September 20, 2006


Papal Bull: Joseph Ratzinger's latest offense. (Christopher Hitchens, Sept. 18, 2006, Slate)

After the most perfunctory introduction, Ratzinger goes straight to his choice of quotation, which is taken from 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II. This potentate supposedly once engaged in debate—the precise time and place is unknown—with an unnamed Persian. The subject was Christianity and Islam. The Byzantine asks the Persian to "show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." (On the face of it, not a very open-ended inquiry.) But, warming to his own theme, the purple-clad monarch of Constantinople allegedly added that "to convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death."

Now, you do not have to be a Muslim to think that for the bishop of Rome to cite this is the most perfect hypocrisy. There would have been no established Byzantine or Roman Christianity if the faith had not been spread and maintained and enforced by every kind of violence and cruelty and coercion. To take Islam's own favorite self-pitying example: It was the Catholic crusaders who sacked and burned Christian Byzantium on their way to Palestine—and that was only after they had methodically set about the Jews, so the Muslim world was actually only the third victim of this barbarity. (Sir Steven Runciman's A History of the Crusades is the best source here.) Yet of all the words he could have chosen, to suggest that religion might wish to break its old connection with conquest, intolerance, and subjugation, Ratzinger had to select an example that was designed to remind his hearers of the crudest excesses of the medieval period. His mention of Manuel II was evidently not accidental or anecdotal. He refers to him repeatedly and returns to him again in the closing paragraph, as if to rub it in.

As much fun as it is to watch Mr. Hitchens take out the Pope here, honesty would compel him to acknowledge that he's one of the most vocal supporters of the current Christian Crusade and forced conversion. That psychological break will be a hoot to observe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 20, 2006 12:00 AM

And why was it necessary for the Crusaders to go to Byzantium?

Posted by: Sandy P at September 20, 2006 9:48 AM

Because God willed it.

Posted by: oj at September 20, 2006 9:56 AM

Anyone here could do the "fisking" on the Hitchins article. Not one point is valid.

Just briefly, he compares midieval Christianity with comtemporary Islam, which is meaniongless. The bit about the timing of the "no compulsion in religion," sutra is just wrong. Fr. Neuhaus has something on this over at First Things.

He misstates the place of the Papacy in world culture and in world Christianity: Chistianity is less divided than people like Hitchins might wish.

Those people love to talk about the Crusades, as thoiugh those campaigns had been offensiuve, rqather than defensive. hat view seems to accept uncritically that the natural order of things was Moslem dominance af the Middle East, losing sight iof the historical reality. On the contrary, Islam had comquered everything it held by violence and war. They had engaged in persecution and a pattern of kidnapping for ransom, which provoked the Crusades in redress.

Sucking up to Islam is a kind of Hesperophobioc cultural Brehznev doctrine: what's theirs is theirs and what's ours is theirs. Sorry, comrade, that's not how it's working. Reformation is needed and reformation we will have, whether the easy way or the hard way. The Holy Father has made a very valid point about Islam being irrational and anti-rational. Islam slammed the bait driving the point for all, including their own inmates, to see.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 20, 2006 10:37 AM


Of course, they're barbarians, so they're jihadding. We're civilized, so this isn't a crusade. You nicely illustrate Bernard Lewis's point.

Posted by: oj at September 20, 2006 10:51 AM

"It was the Catholic crusaders who sacked and burned Christian Byzantium on their way to Palestine"

Good grief. The historical ignorance on display here is complete. Mr. Hitchens shouldn't cite sources when he obviously hasn't bothered to read anything on the topic.

Constantinople was sacked by the 4th Crusade. That Crusade never even went to Palestine.

Posted by: b at September 20, 2006 1:08 PM

The Fourth Crusade fully intended to go to Palestine, but negotiations with an excessively tricky Emperor for passage over the Bosphorus (I believe it was Alexius IV Angelos, but would have to look it up to be sure) caused them to change their plans. If he had just ferried them across right away, the sack of Constantinople would never have happened.

Two other points. The Crusade went to Constantinople in the first place because that was the easiest route to Palestine. Much easier to cross the water there than via a long seaborne invasion route. And the darned city hadn't been called Byzantium for almost 900 years by then...what is it with people and those little historical details? Do they also write about New Amsterdam when they mean New York? Criminy.

Posted by: HT at September 20, 2006 2:36 PM

HT: I don't believe your version is accurate, and I think you're conflating different events. My understanding is more like this: The Crusade was called, and various princes agreed to send armies. They contracted with Venice to provide a fleet to bring them to Egypt. However, far fewer men showed up in Venice than expected, so they had neither a large enough army to launch a successful crusade, nor (more importantly) enough money to pay the Venetians for the fleet. Venice took all their money, locked them up as debtors, and then suggested that there was lots of loot to be had in various cities along the Dalmatian coast. That gave the Crusaders who did show up something to do, and gave Venice the chance to attack a major rival for supremacy in the eastern Med. The Pope excommunicated the leaders, but things were out of his hands. The Crusaders also at around this point decided to assist Alexius Angelus (he offered vast sums of money & assistance with their Crusade in Egypt--an endeavour that already had no chance of ever happening because much of the original army had deserted rather than fight fellow Christians) in seizing the throne in Constantinople from his uncle, leading to the sack of the city.

Posted by: b at September 20, 2006 2:57 PM

Bernard Lewis should take Shelby Foote's advice about old men and writing.

Jihad and Crusade are as different as Pearl Harbor and the D-Day invasion: both offensive actions, but worlds apart in moral quality.

Posted by: Paul J Cella at September 20, 2006 3:02 PM


Me good, you bad.

Your comparison is accidentally apt though. The Japanese simply reacted to FDR but we got our panties all knotted.

Posted by: oj at September 20, 2006 3:04 PM


So the point of the Crusade wasn't to go and sack Constantinople?

Posted by: oj at September 20, 2006 3:06 PM

The original point was to go to Egypt and Kill Muslims from there. By the time they departed Venice, the goal had been redirected so that it was to Kill Greeks.

Posted by: b at September 20, 2006 3:36 PM

Yes, "worlds apart"....

Posted by: oj at September 20, 2006 3:41 PM

b: well, I don't have any of my sources (Norwich, Ostrogorsky, Vasiliev, et al.) with me, and the information available on line is fairly thin gruel, but I will certainly do a little reading up this weekend.

However, the fact is that the city wasn't sacked in the original attack that deposed Alexius III, but only later after various machinations involving Isaac II and Alexius IV and V. The more serious falling out and the establishment of the Latin Empire on the ruins of Constantinople happened after the death of Alexius IV during the reign of Alexius V, so perhaps he was the fellow I was thinking of. I still seem to remember that the Fourth Crusaders looked on Constantinople not as the ultimate objective, but rather a way station on the way to getting to Egypt after having gotten their hands on the money that Alexius IV promised them. Which would still make my version more or less accurate. Sort of.

Posted by: HT at September 20, 2006 5:29 PM

According to Norwich, Dandalo, the blind Doge of Venice was behind the attack,seeking to destroy Byzantium as a commercial rival. The "crusaders" abandoned their original mission because Byzantium would/could not pay the debt owed Venice for the fleet. Opportunism won out over religious zeal. Plunder over religion.

"Thus it was the Venetians who were the real beneficiaries of the Fourth Crusade, and their sucess was due, almost exclusively, to Enrico Dandolo." Norwich

Posted by: jdkelly at September 20, 2006 6:26 PM

Norwich writes a good narrative, but he is no scholarly authority. Crusade scholarship has turned hard against the Runciman settlement -- in short, it has turned hard in favor of the Crusaders and against the rationalist historians.

See here.

"Popular accounts of the Fourth Crusade have traditionally painted it in the darkest, most anti-Western colors. Those who think little of the papacy or the Catholic Church can blame Pope Innocent III. While it is true that the pope had thrice forbidden the Crusaders to sail to Constantinople, demanded that they do no harm to Christians, and bitterly rebuked them for the sack of the city, one could dismiss these protestations as merely “for the record.” Deep in his heart, it has been argued, Innocent wanted the Crusade to conquer Constantinople. Many have also blamed the Venetians. Venice, you see, was a city of merchants. Surely, no flame of piety, idealism, or self-sacrifice could burn in the cold hearts of its citizens. Doge Enrico Dandolo, it is said, feigned devotion to the Cross, but in truth he sought a way to harness the holy enterprise for his own profane goals. Although Venice did an enormous amount of very lucrative business in Constantinople, many authors have insisted that bringing a war to Venice’s closest trading partner did, in fact, make good business sense.

During the last thirty years historians have learned much more about this complex Crusade. We now know that there was no secret villain scheming to divert the Crusade. Instead, there were many actors and accidents that led the enterprise step by step to a conclusion that no one wanted or could have foreseen. That story has been told in scholarly monographs, but until the publication of Jonathan Phillips’s The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople, it hadn’t appeared in an accessible, popular style.

Having devoted much of my professional career to the study of the Fourth Crusade, I am a tough critic when it comes to this subject. I have never read a popular treatment of this Crusade that is not riddled with errors of fact and laughable assumptions. That is, until now. Phillips’ book is a story well told, and the story is all the better for being true. Phillips has no need for made-up villains or half-baked conspiracies in order to craft a compelling and exciting read."

Despite Orrin's ravenous urge to traduce his ancestors in comparison with his enemies, there is nothing in Christianity (though there is much crime that Christians have perpetrated) that is as wicked as the doctrine of jihad.

Posted by: Paul J Cella at September 21, 2006 10:12 AM