Friday, June 25, 2010

"Babies roasted on spits"

The title was for one commentator, augustinefan, who so far has seen nothing shocking in this series. We aim to please here.
Part 1: Augustine as Conduit to the Inquisition
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
Part 6: “Deliver us from the hands of the Romans”
Part 7: “Impetus for the Crusades”

We are coming to my point in this Paul Johnson series. We are not there yet, but what we have in this posting is close.

And my point with all of this is, theology has consequences. What follows is certainly not pretty. But it is the fruit of Augustine’s theology of coercion, put into practice, by “a total Christian society,” one led by popes and bishops, and “the faithful.”

From Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity”.

The crusades were thus to some extent a weird half-way house between the tribal movements of the fourth and fifth centuries and the mass trans-Atlantic migration of the poor in the nineteenth. … numbers were large, particularly in the first two generations of the crusading movement. Peter the Hermit led a mob of 20,000 men, women and children, including, one presumes, many families carrying all their worldly goods with them. Most of these people were very poor; they had been unable to obtain land on any lease, or agricultural work during an acute and prolonged labour surplus; they intended to settle.

So, of course, did the most determined of the knights. Most of them had no money or lands. Godfrey de Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, who emerged as the leader of the First Crusade, claimed descent from Charlemagne, but he held his duchy as an office not a fief, and may have been in danger of dismissal: hence his crusade. Apart from Raymond of Toulouse, all the crusaders who settled in the Holy Land were poor men; the rich, like Stephen of Blois, or the Counts of Flanders and Boulogne, returned to Europe as quickly as they honourably could.

From the start, then, the crusades were marked by depredations and violence which were as much racial as religious in origin. Mass-gatherings of Christians for any purpose invariably constituted a danger to Jewish communities in European cities. Local rulers nearly always tried to protect them, for their own selfish financial reasons; but they were powerless to control the vast crusading bands. To Christian crusaders, in particular, the Jews were hateful: they were believed to have helped the Roman pagans to persecute the early Christians, and they had assisted the Islamic conquests.

Men like Godfrey de Bouillon terrorized Jewish communities into providing considerable sums to finance crusading transport; the mobs, in 1096, turned to outright massacre - 12 Jews were murdered at Speier, 500 at Worms, 1,000 at Mainz, 22 at Metz, and so forth. Some groups dispersed after attacking the Jews. But the great majority pressed on through the Balkans and Anatolia. They do not seem to have discriminated between Christians and Moslems.

Thus, in the villages attacked around Nicea by Peter the Hermit's band, non-Latin Christians were slaughtered in great numbers, and it was said their babies were roasted on spits. When cities fell, even to regular crusader forces, it was customary to kill some at least of the non-Latin inhabitants, irrespective of their religion. Dark-skinned people, or even those who simply wore conspicuously different garments, were at risk. The fall of Jerusalem was followed by a prolonged and hideous massacre of Moslems and Jews, men, women and children.

This episode had a crucial effect in hardening Islamic attitudes to the crusaders. Unfortunately, it was not the only one. When Caesarea was taken in 1101, the troops were given permission to sack it as they pleased, and all the Moslem inhabitants were killed in the Great Mosque; there was a similar massacre at Beirut. Such episodes punctuated the crusades from start to finish. In 1168, during the Frankish campaign in Egypt, there were systematic massacres; those killed included many Christian Copts, and the effect was to unite Egyptians of all religions (and races) against the crusaders.

Of course, the crusading animus was chiefly directed against the Moslems -in 1182 there were even raids on the Moslem Red Sea pilgrim routes, in which, to the horror of Islam, a crowed pilgrim ship was sunk with all aboard. But from the start the crusaders learnt to hate the Byzantines almost as much, and in 1204 they finally attacked and took Constantinople, 'to the honour of God, the Pope and the empire'. The soldiers were told they could pillage for three days. In St Sophia, the hangings were torn down, and the great silver iconostasis was wrenched into pieces and pocketed. A prostitute was put upon the Patriarch's throne and sang a rude French song. Sacred books and ikons were trampled under foot, nuns were raped and the soldiers drank the altar wine out of the chalices.

The last of the great international crusades, in 1365, spent itself on a pointless sacking of the predominantly Christian city of Alexandria: native Christians were killed as well as Jews and Moslems, and even the Latin traders had their houses and stores looted. The racialism of the crusaders vented itself particularly against any sign of alien culture. When Tripoli fell to them, in 1109, the Genoese sailors destroyed the Banu Ammar library, the finest in the Moslem world. In general, the effect of the crusades was to undermine the intellectual content of Islam, to destroy the chances of peaceful adjustment to Christianity, and to make the Moslems far less tolerant: crusading fossilized Islam into a fanatic posture.

They also did incalculable damage to the eastern churches, whether Orthodox or Monophysite. One of the first acts of the crusaders after the taking of Jerusalem was to expel the Orthodox and members of other non-Latin Christian sects, and Orthodox priests were tortured to force them to reveal the fragments of the True Cross. No attempt was made to reach an accommodation with Christians who did not acknowledge Rome fully. They lost their churches and their property, they were displaced from their bishoprics and patriarchates, and at best they were tolerated; even the Maronite Christians, who were in communion with Rome, were treated as second-class citizens in the states the Latins created in the twelfth century.

Paul Johnson, History of Christianity, © 1976 Athenium, pgs. 245-247.

I want to thank those of you who have stayed with me through this series. I know it’s been a bit tiring. A thousand years is a long time. It's been tiring for me as well. I typed in very much of this series from the book, silly me, before I found a .pdf version of it online.

Certainly, this sort of thing isn't pretty, and at some points, it gets worse. I was moved to delve into this time frame by a lecture series I heard from Dr. Carl Trueman, of Westminster Theological Seminary. The series is called “The Medieval Church” and it’s made available through iTunesU. If you’re interested in putting all of this into perspective, I’d highly recommend that you give it a listen.

History is like a great symphony, and Trueman paints it as such. While all of this is going on, there is also a counter-movement in which some of the “cathedral schools” of the Dark Ages were uniting in some of the larger cities, and beginning to form universities. It was the rise of the universities, he says, which was the greatest, most influential event in the last 1000 years. (He puts the Reformation as the third most influential, behind the Universities and the Enlightenment.) It was the rise of the universities that enabled Europe to “modernize itself” by pulling itself up by its bootstraps.


Tim Enloe said...

Well, again, I don't know that it's right to connect any of these horrors with Augustine in the way that you are. Like all great thinkers, Augustine's learning was so deep, his interests so wide, his output so prodigious, that it is impossible to derive any real systematic consistency regarding some of his views. His anti-Donatist theology may have some ideological connections to the horrors Johnson recounts, but his massive "political theology" in the City of God, which absolutely refuses to identify the Kingdom of God with any particular sociopolitical order, could be used to say that Augustine undermines the idea of religious coercion.

And again, the basic idea of coercion is common to all societies in a fallen world. It is said that atheism as a societal premise killed more people in the 20th century than all the religious wars in history combined. It can't be laid at the doorstep of "Romanism" alone - and one of my concerns in commenting on these threads is precisely that we Protestants learn to be more discriminating in our arguments against Rome.

We Protestants can't ignore the last 250 years of social conditioning on our own minds that makes us shrink with horror at the idea of physically compelling people in matters of religion - we are children of the Enlightenment's radical subjectivization of religious truth claims, and in that paradigm, internal conscience is not only utterly inviolable but utterly unregulatable.

This leads step by step to our present cultural relativism, for what we are willing to tolerate is precisely something that we don't consider all that important. The ancient idea of a properly trained conscience is essential to all of this, for although a man's conscience can only be seen by God, no man is an island and it is simply impermissible in any organized society for any old person to run around saying just whatever he wants in the name of "liberty of conscience." That's not liberty, but license. It's not order, but anarchy.

No one can get away from this, and if you're going to make this kind of argument against Rome I believe you need to nuance it a lot more than you have so far. Just my .02.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I like Carl Trueman too!

I don't read him regularly, but when I do read him, he's quite insightful.

Anonymous said...


I'm appalled at the behavior of the crusaders but I don't see the connection to Catholicism. I know that one (or more) pope preached for a crusade but I doubt very much that what's described here is what he (they) had in mind.

Tim Enloe said...

Also, if you're going to focus extensively on Medieval violence done by Christians (or "Christians" if one so prefers, so as to morally distance oneself from dirty sinners in the name of "the Gospel"), you'll need to take into account phenomena such as the Peace of God and the Truce of God, in which councils set down laws (enforceable by excommunication) specifically designed to curb the brutality of soldiers and other armed officers of the secular power.

Remember also that Ambrose forced the Emperor Theodosius to publicly repent of his excessive brutality in quelling a riot (his soldiers killed 7,000 civilians) by denying him access to the Eucharist. In the 13th century there was a spontaneous movement of laity and wandering preachers called "the Great Alleluia" which was specifically aimed at bringing peace between the pope and the emperor. None of this excuses, say, the unspeakable horrors of the sack of Jerusalem in 1099, but as augustinefan said above, such atrocity is not very likely what the Church authorities had in mind when they called the Crusade.

Medieval violence - or, in your parlance, Medieval Roman Catholic violence - was not all of a piece, and survey works such as Johnson's, as good as they may be, are at the end of the day only general treatments. They are bound by their very nature to miss some things and to overstate or exaggerate in places depending on their overall purpose.

I understand what you're after here, John, and I don't excuse the popes or their creatures for any instances of actually unjust violence. But there are larger principles behind your critique that I'm not sure you've yet begun to take a look at.