|CRUSADES: 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.
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
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..."
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
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?"
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 CONTROVERSY UNRESOLVED
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."