The person generally considered to have founded the hospital of St. John was Gerard (de Tenque or de Martingue) believed to be from Auvergne. He is now referred to as the “Blessed Gerard” and is credited for laying the foundation of the Order in its infancy and proposed that the brothers should organize into a constituted body, taking on the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. This proposed structure was, up until that time, unknown in the West. It was Brother Gerard who insisted that members devote themselves to the service of the sick and poor for the rest of their lives.
Subsequent Kings of Jerusalem beginning with Baldwin I in 1104 confirmed the “Brotherhood of the Hospitallers” and, in 1110, the Patriarch of Jerusalem began to accept the vows of new ‘Hospitallers’. Pope Pascal II in a Papal Bull dated February 15, 1113, Pie postulatio voluntaris, recognized the group’s statutes and approved its religious rule.
Being among the oldest religious Orders, the Rule of the Order has always been important to its members. In its early days, the papacy granted OSJ members special rights and privileges while demanding loyalty, fealty, obedience, and often military service and financial support. In recognition of its great devotion and service and, in gratitude for its valiant achievements, churches and nations of Europe and the Near East continued to grant the Order many rights, privileges and prerogatives. Over the centuries, these special grants and unique, sacred rights were formally set forth in concordats with the Vatican, the Orthodox Patriarchs, and the Church of England. More than 90 Popes as well as the sovereigns of Europe and Russia have recognized and attested to the Order’s significance and place in history.
Many of the Founder’s principles, traditions, and customs guide the organization to the present day. Thus, over the years, the character of the OSJ has remained solid as religious and civilian leaders alike contributed much to its overall character and supremacy of the Order as a Hospitaller (charitable) force in the world.
The Order’s Royal Charter and Constitution lay out its fons honorum (royal right to grant knighthood) as well as key tenets to its organizational structure. Rules of conduct regarding all members of the OSJ, the rules concerning eligibility to membership, the establishment of constituent branches, details of the insignia, and other daily operational guidelines revert to the Charter and Constitution for guidance of the generations of the Order’s knights and dames.
One cannot join the Order as one may join other charitable, philanthropic or service entities. Membership is offered strictly by invitation only. While the obligation to prove generations of aristocratic lineage is no longer required, members are invited to join the Order because they have already demonstrated through a life of service the same commitment that the original members were required to exhibit, namely: a strong Christian faith life and devotion to the well-being of their fellow man. Today’s knights and dames of the order add their names to the institutional memory of the OSJ by pledging their allegiance to the immutable principles upon which the Order was founded when taking the solemn oath of knighthood at Investiture.
Ecumenical and democratic principles guide today’s Order. The Order is open to members of all Christian faiths and its leaders are democratically elected. The OSJ ascribes to the United Nations’ Universal Rights of Man and has universally equality and fair treatment for who are admitted to membership.