Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth

``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D

Crusades in the News

Italian Writer Vittorio Messori Joins Debate

ROME, JUL 27 (ZENIT).- Debate over the nature of the Crusades has not abated in this 900th anniversary year of the first Crusade. At the end of the millennium it might well be exacerbated by lack of understanding between the West and Islam.

According to Italian Catholic writer Vittorio Messori, the Enlightenment cast a "black legend" shadow on the Crusades, and used it as a weapon in its psychological war against the Roman Catholic Church. In an article in "Corriere della Sera," Italy's most important newspaper, Messori wrote, "In order to complete the work of the Reformation, it was 18th century Europe that began the chain of 'Roman infamies' that have become dogma."

"In connection with the Crusades, it was anti-Catholic propaganda that invented the name, just as it invented the term Middle Ages, chosen by 'enlightened' historiography to describe the parenthesis of darkness and fanaticism between the splendors of Antiquity and the Renaissance. It goes without saying that those who attacked Jerusalem 900 years ago would have been very surprised had they been told that they were engaged in what eventually would be known as the 'first Crusade.' For them it was an itinerary, a 'pilgrimage,' a route, a passage. Those same 'armed pilgrims' would have been even more surprised had they foreseen the accusations leveled against them of trying to convert the 'infidel,' of securing commercial routes to the West, of creating European 'colonies' in the Middle East..."

Sadly, Messori said, "the dark invention of the 'Crusade' has ended by instilling a feeling of guilt in the West, including among some members of the Church, who are ignorant of what really happened." In addition, "in the East, the legend has turned against the entire West: we all pay -- and will continue to pay, the consequences of the Islamic masses' desire for revenge, of their call for vengeance against the 'Great Satan,' which, by the way, is not just the United States, but the whole of Christianity, the very one responsible for the 'Crusades.' After all, is it not Westerners themselves who insist on saying that it was a terrible, unforgivable aggression against the pious, devout and meek followers of the Koran?"

"But there is a question we must ask ourselves. In the context of more than a thousand years of Christian-Islamic relations, who has been the victim and who the aggressor?" asked the journalist who interviewed the Pope in "Crossing the Threshold of Hope." When Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem in 638, the city had been Christian for over three centuries. Soon after, the Prophet's disciples invaded and destroyed the glorious churches of Egypt, first, and then of North Africa, causing the extinction of Christianity in places that had had Bishops like St. Augustine. Later it was the turn of Spain, Sicily and Greece, and the land that would eventually become Turkey, where the communities founded by St. Paul himself were turned into ruins. In 1453, after seven centuries of siege, Constantinople, the second Rome, capitulated and became Islamic. The Islamic threat reached the Balkans but, miraculously, the onslaught was stopped and forced to turn back at Vienna's walls. If the Jerusalem massacre of 1099 is execrated, Mohammed II's action in Otranto [Italy] in 1480 must not be forgotten, a raw example of a bloody funeral procession of sufferings," Messori stated.

Messori concluded by asking a number of questions: "At present, what Moslem country respects the civil rights and freedom of worship of any other than their own? Who is angered by the genocide of Armenians in the past, and of Sudanese Christians at present? According to the devotees of the Koran, is the world not divided between the 'Islamic territory' and the 'war territory' -- all those areas that must be converted to Islam, whether they like it or not?"

The Italian journalist provided his answers to these questions in his final remarks. "A simple review of history, along very general lines, confirms an obvious truth: Christianity is constantly on the defensive when it comes to Moslem aggression; this has been the case from the beginning until now. For example, in Africa at present there is a bloody offensive by the Moslems to convert ethnic groups that the heroic sacrifices of generations of missionaries had succeeded in baptizing. Admittedly, some in the course of history need to ask for forgiveness. But, in this instance, must it be Catholics who ask for forgiveness for actions in self-defense, and for keeping the road open for pilgrimage to Jesus' places, which was the reason for the Crusades?"

Historian Franco Cardini Points Out Errors

ROME, JUL 21 (ZENIT).- The controversy over the Crusades continues unabated. 1999 is the 900th anniversary of the First Crusade -- an event that has opened the gate to anti-Catholic publicity attempting to discredit the Church and her teachings.

In a number of recent articles, the Crusades have been described as Holy Wars, and the massacre of Jews at the time as the anti-chamber to the Holocaust. The Church has been accused of constantly trying to eliminate its opponents in the name of orthodoxy.

Even on the face of it, the numbers and "facts" cited do not always line up. For example, an article in "La Repubblica," the second largest newspaper in Italy in terms of circulation, states that "the Franks massacred 70,000 people in a mosque," which implies that the mosque was as large as a modern sports stadium.

In order to clear the air of misconceptions and errors, historian Franco Cardini, an expert in Medieval history, wrote an article in the Italian newspaper "Avvenire," entitled "Crusades -- Not Religious Wars."

In his article, Professor Cardini explains that the interpretation of the Crusades as antecedents of religious and ideological wars, was a thesis upheld by Enlightenment circles. It was used as a pretext and was a misunderstanding of the Crusades.

According to Dr. Cardini, "the Crusades were never 'religious wars,' their purpose was not to force conversions or suppress the infidel. The excesses and violence committed in the course of the expeditions (which did occur and must not be forgotten) must be evaluated in the painful but usual context of the phenomenology of military events, keeping in mind that, undoubtedly, some theological reason always justified them."

"The Crusade was an armed pilgrimage that developed slowly over time, between the 11th and 13th centuries, which must be understood by being inserted in the context of the extended relations between Christianity and Islam, which have produced positive cultural and economic results," clarified the scholar. "If this was not the case, how could one explain the frequent friendships, including military alliances, between Christians and Moslems, in the history of the Crusades?"

In order to confirm his thesis, Dr. Cardini referred to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) who opposed the lay knighthood, which in the 12th century was made up of avid, violent and amoral persons, with "a new knighthood" at the service of the poor and pilgrims. St. Bernard's proposal was revolutionary -- a new knighthood made up of monks who would renounce all forms of wealth and personal power, who understood that an enemy might have to be killed during war if there is no option, but must never be hated. Herein lies the teaching against hatred, including during times of battle.

To think of the Crusade as a "Holy War" against the Moslems would be exaggerated, Cardini said. "In fact the real interest in these expeditions, in service of Christian brethren threatened by Moslems, was the restoration of peace in the East, and the early stirring of the idea of rescue for distant fellow-Christians. The Crusade posited reconciliation with the adversary before departure, renouncement of disputes and vengeance, acceptance of possible martyrdom, disposition of oneself and one's own property for the good of the community of believers, while pointing oneself to an experience in the light of which, for a certain number of months or perhaps years, one would follow Christ and the memory of the living Christ in the theater of his terrestrial existence at the height of one's own experience."

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