Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Crusades

A pure faith

Catholic originally meant a faith accessible to all people, in all countries, in all eras. Early in the Christian era, imperial pretensions developed in the church at Rome toward other churches in the empire.

That process sped up when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, granting religious freedom in the Roman empire. Again it was a gradual process, but by the next century the only freedom left was to be a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

Augustine of Hippo aided that process (he died in 430). He borrowed the determinism of Greek philosophy, Stoicism in particular, and interpreted it to mean that God has predestined certain people to salvation. Since only God knew the identity of those predestined to salvation, the church should compel all people within reach to become church members. The church ceased to be a company of the redeemed, but the body which ministered the grace of God to believers and unbelievers alike through the sacraments.

As soon as the Church of Rome began to deviate from being a company of the redeemed, there were churches who stood aside and would have no fellowship with that body which they deemed to be corrupt. People gave them many names, one that stuck for centuries was Cathar, meaning pure.

The Roman Catholic Church tried to wipe out the Cathars. Sometimes local officials acted as a buffer between the Cathars and the demands of the imperial church.

That changed in the 11th century when Gregory VII became pope (1073 – 1085). He believed that God had entrusted the church with embracing all of human society, giving it supreme authority over all human structures. He concentrated all church authority in Rome. He decreed that all priests and members of religious orders must be celibate. This was not mandatory before Gregory. He also reinforced the teaching that when a priest consecrated the bread and wine of the mass, they became the real body and blood of Jesus.

The church grew stronger and the empire weaker. Pope Gregory asserted his authority over the monarch of the Holy Roman empire. The church instituted the Inquisition and the Crusades to eliminate all dissent from the catholic church within the empire.
There is little information for earlier years, but the records of the Inquisition bring to light a network of churches in Languedoc, a region of southern France. We know these churches as Albigensians, from one of the larger towns in Languedoc, or more often as Cathars.

The Roman Catholic Church accused Cathars of non-Christian beliefs and practices. French historian Anne Brenon has researched the documents of the Inquisition. Rather than accept the accusations of the persecutors, she has looked for the responses made by the Cathars. The picture that emerges reveals a people living peacefully among catholics and others who did not share their faith. Until the Inquisition this posed no problems to anyone.

The Bible was the foundation of the Cathar faith; they rejected all other writings, including of the Roman Catholic church fathers. They claimed to be the true successors of the apostolic church, recognized only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper and were remarkable for the purity of their lives. When the catholic church launched a crusade against them, they did not take up arms to defend themselves. However, the local authorities, who were often close friends, or even family members, attempted to prevent the massacre of the Cathars by armed combat. The Cathars of Languedoc had links to the Waldensians, and some fled to them for refuge from the persecution.

Anne Brenon has spent decades researching the Cathars. I am reading Cathares, le contre-enquête. Anne Brenon writes that she is an unbeliever, disillusioned with contemporary manifestations of what passes for Christianity. Yet the genuine faith of the Cathar people of many centuries ago touches and inspires her.

Cathares, la contre-enquête,  Anne Brenon and Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, © Éditions Albin Michel, 2011

God, jihad, crusades

“The Roman church had an unswerving belief in itself as the vessel of divine grace in the world and the source of all divine authority, ordained by God and founded by His Son Jesus Christ on the ministry of His disciple St Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. In such a mindset it was impossible to conceive of the Roman Church as doing wrong, or of Rome admitting any rival to an equality of authority. To maintain the power and to extend the sway of Roman Catholic Christianity in the service of the Prince of Peace, even warfare was permitted.”

-excerpt from the Introduction to A Brief History of The Crusades, © Geoffrey Hindley, 2003, published by Constable & Robinson Ltd., London

Of course, the representatives of Islam have the same solid convictions about their prophet and their role in the world. After the death of Muhammad in 632, the caliphs, the “Commanders of the Faithful,” embarked on a massive campaign of jihad to extend the reign of Islam throughout Arabia, North Africa and into Europe.

Representatives of Islam today say that it is a religion of peace and that jihad means to struggle in the way of God, primarily in the form of an internal spiritual struggle against injustice and for purification in order to attain to paradise.

The Roman Catholic tradition of pilgrimage had much the same purpose, to step aside from the ordinary cares of life and devote oneself to an activity that would cleanse the soul from guilt, and prepare for heaven. The first crusade of 1095 was proclaimed by Pope Urban II as a pilgrimage. Thousands of people set off on this new pilgrimage, pushed by a profound fear of judgment on their sins and the promise that participating in the pilgrimage would ensure the pardon of their sins and entry into heaven. If they happened to die along the way, or in battle against the unbelieving Muslims, their salvation was ensured.

So they set out with the sign of the cross on their banners. Cross in French is croix and the whole project came to be called a croisade, which led to the English word crusade. Thus began centuries of cruel bloodshed, each side motivated by the firm conviction that they were doing the will of their God and thereby earning their salvation.

I won’t enter into a discussion on the correct meaning of jihad, but I think I can safely say that the Crusades were a perversion of the Christian faith and the teachings of the New Testament. Not all the crusades were directed against the followers of Allah, some were directed against the true followers of Jesus Christ. The Albigensian Crusades were directed against people who sought only to live out their faith in peace and who had no ambition to enter into the realm of secular authority. This was considered an intolerable affront to the authority of the Church of Rome and led to particularly cruel and bloody persecution.

As a spiritual descendent of the Anabaptists, Albigenses, and whatever other name the peaceful Christians were given in past eras, I want to clearly state that the Crusades were not a valid manifestation of the true faith in Jesus Christ.  The mere fact that our spiritual forefathers repudiated the use of force in matters of faith was enough to make them hated by the perpetrators of the Crusades.

As a corollary of this, perhaps it would be well to avoid terms like evangelistic crusades or campaigns. Evangelism should not be carried out in a way that could be understood as an attempt o conquer others.

Our Muslim neighbours

In our worship service yesterday evening, a minister told us about a young couple living in an apartment building in New York City. There was a Muslim family living in the same building, with children the same age as the children of this couple. The children played together, became friends, and the parents also became friends, often visiting each other. The young man in this account had been feeling under the weather for a few days when the Muslim couple dropped in for a visit one evening. His Muslim friend advised him to just take the next day off work and he decided to do that. This man worked in an office in the twin towers and the next day was September 11, 2001. The point of this little story was that taking the day off saved his life.

As for the Muslim friends, they were never seen again. They left quietly and quickly with no forwarding address. This raises two possibilities: either the husband knew what was going to happen on 9/11 and wanted to warn his friend; or, he knew nothing at all about what was going to happen and was overcome by the fear that his friendly advice might bring him under suspicion.

This brings us to the present day where our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, refers to ISIS and other groups and individuals involved in terrorist activity as jihadists.  Muslim organizations are objecting quite strongly, saying the original meaning of jihad has nothing to do with terrorism and that all Muslims should not be stigmatized by referring to terrorists in this way. President Obama, on the other hand, will not make a connection between Islam and terrorism for fear of radicalizing all Muslims.

Who has it right? I don’t want to get political here, but the fact is that the terrorists refer to themselves as jihadists, and the stated goal of ISIS is to establish a Muslim Caliphate. I am quite willing to admit that most Muslims in our country are not in sympathy with the terrorists. Most have come here because they preferred the tolerance and stability of Canada to conditions in Islamic nations. I am happy to hear their leaders taking pains to dissociate themselves from the radicals and making real efforts to reach their young people with teachings of moderation and respect for others.

I also realize that the victims of these terrorist movements are mostly other Muslims. That brings up a point that needs to be made. Much of the hatred of radical Muslims toward Western society is based on memories of the Crusades, when supposedly Christian armies were sent out to drive back and subjugate the forces of Islam. There is no doubt that many atrocities against Muslims were perpetrated by the Crusaders. But were the Crusaders true representatives of Christianity?

I call myself an Anabaptist, a spiritual heir of a Christian movement that was also the victim of numerous Crusades, and the Inquisition. The plain fact of history is that for hundreds of years the same Roman Catholic Church that was responsible for the Crusades against Muslims also systematically hunted down, tortured and killed many thousands of Christians whose sole offense was that they did not want to be Roman Catholic.

There is nothing sinister about the word catholic, it was originally used to describe the Christian faith as being applicable to all people, of all nations, of all eras. But the Roman Catholic Church appropriated that word for themselves and in the minds of many brought such disrepute upon it that they refuse to use it today. That is not the fault of the word.

It seems to me that Muslims will have to get used to the fact that jihad has been appropriated by the terrorists and it is probably no longer possible to dissociate it from that in the public mind. I am quite willing to believe that most Muslims in our country have as much horror of terrorism as I do. I wish them well in their efforts to make a clear distinction between themselves and the extremists, in the minds of their own young people and in the minds of the general public.

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