Ash Wednesday: God Wills It!

Wednesday, March 9, AD 2011

Lent is a time for confronting evil, especially the evil within us.  Today is Ash Wednesday.  The origins of the use of ashes on Ash Wednesday is lost in the mists of Church history.  The first pope to mention Ash Wednesday, although the custom was very old by his time, was Pope Urban II.  At the Council of Clermont in 1095, the same Council at which the Pope issued his world altering call for the First Crusade, the Council handed down this decree (among others):  10-11. No layman shall eat meat after the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday until Easter. No cleric shall eat meat from Quinquagesima Sunday until Easter.

That the first pope to mention Ash Wednesday was the same pope who launched the First Crusade is very appropriate.  Although even many Catholics may not realize this today, from first to last the Crusades were a penitential rite for the remission of sins.  One of the foremost modern historian of the Crusades, Thomas Madden, notes this:

During the past two decades, computer-assisted charter studies have demolished that contrivance. Scholars have discovered that crusading knights were generally wealthy men with plenty of their own land in Europe. Nevertheless, they willingly gave up everything to undertake the holy mission. Crusading was not cheap. Even wealthy lords could easily impoverish themselves and their families by joining a Crusade. They did so not because they expected material wealth (which many of them had already) but because they hoped to store up treasure where rust and moth could not corrupt. They were keenly aware of their sinfulness and eager to undertake the hardships of the Crusade as a penitential act of charity and love. Europe is littered with thousands of medieval charters attesting to these sentiments, charters in which these men still speak to us today if we will listen. Of course, they were not opposed to capturing booty if it could be had. But the truth is that the Crusades were notoriously bad for plunder. A few people got rich, but the vast majority returned with nothing.

Pope Urban II was clear on this point in calling for the first Crusades when he reminded the chivalry of Europe of their manifold sins and called them to repentance through the Crusade:

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6 Responses to Ash Wednesday: God Wills It!

  • Medieval penances included Crusades and pilgrimages. See St. Bernard de Clairvaux’ endorsement of the Knights Templars.

    Christendom suffered 400 years of Islamic invasions, massacres and rapines. Then in 1095, in defense of itself and of its “children,” Christendom launched the First Crusade.

    One cannot easily reconcile 21st century “human dignity/peace/justice/secularism” with 11th century Faith and piety.

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  • Deus le volt

    Its interesting that you say the crowds shouted these words.

    Many commentators today claim that it was the Pope who uttered these words, and use that as one of the bases for attacking the Crusades – even many Catholics think this, and is now promoted by liberal teachers and scholars that the Crusades were an evil attack on ‘poor peaceful (gag) muslims’.

    I have even had to explain to people in our RCIA group – not just the candidates – how wrong this understanding is.

  • Popular ignorance of the Crusades Don is never to be underestimated. Most people are simply ignorant of the fact that Islam and Christianity had been at war for more than four centuries by the time of the First Crusade and that Islam was almost always the aggressor.

  • The Timeline
    630 Two years before Muhammad’s death of a fever, he launched the Tabuk Crusade, in which he led 30,000 jihadists against the Byzantine Christians.
    632-634 Caliph Abu Bakr reconquer sometimes conquer for the first time the polytheists of Arabia. The Arab polytheists had to convert to Islam or die.
    633 Khalid al-Walid, the Sword of Allah for his ferocity, conquers the city of Ullays along the Euphrates River (in today’s Iraq). Khalid captures and beheads so many that a nearby canal, into which the blood flowed, was called Blood Canal (Tabari 11:24 / 2034-35).
    634 At the Battle of Yarmuk in Syria the Muslim Crusaders defeat the Byzantines. .
    635 Muslim Crusaders besiege and conquer Damascus
    636 Muslim Crusaders defeat Byzantines decisively at Battle of Yarmuk.
    637 Muslim Crusaders conquer Iraq at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah
    638 Muslim Crusaders conquer and annex Jerusalem, taking it from the Byzantines.
    638-650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Iran, except along Caspian Sea.
    639-642 Muslim Crusaders conquer Egypt.
    641 Muslim Crusaders control Syria and Palestine.
    643-707 Muslim Crusaders conquer North Africa.
    644-650 Muslim Crusaders conquer Cyprus, Tripoli in North Africa, and establish Islamic rule in Iran, Afghanistan, and Sind.
    673-678 Arabs besiege Constantinople, capital of Byzantine Empire
    691 Dome of the Rock is completed in Jerusalem, only six decades after Muhammad’s death.
    710-713 Muslim Crusaders conquer the lower Indus Valley.
    711-713 Muslim Crusaders conquer Spain and impose the kingdom of Andalus.
    732 The Muslim Crusaders stopped at the Battle of Poitiers; that is, Franks (France) halt Arab advance
    756 Foundation of Umayyid amirate in Cordova, Spain, setting up an independent kingdom from Abbasids
    785 Foundation of the Great Mosque of Cordova
    807 Caliph Harun al-Rashid orders the destruction of non-Muslim prayer houses and of the church of Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem
    809 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sardinia, Italy
    813 Christians in Palestine are attacked; many flee the country
    831 Muslim Crusaders capture Palermo, Italy; raids in Southern Italy
    850 Caliph al-Matawakkil orders the destruction of non-Muslim houses of prayer
    837-901 Aghlabids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Sicily, raid Corsica, Italy, France
    909 Rise of the Fatimid Caliphate in Tunisia; these Muslim Crusaders occupy Sicily, Sardinia
    928-969 Byzantine military revival, they retake old territories, such as Cyprus (964) and Tarsus (969)
    937 The Ikhshid, a particularly harsh Muslim ruler, writes to Emperor Romanus, boasting of his control over the holy places
    937 The Church of the Resurrection (known as Church of Holy Sepulcher in Latin West) is burned down by Muslims; more churches in Jerusalem are attacked
    966 Anti-Christian riots in Jerusalem
    969 Fatimids (Muslim Crusaders) conquer Egypt and found Cairo
    c. 970 Seljuks enter conquered Islamic territories from the East
    973 Israel and southern Syria are again conquered by the Fatimids
    1003 First persecutions by al-Hakim; the Church of St. Mark in Fustat, Egypt, is destroyed
    1009 Destruction of the Church of the Resurrection by al-Hakim (see 937)
    1012 Beginning of al-Hakim’s oppressive decrees against Jews and Christians
    1015 Earthquake in Palestine; the dome of the Dome of the Rock collapses
    1048 Reconstruction of the Church of the Resurrection completed
    1055 Confiscation of property of Church of the Resurrection
    1071 Battle of Manzikert, Seljuk Turks (Muslim Crusaders) defeat Byzantines and occupy much of Anatolia
    1071 Turks (Muslim Crusaders) invade Palestine
    1073 Conquest of Jerusalem by Turks (Muslim Crusaders)
    1075 Seljuks (Muslim Crusaders) capture Nicea (Iznik) and make it their capital in Anatolia
    1076 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) conquer western Ghana
    1085 Toledo is taken back by Christian armies
    1086 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) (see 1050) send help to Andalus, Battle of Zallaca
    1090-1091 Almoravids (Muslim Crusaders) occupy all of Andalus except Saragossa and Balearic Islands
    1094 Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus I asks western Christendom for help against Seljuk invasions of his territory; Seljuks are Muslim Turkish family of eastern origins; see 970
    1095 Pope Urban II preaches first Crusade; they capture Jerusalem in 1099

    So it is only after four centuries of Islamic invasions Western Christendom launches its first Crusades.

  • “630 Two years before Muhammad’s death of a fever, he launched the Tabuk Crusade, in which he led 30,000 jihadists against the Byzantine Christians.” Muhammed did not launch a crusade, he launched a jihad.
    “634 At the Battle of Yarmuk in Syria the Muslim Crusaders defeat the Byzantines.” The jihadists are properly identified in the first sentence, then improperly identified as crusaders in the rest of the post. Otherwise a very good time line.