Category Archives: History

The Devil in the New World

In the battle against the Culture of Death, there is a certain gravity pulling towards two self-defeating tendencies, both of which equally plague those building a Culture of Life.  The first is to treat evil as something abstract, a mere force or darkness that looms around us.  No one ever won a battle against an abstract enemy.  The second is to treat other men as evil, that is, to literally demonize them.  It puts a face on the evil, showing it to be something that is orchestrated, but also misses the mark because it misidentifies the true enemy.  This temptation is perennial, especially since the enemies are relentless and have no real face, but instead are powerful and intelligent evil spirits, hell-bent on destroying as many human beings as possible.  “We are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).  The Apostle to the Gentiles wants to remind the Ephesians (and us) that a Christian, as their name suggests, does not defeat his flesh and blood enemy but instead wins him over.  When we forget this fact, more souls will be lost.  No doubt, the Devil’s plan was always self-defeating, but our goal must always be to limit the casualties.

In a gloss on St. Paul’s aforementioned spiritual combat plan, St. Thomas Aquinas paints a vivid word picture which helps us to better understand our plan of attack.   Using the analogy of a battle, he says that “evil men are horses, and the demons the riders; hence, if we kill the riders, the horses will be ours.”  We win souls by releasing them from the grips of the Devil.  This means using first and foremost spiritual weapons of the Mass, Our Lady, prayer, and fasting.  But it also means engaging the enemy head on by exposing him and his works for what they are.

The Historical Battleground

This may sound woefully abstract, until we look at a historical example that illustrates what this looks like in practice; an event whose effects are still felt today.  Not surprisingly, we will have to do some digging to uncover what actually happened because like much of Christian history, it has been overcome with the Smoke of Satan, obscuring the truth with outright lies and revisionist history.  The event that I am referring to is Hernan Cortes and the conquering of Mexico.

The wind of truth can sweep away the haze by posing a simple, almost common-sense question that challenges the conventional wisdom of the day: how could Cortes, commanding 500 men with 10 cannons, 16 horses, 13 muskets and 32 crossbows, possibly conquer an enemy who outnumbered them at least 100 to 1?  For sure, the Spaniards may have enjoyed a technological military advantage, but the Aztecs were no backward savages either.  Their advanced culture would have rivaled anything found in Europe at the time.  They had many fierce warriors skilled in hand to hand combat and had conquered most of Mexico through their military prowess.  In fact they may have been able to match the military skills of the Spaniards except for one thing—they refused to kill their vanquished enemy, insisting on carrying them off as prisoners instead.  This novel approach however was not really a military tactic but a religious one as we shall see in a moment.

The Aztecs may have had an advanced sanitation system, aqueducts and a very accurate calendar system, but they exceeded all cultures in previous history in one particular regard.  It was this regard that especially drew the interest of Cortes and his Spanish Conquistadors.  It was not their gold or their riches, but their blood lust.  They were unrivaled in their penchant for human sacrifice, sacrificing at least 50,000 men women and children every year and as many as 80,000 during a 4-day festival in 1487.

Although the Aztecs had a number of gods in their pantheon, it was their primary god Huitzilopochtli, who was called the Hummingbird Wizard or the Lover of Hearts and the Drinker of Blood who demanded the human sacrifice.  It was to sate the Hummingbird Wizard that the Aztecs would carry away their vanquished enemies in battle—offering them as human sacrifices to the Lover of Hearts and the Drinker of Blood.  But we should resist the temptation to think the Aztecs think that these were backward people caught up in superstitious practices of sacrificing human lives to imaginary idols.  This would ignore the reality and the power of the Devil.

By possessing a few people of influence (influence he was able to give them) and speaking to the people through them, he was able to enslave the entire population of Mexico.  Things would go well when his demands were met, instilling a sense of fear and loyalty in the average person.  When they failed to meet his demands, he would punish the people through a reign of terror.  Without the light of Christ to free the people of Mexico from this demonic stronghold, the people were trapped in a bloody snare.

One might be accused of “over-spiritualizing” history to view it this way, except for the truth that the Devil is the great copycat—mimicking the good that God does, to set himself up as a god.  For Huitzilopochtli was believed to have been born from the goddess Coatlicue who was an earth goddess who was depicted as a woman wearing a skirt of snakes and a necklace of hearts torn from victims.  She immaculately conceived her son when a feather fell on her apron.  When her son was born, he killed all her other children who became the stars and the moon.  The parallels to Revelation 12 are uncanny, especially given they had no contact with the Christian story.  Compound this with the fact that they viewed cannibalism as a religious ritual in which those who fed on the flesh were thought to be eating the flesh of the gods that Huitzilopochtli killed and we can see that it was a great Black Mass that Cortes encountered.

The story can only be fully understood by adding one important detail.  The Aztecs were awaiting the return of Quetzalcoatl, a god wholly unique among their pantheon because he was of light and wanted men to live and serve him, rejecting all forms of human sacrifice.  He was supposed to return in a year of 1-Reed which occurred every 52 years on the day of 9-Wind.  When Cortes arrived on Good Friday 1519, which was both a 1-Reed year and a 9-Wind day and was dressed in penitential black, the same color that Quetzalcoatl wore as a priest, the Aztecs, especially their leader Montezuma assumed it was Quetzalcoatl returning.  Cortes never said he was Quetzalcoatl, but he was vague enough to use the deception to his advantage.

Cortes was joined in his war against the Aztecs by many of the indigenous peoples in the region, who were only too eager to finally be freed from the yoke of the Hummingbird Wizard.  In order to placate the Aztecs they regularly had to supply them with victims for sacrifice.  When they refused, the Aztecs would go to war with them and carry away their warriors as sacrificial victims.  They were quite literally damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.  Cortes was hailed as a great savior of the native peoples, especially because he did so in a true Christian spirit, always with his eyes towards their conversion and the toppling of idols and human sacrifice to be replaced with churches and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Having been so recently victorious in freeing their homeland from the Muslims once and for all, the Spanish had a natural crusading spirit; a spirit that Cortes appealed to in rallying his men to fight for the freedom of the Mexicans, “The greater the King we seek, the wider the land, the more numerous the enemy, so much the greater will be our glory, for have you not heard it said, the more Moors, the greater the spoils?  Besides we are obligated to exult and increase our holy Catholic faith which we undertook to do like good Christians, uprooting idolatry, that great blasphemy to our God, abolishing sacrifices and the eating of human flesh, which is so contrary to nature and so common here.”  Surely, there can be no question as to Cortes’ primary motive in setting out to tear down the Aztecs’ altars of sacrifice and “conquer” the Aztecs.

What it Means for Us

One can’t help but wonder given the valor exercised by Cortes and his men why we are so quick to condemn him.  How many of the descendants of the indigenous people are alive today because of him?  The Aztecs were slowly but surely eliminating all the other peoples in Mexico so hungry had the Hummingbird Wizard become.  Surely any celebration of “Indigenous People’s Day” that is true to the name would be marked with gratitude for the Spanish.

The Conquest of Cortes and his companions serves as a great reminder that every cultural battle is a spiritual battle.  As soon as he arrived in Mexico City he set up icons of Our Lady and altars so that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass could be celebrated.  Everything that he did, was aimed first and foremost towards the conversion of the Mexican peoples.  He knew that a time would come when some of his fellow Spaniards would demand that the Mexican people be sacrificed in slavery to their idols—gold and that only through Baptism could this be avoided so that he always acted with a sense of urgency.  It was he and Christopher Columbus who called Our Lady down from Heaven into the New World by frequenting the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain because they knew the only way to squash the serpent was by becoming her heel.

The Christ-Bearer

There once was a society that fell in love with the equality of its citizens.  They saw it everywhere and in everything so much so that fought to remove its enemy, excellence.  They did not lift up the lowly, but lowered the mighty.  Heroes became a thing of the past and then past heroes were erased because they might inspire noble acts among the citizenry.  Heroes simply never existed.  Then one day a great crisis came upon that society and for want of enough heroes, they perished.  They were all equally dead.

Is this just a story, or is this a glimpse of what the future will say about us?  We might gauge by asking, which is easier, to name three modern day heroes or three celebrities?  Most certainly the latter.  Heck, even most our fictional super-heroes are deeply flawed bullies lacking nobility.  For want of heroes, the people perished.

We look down on Achilles because we can’t take our eyes off his heel.  Paradoxically we abhor excellence while at the same time demanding perfection.  That is because we have forgotten what a hero is.  The heroes of the past and the present are all fallen men and women.  They are not heroes because they are perfect, they are heroes because they are magnanimous and courageous.  They do great and noble things, even if not all the things they do are great and noble.  All saints are heroes, but not all heroes are saints.  I can think of no better example of this principle than the former hero Christopher Columbus.

Christopher Columbus may not have been a Catholic saint, but he is a great Catholic hero.  As Leo XII said of the great explorer “[F]or the exploit is in itself the highest and grandest which any age has ever seen accomplished by man; and he who achieved it, for the greatness of his mind and heart, can be compared to but few in the history of humanity” (Quarto Abeunto Saeculo [QAE]).  His unflappable courage in literally “setting out into the deep” and his noble intention of winning souls to Christ, that set the course of history off in an entirely new direction.  For generations, his life was a model and inspiration.  For our generation he is a scoundrel.

Why He Went

There are those who would challenge the contention that he set off from Spain in August of 1492 with anything more than a desire for fame and riches.  They allow the men holding the eraser to tell the whole story rather than letting the man himself tell it.  Leo XIII summarized it best when he said that  it is “indubitable” that the Catholic faith was the strongest motivation for Columbus and for this reason the whole human race owes “not a little to the Church.”  After 30 plus days without the sight of land mutiny threatened and the Admiral of the Ocean Sea reminded his crew of their mission.  His log for October 10, 1492 records:

They could stand it no longer. They grumbled and complained of the long voyage, and I reproached them for their lack of spirit, telling them that, for better or worse, they had to complete the enterprise on which the Catholic Sovereigns had sent them. I cheered them on as best I could, telling them of all the honors and rewards they were about to receive. I also told the men that it was useless to complain, for I had started out to find the Indies and would continue until I had accomplished that mission, with the help of Our Lord (The Log of Christopher Columbus, p. 72).

After discovering Hispaniola, he wrote (again in his log) to Isabel and Fernando:

I have to say, Most Serene Princes, that if devout religious persons know the Indian language well, all these people would soon become Christians. Thus I pray to Our Lord that Your Highnesses will appoint persons of great diligence in order to bring to the Church such great numbers of peoples, and that they will convert these peoples. . . . And after your days, for we are all mortal, you will leave your realms in a very tranquil state, free from heresy and wickedness, and you will be well received before the Eternal Creator (Nov. 6 entry).

Even one of his contemporary critics, Fr. Bartolome de Las Casas, the great champion of the rights of the Native Americans, labeled him “extraordinarily zealous for the divine service; he desired and was eager for the conversion of these people…And he was especially affected and devoted to the idea that God should deem him worthy of aiding somewhat in recovering the Holy Sepulchre” (quoted by Samuel Eliot Morison in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Admiral of the Ocean Sea pp.45-46).

This quote is particularly appropriate because it helps to explain one reason why Columbus has become an object of scorn in recent times.  His name, Christopher, or “Christ-bearer”, was his mission.  In an age of religious subjectivism anyone who acts must be acting for some other motive.  To act for the glory of God is deemed to be absurd and bears the label fundamentalist or extremist.  Not only that, but his motive was also politically incorrect.  Columbus saw his mission as an extension of the Crusade to capture the Holy Land.

The tellers of history often speak of the reason why explorers set out to find water routes to the Orient based on strictly on economics, but do not explain why the land route was so costly and dangerous.  The reason is simple—the lands that needed to be crossed were controlled by Muslims who heavily “taxed”, robbed, enslaved and killed merchants from the West.  Columbus and his generation thought this could be avoided by finding a water route.  What set Columbus apart however was that he thought he could convert the East and then squeeze the Islamic lands between East and West and recapture the Holy Land for good.

Although these were Columbus’ primary motivations, they were not his only.  He did also seek riches.  Riches are a “second thing” and provided that the First Thing remain first there is nothing wrong with that.  He wanted to fund the Crusade to recapture the Holy Sepulcher, but he also had investors that he had to satisfy.  He also sought to increase his own wealth and like the rest of fallen mankind these secondary goals were wont to make him forget the primary goal at times.

A Great Hero, but a Fallen Man

There is no need to whitewash all that Columbus did.  He failed to live up to his noble mission at times, especially in his inability to transcend his own circumstances.  When he arrived in Hispaniola he found two peoples, the peaceful Arawaks and the brutal Caribs.  The Caribs committed all kinds of atrocities including human sacrifice and cannibalism, mostly directed at the Arawaks.  Columbus viewed the peaceful Arawaks as Spanish citizens and thus worthy of protection.  When he conquered the Caribs, he, as was the accepted custom of the time, enslaved the conquered peoples.  He was gravely wrong in doing so, although he may not have realized the full import of what he had done at the time by blindly accepting the cultural norm.  It is easy to condemn him thinking we are more enlightened now about slavery, except we are far less enlightened about the barbarity of human sacrifice to our own gods.

He also was a much better explorer than an administrator.  Despite objections to the contrary—he told the King and Queen that only “good Christian men should be sent”—the Spanish sovereigns sent him back to govern Hispaniola with 1200 colonists.  These men were included corrupt nobility and convicts whose death sentences were commuted for going.  Rather than accept this role wholeheartedly, he often left the island for long periods of time to continue exploring.  While the cat was away the mice played and he returned to find the peaceful Arawaks enslaved to the Spanish men there.  Rather than putting an end to it, he allowed it to continue and eventually ended up returning to Spain in chains  This ultimately cost his governorship, but he was allowed to return a fourth time strictly as an explorer.

Before closing, it is also worth addressing the other common accusation lobbed at Columbus, namely that he stole the land.  The fact that this is an accusation at all shows how chronologically bias we are.  There is no evidence that the natives themselves viewed the land as their own.  They were for the most part nomadic peoples among nomadic peoples so that even if there were stationary groups you have to ask whether the land they occupied was rightfully theirs.  How did these primitive peoples make land claims and how were the recognized?  Did they merely use the land for a certain amount of time and move on, or did they actually own it?  What is sure is that they did not have any understanding of property the way the Western Europeans did or we do today.  So, even if the Spanish were guilty of exploiting them in many ways, the accusation that they had their land stolen from them is really meant to excite modern prejudice.  In any regard this is not as cut and dry an issue as it is often presented to be.

It is Leo XIII that seems to best summarize why we as Christians should redeem the history of Christopher Columbus and rank him among the great American heroes of the past: —“ He was distinguished by this unique note, that in his work of traversing and retraversing immense tracts of ocean, he looked for a something greater and higher than did these others. We say not that he was unmoved by perfectly honorable aspirations after knowledge, and deserving well of human society; nor did he despise glory, which is a most engrossing ideal to great souls; nor did he altogether scorn a hope of advantages to himself; but to him far before all these human considerations was the consideration of his ancient faith, which questionless dowered him with strength of mind and will, and often strengthened and consoled him in the midst of the greatest difficulties. This view and aim is known to have possessed his mind above all; namely, to open a way for the Gospel over new lands and seas” (QAE).  This Columbus Day let us come to his defense.  For want of heroes, the people will perish.


Misogyny and Misbegotten Males: On the Creation of Woman

The account of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis has often been labeled as the genesis of misogyny by feminists.  The opening account in the Bible has become for many the point where they close the book.  Therefore it behooves us to know how to respond to such a charge.  In so doing, we will, like Adam who found an unlikely “helpmate” in Eve, we will turn to what many would consider a more unlikely helpmate—St. Thomas Aquinas.

Using St. Thomas as a helper to dismiss the charge of misogyny require some explaining.  For many people this would be like asking David Duke to help defend proper race relations.  But there is good reason to turn to the Dumb Ox for help on this.  Too often skeptics will dismiss the entire corpus of his teaching because the Angelic Doctor is a “misogynist.”    Following the teachings of Aristotle, St. Thomas saw women as “misbegotten males.”

It bears mentioning however that if he was wrong about women, then this does not mean he was wrong about everything, or even anything else.  All this would prove is that he was not infallible and was capable of making mistakes.  Like all of us, he too was prone to unquestionably accept some of the prevailing views of his day.  To have a blind spot, does not make one blind.  Should the entire economic theory of Adam Smith be thrown out because “woman are emotional and men rational.”?  What about John Locke’s political theory because he justifies slavery?  Living in the glass house of a multitude of errors in our own day, we should be careful to throw stone.

St. Thomas Aquinas: Patron Saint of Misogyny?

This particular case is worth examining however because St. Thomas does not wholly swallow the prevailing viewpoint.  While he wrote about women (including his great esteem for Our Lady) in numerous places, he is usually, as mentioned above, accused of misogyny because of what he wrote in a single place when called woman a “misbegotten male.”

In seeking to examine the origin of woman, St. Thomas first asks should the woman have been made in that first production of things (ST I, q.92, art.1)?  He answers in the affirmative, but the first objection he mentions is that of the Philosopher, that is Aristotle:

“For the Philosopher says (De Gener. ii, 3), that ‘the female is a misbegotten male.’ But nothing misbegotten or defective should have been in the first production of things. Therefore woman should not have been made at that first production.”

Note first that this he has listed as an objection to his own viewpoint.  Obviously it was not his own.  In his reply to this objection he shows why he does not agree completely with Aristotle.  It is worth citing the entire response in order to put the myth of his woman hating to rest.

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence; such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Animal. iv, 2). On the other hand, as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten, but is included in nature’s intention as directed to the work of generation. Now the general intention of nature depends on God, Who is the universal Author of nature. Therefore, in producing nature, God formed not only the male but also the female.”

Notice that he agrees with Aristotle about the “misbegotten” part, but only on a biological level.  The prevailing view of reproductive biology was that the sperm produced only male offspring, and that when this did not happen it was because something interfered with it.  But St. Thomas goes to some length to say that woman is not a mistake of any sort, but directly willed by God.  Men and women, in St. Thomas’ view, are equal in dignity, even if there are some accidental inferiorities (such as physical strength) between the two.  We shall return to this idea in a moment when we speak of Eve’s origin.

Eve and Adam’s Rib

In the second chapter of Genesis, speaks of the mysterious origins of man and woman.  The man, Adam, is made from the dust of the ground infused with a spirit.  The woman is “built” from the rib of the man.  (Gn 2:21-22).

Much of the creation account uses metaphorical or mythical language, but that does not mean it is entirely composed of metaphor.  In fact, the Church is quite insistent that we understand Eve being formed from the rib of Adam literally.   This is one of the three truths of man’s origins from revelation that the Church insists must be safeguarded from any encroachment by a Theory of Evolution.  Strictly speaking, if creatures are always evolving, there is always a relationship of inferior to superior.  If woman and man evolved from different individuals, evolution would lead them eventually away from each other.  Survival of the fittest would mean that one would necessarily become superior to the other.  But if they share one common origin, one common nature, then they will necessarily be equals.  By insisting that woman is taken from man, the Church is affirming this essential equality between man and woman; equal dignity such that any differences are not essential but only accidental.

This view is pretty much what we saw in St. Thomas’ explanation of why the understanding of woman as a misbegotten man is inadequate.  He goes on to further say that,

“It was right for the woman to be made from a rib of man…to signify the social union of man and woman, for the woman should neither “use authority over man,” and so she was not made from his head; nor was it right for her to be subject to man’s contempt as his slave, and so she was not made from his feet” (ST I, q.92, a. 3).

By removing the rib from Adam, God also would have exposed Adam’s heart to Eve, a truth that becomes clear when we examine the act of creation of the bride of the First Adam, with the bride of the Second Adam.  Just as Adam fell asleep and the raw material of his bride came from his side, so too when the Second Adam fell asleep that the raw material that God would form into His Bride came forth.

This exposure of Adam’s heart has not just a mystical meaning, but a natural one as well.  It is an expression of the truth that “it is not good that man should be alone.”  Pope St. John Paul II mentions this when he discusses the meaning of Adam’s rib during his catecheses on the Theology of the Body.  In naming the animals, man experiences what the Pope calls Original Solitude, in recognizing he is fundamentally alone among creation.  In the creation of Eve, he ecstatically experiences that he was made for another, that is, he was made to love—“this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!”  In other words, Eve being taken from the rib of Adam reveals that the two ways of being human somehow complete each other.  As John Paul II puts it, the rib reveals  masculinity and femininity as “two complementary dimensions…of self-consciousness and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body” (TOB 11/21/79).  Adam’s recognition of Eve as somehow his equal and yet wholly other is a summons to love.

There is certainly a rich symbolism attached to the idea of Eve created from the rib of Adam, but must we really interpret it literally?  Literal interpretation affirms another very important, and very Catholic, principle related to God’s Providence.  God, being totally free, could have fashioned Eve in any manner He wanted.  But He chose this way not because it was a symbol, but because it was a sacrament.  It brought about and revealed the things that it symbolized—the unity, equality and love that each of the symbols we mentioned pointed to. All of creation including the human nature of Christ is meant to reveal God to us.  Therefore nothing that He has made can be taken at face value as “only this” or “only that.”  Everything that is, means something.  God does not need to use symbolic language because everything that He creates is in some sense a symbol.

The accusation of misogyny in the origins of man and woman is really an accusation of Christianity not being Christian.  Prior to the “evolution” of Christian culture, women were always viewed as somehow inferior to men.  It is only when Christianity became the prevailing worldview that the essential equality of men and women became the norm.  Now, revisionists would have us believe that the hand that fed us, actually poisoned us, by feeding us healthy food.  The account of the creation of Eve reveals the dignity of woman and is not misogynistic.



Defenders of History

History is central to Christianity.  Christians believe, not in some distant God, but a God Who acts from within mankind’s history.  But in order to see His hand, it is absolutely necessary that true history be preserved.  There are no mere events, but instead the very actions of God in time.  In many ways, to be Catholic is to be a historian.  We should not then be surprised that His enemies attempt to alter the stories.  The Church often finds herself on the defensive against the revisers of history and so her members must become defenders of history.  There is perhaps no area that has been so bombarded by revisionist historians as the Crusades.  Therefore it is instructive to look at some of the common myths in order to be better prepared as Crusaders of Truth.

Myth 1: St. John Paul II apologized to Muslims for the Crusades

This is an important myth to debunk from the outset because, if John Paul II apologized to Muslims, then anything else we say on the matter would be moot.  It is also a pretty widely held belief, even Wikipedia mentions it.  But the fact of the matter is that he never did apologize to Muslims for their treatment by the Crusaders.

As the Church entered the Third Millennium, the Pope wanted to thoroughly examine her conscience and seek forgiveness for all the wrongs done by her.  On March 12, 2000 he declared a “Day of Pardon” to acknowledge the Church’s sins.  There was no mention of Islam or Muslims among the list of those the Church sought pardon from.  The Crusades also are not mentioned.  The closest that he came that day was during the homily when he said “We cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken toward the followers of other religions.”  This is clearly not an apology for the Crusades however.

Likewise with the Second Vatican Council.  In the Council’s document on other religions, Nostra Aetate, there is specific mention of Islam.  While the Council Fathers conceded that in the past there was much quarreling and dissension on both sides and made a plea to “forget the past,” there is no asking of forgiveness or mention of regret.  Instead the Council recommends that both sides “work sincerely for mutual understanding.”  Only in light of this can the many centuries of hostility be replaced with a genuine understanding (NA, 3).

John Paul II did seek pardon from the Greek Orthodox in 2001 for the actions of the Crusaders during what came to be known as the Fourth Crusade.  This is mentioned because this crusade is often used as “proof” of just how misguided the crusading spirit was.  It is also a humbling reminder that not everything that happened is something we should be proud of.  In this particular case the Crusaders got involved in local political intrigue rather than focusing on their mission.

One of the practical problems that the Crusaders faced was the fact that they could find no local and permanent government to put in place in Jerusalem.  The Crusaders would often have to stay behind and form their own government in the region.  This left them isolated and extremely vulnerable to Muslim attack.  This is why Richard the Lionheart refused to take Jerusalem during the Third Crusade.  He thought it a political liability and instead secured, via treaty, safe passage for unarmed pilgrims.  The Fourth Crusaders had hoped that the Byzantine Empire would take control of the area because they were in a better position to defend it.  But there was a great deal of political instability in Byzantium during the years of the Crusades.  They sought to put a more Latin-friendly leader on the Byzantine throne and  found it in Alexius IV (son of the deposed emperor Isaac II).  He agreed to pay 200,000 Silver marks, supply provisions for expedition against Egypt, submit the Greek Church to Rome and then station 500 Knights in the Holy Land for its permanent defense.  This was exactly the solution they were looking for, but when Alexius IV gave in to pressure from his subjects and ceased supplying the crusaders, war ensued.  The Crusaders eventually sacked Constantinople and placed Baldwin of Flanders on the Byzantine throne.  It was hardly the bloodbath that revisionist historians like to paint it as, but still about 2000 of the 150,000 residents were killed.  Pope Innocent III immediately condemned their actions and declared the Fourth Crusade a failure because they did not recapture the Holy Land and turned on fellow Christians.  Despite this condemnation, it still deepened the rift between the East and West.  This is the rift that John Paul II was hoping to heal by addressing this wrong.

Myth 2: The Crusades were unprovoked; mostly about making a land grab and increasing wealth of the Church

As we learned from the folly of the Fourth Crusade, there are situations in which Crusaders could go awry in their mission.  There also were some that went for less than noble reasons.  However what is really at question here is the principles behind the Crusades.

The Crusades start in earnest in the Seventh Century as a response to Muslim expansion into Syria and Persia (modern day Iraq and Iran).  Jerusalem soon followed in 638, although Christians were not cast out of the city.   Pilgrims from the West into Jerusalem were mostly left unmolested because of their contributions to the local economy. In 1071 this changed drastically.  The Turks (who were Sunni) invaded the Holy Land and attacked the “heretical” Shiite.  They began to kill and enslave the resident Christians and any pilgrims who attempted to enter the Holy Land.   In response to this, Blessed Urban II called for the First Crusade.

This myth is quickly debunked by reading Blessed Urban II’s speech to the assembly at Clermont calling for the Crusade.  He told them that by taking the Cross “[U]nder Jesus Christ, our Leader, may you struggle for your Jerusalem, in Christian battleline, most invincible line, even more successfully than did the sons of Jacob of old – struggle, that you may assail and drive out the Turks, more execrable than the Jebusites, who are in this land, and may you deem it a beautiful thing to die for Christ in that city in which He died for us.”

He defines the twofold purpose; first the release of Christian captives and second the liberation of the city of Jerusalem.  His use of the word pilgrimage  also reveals motives because it showed that the aim was not to conquer the region, but to make pilgrimage to the Holy Land and return home.

A careful study of the history also shows that the intention of the successful Crusaders matched that of the Pope.  To go on Crusade was incredibly expensive and it left many of its leaders in financial straits.  Most Crusaders had to secure 4-5 times their annual income to go on pilgrimage.  This not only renders absurd claims about the Crusaders seeking to secure wealth but also the myth that they were mostly landless younger sons.

In truth we have difficulty imagining the culture of the early second millennium.  While we look for secular motivation, there were many men who were in fact driven by faith.  The men who took the Cross were often great warriors and were far from saints.  Yet they saw the Crusades as a means to make amends for their sins and gladly sought the indulgence attached to it so that they could become the saints they desired to be.  In short, the fact that wealthy men risked their fortunes to take the Cross with the intention of returning home after the pilgrimage makes the “motivated by personal gain” hypothesis untenable.  Those who did remain in the Holy Land after the Crusades did so at great peril and only out of the necessity of defending it.

Myth 3: The Church slaughtered all the inhabitants in Jerusalem

In October of 2001, just one month after the attacks of 9/11,  former President Bill Clinton offered this explanation for the attacks:

 “Those of us who come from various European lineages are not blameless…Indeed, in the First Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with three hundred Jews in it, and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was Muslim on the Temple Mount. The contemporaneous descriptions of the event describe soldiers walking on the Temple Mount, a holy place to Christians, with blood running up to their knees.”

Now putting aside the fact that the “contemporaneous descriptions” that he is referring to were using a biblical literary device (Rev 14:20—“blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses’ bridles”), he is promoting the myth that the Crusaders were overly brutal.  While it is true that many people were killed, we cannot impose the rules of the Geneva Convention because it was a different time.  The Rule of War of the time was different.  When attacking a city, the aggressors always offered peaceful surrender as an option.  When this was rejected, it was often the case that all a city’s inhabitants were put under the ban.  This was meant mainly to be seen as a deterrent to other would be enemies.

This is not to say what they did was right, only that they were following the conventions of war at the time.  Any combatants, Christian, Muslim or otherwise would have done the same thing.  To judge by this standard leaves almost all victors of wars fought in history guilty of the same thing.  It is not until we get to the 18th Century that we see anything similar to Christian (note the emphasis on the word Christian) Just War principles being consistently applied.  This unfortunately is another case where attempts to condemn Christianity using Christian principles falls flat.   All it ends up proving is another Christian doctrine—Original Sin.  We often fail to live up to our Christian principles.  Guilty as charged.  But don’t pretend that the principles are something that weren’t given to the world by the Church.

How did these myths arise?

Like many clubs used to beat the Church, it gained teeth during the Protestant Reformation.  Because the Crusades were so closely tied to the doctrines of papal authority and indulgences, they served as a great polemical tool for Martin Luther to conclude that the Crusades were nothing but a ploy by a power-hungry papacy.  He even claimed that “to fight against the Turks is to resist the Lord, who visits our sins with such rods.”  However he soon changed his mind when it began to get too close to home when Suleiman and his armies began to invade Austria.  At that point however the foundation for attack was already set.  First the Crusades were viewed through a confessional lens and, once the Enlightenment thinkers came along, it was viewed as “religious violence.”

What is difficult to determine is exactly when it was picked up by Muslim sympathizers.  It may be that it is just a logical conclusion from the wide-scale acceptance of the three myths above.  If those things are true then truly Muslims were the victims.  They also paint current Muslim aggression as being retaliation for brutal colonization by the West.  But to those who follow the tenets of Islam, the jihad never ended and won’t end until all are under the reign of Islam.  Interestingly enough, that is precisely how all of this started.


Jesus and the Telephone Game

I once met with a prominent atheist and I asked him what it was that ultimately led to his conversion to atheism.  Naturally inquisitive, he had grown up in a marginally Catholic home and had found that nearly all of his questions as a child went unanswered.  He left home for a Methodist college known for its top basketball program and took a course in Scripture hoping to have some of his questions answered.  Instead he found that the professor was simply a “Scripture Scholar” who applied the Historical Critical Method to everything he taught and ended up destroying what little faith the man had.  One of the things he taught him was how unreliable the Gospels actually were.  He would compare the way the Bible’s accounts of Jesus were passed on with the children’s telephone game in which the children whisper a message from one person to another.  The message is corrupted and everyone has a good laugh in the end.  This analogy is applied so often that it bears a deeper look.

In order to avoid setting up a straw man, we will begin by looking at what one of the better known Scripture scholars, Professor Bart Ehrman, has to say about this:

“You are probably familiar with the old birthday party game “telephone.” A group of kids sits in a circle, the first tells a brief story to the one sitting next to her, who tells it to the next, and to the next, and so on, until it comes back full circle to the one who started it. Invariably, the story has changed so much in the process of retelling that everyone gets a good laugh. Imagine this same activity taking place, not in a solitary living room with ten kids on one afternoon, but over the expanse of the Roman Empire (some 2,500 miles across), with thousands of participants—from different backgrounds, with different concerns, and in different contexts—some of whom have to translate the stories into different languages” (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 2nd Edition p.47).

In order to see why this is a faulty analogy, we must briefly look at the message.  The Gospel (not the books but the actual message) was an absolutely life-altering message.  If what was being said about the man Jesus of Nazareth was actually true then it would change the lives of everyone who heard it.  This is far different from the message of the telephone game which is really just a random (and sometimes deliberately confusing) one.  The magnitude of the message would lead to you wanting to hear it again and again to make sure you got it right.  In the telephone game you cannot ask for the message a second time.  Finally, the Gospel was not whispered in the ear, but preached out loud so that there is a social corrective as well.

While the argument suffers from the fallacy of a faulty analogy, there is a part of it that may in fact be true.  The reliability of the message depends completely on the reliability of the messenger.  Ehrman’s argument (and even the analogy itself) hinges on the lack of reliability of the messenger:

“It does not appear that the authors of the early Gospels were eyewitnesses to the events that they narrate. But they must have gotten their stories from somewhere. Indeed, one of them acknowledges that he has heard stories about Jesus and read earlier accounts (Luke 1:1–4). In the opinion of most New Testament scholars, it is possible that in addition to preserving genuine historical recollections about what Jesus actually said and did, these authors also narrated stories that had been modified, or even invented, in the process of retelling” (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 2nd Edition p.47).

Dr. Brant Pitre in his new book, The Case for Jesus, presents a well-researched argument against this that I present in summary below.  Although it seems like common sense, it bears mentioning that there were three stages in the writing of the Gospels.  First there is the life and teaching of Jesus to His disciples.  These disciples were not just students of Jesus, but like most disciples of Jewish rabbis sought to collect the dust from their Master’s feet because they were following Him so closely.  They spent every day for three years with Him.  They spent 40-grace filled days with Him after the Resurrection.  After Pentecost, the second phase began, namely their preaching of the Gospel.

This preaching was done by these same disciples, the ones who were with Him from the beginning.  They were not merely sharing incidental memories from their time with Him but instead like all preachers their message was rehearsed and rehashed.  In other words, we do not need to worry about their memory slipping them because they were constantly preaching the same message that would eventually be written down.

Francis whisper

These same preachers also acted as a corrective to the message as it spread.  This is the genius of the Church and its role in protecting the content of Revelation.  We find examples of this throughout Acts of the Apostles when it is the Church who sends out the non-Apostolic preachers.  Even St. Paul himself went to the Apostles in order to vet his message (Gal 1:18).  St. John also writes his letters as a means of correcting those Gnostics who had twisted and distorted the message.

A further aspect of this becomes clear when we ask an important question: why did Jesus only appear to certain people after the Resurrection (1 Cor 15:8)?  Couldn’t He have just appeared to all of the Jewish leaders and Pilate?  )?  It would seem that He would want to appear to a multitude in order to prove His words were true.  Instead, He appeared to only those who He deemed to be reliable witnesses.  He chose those (and we believe He also equipped) who were most qualified to spread the message.  This cannot be overlooked because each of these men ultimately gave their lives because they knew that the Resurrection was real.  They had no real fear of death because they had witnessed Jesus rise from the dead.

This is why it matters that it is these same witnesses who are responsible for the third stage, the actual writing of the Gospel texts.  The argument that the Apostles were ignorant fishermen and thus incapable of writing is not historically accurate.  First, not all of them were fishermen and certainly one of them, namely the former tax collector, would have been literate (especially in Greek).  It should not be surprising that of the 11 remaining Apostles then that Matthew wrote a Gospel.  Secondly, we need to make the distinction between author and writer.  While John may not have been able to write (Acts 4:13 seems to suggest this), this does not mean that he could not have used a scribe.  We have good reason based on their relationship that Mark wrote his Gospel based on the preaching of Peter (1Pt 5:12-13).  Likewise Luke knew many eyewitnesses including the Mother of the Lord.

There is historical evidence as well that does not support the telephone game hypothesis.  One of the most basic rules for studying biblical manuscripts is that you go back to the earliest and best copies and see what they say.  All of the early manuscripts attribute them to the same authors that we do today.  We find not a single copy that is attributed to someone else.  Likewise there is unanimity among the Church Fathers as to the authors.

It bears mentioning as well that the amount of time that passed between the writing of the Gospels and Pentecost is not as long as some scholars will try to say it was.  We know from extra-biblical sources that the destruction of the Temple occurred in August of 70AD.  This is important because the Synoptic Gospels contain accounts of Jesus prophesying its demise.  Matthew (Mt 24:20) and Mark (Mk 13:18) both portray Jesus as telling the disciples to pray that it not come in Winter which only makes sense if it had not already happened (since it happened in late Summer).  Luke also contains a warning not to “enter into the city” (Lk 21:21).  One would logically ask why if it had already been destroyed this warning would be necessary.

Furthermore we know that Luke wrote Acts after his Gospel (Acts 1:1).  Given that he ends the book with Paul’s arrival in Rome and makes no mention of his martyrdom, it is reasonable to assume that it was written sometime between 62-68 AD.  His Gospel, would have needed to been completed then sometime before 62 AD, less than 30 years after the Ascension.

Unfortunately, my atheist companion is not alone in having had his faith destroyed in the face of faulty scholarship led animated by bad logic.  Many of us are afraid to use historical research to support our faith because of the fate of many Scripture scholars today.  If we do not learn the historical facts surrounding our faith then that faith will ultimately be supplanted in many hearts—truth cannot contradict truth.

Happy Darwin’s Day

To mark his 209th birthday, the American Humanist Association has honored Charles Darwin by declaring today to be International Darwin Day.  The group praises Darwin and his theory of evolution for “unclasping scientific progress from theological limitations and paving the way for a fuller understanding of our place in the universe.”   While they mention “theological limitations,” one gets the sense that it is really any “limitations” to natural science, including those that are inherently part of its essence that humanists will not accept.  Natural science is limited in that it is designed to look for material causes as explanation for certain effects.  It can neither find nor detect non-material agents.  It is a valuable and reliable field of knowledge for sure, but knowledge is not wisdom.  As the name suggests, Homo sapiens (literally “wise person) as a species seek wisdom and therefore are necessarily philosophical.  Humanists forget that physics is always at the service of metaphysics.  What ends up happening is that physics becomes metaphysics and bad science follows.  Only when natural science respects it limitations can it truly pave the way for “a fuller understanding of our place in the universe.”

If one reads Darwin’s Descent of Man then it becomes readily apparent that Darwin starts with the assumption that the mind was entirely material and that humans had an ape-like ancestor.  In other words, he took the theory of evolution as he describes it in the Origin of Species and applied it to man without any scientific justification.  In other words, he first made a metaphysical assumption and then simply asserted what that would look like scientifically.  Of course, his metaphysics was not solid as I showed in a previous post.

But science also needs religion.  In fact, it is certain Christian fundamental ideas that allowed the emergence of scientific thought to begin with.  The study of science arose because of a belief in a transcendent Creator who endowed His creation with orderly physical laws.  Any good scientist knows that what you study is not only observable, but that it follows some known order.   No reasonable scientist would study what he truly believed to be random coin flips.  Furthermore, man must be capable of recognizing this order so as to study it.  In order to discover the order of the universe of which man is a part, he must also somehow transcend it.  In other words, Humanists must recognize that to reject either of these truths, undermines any attempts that they make to gather knowledge about the world.  In fact, the pioneers of modern science, such as Galileo, Kepler, Harvey, and Newton thought science was at the service of wonder so that it would give content to the praise of the Creator.

Historically speaking, religious faith and science thrived side by side until the start of the eighteenth century.  For various reasons, some of which were valid such as wars within Christianity itself, many Enlightenment intellectuals became disillusioned with Christianity.  In response to this, they proposed a “religion of reason” that would replace the dogmas of faith.  This co-option of science by the Enlightenment was characterized by its claims that science must be “value free”.

Creation of Man Sistine

It should be noted as well that Darwin was not the first to posit a theory of evolution.  One of the questions that theology has long been trying to answer was where Adam’s body came from.  Some posited that it came about instantly while other said it came through some stages of development.  For example, St. Augustine in his commentary on Genesis (De Genesi ad Literam) thought that Adam came into the world in full maturity.  But he left it open to the idea that his body could have come about through long process similar to embryonic development (or evolution of some sort).

So what does Divine Revelation have to say about the “Origin of Species?”  First that God created the world ex nihilio.  This does not preclude Him using something like the Big Bang as the mechanism, although this particular theory has some serious flaws scientifically that need to be worked out.  When you are using a theoretical construct that cannot be measured like Dark Matter to explain 5/6 of the matter in the Universe, it is far from a complete explanation.  Regardless of whether it is true or not, one still has to explain how the point of infinite density and temperature at time zero ever got there.  In other words, scientists may be able to answer the question as to how things come about, but they will never be able to answer the question as to why there is something instead of nothing.  That is a question for metaphysics and religion.  To pretend natural science could answer that question or to pretend that is not the more important question is to delude yourself.  Metaphysical questions are always the most important questions because we crave purpose and meaning and not mere explanation.

Regarding the “Descent of Man”, Pius XII in his Encyclical Humani Generis, offered three specific truths from Revelation that must be safeguarded.  The first is that man, because of his spiritual soul, could not be a direct product of evolution.  There is nothing contrary to Revelation to say that man’s body came through evolution, but the soul must be believed to have been directly infused into that body by God.

Second, we must hold that the first woman came directly from the first man.  At first this seems unnecessary or even superfluous, but Pius XII was reaffirming that which had been taught as part of the Ordinary Magisterium going all the way back to Pope Pelagius I in 561 (“together with Adam himself and his wife, who were not born of other parents, but were created: one from the earth and the other from the side of the man”).  The reason why this truth is of particular importance is because it affirms the essential equality (in dignity) of man and woman.  An unchecked theory of evolution always leads to justifying inequality between people because one group is always somehow inferior to the more evolved one.  It was Francis Galton, a cousin of Darwin’s who applied Darwin’s arguments for Natural Selection to improved breeding of human beings.  He is the first to coin the term eugenics, to which the likes of Marx, Hitler and Margaret Sanger all devoted their time.

Finally, Pius XII said that Adam and Eve were two real people from which the entire human race has come (this is called monogenism).  The Pontiff said that “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis 37).

This is why a wholesale adoption of evolution is problematic.  Evolution without Revelation would require that in the transition from animal to man, there would necessarily be a multitude of men and not just two.  What is at stake in this is Jesus and His Mission.  If there is no Adam and no Original Sin as separation from God then there is no need for the Incarnation and Redemption.  While we may not be immediately aware of the implications of this belief, humanists certainly are.  In an article entitled, “The Meaning of Evolution,” the author says that, “[E]volution destroys utterly and finally the very reason for Jesus’ earthly life, which was supposedly made necessary, for if you destroy Adam and Eve and original sin, then you will find the sorry remains of the Son of God. Take away the meaning of his death, and if Jesus was not the redeemer who died for our sins, then Christianity is nothing.”

Ultimately, the battle between science and revelation has a direct bearing upon science itself.  As Pius XII said, “truth cannot contradict truth” so that   those places where modern science contradict revelation will ultimately lead to dead ends.  No amount of faith in scientific fudge factors like dark matter, dark, energy, inflation, and missing links will ultimately lead to truth.  It certainly is not at the service of reason to continue to create hypothetical constructs to fill in the gaps when Revelation has a perfectly reasonable answer—I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.