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3.5 Modern Times

The Governing Council in Catania asked Pius VII four times to confirm the Grand Master elect, Caracciolo, but without success. In 1809 Russia withdrawn its recognition of the title. Caracciolo intervened little in the government of the Order. At the death of the Lieutenant Guevara Suardo the Convent elected the Sicilian Andrea di Giovanni, 72 years old, as the next Lieutenant. As the Napoleonic Empire collapsed in 1813, there was a big opportunity to restore the Order. However this opportunity was not seized and the congress of Vienna was a disaster as far as the Order was concerned. Already in 1814 the Paris Treaty had confirmed Britain’s possession of Malta. The best hope was to fight for some territorial compensation that would restore the sovereignty of the Order. This was not possible due to the absence of a Grand Master and Pius VII still refused to confirm him in 1814. The only reason was to weaken the Order and transform it in a papal order of chivalry. It can be said that Pius VII was responsible in 1802 for preventing the order to take back Malta and in 1814 he again prevented territorial compensation. No General Chapter was summoned after Waterloo and the following 15 years of peace. Such an assembly could have tried to restore unity while the Order was becoming a full Italian organisation with the help of the Pope. The men in charge of the Order in Catania had little influence on the Italian priory and the Langue of Italy remained independent. The government of the Order was in fact a puppet of the Holy See. On the other hand the Knights of Malta in France regained power and had the support of many members of the parliament even for the return of the confiscated properties. This was subject to the Order recovering its sovereignty. Elba was offered at a certain time as an alternative to Malta but the restoration of the Order under the Habsburg was unacceptable. The Austrian Antonio Busca succeeded Di Giovanni as Lieutenant of the Order in 1821. For no apparent reason he did not participate in the International Congress in Verona that was supposed to discuss the affairs of the Order. In the absence of any representative, the question was ignored. Busca was the worst head of the Order after Hompesch. In 1821 the Greek rebelled against Turkey and asked the help of the Order. Busca refused to take any decision and referred the Greeks to the French knights. The Greeks promised to give back Rhodes or another Greek island in case of victory with the Order’s help. A convention was signed between Greece and the French Commission of the Order in 1823. The aim was for Greece to gain independence and for the Order to regain some territories. In exchange for a Greek island the French were supposed to raise a loan of ten million francs. However Austrian was again helping Greece against Turkey and Busca had problem with his countrymen. But the necessary secrecy was broken and the plan failed completely as the bankers refused the loan. Busca took this opportunity to expel the French Langues from the Order. Spain and Portugal confiscated all the properties of the Order. In 1821 Francis I became king of the Two Siciles and the relations with Busca were straight away very difficult. Busca moved the Convent to Ferrara in 1826 and Francis I suppressed the priories in his kingdom. A Council of the French Langues was recreated. The Greek question was settled at Navarino in 1827, in the absence of the Order. As a result the possibility to receive an island disappeared. When the French took Algiers it was suggested to give it to the Order who would then police the Mediterranean sea. But Charles X lost his throne in the revolution of 1830 and the idea was suggestion was put aside. This led to the death of the Order in France. In fact the Lieutenancy had only diplomatic relations with Austria and the Holy See as well as with some minor Italian States. (j)

The death of Busca in 1834 ended the worst 20 years of the Order’s history for which he was personally responsible due to his incompetence. The Pope Gregory XVI nominated Carlo Candida as the new Lieutenant and removed the Convent to Rome from Ferrara. This was not to take over the Order but, on the contrary, it was the way of the Pope to revive it. Candida asked the Pope for a Hospital where the novices may perform their duties to the sick and they received the hospice of the Cento Preti at the Ponte Sisto. In the next 25 years more than 30 Commanderies were created in Italy. Austrian restored the Grand priory of Lombardy-Venetia in 1839 and in the same year a new Priory of the Two Siciles was founded. In 1844, five commanderies were reinstalled in Sardinia. All that Pope Gregory XVI could do was to nominate Candida Lieutenant general Master. The successor of Gregory, Pius IX, was not interested in the Order and the situation remained as such until his death in 1879. During this period the professed knights became heavily outnumbered by the Knights of Honour and Devotion, a class that had been insignificant before the fall of Malta. However they helped the recovery of the Order. The order revived in Germany in this period and cured the victims of the Danish war in 1864 as well as in the wars of 1866 and 1870. The Order of Malta collaborated with the Red Cross as soon as this organisation was created. Hospitals were established both in Germany and in Italy. In the same way in England the Order operated a few Hospitals and the association of knights of Malta was created in 1876. In 1877 an Italian Association was founded in parallel on the Grand Priories. In 1885 the Langue of Spain that had been independent since 1802 was re-integrated in the Order and a National Association was created in 1891. The French Association created in 1881 was recognised in 1891. In 1879 Pope Leo XIII nominated Grand Master the Lieutenant Ceschi a Santa Croce. (j)
In 1910 the French Association founded a Hospital for the care of the wounded in war time. The Italian helped also the wounded in the Tripolitanian war. Their ship, Regina Margherita, transported and cared 12000 wounded. Most national organisations helped the wounded in the first world war. German, Italian, French and Austrian national associations had Hospital trains, Hospitals, field Hospitals, infirmaries, convalescent houses, … The war was a set back for the Order. The Austrian Grand Master fled to Switzerland and lost the order’s money by investing it in Austrian war bonds. The fall of the German and Austrian Empires deprived the knights of their influence in these countries. Exchange of ambassadors with the Austrian Republic and Hungary was resumed after the war. Relations with Italy were more difficult but the Italian kingdom renewed the sovereignty of the Order in 1923 as it had already done in 1869 and 1884 and accorded extraterritorial status to the Palazzo Malta. The Fascist government restored the city of the knights in Rhodes. An international assembly of the knights took place in Rhodes in 1928 and the governor handed them the keys to the magisterial palace and gave them back the Italian Auberge. The Lateran Treaty of 1929 recognised the sovereignty of the Vatican City and a similar treaty was agreed with the Order of Malta. The knights opened a leper-Hospital in Adowa during the Abyssinian war. Similar Hospitals were then opened in many African countries. The second world war saw many knights on the opposite fronts and this did not help the Order. Many Knights of St John suffered for their convictions and their courage in face of the enemy. (j)

As the allied armies run over defeated Italy and Germany the Hospitallers had again a lot to do. They helped refugees in Germany and an organisation called “Malteser-Hilfsdienst” was founded. In Italy they also helped refugees and other war victims. These organisations made also some mistakes due to their lack of experience in managing such emergencies. In 1948 Pope Pius XII chose cardinal Canali to become Grand Prior of Rome as a way to pay him back for helping him to become Pope. The American Association of the Order of Malta had been founded in 1926 by some members of the society of Knights of Columbus and was growing under the patronage of Cardinal Spellman who became “Grand protector of the American Association”. Cardinal Spellman was able to raise a lot of money, in principle for the Order, but mainly for his own use. The Congregation of religious, at the suggestion of Cardinal Spellman, decided to check the finances of the Order and until the results were known all the organs of the Order’s Government were suspended. Luckily the Order was able to inform the Pope within an hour of the inspection and the controls were stopped but it still remained under the subordination of the Congregation of Religions and this was in contradiction with its sovereignty status. The Grand Master, Prince Chigi, died of a heart attack as a result. In order to prevent Cardinal Canali to seize the opportunity of this untimely death, the nomination of the new temporary head, Count Antonio Hercolani, was announced to the outside world before informing the Vatican that found itself confronted with a “fait accompli”. Finally Pope Pius XII recognised the sovereignty of the Order and appointed a special tribunal to resolve the dispute with the Congregation of Religions. Unfortunately the members of the special tribunal included Canali and a majority of his friends. The Order chose Angelo de Mojana as its lawyer and this task required eleven years of his life. The Congregation nominated Prince Carlo Pacelli as its lawyer. Many members of the Roman aristocracy turned their back on Cardinal Canali after the popular Prince Chigi’s death. The cardinalitial tribunal wanted to pronounce sentence in May 1952 without hearing the defence. The Pope was informed again and granted a delay until the end of the year. In the mean time Palazzo Malta was mobilising the national associations and appointed a Committee to reform the Order’s religious life and Constitution. They also proclaimed again the principle of sovereignty of the Order. The findings of the tribunal were made known on 19 February 1953. They form the base of the modern political and ecclesiastical status of the Order of Malta. It defined the sovereignty as functional that is based on the Order’s international activities and not on the possession of territory. The religious character of the Order was confirmed as well as its subordination to the Congregation of Religious. The Order could appeal to the Pope through the Secretariat of State and all the traditional privileges were maintained. This was a reasonable statement of the Order’s position but the fears of possible intervention by Cardinal Canali were still present. The “Acceptance” was subject to two interpretations: the first said that the functional sovereignty was real as the possession of territory was not essential for the Order’s activities; the second was that the jurisdiction of the Congregation of Religious was limited to professed members. These interpretations remained secret even if the judgement was published. The reforms were well under way as the committee appointed in 1952 had written a proposal. But the Congregation wanted to be consulted. A joint committee was formed but the Cardinals Canali and Spellman were not satisfied. In the mean time the Knights of Malta continued to expand their work and their diplomatic relations. However the joint committee on reform did not succeed to do any useful work as Cardinal Canali still wanted to control the Order. This prevented the election of a successor to Prince Chigi as Grand Master. In 1955 the Pope formed a new cardinalitial Commission to reform the Order. The members were the same as in 1951 with the addition of Cardinal Valeri. The aim was to turn the government of the Order to the Commission. By threatening to publish the whole correspondence with the Vatican since 1949 the Order succeeded to stop the Commission. But this was their last success. Many members of the top hierarchy had to resign. It was also decided to replace the lieutenant Hercolani. The Order’s candidate, Don Ernesto Paterno Castello di Carcasi, was elected instead of the favourite of Cardinal Canali. This destroyed cardinal Canali’s chances of running the Order. This victory was due mainly to the National Associations and not to the professed knights of Rome. In 1957 new provisional rules were adopted for a three year period during which no Grand Master would be elected. Pope Pius XII died in 9 October 1958. During his reign he thought, wrongly, that the Order refused to reorganise itself and to submit to the Church’s authority. On the other hand the Order thought that the Vatican wanted to suppress the sovereignty of the Order. Both sides were wrong. It was obvious that Cardinal Canali wanted to keep the sovereignty of the Order to profit from it himself. With the election of cardinal Roncalli as Pope John XXIII, the power of Cardinals Canali and Spellman collapsed and the Order was out of the storm that hurt it for many years. The necessary reforms were slowly introduced. The creation of the Knights of Obedience (members not taking vow but committed to special religious duties and obedience to the spiritual guidance of the Order) was one of the first positive reforms. By the end of 1961 fifty-three knights had made their promise or started their probation. A new institution of sub-priories for knights of Obedience was launched. In 1961 Pope John XXIII approved the new Constitution of the Order, abolished the cardinalitial Commission and nominated a Cardinal Protector of the Order. In May 1962 the first legislative Chapter General since 1776 met and elected Grand Master Fra Angelo de Mojana dei Signori di Cologna. These events marked the end of the power of Cardinal Canali and his friends. The Order of St John was now free to carry on his real duties free of Vatican petty politics. (j)

Fra Angelo de Mojana was Grand Master for 26 years and under his government The Order of Malta became one of the largest organisation of the Catholic Church and one of the most active Hospitaller organisation in the world. The number of knights increased from 3000 to more than 10,000 and the National Associations from 28 to 39. The Order organises pilgrimages to Lourdes for its members and patients. The National associations run Hospitals and offer medical assistance all other the world. A sisterhood of nurses was founded in 1965 with a structure similar to the Knights of Obedience. The most active are the German, the French and the American organisations. The order has also been playing an important representation role in many countries in the past years. The Order of Malta has also a very high social prestige, higher often that the prestige linked to ruling kings. Since 1963 the Sovereign Order has maintained relations with the alliance of four Protestant Orders of St John that trace their roots to it. The Order of Malta that had diplomatic relations with 30 countries in 1962, now exchange Ambassadors with nearly 60 countries mainly in the catholic world. The Order is recognised as a sovereign entity in international law by all countries and issues diplomatic passports to its diplomats. It is represented at the Council of Europe and the World Health Organisation. Its right to mint coins and issue stamp is only purely nominal. The Order of Malta lost its territory two centuries ago but still is considered as sovereign. International Hospitaller activities justify the diplomatic relations that the same countries deny to the Red Cross. And, of course, it is the only real aristocratic organisation that has kept an effective role. It has been copied by many other organisations but in general without any success in the international community. (j)

The Order of Malta to day presents three specific aspects:

– It is, as it has always been since the 12th century, a religious order of the Catholic Church with professed members, the Knights and Chaplains of Justice.

– Since 1960 it has become a religious institute accepting laymen (the Knights of Obedience and the Donats of Justice) who have promised obedience to their superiors.

– It is an autonomous order of Chivalry conferring the title of Knight or Dame mainly on Catholics and sometimes on non-Catholic of high rank. Its status of international sovereignty is to be found here in the authority of the Grand Master to confer Knighthood as a sovereign prince.

The knights of Justice are always recruited from the Knights of Obedience or those of Honour or Grace and Devotion. They perform a 12-months noviciate before taking their simple or temporary vows. The definitive vows are taken between one and nine years later. The vow of chastity limits this class to bachelors or widowers. The vow of poverty is very relative, the professed knights renounce the freedom to dispose of their properties but they must maintain themselves. The minimum age to take the final vow is 33 years. The Knights and Chaplains of Justice are member of one of the historic priories or are subject directly to the Grand Master. The Knights of Obedience and Donats of Justice are bound only by religious promises. This group is open to married people and the minimum age is twenty-two years. They have to take a one-year probation period before taking the oath of obedience to their superior. Knights and Dames of the third class have lighter obligations. As their number increases faster they are more and more responsible for the good work of the Order. An applicant receives his Knighthood once he has been accepted in the Order. There are three categories of admission depending on the strictness of nobility qualification:

– Honour and Devotion (proof of sixteen quarters of nobility).

– Grace and Devotion.

– Magistral Grace (those who only have their Knighthood).

The government of the Order is in the hand of the professed knights with of certain representation of the other two classes. The Grand Master must be a Knight of Justice as most of the ten members of the Sovereign Council are. The charitable work is mainly run by the National Associations. However the heart of the system consists of the professed members and the capital is in the Magistral Palace in Rome, the Palazzo Malta. It houses the suite of the Grand Master and his direct assistants. On 24 of June of each year a mass and a reception are held for the diplomatic corps and the sovereign Council is received in audience by the Pope. (j)

The modern Order of Malta is a recovery of the disaster of 200 year ago. It has succeeded to adapt itself to the new social, economical, political and religious conditions of the end of the 20th century. It is now closer to what it was in the 12th century than in the 18th. There is the same difficult balance between the religious and secular life, the same pragmatism, the same government by a small number of professed knights, the reliance on local initiative and a large diversity of the Order’s work. However in the 12th century the order was young identified with the fight to free the Holy Land, Now the Order shows its age. In the 12th century the Order received a lot of money to allow their support to the pilgrims and the sick as well as to built many religious communities. To day the Order collects large sum of money for charity but the Order itself remains poor. It is not even able to support its professed members who must take care of themselves in contradiction with the religious aspect of their vows. The initiative now is with the National Associations rather that with the Order. This does not help the recruitment of new professed knights. The absence of conventual life since the loss of Malta is another aspect of the question. In the past the knights had long experience of life in the Convent that continually improved their religious formation. The result is an obvious secularisation of the knights with a lack of coherent spirituality among the brethrens. The newly acquired vitality is another positive factor of the Order to-day. The secret of this new life lies with the Hospitallers’ vocation that gave it the elements of idealism and service that we know. The members of the Order have been able to use their nobility , title and ceremonial in help for the sick and the needy. The Order, in this new democratic world, has been faced with the alternative to abandon its nobilitary traditions and turn itself into an association of rich and influent people. This solution could lead to admit candidates whose only aim is to get a title for social ambition or to accept political and business leaders that could become the object of public criticism. Making the order more democratic meant to make it more vulnerable. The second possibility would be to keep the traditional religious character of the Order under the Catholic Church and thus relying on the noble class. This is the option chosen by the Order. One can say that this choice has been proved right if one look at the facts. Since the renewal that started in 1962 the number of Knights of Justice has increased slightly and in general it can be said that all the activities of the Order have increased. On the other hand this can not be said for most of the other organisations of the Catholic Church. The opposite is closer to the truth. This would tend to show that the religious organisations that have kept their old traditions have fared better that those you followed the modern trend. On the death of Fra Angelo de Mojana in 1988, the general opinion was that the next election should emphasise the international character of the Order. Fra Andrew Bertie was elected to be the next Grand Master, the first Englishman elected to this charge. He is one of the few Englishmen alive who can show sixteen quarters of nobility. His good personal relations with the Maltese authorities led to the cession by the Maltese government in 1991 of the historic fortress of Sant’ Angelo to the sovereign Order. It is proposed to use it as a study centre for training the members of the Order. The fact that this will be done in the last Order’s territory will allow the trainees to immerse themselves in the history of the organisation. The new Grand Master has launched a long term study to improve the operation of the organisation in its secular as well as religious aspects. The aim is to replace the easy-going approach of the past by a much better co-ordinated and rational one. National Associations have been asked to produce realistic budgets and to submit them to the central organisation with the aim to co-ordinate their activities with those of the local governments. On the other hand the diplomatic service of the Order will have to work hand in hand with the National Associations. These innovations should lead to a reform much more important that those brought by the chapter General of 1962. These changes have been possible due to the expansion of the Order that took place these last 30 years. They show that the defeat suffered at the hand of Cardinal Canali is overcome. The good relations enjoyed with the Vatican are another example that the past is forgotten. The Grand Master has declared publicly that his objectives are to make the Order work, to safeguard its religious character and to recreate the Priory of England and, if possible, also those from other countries. He also wants to hand over to his future successor an organisation useful in the 21th century. (j)

NB: The Protestant Order of St John

A Protestant Order of St John ran in parallel to the Sovereign Order of Malta in England and Germany. The Grand Bailiwick of Brandenburg had been converted in 1812 into the civil order of St John. Due to traditional sentiment gaining ground in Prussia, King Frederick William IV was forced to restore the Grand Bailiwick in 1852. Prince Charles, its “Herrenmeister” informed the Lieutenant Grand Master Colloredo of his appointment. Colloredo welcomed the foundation. The Protestants Hospitallers, or Johanniter, were at least, if no more active as their Catholic brethren in curing the sick. In the 1820s, the French Langues tried to get the support of England in their fight to recover the Order territorial sovereignty. The priory of England was revived, the Prior being a chaplain of George IV called Sir Robert Peat. Busca refused to recognise it as well as his successor Candida. The organisation obtained the support of the 7th Duke of Manchester and later of the Prince of Wales (Edward VII) and chose to be recognised by the British Crown from which it received a royal charter in 1888 as the “Venerable order of St John”. In 1890 the Duke of Manchester was succeeded by the Prince of Wales as Grand Prior. This Protestant order maintained the Hospitaller tradition and organised the St John’s Ambulance Association. (j)