Not too long ago I decided that it would be a good idea for me to increase my knowledge of the Templars, a knightly organization which achieved a great deal of popularity during the Crusades and then was suddenly crushed by the greed of the French king and the cowardice of the Pope in failing to defend a loyal order of knights. The wealth of the Templars and the fact that they were a creditor of the French kingdom made them vulnerable, especially given the fact that the crusaders had been driven out of the Middle East during the preceding decades by the resurgent Mamluk forces. Those Templars who were not tortured to death with false accusations of base and immoral conduct ended up being merged into the Knights Hospitaller. Although many people may not have heard of this name, it is possible that one might know of them by their current name of the Knights of Malta.
Why would we know them? As it happens, the Knights Hospitaller were noted as a small crusading order that was nonetheless capable of defending areas against the Muslims. After being defeated in Cyprus they went to Rhodes and successfully defended that in 1480 against a massive attack by the Ottomans before being defeated in 1522 and then moving on to Malta, where they successfully defended the Maltese from the Ottomans in 1565. Despite the fact that Napoleon conquered Malta in 1798 on his way to Egypt and Great Britain conquered it soon afterward, the Knights of Malta remain an important player internationally, being a recognized organization that has some important diplomatic ties around the world. Only recently, the Knights of Malta have had some problems.
It is perhaps unsurprising that their problems revolve around the pope, and the fact that their order’s leadership has been pressured by the pope. Like knightly orders in general, the Knights of Malta (along with the Templars and others) has a colorful history, but their efforts to remain a sovereign order that is nonetheless loyal to the Catholic Church has always presented it with a bit of difficulty in that the Catholic Church has not always respected its efforts to remain sovereign. Let us not forget that this same tension is what destroyed the Templars, given that they were vulnerable because of their military weakness and wealth and the fact that they were creditors and rulers do not like being in debt to others. It remains to be seen whether the Hospitallers will be able to rise again as a sovereign order or whether their current leadership crisis will make it impossible for them to maintain the influence they have maintained as an order. Only time will reveal what God wills, though, I suppose.