chapter twenty-one

The Viper in the Desert: the rise of the infidel

    Slithering across the sands of Arabia in the late 6th Century, ready to uncoil on an unsuspecting world was the venomous creed of the infidel originated by an Arabian trader by the name of Mohammed Talib. Born around around the year 570 into a poor but respected clan of Hashim in the city of Mecca, Mohammed was raised by his uncle Abu Talib from the age of six on after his mother died. His father had died shortly before Mohammed was born. Mohammed followed in the footsteps of his fellow tribesmen who were prestigious and an influential element of the Quraish who ruled Mecca. As a trader he came in contact with numerous Christian and Jewish traders and heard all about these faiths, many from heretics of both faiths. Confused, he often withdrew from the maddening crowds to a cave just outside Mecca. There, the legend relates, he reportedly received a vision from the Archangel Gabriel who announced to him that he was a prophet. When we study the saints and ancient as well as modern-day prophets this all makes sense. But man has a free-will and Mohammed misinterpreted God's will. Rather than following Gabriel's words which undoubtedly would echo all that Jesus Christ preached, he fell deeper into confusion. We have no doubt it was here where satan entered the picture, posing as Gabriel to dictate revelations to Mohammed which came to be known as the Koran - the Bible of Islam. Islamism did not hold Jesus as Lord and Savior, Son of God - Second Person of the Trinity, but rather denied all of this and merely referred to the Blessed Virgin Mary's Divine Son as only a prophet. Furthermore, his revelations revealed that there was only one God and his name was Allah. It was a far cry from the concept of the Blessed Trinity which Jesus had affirmed. But by placing himself on the same pedestal as Jesus - a prophet only - Mohammed was able to lessen all the wondrous, miraculous works Our Lord had done.

    Remember also, at this time in history there were numerous sects within the Jewish faith that differed greatly. At the same time heresy and schism were rampant in the Catholic Church as we have detailed in the last several installments. Bad apples, if you will, had infiltrated the fruits the early Apostles and disciples had planted in the mid-east and northern Africa. The area was ripe for a new theology and Mohammed was one clever salesman!

    Recruiting the resources of his wife Khadija, a rich widow, he began peddling these teachings and that he was the last of the prophets. Sorry, but Public Revelation concluded with the Book of the Apocalypse/Revelation and from that time on, nothing "new" could ever be revealed. Therefore Mohammed's mumbo jumbo - a conglomeration of paganism, Christianity and Judaism - was more than heresy, it was pure and simply an abherration of all Christians and Jews held sacred. But the ignorant tribesmen as well as the confused Christian and Jewish merchants were not knowledgable enough to refute his claims and so, in pagan Arabia this travesty against Christ's Doctrine spread like wildfire at the start of the 7th Century.

    Pope Gregory I died on March 12, 604 just as Mohammed's poisonous rhetoric was beginning to permeate the dry dunes of the mid-east. After a six month vacancy in Rome, the 65th successor of Peter was chosen on September 13, 604. Pope Sabinian ruled from then until February 22, 606 when he died. Sabinian's contributions to the Church included regulating the ringing of the bells to indicate to the people the canonical hours for meditation and prayer as well as decreeing that a sanctuary lamp be always kept lit in churches where the Blessed Sacrament presided. His successor was Pope Boniface III who didn't last the year. Strangely Boniface was elected three days before Sabinian had passed away and so during Boniface's short tenure he decreed that from henceforth election of a new Pope could not take place until three days after the death of the old Pope. It was called "novendiali." Boniface also decreed that the only universal bishop was that of Rome, that is, the Pope. Boniface III died on November 12, 607 but it wasn't until nine months later that Pope Boniface IV was selected on August 25, 608. He is the one who instituted the feast of All Saints Day by consecrating the pagan temple of Agrippa which was called the Pantheon. He consecrated it to the memory of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to all the saints on November 1st. Before his death on May 8, 615 he made great inroads in sanctioning moral and material improvements among the lower clergy. After a five month vacancy, Roman-born Pope Deusdedit 1 was elected on October 10, 615. He sat on the papal throne until November 8, 618. During his three-year papacy Deusdedit constantly tended to the poor and the sick, especially lepers and the plague-stricken. He eventually died of the plague, but before that he was the first pontiff to use the seals of lead for Papal Bulls and Pontifical Decrees. In fact, his is the oldest pontifical seal preserved in the Vatican today. Pope Boniface V followed him on December 23, 619 after an eleven month delay because of the bitter wars for the Crown of Italy. Boniface V was the first to establish sanctuary for those were persecuted, offering them refuge inside the churches. It was during his papacy that the venom of Mohammedism first reached the shores of Rome. But because of the troubles in Italy with the feuds among the provinces in a constant struggle to rule, Boniface V had to dismiss it as something that was happening too far away to do anything about it. Had he been able to stifle the serpent early, quite possibly it would have died a slow death, much as most of the heresies have over the centuries. However, as we know, history relates otherwise.

    Had the pagan enemies of Muhammed been able to conquer, it's also possible Islam would never have grown into the monster it would become. Mohammed's insistence on social reform angered many of the pagan traders who were his tribesmen, as well as the rich merchants who saw this radical approach as a threat to their secure economy. After many attempts on his life, they succeeded in slaying his wife Khadija and his uncle and protector Abu. Mohammed slipped out of Mecca stealthily into the night seconds before his enemies could capture him. In 622 he arrived in Medina. This flight from Mecca to Medina was known as the Hegira which means "flight" or "emigration" in Arabic. This flight marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar. Having built up a following, Mohammed's disciples joined him in Medina where he rose to power being handed the title of supreme authority which allowed him to establish the practice of Islamism while also reinforcing his social reforms. The Meccans feared he would gain greater power and so recruited three Jewish tribes in Medina to secretly assist the efforts to oust Mohammed. But the cunning Islam leader countered by attacking trade caravans from Mecca returning from Syria. This way, he schemed, it would weaken the economic base of Mecca. In 624 the first battle between the two cities culminated with a victory for Mohammed's side, thus further weakening Mecca. In 627 a Mecca army of 10,000 marched on Medina. Fearing that Medina would fall and that he would be slain, Mohammed made an impassioned plea to his undermanned followers declaring that Allah had told him that anyone who died in battle for the cause of Mohammed would go straight to Heaven. The "Heaven" Mohammed described was a sensuous garden of sensual and sexual delights. It was part of the external philosophy that Mohammed preached in that a man could live his life as he pleased as long as he performed the external rituals. It was a rationalization for Mohammed to live as he pleased, taking no less than nine wives after Khadija's death. Though a follower of Mohammed could not eat pork or drink wine, he could have as many wives as he wished. No wonder satan's new platform became so popular among the bedouins of the desert and spread from there. No wonder men ran pell-mell into the mouth of death for their ultimate nadir was a sensual utopia. It was the birth of "Kamikazism" so to speak and his undermanned Medina troops went into battle in a psychological frenzy, plunging themselves into the face of their enemies. This so spooked the Meccans that they retreated. Mohammed had definitely gained the upper hand.

    Boniface V's successor Pope Honorius I had also gained the upper hand in bringing the Church into obedience to Rome. Honorius became the 70th Vicar of Christ on October 25, 625 and reigned as pontiff until October 12, 638. Honorius instituted the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14 and resolved the problem of the Eastern Church and the Schism of Aquileia on the question of the "Three Chapters" in which Aquileianism practiced a liturgy not approved by Rome. Honorius brought this to a halt and many of the other problems of that day. He also knew of the threat in Arabia and sent missionaries to almost every part of the Christian world to reinforce the faith and to safeguard against the perils of Mohammedism. He even sent missionaries to Medina and Mecca to help squelch the teachings of the infidel. But many were martyred by Mohammed who also annihilated the males of the Jewish tribes in Medina.

    In 630 Mecca, its economy in jeopardy and suffocated by Mohammed's influence, gave in and made peace with the Islam leader inviting him to return to Mecca. Soon the carbuncle of the infidel had penetrated all of Arabia and the Islamic empire was in full swing. Mohammed destroyed the idols in the Kaaba, the traditional area of pilgrimage in Mecca. Copying the Judaic Ark of the Covenant, Mohammed established the holiest shrine of Islam in this mosque in Mecca. To gain even greater stature among the peoples, he devised a clever facade by granting Christians and Jews a sort of religious autonomy, which translated into the latter two being inferior in perception to followers of Islam since they were the precursors - in the persons of Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus Christ - to the final revelations to Mohammed. The Arabians bought it lock, stock and barrel! Before he could expand beyond the Arabian borders, Mohammed, at the age of 62, died suddenly and mysteriously on June 8, 632 in Medina. Though Mohammed had sired many children with his ten wives, all died in infancy except one daughter - Fatima who would later marry the fourth caliph - Ali. The first caliph, or successor to Mohammed, was an early follower named Abu Bakr. Perpetuating the myth, Abu kept the frenzy alive by embellishing accounts of Mohammed's life and his death, borrowing heavily from Christian accounts of Jesus from proclaiming miracles to ascending to Heaven from Jerusalem where the Dome of the Rock mosque was built to perpetuate this myth. They even professed that Mohammed had been miraculously cleansed of all unworthy thoughts and sin at the age of 12, was immune from any error and could intercede for sinners everywhere if they submitted to everything he told them. What a con job satan had unleashed on the world that reached a crescendo in the 7th Century around the year 666!!!

    Before that the Popes of Rome had been somewhat naieve to what was happening. Pope Severinus succeeded Honorius I on May 28, 640 after nearly a year and a half vacancy in the Vatican due to grave and bitter disagreement between the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius and the Magisterium. Honorius had censored the monoteletic heresy and when Severinus was finally elected, his first action was to officially condemn the heresy and the actions of Heraclius. The Emperor retaliated by sacking the Basilica of St. John Lateran along with the Lateran Palace where the Popes had taken up residence.

    Severinus died during the attack on August 2, 640 and five months later Pope John IV replaced him on December 24, 640. John was Dalmatian-born and tried desperately to bring the dissenters of Egypt back in line with Rome. He moved the remains of the martyrs Venantius, Anastasius, and Maurus to the Lateran as he began to rebuild what Heraclius had sought to destroy. John was so suspicious of infiltrators within the Church that he personally ordained 28 priests and 18 bishops to be sure of loyalty to the True Faith.

    On October 12, 642 John IV passed on to be succeeded by Pope Theodore I who added the title "Sovereign" to that of "Pontiff" as well as restoring order to the internal jurisdiction of the clergy. This was, if you will, a precursor to Canon Law. Since Theodore had been born in Jerusalem, he was well aware of the Islam threat, but most of his time was spent fending off another Byzantine uprising led by Eastern Emperor Costans II who had succeeded Heraclius. Unfortunately Costans spies gained access to the Vatican and poisoned the 73rd pontiff on May 14, 649.

    Pope Theodore's struggles against the Byzantine Empire were carried on by his successor Pope Saint Martin I who was elected on July 5, 649. St. Martin, who initiated the celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Virgin, condemned the Eastern bishops who had hid behind the protection of Costans II. The latter retaliated by imprisoning St. Martin and exiling him to the island of Cherso.

    With the Pope exiled the Church needed a visible leader and thus the Cardinals elected a successor to St. Martin on August 10, 654. Many at the time believed he was hand-picked by Costans since he approved the election. The man he endorsed was Roman-born Pope Saint Eugene I who asserted his independence by also strongly opposing the machinations of the Byzantine Emperor and had the sad responsibility of announcing to the Christian world on September 16, 655 the martyrdom of St. Martin. It was St. Eugene who decreed once and for all the observance of the Vow of Chastity for all priests. Eugene might have received the same fate except for two things. Though Costans was incensed he was forced to focus all his attention on the Battle of Rhodes where the Moslems were victorious in 654. In 655 in the naval Battle of Phoenix the followers of Islam again came out on top, this time humiliating Costans and he later fled but was killed. Though free of the threat of the Byzantine Emperor, Rome could not totally enjoy it because St. Eugene fell ill and died on June 2, 657.

    Within a month Pope Saint Vitalian became the 76th in the line of Peter on July 30, 657. St. Vitalian enjoyed the longest pontificate of the 7th Century and the tenure brought stability to the papal office when it was badly needed. The fifteen years allowed him to establish Apostolic Nuncios in Gaul, Spain and England.

    As we alluded to earlier, in the east the Byzantine Empire was in turmoil as it was crumbling. This "Achilles Heel" opened the door for the followers of Mohammed to creep into Turkey as well as Egypt and North America and, horror of horrors to take over the very land Christ had walked. The first alarm went up around the year 666 when Christendom woke up to what was truly happening. The viper in the desert had struck while Christian Europe was looking the other way. Now the Holy Land was in the hands of the infidel! It was another sign that the mark of the beast had left an indelible imprint in Christ's "backyard" that would effect countless cultures and world history for centuries to come. The countdown was on towards a time that would engage all of Europe in bloody battles that would last for centuries in the form of crusades. In the next installment we will cover the next sixty years bridging the 7th and 8th Century as the battle lines were drawn and the fight to the death would begin between the Scimitar of the infidel and the Sword of the Christian Crusaders.