The Crusades and Historical Ignorance

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The above video is a salute to Rick Santorum, former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, for understanding the essential nature of the Crusades as a defensive reaction to Islamic aggression.  In the video below we have a rather mindless reaction to the same quote from a talking head from the liberal group Young Turks, who, judging from his comments, gained his knowledge of the Crusades from the laughably ahistorical crusader bashing flick Kingdom of Heaven (2005).

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Ignorance of the depth displayed in the video above is always to be lamented, and is not unusual, as noted by Dr. Thomas Madden, one of the foremost of the scholars of the Crusades, who, over the past 40 years, have revolutionized our knowledge and understanding of that epoch:

 

The crusades are quite possibly the most misunderstood event in European history. Ask a random American about them and you are likely to see a face wrinkle in disgust, or just the blank stare that is usually evoked by events older than six weeks. After all, weren’t the crusaders just a bunch of religious nuts carrying fire and sword to the land of the Prince of Peace? Weren’t they cynical imperialists seeking to carve out colonies for themselves in faraway lands with the blessings of the Catholic Church? A couch potato watching the BBC/A&E documentary on the crusades (hosted by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame no less) would learn in roughly four hours of frivolous tsk-tsk-ing that the peaceful Muslim world actually learned to be warlike from the barbaric western crusaders. No wonder, then, that Pope John Paul II was excoriated for his refusal to apologize for the crusades in 1999. No wonder that a year ago Wheaton College in Illinois dropped their Crusader mascot of 70 years. No wonder that hundreds of Americans and Europeans recently marched across Europe and the Middle East begging forgiveness for the crusades from any Muslim or Jew who would listen. No wonder.

Jonah Goldberg, in his just released book Tyranny of Cliches, demonstrates that he is aware of the current scholarship on the Crusades:

The great irony is that the zealot-reformers who want to return to a “pure” Islam have been irredeemably corrupted by Western ideas. Osama bin Laden had the idea that he was fighting the “new crusaders.” When George W. Bush once, inadvertently, used the word “crusade,” jihadists and liberal intellectuals alike erupted with rage. It was either a damning slip of the tongue whereby Bush accidentally admitted his real crusader agenda, or it was a sign of his stunning ignorance about the Crusades. Doesn’t he know what a sensitive issue the Crusades are? Doesn’t he know that the Crusades belong alongside the slaughter of the Indians, slavery, and disco in the long line of Western sins?

After all, it’s been in the papers for a while. In 1999, Muslim leaders demanded that Pope John Paul II apologize for the Crusades. “He has asked forgiveness from the Jews [for the Church’s passivity in the face of the Holocaust], so he should ask forgiveness from the Muslims,” Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, told the New York Times.3   Across the country sports teams have been dropping their crusader mas­cots because they’re offensive to . . . someone. Wheaton College changed their seventy-year-old team name from the Crusaders to the Thunder (no word from Thor worshippers yet as to whether they are off ended). Even Campus Crusade for Christ opted to change its name to Cru partly be­cause the word crusade has become too radioactive. “It’s become a flash word for a lot of people. It harkens back to other periods of time and has a negative connotation for lots of people across the world, especially in the Middle East,” Steve Sellers, the organization’s vice president told Christianity Today. “In the ’50s, crusade was the evangelistic term in the United States. Over time, different words take on different meanings to different groups.”4

I’ll say. Until fairly recently, historically speaking, Muslims used to brag about being the winners of the Crusades, not the victims of it. That is if they talked about them at all. “The Crusades could more accurately be described as a limited, belated and, in the last analysis, ineffectual re­sponse to the jihad—a failed attempt to recover by a Christian holy war what had been lost to a Muslim holy war,” writes Bernard Lewis, the greatest living historian of Islam in the English language (and perhaps any language).5 Historian Thomas Madden puts it more directly, “Now put this down in your notebook, because it will be on the test: The cru­sades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christian world.”6

Go here to Big Government to read the brilliant rest.  One of the major problems with our political discourse in this country today is the extent to which our failing educational system, alloyed with usually intellectually incurious, and frequently heavily politically indoctrinated,  elites, have produced broad swaths of people who hold degrees from colleges and universities, but who are bone ignorant on a vast array of fairly basic topics, especially in regard to History.  Ignorance is often disastrous, but in regard to History, the sum total of the experiences of Man on this globe, especially so.  Final word to Dr. Madden:

The problem dates back to the 1960s, when core-curriculum/general-education requirements at many schools were loosened up to make way for more freedom, which ultimately meant more courses in the major. After all, if someone comes to college to study engineering, why should he or she have to study the Hittites? I have listened to my share of parents outraged that their pre-med child is failing my history course. Why, they ask, does a doctor (or engineer, or lawyer, or journalist, or whatever) need to know history? It has no bearing on their lives at all and simply gets in the way of courses that do matter.  

Sadly, too many colleges and universities have come to agree with those parents. The end result is a history-education vacuum in America. We have become a society with no long-term memory. We keep discovering anew what we have encountered many times before. For too many Americans, the lessons of the past are restricted to the tiny portion of it with which they have personal experience.

37 Responses to The Crusades and Historical Ignorance

  • I just finished Goldberg’s book. Not quite as good as Liberal Fascism, but still very enlightening as he takes hammer to a bunch of trite cliches that rule our political discourse. The Crusades extract taken above is part of a larger chapter about the Catholic Church and the bone dry ignorance that persists in certain quarters about it.

  • All lies. All the time.

    You can detect when a liberal is lying: his lips are moving.

  • i, as may be noticed, tend to be naive– thinking if those other guys just really UNDERSTOOD, were really educated on the subject, they would change their behavior… like on the issue of Georgetown and Sebelius (isn’t there a great composer with that same name?)
    … if the Young Turks, and Shepard Smith (who has also made remarks about the Crusades on air) and those priests at Georgetown just really UNDERSTOOD I can’t imagine they would do what they do.
    but sadly I am forced to see that they do understand, and this is just what they choose. God gives us an Intellect and a Will and puts the choice before us. Those of the Other Side do have their Intellect engaged– and are making their choice.
    yes, the war of ideas precedes other wars on this plane… the efforts to discredit Santorum, to occupy wall street etc., all use useful idiots…. and it is important to educate them about the truth of history.. but our concern about the truth of the Crusades goes beyond judging them fair or foul– but joining them. The devil is NOT an idiot..

  • For them the truth is that which serves the cause.

    It is easy to exaggerate, distort, fabricate, omit aspects of major events that occurred 1,000 years ago.

    Lying about history serves the narrative and the agenda.

    Students are indoctrinated not educated. Taught what to think, not how to think.

    The narrative: Western European institutions, economics, men are essentially evil, in fact, the source of all evil. The agenda: it must be destroyed. America is the primary target.

  • Ah, the Crusades. Along with their slightly taller cousin the ‘Dark Ages,’ both seem to be the favorite historical trump card to be played, well, whenever.

    Fortunately, in some ways both have undergone a sort of rehabilitation within the academic world. Many of the more recent books I have read on the Crusades take a far more moderate approach- at the very least the chronological snobbery is held to a minimum.

    I thought The First Crusade: The Roots of Conflict between Christianity and Islam by Thomas Asbridge was a decent read- unlike many historical works, he is a good writer and crafts a stirring account. The Battle of Antioch chapter could actually be considered a page turner. Granted, the subtitle kind of gives away where it ultimately ends up, but his concluding thesis is more nuanced than the title (no doubt foisted upon it by the publisher) might lead one to believe.

    As far as the ‘Dark Ages,’ Barbarians to Angels by Peter Wells is a good read, dealing more with the archaeological evidence. I’ve also written briefly about it on my blog.

    One of things I appreciate about this blog is the attention given to history and the care and sobriety with which it is handled. I’m not Catholic, (yet) but I am thankful for voices such as these, since so many authors are far more tempted to be lazy with the material and parrot the more popularized narratives, especially when it comes to Christian history.

    Thanks.

  • “One of things I appreciate about this blog is the attention given to history and the care and sobriety with which it is handled. ”

    A high compliment indeed Jason, and we thank you for it!

  • I am always happy to see history put in the correct context. Cultural Marxism has corrupted our view. So many subscribe to the materialist fallacy of the long march of history, as if history is sentient and fatalistic. Removes responsibility of the individual I guess-somehow that must be ‘comforting’ to some.

    Ah, for the sake of accuracy, Rick Santorum is not technically a FORMER candidate, he is a current candidate with a suspended campaign. Same applies to Speaker Gingrich. Until delegates vote at convention, there is no nominee and Mitt is incapable of securing 1144 prior, less so to defeat Obama. If we get another four of him thanks to a weak liberal GOP candidate like Romney, then we may need to launch a Crusade because Catholics (at least if you are ‘one of THOSE Catholics) will face pogroms (perhaps not violent, but legal and psychological pogroms can be just as bad.)

  • American Knight,

    “Cultural Marxism” is excellent short-hand for it, but it really goes back long before Marx…and, in fact, a case might be made that Marx could only have written his theories because for a long time intellectual adherence to truth had been fading. Not to try and start a fight with anyone, but when our Protestant brothers and sisters set about justifying their break with Rome its not like they could rigidly adhere to truth, now could they? It became a necessity, as it were, to re-cast the past in a manner which justified the desires of the present. Do that for a few centuries and it becomes rather easy to do what has been done to the Crusades – simply make up a fairy tale about them and call it “history”.

    It is quite daunting when one thinks about it – how the heck can we get the truth to be widely accepted when a gigantic series of inter-locking lies have been deeply ingrained in our society? I don’t know how to do it – but I suspect that only a revival of Catholic militancy will ever do it.

  • Right on Mark. I was attempting to cast it in light of an ‘acceptable’ villain (Marx, despite the current occupant of the WH), but Protestantism, although not today’s adherents, certainly is a significant contributor. We can lay blame at Machiavelli and Wesihupt, et al. as well. Of course the father of lies is the ultimate culprit. But I think you identified the most blameworthy human culprit: You and me. Yes, brothers & sisters, it is our fault for as Mark pointed out we are not behaving as the Church Militant. This, I suspect is the reason God is allowing the present and intensifying persecution of the Church and Obama’s attempt at setting up an anti-Church.

    On this ‘Mexican holiday’ perhaps we should recall the bitter history of our southern neighbor with the Church and get busy. Viva Cristo Rey!

  • The Enlightenment cast religion as the villain, didn’t it?

    Given three big cultural revolution type examples like that, I think we can put it down to the human love for obvious villains.

  • @ Jason: “One of things I appreciate about this blog is the attention given to history and the care and sobriety with which it is handled. ”

    Here! Here!

  • One thing that is frequently left out of the placing of the Crusades in it’s fitting historical context is the important fact that… these battles were fairly insignificant affairs. The numbers involved and the cities at issue were both small. The population density of that region was negligible, conditions were inhospitable, and resources for extended campaigning in short supply and difficult to impossible to replace. That the Crusades have any significance at all is entirely as a result of the cultural residue of the real estate it took place on. The Byzantines had been campaigning, often very successfully, against various iterations of Islamic challengers for hundreds of years. Christian vs. Muslim, but w/o the cultural cache.

    The Crusades happened not even 1000 years ago, and yet it is separated from our understanding by a gulf so deep and wide as to be impassable. I hold that historical research has done the best it can, given what is available, in attempting to make sense of near antiquity. Far off or deep antiquity might as well be another planet altogether. The reality is that there is so precious little available that a frank admission of almost total ignorance is the order of the day. Unfortunately, the Crusades can be just about anything you want it to be.

  • Lepanto is in the Holy Land?

  • “The reality is that there is so precious little available that a frank admission of almost total ignorance is the order of the day. Unfortunately, the Crusades can be just about anything you want it to be.”

    Actually our knowledge of the Crusades has been expanding rapidly in the past few decades. A good starting point is to read some of the numerous works of Dr. Riley-Smith.

    http://www.crusades-encyclopedia.com/jonathanrileysmith.html

    Here is a link to a First Things Article in which Riley-Smith explains what the Crusades were:

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/rethinking-the-crusades-35

    The Crusades are not something that “can be just about anything you want it to be”, but rather historical events that we can know much about if we have the determination to make our way through the mountains of good scholarship available.

  • I’ve been told by folks who actually study the “dark ages” that anyone who talks about the “dark ages” and doesn’t qualify it should be looked at with a bit of suspicion…. they’re “dark” because of the lack of data, not because of some inherent characteristic.

    Which I am thankful for, since it gave me a big flashing WARNING sign when a friend from high school that’s into anthropology started going on about how horrible the middle ages were.

    Want something really funny? Watch Terry Jones’ series on “Medieval Lives.” The conflict between offending modern assumptions and being pissed at the Catholic Church is hilarious! (If you’ve got Netflix, I suggest a drinking game for “The Hidden History of Rome.” Every time you recognize a phrase from modern political arguments, take a half-shot of beer. I can’t suggest anything stronger because being drunk is sinful….

  • Foxfier- excellent points.

    The perception of the ‘dark ages’ comes both from a lack of data and a residue of cultural snobbery (for lack of a better term) left over from the Renaissance. (which, in many respects, was not really much of a renaissance at all.)

    The interesting thing is that many of the writers/thinkers/whatever of the renaissance period shared similar perceptions towards the culture of the early Middle Ages as those whose writings from that era are still extant- namely, if the cultural or societal artifact under consideration didn’t have a decidedly ‘golden age of Rome’ quality, then it was somehow inferior. (I’m making broad strokes here, of course.)

    Never mind that none of the writers/thinkers/whatever from either period had ever experienced such a thing or that such a thing probably never existed. (sorry Gibbon…) Never mind that technological innovation (such as advances in agriculture that brought about the (probably) first time in human history where physical development wasn’t hampered by malnutrition) and cultural production and creativity flourished. If you’re not writing Ciceronian Latin or sculpting Phidian Amazons it’s simply barbaric, damn it! Your exquisitely ornamental fibulae just don’t have that Roman seriousness!

    As far as the lack of data- one of the problems of earlier studies of the ‘dark ages’ that led to its equivalence with ignorance, lawlessness and the like was that archaeological knowledge was scarcer than today, combined with a tendency to harbor a favorable prejudice towards literary evidence. Even in this respect there are different categories of literary evidence- those of a more narrative nature (like Gregory of Tours, Bede, etc.) are more scarce than evidence from land purchases and disbursements, legal proceedings, etc.

    Additionally, as with the Crusades, computers have been instrumental in recasting the way in which these events and periods are perceived, as they can correlate data more easily and systematically. For example, one common misconception about the Crusades is that many of the Crusaders went off to the Holy Land in hopes of striking it rich. No doubt some did, but on the whole the opposite is actually the case, as crusading was horribly expensive. Even the wealthy often had to sell off land or take loans against them to fund themselves and their entourage.

    Sigh. Now look what you’ve made me do. Apologies for the verbosity. :-)

  • Apologies for the verbosity.

    In the words of my generation– dude! That ain’t verbose for the amount of actual information conveyed!

    Watch what I say for a notion of verbose minus data conveyed!

  • Thank you for the links.
    I am glad to see that you feel that after some 900 years we are finally getting some proper perspective on the matter! “Make haste slowly” if ever I saw. Please, don’t get me wrong. The prospect of making my way through a mountain of good scholarship wets my whistle. It is just a question for me of pay off. In weighing my time commitments (active practice of the Catholic faith already generates a lot of reading commitments) I’d much rather explore Cluny as an expression of the Catholic theoarchy, aka Christendom, than the relatively small potatoes of the Crusades, except in so far as it relates to the former. Acknowledgment: it is a significant relationship.

    Seeing as you take exception to my “can be whatever you what it to be” stance, what are the Crusades to you? A forgotten-at-best or abused-at-worst historical period that is only now getting the valiant defense it needs or a relishing at the prospect of smacking the anti-historical socialist/leftist/anarchists on the snout? If you don’t like my proffering, feel free to complete this sentence: “The Crusades, to me, represent _____________.”

    Eh? What’s that? You know I’m right? Yes you do.

  • If you don’t like my proffering, feel free to complete this sentence: “The Crusades, to me, represent _____________.”

    I wish I could put this better, but….

    Grow up.

    History isn’t about you, or anyone else.

    History is about what was.

    If you can’t accept that, it says something about YOU, not about then.

    We may not know this-and-that about some other time, but that doesn’t mean that it’s about us. “Then” is ALWAYS about then.

  • The bees fly in swarms, and do not begrudge each other the flowers. It is not so with us. We are not at unity. More eager about his own wrath than his own salvation, each aims his sting against his neighbor.

    St Basil the Great.

  • Good men and women must confront it or evil prevails.

    The issue is that jihadis, liberals, progressives, and other assorted evil persons distort history to support their vile agendae.

    In the case of the Crusades: OBL, et al use the lies to recruit mass murderers. Liberals use the lies support the memes that we deserve to be massacred and that all things Western Civilization must be destroyed.

    I studied the Crusades, particularly the military orders, for edification: try to understand the men and women, and the world views, of the age; and to understand how we got here.

    That was years before Lockerbie and the Beirut bombing. In the 1950’s, NYC Catholic parish schools taught fifth graders that the Crusades also served as an opening of exchanges on various levels of the West to the East . . .

  • Good post. Good comments.

  • Disco is a western sin in a class by itself. Maybe joined by polyester leisure suits.

  • We can never repent too much for those sins cmatt! :)

  • All this erudition makes my head hurt. However, I do wish people would check the spelling of their comments. Saying “wets” instead of “whets” completely changes the meaning of the sentence. By the way, the Battle of Lepanto was fought in a strait between the Bay of Corinth and the Ionian Sea. I apologize, but as my old aunt used to say “It’s the little things in life that make it beautiful.”

  • Are we talking all Crusades? What about the Fourth Crusade? (1201-1204). This group of Crusaders were supposed to go directly to Cairo, leaving Europe in June of 1202. They changed course from the Holy Land and took Constantinople on April 12, 1204. Pope Innocent III had issued a solemn ban on attacks on Christian states. The Crusaders were asked for help by members of the feuding Angelos Dynasty. In exchange the Crusaders were to receive land and money. After defeating Alexius V Angelos (who had usurped the throne from his predecessor Alexius IV Angelos, put in power by the Crusaders) they sacked the city desecrating the Most Holy Eucharist, profaning Hagia Sophia, pillaging churches and monasteries, violating nuns, killing priests, raping women and children, stealing countless ikons, relics and manuscripts.
    Bishops and priests were among the Crusaders, none were documented as trying to stop the destruction of the city.
    In mercy and Christian charity, please, please no one say that these sins were brought on by a Byzantine leader or because Latins considered the Byzantines schismatics and therefore somehow justified in this sacrilege. I have heard these pathetic excuses before.
    The Crusaders could recognize the image of our Lord or His all pure Mother in the ikons. The churches of the city were familiar enough to Western eyes to be recognized as churches. What else could be in the golden artophorions on the altars other than the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist? Could the Crusaders not recognize the image of the Lord in those they killed, raped or used as slaves? The defeat of Byzantium, already in great decline, was accelerated so that the Byzantines eventually became an easy prey of the Muslims. The Fourth Crusade resulted, in the end, in the victory of Islam, which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention of the Crusades.

  • The best work I have read on the Fourth Crusade is Donald Queller and Thomas Madden’s The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople:

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Fourth-Crusade-Conquest-Constantinople/dp/0812217136

    Pope Innocent III of course condemned this misuse of the Crusade. Byzantium was already well on its way to being a military nonfactor before the Latin Empire, created by the conquest of Constantinople, occupied Constantinople until 1261. The recreated Byzantine Empire then endured until 1453, courtesy largely of Turkish internecine conflict and support from the West, most notably the sea power of Venice and the other Italian city states with merchant empires in the east. The popes of course continually called for assistance to the Greeks and other Christians in the East throughout this period, calls which were increasingly ignored as the centuries rolled by.

    The sacking of Constantinople is considered a cause celebre to this day by the Greek Orthodox. I would have more sympathy for this attitude of perpetual high dudgeon if Byzantine armies hadn’t been besieging and sacking cities in the West, including Rome, for many centuries. Internecine strife among Christian polities was never a one way street, and the sack of Constantinpole is usually considered some sort of unique crime and that is simply not the case.

  • (Guest comment by Don’s wife Cathy:) It happened back in the 6th century, Fr. Philip, when Justinian was trying to reconquer Italy back from the Ostrogoths (through generals such as Belisarius and Narses). It’s the backdrop against which L. Sprague de Camp’s alternate history novel Lest Darkness Fall is set (and SF author Harry Turtledove has credited that book with getting him interested enough in Byzantine history to get a Ph.D. in it).

  • Hi Cathy! I have found nothing that states that Justinian or Belisarios sacked Rome. While the war against the Ostrogoths brought suffering to the people of Italy, I cannot find any historical information stating the Imperial forces during battles desecrated churches or violated monastics. I can’t find any reference regarding forces of the Empire of stealing ikons, manuscripts and sacred vessels. I do know that the Ostrogoths were Arians and that Justinian was concerned not only about his control of Italy but also the spread of heresy. War and slaughter are always counter to the mercy of God so Justinian’s way was not good, no question there. But war unfortunately seems to be part of human sinfulness. Still, I find no reference to the type of sinfulness shown by the forces of the Fourth Crusade to people, places and things consecrated to the Lord.
    Regarding alternative history novels, I have read many the works of L. Sprague de Camp, Harry Turtledove and S.M. Stirling. They are, as you said, “alternative history.” When Darkness Falls offers de Camp’s sympathetic view of the benevolence of the Ostrogoths, while that is fine it is not reality. Here is another alternate history option; if Justinian had not fought against the Ostrogoths would Western Christianity be Arian?

  • “if Justinian had not fought against the Ostrogoths would Western Christianity be Arian?”

    Probably not because the war with the Ostrogoths opened the door for the conquest of most of Italy by the Lombards who were also Arian. They were peacefully converted by the Church in the seventh century. Addditionally the Franks had already been converted to the True Faith under Clovis and were quickly becoming a secular mainstay of the Church in the West.

    Rome surrendered during the siege because the Byzantine army brutally sacked Naples in November 536 and the Romans rightfully feared similar treatment. Justinian of course fell into heresy during his reign and had absymal relations with the popes of his time.

  • I was responding to the mention of “alternative history” regarding the Ostrogothic Arianism and the Orthodoxy that Justinian promoted. Cathy mentioned alternative history in response to my earlier post. In the realm of alternative history the Lombards might have never gotten an ascendency. So much for alternative history!

    Objective history (see the only exception I can find below) seems to show that Justinian was a firm proponent of Orthodoxy; he condemned and worked to stamp out heresy during his rule. He made belief in the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation part of the law of the Empire and he stated that the heterodox were to be deprived of due process of law. The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed was made the only creedal symbol of the Church in his reign and he gave legal force to the canons of the first four Ecumenical Councils. He called the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553, condemning the teachings of Origen and affirming the definitions of the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon. Justinian also took a very firm stance in his support of Orthodoxy; he fought different heresies throughout his rule. He built churches, including Hagia Sophia and showed a tender devotion for the Mother of God. He lived a moral and pious life.
    The only primary source I can find regarding an accusation of heresy against Justinian is in The Life of St. Eutychios of Constantinople. The hagiographical document accuses Justinian of subscribing to the asartodoketai/aphthartodocetist heresy which taught that the Incarnate Word could not suffer in the flesh. Evagrios the Historian states that Justinian issued a decree imposing this heresy on the Empire. No copy of this decree has been found, nor did any hierarch or Council other than St. Eutychios denounce Justinian for holding this heresy. That St. Eutychios and Justinian were at odds was obvious through other events. Justinian ordered St. Eutychios deposed; there is no mention in primary documents as to why this was done. An accusation of heresy by a hierarch was a good way to denounce an Imperial opponent. Deposition from an episcopal throne by a ruler was a good way to remove an annoying hierarch.
    Justinian and the bishops of Rome did have many serious disputes, though none of the popes ever accused him of heresy.

  • Justinian towards the end of his reign adopted a policy of conciliation towards the Monophysites. Towards the end of his life he adopted aphthartodocetism which is simply Monphysitism under another name. Many Greek Orthodox writers, to whom Justinian is a great champion of Orthodoxy, dispute this but as this passage from J.B. Bury’s History of the Later Roman Empire indicates, I believe the historical record is clear on this point:

    “The Three Chapters was not the last theological enterprise of Justinian. In the last years of his life he adopted the dogma of aphthartodocetism, which had been propagated, as we have seen, by Julian of Halicarnassus, and had sown strife among the Monophysites of Egypt. This change of opinion is generally considered an aberration due to senility; but when we find a learned modern theologian asserting that the aphthartodocetic dogma is a logical development of the Greek doctrine of salvation,we may hesitate to take Justinian’s conversion to it as a sign that his intellectual power had been enfeebled by old age. The Imperial edict in which he dictated the dogma has not been preserved. The Patriarch Eutychius firmly refused to accept it, and the Emperor, not forgetting his success in breaking the will of Vigilius, caused him to be arrested (January 22, A.D. 565). He was first sent to the Island of the Prince and then banished to a monastery at Amasea. The other Patriarchs were unanimous in rejecting the Imperial dogma. Anastasius of Antioch and his bishops addressed to the Emperor a reasoned protest against the edict. Their bold remonstrances enraged Justinian, and he was preparing to deal with them, as he had dealt with Eutychius, when his death relieved the Church from the prospect of a new persecution.”

  • Donald, I know of the recent scholarship that states that Justinian was a heretic. However, there is no statement by the Church that he was. Analysis of writings and documents of Church documents contemporary to the subject do not support the premise that Justinian fell into heresy. The supposed decree ordering the Empire to accept Monophytism either did not exist or cannot be found.

    You state that the Orthodox dispute that Justinian was a heretic and this is true. Does the fact that many Orthodox writers believe Justinian was Orthodox make it untrue? Is this debate about Latin claims versus Orthodox claims?

    You states that many, “Orthodox writers, to whom Justinian is a great champion of Orthodoxy, dispute this but a passage from J.B. Bury’s History of the Later Roman Empire…” proves your point.

    Here is the “other side.”

    Father Asterios Gerostergios (yes, he is one of those Orthodox folks) in his book Justinian the Great, refutes the assertion that Justinian succumbed in his last years to the heresy of aphthartodocetism. The depositions of both Eutychius and Anastasius, patriarch of Antioch cannot be proven to be related to their opposition to the supposed edict.

    “That they were deposed because of their refusal to accept the edict we do not believe to be true because of the following reasons:
    1. The bishop of Northern Africa, Victor, an enemy of the Emperor, mentions the deposition of Eutychius in his Chronicle, but does not give any reasons for the deposition. If he really knew anything about a new edict, and if, further, he knew of Justinian’s acceptance of the aphthartodocetistic heresy, not only would he certainly have mentioned it, but he would also have emphasized the event, in order to defame Justinian’s exiling and imprisoning him.
    2. If Eutychius had been deposed for this reason, his successor, John the Scholastic, would have had to accept such a decree. We have absolutely no information concerning his acceptance of the edict, nor any testimony that he accepted aphthartodocetism. On the contrary, Pope [Saint] Gregory the Great, who was then the papal representative in Constantinople, praises the new patriarch, John, for his holiness and Orthodoxy.
    3. The same Pope Gregory praises Justinian for his Orthodoxy and he makes no mention of the edict. He says that Patriarch Eutychius was an Origenist. For this reason, W. H. Hutton and A. Knecht have stated: this was the cause for Eutychius’ deposition.
    4. When Patriarch Eutychius returned to the throne of Constantinople in 577, he did not mention the reasons for his dethronement.
    5. Bishop John of Ephesus, contrary to Evagrius, makes no mention of what transpired in Antioch concerning the deposition of Anastasius. … For all the above reasons, we can only conclude that Justinian never issued or planned to issue an edict imposing aphthartodocetism. Such an act would have been in antithesis to his whole previous theological work, and it is clear that it would not have helped the overall purpose of unification. Moreover, such a complete change at such an advanced age, we believe to be a totally unnatural thing. With regard to the deposition of the two mentioned Patriarchs, we believe that it was not related to such an edict, because there is no basis for such a conclusion from the contemporary sources. We are of the opinion that their deposition was due to other reasons, probably to their failure to obey the old Emperor.”

    The sad claim that “…aphthartodocetic dogma is a logical development of the Greek doctrine of salvation…” by Bury does not stand up to the reality of the Orthodox view of salvation. Aphthartodocetic heresy is found nowhere in the writings of the Eastern Fathers, later writers, canonical writings, the Eastern Orthodox Liturgy or the lives of the saints. Bury shows his ignorance of Orthodox soteriology and faith. I know of no contemporary Roman Catholic theologian who would hold this view, including the current Pope Benedict. His writings only show admiration for Orthodox soteriology.

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