December 24-January 6, 2002
volume 12, no. 162

Away in a Manger - today in Harm's Way!

All Catholics need to realize what has been lost in Bethlehem and Jerusalem this Christmas. They need to appreciate the Crusades as an Act of the Love of God

    Two-thousand-one years after the birth of Jesus Christ, Bethlehem will most probably be cancelling Christmas again. Manger Square will be quiet and dark once more. There will not be choirs and faithful from around the world worshipping on Christmas Eve, Midnight or Christmas Day...all because of the Palestine-Jewish hostilities. Catholics worldwide are encouraged by the Holy Father to pray for peace - a peace that would be based on toleration and a mutual "sharing" of the holy sites by Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. An impossible peace. There is much concern over the situation, but little outrage of Catholics over the desecration of the holy places, no uproar over cancelled pilgrimages, little news about the increasingly limited rights of Christians in the Holy City. Many Christians are being murdered in retaliation by the Jews simply because they are Palestinians.

The Pope Preaches a Crusade

    The hearts of Catholics were not always so cold. This brings to mind a more epic age of the Church. It was the end of the 11th century, and the Papacy for some time had been concerned about the disintegration of the Eastern frontier. Reports began to filter in about the affronts to the Holy Sepulchre and attacks of the Turkoman Muslims on Christians in Palestine. At the Council of Clermont in November of 1095, Pope Urban II preached the Crusade, a holy war to free the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of Jerusalem and other Eastern Churches from the blasphemies and persecutions of the Muslims. In his grand appeal, the Pope referred to the Crusade as Christ's Own war. He wrote that the crusaders were inspired by God. They were militia Christi, the army of Christ, engaged "in the service of God," because they acted out of love for God. Throughout France the Crusade quickly became known as the via Dei (the way of God).

Jerusalem, O Jerusalem!

    A principal goal of the Crusade was the liberation of Jerusalem. Many bad-willed historians have done their best to discredit this fact by proposing that the Pope's first concern was political - to help the Greek-Schismatics against the Turks and thus improve relations with the patriarchate of Constantinople. However, overwhelming evidence, above all in the charters of departing crusaders and the chronicles of crusader monks, demonstrates that Jerusalem was a prime goal from the start.

    To understand this, one must enter into the mentality of the medieval man, whose love for Our Lord Jesus Christ was more than theoretical. It was an intense, personal and profound love, which intimately connected him to every aspect of Our Lord's life and passion. Thus, his love for Jerusalem, the site on earth where God chose to intervene in History to become incarnate in order to redeem man. "Those places where the Lord's feet have trod," wrote James of Vitry, "are held by the faithful to be holy and consecrated and as precious relics." Here, near Nablus, was a well where He had rested. There, at the River Jordan, Christ had bathed and been baptized. At Bethlehem was the sacred site of His Birth.

    It was the goal of Jerusalem that made the crusade a pilgrimage. There is no doubt that Blessed Urban II preached the crusade at Clermont as a pilgrimage. From the beginning, he extended privileges and granted indulgences to the warrior-pilgrims engaged in this act of caritas, or love. Urban II called the crusade a recta oblatio (a correct oblation) and an act of devotion for the salvation of the participant's soul. It was meritorious because the crusader, by engaging in the sacred task of defending the holiest soil in Christendom, would thus express his love of God and neighbor.

Popes and Crusading as an Act of Charity

    In today's pacifist climate, it has become fashionable in many circles to criticize the Crusade as a war for rights and self-interest, rather than idealism. Even more abhorrent to the progressivist gospel of peace is the notion that the holy war was motivated by the virtue of caritas, or love of God and neighbor. However, even modern scholarship is disproving such materialist theories. In an article titled "Crusading as an Act of Love," scholar Jonathan Riley-Smith shows how the Popes, theologians, and canonists who wrote the calls to crusade believed that to fight the enemies of the Holy Catholic Church was an act of love of God. Given the many progressivist-inspired apologies and pacifist sophisms that assault Catholic today - many which come from the highest cupula of the Church - I think it worthwhile to look at a few examples of how some Popes of the past characterized the milites Christi (soldiers of Christ) who embarked on the Crusades.

  • As early as September 1096, Blessed Pope Urban II promised an indulgence to the Bolognese who joined the First Crusade, "seeing that they have committed their property and their persons out of love of God and their neighbor."

  • In his Encyclical Quantum praedecessores of December 1145, Pope Eugenius III wrote that those who had answered the call to the First Crusade had been "fired by the ardor of charity."

  • Praising the Knights Templar, Pope Celestine II (c. 1144) wrote that "these new Maccabees in this time of grace, renouncing earthly desires and possessions, bearing his cross, are followers of Christ."

  • In response to critics of the monastic orders that defended the Faith with arms, Pope Innocent II upheld their action in Omne datum optimum (1139), the papal charter for the Templars. Again, the Pope stressed charity as the motive for their action: "As true Israelites and most instructed fighters in divine battle, filled with the flames of divine charity, you carry out in deeds the words of the Gospel: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

  • In his great Encyclical Quia Maior, Pope Innocent III showed the relationship between the crusader mission and the cross: "We summon on behalf of him who … summoned us and said, 'If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.' (Matthew 14:24) And in this clearly he said, 'Whoever wishes to follow me to the crown should also follow me to the battle which is now proposed to all as a test."
    As Riley-Smith points out, preachers as well as Popes used the love of God as a common theme to inspire the crusading spirit. St. Bernard, writing in 1140s of news of Muslim victories in the East, asked "If we harden our hearts and pay little attention .... where is our love for God? Where is our love for our neighbor?" We well might paraphrase the question for our own days with regard to the present day crisis in the Church…

A Duty to Fight in Defense of the Holy Church

    To crusaders, Christ was the King and Lord Who had lost His patrimonium, or inheritance, in the Holy Land. For this reason, the feelings of charity should be roused in Christian hearts. It was the duty of Christ's subjects to fight in the defense of Christ's heritage as they would for the domains of their own lords. It is not necessary to point out the parallel to many readers this Christmas. It is obvious that in the modern day world, Christ has been dethroned, His rights usurped, His laws disregarded. Further, it is not only the Holy City of Jerusalem that is beset by infidels, but the Holy Catholic Church herself that is besieged by all kinds of enemies and infiltrated by an insidious process of auto-demolition. For the faithful Catholic, the via Dei is like that of the Crusader in the Middle Ages: to fight for the honor and glory of God. As so many Popes and saints have taught, it is an act of the love of God to desire and fight for the destruction of the enemies of the Church. And how much more crucial and meritorious is our fight when the enemies are crafting their deceitful plots from within her very walls.

    May the words of Innocent III serve to stir the fire of charity to blaze again in every Christian heart: "Consider most dear sons, consider carefully that if any temporal king was thrown out of his domain and perhaps captured, would he not, when he was restored to his pristine liberty, and the time had come to dispense justice - would he not look on his vassals as unfaithful and traitors against the crown .... unless they had committed not only their property but also their persons to the task of freeing him .... And similarly will not Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord or Lords and Whose servant you cannot deny being .... condemn you for the vice of ingratitude and, as it were, the crime of infidelity if you neglect to help Him?"

    As I extend to you my prayerful wish for the most blessed of Christmases, I leave you with those words to contemplate during this joyous time when we celebrate the Nativity. May you truly know the crusader's heart in union with the Most Sacred Heart of Christ the King - born in a manger in Bethlehem. O Holy Night! Silent Night!

Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.

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For past columns by Dr. Horvat, see Archives of Echoes of True Catholicism

December 24-January 6, 2002
volume 12, no. 162
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