TRUTH AND BLACK LEGEND
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."
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
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
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
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
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."