Saturday, August 09, 2014

Roman crusading “fossilized Islam into a fanatic posture”

This is a follow-up to my blog post this morning, “Historical Roman Catholicism is the cradle, enabler, and teacher of radical Islam today”.

The question came up in the comments, “But which historians move from this fact [that Islam was born out of a mutant understanding of mutant Christianity] to your conclusion? Does anyone else argue that [the Roman Church] was a "significant" "enabling cause" of radical Islam?”

Samuel Hugh Moffett, whom I’ve cited in the past, characterizes the period during which Islam was founded:

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).

This is a time when Rome was ruled by “Bishops”. Everett Ferguson (“Church History, Volume 1) notes: “In regard to church organization, the patriarch of Constantinople operated in the shadow of the emperor; the bishop of Rome faced no such competing power (pg 328).


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.

Phillip Jenkins writes: “There is no doubt that Eastern Christians were a well-known presence in the Arabian world, and influenced the early development of Islam. He notes that for scholars who do not accept the interpretation that the Koran was transcribed by Muhammad:

… the Quran seems to grow out of Christian and Jewish sources, and it is often difficult to separate the two influences. Even what appear to be strongly Semitic currents might have flowed from the Syriac-speaking churches.

Most of the Quranic stores about Mary and Jesus find their parallels not in the canonical four Gospels but in Apocryphal texts that circulated widely in the East, such as the Protoevangelium of James and the Arabic Infancy Gospel. The Quran cites the miracle in which the infant Jesus shaped a bird out of clay and then breathed life into it, a tale also found in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. The Quran also presents the death of Jesus in exactly the language of those heretical Eastern Christians known as Docetists, who saw the event as an illusion rather than a concrete reality: “They did not kill him and they did not crucify him, but it was made to seem so to them.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog series running from Augustine thru the Inquisition. One blog post was entitled, “The Violent Tendency of Western Christianity”. I have cited several scholars on this:

[Western Christianity’s] 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…. 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, [Augustine] 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 (847-855) said that anyone dying in battle for the defence of the Church would receive a heavenly reward; John VIII (872-882) 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.

Oh that business about Muhammad being a Monophysite, Samuel Hugh Moffett notes that “Muhammad did have personal contacts with Christians and had formed a generally favorable opinion of them the years before his successors so completely conquered them.

“The earliest and most trustworthy of the Muslim biographers of the Prophet, the eighth 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 one who teaches Muhammed most of what he brings is Jabr the Christian”. …

All of this is pre-Crusades. It is the so-called “unified” church of the first millennium, although it occurred after the “Great Schism” of the 5th century, when the followers of Cyril (Egypt) and the followers of Nestorius (Antioch) went their own separate ways.

Does correlation translate into causation here?

Consider the effects of the Crusades:

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.

After this came the Inquisition: the armies of Roman crusaders turned inward upon “the Kingdom”.

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