Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Meeting at Top Catholic University Rehabilitates Crusades

The medieval crusades had a "high and noble" goal and were not something to be apologised for, conference participants were told at a Vatican-sponsored university this weekend.

The Crusaders are often seen, not only by Muslims, as bloodthirsty warriors who invaded Muslim lands and wantonly attacked worshippers of Islam. During the Catholic Church's Holy Year 2000 celebrations, the late Pope John Paul II asked Muslims for forgiveness for sins committed by Christians during the Crusades. But a conference at Rome's Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University forcefully played up a quite different view.

The crusades were "defensive wars, never aggressive", said Italian historian Roberto de Mattei, who opened the debate on Friday.

Their goal was to "defend the faith and the civilisation of the Christian west against Islam", he continued, saying that the campaigns came "after the Islamic invasion of Christian lands and the devastation of Holy Sites." Prof. de Mattei pointed in particular to the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Christians believe Jesus Christ was buried after his crucifixion and where the resurrection occurred.

This event in 1009, carried out by the armies of Caliph Hakim, was one of the things which led Pope Urban II to call for the first crusade in 1095, urging Christians to "free" the Holy Land.

In 1944 Pope Pius XII gave a speech in which he appeared at least in part to justify the crusades by likening the mission of crusading knights to the task of missionaries in foreign lands.

Recently several historians have re-examined the Crusades, exploring the link between the two approaches to spreading Christianity.

Among them is John Riley-Smith, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University, who has written books arguing that the crusades should not be viewed with a modern perspective. He has also written that anyone apologising for them "doesn't know history properly."

Speaking at the conference in Rome, he said that the knights who left homes and families to fight in the Holy Land were "inflamed by an ardour for charity and a love of God". Prof. de Mattei agreed, saying that the noblest ideals were at work in crusaders: "A Christian is ready to offer his own life for the supernatural good of his neighbour, defending it with his combat."

There were eight Crusades, the first from 1095 to 1101 and the last in 1270. They inspired centuries of art and literature, right up the present day. Popular interest was aroused again recently by a major film production directed by Ridley Scott.
(Original article here.)

It’s about time! I am so heartily sick of people bringing up the Crusades as prima facie evidence that Christianity causes wars. I think it derives from a total lack of good history education. History teachers and profs spend all their time these days on the interpretation of history and very little on history itself. Interpretation is nice, but only if it is built upon the foundation of knowing what actually happened. Otherwise, there is no ability to discern sensible interpretations from nonsense, and the interpretative process becomes mere propaganda.

People assume the Crusades were an unprovoked invasion to wrest Palestine away from the local Moslem inhabitants. But how in heck do they think Palestine got to be Moslem in the first place? When we leave New Testament times, Palestine is part of the Roman Empire, largely populated by Jews and pagan Greeks. After the Jewish revolts of the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Jews were scattered out of Judea but remained a significant (and frequently prosperous) chunk of the population in Arabia and the Eastern Mediterranean. Christianity grew in the succeeding centuries, and the Greek population largely converted after Constantine legalized the Faith. Palestine remained part of the Eastern Roman Empire as a mainly Christian region until the mid-7th century. Only then did the land become Moslem.

How did it become Moslem? Did people have a big Islamic revival after hearing some Moslem street preachers? Did they have an election between Allah and Yahweh? Did the local Byzantine planning board decide to rezone Palestine as “Islamic Residential? No! It was invaded and conquered. The Christian population was “tolerated,” but was taxed and restricted in their freedom of worship and action – about the way Christians are “tolerated” in a lot of Moslem countries today.

If the Crusades are an example of illicit aggression, then so is the invasion of France in 1944. I will therefore be happy to sign any petition authorizing the UN to return of France to Germany forthwith.

Were the Crusaders always good guys, let alone competent? Heck, no! They did some really bad stuff – massacres, rape, pillage, plunder, you name it - sometimes in the name of God and frequently in the name of Stupid. But let’s not argue that until we can at least come to some agreement about what the Crusades actually were, and an understanding of who invaded whom in the first place.