The Three Orders of Chivalric Masonry include the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross, the Order of Malta, and the Order of the Temple. These orders are conferred in Commanderies of Knights Templar. They are called orders rather than degrees because of the chivalric nature of their work. They are all based on feudal knighthood or the military nobility. In Masonry, these Orders represent Orders of Christian Knighthood and the teachings center around the virtues of knighthood.
Illustrious Order of the Red Cross
The Illustrious Order of the Red Cross is the first of the Commandery Orders of the Knights Templar in the United States and is also worked as the 15th and 16th degrees of the Scottish Rite. The Order illustrates the preparations for building a second Temple and Zerubbabel’s embassy to Persia during the time of King Darius to procure the repatriation of the Jews for this purpose. The legend of the order is based on events of the Royal Arch degree and its principle teaching is the full force and power of Divine Truth.
Order of Malta
The Order of Malta was likely created in England as one of the many Templar or Knightly degrees or orders brought over to America in the early 1800’s. Its first association with Masonry was recorded in the Baldwin Encampment at Bristol, England in 1780 and was first mentioned in the Constitution of a Grand Encampment formed in Providence, Rhode Island in 1805. In the ritual, the candidate is first made a Knight of the Mediterranean Pass, being told that it is a pass degree to the Order of Malta. The Order relates the story of Paul’s arrival on the island of Malta. The history of the Knights of Malta is explained and the periods of the order’s history is paralleled with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. While Freemasonry often comes under attack by fundamentalists who view it as unchristian, the candidate for admission into this Christian Order can offer a clear argument to the contrary. The Order is purely Christian in beauty and seeks to perpetuate ideals of love and mercy fostered by the Christian Crusades.
Order of the Temple
The Order of the Temple is the apex of Christian Masonry and ranks among the most beautiful of all Masonic degrees and orders. The first known minutes of a lodge referring to the degree of Knight Templar were those of St. Andrew’s Royal Arch Lodge or Chapter operating in Boston in 1769. The Order came into national notoriety when the Baldwin Encampment in England adopted it in 1780. It is evident that the degree originated as one of the “Hauts Grades” along with the Rose Croix and Kadosh degrees. As with the Royal Arch, the Templar degree was worked in lodges until the 19th century.
Unlike most branches of Freemasonry, wherein the candidate need not follow a particular faith, the Chivalric orders require a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity.
The governance of the Order is vested with Commanderies but the supreme authority of the Order is exercised by the Grand Encampment of the United States of America. The Order of the Temple is an awe-inspiring ceremony of such solemnity and meaning that it is appropriately placed at the top of the York Rite system of Freemasonry.