. Stephen (Tuscany), and many more. A “note of clarification”, even one emanating from the Secretariat of State, does not override a papal bull.
    The Holy See does not wish to be drawn into the internal squabbles of some of these orders. But, when referring to such illustrious bodies, it is unnecessarily provocative to refer to “so-called ‘ceremonies of investiture'”.

  4. AnnAsher says:

    Now that’s how to wield a hammer !

  5. AnnAsher says:

    I wonder if the Holy See can also order the approved equestrian orders to actually practice with horses and the swords they carry? All the decades of not having a real physical threat to defend against has left them not appearing so very ready. I mean if you’re going to carry a sword shouldn’t you be able to weild it?

  6. Oneros says:

    mcferran, I’m not sure these are quite the same thing.

    The ones for all those countries refer to secular orders of knighthood, and their fons honorem is the head of the royal house or whatever, not the Pope. I don’t think the Vatican is attempting to de-legitimize all those, they’re just saying that the Vatican has nothing to do with them.

  7. MattH says:

    The Holy See undoubtedly gets routinely asked whether certain orders are valid or legitimate.

    First, some of the historic Catholic Orders of Knightgood, like the Constantinian Order of Saint George, are now divided. When a royal house is not longer actually reigning, it can get hard to determine who the legitimate heir is, so there are two good claimants to the Grand Master of that Order (plus a third claimant that I don’t know if there is any reasonable legitimacy to or not). The Vatican Secretariat of State does not want to answer which of these branches is that true Order. Perhaps it is a question of jurisdiction – do they have authority to answer that question? Perhaps it is simply prudent to not have a position – there are bishops and Cardinals in both branches of the Order and both branches do charitable works, so what point is there in denying the legitimacy of one by recognizing another? Whatever the reason, it is not the first time the Secretariat of State has declined to get into that sort of question.

    Second, there are “Orders” that by the historical standards do not qualify as Orders of Knighthood, but which do lots of good work. Again, I don’t know if it is for legal reasons or prudential reasons, but either way, the Secretariat of State isn’t going to recognize them, but also isn’t going to specifically take a position against their “validity.”

    Third, there are obviously fradulent “orders.”

    If people want to know the status of a supposed order of knighthood, instead of bugging the Secretariat of State , they should go to the International Commission on Orders of Chivalry (http://www.icocregister.org/emain.htm) and learn how the Order is viewed by people who care about the historic legal definition of Knighthood. I know not all expects agree with the Commission’s conclusions in every case, but most people agree with most of there determinations, and it’s a decent starting point.

  8. Giuseppe says:

    If Roman Catholics deliver for Romney, will Rafalca be part of an Equestrian Order?

  9. Sissy says:

    Giuseppe asked: “If Roman Catholics deliver for Romney, will Rafalca be part of an Equestrian Order?”

    Giuseppe, Rafalca is sometimes referred to as a “dancing horse”, so I believe Ann Romney’s horse is destined to be a liturgical dancer.

  10. Phil_NL says:


    Be careful what you wish for. One of the Vatican’s own orders (I believe the one of Pope Saint Sylvester) entails the right of the members to ride into Saint Peter’s on horseback!

    Needless to say, it has been a while since that right has been exercised. And one could only speculate at what the Swiss guards would do, were someone to attempt it…

  11. nmoerbeek says:

    The Milita Templi which I am a part of has never claimed to be an equestrian order, we are a private association of the lay faithful. Our constitutions were approved Sept. 8, 1988 by the Archbishop of Siena Mario Jsmaele Castellano. The next Archbishop, Gaetano Bonicelli approved the Rule of the Militia in 1990. The Cardinal Protectors of the Militia Templi were Silvio Oddi, Édouard Gagnon and Alfons Maria Stickler. The current Protector is the Right Reverend Phillip Lawrence,OSB, Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Christ in the Desert located in New Mexico, USA.

    Our order has also received indulgences from the Apostolic Penititary.

    Our order was established in conformity with Canon law. I hope that this clarification does not cause any splash damage on us in terms of vocation or operating in dioceses; as we are obedient to the Church.

  12. Matt R says:

    I suppose the clarification needed to be more specific, considering none of us seem to know which specific group(s) prompted this, and how it affects other orders of knighthood and merit which have been founded through the centuries under canon law.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Oh, I’m pretty sure we all know who the Vatican is talking about. All the crazy people who claim to be Templars of the original historical order, all the conmen who claim to be able to get them in. All the allegedly Vatican-approved weird new military orders that periodically make claims on the Internet, and all their weird schismatical buddies of various religious faiths. The various folks who want you to send money to South America to learn the secret secrets of military Catholic knighthood. And so on.

    I’d say this was a case of one letter too many, possibly prompted by some obscure viral video or Internet meme over in Europe, and possibly prompted by some gullible dignitary demanding to get let into an order that doesn’t exist.

  14. Gail F says:

    But I want to be a Templar! Oh well.

  15. teomatteo says:

    What in the HAY are you people talk’en about….?!?!

  16. Jacob says:

    There is mention of the Knights of Malta. What about the Teutonic Order?

  17. ghp95134 says:

    What in the HAY are you people talk’en about….?!?!

    Vatican sponsored Orders of Chivalry. There are only two: the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta – and the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

    You’ll recognize their badges. The first wears a Maltese Cross, the latter a Red Jerusalem Cross. See Fr. Z’s image from a couple of days ago: https://wdtprs.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/20121014-112220.jpg

    There are a few “separated” protestant Orders of St. John that are recognized by the Order of Malta as historical and linked to the Order: The Most Venerable Order of St. John (UK, HM QEII is the head), and the Germanic “Brandenburg Orders”. The VOSJ is ecumenical whereas the Germanic orders are strictly Protestant. Still, we few still play well together in the same sandbox.


  18. AnnAsher says:

    Phil_nl – you made me laugh. I shall be careful…
    Honestly I do like Orders of Knights and the honor they intimate.

  19. jflare says:

    Equestrian orders, huh?
    I’m not actually following what this addresses. Only thing that comes to mind would be..someone–or some group–wanting to ride one or more horses into church for some sort of ceremony. I think I can live without that experience.

    Not even counting the inevitable droppings, I’m thinking that such an effort would be awfully hard on the floor.

  20. Sorbonnetoga says:

    One of the most notable of the unofficial/semi-official/heaven knows what orders is probably the Order of St Lazarus. Their charitable works are admirable but they (in their various branches, which do not always enjoy harmonious fraternal relations) are perhaps a little too fond of claiming grand titles and ecclesiastical approbation.

  21. Titus says:

    MattH has the best explanation: the Holy See wants people to stop bugging it about internecine disputes involving the chivalric orders of deposed royal houses (as well as fraudulent start-ups). (This is a bigger problem in some places than one might imagine.) Everyone should read his comment for a good overview.

  22. Jack Orlando says:

    The Church likely could use a real military order — soldiers with military and police training, to protect pilgrims, pilgrim roads, pilgrim hospices, and pilgrim destinations; and in places like Nigeria, to protect simply churches and Christians. Nigeria today may well be Europe and the USA tomorrow.

  23. Ed the Roman says:

    Somehow I imagine an equestrian order being a bishop telling the bugler to play Boots and Saddles.

  24. acricketchirps says:

    “The Holy See foresees no additions or innovations in this regard.”

    Well THAT makes sense at least. However I should hope we can reasonable expected some shake-ups in the Motorized Orders, the Airborne Orders and the Robotic Orders.

  25. acricketchirps says:

    “reasonably expect”

  26. albizzi says:

    The Teutonic Knights order is an old crusader order which is still active and continues to exist as a charitable and ceremonial body. It was outlawed by Adolf Hitler in 1938, but re-established in 1945. Today it operates primarily with charitable aims in Central Europe.
    By the end of the 20th century, the Order has developed into a charitable organization and incorporated numerous clinics.
    The Roman Catholic branch now consists of approximately 1,000 members, including 100 Roman Catholic priests, 200 nuns, and 700 associates. While the priests are organized into six provinces (Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Slovakia, and Slovenia) and predominantly provide spiritual guidance, the nuns primarily care for the ill and the aged.

    I don’t understand why the Vatican no longer recognizes that order since it always has well and faithfully served the Church.

  27. Titus says:

    The Teutonic Knights order is an old crusader order which is still active and continues to exist as a charitable and ceremonial body.

    I am not at all sure that the Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem remains, in fact, a chivalric or equestrian order. It appears to be more akin to a conventional religious order.

    (And we could quibble over its history: I don’t think the Poles would take very well to its characterization as good and faithful servant.)

  28. catholicmidwest says:

    That kind of makes one wonder what’s going on, doesn’t it?

    But then if you look around the internet, you can see the blossoming of all kinds of strange “religious order” -looking organizations, many of them touted as independent. It’s really odd. There are huge long lists of them online.

  29. catholicmidwest says:

    There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye, too. Through history, there have been different forms of religious life that have come to the front, simply because of the needs of the Church and the conditions of the world. These things happened in stages and they are not repeatable, although remnants of each stage of development still exist, and many of them still play important parts in the Church’s life. Here’s a quick recap that will help to explain why recently founded military orders aren’t acceptable.

    First there were hermits in the desert, who eventually coalesced into shared houses and the monastery was “invented.” The Benedictine movement was the high point (500AD-1200AD) of this development in living out consecrated life. Augustinians also participated in a similar form of their own in the later parts of this period. They were canons at Churches. So here are two very similar forms of religious life. Now as time passes–what will happen is that each new form will remain but have to move over as a new one comes on the scene. We still have monasteries; we still have Augustinian canons. They’re not the only arrangement now, but in 800AD, they were really the only ones you’d be able to find.

    Next were the military orders in the early medieval period. Why? Because of the crusades and social movements happening at that time, coupled with dissatisfaction with current forms of religious life. The military “orders” were very loosely structured because that’s all that was necessary at the time. They were recognized however, and some of them remain as remnants of that time period. New ones cannot be founded on that same pattern because those conditions don’t exist anymore. This is a third type of religious structure.

    Next were the mendicants, which began where the military orders left off. There’s not a smooth transition here. They started with the Trinitarians whose apostolate was release of the captives (see?). But then as society changed during the 12th-13th centuries the new forms of life became more like one expects mendicants to be. There were many, many of these, most of which dropped out of existence and were never recognized by the Holy See. The ones that were recognized and still exist are the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Carmelites, the Servites, and the Norbertines. If you examine their documents, in some very important ways they are conceived of and structured differently from the military orders. There is a strong emphasis on fidelity and service in these orders. This is a fourth kind of religious structure.

    Then in the first part of the 13th century, at the Fourth Lateran Council, the founding of new religious orders was suppressed. Since then, only ONE religious order has ever been founded–the Society of Jesus in 1540, another new type–in response to an emergency: the Reformation. Everything else founded after that has been a congregation, institute or some other kind of structure.

    This is WHY new equestrian orders can’t be founded. 1) the conditions simply don’t exist anymore for a genuine movement of this sort, and 2) you can’t found an order anymore, because the structure of starting a new religious foundation is entirely different now and has been for hundreds of years.

    When you look at any religious order, congregation, institute or other structure, you should take great caution to see that it fits into the history of religious life correctly and makes sense. There are a lot of small Catholic start-ups that absolutely mean well, but don’t make it to recognition; there are some who do. There are also a lot of things that aren’t in union with Rome but sound very much like they are. And there are even organizations out there fronting as religious groups for whatever reasons of their own. Be careful. If in doubt, check with your bishop’s office before joining or donating. He will either know or be able to find out for you what you’re looking at.

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    The biggest piece of all this is that God works with the Church through history, and not in spite of it. So as all these social and cultural changes develop among the people in the Church, God gives them tools and structures to carry out his will in all times and in all places.

    It’s important to key in on this most important principle, when you think about religious orders. It might be glamorous to think about swords and ceremonies and long habits and all that. And it may actually be the case that you are one of the few to be chosen by God to belong to an existing recognized medieval order, even an existing recognized medieval military order. But most people aren’t, and you can’t–and really shouldn’t–try to start a new one up. You can’t do that anymore. :)

    You can join something that already exists if you have a vocation. You could even start a new association of the faithful if God calls you to do so and your bishop agrees. But a new medieval military order…..eh, not really.

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