Christ and History

Monday, March 31, AD 2014



You will find that a good many  Christian political writers think that Christianity began going wrong in  departing from the doctrine of its founder at a very early stage. Now this idea  must be used by us to encourage once again the conception of a “historical  Jesus” to be found by clearing away later “accretions and perversions,” and then  to be contrasted with the whole Christian tradition. In the last generation we  promoted the construction of such a “historical Jesus” on liberal and  humanitarian lines. We are now putting forward a new “historical Jesus” on  Marxian, catastrophic and revolutionary lines. The advantages of these  constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold.  In the first place they all tend to direct man’s devotion to something which  does not exist. Because each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical, the documents  say what they say and they cannot be added to. Each new “historical Jesus” has  to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another  point. And by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach  humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary  life, but which is enough to produce a crop of new Napoleons, new Shakespeares,  and new Swifts in every publisher’s autumn list. . . . The “historical Jesus,”  then, however dangerous he may seem to be to us at some particular point, is  always to be encouraged.

CS Lewis, Screwtape Letters





Bart Ehrman, the New Testament scholar who transitioned from teenage evangelical, to liberal Christian, to agnostic, desperately wants to remake Christ in his own faithless image and therefore is popular with atheists and agnostics.  He has a very old act, as the argument that he makes, that the Resurrection never happened and that Christ was but a man, has been made by anti-Christians since the Crucifixion.    He puts old wine into a shiny new wineskin.  He isn’t really very good at it,  as Stephen Colbert, of all people, demonstrated several years ago.  Go here to Creative Minority Report to view that.

Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels so frequently for the Church that I have named him Defender of the Faith, turns his attention to Ehrman:


All sorts and conditions of men turn up at this site from time to time.  Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians regularly comment here, disagree with one another’s theology now and then but do it, for the most part, respectfully.

That’s because of most of you, not me.  You guys set the tone for this joint a long time ago.  But if I do see what I consider to be disrespect in the comments, which happens, I’ll quietly edit the comment or remove it entirely.  And if things get too intense in a comment thread, which sometimes happens, I won’t hesitate to shut that thread down.

I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing atheists comment here a lot more often than they do.  I’m not talking about some douchebag whose default position is, “Christians are brain-dead morons” or who claims to collapse on his or her fainting couch at the mere sight of a Bible verse, a Christian Cross or any other Christian image.

I refer to that rare breed of atheist who doesn’t believe there’s a God but is comfortable with the fact that some people disagree and who doesn’t feel the need to insult or belittle religious believers.  I can respect and even be friends with a person like that.

What I can’t and, indeed, refuse to respect are those atheists who still pretend to be Christians but who think that they’ve finally discovered What Actually Happened Two Thousand Years Ago And What It All Means.  Guys like Bart Ehrman, say:

Jesus was a lower-class preacher from Galilee, who, in good apocalyptic fashion, proclaimed that the end of history as he knew it was going to come to a crashing end, within his own generation. God was soon to intervene in the course of worldly affairs to overthrow the forces of evil and set up a utopian kingdom on earth. And he would be the king.

Insert “but” here.

It didn’t happen. Instead of being involved with the destruction of God’s enemies, Jesus was unceremoniously crushed by them: arrested, tried, humiliated, tortured, and publicly executed.

Which is why Jesus’ influence ended right then and there and is also why absolutely no one anywhere, with the exception of obscure Middle Eastern scholars, has any idea who Jesus of Nazareth was.  But for this bizarre reason, that’s not what actually happened.  Stop Bart if you’ve heard this one.

The followers of Jesus came to think he had been raised because some of them (probably not all of them) had visions of him afterwards. Both Christian and non-Christian historians can agree that it was visions of Jesus that made some of Jesus’ followers convinced that he was no longer dead. Christians would say that the disciples had these visions because Jesus really appeared to them. Non-Christians would say that (several of ) the disciples had hallucinations. Hallucinations happen all the time. Especially of deceased loved ones (your grandmother who turns up in your bedroom) and of significant religious figures (the Blessed Virgin Mary, who appears regularly in extraordinarily well-documented events). Jesus was both a lost loved one and an important religious leader. As bereaved, heartbroken, and guilt-ridden followers, the disciples were prime candidates for such visionary experiences.

Once the disciples claimed Jesus was alive again but was (obviously) no longer here with them, they came to think that he had been taken up to heaven (where else could he be?). In ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish thinking, a person exalted to the heavenly realm was divinized – himself made divine. That’s what the earliest Christians thought about Jesus. After that a set of evolutionary forces took over, in which the followers of Jesus began saying more and more exalted things about him – that he had been made the son of God at his resurrection; no, it was at his baptism; no, it was at his birth; no, it was before he came into the world; no – he had never been made the son of God, he had always been the Son of God; in fact, he had always been God; more than that, he had created the world; and yet more, he was an eternal being equal with God Almighty.

That Kierkegaard quote’s on the top of this page for a reason.  That an alleged “scholar” can seriously advance a view so fundamentally unscholarly, so absolutely unsupported by anything remotely resembling actual evidence, convinces me that a great deal of “Christian scholarship” is, as the Great Dane observed, as monumental an intellectual scam as the world has ever known.

Where to begin?  Say what you want about him but Mohammed’s followers thought he was a prophet of God.  No doubt, the Buddha’s disciples intensely revered him.  Yet none of the followers of these two men, or any other great religious leader in world history, for that matter, ever invented a resurrection from the dead for their particular “prophet” and made that “resurrection” the basis of their religion.

Only the Christians did.

It seems to me that if you and all your associates somehow convince yourselves that you’ve seen the risen Jesus when you haven’t, you are, at some point, going to come down from your mass hallucinations.  At which point, you can either admit to yourself that you were wrong or continue with the charade and maybe get yourselves executed at an early age for something that you know deep down is a lie.

And did any of you happen to notice who Ehrman leaves out here?  I’ll give you a few hints.  A devout Jew, he was not only not connected to the Apostles and Christ’s early believers in any way, he was, by his own admission, actively hostile to the new movement, imprisoning many of Christ’s followers and having others killed.

He received authorization to travel to Damascus in order to do more of this sort of thing.  On the way there, he claimed that he saw a vision of the risen Christ, a claim from which he refused to back down to the end of his days, and began to preach Christ and Him crucified almost immediately.  When they heard of it, the Apostles and most of the disciples initially and quite understandably didn’t trust him.

The man’s claim compelled him to plant Christian churches all over the eastern Mediterranean and to write letters to many of these churches, encouraging and/or upbraiding their members as the need arose.  And this man’s claim about what he saw on that road to Damascus ended up prematurely costing him his Earthly life.

I’m pretty sure that the guy had a short name.  Don’t hold me to this but I think that it began with a P.  It’s right on the tip of my tongue.

I don’t know about you, Ehrman, but I can’t make myself die for an illusion.

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13 Responses to Christ and History

  • It has frequently struck me that those engaged in the quest of the historical Jesus lack an elementary sense of chronology.

    In the cathedral at Lyons, one can see a list of the bishops of that see. The third is St Irenaeus. He was born in Izmir in Turkey in 130 and died in 202. In 200, in point of time, he stood to the Crucifixion, as we today stand to Keble’s famous Assize Sermon that marked the beginning of the Oxford Movement. Bl John Henry Newman was present when that sermon was preached and I, who am not yet seventy, spoke in the 1950s to two old people in Birmingham, who remembered Newman.

    There is a close parallel in the case of St Irenaeus. As a boy in Izmir (then known as Smyrna) he had seen and heard the local bishop, St Polycarp (69-155) Now, both Irenaeus and Polycarp himself have left an account of how Polycarp was present, when Polycarp’s bishop, St Ignatius of Antioch “talked with John and with others, who had seen the Lord.”

    Impressive as this is, it cannot have been unique; there must have been any number of people in the first half of the 2nd century who remembered the apostles. Justin Martyr (100-165) would have grown up among such people in Syria and Palestine. Again, many at the end of the century would have remembered those first hearers of the apostolic teaching, witnesses scattered all around the Mediterranean sea. Now, this was the age that received and accounted as canonical the four gospels and no others; yes, there was early doubt in the West about John, just as there was early doubt about Revelation in the East, but it was settled in this period.

    The surviving testimony of the faith of the Nicene Church is abundant and beyond serious question; the evidence from the previous century, which was one of persecution is sparse in comparison, but the testimony of St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus, St. Cyprian, St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, St. Dionysius of Alexandria, and St. Methodius is all one way, in confirming a tradition from Ignatius to Nicea. Heretics, like Sabellius and Arius are individuals, representing no tradition (and contradicting each other) There is but one continuous tradition and it has no rivals.

    No less important, at this moment, Cardinal Barbarin sits in the chair of Irenaeus In Lyons, the last of an unbroken line of witnesses to the apostolic tradition “by saints proclaimed, by saints believed,” in that ancient and august see.

  • “It has frequently struck me that those engaged in the quest of the historical Jesus lack an elementary sense of chronology.”


  • Ages ago in Analog I read a mock lecture by a future historian about a newly discovered cache of records of WW2. The story is obviously an apocryphal morality tale; the crimes describes are too horrendous to be believed; the very names show the power of religion (Church-hill), beauty (Rose-field) and industry (Man of steel) over a monster with a meaningless name.

    I only learnt about text criticism and its application to Scripture later and much of it strikes me as about the same level as the spoof in a SciFi pulp.

  • “Post-moderns” recognize that history is malleable and that truth is whatever people will believe.

  • “I only learnt about text criticism and its application to Scripture later and much of it strikes me as about the same level as the spoof in a SciFi pulp.”


  • The Hypostatic Union, that Jesus is true God and true man is denied by the “historical Jesus”. Heresy is a half truth, the other half of which is used as a cudgel to oppress the Catholic church. If the “historical Jesus” is not God, none of us is saved.

  • “In ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish thinking, a person exalted to the heavenly realm was divinized – himself made divine.”

    Jewish? JEWISH? Enoch was considered divine? Elijah? The Messiah wasn’t even considered divine by the Jews. The idea that a person could be divinized was blasphemy. (Actually, it was blasphemy to the Greeks too. Go around claiming it and you’ll find a bird pecking out your liver for eternity.) (For that matter, the Romans would consider it blasphemy. The emperors typically claimed divine ancestry, as did the Pharaohs and the Emperors of Japan. No one claims to become a god who doesn’t claim to already be partly divine.) (But that’s off the point. A Jew would never, ever claim that his rabbi became divine.)

  • “The idea that a person could be divinized was blasphemy”

    Which is why the Jews sought to stone Jesus when He said before Abraham was, I AM. To the Jews the idea that a Man could be God would have been considered the very essence of blasphemy. To the Greeks the idea that a dead Jewish carpenter was a God would have been an absurdity. To the Romans the idea that a man crucified by a Roman Procurator as a rebel against Rome could be divine would have seemed utter treason. All of these reactions are quite common in anti-Christian tracts during the rise of Christianity in the ancient world.

  • Thomas Collins

    As Mgr Ronald Knox said, “I do not so much mind the Germans applying the same critical methods to St. Mark which they apply to Homer; but I do object to their applying the same uncritical methods to St. Mark which they apply to Homer. And here steps in a very pestilent psychological influence. The lecturer who combats Kirchhoff, or exposes Ferrero, can do so without any imputation of narrow- mindedness. He has, in this instance, clearly no axe to grind. But if he be a Christian, and a fortiori if he be a clergyman, he is afraid of the imputation of narrow- mindedness if he takes up the same attitude towards Harnack or Spitta. When Mr. Cornford writes about Thucydides, Oxford historians cheerfully dispose of him in half a lecture, but when he writes about Christianity, Oxford theologians see cause for much searching of hearts and wagging of heads. But is there any reason for this difference, except that we are all in such craven fear of being thought illiberal?”

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  • “The idea that a person could be divinized was blasphemy”
    To be “divinized” according to Zeus or Jupiter, made-up gods as the Caesars were is not the same as to be called into sonship with the true God. The Jews carried the prophecies about the Son of God, the coming Messiah.

  • In ancient… Jewish thinking, a person exalted to the heavenly realm was divinized – himself made divine.
    –Bart Ehrman

    I entirely missed the divinization of Enoch and Elijah in the Hebrew Scriptures. Where did Bart Ehrman find that–is he also a Muslim who claims the Jews and Christians altered the Scriptures?

A Silly Retraction

Saturday, November 16, AD 2013




As faithful readers of this blog know, there are few bigger fans of Mr. Lincoln than me, and I completely concur with Sir Winston Churchill that the Gettysburg Address  is “The ultimate expression of the majesty of Shakespeare’s language.” 

That having been said I found profoundly silly a retraction which appears in the Patriot News newspaper:

We write today in reconsideration of “The Gettysburg Address,” delivered by then-President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the greatest conflict seen on American soil. Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words “silly remarks,” deserving “a veil of oblivion,” apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.

The retraction goes on to state:

In the editorial about President Abraham Lincoln’s speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, the Patriot & Union failed to recognize its momentous importance, timeless eloquence, and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error.


Go here to read the rest.  This rubs me the wrong way.  Apologizing for the actions of men long dead always strikes me as asinine.  The men who penned the original editorial cannot defend their opinion now.  If they could, they probably would note that they reflected a large body of Northern opinion that viewed the War as a tragic mistake, brought on by abolitionist fanaticism, which caused over a million homes in the North to be draped in mourning.  I view such arguments as being completely erroneous, but I leave to those who made such arguments the dignity to which they are entitled of being participants in the maelstrom of devastating events who were honestly stating their views.  To have successors a century and a half later glibly denouncing their views, even attributing such views to strong drink, insults them and insults the historical record.  It is part and parcel of a historical myopia which views the present as perfect and entitled to denounce the benighted individuals who had the misfortune to live before our enlightened times.  The simple truth is that we, just as much as those in the past we denounce, are in many ways prisoners of our times, often taking our attitudes and beliefs from those that enjoy popularity in our day.  I have absolutely no doubt that the successors of the papers which praised the Gettysburg Address one hundred and fifty years ago, might well be denouncing it today, if the War, and all our subsequent history, had turned out differently.  If one wishes to truly understand history, and the passions of the men and women who lived through it, one must be willing to understand what motivated them, why they did what they did.  This foolish retraction teaches us nothing about history, but quite a bit about how the Present usually is a bad judge of the Past, at least if we wish to understand the Past.  Here is a portion of the original editorial:

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12 Responses to A Silly Retraction

  • Too much Americanism here. It’s what I find rather silly. You sound like you have bought hook and sinker the freemasonic ideas so rampantly present. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Please, free yourself. Before 1776, Catholicity wasn’t found wanting in the rest of the world except America.

  • Good attempt James: completely off topic, free masonry gibberish, and an attack on something not raised in the post. Life is so simple when one places one’s fingers firmly in one’s ears and shouts about what one wishes to talk about!

  • I agree Don that this strikes me as modern triumphalism. Meanwhile, the very next editorial is one decrying “frontal assaults on a woman’s privacy and dignity” – in other words, lamenting state efforts to restrict abortion. Perhaps someone will come along 150 years from now to apologize for such a regrettable editorial stance.

  • The Patriot-News is apparently keeping up two traditions of the paper after all: being an organ of yellow dog Democrat sentiment, and ignoring the rights of people deemed less than human by powerful forces within their party.

  • Go here to read the rest. This rubs me the wrong way. Apologizing for the actions of men long dead always strikes me as asinine.

    In the main I would agree with you but it might behoove the legislatures of So. Carolina, Alabama and the other rebel states to repudiate their ancestors’ actions, esp. since many tried to justify their actions well into the 20th century.
    A simple acknowledgement of the truth might be nice might be nice even without an apology.

    Off-topic: I just re-read 12 Years a Slave and saw the movie. Both HIGHLY recommended.

  • I guess that your concerns wouldn’t apply to JPII’s apologies on behalf of the Church because the Church is not long-dead, but still living, Holy Spirit breathing; responsive and responsible… and the issues addressed on always ongoing and still having an effect

  • Presentism; or even better, Retroactive Continuity: “Reframing past events to serve a current plot need.”

  • Apologizing for the actions of men long dead always strikes me as asinine.


    I would ask any of those who agree with that statement to consider the case of New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, the Lord Haw Haw of Stalin’s pre-WWII genocide, though unlike Duranty, Lord Haw Haw never received a Pulitzer for his work, so in that sense the comparison is inapt.


    A sincere “never again” on that particular episode of history is long overdue.

  • And it would be a completely meaningless one HA. Those who wish to, know all about Duranty and his lies. The current powers that be at The New York Times have nothing to do with him. They have their own lies they promulgate daily, and their taking a moment out to give a completely insincere apology for Duranty’s would do nothing to impact that.


    The New York Times have nothing to do with him. They have their own lies they promulgate daily, and their taking a moment out to give a completely insincere apology for Duranty’s would do nothing to impact that.


    A completely insincere apology? I am not sure what that has to do with what I wrote, but perhaps you missed the word “sincere” in the last sentence of my post, making your reply somewhat beside the point. As any Catholic should know, a sincere apology involves contrition and a resolve to change one’s behavior, and to atone for it. And as for the NYT not having anything to do with Duranty, I submit that the lies they continues to peddle to this day come from the same playbook that Duranty followed, so that a sincere apology, or at least a sincere resolve to stop flakking for the brave new world Duranty championed in the NYT’s pages is something we should all welcome.


  • “completely insincere apology? I am not sure what that has to do with what I wrote, but perhaps you missed the word “sincere” in the last sentence of my post, making your reply somewhat beside the point.”

    Nope. An apology for wrongs done by someone else long dead is by definition always insincere. You were attempting to posit a square circle. Such apologies are always a form of moral grandstanding, and say nothing about amendment of current actions of the person making the apology. Now if The New York Times wanted to humbly apologize for their role in pushing ObamaCare on the nation, that would be an apology worth reading.

  • I would agree that the particular example you cited regarding the Gettysburg Address is a case of an editorial writer having too much time on his hands. But trying to use that to make the general point that apologizing for the actions of those who came before us is always asinine is going too far.


    I maintain that in those cases where the sins of our fathers are part of an ongoing pattern of evil, apologizing for those sins is a useful first step in changing our own behavior. That is how we learn the lessons of history so as not to repeat them. And as the Biblical story of Samuel’s denunciation of David’s treatment of Uriah indicates, it is sometimes easier to get ourselves exercised over the sins of others than it is to recognize that those sins are ours.


    I did not become a conservative by nature. I did it by acknowledging not just the Hitlers and the slave owners, and trying to confront whatever in my own constitution might enable such evil in the future, but also by acknowledging the Stalins and the Maos and the countless well-meaning socialists who continue to starve and murder millions to this day, and to atone for that other mark of Cain. You might be blessedly free of that Catholic guilt that renders you culpable for what happened decades and even centuries ago. I am not, and perhaps I’m better off for it.


    In any case, the NYT is today a teeming village of Walter Durantys. Getting them to sincerely acknowledge and apologize for his sins would, I maintain, be a good first step in getting to acknowledge their own furtherance of his campaign of disinformation. You can disagree with me all you want, but I’m confident a more objective reader will see some truth in what I say. In any case, we will just have to agree to disagree.

The Martyrdom of St. Maurice and the Theban Legion

Monday, September 23, AD 2013

Brandon over at Siris has a post upon on a saint story that I had not heard before (which isn’t saying much, there’s a huge number of saints and I don’t claim to be the world’s most well read about them):

It won’t get celebrated in any liturgies today, since it is Sunday, but today is the memorial for the Theban Legion. The Theban Legion, as its name implies, was originally garrisoned in Thebes, Egypt; but, it is said, they were sent by the Emperor Maximian to Gaul to try to keep things in order there. This is very plausible historically, although not all details of the Theban Legion legend are. The commander of the Legion was Mauritius, usually known as St. Maurice, and a lot of the officers, at least, were Christians — here, too, it was not an uncommon thing for soldiers in this period to be members of an eastern religion like Christianity, particularly on the borders of the empire. The Theban Legion, according to legend, was given the order to sacrifice to the emperor, and St. Maurice and his officers refused. Given the close connection between legions and their officers, it is perhaps not surprising that the entire legion followed their lead. In response the legion was decimated — every tenth man killed — as punishment; and when the legion still refused to sacrifice, it was repeatedly decimated until all were dead.

The plausibilities and implausibilities are interesting here — it’s implausible that there was an entire legion that was Christian to a man, but soldiers sticking with their captains is not implausible, and the Gaul campaign is perfectly historical, although our information about it is somewhat sketchy. Our earliest definite reference to the Theban Legion is about a century and a half afterwards, which leaves time for embroidery, and some historians have concluded, on the basis of what other information we have about that campaign (how many soldiers seem to have been involved, etc.), that if it occurred, it was probably a cohort, not an entire legion, that was martyred, or to put it another way, probably several hundred men rather than several thousand. That’s a plausible way in which legends form around historical events.

There are various works of art showing St. Maurice and the martyrdom of the Theban legion.

Apparently some medieval artists assumed that since the legion was from Egypt, St. Maurice must have been black (this wouldn’t necessarily be the case, obviously), as shown in this statue from the Cathedral of Magdeburg:

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99 Years Ago: The Week The World Caught Fire

Tuesday, August 6, AD 2013

Certain historical events are remembered in terms of a single event which, in the course of minutes or hours, ushered in a new era. People who lived through Pearl Harbor could remember exactly where they were when they heard about the Japanese attack, a point when the course of US history (and world history) changed in the course of a couple hours.

Ninety-nine years ago, as the world plunged into the First World War, the experience was different. Rather than a single sharp event which plunged the world into cataclysm, there was a long series of events, at first not much noted, which in late July and early August of 1914 plunged all the major European powers into war over the course of a week.

There’s a certain tendency to look, with historical hindsight, at the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 as an incident very likely to lead to world war. There were hints of such a possibility. German Chancellor Otto von Bismark famously observed in the late 19th century that the next great European war would start with “some damn fool thing in the Balkans”. When Archduke Ferdinant was assassinated, some people immediately worried that this would lead to a general war. (H. G. Wells was among those with the dubious honor of predicting a general war was coming after hearing news of the assassination on June 28th.) However, there had just been two full fledged wars in the Balkans during the last ten years, and neither had led to general war. Indeed, the great powers, for all their diplomatic entanglements, had been able to negotiate satisfactory (at least to themselves) peaces to both prior Balkan wars.

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18 Responses to 99 Years Ago: The Week The World Caught Fire

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  • Europe had not known lengthy wars since the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Wars after Napoleon had tended to be fairly brief. One or two major battles, albeit bloody, and the issue was decided. Most of the leadership and populations of the warring nations assumed that a swift resolution would occur again. They failed to reckon on technological improvements since the Franco-Prussian War and the ability of modern nations to keep in the field vast armies that could inflict and sustain huge casualties that in earlier times would have broken a nation in short order. The Great War was our Civil War on steroids. The heads of state of Europe would have done better to pay heed to our Civil War in its length and casualties, but that type of study seems to have been limited to the military academies of Europe and the civilian leadership in Europe was ignorant of the subject with the exception of Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty at the beginning of the Great War.

    Europe sorely missed a statesman of the caliber of a Bismarck, a Metternich or a Castlereagh in 1914. The Sarajevo assassination was the signal that it was time for another European council. Diplomacy, with time for cooler heads to prevail, might well have been successful in forestalling a general European war.

  • Serbia, anxious to avoid war, agreed to all but one point of Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum, however Austria-Hungary (which had withdrawn its ambassador as soon as the ultimatum was delivered) was determined to put an end to Serbia’s role as a regional destabilizing force and declared the concessions insufficient.

    The clause that Serbia rejected would have allowed Austro-Hungarian investigators free rein to find and capture those responsible for the assassination. Had they been allowed to do so, they would have discovered that the main instigator was the Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence (as you yourself pointed out in a recent post). That revelation would, if anything, have made war even more inevitable and as it was, everyone involved understood Serbia’s refusal as a tacit admission of complicity.

    Given all that, characterizing Serbia as a “regional destabilizing force” is euphemism of the highest order. Whatever one means by those words, they should hot extend to harboring (however unwillingly) court officials who assassinate opposing heads of state. Very few at the time would deny that that kind of skullduggery amounted to a de facto declaration of war.

  • HA,

    Certainly, the Serbians were and remain bad news. (Just how bad is arguably underlined by the fact that the only military use of force the Vatican has actually supported in the last 30 years was against the Serbs — though there are arguably other reasons for that as well.)

    I’m not sure that there’s strong evidence that the wider Serbian government knew about the antics of their intelligence chief ahead of time — he was, after all, also running a secret society which had at times acted against the Serb government. But certainly, I would agree that the Austro-Hungarians were right to see the Serbs as a serious (if regional) threat, as demonstrated by the fact that the head of the Austro-Hungarian general staff had been pushing for war with Serbia for a quite a while (mostly held back, before his death, by Archduke Ferdinand.)

    At the same time, one can at least see why the Serbs saw having Austro-Hungarian representatives come into Serbia and help run the trails of those involved as being a violation of sovereignty — something the Serbs were pretty sensitive about since they were so newly independent and overshadowed by the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.

    All in all, though, I certainly don’t blame the Austro-Hungarians much for wanting to go to war with Serbia over the assassination. (The way they behaved when they actually got into Serbia, on the other hand, is a whole other matter.) And the ones who engineered that very regional conflict into a general European war were clearly the Germans. The Austro-Hungarians wanted a regional war just between them and Serbia which would, they hoped, allow them to solidify the situation in the area and put down a disruptive local power.

  • Translations of the ultimatum and reply for those interested:

  • so newly independent and overshadowed by the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires.

    By this time, Serbia had been independent for about half a century, but your point is a valid one. While people these days tend to forget the rank barbarity that was then normal for the region – a memory lapse that anti-Catholics continue to make use of when it comes to the matter of Croatian Ustashe in the following war, who simply took a page from the Serbian playbook — it is worth noting that Serbia’s dysfunction was in some sense inevitable. Arguably, one cannot survive and overcome four centuries of Ottoman oppression by simply playing nice.

    Also, whatever the blame Serbia bears for the war, her people suffered inordinately for the misdeeds of their rulers. If I recall, half the male population was dead by the end, though as in much of the rest of the continent, disease was as much of a killer as bullets and bayonets.

  • I had not understood why Germany was blamed for WWI. I vaguely remember high school lessons suggesting that Germany was blamed because history is written by the victors.

    I am embarrassed to say that I have never had much interest in the First World War. Lessons in school blitzed through that section and I never picked it up again.

    Have you a recommendation for a general history of the Great War?

  • For a long time the First World War was neglected a lot in histories, and there’s been a lot of bad history of the conflict done. It’s one of those unusual periods where the historical analysis has been getting much better as we get further from the event, in part because some of the key documents relating to it are only now being de-classified by the involved governments.

    For a fairly short and readable general history, I’d recommend Hew Strachan’s The First World War from ten years back. There’s a paperback version that’s in print now, but it’s worth getting the hardcover from the library (or used) as it has a really good selection of pictures.

    For the longest time, I was fascinated by WW2 but pretty much ignored WW1, but it’s now become my main historical fascination. I’m hoping that it gets increasing attention and analysis with the 100th anniversary coming up.

  • Ah, Donald beat me to it.

    Keegan’s book is the first one I read when I started getting interested in WW1 again, and it’s also quite good.

  • Wow, twice today I have been greatly informed about world wars. Thanks guys!

    (this was the other fount of info in case you’re wondering*)

    *(Yes I am aware that the video is humorous. I just thought a lot of you history nerds would probably laugh at even more jokes I missed.)

  • It’s one of those unusual periods where the historical analysis has been getting much better as we get further from the event, in part because some of the key documents relating to it are only now being de-classified by the involved governments.

    Dunno. IIRC, there was a great mass of documents released very early on due to the controversy spawned by the war guilt clause. I think there were many early twentieth century diplomatic histories composed in various languages – I’ve held dozens in my hands.

  • A must-have for anyone interested in the Great War (as it is still known in the UK, the Second World War being simply “the War”) is the 26-part documentary of that name, broadcast by the BBC in 1964 to mark the fiftieth anniversary and drawing on over a million feet of original film, hundreds of exclusive interviews with surviving participants and contemporary diaries, letters and reports. It is, and will remain, the definitive film account of that conflict. The series editor was John Terraine.

    Darwin’s remarks about the Serbs is apposite. They were regarded as semi-civilized at best. In June 1903 the ruling dynasty was replaced in a bloody coup. A mob, led by drunken army officers, went on a murderous rampage through the royal palace in Belgrade. They eventually found King Alexander and Queen Draga hiding in a cupboard in the queen’s bedroom. They were shot, stabbed and mutilated, and their naked bodies hurled out of a window. The chief plotter, Col. Dragutin Dimitryevich, later founded the Black Hand terrorist group which assassinated Franz Ferdinand.

    Regarding the “Curragh mutiny” touched on by Darwin in his post – this was a declaration by some officers that they would resign their commissions if they were ordered north to impose Home Rule on Ulster. There was no question of anyone, particularly the rank and file, refusing to fight, and in any case the government was not planning to send them to Ulster. The Anglo-Irish families traditionally well-represented in the officer corps (Wellington is a famous example) were not Orangemen and would not have taken kindly to being so described.

    The Home Rule Bill had been passed by June 1914, but the Conservatives maintained it was unconstitutional. The Liberals did not have an overall parliamentary majority and in fact had only one more seat more than the Conservatives (272 as opposed to 271) and with a lower share of the popular vote (43.9% as opposed to 46.3%). They relied on the support of the 71 Irish nationalists in Parliament. They had used the new and controversial Parliament Act to override the House of Lords. Such a fundamental change in the make-up of the United Kingdom, opponents argued, needed a far stronger mandate.

    Winston Churchill, whose father Lord Randolph had famously “played the Orange Card” against Gladstone at the time of the first HR Bill in 1886, and who in 1914 was First Lord of the Admiralty, threatened to use the fleet to bombard Belfast into submission. To this day, he is not held in much esteem by NI protestants.

  • <i?They were shot, stabbed and mutilated, and their naked bodies hurled out of a window.

    Well, to be fair, there was the matter of Draga’s sham pregnancy that supposedly led to Serbian humiliation at the Russian court, and also the rumour that her brother would be appointed the heir (the mob murdered him as well). In any case, the Sicilians (yet another tribe schooled in Ottoman micro-statecraft) had nothing on these people. There may have been even a pet direwolf there, too, somewhere, but don’t quote me on that.

  • Art Deco,

    Dunno. IIRC, there was a great mass of documents released very early on due to the controversy spawned by the war guilt clause. I think there were many early twentieth century diplomatic histories composed in various languages – I’ve held dozens in my hands.

    Certainly, there have been a huge number of histories trying to get at the causes and conduct of the Great War. And there was indeed a large release of documents right after the war by Germany in order to try to make their case against the accusation of war guilt.

    I think that makes a lot of the earlier historiography problematic is:

    – In the diplomatic arena, part of the problem is that right after the war the people writing had such a huge stake in particular interpretations of what happened. Plus, the German release of documents was selective and intended to move guilt away from them. Fritz Fischer’s Germany’s Aims in the First World War in 1967 was one of the first works to start to get at additional documentation which showed pretty clearly that far more than any other great power, Germany was gunning for a general European war in 1914, but that from the very beginning there was a systematic attempt by German leadership to obscure the causes of the war. So we have Bethmann Hollweg endorsing war as a response to mobilization even while acknowledging that Russian mobilization is not an existential threat for Germany because Russian mobilization is not the kind of launch-a-war mobilization that constituted German plans. But you also have him stating that in order to avoid problems with the Social Democrat’s, it’s essential to at all times represent Russia as the guilty party. (Fischer covers this and also Fromkin more recently in Europe’s Last Summer: Why the World Went to War in 1914.) So I’d argue that as the documentary record has become more complete, the diplomatic history writing has become a lot better.

    – On tactics and strategy, I think part of the issue is that shortly after the war a lot of the people writing had a very strong agenda. Brock Millman has a book out called Pessimism and British War Policy, 1916-1918 which makes the case that while Haig believed he could win the war on the Western Front, after the Battle of the Somme a lot of the politicians (including Lloyd George) became convinced that the war could not be won, and instead were focused on winning strategic resources in the East and the colonies which would allow Britain to be successful against a still-strong Germany when the war kicked up again after a 5-10 year armistice. (I suppose arguably they were right on the resumed war part, though off on the length of time.) As a result, they’d quietly made things harder for Haig and the Western Front. When Haig went and unexpectedly won, it became necessary to defend those decisions which might otherwise be seen as having extended the war, and so it became necessary to emphasize a claim that Haig’s leadership had been inept and wasted lives. This account in works by Lloyd George and Winston Churchill, along with the works by disaffected veterans like Sigfied Sassoon and Robert Graves, provided grist for inter-war pacifism and then for the more class based critique of the Great War which became current after WW2. That too is something I think we’re finally starting to get behind in the last 10-20 years of scholarship.

    John Nolan,

    I’d have to go look this up, as I was reading it several years ago in William Manchester’s massive three volume Churchill biography, but I seem to recall that there was moderately good evidence during the home rule crisis that Unionist organizations were making some rather significant arms purchases — possibly with help (or at least winking) from Unionist officers in the British Army.

    And as you say, Churchill managed to get himself into rather hot water with the NI, with at least a credible danger of assassination. So depending how much Manchester is being influenced by his subject’s view of things, perhaps that’s an overly biased source.

  • Both the Ulster Volunteers and the Irish Volunteers were gun-running in 1914; the former via Larne and the latter via Howth. Interestingly, the Ulster gun-runners landed their arms under cover of darkness and attempted to evade the authorities, whereas the southerners ran their shipment of Mausers in broad daylight, with a large crowd present and under the noses of the military. The soldiers were taunted into opening fire and three people were killed; this incident at Bachelors Walk on 26 July has now acquired mythological status in the somewhat overblown annals of Irish republicanism. During the Easter Rising of 1916 the rebels were suspected of using dum-dum bullets, but the truth was that the ‘Howth Mausers’ were obsolete black powder weapons which fired a lead slug.

    The term ‘Unionist’ had a different connotation in 1914 than it has now. Since the defection of the Liberal Unionists to the Tories at the end of the 19th century, the Conservative Party was officially called the Unionist Party and indeed referred to itself as the Conservative and Unionist Party until the 1970s. Only later was the term used to describe those who wanted the separation of the Six Counties from the rest of Ireland.

  • On this day in 1918 began the Battle of Amiens, an offensive by Sir Henry Rawlinson’s 4th Army (British, Australian and Canadian) which Ludendorff referred to as the German army’s “Black Day”, and which was the start of the Allied ‘advance to victory’. The battle is noteworthy for a number of reasons:-

    1. The element of surprise. Men and materiel were moved into position under cover of darkness and radio silence was maintained (except for misleading radio traffic to make the Germans believe the Canadians were being moved to Ypres).

    2. A combination of sound-ranging and aerial photography enabled nearly all of the German batteries to be located and neutralized by ‘predicted’ counter-battery fire, i.e. without preliminary ‘ranging’. The troops could advance leaning on a creeping barrage, and the use of an instantaneous fuze enabled artillery to cut wire.

    3. Over 500 tanks were deployed; in addition to the much improved Mk V heavy tank there were light Whippet tanks and armoured cars. Tanks and infantry were well co-ordinated.

    4. Tactical airpower was used effectively; the RAF employed some 1,900 machines including dive bombers and fighter ground attack. Continuous wave radio made ground-to-air communication possible. The aim was to keep the enemy off-balance.

    Even cavalry played a part. It was the all-arms battle. The lesson was not lost on the Germans – they used it in a later war. Ironically, Rawlinson is usually remembered in connection with the first day of the Battle of the Somme, two years earlier, rather than as a pioneer of Blitzkrieg.

    Attached to the British 47th (2nd London) Division was an American unit – the 131st Infantry Regiment.

Maybe World War One Generals Weren’t Idiots

Monday, July 22, AD 2013

I was interested to read this British opinion piece, making the case that British military leadership during the Great War was not the clutch of bumbling fools which has become the stereotype of the war.

In 1928, following the sudden death of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, more people took to streets to mourn his passing that had ever been seen previously or indeed since. The very public mourning as a result of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997 was dwarfed in comparison to those that came out to pay respects to Earl Haig.

It took literature and some key individuals to change history. As one of my university lecturers once said to me, history does not happen, it is written, and that principle could not be applied more strongly to the case of First World War history.

With the publication of Alan Clark’s The Donkeys (1961) and the production of Joan Littlewood’s musical Oh! What a Lovely War (1963), a wave of popular history provided the foundation through which all subsequent knowledge of the First World War is filtered – precisely the problem with which we are now faced. Historians and thespians took the critical words of those men that had a grudge and an agenda to push, namely Lloyd George and Churchill, thus generating the idea that generals were both inept and callous.

But beyond the Blackadder episodes there is a raft of history that is desperate to break into the mainstream. No one doubts that there were a handful of poor officers at various stages of the command structure who made bad decisions that ultimately cost the lives of hundreds of men.

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30 Responses to Maybe World War One Generals Weren’t Idiots

  • Mud, Blood and Poppycock is an excellent revisionist history by Gordon Corrigan, who was a serving officer in the British Army:

    In World War I the British managed the considerable feat of raising a mass army for the first time in their history, bringing rapidly on line new technology of which tanks and fighter planes and bombers were only three examples, and slugging it out with the finest army on Earth. Mistakes were not uncommon in this process, sometimes grave ones, but they learned all the time and by the end of the War had a military force that was able to be the spearhead of the Hundred Days Offensive that broke the German Army in 1918.

    I think Douglas Haig, the British Commander in Chief on the Western Front from 1915-1918, has been especially badly maligned. Portrayed as a blundering cavalry officer, he was actually an enthusiast for new technology, especially tanks. Considered a completely callous butcher he was anything but. Early in the War his staff had to stop him from visiting hospitals because the sight of wounded and dying British soldiers was too much for him emotionally. When a painter came to his headquarters to do an official portrait of him, he told him to paint the common soldiers instead, saying that they were the ones saving the world and they were dying every day while doing it. He refused to take a viscountcy from the British government after the War, resisting even lobbying from the King, until financial assistance was approved for demobilized soldiers. Without his stand it is quite possible that the former soldiers would have been left to private charity. He spent the rest of his life helping the men who had served under him and forming the veteran’s organization, the British Legion, of which he was President until his death. When he died at 66 in 1928 endless lines of his veterans filed by his coffin to pay their last respects. British Legion halls almost always had a picture of Haig on the wall.

    Haig never deigned to reply to his critics, but his victory dispatch I think is an eloquent defense of what he and his “contemptible little army”, as the Kaiser referred to the British Army at the beginning of the War, accomplished with their French allies:

  • Darwin

    Actually the military staff’s British, French, and German were highly competent. If they weren’t they could not have put those mass armies in the field and kept them fed, equipped and attacking for four years. But – Breaking the stalemate with technology at hand would have required a level of genius that can’t be guaranteed to happen in any generation or profession.

    I saw a review a modern biography of Gen Haig (I forget the title.) The author, was critical of Haig, felt it necessary to first debunk the criticism of him from the 1920’s as worthless, so he could build an honest picture and point out his real failings. Much of that criticism came from political leaders deflecting attention from their own bad decisions, often made against Haig’s advice.

    Modern research is showing that the political leadership was highly involved in the decision process, agreeing and sometimes directing with most every major strategic decision, sometimes considering domestic political issues to over come adction that would have saved the lives of some of their soldiers.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  • Hank,

    Agreed. In case it wasn’t clear from the post itself: I am very much of the revisionist camp, not the “lions led by donkeys” camp.


    From the author description: “The author was commissioned from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst in 1962 and retired from the Brigade of Gurkhas in 1998. A member of the British Commission for Military History and a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society, he speaks fluent Nepali and is a keen horseman.” What else does one need to know! I’ll have to look it up. Philpott had a lot of great stuff attacking the census view, but in a restrained, scholarly kind of way. Corrigan simply sounds fun.

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  • Yes, i think it’s easy to make generals the scapegoats for what is usually politicians’ doing.

  • I agree with Jerry. The generals make an easy scapegoat. It’s the politicians who screw everything up. The so-called “Great War” was a war that should never have been fought in the first place.

    And the punitive “peace” that was imposed on Germany, as John Maynard Keynes foresaw in his work The Economic Consequences of the Peace (the subject of one of my Economics term papers in college), and as Churchill argued in the first volume of his 6-part history of WWII, created the conditions that led to another war that might have been avoided altogether had idiotic politicians not bungled the whole affair. Far be it for me to praise Keynes for anything, but he was correct in arguing, along with farsighted politicians like Churchill, that the reparations imposed on Germany following the Great War were a disaster in the making.

    When wars don’t go the way they should, and when the consequences thereof lead to undesired repercussions (see, e.g., the wiping out of long-established Christian communities in the Middle East following “democratization” efforts), it’s generally wise to look to the politicians for the blame, not the generals.

  • I think that the Great War is similar the US Civil War in that the generals were operating under principles and tactics that did not match the technological advances in arms and logistics.

    Plus, see Einstein’s defintion of insanity: doing over and over the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

  • Part of the reason WW1 generals have a bad reputation is the abject failure of WW1 strategies in WW2. France was well prepared to re-fight WW1, with their own corresponding WW1 heroes leading the preparation. As a result, it took Germany just over a month to completely defeat France.

  • It’s interesting how popular myth is virtually impervious to demonstrable truth. A lot of Americans still believe that the major cause of the Revolution was economic exploitation and oppression, which is utter nonsense. The (mostly expat) Irish still bang on about 800 years of English oppression whereas in fact Anglo-Norman influence didn’t extend beyond the Pale until the 16th century. The plantation of Ulster had exactly the same rationale as the plantation of Massachusetts, and with a similar disregard for the native inhabitants. One of the things that the Pilgrims gave thanks for at the end of 1621 was that 90 per cent of the indigenous peoples of New England had died of disease in the decade before their arrival, having – very considerately – tilled the land and buried stores of corn for the winter. As a result of massacre and introduced disease, the number of American Indians declined from an estimated 2 million in 1500 to a mere 325,000 in 1820. It doesn’t stop Irish-Americans from celebrating Thanksgiving.

    Another widespread American myth is that they were somehow victims of colonialism rather than colonialists par excellence. They colonized an entire continent, and whereas the Brits had the honesty to describe their efforts as imperialism, the Americans called it ‘manifest destiny’.

  • “It’s interesting how popular myth is virtually impervious to demonstrable truth. A lot of Americans still believe that the major cause of the Revolution was economic exploitation and oppression, which is utter nonsense.”

    The Revolution was all about the right of the Americans to rule themselves John, and that is always worth fighting for. Edmund Burke understood this:

    “Again, and again, revert to your own principles—Seek Peace, and ensue it—leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself. I am not here going into the distinctions of rights, not attempting to mark their boundaries. I do not enter into these metaphysical distinctions; I hate the very sound of them. Leave the Americans as they antiently stood, and these distinctions, born of our unhappy contest, will die along with it. They and we, and their and our ancestors, have been happy under that system. Let the memory of all actions, in contradiction to that good old mode, on both sides, be extinguished for ever. Be content to bind America by laws of trade; you have always done it. Let this be your reason for binding their trade. Do not burthen them by taxes; you were not used to do so from the beginning. Let this be your reason for not taxing. These are the arguments of states and kingdoms. Leave the rest to the schools; for there only they may be discussed with safety. But, if intemperately, unwisely, fatally, you sophisticate and poison the very source of government, by urging subtle deductions, and consequences odious to those you govern, from the unlimited and illimitable nature of supreme sovereignty, you will teach them by these means to call that sovereignty itself in question. When you drive him hard, the boar will surely turn upon the hunters. If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. No-body will be argued into slavery. Sir, let the gentlemen on the other side call forth all their ability; let the best of them get up, and tell me, what one character of liberty the Americans have, and what one brand of slavery they are free from, if they are bound in their property and industry, by all the restraints you can imagine on commerce, and at the same time are made pack-horses of every tax you choose to impose, without the least share in granting them. When they bear the burthens of unlimited monopoly, will you bring them to bear the burthens of unlimited revenue too? The Englishman in America will feel that this is slavery—that it is legal slavery.”

    “The (mostly expat) Irish still bang on about 800 years of English oppression whereas in fact Anglo-Norman influence didn’t extend beyond the Pale until the 16th century.”

    The worst of the oppression occurred after the English Reformation, but I doubt if the English would have liked to put up with the type of invasions that the Irish had from the English from the time of Strongbow.

    “The plantation of Ulster had exactly the same rationale as the plantation of Massachusetts, and with a similar disregard for the native inhabitants.”

    Actually one of the main purposes was to introduce a large Catholic hating minority into Ireland. Mission accomplished.

    “One of the things that the Pilgrims gave thanks for at the end of 1621 was that 90 per cent of the indigenous peoples of New England had died of disease in the decade before their arrival, having – very considerately – tilled the land and buried stores of corn for the winter.”

    I would be careful John with accepting current demographic estimates of Indian populations based on no more than bad guess work. If the Indian population had declined so rapidly it had a wonderful rebound by the time of King Philip’s War

    “As a result of massacre and introduced disease, the number of American Indians declined from an estimated 2 million in 1500 to a mere 325,000 in 1820. It doesn’t stop Irish-Americans from celebrating Thanksgiving.”

    Same point as above John. Additionally, many Indians simply became part of the settler culture, including some of my Cherokee ancestors. There were probably around 600,000 unassimilated Indians in the continental US by 1820 around 250,000 by 1890. My Cherokee ancestors would not have been counted in 1890 since they were living in Illinois by that time, completely assimilated.

    “Another widespread American myth is that they were somehow victims of colonialism rather than colonialists par excellence. They colonized an entire continent, and whereas the Brits had the honesty to describe their efforts as imperialism, the Americans called it ‘manifest destiny’.”

    We live here John, instead of say the Brits claiming to own India back in the days of the Raj. A key difference.

  • General Haig isn’t remembered with much sympathy or kindness in this part of the world.
    Under his command, 5 NZ soldiers in WW1 were executed by firing squad for desertion when the poor buggers were so shell shocked, they didn’t know where they were. or even cognisant of the charges against them. One of the sad realities of NZ troops being still under the command of British officers.
    The Aussies were a bit better off. When the Australian troops were ordered to advance in the face of ridiculous overwhelming enemy forces and refused to, Haig wanted to line them up and shoot them for mutiny. Fortunately, the Aussies, after the debacle of being under the command of British officers in the Gallipoli campaign, had put their own command in place, their own officers denied Haig his wish, because they refused to allow volunteer troops to be executed. Fortunately, the NZ army adopted the same position after WW1, but too late to save the five volunteers executed by Haig.
    Its common knowledge down here, that Haig used the colonial troops as cannon fodder. To his amazement, the ANZACs achieved what his own forces could not, with only a fraction of the numbers.

  • I can understand why hard feelings still exist Don, but executions and Haig is another area where the reputation and the reality are at odds. British courtmartials handed down 3000 death sentences on the Western Front in World War I. They all had to be confirmed by Haig. He commuted all but 12% of the death sentences.

  • Don the Kiwi is in danger of perpetuating another myth, all too prevalent in Australia, and even to a certain extent in Canada. Incidentally “common knowledge” is almost invariably fallacious. The ANZACs were quite happy to serve under Sir William Birdwood until 31 May 1918 when he was promoted to command 5th Army and an Australian, Sir John Monash took his place. Birdwood toured Australia in 1920 to great acclaim, and would have been made Governor-General in 1930 had not the Australian PM, James Scullin, insisted on the post going to one of his political cronies.

    Similarly the Canadians greatly admired their Corps Commander, Sir Julian Byng, who led them to their great victory at Vimy ridge in April 1917. In June of that year Byng took over command of 3rd Army and the Canadian Sir Arthur Currie took command of the Canadian Corps. After the war Byng was a very popular Governor-General of Canada.

    The idea that Dominion troops were used as cannon fodder is not just myth but pernicious nonsense. Haig had great respect for their fighting qualities, and for the ability of Monash and Currie, despite the fact that neither had been a regular soldier before the war (so much for DH being hide-bound). They certainly punched above their weight, but they did not win the war on their own, and ordinary British divisions which made up the bulk of the BEF were capable of performing equally well.

    Most of the 300-odd executions carried out after general courts-martial were for desertion, and If you examine them on a case-by-case basis, you do find some examples of a miscarriage of justice. In most cases, however, those shot did not have the sympathy of their comrades. Shell-shock was a diagnosed medical condition (wrongly attributed to concussion caused by bursting shells) and was treated by hospitalization. Military justice is different from civilian justice in that wider considerations apply. Before confirming a sentence Haig would not only have to look at the individual case, but also consider the state of morale in the offender’s unit. If it was considered shaky, then it was more likely that the sentence would be carried out.

  • There is a wider sense in which mythological history is corrosive and damaging. If people in Australia and NZ really believe the nonsense that Don the Kiwi claims to be “common knowledge” (and those who actually fought in the war thought otherwise) then it can poison relations between countries. By the 1930s the pacifist argument that the Allies had not won the Great War was grist to Hitler’s mill. Recently an article on the British Empire posted on the BBC’s education website peddled a left-liberal Marxist line made worse in that it was grossly oversimplified. This re-writing of history (worse than anything that Soviet Russia could come up with) is hardly likely to improve race relations.

    A further aspect of mythical history is its Manichean character – one side good, the other bad. Real history rarely allows this dichotomy. This applies as much to the American revolution (where the mythical version is still taught to schoolchildren and tourists, to the despair of serious historians) as to everything else. Irish historians have criticized a national identity based on “blame everything on the English; we may act like savages but it’s not our fault” and thankfully they have made some progress. Ironically the present Irish hierarchy has succeeded in virtually eradicating Catholicism in Ireland, something the English failed to achieve in four-and-a-half centuries.

    Regarding Strongbow, memo to 12th century Irish kings; enlisting the help of Norman robber-barons to sort out your domestic problems is probably a bad idea. Too late now.

  • It’s not confined to the Commonwealth.

    During the Civil War, certain NYC newspapers editorized that the Republicans used the battles of Antietam, Fredericksburg, etc. to kill Democrat Irishmen.

    Anyhow, if Good Quee Bess and her parliament decided to invade Upper Slobovia, will Autralia, Canada and New Zealand be required to send grunts?

  • John and Don.

    Those writing history in the cold light of past battles and records may indeed give a more accurate account of events. What I have repeated – that happened nearly 100 years ago – were related to me by my maternal grandfather Don Piper, and his brother-in-law, my Uncle Eustace Nicholson; who were on Gallipoli and in the trenches in France; also my father’s oldest brother (who was gassed in France) George Beckett.
    What they recounted may have been partly untrue, and part rumour. However, these were the men on the ground in battle, and to them, the perception was reality. Rightly or wrongly, what they recounted has gone into folk- lore for the period and is unlikely to change. As the generations pass, so will the story – fact mixed with myth.
    However, to say that these things never happened is to indulge in revisionist history, which is equally corrosive and damaging.

  • T Shaw
    The Dominions (which then included South Africa) were not ‘required’ to enter either of the World Wars; they did so of their own volition, although Imperial solidarity was more important then than now. Commonwealth troops who fought in Korea did so in support of the United Nations, and Canadian troops are in Afghanistan because Canada is a member of NATO. In 1982 NZ offered naval support (a frigate) in the Falklands War, although the important behind-the-scenes support was from the US and Chile.

    Australia and NZ sent troops to Vietnam, whereas Britain refused LBJ’s request for even a token force (he asked for the Black Watch, and the Jocks would have jumped at the chance, better than smashing up bars in Minden) but Harold Wilson knew that the Labour Party wouldn’t countenance it.

  • Jay Anderson wrote, “The so-called “Great War” was a war that should never have been fought in the first place.”

    I am old enough to have talked to veterans of WWI. They all thought it was a national necessity and they all spoke of the same things – the Saverne incident, the march of the Strasburg students past Kléber’s statue, the Alsatians who gathered, year by year, to watch the great 14 July review at Belfort and the thousands of young men in the lost provinces, who, at the age of twenty, left home and family behind, knowing they would not be allowed to return and crossed the frontier to perform their military service in France.

    Some of them recalled how, after the first impetuous advance after Charleroi, soldiers returning on leave brought back the hated red, white and black frontier markers and piled them before the tomb of Déroulède, whose funeral in February of that year had been the largest and most imposing since Victor Hugo’s.

  • In my earlier reply to Don the Kiwi, I fell into the common error of conflating the Australian experience with the New Zealand one, for which I apologize. The commander of II ANZAC Corps, who was also the commander of the NZ Expeditionary Force, Sir Alexander Godley, did not have the same rapport with his soldiers as Birdwood did. A good administrator and trainer (he arrived in NZ in 1910 and prepared the army for war) he had an aloof manner and tended to favour British over NZ officers when making appointments. He performed creditably as a divisional commander at Gallipoli, but some of his actions on the Western Front were criticized, in particular the failed attack, in bad weather, on 12 October 1917 during 3rd Ypres. Plumer’s Second Army, of which his Corps was part, had had a run of successful actions, culminating with the battle of Broodseinde, which led Godley to underestimate German morale.

    There was a feeling in NZ government circles, and probably among the general population, that their troops were shouldering an excessive burden and that the Australians and Canadians were not pulling their weight. This wasn’t the case, but led to increasing criticism of Godley and British command in general. In April 1917 the Australians were badly mauled at 1st Bullecourt, as a result of an over-ambitious plan, using tanks for support, authorized by Sir Hubert Gough, the youngest of the five Army commanders. The Australians’ enthusiasm for the commander of I ANZAC Corps, Birdwood, was not shaken and a month later a follow-up attack, using artillery support and a creeping barrage (itself a technological innovation) was successful.

    More than anything else, it was the scientific use of artillery which unlocked the Western Front, including the use from 1917 onwards of an instantaneous fuze which was capable of cutting wire. A few years ago I attended a talk given by Gordon Corrigan in which he compared the careers of Haig and Montgomery, greatly to the disadvantage of the latter. He does tend to overstate his case, but the case is a sound one and has been argued by military historians since John Terraine fifty years ago.

  • Michael PS:

    Jay Anderson’s comment, “The so-called ‘Great War’ was a war that should never have been fought in the first place,” most likely refers to the common perception of how it was started. As we commonly read it, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand would probably have been a footnote in the history of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had not the various European powers locked themselves into specific reactions by several decades’ worth of treaties and alliances. This too is a revisionist interpretation that needs to be torn down.

  • Or, you could’ve just asked me what I meant. I would’ve told you that, in my opinion, “the war to end all wars” was a war that cost too many lives and accomplished too little other than to create or exacerbate the conditions for future conflicts, from the Bolshevik Revolution to World War II right down to the Bosnian Conflict of the 1990s.

    In the end, I just don’t see the point of the Great War, from either a European or American perspective. From a strictly American perspective, Woodrow Wilson won re-election in 1916 partly by promising not to get the country involved in the war, and then promptly did so less than 6 months after the election. And I am by no means a pacifist but, again, just don’t see the point of it all. But let us not forget that there was a great deal of opposition, pacifism, conscientious objection, and outright civil disobedience associated with the Great War. I’m certainly not the first person to express the opinion that the Great War was unnecessary, and, given that such opposition to the war existed contemporaneously, nor can such opposition be dismissed as being based strictly on revisionist interpretations.

  • Jay, I apologize for misconstruing your statement.

    From a strictly American perspective, we might have avoided direct involvement had we stopped trade with the belligerents, especially France and Britain; this might have kept American ships safe when the Germans decided to pursue unrestricted warfare against shipping. As it was, our “non-intervention” was pretty superficial, and Wilson’s re-election was by the narrowest of margins — not everyone viewed his having “kept us out of war” to be a good thing.

    While WWI did exact a horrendous cost and springboard future conflicts, I’m not convinced that it was evitable and unnecessary, except in the theoretical, optimistic way that war is always avoidable and never necessary. Nor am I ready to grant the opponents of war/intervention any kind of prescience. The growth of nationalism amid the Balkan and Central European cultures, the imperialism of the major powers, the effects of colonialism on Africa and the Middle East, religious and cultural tensions spread throughout half the globe — the First World War may have sparked by any number of incidents and taken on any number of shapes, but I don’t think it could have been put off forever.

  • I think there were pretty clearly a lot of points after Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination and before it became a general war when the Great War could have been avoided — it certainly was not inevitable. Sure there’d been a huge arms build up and tensions were high in Europe, but we had that in the Cold War and there was never a general war between the US and USSR.

    – Austria-Hungary could have not attacked Serbia.
    – Russia could have let Austria-Hungary knock Serbia around for a bit without threatening to intervene.
    – Germany arguably bears the greatest blame, since it declared war against Belgium, France and Russia solely on the basis of Russia having mobilized (but not actually fired a shot.)

    – Belgium and France both arguably had virtually no choice in the war and had the clearest moral case for war. They were both given ultimatums that amounted to “allow Germany to invade peacefully or we’ll do so by force” and were simply trying to fight off occupation.

    – Great Britain was not itself attacked, so theoretically it could have sat things out on the sidelines. Arguably, Germany might then have ended up successfully beating France and Russia by 1916.

    Personally, given how bad German occupation of Belgium, France and Poland was, I think there was a very good case for opposing Germany rather than letting it become the permanent occupier in those areas. If we think that Versailles treaty was bad, it was downright gentle compared to the peaces imposed by Germany on Russia and Romania when they sought separate peaces.

  • “Personally, given how bad German occupation of Belgium, France and Poland was, I think there was a very good case for opposing Germany rather than letting it become the permanent occupier in those areas. If we think that Versailles treaty was bad, it was downright gentle compared to the peaces imposed by Germany on Russia and Romania when they sought separate peaces.”

    Completely agree. The Imperial Germans weren’t Nazis but life under the Prussian Eagle during World War I for those luckless enough to live in occupied territories was truly miserable.

  • Since the publication of Fritz Fischer’s ‘Griff nach der Weltmacht’ in 1961 the historical consensus is that Germany, and the German General Staff in particular, were mostly to blame. There was a perception that the window of opportunity for Germany to achieve her strategic aims (which could not be attained peacefully) would have closed by 1916. It was not so much a question of giving Austria a ‘blank cheque’ as keeping up the pressure on the ‘hawks’ in Vienna to declare war on Serbia after Serbia had accepted nearly all of the Austrian demands. Russian mobilization was intended as a warning to Austria, but the exigencies of the Schlieffen plan meant that as soon as Russia mobilized Germany had to declare war not just on Russia but on France as well.

    The international situation in 1914 was better than it had been in recent years. Britain and France had settled their colonial differences, and Britain had even reached a rapprochement with Russia. The Anglo-German naval race had been decided in England’s favour. The alliance systems, later much maligned, were essentially defensive.

    AS Layne has a point though – Ruth Henig in her 1989 book on the origins of the war identifies a feeling among most European governments by 1912 that war was probably inevitable, and perhaps even desirable. Whatever the cause, it was a disaster for European civilization.

  • It’s interesting to look at the kind of “peace without victory” terms that started being floated in 1915 and after by various parties (including Pope Benedict XV.)

    Peace advocates among the French and English were willing to accept a peace that didn’t involve beating Germany, but they insisted that it would only be fair that Germany fully vacate all conquered territory (and in some cases give back Alsace and Lorraine as well.)

    In other words, the peace terms proposed looked a lot like what the victory ended up looking like. Virtually no one on the allied side countenanced the idea of a peace in which Germany kept all its winnings.

    Similarly, German ideas for peace without total defeat of its enemies still involved Germany keeping many of its gains in both East and West.

    The Brits were the ones who had room for a pacifist stance of “let’s just go home”, but that partly just serves to underscore that it was very much a continental war.

  • In other words, the peace terms proposed looked a lot like what the victory ended up looking like. Virtually no one on the allied side countenanced the idea of a peace in which Germany kept all its winnings.

    Just to point out that by the Spring of 1916, Germany’s winnings included the loss of all overseas dependencies other than German East Africa.

    If we think that Versailles treaty was bad, it was downright gentle compared to the peaces imposed by Germany on Russia and Romania when they sought separate peaces.”

    Russia was compelled to convey a large bloc of territory inhabited by minority nationalities. However, I am not seeing anything about any indemnity, any contrived disarmament, or any insults like the war guilt clause.


    Although not a function of the treaty provisions itself, one might note that the Hapsburg dynasty lost its entire empire when all the subject nationalities departed (taking local German populations with them), not just their western march.

  • In the end, the Allies did not really have an option. A German army, undefeated in the field, (“unbesiegt im Felde” is the inscription on thousands of war memorials) was betrayed by cosmopolitan (and traditionally anti-Christian) elements at home, in an incident that historians call the “Dolchstoss im Rücken,” or “Stab in the back.” A compromise was inevitable.

  • The stab in the back myth is just that, a myth. The German army was thoroughly defeated.

    Wikipedia has a good run down on the myth:

    The Nazis made use of the myth later. They blamed Jews and socialists for the defeat of Germany. Jewish veteran groups noted that over 12,000 German Jews died fighting for Germany in World War I, a number in excess of what one would expect given the Jewish percentage of the population. Hindenburg and Ludendorff had been in effective control of the German state since 1916. They were the ones who laid the groundwork for German surrender when they became convinced that Germany was beaten in August 1918. After Ludendorff’s nervous breakdown, Hindenburg helped engineer the abdication of the Kaiser on November 9 and the coming to power of a civilian government to sign the armistice and to take the blame for the defeat of Germany. (Ludendorff and Hindenburg both seized eagerly on the stab in the back myth to avoid their responsibility for Germany losing the war.) Of course the truth and the Nazis were ever strangers.

  • Much as commentators like Liddell Hart in later years might have criticized the “continental commitment”, once that commitment had been made the British could not have unilaterally packed it in and gone home. Those who rush to criticize the British commanders tend to forget that for most of the war they were ordered by the politicians to comply with the demands of their French allies, who not surprisingly were unconcerned with British casualties. The Battle of Loos (September 1915) in which there were over 2,000 officer casualties, including three out of the six divisional commanders being killed, was fought over unsuitable ground, with inexperienced troops, a shortage of guns and shells, and against the advice of the C-in-C Sir John French and the Army commander, Sir Douglas Haig.

    In 1940 the British did indeed “go home”, but only after the collapse of their allies. Four years later they had to fight their way back in, fortunately alongside a more reliable partner.

A Warning From History

Tuesday, July 16, AD 2013

We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man



Too late for Bastille Day, but this reflection by Steven Hayward at Powerline on a book written by French historian Marc Bloch draws my attention.  Bloch was not only a historian but in World War I he had been an infantry combat officer, rising to the rank of Captain and earning a Legion of Honor.  In the wake of the defeat of France in 1940 he asked a simple question:  Why?

Bloch was one of the pre-war founders of the Annales school of historical analysis, which was neither exactly Marxist nor purely “social” history as we know it today, but was an early version of bottom-up meta-history.  (Think of it an the anti-Carlyle/great man school, or history without any dominant figures.  Fernand Braudel is the best-known figure of this school of thought.)

And yet when France succumbed easily to the Nazi invasion in 1940 despite superior forces on paper, a dumbfounded Bloch found he could only explain it by returning to the old fashioned style of thinking about and writing history.  The result was his classic, Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940.  His main conclusion is one that no academic historian today would dare to put to paper: France suffered an ignominious moral collapse.  The entire book—it is only 176 pages—is a thrilling read, but I’ll confine myself to just a few selections from the final chapter, “A Frenchman Examines His Conscience,” which, with due adjustments, can serve as a warning for our own intellectual flabbiness in the Age of Terror, as well as a reproach to the dessicated academic history of today:

This timidity of the nation at large was, no doubt, in many cases but the sum of the timidity of individuals. . .  Whatever the reasons, there can be no doubt that our governors, both individually and as a class, did lack something of that ruthless heroism which becomes so necessary when the country is in danger. . .

Bloch is especially hard on the pacifists (and the news media) of the interwar period:

Since the gospel they preached was one of seeming convenience, their sermons found an easy echo in those lazy, selfish instincts which exist in all men’s hearts side by side with nobler potentialities.  These enthusiasts, many of whom were not, as individuals, lacking in courage, worked unconsciously to produce a race of cowards.

And in words that ought perhaps to be emblazoned above the door to every history department in every American university (especially the third sentence), Bloch says:

I do not say that the past entirely governs the present, but I do maintain that we shall never satisfactorily understand the present unless we take the past into account.  But there is still worse to come.  Because our system of historical teaching deliberately cuts itself off from a wide field of vision and comparison, it can no longer impart to those whose minds it claims to form anything like a true sense of difference and change.

Finally (for now), Bloch warns that the consequences of an essentially nihilist culture and education will be the destruction of democracy:

A democracy becomes hopelessly weak, and the general good suffers accordingly, if its higher officials, bred up to despise it, and drawn from those very classes the dominance of which it is pledged to destroy, serve it only half-heartedly.

This is historical reflection when it really counted.  Can it be made to count again?  Not as currently “constructed” (to use the trendy terms against them) in academia today.

Bloch joined the French Resistance in 1942.  The Germans executed him in 1944.

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27 Responses to A Warning From History

  • Donald McClarey you have a gift from God to say (post) the right thing at the right time.

  • Wow – I really want to read that book! Great stuff and I agree with Anzlyne 🙂 I have no idea how in the world you found this…

  • One of Stanley Rothman’s projects was documenting the variation in opinion on social questions among various sectors of the elite (business executives v. journalists v. federal judges, &c). One thing to ponder is the distinction between the military and the police, who are demonstrably better at what they do than was the case a generation ago (if not more ethical); the general business community and the medical profession (of ambiguous direction); and every other sector (who grow more and more appalling).

    Start with our politicians. George McGovern’s political views were wrong, but he was a decent human being who had paid his dues (bomber pilot during the 2d World War). Walter Mondale departed the vice presidency with a net worth of $15,000; Michael Kinsley (among others) found it seedy that he cleared about $500,000 as a lawyer-lobbyist in 1981-83 (or about $1.3 million in today’s currency). Now the newspapers and the public scarcely notice that members of Congress drawing government salaries for decades might have a net worth in seven or eight digits (see Harry Reid, Rahm Emmanuel, and, supposedly, Mitch McConnell). Gerald Ford took considerable flak for post-presidential buckraking, now the press does not bat an eye when Bilge Clinton’s going rate is $189,000 for 46 minutes of oleagenous boiler plate.

  • I’ve had one of his books on feudalism on my to be read list for years. Maybe it’s time to dive in. Thanks for the post.

  • Heck of an article. I never think to read Powerline, but I should.

  • You can find the roots or genesis of this book he wrote most likely began in the French Revolution. Not that the Catholic monarchy was all good and the republican revolution all bad, but the complete and absolute annihilation of the past made France what it is today, at least the secular part, a nation of cowards and nihilists.

  • The Germans, Spanish, Austrians, English, and Russians would be surprised to learn that the French were softies after 1789.

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  • Excellent post and a most accurate description of what’s happening today. It reminds me of how the King and his court treated Jeremiah the Prophet. Sad that history must repeat itself. 🙁

  • Excellent article, Donald

    I believe the religious division of the nation played a greater part than is often recognized.

    Since 1870, the open hostility of most Catholics to the Republic had neatly matched the anti-clericalism of the bouffeurs de curé. Leo XIII had exhorted Catholic to “rally to the Republic,” explaining that a distinction must be drawn between the form of government, which ought to be accepted, and its laws which ought to be improved, only to be accused by the Catholic press of “kissing the feet of their executioners.” This hostility reached its zenith in Action Française and the Catholic atheism of Charles Maurras; this was “civic religion” with a vengeance, a religion well described by the Catholic philosopher, Maurice Blondel: ““A Catholicism without Christianity, submissiveness without thought, an authority without love, a Church that would rejoice at the insulting tributes paid to the virtuosity of her interpretative and repressive system… To accept all from God except God, all from Christ except His Spirit, to preserve in Catholicism only a residue that is aristocratic and soothing for the privileged and beguiling or threatening for the lower classes—is not all this, under the pretext perhaps of thinking only about religion, really a matter of pursuing only politics?”

    “The higher officials, bred up to despise the Republic,” were particularly prominent in the army; a significant segment of the officer corps was composed of members of the ancien noblesse.

    In 1940, alas, too many Catholics rallied, not to the Republic, but to Vichy.

  • Pinky wrote, “The Germans, Spanish, Austrians, English, and Russians would be surprised to learn that the French were softies after 1789.”

    You are right, of course. One has only to look at the “generation of genius,” with the army of Sambre et Meuse, commanded by Kléber, Moreau, Reynier, Marceau, and Ney; better still, the army of the Rhine, commanded by Hoche, Desaix, and St. Cyr; best of all, in the Apennines, Bonaparte and Masséna.

    One recalls Belloc,

    ““You that put down the mighty from their seat,
    And fought to fill the hungry with good things,
    And turned the rich men empty to the street,
    And trailed your scabbards in the halls of kings”

  • The divisions between Catholics and Republicans in the Third Republic did play into how various factions in France reacted to the defeat in 1940, and perhaps even to the defeat itself, but clearly the largest factor in the defeat has to be looked for in the French experience of the Great War as filtered through the subsequent twenty years between the wars.

    In the Great War, France successfully held off the Germans for four and a half years, suffered a higher casualty rate as a percentage of the population than Germany, and nonetheless won the war. Even the mutinies of 1917 are not correctly represented (as they came to be since) as a pacifist disillusion with the war or refusal to fight for France — they were a more a refusal to wage unsuccessful offensive operations. During the 1918 German spring offensive, many of the same units which had refused to attack during the mutinies fought very hard to slow the German advance and eventually turn it back in the final Allied offensive.

    Part of the moral collapse between the wars can be found in a utter disillusion with the fact that France had sacrificed so much in the Great War and yet increasingly appeared not to have gained a final victory.

    There was also an intentional attempt on the part of some factions in French society between the war to remove fighting spirit from the population, in the belief this would prevent another war.

    One can almost hear the murmurs of surprise that filled the hall as Gaston Clemendot addressed his colleagues in the autumn of 1923, five years after the end of the First World War. … when Clemendot stepped to the podium he asked union members to turn their attention to what he felt was a far more urgent matter. “Comrades,” he thundered, “I come before you to demand the total suppression of the teaching of history in primary schools.” Though his argument was multifaceted, one assertion in particular captured his fellow teachers’ attention: Clemendot claimed that the lessons of history, as taught in schools across France, inspired hatred of foreigners, glorified the experience of battle, and laid the moral groundwork for future wars. For peace to flourish, he insisted, the discipline of history would first have to be abolished in the primary schools, where the vast majority of French citizens received their only education.

    From: “History Is the Opposite of Forgetting”: The Limits of
    Memory and the Lessons of History in Interwar France
    by Mona Siegel

  • Two more cents: I’ve heard it argued that the French people picked up the attitude of the soldiers who had been overrun by the German blitzkrieg, and the English picked up the attitude of the flyboys who danced in the skies over Britain.

  • I echo some of what commenter Darwin said.

    I tend to think you could look at the French response in WWII as a rational response to the irrational experience of WW I.

    A decorated, heroic veteran of the U.S. Civil War had this to say late in the war:
    “When I think sometimes what those men all do and endure day after day, with their lives constantly in danger, I can’t but wonder that there should be men who are such fools, I can’t call them anything else. And that is just the trouble we are laboring under now — the fools have all been killed and the rest think it is about played out to stand up and get shot.”

  • “I tend to think you could look at the French response in WWII as a rational response to the irrational experience of WW I.”

    That “rational response” would have caused them to still be a province of the Third Reich but for their being rescued by other nations.

  • Yeah, I would say that far from being the rational response, it was the exact opposite. Significant parts of France experience German occupation during WW1, and that occupation was often as brutal as Nazi occupation during WW2: summary executions of civilians, deportation of civilians, forced labor, etc.

    That’s part of why Clemendot wanted the teaching of history suppressed. The French rightly became more determined to fight for France if they dwelt much on the experience of German occupation in 1871 and in 1914-1918. And the lesson of the Great War should have been that France could in fact stop Germany.

    There was bad military leadership and strategic doctrine which was also key to the 1940 defeat, but one major problem was that too many had suppressed the historical memory of what German occupation meant, and that it was possible for French poilu to hold off the Germans.

  • It’s not as easy as all that. Bloch was right to say that the defeat of France was caused by the collapse of its ruling class, but you have to remember that for twenty years and more that ruling class had suffered from the joint pressure of violent anti-French prejudice among all the “progressive” strata of England and America (and quite a few reactionaries too – JRR Tolkien was quite crass about his contempt for the country) and the immediate and close danger of Germany. The sap had been drained from French spirits by the constant pressure, nagging, and open contempt of all the most influential groups around them. France was treated as Israel has been treated now, and no wonder in the end it broke. Why should it fight for allies that had consistently trashed her and had consistently rubbed into her the idea that her legitimate and terrifying need for security was nothing more than a militaristic, racist delirium of hate against a fundamentally benevolent and pacific Germany? GK Chesterton, as so often, had got it right:

    The World State

    Oh, how I love Humanity,
    With love so pure and pringlish,
    And how I hate the horrid French,
    Who never will be English!

    The International Idea,
    The largest and the clearest,
    Is welding all the nations now,
    Except the one that’s nearest.

    This compromise has long been known,
    This scheme of partial pardons,
    In ethical societies
    And small suburban gardens –

    The villas and the chapels where
    I learned with little labour
    The way to love my fellow-man
    And hate my next-door neighbour.

  • “Why should it fight for allies”

    Because it was their neck on the line, not Great Britain or the US. Their experience in 1870 and World War I should have convinced them that the Germans would be out for blood the next time, as the French were in World War I, until the mammoth losses they sustained cooled their ardor in 1917. Instead of taking the threat seriously France wasted money on the Maginot Line and hoped that things would somehow work out. With the Soviet Union uninterested in a French alliance, not that Stalin would have honored one in any case, France was in a bad strategic position with a Germany that could turn its undivided attention against them. France was infected with the same pacifist lunacy that infected both Great Britain and the US post war, but France could ill afford such illusions.

  • Your reasoning goes backward. France knew from November 11, 1918, that she could not ever fight Germany alone. Clemenceau knew it and said so. Foch knew it and said so. Tardieu knew it and said so. They knew that their only hope was in a permanent alliance with the Anglo-Saxon powers. When the Anglo-Saxon powers turned against France, France was essentially roasted over a slow fire. Your notion that France could have fought Germany alone is nonsense, and would have been laughed at by the most obstinate French patriot of the time; even De Gaulle, in his famous manifesto, gave as his reason to hope for a reverse of fortune the fact that the war would certainly spread to other countries. During World War One, Germany had held back with its own strength the armies of Britain, France, and the British Empire (especially Canada) and a good half of the Russian Army, and still had found the time to inflict a nearly deadly wound to Italy at Caporetto. During the Versailles negotiations, Field-Marshal Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa and the only Allied leader who had direct and recent experience of military command, made a simple and terrifying remark: for every German soldier killed, he said, the Germans had killed three Allies. And remember that Germany had almost twice the inhabitants of France. If the French had been the idle cowards that ignorant modern Anglo-Americans are pathetically trying to make them, they’d have made their peace and submission with Germany in 1920.

    Instead of which, they built the Maginot Line. Yes: they “wasted money” on a visible and formidable token of their firm belief that they could not have peace with their neighbours, that sooner or later the Boche would come back, and that when they did they would find France still willing to resist in the hope that someone, however stupid, however selfish, would wake up and come to help.

  • “Tardieu knew it and said so. They knew that their only hope was in a permanent alliance with the Anglo-Saxon powers.”

    Then they might as well have surrendered immediately and become slaves of the Germans since a permanent alliance was never going to happen and Clemenceau surely knew that unless he was delusional. Wilson clearly did not want a peace of revenge against Germany and Lloyd George was eager to demobilize the British war time forces.

    “When the Anglo-Saxon powers turned against France,”

    Which didn’t occur. They simply were not going to fight France’s battles for her and it was ridiculous if any French leaders were daft enough to think that was going to occur. Britain of course did join France in 1939 and if the French had fought with the spirit of 1914 I doubt if they would have lost in 1940.

    “Your notion that France could have fought Germany alone is nonsense, and would have been laughed at by the most obstinate French patriot of the time; even De Gaulle, in his famous manifesto, gave as his reason to hope for a reverse of fortune the fact that the war would certainly spread to other countries.”

    France could have fought much better than it did in 1940. France paid the price of rotten military leadership and rotten political leadership and a population that was quite willing to accept defeat if it could be spared the losses of World War I. The Maginot Line was a symbol of a France that simply was unwilling to fight for national survival. In manpower in the field the French were not much inferior to the Germans. Their tanks were superior and they had more of them, along with a heavy superiority in artillery. Their military doctrine stank and French morale was rotten, and that is why they lost. Vichy was probably supported by a majority of the French population until it was clear that the Nazis were going to lose the War. This takes nothing away from the French Resistance, but they were a distinct minority until well into 1944. As for DeGaulle, his Free French movement was a complete waste of Allied resources. He did his best to alienate both the British and the Americans. In his own way he was more of a pain in the rump to the Allies winning the War than Petain and Vichy ever were.

    “During the Versailles negotiations, Field-Marshal Smuts, Prime Minister of South Africa and the only Allied leader who had direct and recent experience of military command, made a simple and terrifying remark: for every German soldier killed, he said, the Germans had killed three Allies.”

    Unsurprising considering it was trench warfare for most of the War and the Germans were usually on the defensive in the West. British and French military deaths were about 2.4 million compared to 2 million Germans, most of the Germans being killed on the Westen Front, so I assume that Smuts was including in his total the 1.8 million Russians, where exchange rates on the Eastern Front of 10-1 in favor of the Germans were not uncommon. This leaves out the 1.1 million Austrians and the 651,000 Italians. Smuts made a hash of the East African campaign against a German force he outnumbered more than 10 to 1 so he was lacking in military accumen himself.

    “Yes: they “wasted money” on a visible and formidable token”

    Actually a monument to the fact that Generals tend to fight the last war and that the French high command had learned precious little from the mobile war of 1918. Some French generals did see the future of armored warfare including DeGaulle, but they were ignored by a France that was ready to submit to a conqueror rather than go through the losses of World War I again.

  • If you are not willing to listen, just say so and I’ll be done. Mobile warfare? To quote Ben Grimm, are you outta your ever-lovin’ gourd? Foch had fought that mobile warfare with the whole armies of France, Britain and Canada, plus massive and increasing American contingents, and even so he had not managed to occupy a square yard of German territory by the time the Italians took Austria out of the war and started the chain of events that led to the ceasefire. The resources of France alone (39 million men) were absolutely not up to the task of facing those of Germany (70 million) without allies. Foch, whose name you take in vain, said that in a future war, an unsupported France would fall to the Germans in weeks – his words, not mine. As for the French fighting “badly” in 1940, you can explain that to the 200,000 Frenchmen who died fighting between May and June that year – as many dead as America had through the whole war. Your statement comes dangerously close to insulting the dead.

    The truth is that the French surrendered – instead of moving their government to Algiers, as Clemenceau had seriously proposed in 1918 – because they did not trust Britain not to stab them behind their back and make peace with Germany on terms favourable to them. Churchill knew that, which is why he made his last-minute proposal to have a political union between the two countries. He knew that, given Britain’s behaviour to France in the previous twenty years, nothing would convince the French that the British would not sell them to their enemies; the French resolved to make their own deal first. Let alone that the French knew that the British had no army worth speaking of, and that they had expected the much larger French army to do the fighting on land for them, at least for the first year or two of war, till the British had organized, trained and equipped the two or three hundred divisions required to meet the Germans on equal terms.

    And for God’s sake be coherent. First, there is no contradiction between the proposition that “generals tend always to fight the previous war” and the proposition that “the Maginot Line was a sign that France would commit all the resources it had to resisting Germany as much as it could.” It might, as backseat drivers everywhere have since said, have been a misconceived effort – although I notice that no tank assault was ever launched against it, which means that it was designed well enough to meet the best military technology of the age, and that German tank commanders feared it – but it was a monumental effort, showing that France as a whole country was committed to a policy of active defence. This when Britain and America wasted – yes – enormous amounts of effort, and more than a little treasure, on useless pacifist demonstrations. What else could France possibly have done? A “policy of mobile defence” against an enemy at least equal in armaments and training and far superior in numbers would have been suicidal madness, as well as opening all French territory to the destruction they had already experienced a couple of decades earlier. Backseat drivers and ex post facto experts should tell us what alternative they had in mind. The alternative was surrender.

    Wilson’s attitude at Versailles was nothing short of criminal. It amounted to treating enemies as friends and friends as enemies. Forgetting in one second that Germany had deliberately stoked and started the war, that it had assaulted Belgium without an excuse, that it had committed innumerable war crimes – the enormity of German behaviour in WWII makes us forget that the Germans in WWI took slave workers from occupied territories, shot civilians for terror effect, destroyed ancient monuments, and looted at will – and that its destruction was the pure and simple result of the hatred it had roused across the world, driving one neutral power after another to fight. Wilson was the effective saviour of Germany, and for that alone – his domestic policy is better left untouched, as vile things should be – he deserves damnation to the ends of time. As for Lloyd George, he was a crook with the reverse of the Midas touch, turning everything he touched to filth. He was the man most responsible for the doom of the Liberal party, and before he had done that he had managed to make Britain the enemy of France and friend of Germany against any sense and interest. (Even the notorious British tradition of “balance of powers” should have led Britain to support France, the weaker power, against Germany, the stronger.)

  • Smuts was lacking in military acumen… the French fought badly…. de Gaulle was a waste of resources… I get it. Nobody who does not have a US passport is worth your admiration. Frankly, the list of enormities in this post is beyond my ability to answer.

  • Donald is right about widespread support for Vichy (and for fascism). Even before the War, and especially after the victory of the Front Populaire in 1936, there were French industrial and banking interests who, according to William Langer of the OSS, “even before the war, had turned to Nazi Germany and had looked to Hitler as the saviour of Europe from Communism. These people were as good fascists as any in Europe. Many of them had extensive and intimate business relations with German interests and were still dreaming of a new system of ‘synarchy’, which meant government of Europe on fascist principles by an international brotherhood of financiers and industrialists.” Notable amongst them was Eugène Schueller, founder of the terrorist group, Le Cagoule (and of the cosmetic firm L’Oréal)

    It is worth recalling that the Maquis was founded by escaped Spanish Republican internees. Eventually some 60,000 of them were active, especially in the South. Many had served in the 26th Division (Durruti Column) and in the Army of the Ebro and they were continuing a war they had begun behind the barricades of Barcelona. On 22 June 1941, they were joined by Pierre Villon’s Francs-Tireurs et Partisans Francais. This included men like Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, who had been political commissar of the famous André Marty Battalion of the International Brigade and had been wounded at the Battle of the Ebro. As Serge Ravanel of the French Resistance in the Toulouse area acknowledged: “During the War of Spain our comrades had acquired the knowledge that we did not possess; they knew how to make bombs; they knew how to set ambushes; they had a profound knowledge of the technique of guerrilla war.” Before that, most working-class movements had advocated a policy of non-resistance; it was the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union that created a mood of protest and revolt among the French working class as a whole. There is a reason that the French Communist Party became known as « le parti des 80 000 fusillés » [The party of the 80,000 shot]

    Allied troops never entered the South. The whole area west of the Rhône and South of the Loire was liberated by the Maquis.

  • “If you are not willing to listen, just say so and I’ll be done.”

    Oh I am always willing to read what you have written Fabio. Your comments are always incisive and interesting. However, automatic agreement does not follow as a result.

    “Foch had fought that mobile warfare with the whole armies of France, Britain and Canada, plus massive and increasing American contingents, and even so he had not managed to occupy a square yard of German territory by the time the Italians took Austria out of the war and started the chain of events that led to the ceasefire.”

    The German Army was in retreat and had already suffered its black day Fabio, August 8, 1918 so designated by Ludendorf, which began the Allied Hundred Days Offensive. The Germans surrendered because they had been decisively beaten in the field by the Allied armies in the West during this offensive. With the advances of air power and armor, not to mention perfection of the stosstruppren offensive doctrine, in the interwar period it should have been obvious to all observers that the next war was not going to be a repeat of the static trench warfare of 1915-1917 but that is precisely what the French military and political leadership counted on.

    “As for the French fighting “badly” in 1940, you can explain that to the 200,000 Frenchmen who died fighting between May and June that year – as many dead as America had through the whole war. Your statement comes dangerously close to insulting the dead.”

    It takes nothing from the dead to say that almost all of the Generals who led them, and their entire political leadership, were incompetents. I would be surprised if not most of them would have agreed with that assessment. Certainly there was enough French commentary at the time and in the years following to support that conclusion. French kia’s during the battle of France were actually 100,000. Total French military deaths for the entire war were 217,000.

    “The truth is that the French surrendered – instead of moving their government to Algiers, as Clemenceau had seriously proposed in 1918 – because they did not trust Britain not to stab them behind their back and make peace with Germany on terms favourable to them.”

    I would say that shows a grave lack of understanding both of Churchill and of Hitler. The truth is that the French government wanted out of the War at almost any price, and if that meant living under the swastika they were willing to accept that price. It is interesting to compare the attitude of the French government with that of Holland and Norway which set up exile governments in England, the Free French movement being a poor substitute.

    “First, there is no contradiction between the proposition that “generals tend always to fight the previous war” and the proposition that “the Maginot Line was a sign that France would commit all the resources it had to resisting Germany as much as it could.””

    The true alternative for France was to build up a modern army with armored divisions and adequate air power as fought for by Reynaud and DeGaulle and others prior to the War. Additionally, it took no Clausewitz to predict that the Germans would go around the Maginot line with the armored divisions they had developed. All the Maginot line accomplished was to have a large portion of the French army sitting idly by while the Germans won the war with their thrust to the Ardennes and their race to the coast. As bad as the Maginot line was as a military concept, the French did not even complete it to guard against such an obvious eventuality as the Germans going through Luxembourg and Belgium, as they had in the Great War.

    “This when Britain and America wasted – yes – enormous amounts of effort, and more than a little treasure, on useless pacifist demonstrations.”

    The cost of pacifist delusions for America was Pearl Harbor and the cost for Great Britain was the battle of Britain in 1940. The cost to France was the loss of its national independence. France had always more at stake, and therefore to point at American and British folly in the postwar years is no defense for French folly. No Frenchman who knew his own history since 1870 could possibly have thought that the Germans were going to rest content with the result of 1918

  • “Wilson was the effective saviour of Germany”

    I have no great love of Wilson, to say the least, but that is incorrect. That Wilson was a soft-headed idealist who confused his 14 points with the Ten Commandments, in Clemenceau’s acerbic comment, is correct, but the actual problem with Versailles was that it was neither one thing nor another. It was neither a generous peace to a defeated Germany nor was it the type of result following World War II where Germany was occupied, dismembered and new regimes imposed by Allied bayonets. A truly Carthaginian peace was going to require huge Allied forces in control of all Germany for decades following the War and that was simply not going to happen. Such an occupation might well have hastened the coming to power of a Hitler, and probably would have been as unpopular throughout most of the Allied countries as the Franco-Belgian occupation of the Ruhr from 1923-1925 was. A truly generous peace to a defeated Germany involving no reparations, no admission of war guilt and no loss of territory other than Alsace-Lorraine might have fared better, although I doubt it. Unlike World War II, the Germans were able to lie to themselves after World War I and claim they were not beaten, and a generous peace would have fostered that delusion, although it might well have forestalled the rise of Hitler.

    As for Lloyd George, once again not one of my heroes, he was not going to have a large permanent British military establishment in an occupied Germany. Such was directly contrary to British practice for centuries and it was foolish if any of the French leadership was counting on that. Britain had effectively bankrupted itself during the War, and any British government was going to follow his policy of rapid demobilization and retrenchment.

  • “Smuts was lacking in military acumen… the French fought badly…. de Gaulle was a waste of resources… I get it. Nobody who does not have a US passport is worth your admiration. Frankly, the list of enormities in this post is beyond my ability to answer.”

    Smuts did mismanage the East African campaign. That is not opinion but a simple statement of historical fact. The French did not fight well in 1940, certainly in comparison to how they fought in World War I. DeGaulle and his Free French posed endless problems for the Allies, as Churchill noted when he said that the heaviest cross that he had to bear during the War was the Cross of Lorraine. In assessing historical events nationality is never foremost in my mind, but the actual historical record is.

99 Years Ago Today: The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and His Wife

Friday, June 28, AD 2013

On June 28th, 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, fifty-year old Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo by a 19-year-old Bosnian-Serb nationalist. The assassination began an at first slow-moving diplomatic crisis which would result a month later, July 28th, in Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia.

The assassination plot itself was so badly botched that its success is one of the surprising events of history. A group of Bosnian-Serb nationalists (half of them teenagers) — who wanted Bosnia-Herzegovina to be independent from Austria-Hungary and integrated into a pan-Slavic state — had received bombs, pistols and cyanide pills from officers in the Serbian army sympathetic to their cause. They planned an assassination attempt against the Archduke and his wife and stationed themselves along the route which their open car would travel through the city. Several of the assassins failed to make any move when the car passed and another threw a bomb at the car, however the bomb bounced off the folded convertible hood, fell behind the car, and exploded, disabling the next car in the motorcade and injuring a number of bystanders. The assassin who had thrown the bomb bit a cyanide capsule and jumped off a bridge, but the cyanide only made him sick and the fall wasn’t far and the river nearly dry, so he was quickly arrest by police (though not before members of the angry crowd beat him.)

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22 Responses to 99 Years Ago Today: The Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and His Wife

  • As Bismarck predicted, when the great European war came it was over “some damned foolish thing in the Balkans”. Ironically Franz Ferdinand had always believed in a cautious approach to Serbia, fearing that harsh action against the Serbs would lead to war with Russia and the ruin of both empires.

  • How beautiful and noble is the family of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

  • Both sons of the Archduke were sent to concentration camps during WWII. Their behavior was exemplary.

  • How beautiful and noble is the family of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

    Ironically, the Emperor was staunchly opposed to the marriage of his heir and a virtual commoner, despite the depth of their devotion, and only relented after international pressure on condition that the marriage would be morganatic and that their descendants would not have succession rights to the throne. Sophie would not share her husband’s rank, title, precedence, or privileges; as such, she would not normally appear in public beside him…[and]… not be allowed to ride in the royal carriage or sit in the royal box in theaters”

    Ironically Franz Ferdinand had always believed in a cautious approach to Serbia…

    The same Serbian military clique tried unsuccessfully to assassinate the Emperor three years earlier. The Archduke was their Plan B. op cit

  • There was more than enough blame to go around between Austria and Serbia. Field Marshal Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, Chief of Staff for the Austrian Army, had been calling for years for preventive war against Serbia. Idiots, and I mean that descriptively and not pejoratively, in positions of authority in both Serbia and Austria, merrily lit fuses against each for a very long time before they finally got their war and took most of Europe over the cliff with them.

  • In a course back in college, a professor traced the decline of Christianity in the West to WWI. If I still have my notes – one never know what odds and ends can be found inthe filing cabinets around this place – I’ll sketch it out the way he did.

    If memory serves, he explored the losses of life, particularly men, in Europe during the War, connected it to the number of fatherless children after the war, and the vaccuum this created for socialism and communism.

  • Everyone wanted war in 1914

    1. Ever since the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Austria and Germany had been determined to prevent Russian expansion in the Balkans.
    2. Austria knew that, if she allowed herself to be humiliated by Serbia, she could not keep control of her minorities.
    3. Germany saw war with Russia as inevitable and wanted it before Russia completed her rail network and gained the ability to mobilise reserves quickly.
    4. With her prestige already damaged by her defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, Russia knew if she allowed her ally, Serbia, to be humiliated, she could well face revolt in her Western provinces, particularly Poland and the Baltic states, from which the bulk of her tax revenue was derived.
    5. With her stagnant birth-rate and Germany’s growing one, France knew she could not wait another generation, if she were ever to recover the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and avenge the defeat of 1870.
    6. Italy wanted to incorporate Austria’s Italian provinces (Italia Irredenta).
    7. Tirpitz’s naval expansion and the consequent arms race with Germany was ruinously expensive for Britain.

  • Great post Darwin Catholic and excellent comments everyone. It is interesting to note as David points out that the Left saw the carnage as an opportunity (where have we recently heard those words–using crisis as an opportunity before) to push their Big Government anti -God system playing to the heartstrings of the suffering masses. The Church was viewed as too institutional by some and Modernism was already creeping into many seminaries (just as many pontiffs had warned.) What followed was the faithful looking to recent holy figures like St Therese of Lisieux and the mystical as in Fatima and numerous other apparitions (some approved by the Church, some not) to ease their sorrow.

  • I have always tried to discern God’s will during the First World War. Here are some of my theories:

    1. After the war, Germany, Austria and Russia ceased being monarchies, so the war was an indictment of Europe’s crowned heads.
    2. Since Napoleon’s time, France and Germany had been on each other’s throats – Prussia became resentful at France because of the Napoleonic wars, the Franco-Prussian War was Bismarck’s revenge on France, and the First World War was France’s revenge on Germany. So the First World War was punishment for France and Germany’s hard-heartedness. (But even then, the cycle of violence would not end, as the Nazis intended the Second World War to be their revenge on France. Maybe Versailles really isn’t an auspicious place for signing treaties.)
    3. The war was punishment for every nation’s greed.

  • There was more than enough blame to go around between Austria and Serbia.

    True, but then again, regicide instigated by the ruling circles of a neighboring power ups the ante by an order of magnitude, when it comes to the matter of blame games.

    Admittedly, the Serbian crown was not pleased with the assassination, and took measures to reign in the perpetrators, but without success. The history of Serbia and Royalist Yugoslavia is rife with examples of the crown being unable to control the crazy radicals in its midst (or else, getting deposed or assassinated themselves).

    Apparently, enduring and then ending centuries of Ottoman/Muslim occupation leaves deep scarring and trauma in a nation (assuming those scars were not there to begin with), as the Sicilians and Armenians have also learned. Come to think of it, the Irish (and a few people within America’s own borders) might have similar tales to tell.

  • How much of a “world” war was it, though? Europe usually has a major war twice a century, during which non-Europeans (particularly the Turks) take whatever advantages come their way. I’ve always thought that the Napoleanic Wars were the world’s first worldwide war, with the War of 1812 and Latin American independence being being part of the whole. I don’t see WWI as having a bigger scope than that – although there are theatres I don’t know much about. It definitely wasn’t as big as World War Two.

  • A lot of fighting in Africa, and the Middle East. Minor fighting in Asia. America sending millions of troops across the Atlantic. Clearly a world war but not as much of a world war as World War II. I would give the title of World War to the Napoleonic wars, the Seven Years War, the War of the Austrian Succession and the mammoth War of the Spanish Succession where Corporal John demonstrated a rare combination of superb military and diplomatic skills.

  • very interesting post. Some interesting semi- questions occur to me– I say semi-questions because they are not really formed but just related ideas.
    about national-ism and what that actually means compared with national self responsibility, national interest. Also local control, one world government, Christendom

  • World War 1 saw the end of the Age of Empire in Europe. The empires were doomed regardless of present day Catholic admiration for the Habsburgs.

    Prussia, Austria and Russia carved up Poland in the late 18th century and the Polish people revolted several times. The Poles were not the only people tired of the empires.

    I submit that the decline in Christianity in Europe began with the Protestant Reformation. the French Revolution advanced that decline and WWI added to it.

    As France was terribly wrecked by WW1, and they demanded reparations that Germany could not repay, all of the groundwork was laid for WWII. Germany assisted Lenin in getting Russia out of the war. I could go on, but it’s getting late and tomorrow is Monday.

  • Anzlyne

    The fall of the Ottoman Empire saw an Arab revolt against Turkish rule and a Turkish repudiation of Arab influence, (including the adoption of the Roman alphabet and of the Swiss Civil Code and the Italian Penal Code). In other words, national identity on both sides trumped religious identity, as witness the abolition of the Caliphate.

    Again, the fall of the Dual Monarchy saw a great revival of Pan-Germanism in its German-speaking regions. The Balkans, too, were, well, Balkanized

  • One way to look at Chistendom is as a fantasy of sorts, a necessary fairytale.

    Martin Luther ushered in a formal rebellion against authority already well underway. Christendom was already fracturing and, perhaps a better way to think of it, was always fractured. It was the external threat of rising Islam in Iberia and in the Balkans that made the idea of Christendom necessary. Once Europe was exhausted of the Crusades and successful in uniting Spain under a Christian monarch, her attention turned inward and outward, away from Islam.

    Christendom turned inward politically and outward, beyond North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Minor. Without the external threat, nationalism replaced a general sense of Christianity as the binding force for society and the legitimate authority for the Church in Civil Society. Rebellion against Church authority grew, both within and outside of the Church.

    Reformation and war were the natural consequences. These, in turn, drove nationalism and the establishment of stronger and stronger centralized national governments. That drove war, which drove nationalism, which drove stronger centralized government, and on, and on.

    Lost in the conversation were the many millions of poor, impressed to fight on the one side, taxed into oblivion, most landless, most illiterate, with little prospect for advancement… Fertile ground for new ideas that would elevate their condition to reclaim something of the dignity enshrined in the magnificent palaces built all about them.

    The Church was politically weakened and only a shadow of the civil society authority that she had been. She was driven inward and wisely turned to theology to heal herself. The Counter-Reformation entirely re-cast Christianity as an individual conversation with God through the Body of Christ. The ideas had been perculating for hundreds of years but the Chruch gave them voice. Those ideas were, in turn, applied to the political sphere through Protestant philosophers, leading to 18th Century revolutions in Europe and the rise of Communism.

    Boney was the last hurrah, not og Monarchy-as-such, but og strong, centralized authority focussed outward. Napoleon completed the turn of civil society in on itself, the concerns of others being their concerns alone. Tyranny from an external force became a relic, one that should be resisted by the common man. Thus, the explosion of war in 1917, was entirely different, precisely because it was the common man fighting the common man for an ideology that was personal and seemingly clear.

    In that sense, it was the first World War, not because of where it was fought or by which combatents but because it was individualized across all strata of society, everywhere in Europe. Thus, the destruction it wrought was individualized too, personalized, if you will, ushering in the ages we have now.

    We live in a time of Man abandoning formal social structure because it has failed us, generation after generation. Each articulation seemd to present an answer, only to fail. Thing is, Man is a social animal and, try as we might, we can never be ourselves alone. A new articulation will emerge but, until it does, chaos must reign.

    The Church will articulate the next structure under which Man lives. The question is whether She will be articulating a structure established by others or will establish the structure by articulating it.

  • David Spaulding

    The all-important fracture was not the Reformation, but the Great Schism. The emergence of Russia as the great Orthodox power and the natural guardian and protector of the Orthodox Slavs, convinced both Britain and France of the need to shore up, at all hazards, the decaying Ottoman power. For more than half a century before 1914, the great fear had been a Russian occupation of Constantinople and the emergence of Russian client states in the Balkans. This was also the reason for the protectorate in Egypt and the Sudan.

    Britain, in particular, anxious about her sea-route to India had actually welcomed the growing power of Prussia as a bastion against the Slav, only to realise, almost too late, that they had backed the wrong horse.

    Hence, too, the need to establish British and French spheres of influence in the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman power

  • I think David’s right, in a way. Christendom was an ideal. Compared to what’s followed it, it was a pretty good ideal. It was a norm – remember those? like faithful hetero marriage? – that people didn’t necessarily achieve, but everyone looked to with an understanding that we should try to attain it.

    It’s a truism that the strongest argument against monarchy is the actual guy who becomes king. The great states of Christendom, France, the Holy Roman Empire, Venice, et cetera, were always a poisoned beverage away from having a lousy ruler. Along with internal struggles, there was always competition between the states, and rivalry between the state and the Church. Or between the Church thinking it was a state and a state thinking it was the Church. And the heresies – Luther’s was bigger than most, but the Church was constantly in battle against them.

    World War I marked the end of the powerful monarchs, but not the end of the internally and externally powerful ruler. There’s very little about Castro and Stalin that couldn’t be found in the average caliph or inbred royal.

  • Pinky

    It is worth recalling Pascal’s defence of monarchy: “The most unreasonable things in the world become most reasonable, because of the unruliness of men. What is less reasonable than to choose the eldest son of a queen to rule a State? We do not choose as captain of a ship the passenger who is of the best family.

    This law would be absurd and unjust; but, because men are so themselves and always will be so, it becomes reasonable and just. For whom will men choose, as the most virtuous and able? We at once come to blows, as each claims to be the most virtuous and able. Let us then attach this quality to something indisputable. This is the king’s eldest son. That is clear, and there is no dispute. Reason can do no better, for civil war is the greatest of evils.”

  • The twists and turns od these discussions makes The American Catholic enjoyable.

    I never heard a defense of monarchy before. What an interesting idea.

  • “-national identity on both sides trumped religious identity-” seems like that would be true every time. it worked so well for Henry VIII.
    Although I would like to think religious sense precedes the geo political urge of a people, when National identity is formed around shared family/tribe/ and shared land or place It seems religion always gets subsumed into the state–

  • Even with the caesar/pope idea eventually the Caesar wins. Didn’t that Schism have more to do with cultural identity than actually with dogma- and having a very real shared outside enemy was not enough to heal that fracture-

D-Day, History and Memory

Thursday, June 6, AD 2013

Sixty-Nine years since D-Day.  In the first law firm I worked for in 1982 the Senior Partner had lost a son on Omaha Beach.  The man I was replacing had just been made a Judge, and still walked with a limp from being shot up on Omaha Beach.  Another partner had been with the Eighth Air Force in England, helping to plot flight missions in support of D-Day.  This was in a five man firm, including myself.  D-Day left its mark on this nation, with its approximately 3,000 dead and 6000 wounded Americans, but with the passage of time it has become relegated to the history books as those who lived the longest day depart from the scene.

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2 Responses to D-Day, History and Memory

  • The hands and feet and face of Justice, and they would do it all over again.

  • Let me tell you. The man stood before me and raised his tee shirt. There was a scar from his neck to below his belt. He turned around and there was a scar from his neck to below his belt. He told me that the shell had gone right through his body. Here he was telling me that he had been there on D Day. The man was the personification of courage and determination. He gave me to know that he would do it all over again.

Easter and History

Sunday, March 31, AD 2013

I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.

H.G. Wells

How many movements throughout the history of Man have flourished briefly and then vanished into everlasting oblivion, forgotten entirely by History or relegated to the briefest of footnotes?  From a human standpoint that was clearly the fate of the movement started by the carpenter/rabbi from Galilee following His death on a cross.  His followers had scattered and went into hiding at His arrest.  He was denied by the mob, their choosing a bandit and murderer over Him.  Condemned by the foreigners occupying His country, His people observed His death by mocking Him.  The idea that He had founded a “Church” that would spread around the globe, altering all of human history, and causing Him to be worshiped as God by billions of people would have struck any neutral observer as mad ravings.  Yet that is precisely what happened. 

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8 Responses to Easter and History

  • I should probably make some sort of a joke about this being a once-in-a-double-lifetime event, but too busy smiling.
    Odd, that thinking about how bad things have been can work so well with being hopeful!

    Jesus overcame death– what can stop us?

  • “Jesus overcame death– what can stop us?”

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, which is why the enemies of Christ are usually so out of temper.

  • From a Prayer after the Rosary:

    “O God, whose only begotten Son,
    By His
    Death, and
    Has purchased for us
    The rewards of eternal life . . . “

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  • And to think, we have no record of the resurrection event. We have a record of an empty tomb with witnesses who also saw the Risen Lord. Enough eyewitnesses to give account for these things as the church was launched.

  • one of the things iI appreciate about this post is your choice of words here:
    “What changed this defeated cause into an everlasting crusade is the Resurrection.”

    so many words have been messed with, diluted, stolen or emptied of meaning… there is a whole world of import carried in your use of the word “crusade” here.

  • “And to think, we have no record of the resurrection event”

    IMHO, I think that in a way, we do – the Shroud of Turin. There is now way to explain how that image got on that cloth – other than The Resurrection.

Bad History: Was the Persecution of Christians a Myth?

Thursday, March 14, AD 2013

Donald McClarey has a well deserved barn-burner of a post up at The American Catholic about a new book entitled The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom out from University of Notre Dame theology professor Candida Moss. I’d seen a couple articles on this book before it came out and more or less passed over them as yet another fluffy work of pop scholarship intent on telling us that “everything we know is wrong” in relation to Christianity. However, the book appears to be getting a certain amount of press and is climbing the Amazon sales ranks, so it’s worth giving it a bit of attention as the politically motivated pop-history that it is.

Dr. Moss talks about her motivations for writing the book in an interview at HuffPo:

I initially became interested in this subject because of a homily I heard that compared the situation facing modern Christians in America to the martyrs of the early church. I was surprised by the comparison because modern Americans aren’t living in fear for their lives and the analogy seemed a little hyperbolic and sensational. After this, I began to notice the language of persecution and victimization being bandied about everywhere from politics, to sermons, to the media, but rarely in regard to situations that involve imprisonment and violence.

She goes on to argue that modern Christians have a view that persecution of the early Church was pervasive when it was in fact not:

[A] lot of weight rests on the idea that Christians were persecuted in the early church because, without the idea of near-continuous persecution, it would be difficult to recast, say, disagreements about the role of prayer in schools as persecution. … But intriguingly, the historical evidence for systematic persecution of Christians by Jews and Romans is actually very slim. There were only a few years before the rise of the emperor Constantine that Christians were sought out by the authorities just for being Christians. The stories about early Christian martyrs have been edited, expanded, and sometimes even invented, giving the impression that Christians were under constant attack. This mistaken impression is important because it fosters a sense of Christian victimhood and that victim mentality continues to rear its head in modern politics and society. It’s difficult to imagine that people could make the same claims about persecution today were it not for the idea that Christians have always been persecuted.

Moss also has a recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education summarizing her argument and promoting the book:

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26 Responses to Bad History: Was the Persecution of Christians a Myth?

  • As I said the other day, her motivation appears quite clear: If the Church and individual Christians suffer government and/or legal sanction because their beliefs and how they practice those beliefs are at odds with cultural “norms” – be those norms abortion-on-demand, the HHS mandate, or same-sex “marriage” – they are not REALLY being persecuted. In essence, the Church and individual Christians can either get on board with the agenda or not; but if they choose not to, they wouldn’t be able to legitimately cry “persecution” if the legal fallout is not to to their liking.

    Moss’s motivation, as with the motivation of many on the Catholic left and Christian left who are critical of the Church, is actually quite transparent: political ideology trumps religious dogma.

  • They like the smells and bells, and the color and pageantry that we have seen at the Vatican this week, but as for religion actually telling them to repent and change their lives, not for a second. They applaud the outward show of religion and boo the substance.

  • This is an important article for Christians to read and refer to, when they hear the increasing number of followers of Dr. Moss, armed with her half-truths, proclaiming her gospel.

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  • According to Ms. Moss’ definition, Christians aren’t persecuted in China today, because while they may be harassed, imprisoned, tortured, or even killed by the government, the Communist Party’s motives for doing so are ultimately political. I’m sure this must be a great comfort to the victims of this non-persecution.

  • The real message is clear.

    You’re crazy if you think you’re persecuted, but when we actually do persecute you, it will be for good reasons.

    Christianity really IS responsible for the insane idea that a man’s loyalties might lie with a power higher than and distinct from the state. In that sense it is responsible for the freedoms we enjoy today. I don’t even think it is Christianity that Moss has a problem with, but freedom itself, the nerve and the gall it takes to say “no”, for the sake of conscience, to supposedly benevolent rulers who supposedly know what is best for us.

    The irony here is that by denying that Christians were and are persecuted, Moss makes it easier to persecute them. By arguing that the authorities were rational and justified in their views of early Christians, she makes the case that today’s secular state is rational and justified in suppressing freedom expressed as conscientious objection to its policies.

    I have seen this shell game many times. First deny the problem and call people insane who recognize it, then acknowledge the problem and call people insane who complain about it. It is a diabolical game.

  • I saw her piece on the “Chronicle of Higher Ed” online the other day. There were readers who left comments, unimpressed with her for secular reasons.

  • Another member of the Patriotic Association hard at work.

    Thanks for this handy dismantling, Darwin.

  • Actually, (for them) to the extent “it” advances the agenda/narrative, it is GOOD history.

  • “the Romans don’t come off as particularly cuddly in the old toga epics such as Spartacus”

    The depiction of Crassus crucifying the survivors of the slave army of Spartacus is completely historical:

    “Since there was still a very large number of fugitives from the battle in the mountains, Crassus proceeded against them. They formed themselves into four groups and kept up their resistance until there were only 6,000 survivors, who were taken prisoner and crucified all the way along the road from Rome to Capua.”


    Imagine the sight, sound and smell of that. Crassus wanted an object lesson that the slaves of Italy would remember forever and he wanted to establish himself as a frontrunner to be one of the two consuls in the upcoming election. Crassus was hailed for his stern measures, and no one said a word against what he did, at least a word that has come down to us in the source material.

    The Romans were not the cruelest people in the Ancient world but they were brutal in a way that most moderns would find shocking. Pay your taxes and do what you were told in the Roman Empire and you were mostly left alone. Step out of line, and the whole power of the Roman state could land on you, with the best result for you being slavery for yourself and your family and the worst being death on a cross for you and your family. Christians until the time of Constantine always had to worry about a sudden wave of persecution forcing them to choose between abjuring Christ and dying a horrible death. That Ms. Moss does not see that as persecution makes one wonder how much State power she would be content with being used against people who have the temerity to disagree with her before she would deem it to be persecution.

  • I wasted some time plumbing the depths of this MossThing so you won’t have to. Overall conclusion: she is going for it, money, fame, and notoriety all at once.

    This one has clogged up a spot on Notre Dame’s faculty with her idiosyncratic idiocy, and now makes herself available to serve as a liberal non-believing academic consultant for the History Channel TV series “The Bible.” Oh, how utterly! And her alleged “research-based book” informs that Romans did not persecute Christians. Goodness gracious, now that’s special, isn’t it?

    Enough said, and a fortiori, enough heard!

    I wasted some time plumbing the depths of this MossThing so you won’t have to. Now I need a shower and, yes, I will require that scrub brush. I’ll give it back in about 45 minutes.

  • The falsity of her presumptions drives me batty. I have taught religion, studied religion – and done so in Catholic instutions. There is not a textbook out there – and never has been – that has held that the persecutions were empire-wide and constant for 300 years.

    She’s a mess. Notre Dame should be embarrassed. Well, they already should be about other things..but anyway..

  • It is highly likely that possible future kind, gentle, soft Western totalitarisms will not persecute Christians, nor prosecute them. It will judge them to be mentally ill and insure that they are given the best treatments that public monies can provide. And if their minds should be destroyed by said treatments, then compassion will be exercised: pity will move the “care providers” to euthanize them so that they no longer “suffer”. But a persecution? Oh no, it wouldn’t be that at all.

  • I pray episodes like this begin to erode Notre Dame’s “pocket book” through lower demand for their “product.” I know, it may take a while for this to happen. However, when I hear someone mention ND as a graduate or as a parent who is sending their kids to this school, I cringe. A whopping $65k/year is spent by most parents and students to receive revisionist history, progressive theology, social justice awareness. Recall the quote by P.T. Barnum, “there is a sucker born every minute.” Well, at least Barnum was offering a real live show. ND is offering fiction and fantasy. Moss is busy at the practice of undermining truth and the faith of others. Who knew, we have Judas with us still today.

  • Let’s talk about persecution in “modern” times. Wonder what she would say about the persecution of Christians in Mexico less than 100 years ago. Probably that it was their own fault for not jumping into line with the government. If any of you don’t know what I am talking about, here is a good explanation:¡viva-cristo-rey

  • Here is the problem: people run out of things to research, they run out of ideas, and cannot put together a thesis. They become very creative and imagine they found something new, different, or opposite to that which was said before. They get goofy. That’s what happened here. Notre Dame is to blame for hiring and, I suppose giving tenure to someone like this. Despicable!

  • I think you are right about that Barbara. We have had several posts on the Cristeros Movement at The American Catholic:

  • The 800 Martyrs of Otranto:

    “The first of the chroniclers, Giovanni Michele Laggetto, adds, in the “Historia della guerra di Otranto del 1480 [Story of the war of Otranto in 1480],” transcribed from an ancient manuscript and published in 1924:

    “And turning to the Christians, Primaldo spoke these words: ‘My brothers, until today we have fought in defense of our homeland, to save our lives, and for our earthly governors; now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for our Lord. And since he died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for him, remaining firm and constant in the faith, and with this earthly death we will earn eternal life and the glory of martyrdom.’ At these words, all began to shout with one voice and with great fervor that they wanted to die a thousand times, by any sort of death, rather than renounce Christ.”

    The holocaust within the Spanish Civil War has been denied far too long. Almost no one in America knows that during the 1930’s Spanish “Civil” War the “republicans” massacred of tens of thousands of Roman Catholic religious and lay people. For decades, the MSM, publishers, and the academy have sold the one-sided idea that Franco and his government (World War II neutrals) were merely fascists. The MSM, et al, egregiously deny the mass murders of Spanish Catholic religious and lay persons committed by the Soviet-led Spanish and international brigands such as Hemingway, Robeson and the so-called Abraham Lincoln brigade.

    There was a general massacre of Roman Catholic clergy and laity in the areas under communist control during the 1936 to 1939 Spanish Civil War. Four thousand Roman Catholic bishops, priests, brothers, and nuns, and tens of thousands of lay Catholic people were martyred. The Lord had called the Spanish religious community to a radical witness. When the republicans found them to be religious, they were arrested and executed. For example, the bolshevists murdered 165 of the order of Catholic school teachers, the De La Salle Christian Brothers, whose brothers have, for over 150 years, served their vocations at Manhattan College. On October 10, 1993, Pope John Paul II proclaimed “blessed”, seven Spanish Christian Brothers and three Spanish Marianists (Carlos Erana, Jesus Hita, Fidel Fuidio). The Marianists are dedicated religious priests and brothers who serve Long Island Roman Catholics at Chaminade High School and Bishop Kellenberg Memorial High School.

  • I’m not sure why Moss sees a need to argue against “systematic persecution” or a “sustained three-hundred-year-long effort” of persecution, since no one studying Christianity in the Roman Empire that I know of argues that this is what happened. If there is one thing we do know about Roman persecutions of Christians, it is that they weren’t systematic and they weren’t sustained. I doubt that anyone seriously defends or teaches the idea that there was a constant, universal Roman policy of persecution that never let up, and anyone who does teach such a thing knows virtually nothing about the history of the church or the Roman Empire.

  • You’re clearly misrepresenting her work:

    She wrote two other books (one won a big prize according to her ND bio page). One from Oxford and one from Yale.

    In the chapter available for free she is critical of the left as well.

  • Maddy,

    I’ve quoted directly from the book pretty extensively, so I think it’s hard to make the case that I’m mischaracterizing it. I haven’t read her other books, which as you say are academic works unlike this one which is for popular consumption. However, whatever their merits, a basic reading of this book makes it pretty clear that it’s based on a massive strawman effort and also on some very poor attempts to wave away or explain away very well established primary source material.

  • What leads ND to employ a person who openly espouses positions of this sort? Is it some misplaced inclination to provide a counter-voice to Catholic dogma?

  • It is interesting to read the last paragraph of the review–“A view of history in which dangerously bad bogeymen do horrible things simply because they are bad is a shallow view of history that teaches us nothing”–and then to read many of the comments about Ms. Moss.

    As for moving goalposts, that’s something we all have to beware of. E.g., when she states that the Romans “…were known for being comparatively beneficent rulers…” and then the reviewer says “…Roman society was violent and cruel by modern standards.” I assume that Moss’s “…were known…” meant, in Roman times, not by modern standards. Which goal post should we use?

    A note on your reading of Pliny: You wrote, “The question at hand is not whether Christians were considered to be Enemy Of The State #1 in the Roman mind, but rather whether they were being persecuted. In this case, obviously they were, since Pliny figured that a good minimum was interrogating everyone accused of being a Christian and executing those who would not recant.” But if you read Pliny’s language he was saying that he was treating them thus because they were like others who transgressed: “I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished.” Pliny seems to further contextualize his attitude when he said, ” I had forbidden political associations.”

    So the wrinkle here might be: was Pliny going after the Christians qua Christians, or because they fit the profile of a larger set: political instigators of movements inimical to the empire?

    From an academic perspective, she may well be tilting at a straw man. From a popular perspective, the notion of Christians persecuted by Romans is a commonplace among many who were brought up with a Christian education; the technical distinctions within the concept, not so much. So if she was writing to a more popular audience, maybe the commonplace concept was one worth addressing.

  • Jake Arvey,

    On goal posts: It struck me that Dr. Moss must be referring to modern standards, since she is talking about people judging the Romans particularly harshly for being repressive towards the Christians when they were generally such “nice” guys.

    The Romans were usually so kind, the argument goes, that their treatment of Christians was out of character and cruel. On the other, it is used as evidence of Roman innocence; the Romans were so kind that we must conclude that the Christians deserved it.

    I’m just honestly not sure where that comes from, as I don’t think that the Romans have a particular reputation for being kind in the popular consciousness.

    On your point regarding Pliny: I guess I’m a little unclear as to whether it’s relevant that Pliny was interested in persecuting Christians qua Christians or whether he saw Christians as one of a number of identifiable groups which were considered seditious. Would it really make the Christians less persecuted if follows of the cult of Isis were persecuted too?

    Now, it is true that one can get some good insights by looking at the way in which persecutions of the Christians fit in with Roman persecutions of other groups. For instance, “secret societies” (which tended to be defined pretty broadly) were frequently repressed by the Romans. One of the few areas of association which was pretty consistently allowed was burial societies. This, in turn, is almost certainly why the Christians tended at times to meet and worship in the catacombs around the tombs of the martyrs. It wasn’t exactly that they were “hiding” in the catacombs, but rather that burial societies which met to make offerings at the tombs of the dead were one of the few kinds of organization which were permissible.

    But again: Persecuting Christians because they do the things that Christians do (meet to celebrate the mass, refuse to sacrifice to pagan gods, refuse to take part in certain activities they believed to violate their consciences) is still persecuting Christians even if its these secondary characteristics that one objects to, not the fact that they worship one God and believe that he became man in Jesus Christ.

  • Darwin,

    Your points are well taken. There does seem to be a lot of popular history that describes certain eras and leaders as beneficent; maybe that’s a pop history “meme” that should be dispatched.

    On your first point in reply, I’ll parse it a bit further: it seems as if she was applying a modern perception to classical evaluations of the Romans. I was just thinking about Plutarch’s descriptions of men like Cato, but now I’m wondering how much of that was puffery.

    I have peeked at a few of her other things in the U of Chicago library, and she seems to have some interesting interests. She is still young, as scholars go, and will probably develop more nuanced evaluations of this material as time goes on. If not, my view is, let’s have many voices and then evaluate them, rather than wish they’d go away as some of your commenters seem to feel. She’s probably finding that an attempt to make these ancient studies more contemporary by tying them to current political trends can be very tricky!

  • Fr. Jim Martin is recommending this book for Easter reading. Really. Along with John Freakin’ Dominic Crossan.

    What a joke. Why orthodox Catholics fawn over this man, I’ll never understand.

The Myth of Candida Moss

Tuesday, March 12, AD 2013

Candida Moss, a Professor in the Theology Department of Notre Dame, no surprise there, has a political tract disguised as a work of history entitled The Myth of Persecution in which she contends that the early Christians greatly exaggerated their persecution at the hands of the Romans.  The book really isn’t about history, which Ms. Moss mangles, but is rather aimed at current political battles which can clearly be seen in the promo video at the beginning of this post.

The blog Seeing the Sword has a first rate response to this waste of wood pulp:

What’s most problematic is that she is engaging in special pleading to make her case appear solid. However, she’s finagling her definition of “persecution” in order to suit a preconceived verdict. Miller continues by saying,

This is not to deny that some Christians were executed in horrible ways under conditions we’d consider grotesquely unjust. But it’s important, Moss explains, to distinguish between “persecution” and “prosecution.” The Romans had no desire to support a prison population, so capital punishment was common for many seemingly minor offenses; you could be sentenced to be beaten to death for writing a slanderous song. Moss distinguishes between those cases in which Christians were prosecuted simply for being Christians and those in which they were condemned for engaging in what the Romans considered subversive or treasonous activity. Given the ‘everyday ideals and social structures’ the Romans regarded as essential to the empire, such transgressions might include publicly denying the divine status of the emperor, rejecting military service or refusing to accept the authority of a court. In one of her most fascinating chapters, Moss tries to explain how baffling and annoying the Romans (for whom ‘pacifism didn’t exist as a concept’) found the Christians — when the Romans thought about them at all.

The word “persecute” is derived from the Latin persecut- meaning ‘followed with hostility’. Persecution, or the subjection of someone to harassment or ill treatment, does not, by definition, require the use of physical violence or imprisonment. But according to Dr. Moss’s arbitrary standard, anything less than being burned at the stake or imprisoned does not count as real persecution in her book. This would include having one’s property confiscated or being the object of mockery and derision. To deny as much would be tantamount to suggesting to blacks that racial slurs don’t really count. According to Moss’s standard, in the days of the Jim Crow laws, only lynchings, rapes, and violent beatings would qualify, but being subjected to thinly veiled threats, hateful looks, and demeaning slurs should be treated as if they are inconsequential or irrelevant.

Likewise, just because Christians didn’t spend three hundred uninterrupted years in catacombs doesn’t mean that they didn’t often feel threatened or worried that the calm would dissipate and, once again, give way to another round of merciless bloodshed. It’s true that Christians were able to flourish at times, but that isn’t proof that Christian persecution was predominantly a fanciful fabrication of the early church. Again, it would be like pointing to Booker Washington, who had an illustrious career that even included advising Presidents Roosevelt and Taft, or George Washington Carver and his celebrated scientific accomplishments that, likewise, won the affection of President Teddy Roosevelt, and then deducing that blacks must making much ado about nothing

Miller continues a bit further:

Christians wound up in Roman courts for any number of reasons, but when they got there, they were prone to announcing, as a believer named Liberian once did, ‘that he cannot be respectful to the emperor, that he can be respectful only to Christ.’ Moss compares this to ‘modern defendants who say that they will not recognize the authority of the court or of the government, but recognize only the authority of God. For modern Americans, as for ancient Romans, this sounds either sinister or vaguely insane.’

I particularly liked that last bit. It’s always been the case, says Dr. Moss, that Christians who refuse to heed the sinful demands of government are “either sinister or vaguely insane.” She would have made a good Roman. This further displays her contempt toward the immutable holy nature of God (Mal. 3:6) which is exactly what the law of God reflects. Was Paul wicked or psychologically disturbed to uphold the holiness, righteousness, and goodness of God’s commandments (Rom.7:12, Rom. 3:31)? Even more importantly, given that Christ actively obeyed the entire law of God, that idolatry is a sin He never committed (Ex. 20:4, 1 Cor. 10:14), and that Christians are to be conformed to His likeness, then how is refusing to worship Roman idols a sign of wickedness or insanity?

Lack of Evidence?

However, it’s not just her arbitrary definitions that I find vexing; her insistence of there being scant evidence also seems to smack of special pleading.

The greatest evidence is that all of the apostles save Judas and John were martyred. However, even John was banished to Patmos during the rule of Domitian as punishment for his Christian convictions. Therefore, eleven of the twelve apostles were persecuted.

Then there are the numerous accounts from the Church Fathers.

For example, there’s Clement of Rome‘s first letter to the Corinthians from the late 1st or early 2nd century, where he speaks of Peter and Paul having died honorably at the hand of Nero and encourages other Christians to look to their example:

Unto these men of holy lives was gathered a vast multitude of the elect, who through many indignities and tortures, being the victims of jealousy, set a brave example among ourselves.

And there’s Marcus Minucius Felix’s remembrance from the 2nd or 3rd century of his fellow Christian, Octavius, debating the Roman pagan Caecilius. Caecilius, speaking in terms that were likely commonplace among pagan Romans, said of this nascent Christian faith,

And now, as wickeder things advance more fruitfully, and abandoned manners creep on day by day, those abominable shrines of an impious assembly are maturing themselves throughout the whole world. Assuredly this confederacy ought to be rooted out and execrated. They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another. Everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous: it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes.

Tertullian presciently wrote in 203/204 AD in Scorpiace, as if in anticipation of the likes of Dr. Moss, ”And if a heretic wishes his confidence to rest upon a public record, the archives of the empire will speak, as would the stones of Jerusalem. We read the lives of the Cæsars: At Rome Nero was the first who stained with blood the rising faith.”




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50 Responses to The Myth of Candida Moss

  • Her argument is so utterly weird — especially in that she is apparently arguing that if Christians were being persecuted for something they did as Christians (like, say, not sacrificing to the emperor) that this somehow didn’t count as persecution so long as the Roman’s weren’t going after them specifically for believing in Christ.

    The Romans were broadminded folks when it came to adding a few gods here or there, so obviously they didn’t mind if people worshipped Christ. Their issue was usually “only” with people acting like Christians, whether that meant not sacrificing to the emperor or ruining the profitable trade in temple offerings.

  • Leaving aside the historical issues Darwin which attracted my original ire that led to this post, we have just finished the last century which featured the bloodiest persecution of Christians in the history of the planet and which led to millions of Christians being murdered because of their faith in Christ. Ms. Moss ignores this elephant in the living room in her eagerness to make her political point that Christians aren’t being persecuted. The book is truly bizarre even by the standards of academia.

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  • We should be accustomed to this by now, but it still turns our heads in dismay. To think that she is a professor of Theology at Catholic University is more than deplorable. Yet, this same school rationalized having a pro abortion politician as the main speaker at their commencement ceremony. She should not be entitled to her own set of facts on any issue, but she seems to believe she is. This same type of remaking of history is being foisted on us daily and in all facets of our lives. Thanks for calling her out!!

  • As Ray said: “Thanks for calling her out!!”

  • Thus she must agree with Jim Crow Laws requiring three generations of literacy to vote. After all, they weren’t *specifically* aimed at black people whose fathers were slaves and not allowed to read.

  • I wonder if this goes along with that school curriculum being used in Texas (and a few other states) that teaches the early Christians were literally cannibals because of the Eucharist!

    It seems to me that there is some sort of big mis-information campaign out there, to put out as many lies, and garbage as possible about Christianity (Catholicism in particulary) as possible.

  • “literally cannibals because of the Eucharist”

    A common accusation against the Christians by anti-Christian Roman writers. Often time incest was tossed in for good measure because Christians referred to each other as “brother” and “sister”. I have actually been rather fond of the cannibal accusation myself as it is a left handed bow to a belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist.

  • “From Minucius Felix. Octavius

    And now, as wickeder things advance more fruitfully, and abandoned manners creep on day by day, those abominable shrines of an impious assembly are maturing themselves throughout the whole world. Assuredly this confederacy ought to be rooted out and execrated. They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another; everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous: it is thus that their vain and senseless superstition glories in crimes.

    Nor, concerning these things, would intelligent report speak of things so great and various, and requiring to be prefaced by an apology, unless truth were at the bottom of it. I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of creatures, consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion, a worthy and appropriate religion for such manners. Some say that they worship the genitals of their pontiff and priest, and adore the nature, as it were, of their common parent. I know not whether these things are false; certainly suspicion is applicable to secret and nocturnal rites; and he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve.

    Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: this infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily – O horror! they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs. By this victim they are pledged together; with this consciousness of wickedness they are covenanted to mutual silence.”

  • Roman truncheon envy.

    How charming.

  • Judging from this post by Robert Moss, Candida’s father, at Patheos, the acornette did not fall far from the tree:

    “Moss returns, with informed passion, to her central thesis. The belief in a persecuted and therefore morally righteous church continues to distort and inflame public debate, encouraging an us-versus-them mentality that makes dialogue impossible because it demonizes those of differing opinions. If you think you belong to a persecuted community, that may lead you to think it is okay – even essential to survival – to attack others. As Moss argues, the rhetoric of persecution legitimates retributive violence, depicting it as divinely approved self-defense.

    With ringing clarity, Moss offers a choice to her Christian readers:“Christians can choose to embrace the virtues of the martyrs without embracing the false history of persecution that has grown up around them.” The Myth of Persecution is essential reading for everyone who wants to understand the true history of Christianity and of violence in the name of religion.”

    His disapproving reference to my Bishop, Daniel Jenky, at the beginning of his post, is unintentionally humorous since Bishop Jenky came from Notre Dame and is on the board of fellows there.

  • I often wonder what the University thinks it is accomplishing by having people like this teach there. It is not like this stupidity could not be taught someplace else and ND is making a statement in support of academic freedom.

    I have always thought Notre Dame should be a place where the best Catholic minds are cultivated to defend the Church against the forces of secularism and pseudo-Catholicism. Instead of having books like this issuing from profesors teaching in the theology department, the theology department should be refuting the nonsense issuing from people like Moss. Unfortunately, it appears other alumni and the people running the school have a very different vision.

  • Has anybody actually read the book?

  • It was released on March 5. I’ve read about a quarter of the book on Amazon and other sites. I will be picking up the book this weekend and then I will give it a full review after I have read it from cover to cover, although I have a very good sense of her argument from what I have thus far read.

    She gives a condensed view of her argument in this post:

    I found this part of the post interesting:

    “In the fourth century, for example, Eusebius described how the early Christian bishop-martyr Polycarp once denounced the Roman heretic Marcion as the “firstborn of Satan.” The historian later reports how a group of martyrs from Lyons wrote letters to other churches condemning the views of an ancient group of Christians called the Montanists and endorsing the candidacy of Irenaeus, the future bishop of the city. Those anecdotes allowed Eusebius to legitimize the succession of bishops in France and to demonstrate the proper attitude toward religious subversives.”

    Actually the anecdote of Saint Polycarp and Marcion was written by Saint Iraneus writing in the second century. He came from Polycarp’s hometown of Smyrna. Polycarp was martyred in 155. Iraneus was writing in 180, and had been a pupil of Polycarp. Presumably Ms. Moss knows this but chose to mention only a late source like Eusebius.

  • “They know one another by secret marks and insignia, and they love one another almost before they know one another;” These Christians commit the crime of LOVE. The absence of LOVE in this statement is appalling. Defamation, discrimination and false witness.
    Candida Moss’ book and teaching therein is her particular opinion. The fact that the author did not attempt to get an “imprimatur” or “nihil obstat” is very telling. Moss, her father and Notre Dame need to get the teaching approved by the Vatican to call it teaching. Perhaps it will suffice that for the University to use the name CATHOLIC, the teaching books ought to bear the “imprimatur” and the “nihil obstat”. It is not censorship as much as quality control. After all, the CATHOLIC needs to be CATHOLIC, as the government’s laws for truth in advertizing demand, impose and proclaim.
    Leonardo Da Vinci’s opinion in his painting of The Last Supper was hijacked, elaborated and used as fact by Dan Brown in his film The Da Vinci Code. Based on the opinion of a deceased Da Vinci, who could no longer testify as to why he painted as he painted, Brown’s interpretation of Da Vinci’s opinion is scurrilous. What proof of fact is there to assert except by asking: who, what, when and where?
    The Catholic Church has the writing of the witnesses, their bones and their testimony and Jesus Himself said “You will be hated”.

  • It is quite obvious where Moss is going with this: If the Church doesn’t get on board with the Obama agenda regarding the HHS Mandate, same-sex “marriage”, and the like, and thereby suffers government or legal sanctions as a consequence of not getting on board, not only would it NOT be persecution, but the Church would just be reverting to it’s past “persecution myth” – once again “crying wolf” – by calling it persecution.

  • “It is not like this stupidity could not be taught someplace else and ND is making a statement in support of academic freedom.”
    An education teaches a person how to think, not what to think. How to cheat the truth and plagiarize Satan, Candida Moss’ Catholic students need to get their money back.

  • The post from her father is pretty rich.

    Among other bits, I’m particularly struck by:

    “Moss tracks the evolving Roman response to the spread of Christianity. She doubts that Nero (contrary to Tacitus) made Christians the scapegoats for the great fire of Rome, since he probably did not know who they are. ”

    Tacitus is the classical (pagan) author here. Where exactly does Moss get to question Tacitus’ account of Nero’s actions? Just because she thinks that two millenia’s remove she can better imagine what “really” happened?

    I’m hesitant to waste money (or time) on the thing, but I’m half curious to read it just to see how she tries to put some of this together.

  • Darwin the interesting thing about Bob Moss is that he was the co-author of a novel The Spike that was written in 1980 along with Aranaud de Borchgrave. It was a two-fisted attack on liberal bias in the media and attracted a fair amount of attention. In 1986 he reinvented himself as a New Age guru. The more I look into this the more fascinating it gets.

    Good point in regard to Tacitus. He was writing at a time when men were still alive who had witnessed the Great Fire of 64AD. Tacitus himself would have been eight at the time of the Great Fire. Tacitus is quite well informed as to Pontius Pilate and the sentencing of Christ and I have always assumed that he was consulting official records. The idea that he would make up the fact that Nero used the Christians as a scapegoat is simply laughable, especially since Tacitus, to put it mildly, is clearly unsympathetic to the Christians:

    “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

    Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

    I can see why Ms. Moss needs to attack this since it accords ill with her ridiculous thesis.

  • Actually, Moss says in the book that Eusebius got the story from Irenaeuos.

  • Yeah, it’s arguable that Tacitus could have been passing on untrue stories that made Nero look bad (though why bother when there were so many true ones that made him look bad) but it’s unclear why Tacitus himself would have seen the Christians as unusually sympathetic. I’d be curious to know why she claims Tacitus would make such a thing up, and what evidence she provides.

    I suppose this might be one of those trumpted up textual claims were you just pick the bits you don’t like and claim they were later interpolations, but unless there’s a really good explanation, that’s basically assuming your answer.

    If you pick up a copy, let me know.

  • Ah, Amazon’s “search inside this book” feature is my friend. Her discussion of Tacitus is on pages 138-139, and it’s basically hand waving. (Search for “Tacitus” and you’ll get these pages viewable online.) She announces that “We need to exercise some caution when it comes to dealing with Tacitus” and then bases her argument on Tacitus’s use of the term “Christian” which she claims only started to be used by Christian authors in “the very end of the first century”. From this she jumps to saying that if Christians were not yet calling themselves Christian, it’s unlikely that they were well known enough for Nero to single them out as scapegoats. Then she theorizes that perhaps Tacitus was taking the persecution of Christians under Trajan (when Tacitus was writing) and projecting it back to Nero because… Well, she never gives a reason.

    The slight of hand becomes complete when she says:

    “In popular imagination as well as some scholarly literature the Great Fire of Rome and Nero’s subsequent persecution of ‘Christians’ begins the so-called Age of Martyrs. Our earliest martyrdom stories date to this period, between the Great Fire and the persecution of the emperor Decius. Yet with the exception of Nero’s tempestuous accusations against Christians, there’s no evidence to suggest that Roman emperors themselves were that interested in the Christians during this period. For almost all of the first century, it’s unclear that Roman emperors even knew that Christians existed.”

    Well, of course, she’s just admitted there is evidence that the Roman state in the late 1st century was in some sense interested in persecuting Christianity — she’s related Tacitus’ account of Nero accusing the Christians and also admitted more vaguely that Christian accounts of persecution also date from this same period. But then she waves her hands and announces that once you leave all the evidence aside, there’s no other evidence that the Roman’s were persecuting Christians in this period.

    And it’s true: Once you make a point of discounting all contemporary evidence, all you have left is your own conjecture, which in this kind of “scholarship” is generally what the author prefers.

  • She also has the problem of Suetonius also stating that Nero persecuted the Christians:

    “During his reign many abuses were severely punished and put down, and no fewer new laws were made. A limit was set to expenditures; the public banquets were confined to a distribution of food; the sale of any kind of cooked viands in the taverns was forbidden, with the exception of pulse and vegetables, whereas before every sort of dainty was exposed for sale. Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition. He put an end to the diversions of the chariot drivers, who from immunity of long standing claimed the right of ranging at large and amusing themselves by cheating and robbing the people. The pantomimic actors and their partisans were banished from the city.”

    In his life of Claudius Suetonius states this:

    “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome. He allowed the envoys of the Germans to sit in the orchestra, led by their naïve self-confidence; for when they had been taken to the seats occupied by the common people and saw the Parthian and Armenian envoys sitting with the senate, they moved of their own accord to the same part of the theater, protesting that their merits and rank were no whit inferior.”

  • “and then bases her argument on Tacitus’s use of the term “Christian” which she claims only started to be used by Christian authors in “the very end of the first century”.:

    At approximately the time when Tacitus was beginning to write. His use of the term says nothing about the veracity of his account of the persecution of Nero. As indicated by Suetonius with Claudius, the Romans were aware of the “Christians”, followers of Christ, as a faction causing problems with the Jews quite soon after the time of the Crucifixion. Her work reminds me of Eighteenth and Nineteenth century skeptics who labored mightily to discredit Tacitus. At least she has not resorted to, yet, the hoary chestnut that the entire passage is a later “Christian interpolation”, which is still argued ludicrously on many atheist websites.

  • I encounter persecution everyday, it is called state university. I not only encounter age discrimination, but also religious persecution, if I let it occur. Usually after I answer with my beliefs’ succinctly stated, the person or person goes away, but it is there on campus.

  • The Roman persecution of the Christians throws a strong light on the nature of the early Church.

    The Imperial authorities were largely indifferent to the religious opinions of their subjects, but they were deeply suspicious of associations of all kinds. Following the disastrous fire in Nicomedia, Pliny wrote to the Emperor Trajan, asking permission to establish a volunteer fire brigade. The Emperor’s response is instructive:

    “You have formed the idea of a possible fire company at Nicomedia on the model of various others already existing; but remember that the province of Bithynia, and especially city-states like Nicomedia, are the prey of factions. Give them the name we may, and however good the reasons for organization may be, such associations will soon degenerate into dangerous secret societies.”

    To the authorities, the Church was, first and foremost a “collegium illicitum,” an illicit society, organized and disciplined, and one that included men and women, free and slave, from every rank of society, who met in nocturnal assemblies, with branches in every city of the Empire, in close correspondence with each other. No wonder that magistrates harked back to the Senatus Consult against the Bacchanals of 186 BC or that they should accuse the Christians of similar practices.

  • The Romans always had difficulty dealing with the Jews, as the history of the Roman occupation in Judea with three massive rebellions in 75 years indicates. With the Christians the Romans saw the religion of the Jews morphing into something that made non-Jews into a people set apart and caused riots among those troublesome Jews. From the Roman point of view this must have seemed inexplicable, and not a little frightening, especially to religiously sceptical Roman elites who were just as tone deaf about religion as their modern counterparts today.

  • Donald R McClarey

    That may well be right.

    Some scholars have suggested that Juvenal’s references to Jewish proselytes among the upper echelons of Roman society may, in fact, mean (or include) Christians, whom he never mentions. If that is right, then as late as the early 2nd century, Christians were still seen by some Romans, at least, as a Jewish sect.

    I don’t find that suggestion very persuasive myself, but I thought it worth mentioning.

  • The fact that USCatholic is promoting the book (along with one by Call-to-Action sponsored group “Young Adult Catholics”) is enough of an endorsement to tell me that the book’s premise and purpose is less than credible.

  • Another sad attempt at rewriting history to accommodate one’s political agenda. At least hers is so blatent that we can point to it as say ….”see, this is what we are talking about … “. Fortunately, on what appears to be the back cover “endorsements” … none are “real” catholics.

    Ronald, suggest you post a “customer review” on Azom … to refect a more truthful review.

  • In all of the back and forth concerning Professor Moss’s work, how is it that no one has pointed out the Miller’s review is dated 2/26. “The Myth of Persecution” did not go on-sale until 3/5 (see any online retailer as evidence). As such, Miller is responding to an un-read book.

  • It was a response to the book not a review of it. Ms. Moss has not been shy, a la the promotional video, of saying what the book is about and her overt political purpose. Additionally, it is easy to find on the internet plenty of articles and advance reviews indicating the arguments made by the book. Additionally one can read a fair amount of the book on Amazon.

  • I wasn’t sure if it would be repetitive to put the post up at TAC when Donald already wrote such a good post on it, but I did a post today digging into the book in a bit more detail:

  • First rate Darwin! I think it deserves a spot on TAC!

  • Anyone with serious critical thinking skills should have alarm bells ringing all the way through: it’s a sweeping thesis, under an inflammatory title, on the basis of no new evidence, pitched directly to the populace, of a ‘ myth’ that does not seem to be widely held in the form she characterizes it. (It’s fascinating reading excerpts of the book and seeing how often Moss characterizes the ‘myth’ as three hundred years of nonstop, unrelenting, violent murder, which is not what anyone I have ever known, Catholic or Evangelical, has meant by the ‘Age of Martyrs’. I was taught exactly the opposite in Sunday School growing up Southern Baptist in a small town — it was necessarily a part of standard discussion and criticism of preteritist accounts of Revelation.) Any intelligent person would go in skeptical; this is not how serious arguments are made.

  • Thanks, Donald. Posting it now, in that case.

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  • “as three hundred years of nonstop, unrelenting, violent murder, which is not what anyone I have ever known, Catholic or Evangelical, has meant by the ‘Age of Martyrs’.”

    Quite. Not even Hollywood which constantly gets history wrong, got that point wrong. In epics where bad Emperors, like Caligula, were murdering Christians, they were followed by a good tolerant emperor. This was the theme in Demetrius and the Gladiators, the sequel to The Robe, where Claudius is shown preaching tolerance after Caligula is assassinated. Ironically of course Claudius may well have been the first Emperor who persecuted Christians, but Demetrius and the Gladiators followed a common Hollywood trope that it was only bad Emperors who persecuted Christians. Alas, that was not the case, but it helped cement in the public mind that the Romans were not always hostile to Christians, and that is accurate. In the movie Quo Vadis when Nero is persecuting Christians we see some ordinary Romans appalled, including one who turns to a neighbor in the arena and declares, “I tell you that this is a blot on Roman justice!”

    Ms. Moss is fighting against a strawman of her own construction as to both the accurate historical scholarship on this period and as to how the persecution has been portrayed in the popular culture.

  • I have a few suggestions for sequels. Ms. Moss may have a “franchise” here.

    Debunking the myth of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages.

    Debunking the myth of the (Irish) Great Famine.

    PS: Pacem, gentlemen, I never had a Theo prof that looked like her. I may go back to skool.

  • Maybe she’s looking for a job as a “Persecution Czar” in the Obama Administration? Never know when that one will be opening up….

  • Brandon Watson

    You are right. The church has traditionally counted ten persecutions, in the two and a half centuries from Nero to Diocletian and many of these were local and sporadic. The first universal and organized persecution was that of Decius (249-251) and created the problem of the “libellatici,” people who purchased false certificates of conformity to Imperial worship and the Donatist schism.

    Donald R McClarey

    Persecutions did occur under “good” emperors – The third, fourth and fifth persecutions occurred under Trajan (98-117), Marcus Aurelius (161-180) and Septimus Severus (193-211) and the ninth under Aurelian (270–275), all generally considered good emperors. The only persecutions that took place under really “bad” emperors was the first, under Nero (54–68), an almost comical narcissist, the second under the gloomy, suspicious and really sinister Domitian (81–96) and the eighth under the incompetent Valerian (253–260), until he was captured by the Persians.

  • “Persecutions did occur under “good” emperors”

    Which is what I said MPS.

  • Donald R McClarey

    I know you did; I was just enlarging on the point.

  • Interestingly, there’s a medieval myth that Pope Gregory the Great so admired Trajan for his justice and mercy that he prayed that Trajan would be restored to life so that he could be converted and thus saved. According to the legend, God did in fact grant this request, the emperor accepted Christianity, and this is why in Dante’s Paradiso the emperor Trajan appears in the heaven of the just rulers.

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  • Darwin,

    What a great story!

    Are there any links for this story? I’d like to read more.

  • It deeply saddens me that an instititution bearing the identity of ‘Catholic’ would retain such a professor. Whether an early Christian was put to death for merely being a Christian, or in acting upon beliefs as Christian – beliefs that ran counter against the laws and society of the Roman Empire – a Christian was still put to death for their lived out Christianity. It is of no surprise that she is a consultant for various secular portrayals of Christianity – hardly ever is there an orthodox Christian on such shows; on occasion there might be an evangelical fundementalist, but mostly as a ‘straw man’ in which to show forth how ‘enlightened’ the ‘experts’ in religion / biblical studies are.

History is Boring!

Thursday, January 24, AD 2013

No, History is not boring, but it certainly is usually taught in a boring fashion.  The main culprits:

1. Badly Written TextbooksUsually drafted by committees of fairly untalented hacks, they frequently make the reading of technical manuals seem exciting by comparison.

2.  Politicized Drek-Textbooks often have a strong ideological slant.  These days that slant is usually, although not always, driven from the Left.  Therefore students are likely to read quite a bit on the treatment of women in colonial America, with the military history of the American Revolution left to a scant two pages.  This distorts History and usually drains the life out of it, as the study of the past becomes yet another opportunity to deliver a twenty-first century political diatribe.

3.  Ignorant Teachers-Too often History is taught by teachers who have little knowledge of it and no passion for it.  When I was in high school back in the early Seventies, coaches often were  assigned to teach History, under the assumption that anyone could teach it.  There were exceptions, and I still have fond memories of Mr. Geisler who taught American history and Mr. Vanlandingham who taught European history, but the usual level of the teaching of History was quite low.

4.  Laundry Lists-States often mandate inclusion of certain subjects in History.  This results in a laundry list approach of teaching History in which so many topics must be covered that short shrift is given to understanding a period as a whole.

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11 Responses to History is Boring!

  • Great analysis. I find the second item particularly obnoxious. As an anectdote- I was reading Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why The Greeks Matter, and the author’s treatment of Aristotle comprised less than a page and a half, whereas Plato’s Symposium received nearly an entire chapter (ironically entitled ‘How To Think’.) The reason? Aristotle’s metaphysics led to the Catholic Church’s sexual ethics, which modern people are way too smart to find reasonable. (paraphrase)

    So let’s ignore the massive influence Aristotle had on western civilization (that is, why the Greeks matter!) and focus on eroticism, since that is the bequest of the classical Greeks. (*removes tongue from cheek)

    On the other hand, Victor Davis Hanson’s books on Greek internecine warfare focus on only one particular aspect of the classical Greeks yet manage to actually give a reason why the Greeks matter, which Cahill never really gets around to, at least from what I remember. Once he waved off Aristotle I realized I could safely tune out.

  • The English actor James Purefoy, in promoting “Ironclad,” his medieval warfare film, said “It should be a crime to be a boring history teacher!”

    And yet, we’ve managed to do precisely that–make history a dull slog.

    Which leads to the present, a sad generation of people cut off from their pasts, living entirely in a present, at once ignorant, ungrateful and frivolous.

  • My history experience was a little different. We moved a lot when I was young. I must have had “US: Founding to Radial Reconstruction” four times, never anything past that for the US except as part of WWII. I knew the Greeks but never met the Romans. My only exposure to Europe between the Hellenic period and WWII was from a well-meaning sister who railed against the Philosophes – and yes, they deserved it, but a little context would have been nice. I don’t think I ever had history outside Europe and the US except for a smattering in Spanish class, but I suspect that’s pretty common in the US.

    As to this article: Point #7 cannot be overstated. I remember reading a quote to the effect that the US wasn’t settled by those we call the settlers, but by merchants, soldiers, and missionaries. That’s always stuck with me because we’ve eliminated the motives of the real historical people from history: profit, conquest, and faith. Money sometimes makes its way into history classes, at least in my era (HS Class of 1982), through Marx-influenced analysis. Nationalism and religion, though, were forbidden topics. I’d bet that these days you could present nationalism, but it’d be as distorted through political correctness as the profit motive was distorted in the textbooks I was exposed to.

  • Jason’s remarks about Aristotle raises a very interesting point.

    For us, of course, Aristotle was one of the giants of philosophy, but his work was unknown in the West until the 11th century, mediated through Arab translators. The only dialogue of Plato known in the West was the Symposium. It was the Stoics and the Epicurians that dominated late Antiquity, until the rise of Neo-Platonism with Plotinus in the third century.

    Again, that he was one of the best observational biologists of Antiquity was not recognized until the 16th century at least.

    The same paradox applies to Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo. To us, they are the great figures of their age, but, outside a tiny circle of savants, they were unknown to their contemporaries. Newton was the first scientist who was a major public figure in his own day. Likewise, In the middle of the 19th century, the work of Bolyai and Lobachevsky was largely unknown, even to well-educated people. Non-Euclidean geometry entered the public consciousness with Einstein.

  • Thanks, Donald. I think much needs to be said about both the importance of history and the need to teach it well so that it appeals to people as enlightening and useful. But I see another problem. I think many people would like to keep history at a distance–people who are radically progressive–since history tends to reign us in a bit. History would guide us more rationally into the future, whereas ideologues would have us answer their call to leap into the dark. The places they wish to go would lack any real continuity with the past, and I think that’s why radical politicians tend to reject authentic history.

  • Don

    In the Seventy’s our world history survey professor read some of the better answers from the mid-term

    Q Who was Jesus Christ?
    A He lived about 0 AD and became a Christian because he liked the religion.

    And this was a Catholic university.


    A few years ago I was helping friend with her grandson’s reading. So i used the social studies book, they were doing the middle ages..

    It had high quality paper and ink, beautiful illustrations, arts and craft projects, and an age appropriate text that leaves the reader completely uninformed about the middle ages.

    So what if they can’t read there is nothing worth reading in that book.

    History is fun! Middle Ages Histroy is fun, You have to work to mess it up.

    (I got out “Just so Stories” and had him rap “How the Camel got his Hump” In fifteen minutes he was doing a lot better.)

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  • “History is fun! Middle Ages Histroy is fun, You have to work to mess it up.”

    Quite right Hank. I have always enjoyed this scene from the movie Ruggles of Red Cap because it shows how a British butler who has become intrigued by Abraham Lincoln by reading a book about him, reminds Americans of their history:

  • “Which leads to the present, a sad generation of people cut off from their pasts, living entirely in a present, at once ignorant, ungrateful and frivolous.”

    Which makes it incumbent upon us who know the history Dale to teach it in any way we can. One of the reasons why I stress history so much in my posts.

  • “As an anectdote- I was reading Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why The Greeks Matter, and the author’s treatment of Aristotle comprised less than a page and a half, whereas Plato’s Symposium received nearly an entire chapter (ironically entitled ‘How To Think’.) The reason? Aristotle’s metaphysics led to the Catholic Church’s sexual ethics, which modern people are way too smart to find reasonable. (paraphrase)”

    Cahill is a rotten historian and an uber liberal former Catholic, current Catholic basher:

    “John Paul II has been almost the polar opposite of John XXIII, who dragged Catholicism to confront 20th-century realities after the regressive policies of Pius IX, who imposed the peculiar doctrine of papal infallibility on the First Vatican Council in 1870, and after the reign of terror inflicted by Pius X on Catholic theologians in the opening decades of the 20th century. Unfortunately, this pope was much closer to the traditions of Pius IX and Pius X than to his namesakes. Instead of mitigating the absurdities of Vatican I’s novel declaration of papal infallibility, a declaration that stemmed almost wholly from Pius IX’s paranoia about the evils ranged against him in the modern world, John Paul II tried to further it. In seeking to impose conformity of thought, he summoned prominent theologians like Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx and Leonardo Boff to star chamber inquiries and had his grand inquisitor, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issue condemnations of their work.

    But John Paul II’s most lasting legacy to Catholicism will come from the episcopal appointments he made. In order to have been named a bishop, a priest must have been seen to be absolutely opposed to masturbation, premarital sex, birth control (including condoms used to prevent the spread of AIDS), abortion, divorce, homosexual relations, married priests, female priests and any hint of Marxism. It is nearly impossible to find men who subscribe wholeheartedly to this entire catalogue of certitudes; as a result the ranks of the episcopate are filled with mindless sycophants and intellectual incompetents. The good priests have been passed over; and not a few, in their growing frustration as the pontificate of John Paul II stretched on, left the priesthood to seek fulfillment elsewhere.”

    Victor Davis Hanson is my favorite living historian and I treasure each of his books.

  • Every nation, government, and civilization on the scrap heaps of history made the same fatal rejection of God. Our Founders had a better idea by accepting and trusting the God of Abraham, and while our nation trusted, ir prospered with liberty and religious freedom. To preserve this should be the history now taught in every classroom in America. Our repressive government has rejected the Declaration of Independence and declared war on children and the family. God’s moral laws are being officially flaunted, and history is about to relegate our nation to the scrap heaps as well. American patriots had better hone their revolutionary instincts to again defend our intended republic. The future of America may soon rest be in their hands. Especially now if only the criminals have assault weapons and over 10 round magazines.

  • Here is a little anecdote of how history is taught in our schools.

    One morning, I was working in the stables with two schoolgirls, (aged 16/17) who come to ride my horses and help out. They were studying the “Age of Revolutions,” for their History special subject and somehow we got onto the topic of Napoléon III.

    Yes, they knew all about Bonapartism & Napoléon III: “Stalemate in the class struggle” – “Bourgeoisie surrenders political power, in return for protection of its economic power” – “Bourgeois ‘freedom’ is the freedom to exploit the labour of others for profit” – “The independent Executive – Its instruments the déclassé Bohemians of all classes” – “Professional army made up of the Lumpen proletariat” &c, &c

    It was like listening to children saying their catechism.

    “And who were their opponents?” I asked

    “The proletariat, in alliance with the revolutionary intelligentsia,” they replied, in chorus.

    “And the peasants?”

    “They had no community, no national bond and no political organization,” they intoned, as one.

    For their teachers, there is nothing to the right of the Socialist parties, except greed and eccentricity.

    This is Scotland, after all.

Thaddeus Stevens: Film Portrayals

Monday, December 10, AD 2012

 “I repose in this quiet and secluded spot, not from any natural preference for solitude, but finding other cemeteries limited as to race, by charter rules, I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, equality of man before his Creator.

Inscription on the Tombstone of Thaddeus Stevens

As regular readers of this blog know, I greatly enjoyed the film Lincoln and praised it for its overall historical accuracy.  Go here to read my review.  One of the many aspects of the film that I appreciated was Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens (R.Pa.), a radical Republican who rose from poverty to become the leader of the abolitionists in the House, and one of the most powerful men in the country from 1861 to his death in 1868.  There haven’t been many screen portrayals of Stevens, but they illustrate how perceptions of Stevens have shifted based upon perceptions of Reconstruction and civil rights for blacks.

The above is an excellent video on the subject.

The 1915 film Birth of a Nation, has a barely concealed portrayal of Stevens under the name of Congressman Austin Stoneman, the white mentor of mulatto Silas Lynch, the villain of the film, who makes himself virtual dictator of South Carolina until he is toppled by heroic Klansmen.  The film was in line with the Lost Cause mythology that portrayed Reconstruction as a tragic crime that imposed governments made up of ignorant blacks and scheming Yankee carpetbaggers upon the South.  This was the predominant view of scholarly opinion at the time.  The film was attacked by both the NAACP and the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veterans’ organization, as being untrue to history, a glorification of mob violence and racist.

By 1942 when the film Tennessee Johnson was made, we see a substantial shift in the portrayal of Stevens.  Played by veteran actor Lionel Barrymore, best know today for his portrayal of Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, Stevens is portrayed as a fanatic out to punish the South and fearful that the too lenient, in his view, treatment of the South in Reconstruction will lead to a new Civil War.  This leads up to the climax of the film, the trial in the Senate of Johnson, with Stevens as the leader of the House delegation prosecuting Johnson, with Johnson staying in office by one vote.  The portrayal of Stevens is not one-dimensional.  Stevens is shown as basically a good, if curmudgeonly, man, consumed by fears of a new Civil War and wishing to help the newly emancipated slaves, albeit wrong in his desire to punish the South.  Like Birth of a Nation, Tennessee Johnson reflected the scholarly consensus of the day which still painted Reconstruction in a negative light, although not as negative as in  1915.  Additionally,  the issue of contemporary civil rights for blacks was beginning to emerge outside of the black community as an issue, and Stevens in the film is not attacked on his insistence for civil rights for blacks.

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6 Responses to Thaddeus Stevens: Film Portrayals

  • I saw “Lincoln” with my liberal in-laws.

    This thought kept running through my alleged mind every time Stevens was on screen, “Alinsky’s Rule 5: ridicule.”

    The movie didn’t change my opinion of Lincoln, one way or the other. I was impressed that I could sit through the whole of it: not much bang-bang, bloodshed or walking trees, etc.

  • It is one of the best films for showing the nuts and bolts of political horestrading that I have ever seen T.Shaw, and I, of course, found it fascinating for beginning to end. I have seen it twice now, something I have never done with any film while it was still in theaters.

  • T. Shaw I imagine you appreciate this line voiced by Stevens in the movie:

    “The modern travesty of Thomas Jefferson’s political organization to which you have attached yourself like a barnacle has the effrontery to call itself “Democratic”. You are a Dem-o-crat! What’s the matter with you? Are you wicked?”

  • Mac,

    That depends on how you define the word, “appreciate.”

    I think the seed of that “barnacle” was attached by Jackson. Politics and rhetoric are not my areas of expertise. I have a talent for flinging massive strings of four-letter words.

  • Historians often unconsciously reveal more about their own times than the periods they describe, Gibbon and Macaulay, being obvious examples.

  • PLOT SPOILER ALERT: I thought the bedroom scene with Stevens and his mistress/housekeeper was manipulatively gratuitous. His intimate relationship with his housekeeper was based on rumor. It would not be surprising if there was a romance going on, but rumors of one sort or another would of course fly anyway, given that he was single. What bothered me was that, by introducing this love interest, Stevens went from a man who opposed slavery on principle to one who may have been acting under the emotional influence of someone in his household.

History and Legend

Wednesday, July 18, AD 2012

Ransom Stoddard: You’re not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?

Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

History tells us that George Washington as a boy did not cut down a cherry tree and, while telling his father about it, assure him that he could not tell a lie.  Saint Francis of Assisi almost certainly did not convert a wolf from his thieving ways and teach him to beg humbly for his  food like a good Franciscan.  Robin Hood did not help King Richard the Lionheart regain his throne from his brother John Lackland.  We know almost nothing about King Arthur and what we think we know about him is certainly almost entirely legend.

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6 Responses to History and Legend

  • A very salutary caution, but we should not neglect the value of folk-memory.

    To give an example, within my own knowledge, I am proprietor of a small piece of ground, about 18 acres of winter pasture, known locally as the Ten Shilling Land of Boyd (the shilling is an old British coin, 20 to the pound sterling, abolished in 1971)

    The titles show it as being “a mailing or tenandry, being a Ten Shilling Land of Old Extent.” Now, the Old Extent was a survey of rental values, carried out for tax purposes by King Alexander III in 1280, whose daughter was marrying the King of Norway and he needed help to pay her tocher. It may have been based on an earlier assessment by William the Lion, a century earlier, but the evidence is not conclusive. There is a similar piece of ground, known as the Merkland, obviously of the same origin (the Merk or Mark is another old coin, worth 2/3rds of a pound sterling). So, here we have oral testimony of the assessment of this land, continuing over eight centuries.

  • This is something for which no atheist adherent of the religion of scientism has any respect.

  • I enjoyed seeing the classic scene from one of my favorite movies “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” It brought me back to my medical internship at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1962 when the title song (which never mede it into the movie) was popular. I also enjoyed seeing the clip from “El Cid” which I discussed in my book Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners. It looks at the arc of the treatment of Christians especially Catholics in about 200 films from 1905-2008. You seem very knowledgeable about film. Are you familiar with it or my other book “Doctors in the Movies: Boil the Water and Just Say Aah!?” I also liked seeing the clip from my all-time favorite film “Casablanca” in one of your recent posts.
    Speaking about film, your story about Father Galveston would make a wonderful film as would the story of Edmund Campion and his brother priests.
    Keep up the good work.
    Peter E./ Dans

  • I hold to the argument that there is a real figure beneath the Arthurian legend, however conflated or otherwise lost to time he may be. Something knocked the Saxons back on their heels around 500 AD, confining them to the southern and eastern parts of what is now England. The result was something unique in the barbarian-occupied Western Empire: the survival of the invading barbarians as a distinct group, with little intermarriage (or even linguistic borrowing).

    Whether that figure was named “Arthur,” or is the conflation of a later legend with a confirmable, if shadowy, historical figure (Ambrosius Aurelianus), I can’t say. But the Saxons suffered a severe reverse ca. 500 that took a couple of generations to shake off.

  • Thank you Pete! I was not familiar with your work, but I will put your books on my list to read!

  • It’s kind of like a shadow version of comparing science with religion; they’re for totally different purposes, and if you try to force one into the format of the other, it fails.

    People need stories. People need facts. A balanced person is going to need both, though the proportions are different for different folks.

Bastille Day and the Transformative Power of History

Saturday, July 14, AD 2012

Something for the weekend.   The La Marseillaise scene from Casablanca.  Today is Bastille Day, the great national holiday in France, the equivalent our Independence Day.  In France it is known as La Fête Nationale, the National Celebration, or Le quatorze juillet, the fourteenth of July, rather like Independence Day is often known here as the fourth of July.  There the similarities end.  Although almost all Americans look back at the American Revolution with pride, many of us dedicated to the great truths embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the French Revolution is looked upon much more ambiguously in France.

Bastille Day recalls an event July 14, 1789 in which the mob of Paris, joined by mutinous French troops, stormed the Bastille, a fortress-prison in Paris which had in the past held political prisoners.  The Bastille fell to the mob after a fight in which some ninety-eight attackers and one defender were killed.  After the fighting, in an ominous sign of what was to come in the French Revolution, the mob massacred the governor of the prison and seven of the defenders.  The Bastille held a grand total of seven inmates at the time of its fall, none of political significance.

So began the Revolution which promised Liberty, Equality and Fraternity in theory and delivered in practice, Tyranny, Wars and Death, with France embarked on a witches’ dance of folly which would end at Waterloo, after almost a quarter of a century of war which would leave Europe drenched in blood.  Edmund Burke at the beginning of this madness, in 1790, saw clearly where all this would lead:

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17 Responses to Bastille Day and the Transformative Power of History

  • He actually mentions the Allies in passing. Sacre bleu!

  • Bastille Day is a great tragedy in Western Civilization.

    Spawning Communism, Socialism, and sexual deviancy.

  • If Paris is worth a mass, all of France is worth a La Marseillaise?

    Henri IV got the better bargain.

  • It was, indeed, a tragedy. And really it happened for no better reason than the French bankers, despairing of repayment by the bankrupt French government, engineered the Revolution so that they could loot the Church and thus recover their money. Of course, it did get out of hand – the Revolution threw up plenty of men who had other ideas beyond the age-old desire of robbing a Church or two along the way. But, really, it was a disgrace from start to finish – begun with ill motives, descending in to madness and then military dictatorship and endless war.

  • The most significant event in the French Revolution occurred, not on the 14 July, but on the 17 June previously. Then, the deputies of the Third Estate declared themselves be the National Assembly and told the other two estates, the nobility and clergy, in effect, “We represent the nation; you represent only yourselves and your private interests.” As the priest-philosopher, Abbé Emmanuel-Joseph Sieyes had written, in a recently-published book, the Third Estate represented the unprivileged majority of France. To constitute itself as the nation, it needed to assume power and abolish all privileges that placed the ruling minority above and outside the nation. Those who associate themselves with the common struggle for equality, the rights of Man and against privileges, these constituted the nation.

    This theory contains two elements that have become dominant in the French concept of the nation First, the nation is the community of all those who are not exempt from taxation, military service and other public duties, and, second, it includes all those, and only those, who are willing and capable of sharing in the service of the country. This is what Renan meant a hundred years later, when he said the nation was based on a « plébiscite de tous les jours » – on a daily vote of confidence.

    This was the great legacy of the Revolution; the monarchy could be restored, but it was impossible to re-impose feudal dues, heritable jurisdictions or the detested dine or tithe on the 10 million peasants, whom the Revolution had turned into heritable proprietors. This was also true everywhere that the armies of Napoléon had given a code of laws to a continent and restored the concept of citizenship to civilisation.

    Abbé Sieyes, by the by, was the instigator of Napoléon’s coup d’état of 18 Brumaire; so long as the nation was subject to one equal law, he saw no reason why it should not be ruled by one man.

  • “Bastille Day is a great tragedy in Western Civilization.

    Spawning Communism, Socialism, and sexual deviancy.”

    The modern doctrine of Communism awaited Karl Marx. Primitive communist doctrines have been around since antiquity. Socialism found its first modern proponent, at least in theory, in Saint Thomas More’s Utopia. The idea of common sharing of goods and a powerful state to maintain such equality also goes back to antiquity. As Holy Writ indicates, sexual deviancy is as old as Man. The French Revolution did abolish the penalties for sodomy, but such offenses were still punished under statutes against public lewdness. There were few prosecutions, as there had been few prosecutions against sodomy under the Old Regime, although homosexuality was rife among the nobility at Versailles as many memoirs of the nobility indicate.

  • “And really it happened for no better reason than the French bankers, despairing of repayment by the bankrupt French government, engineered the Revolution so that they could loot the Church and thus recover their money.”

    No, that is simply not true. Financial bankruptcy in state finances caused Louis to call the Estates General, but the idea that the French Revolution was caused by a cabal of French bankers to loot the Church is rubbish.

    For those interested in learning the true historical causes of the French Revolution, a good starting point is Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the Revolution, which may be found online at the link below. Chapters XVI-XX can’t be beat for explaining why the Revolution happened.

  • They sang them into the ground!

    The LOVE of the people for their country, the home of their families as long as they can remember.. I love that clip– the german soldiers occupiers were musical aggressors –even the music seems bellicose-and those de la Patrie sang them into the ground. Yay!

  • Donald R McClary

    On the supposed connection between the French Revolution and Socialism, there is a very interesting speech of De Tocqueville that he delivered as a deputy to the National Assembly on 12 September 1848.

    He says (my translation) “And finally, gentlemen, liberty. There is one thing that strikes me above all. It is that the Old Regime, which doubtless differed in many respects from that system of government which the socialists call for (and we must realize this) was, in its political philosophy, far less distant from socialism than we have believed. It is far closer to that system than we are. The Old Regime, in fact, held that wisdom was only in the State and that the citizens were weak and feeble beings who must always be held by the hand by the hand, lest they fall or hurt themselves. It held that it was necessary to obstruct, thwart, restrain individual freedom, that to secure an abundance of products, it was imperative to regiment industry and impede free competition. The Old Regime believed, on this point, exactly as the socialists of today do. It was the French Revolution which denied this.”

  • Mrs Thatcher on the French Revolution

    Human rights did not begin with the French Revolution; they stem from a mixture of Judaism and Christianity. We had 1688, our quiet revolution, where Parliament exerted its will over the King. It was not the sort of Revolution that France’s was. ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’ — they forgot obligations and duties I think. And then of course the fraternity went missing for a long time.

    on Bastille Day
    Who can trust a people who celebrate, as their national event, a jailbreak?

  • Donald,

    In 1789 the National Assembly declared the property of the Church to belong to the State and did this in order to resolve the financial crisis of the French government. It was robbery, pure and simple. It was the bankers of France – who had loaned the French government vast sums the government simply could not repay – who financed the revolutionary pamphlets as well as providing funds to bring out the mob on queue (what the heck was the purpose in attacking the Bastile? Only something to get the mob fired up and, of course, fearful of Royal retribution if the King’s authority should be restored). The financiers staged the revolution – which was not needed as the King was in favor of deep and lasting reforms of French government – in order to grab the only source of money in France which could possibly repay the bankers: the Church, which owned about 10% of all property in France as well as still having the right to collect the tithe (which was also seized for the State). To be sure, there were starry-eyed (and fanatically hating) people who were willing to ride the revolutionary wave to places the bankers didn’t want to go, but someone like Robespierre could never conduct a Revolution…such as him could only take control of it after others had got rid of the old regime and replaced it with something weaker.

    The whole thing was a terrible tragedy – and the worst part of it was that Louis XVI could have stopped it had he ordered his soldiers to shoot…but honorable and gentle Christian monarch that he was, he wouldn’t do it…he didn’t realize what demons were lurking in his domains and that a little blood shed early would have saved rivers of blood later.

  • never, never, never underestimate the willingness of financiers to use whatever comes to hand to avoid the bankruptcy they all so often richly deserve. Heck, our whole system of fake money and mounting debt was put in place simply to allow bankers to pretend they hadn’t screwed the economic pooch…and they have just carried it on and on and on through a century of mounting economic disintegration…and if they can get away with eventually shoving all their idiocy on to our backs via hyperinflation, they’ll do it (because the only place left to steal money to save the bankers is in the savings and property of the middle class…ruin the dollar and the bankers can pay back their idiot debts with debased money and still come out of it rich…the people will be ruined, but since when has that ever disturbed a banker?).

  • Mark Noonan

    The English legal historian, F W Maitland is very good on the Revolution and corporations

    “The State and the Corporation.—in this, as in some other instances, the work of the monarchy issues in the work of the revolutionary assemblies. It issues in the famous declaration of August 18, 1792: “A State that is truly free ought not to suffer within its bosom any corporation, not even such as, being dedicated to public instruction, have merited well of the country.” That was one of the mottoes of modern absolutism: the absolute State faced the absolute individual. An appreciable part of the interest of the French Revolution seems to me to be open only to those who will be at pains to give a little thought to the theory of corporations. Take, for example, those memorable debates touching ecclesiastical property. To whom belong these broad lands when you have pushed fictions aside, when you have become a truly philosophical jurist with a craving for the natural? To the nation, which has stepped into the shoes of the prince. That is at least a plausible answer, though an uncomfortable suspicion that the State itself is but a questionably real person may not be easily dispelled. And as with the churches, the universities, the trade gilds, and the like, so also with the communes, the towns and villages. Village property—there was a great deal of village property in France—was exposed to the dilemma: it belongs to the State, or else it belongs to the now existing villagers”

    It is easy to see how this reasoning would apply to the property of ecclesiastical corporations, sole or aggregate. Plainly, the individual bishop or rector was not the owner of the lands of his benefice, for he could not dispose of them, so who was?

    Recall that the notion of a trust is quite unknown to French law of any period.

  • No Mark that is simply incorrect. Blaming the Bankers for the French Revolution is ahistoric rubbish. Please cite one reputable history that supports this view. As for hapless Louis XVI, the man lacked the ability to be the mayor of a small town, let alone be king of a great power. He would have been better off as a locksmith. A dramatic demonstration of the weakness of hereditary monarchy: invariably the luck of the genetic draw will place on the throne for life someone completely unsuited for the job.

  • Mark, I have small tolerance for conspiracy mongering as opposed to historical knowledge. Rants against various groups are no substitute for historical fact. I am placing you on moderation for the time being.

  • Donald – it is your blog and you may do as you wish. But you are “Moderating” me because you cannot, by use of historical fact, controvert what I said.

    Goodbye, God bless and the best of luck to you.

  • No Mark, you are being moderated because you persisted in blaming Bankers for causing the French Revolution, which is simply erroneous. I invited you to cite one reputable history to support your thesis and you failed to do so. History is very important to me, and I will not allow it to be treated cavalierly on this blog.

19 Responses to Jefferson’s Jesus

  • Poor Jesus. If only He had the benefit of Jefferson’s wise counsel while He dwelt among us! Or perhaps Jefferson could have benefited in having CS Lewis to give him counsel:

    (In the first place they all tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical. The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new “historical Jesus” therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another, and by that sort of guessing (brilliant is the adjective we teach humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary life, but which is enough to produce a crop of new Napoleons, new Shakespeares, and new Swifts, in every publisher’s autumn list. In the second place, all such constructions place the importance of their Historical Jesus in some peculiar theory He is supposed to have promulgated. He has to be a “great man” in the modern sense of the word – one standing at the terminus of some centrifugal and unbalanced line of thought – a crank vending a panacea. We thus distract men’s minds from Who He is, and what He did. We first make Him solely a teacher, and then conceal the very substantial agreement between His teachings and those of all other great moral teachers. For humans must not be allowed to notice that all great moralists are sent by the Enemy not to inform men but to remind them, to restate the primeval moral platitudes against our continual concealment of them. We make the Sophists: He raises up a Socrates to answer them. Our third aim is, by these constructions, to destroy the devotional life. For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped. Instead of the Creator adored by its creature, you soon have merely a leader acclaimed by a partisan, and finally a distinguished character approved by a judicious historian. And fourthly, besides being unhistorical in the Jesus it depicts, religion of this kind is false to history in another sense.

    No nation, and few individuals, are really brought into the Enemy’s camp by the historical study of the biography of Jesus, simply as biography. Indeed materials for a full biography have been withheld from men. The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact (the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption) operating on a sense of sin which they already had – and sin, not against some new fancy-dress law produced as a novelty by a “great man”, but against the old, platitudinous, universal moral law which they had been taught by their nurses and mothers. The “Gospels” come later and were written not to make Christians but to edify Christians already made.)

  • What is this? Bash Jefferson Week

  • A week from now, everyone will be celebrating the Declaration of Independence, written by Jefferson, amid whoops and hollers. Ol’ Tom was hardly the only deist among the Founders; in fact, most were Deists and not Christians.

  • Wrong Joe. The vast majority of the Founding Fathers were perfectly conventional Christians.

  • I don’t mean to belabor the point. I just reemphasize that it is essential that we understand our historical figures for who they really are, and not for who we want to pretend they were.

    Let us hope the same applies to Lincoln and Hamilton : )

    BTW, Don, I accept your wager. As I look at a five-dollar bill, I already am having positive thoughts about ol’ Abe.

  • Correct, Don. Not all of the Founders were conventional Christians, but Jefferson stands apart for his heterodoxy.

  • Don, what’s a “perfectly conventional Christian”?

  • Let us hope the same applies to Lincoln and Hamilton : )

    Of course! I’m for disseminating all the facts, just not caricatures based on cherrypicked evidence.

  • Paul, in a wider context, Jefferson, along with Madison, co-authoried the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom. Without it America would have gone on as it was — with Jews banned from holding office in some states, Catholics in others, and Protestants in Maryland. So while Jefferson had doubts about the divinity of Jesus, he nonetheless embraced Intelligent Design. By the way, if one studies Mother Teresa’s life, she had many doubts, too.

  • Researching, I came across this list. I cannot affirm its accuracy but if it is then I suppose most were “Christian,” although not quite conventional:

    Here is a list of our Founding Fathers religion.
    Signers Name

    Religious Affiliation
    Adams, John Congregationalist/ Unitarian
    Adams, Samuel Congregationalist
    Bartlett, Josiah Congregationalist
    Braxton, Carter Episcopal

    Clark, Abraham Presbyterian
    Chase, Samuel Episcopal
    Carroll of Carrollton, Charles Roman Catholic

    Clymer, George Quaker/ Episcopal
    Ellery, William Congregationalist
    Floyd, William Presbyterian

    Hall, Lyman Congregationalist
    Gwinnett, Button Episcopal/ Congregationalist
    Gerry, Elbridge Episcopal
    Franklin, Benjamin Episcopal/ Deist

    Hancock, John Congregationalist
    Harrisson, Benjamin Episcopal
    Hart, John Presbyterian
    Hewes, Joseph Quaker/ Episcopal
    Heyward Jr., Thomas Episcopal

    New Hampshire
    Hopkinson, Francis Episcopal
    Hopkins, Stephen Episcopal
    Hooper, William Episcopal

    New Jersey
    Huntington, Samuel Congregationalist
    Jefferson, Thomas Episcopal/ Deist
    Lee, Francis Lightfoot Episcopal
    Lee, Richard Henry Episcopal
    Lewis, Francis Episcopal

    New York
    Middleton, Arthur Episcopal
    McKean, Thomas Presbyterian
    Lynch Jr., Thomas Episcopal
    Livingston, Philip Presbyterian

    North Carolina
    Morris, Lewis Episcopal
    Morris, Robert Episcopal
    Morton, John Episcopal

    Rutledge, Edward Episcopal
    Rush, Benjamin Presbyterian
    Ross, George Episcopal
    Rodney, Caesar Episcopal
    Read, George Episcopal
    Penn, John Episcopal
    Paine, Robert Treat Congregationalist/ Unitarian
    Paca, William Episcopal
    Nelson Jr., Thomas Episcopal

    Rhode Island
    Sherman, Roger Congregationalist
    Smith, James Presbyterian

    South Carolina
    Thornton, Matthew Presbyterian
    Taylor, George Presbyterian
    Stone, Thomas Episcopal
    Stockton, Richard Presbyterian

    Walton, George Episcopal
    Whipple, William Congregationalist
    Williams, William Congregationalist
    Wilson, James Episcopal/ Presbyterian
    Witherspoon, John Presbyterian
    Wolcott, Oliver Congregationalist
    Wythe, George Episcopal

  • Franklin, listed as “episcopal/deist,” was more the latter and may have, like some of the others, filled in the religion box for the sake of political correctness. He famously speaks for himself here:

    “God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” -Ben Franklin–(Constitutional Convention of 1787)

  • Without it America would have gone on as it was — with Jews banned from holding office in some states, Catholics in others, and Protestants in Maryland.

    I’m not trying to pile on, but in a bitter irony, *Catholics* had been disenfranchised in Maryland by the Revolution. They were only 8 percent of the population of that colony at that point, and the Protestants were determined to keep them chained. The example of Charles Carroll (of Carrollton) radically changed the views of the Protestant majority, and this injustice was remedied.

    I strongly recommend Bradley Birzer’s biography of Carroll, “American Cicero.” It gives a nice background on the status of Catholics in the colony.

    Birzer also advances the argument that the Quebec Act was the real final straw for a lot of the American colonists.

  • Your list is wrong about Carroll’s colony–Carroll was a native of Maryland, and arguably the richest man in America by the time of the Revolution.

  • There’s something wrong with that list. The names of the signers are in roughly alphabetical order. I’d guess that there was an embedded column in the cut-and-paste that distorted it.

  • It’s also worth noting that the founders were representitives of colonies, each made up of a large number of denominational emcampments. They weren’t looking to encode their own beliefs into the founding documents; they were trying to protect their populations. So this wasn’t a Deist document, or a Presbyterian/Episcopalean document. It was intended to protect the rights of every goofy New England utopian town of 200 souls, and everyone else. That’s the danger of emphasizing the founders’ individual beliefs over those beliefs that they wanted to prevent government from restricting.

  • There were witnesses to the “historical Jesus”, Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.

  • Pinky: That is good reasoning.

  • When Jefferson was in charge of the University of Virginia, he actively urged all the local religious groups to use the university buildings and grounds for events. Which was shrewd for gaining community support and goodwill, but also showed that his instinct was to be generous and impartial. It’s the American way to share.

    No, Jefferson’s beliefs were weirder than a barrel of komodo dragons, but that didn’t mean he didn’t believe in other people following their own religions.

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The Crusades and Historical Ignorance

Saturday, May 5, AD 2012

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).

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

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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.


  • “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.

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  • 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.

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

    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….

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  • 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 . . .

  • 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:

    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.