Part 2: How Confession became a Divinely Instituted Sacrament
Part 3: The Origins of Payment for Penance
Part 4: Crusading and Other Indulgences
Part 5: The Great Schism of the Fifth Century
More from Paul Johnson and others:
What must strike the historian as Curious is that neither western nor eastern Christianity developed missionary orders. Until the sixteenth century, Christian enthusiasm, which took so many other forms, was never institutionally directed into this channel. Christianity remained a universalist religion. But its proselytizing spirit expressed itself throughout the Middle Ages in various forms of violence. The crusades were not missionary ventures but wars of conquest and primitive experiments in colonization; and the only specific Christian institutions they produced, three knightly orders, were military.
This stress on violence was particularly marked in the West. Eastern Christians tended to follow the teachings of St Basil, who regarded war as shameful. This was in the original Christian tradition: violence was abhorrent to the early Christians, who preferred death to resistance; and Paul, attempting to interpret Christ, did not even try to construct a case for the legitimate use of force. Again, it was St Augustine who gave Western Christianity the fatal twist in this direction [though violence seemed to be part of the fabric of “the Western tradition” – see here and here.]
As always, in his deep pessimism, he was concerned to take society as he found it and attempt to reconcile its vices with Christian endeavour. Men fought; had always fought; therefore war had a place in the Christian pattern of behavior, to be determined by the moral theologians. In Augustine’s view, war might always be waged, provided it was done so by the command of God. This formulation of the problem was doubly dangerous … What made the Augustinian teaching even more corrupting was the association in his mind between “war by divine command” and the related effort to convert the heathen and destroy the heretic – his “compel them to come in” syndrome. Not only could violence be justified: it was particularly meritorious when directed against those who held other religious beliefs (or none).
The Dark Age church merely developed Augustine’s teaching. Leo IV said that anyone dying in battle for the defence of the Church would receive a heavenly reward; John VIII thought that such a person would even rank as a martyr. Nicholas I added that even those under sentence of excommunication, or other church punishment, could bear arms if they did so against the infidel. There was, it is true, a pacifist movement in the Church as well. But this, paradoxically, was canalized to reinforce the idea of sanctified violence. The motive behind it was to protect innocent peasants from the aimless brutality of competing lords. … but the popes eventually surrendered to the temptation to divert what they regarded as the incorrigible bellicosity of western society into crusades against the infidel.
The idea of Catholic Christians exercising mass-violence against the infidel hardly squared with scripture. Nor did it make much sense in practical terms. The success of Islam sprang essentially from the failure of Christian theologians to solve the problem of the Trinity and Christ’s nature [“Christology”]. In Arab territories, Christianity had penetrated heathenism, but usually in Monophysite form – and neither eastern nor western Catholicism could find a compromise with the Monophysites in the sixth and seventh centuries. The Arabs, driven by drought, would almost certainly have used force to expand anyway.
As it was, Mohammed, a Monophysite, conflated the theological and economic problems to evolve a form of Monophysite religion which was simple, remarkably impervious to heresy, and included the doctrine of the sword to accommodate the Arab’s practical needs. It appealed strongly to a huge element within the Christian community. The first big Islamic victory, at the River Yarmuk in 636, was achieved because 12,000 Christian Arabs went over to the enemy. The Christian Monophysites – Copts, Jacobites and so forth – nearly always preferred Moslems to Catholics. Five centuries after the Islamic conquest, the Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, Michael the Syrian, faithfully produced the tradition of his people when he wrote: “The God of Vengeance, who alone is the Almighty … raised from the south the children of Ishmael to deliver us by them from the hands of the Romans. And at the time, a Nestorian chronicler wrote: “The hearts of Christians rejoiced at the domination of the Arabs – may God strengthen it and prosper it.”
Paul Johnson, History of Christianity, © 1976 Athenium, pgs. 241-243.
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Before everyone gets in an uproar over Johnson’s characterization of Mohammed having been a Monophysite, And Islam being “a form of Monophysite religion,” I want to note that, whatever sources led Johnson to write this, whether he is mistaken or not, (a) it seems clear that the young Mohammed did fall under some type of Monphysite Christian influence, and (b) the important facts of violence by Roman Christians at this time should not be in doubt.
As Samuel Hugh Moffett, “A History of Christianity in Asia” explains:
The earliest and most trustworthy of the Muslim biographers of the Prophet, the eight-century writer ibn-Ishaq, relates that at the age of twelve, on a caravan trip to Syria with his uncle, the young Muhammad met a Christian monk named Bahira at Bostra, which was the seat of the Monophysite bishop of the desert Arabs. The old monk recognized signs of greatness in the boy and protected him from some who would have harmed him. The same biographer names another Christian, Jabr, who was perhaps an Ethiopian, as exerting great influence on the Prophet:
According to my information the apostle used often to sit at al-Marwa [a hill overlooking Mecca] at the booth of a young Christian called Jabr, a slave of the B. al-Hadrami [tribe], and they used to say, “The old one who teaches Muhammed most of what he brings is Jabr the Christian. (Moffett, pg 326, citing ibn-Ishaq (707-773), Sirat Rasul Allah (as edited in the ninth century by ibn-Hisham), trans. Guillaume as The Life of Muhammed,, 79-81.(Of this source, Moffett continues, “This is the first and best of the early biographies of the Prophet, well documented for the period after the hegira (hijrah) of 622 but uncritical about the years before. Muslim historians used the legend to indicate recognition of Muhammad’s holiness by a Christian, while Christians referred to it a sproof that Christian teaching was the source of the Prophet’s inspiration.” (Footnote 5, pg 362)
Moffett also characterizes the period:
It was a time of social unrest in the Arabian peninsula. Rome and Persia had been slowly but effectively destroying each other in a hundred years of almost incessant war (540-629). As the war continued into the seventh century the exhausted empires were less and less able to protect their Arab client-states on the desert borders, the Ghassanid kings in the northwest who owed allegiance to Rome, and Lakhmid and Yemen in the east and south who looked to Persia. In those kingdoms Christian Arab communities had been planted by Monophysites on Rome’s southern border and by Nestorians nearer Persia.
Hugh Kennedy, in his preface to “The Great Arab Conquests” notes, “At the time of the Muslim conquests, there were five major churches or sects in the Middle East, each one claiming to be ‘orthodox.’ In North Africa and Spain the church was Latin-speaking and looked to Rome rather than Constantinople for leadership and doctrinal authority. There was no schism between this church and the Greek Orthodox, that would come later, but there was a different ecclesiastical culture. Then there was the Melkite (meaning ‘royal’) Greek Orthodox church supported (usually) by the imperial government in Constantinople. This was also known as the Chalcedonian [Diophysite] church … With in the eastern Empire the main opposition to this established church came from the Jacobite Monophysite communities in Syria and the Monophysite Copts in Egypt, all of whom believed in the single and indivisible nature of Christ … The Nestorian Church … was opposed to both the Monophysites and the Diophysites. Persecution had largely eliminated the Nestorian Church from Byzantine territory … Finally, there was the Monothelite sect supported by the emperor Heraclius and his government.” (pgs 8-9)
Bear in mind that the "Nestorians" now have been cleared of having been guilty of "the Nestorian heresy." But, hey, they are mostly exterminated now, so who cares, right? The "unified," "one true church" of that era got to maintain that facade for another couple of centuries, its "infallible teaching" intact.