DAILY CATHOLIC     TUESDAY     July 20, 1999     vol. 10, no. 134

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Historians' New Reading on 900th Anniversary

          ROME, JUL 18 (ZENIT).- On the occasion of the 900th anniversary of the first Crusade to the Holy Land, led by Godfried de Bouillon and Raymond of Tolosa, which ended with the Christian re-conquest of Jerusalem on July 15, 1099, the cultural sections of newspapers have been filled with articles. There have also been exhibitions and congresses of experts to commemorate the event.

          Yet the Crusades remain a controversial moment in Church history. There are those who never fail to use them to criticize the Catholic Church. This position has become rather commonplace, but it fails to take into account the results of recent historical research.

          In view of the Jubilee, and in spite of the fact that the media are exerting pressure for Catholics to bear a burden of guilt, new historical evidence reveals that the issue of the Crusades is far more complex than was previously thought. Jesuit Carmelo Capizzi, professor of Medieval History at the Pontifical Gregorian University, wrote an article in the latest issue of the magazine "CiviltÓ Cattolica," in which he maintains that: "far from being useless or damaging, the Crusades contributed to the creation of positive historical situations, which ended in international processes that continue to this day and are of vital importance."

          The article criticizes "superficial evaluations of this historical event" and invites the studious to approach the topic free of ideological conditioning. Fr. Capizzi urges them to "rescue" the Crusades from a historiography with a secularizing bent that is strongly conditioning.

          Undoubtedly, there were mistakes, the Jesuit scholar admits, but this does not justify the condemnation of the whole of the Crusades, which, in his opinion, should be considered a factor of social and cultural progress. "Those who attribute certain objectives to the Crusades that they never had, such as the spread of the faith with an armed hand, are mistaken," Fr. Capizzi concluded.

          Catholic writer Vittorio Messori is sympathetic to the Jesuit scholar's point of view. In statements to the Italian newspaper, "Corriere della Sera," he said, "What is forgotten is that when the Moslems arrived in Jerusalem, they destroyed all the Christian churches, just like they did in North Africa, Turkey, and the area of Spain that they occupied" for 700 years.

          According to historian Franco Cardini, the mistakes made on this issue spring from a reductive view of history: "The military fact (of the Crusade) is separated from its very profound and positive context."

          "To evaluate the situation better, it is necessary to reinsert it in its historical context, which would automatically do away with many of the controversies," asserted the scholar.

          It should be pointed out, Cardini said, "that the word Crusade is a modern expression that has been used systematically only since the 18th century. Until that time, there were words that defined the 'crusader,' but the word 'crusade,' as such, did not exist. This means that in speaking about the Crusades from 1700 to the present, all manner of deceitful generalizations have been made."

          Auxiliary Bishop Rino Fisichella of Rome, Vice-President of the Jubilee's Theological-Historical Commission, explained to Vatican Radio that "the topic of the Crusades is complex. I do not agree with those who read the Crusades in only a religious light or as a holy war. Let's not forget that it is a phenomenon that has some 200 years of history behind it; it cannot be reduced to a religious reading. The judgment on the Crusades must be complex and global, otherwise there is the risk of transposing ideas and triumphs of present-day thought to the past."

          In view of the Jubilee, it is good to evaluate the Crusades "in the events of our history", in the positive aspects that resulted in progress, which have "helped the conscience and behavior of some Christians to mature" and those that have been limiting, and made no allowance for a full and profound vision of the sanctity of the Church."

          "As regards the Crusades, in the past these have been characterized as a confrontation between the East and West, between those who were right and those who were wrong, between the stronger and the weaker. But today, in the light of history and other triumphs of humanity, and also the Church's greater awareness of its history, I believe it is better to speak in terms of the complementary. It is no longer a confrontation between East and West but an awareness that the two worlds, the two cultures, the two realities must know one another and be mutually integrated," Fisichella concluded. ZE99071806

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July 20, 1999       volume 10, no. 134


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