Tag Archives: Church History

Revisiting the Crusades

The following article from First Things is very interesting. I learned the “new view” of the Crusades while I was in college. I’m thankful I was taught history by historians rather than by ideologues. There was certainly a lot that cannot be defended about the Crusades, but it was no worse than any other war, and had far more moral justifications than many modern conflicts, not to mention the fact that there is far more ethical dissonance with our contemporary capability of dealing death at a distance. At any rate, take a look:

The Greedy Younger Son is not the only myth historians have discarded. It may surprise some to learn that the Crusades were almost never profitable, since booty was so scarce. Or that the Christian settlers in the so-called Crusader Kingdom were not themselves Crusaders. Or that the Crusades met all the criteria of a just war, especially in their defensive nature. Or that the Crusades had nothing at all to do with colonialism. Or that the Crusades were in no way wars of conversion. Or that the Crusades were not related to Muslim jihad (except insofar as they were a defense against it). Or that the Muslim world knew nothing at all about the Crusades before the nineteenth century.

If your image of Western civilization relies on a depiction of the Crusades as an insane and bloodthirsty attack on a peaceful and sophisticated Muslim world, then you are not going to like what recent historians have to say. This is apparent in some of the responses to these new works. In a New Yorker review of the books by Asbridge and Phillips, the journalist Joan Acocella seemed a little miffed by what she found coming out of the academy. How can two professional historians talk of piety, devotion, and selflessness as Crusader motivations? “Does this mean that Asbridge and Phillips think the Crusades were OK?” she asks incredulously. No, it means they think it is their job as historians to uncover the truth. Acocella speaks approvingly of the much older works by Runciman and John Julius Norwich, who is no historian. The entry of scholars into popular Crusade history does not seem to be welcomed in all quarters.

{read it all}

One of the lessons for us to take out of this is that History is often used for political purposes. All one has to do is look at the size of the Muslim world to know that the Holy Land is a tiny fraction of it. When modern scholars say that Muslims knew nothing of the Crusades until the 19th century, they mean that Muslims didn’t think of them any differently from any number of other wars, and that, for the most part, they were relatively insignificant in their history. In fact, Muslims really only took notice of the Crusaders when the Europeans were foolish enough to attack the pilgrimage routes to Mecca. It was only when Egyptians under Brittish rule went to Oxford to study that the Muslim world was exposed to the idea of “Crusade” and came to see it, given their own political context as a precursor to colonialism.

Here are some books you might be interested in:

From the dusty historian: Knights Templar Exonerated by Vatican

Templar SealAt least that’s what is being claimed about a book set to be released this week by the Vatican’s secret archives. Processus contra Templarios is based on a text called the Chinon Parchment which, according to the BBC had been incorrectly filed; it contains the record of the investigation into the charges of heresy surrounding the Templars before their dissolution. Check it out:

The Vatican is to publish a book which is expected to shed light on the demise of the Knights Templar, a Christian military order from the Middle Ages.

The book is based on a document known as the Chinon parchment, found in the Vatican Secret Archives six years ago after years of being incorrectly filed.

The document is a record of the heresy hearings of the Templars before Pope Clement V in the 14th Century.

The official who found the paper says it exonerates the knights entirely.

Prof Barbara Frale, who stumbled across the parchment by mistake, says that it lays bare the rituals and ceremonies over which the Templars were accused of heresy.

{read it all}

The Vatican library is closed for renovations at the moment, and I’m not sure how one would go about getting the book, but what a great one to practice one’s rusty Latin skills on! If anybody knows where I can order a copy, let me know.

UPDATE: scratch that, I just found out how many of these are to be printed and what they will cost.  I guess I’ll have to visit it at a library somewhere:

Only 799 copies of the 300-page volume, “Processus Contra Templarios,”—Latin for “Trial against the Templars”—are for sale, said Scrinium publishing house, which prints documents from the Vatican’s secret archives. Each will cost $8,377, the publisher said Friday.

An 800th copy will go to Pope Benedict XVI, said Barbara Frale, the researcher who found the long-overlooked parchment tucked away in the archives in 2001.

{read the rest}

Bishop Charles Gore: Lambeth on Contraceptives

I found the following at Project Canterbury and I post it for your consideration:

Lambeth on Contraceptives
By Charles Gore, D.D., D.C.L., LL. D.
Bishop of Oxford
London: Mowbray, 1930, 30 pp


§ I
The Resolution 15 of the Lambeth Conference
SOME years ago I published a pamphlet on The Prevention of Conception, which has been quite recently reprinted. I had hoped that I might now remain silent on the subject, but the recent action of the Lambeth Conference, giving a restricted sanction to the use of preventives of conception, constrains me to publish a reasoned protest against what seems to me to be a disastrous abandonment of the position that the Conference of 1920 took up. I quote the Resolution (68) of 1920:

The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers—physical, moral, and religious—thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists—namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control. We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear.

Here we have a refusal to go into detail about abnormal ‘hard cases,’ but a quite general condemnation of contraceptive methods. The recent Conference, on the contrary, has given a restricted approval of them. To be quite fair we will analyse the Resolutions 13—18. Resolutions 13 and 14 are on the lines of the latter part of the pronouncement of the earlier Conference, emphasizing the dignity and glory of parenthood and the necessity of self-control within marriage. Resolution 16 expresses abhorrence of the crime of abortion. Resolution 17 repudiates the idea that unsatisfactory economic and social conditions can be met by the control of conception. Resolution 18 condemns fornication accompanied by the use of some contraceptive as no less sinful than without such accompaniment. It also demands legislation forbidding the exposure for sale and advertisement of contraceptives. But Resolution 15 (carried, it is noted, by a majority of 193 votes over 67, which would seem to imply that there must have been some forty bishops who did not vote), which contemplates cases where ‘there is a clearly felt obligation to limit or avoid parenthood,’ while giving the preference to the self-discipline and self-control which makes abstinence from intercourse possible, and recording the ‘strong condemnation’ by the Conference ‘of the use of methods of conception-control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience,’ yet admits the legitimacy of these methods ‘where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence.’

This is no doubt a restricted admission, but it is a definite withdrawal of the quite general condemnation expressed in the Resolution of 1920, and I fear it will be the only part of the contribution of the recent Conference to the question of sexual relations which will be seriously effective. The classes of persons aimed at in Resolutions 13, 14, 16, and 18 are not those which pay any attention to what the Church says. The same must be said of the worldly-minded who use contraceptives from motives of selfishness, luxury, and convenience: such people know quite well that they are disregarding ‘the parsons,’ and have no intention of listening to them. But there is a large class which cannot brace itself to ignore the voice of the Church. They have been anxiously waiting to hear what the bishops will say. No doubt they feel that their cases are ‘hard cases.’ In different ways we are all apt to feel that. They think that they have a morally sound reason for avoiding parenthood, and that they cannot practise abstinence. Now they learn that a representative assembly of the chief authorities of the Anglican Communion has ‘removed the taboo’ on contraceptive methods, and no doubt their scruples will in many cases be silenced and the easier course taken.

I observe that the Bishop of London says that he agrees with the conclusion of another bishop who, ‘reading the resolutions as a whole, thinks the balance appears quite definitely on the side of strictness.’ I fear that this is practically the exact opposite of the truth. I think the clause which sanctions certain methods as a ‘regrettable necessity’ in certain cases (to use the bishop’s expression) is the only clause which is likely to have any considerable effect: and I cannot doubt that that effect will be disastrous.

{read it all}

Africa, Homosexuality and Martyrdom.

Uganda Martyrs2Rod Dreher over at the crunchy-con blog has directed his readers toward an article by Philip Jenkins about African Christian opposition to Homosexuality. The Ugandan Martyrs included both Roman Catholic and Anglican Christians and are commemorated in both communions.

Philip Jenkins has a great piece up on The New Republic site explaining why homosexuality is such a big deal for African Christians, especially Nigeria’s Anglicans. I knew that it was vitally important in Christianity’s rivalry with Islam, as Jenkins explains. But I had no idea about this:

The Muslim context helps explain the sensitivity of gay issues in one other key respect. In the region later known as Uganda, Christianity first arrived in the 1870s, when the area was already under Muslim influence and a hunting ground for Arab slave-raiders. The king of Buganda had adopted Arab customs of pederasty, and he expected the young men of his court to submit to his demands. But a growing number of Christian courtiers and pages refused to participate, despite his threats, and an enraged king launched a persecution that resulted in hundreds of martyrdoms: On a single day, some 30 Bugandans were burned alive. Yet the area’s churches flourished, and, eventually, the British expelled the Arab slavers. That foundation story remains well-known in the region, and it intertwines Christianity with resistance to tyranny and Muslim imperialism–both symbolized by sexual deviance. Reinforcing such memories are more recent experiences with Muslim tyrants, such as Idi Amin, whose victims included the head of his country’s Anglican Church. For many Africans, then, sexual unorthodoxy has implications that are at once un-Christian, anti-national, and oppressive.

Then it occurred to me: he’s talking about St. Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan martyrs, Catholics who died for the faith at the hands of a pederast king. It is encouraging to see that today, in the modern West, we have Christian leaders who, in the tradition of those faithful Catholic martyrs of Uganda, are willing to give their lives to be witness to the Gospel. Oh, wait

You can read about the Martyrs of Uganda, who we celebrate on June 3rd, here.

Update: Terry Mattingly over at GetReligion.org  has posted a bit about Jenkins’ article:

The byline was at the end of the piece and, thus, I was well into reading it before I said to myself, “Wait a minute. This writer has the ability to stay calm about a subject that is driving almost everyone else into journalistic craziness. Who is this guy?” I also wondered what the piece was doing in The New Republic, only that wouldn’t really be a fair statement since the magazines runs a wide variety of excellent work on religious topics.

The goal is to try to understand why African Anglicans say the things they say, while defending centuries of Christian tradition about sexual morality. Here is one of the long, logical passages that caught my attention:

{read it all}

HT to Patrick Allen

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Dusty Historical Quote of the Day

From the Rt. Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft, sermon on the Church:

RavenscroftWe cannot help it, my brethren, if persons whose conduct is a scandal to all Christian profession, will call themselves Episcopalians: The discipline of the Church can be applied only to those who are known and received as communicants; and by those, compared with any other denomination, we fear not to be tested; yet with us, whatever may be the case with other professions, we know and confess, that much of the old leaven has to be purged out; and this we will do, if God permit.1


  1. The Works of the Rt. Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft: His sermons and controversial tracts, p 101-102 []

St. Bonaventure on faith and reason

I’ve been involved in an online conversation over at Thom Chittom’s blog about faith and reason which sparked a memory of my Medieval Philosophy course in college. Evidently Thomas Aquinas was condemned in 1277 along with the Latin Averroeists, though his condemnation was later lifted. Be that as it may, the condemnation of 1277 was based upon St. Bonaventure’s Conferences on the Hexaemeron.

This is what Bonaventure says about faith and reason:

Thus there is danger in descending to the originals; there is more danger in descending to the summas of the masters; but the greatest danger
lies in descending to philosophy. This is because the words of the originals are pretty and can be too attractive; but the Holy Scripture does not have pretty words like that. Augustine would not take it for good if I should prefer him to Christ because of the beauty of his words, just as Paul reproached those who wished to be baptized in the name of Paul. In the course of study, then, caution must be exercised in descending from careful attention in reading Scripture to the originals. There should be a similar warning about descending to the summas of the masters, for the masters sometimes do not understand the saints, as the Master of the Sentences, great as he was, did not understand Augustine in some places. Whence the summas of the master are like the introductions of boys to the text of Aristotle. Let the student beware, then, lest he depart from the common way.

Likewise, the greatest danger is in the descent to philosophy. “Forasmuch as this people hath cast away the waters of Siloe, that go with silence, and hath rather taken Rasin, and the sons of Romelia: Therefore behold the Lord will bring upon them the waters of the river strong and many” (Isaiah. 8, 6-7). Whence there is no going back to Egypt for such things.[…]

Again, take note of the sultan to whom the blessed Francis replied, when we wished to dispute with him about the faith, that faith is above reason, and is proved only by the authority of Scripture and the divine power, which is manifested in miracles; hence he made the fire which he wished to enter into their presence. For the water of philosophical science is to be mingled with the wine of Holy Scripture merely so that the wine is transmitted into water, which is indeed a bad sign and contrary to the primitive church, when recently converted clerics such as Dionysius dismissed the books of the philosophers and took up the books of Holy Scripture. But in modern times the wine is changed into water and the bread into stone, just the reverse of the miracles of Christ.

(From Hyman and Walsh Philosophy in the Middle Ages, 458-459)

I think this is interesting because it demonstrates the tension between those who consider reason higher than faith and those who considered faith higher than reason–a tension that I think broke out again in the Protestant Reformation with its largely Augustinian outlook. I once read that the Franciscans were the root of some tendencies in Evangelicalism… I think one can see that in Bonaventure in some ways… consider the way he talks about scripture… he sounds like the Baptist preachers I grew up listening to. :-p

The original post that this was written as a comment on, was about Pope Benedict XVI’s discussion of faith and reason. The position that Benedict takes is one that sees faith and reason as not being in competition, but rather, faith as–for lack of a better concept at the moment–the supreme reasonable response to the reasonable God revealed in Jesus Christ the incarnate Word.

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New Resources

I used to have quite a few history and theology resources on my old static site. I’m gradually migrating them all over to wordpress. If you look up top, you’ll see a new “history” tab. There’re some resources there, mostly off-site, but one interesting sermon I’m transcribing from the works of the Rt. Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft, first Episcopal Bishop of North Carolina. Let me know if you know of any resources I should add.

From Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity

Anna and I had a conversation once, several months ago, about how some pastors of mega-churches are really functioning as Bishops without the title. We were talking about one of Anna’s former pastors, Jack Hayford, and his reputation for holiness as an example. Well, recently I’ve been reading the very interesting book Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition by Claudia Rapp. Dr. Rapp writes a lot about the acquisition of various kinds of authority by the Episcopal office. One of these is what she calls ascetical authority–basically authority through holiness of life–and it is the sort of authority on which other forms depended. Tonight I was flipping through the book and this section caught my eye. I think it might have some application to our current difficulties…and since I’ve always liked Origen, and Pope Benedict has recently given him something of a rehabilitation, I don’t feel that bad about quoting him… :-)

Origen, in the late third century, oscillates between the generalizing application of Paul’s passage [1 Tim. 3:1-7] that had been typical of the earlier period and the assumption that certain men, because they possess the virtues catalogued by Paul, are identified as episkopoi before God. Origen addresses this issue in two passages in his Commentary on Matthew. In the first passage, he explains that those who conform to the virtues set out by Paul for bishops rightfully exercise the power to bind and loose. In other words, the possession of virtues precedes and indeed is the precondition for the exercise of penitential authority that is largely the prerogative of bishops. In the second passage, Origen says that Jewish Rabbis receive recognition in the eyes of the people because of the external markers of their position, such as the most prominent seat at banquets or in the synagogue. Bishops, by contrast, are recognized in the eyes of God because of their virtues: “For he who has in him the virtues that Paul lists about the bishop, even if he is not a bishop among men, is a bishop before God, even if the [episcopal] rank has not been bestowed on him through the ordination by men.” To illustrate his point, Origen invokes the example of the physician and the pilot of a ship. These men retain their skill and ability, even if they lack the opportunity to exercise them. the physician remains a physician even if he has no patients, and the pilot remains a pilot even if he has no ship to navigate. Taken to its logical conclusion, Origen’s reasoning allows that there may be many more “bishops before God” than there are bishops among men. Moreover, it opens the door to the possibility that men who do not quallify as “bishops before God” are nonetheless ordained to the episcopate. This is in tune with Origen’s general tendency to expose the worldliness of the church as an institution. Criticism of this nature would become even more pronounced in the post-Constantinian era. (p35)

Rowan Williams: Sermon on the 450th anniversary of the Martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer

The Martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer

The Martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer

Archbishop’s sermon at the service to commemorate the 450th anniversary
of the Martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer

St Mary the Virgin, Oxford

From today’s epistle: ‘The word of God is not bound’.

When it was fashionable to decry Cranmer’s liturgical rhetoric as overblown and repetitive, people often held up as typical the echoing sequences of which he and his colleagues were so fond. ‘A full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction; ‘Have mercy upon us, miserable offenders; Spare thou them which confess their faults; Restore thou them that are penitent’; ‘succour, help and comfort all that are in danger, necessity and tribulation’; direct, sanctify and govern’; and of course, ‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’.  The liturgical puritan may well ask why it is not possible to say something once and for all, instead of circling back over what has been said, re-treading the ground. And in the same vein, many will remember the arguments of those who complained of the Communion Order in the Book of Common Prayer that it never allowed you to move forward from penitence to confidence and thanksgiving: you were constantly being recalled to your sinful state, even after you had been repeatedly assured of God’s abundant mercies.

Whether we have quite outgrown this reaction, I’m not sure. But we have at least begun to see that liturgy is not a matter of writing in straight lines.  As the late Helen Gardner of this university long ago remarked, liturgy is epic as well as drama; its movement is not inexorably towards a single, all-determining climax, but also -precisely – a circling back, a recognition of things not yet said or finished with, a story with all kinds of hidden rhythms pulling in diverse directions.  And a liturgical language like Cranmer’s hovers over meanings like a bird that never quite nests for good and all – or, to sharpen the image, like a bird of prey that never stoops for a kill.

The word of God is not bound. God speaks, and the world is made; God speaks and the world is remade by the Word Incarnate. And our human speaking struggles to keep up. We need, not human words that will decisively capture what the Word of God has done and is doing, but words that will show us how much time we have to take in fathoming this reality, helping us turn and move and see, from what may be infinitesimally different perspectives, the patterns of light and shadow in a world where the Word’s light has been made manifest. It is no accident that the Gospel which most unequivocally identifies Jesus as the Word made flesh is the Gospel most characterised by this same circling, hovering, recapitulatory style, as if nothing in human language could ever be a ‘last’ word.  ‘The world itself could not contain the books that should be written’ says the Fourth Evangelist, resigning himself to finishing a Gospel that is in fact never finishable in human terms.

Poets often reinvent their language, the ‘register’ of their voice.  Shakespeare’s last plays show him at the edge of his imagination, speaking, through Prospero, of the dissolution of all his words, the death of his magic; Yeats painfully recreates his poetic voice, to present it ‘naked’, as he said; Eliot, in a famous passage of the Quartets, follows a sophisticated, intensely disciplined lyrical passage with the brutal, ‘that was a way of putting it’.  In their different ways, all remind us that language is inescapably something reflecting on

itself, ‘talking through’ its own achievements and failures, giving itself new agendas with every word. And most of all when we try to talk of God, we are called upon to talk with awareness and with repentance.  ‘That was a way of putting it’; we have not yet said what there is to say, and we never shall, yet we have to go on, lest we delude ourselves into thinking we have made an end.
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