The Warrior Monk

By John L. Cooper III, Past Grand Master


The Order of DeMolay is named for a 14th century warrior monk, the last grand master of a military organization created to fight Muslim armies in the area of the Middle East known today as Israel and Palestine. How did an organization of young men sponsored by Freemasons choose, as its hero and exemplar, the 80-year-old head of a defunct group of monks who died in the year 1314 C.E.?

They organized athletic tournaments, charity projects, and large-scale conventions. Each had joined DeMolay in their teens, but it wasn’t until this leadership year that they formed truly unbreakable bonds. “Ours was an experience that you would never get in student body government,” says Welch. “We realized we were part of something special.”

A Masonic Allegory

This mystery begins with the development of the Scottish Rite ritual, which was written by our early brethren in the 18th century. These degrees came into existence before the birth of the Scottish Rite as a Masonic organization, and it is within the 30° that Jacques DeMolay’s life is chronicled.

The storyline is a simple one. A once-proud order of warrior monks dedicated to the medieval ideals of knighthood – the Knights Templar – was destroyed by a king who wanted their money and would stop at nothing to get it. The king hatched a plot to arrest all the leading Templars on a single day, Friday, October 13, 1307, and force them to confess to crimes of which they were innocent. With the cooperation of other greedy and ambitious people, the king succeeded with his nefarious plot. Over the next seven years, the leaders of the Templars were tortured and forced to confess to things that they had never done. At the end, only DeMolay, their grand master, and some of his key supporters remained. When they still refused to give in, the king burned two of them alive, and that was the end of the Knights Templar.

Though we do not know exactly why the brothers who wrote the Scottish Rite ritual chose to include DeMolay’s story, it is likely that they found his martyrdom at the hands of political opportunists and religious fanatics compelling because it fit well with the Masonic principles, as they imagined them. His life presents a strong allegory for loyalty to one’s friends, faithfulness to promises made, and a commitment to the ideals of knighthood as exemplified by the Knights Templar, of which DeMolay was the last grand master.

The DeMolay Connection

In 1919, Frank S. Land was head of the Scottish Rite employment bureau in Kansas City, Missouri. A young man came to him looking for a job; he was the son of a Mason who had lost his life in World War I, which had just concluded. The young man’s friends soon came to meet Land too, as he was friendly and easy to get to know. These young men formed first a baseball team, and later a club founded in Masonic principles. 

Frank S. Land
Frank S. Land

The club met at the Scottish Rite building, and in helping them to choose its name, Land told them about the famous historic men whose stories peppered the Scottish Rite degrees. The boys were intrigued by the story of DeMolay, and chose him as the “exemplar” of their new organization.

So, what did Land and other Freemasons learn from DeMolay’s story? And what did they share with the young men who founded the Order of DeMolay in 1919? The ideals that they adopted are simple, and yet profound. Here are some of them:

  • There are people in the world who will tempt you to abandon your honor and violate the promises that you have made. Don’t give in.
  • When you promise to be a friend and a brother to someone, that promise is a binding one for life. If you are tempted to betray a friend or a brother, don’t do it. Don’t give in.
  • There are some things in life that are more important than wealth, power, and fame. These are the values by which people should shape their lives. When tempted to sell out your values for wealth, power, or fame, don’t do it. Don’t give in.
  • Honor and honesty in life begin with a commitment to stick with your ideals. The Order of DeMolay created seven: filial love, reverence for sacred things, courtesy, comradeship, fidelity, cleanness, and patriotism. There are more, but these seven are good ones for a young man to adopt. If asked to do something that would violate these principles, don’t do it. Don’t give in.
  • Life will not always reward you for sticking to your principles. Sometimes those who refuse to abandon their principles don’t win in life. But that is beside the point. Live your life as you know you should live it. When tempted to quit, stay the course. Don’t give in.

It was ideals such as these that can be gleaned from DeMolay’s story that probably attracted Freemasons to bring his story into the Scottish Rite degree system in the first place. And it is certain that these values attracted the young men who formed the first chapter of the Order of DeMolay to choose this story as theirs. Freemasons and DeMolays both belong to an organization that places loyalty to one’s principles and ideals above anything that would tempt them to abandon their commitment. Both have learned how important it is never to give in!

Where is DeMolay today and when was it established?

See the year each country opened its first DeMolay chapter. Information sourced from DeMolay International.


Longtime members and new brothers can use these questions as the starting point for a discussion in lodge, or in one-on-one conversations.

  • For which, if any, of your values might you be willing to risk your life? How does this passion guide your actions in other ways? How do you have opportunities to practice your values in everyday life?

  • Consider a time that you were pressured or tempted to act against your principles. How did you resist? How did your Masonic teachings help you?

  • The Order of DeMolay has seven primary principles: filial love, reverence for sacred things, courtesy, comradeship, fidelity, cleanness, and patriotism. Which resonate most closely with Freemasonry? With the culture of your lodge? With your own priorities in life?

  • One of the great strengths of DeMolay is its ability to introduce weighty moral concepts to young men at an early age. How might you harness your understanding of Masonic principles to mentor boys and girls in your life? Which values do you believe are most important for young people today?


More from this issue:

The Flame Within a Heart

The Order of DeMolay supports young men in building character and leadership skills that serve them for a lifetime. Its close friendship and enduring values provide vital support, cultivate deep understanding, and nurture emotional intelligence at a pivotal point in life.

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