Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Rabbi asks a priest a question... part 15

Continued from last week…

There were three major centers of Christianity by the year 150 AD, Antioch in Asia, Alexandria in Africa, and Rome in Europe. These were called the patriarchates, or “father churches.” Jerusalem had been levelled and replaced by the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina and Constantinople didn’t yet exist. These three father churches were thought to be of special distinction because of their founding by St. Peter, whom Jesus chose as leader of the early Church. Peter had founded the church in Antioch, Syria and through his delegate St. Mark was considered the founder of the church in Alexandria, Egypt, but above all, the church founded by St. Peter and also by St. Paul was Rome.

Peter and Paul had both died there and their relics remained there. The early Christians considered the Roman church the first of the churches as evidenced by St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Irenaeus of Lyon. Around 650 AD, the armies of a new prophet swept out of the Arabian Peninsula and in short order captured two of the original patriarchates, Alexandria and Antioch and thus began the slow but steady erosion of Christianity in the lands of its beginning. Rome, too, had been conquered by the Germanic tribes of the west, but something else happened there. The conquerors were converted by the conquered and soon there were mass baptisms of Germanic tribes into the Roman Church. They may have become Christians, but the mass conversions meant that they were not the most literate nor best educated of believers. Among these new Christians, the Jews continued in their uneasy but useful position, living their lives largely without threat to life and limb. (Note: I use the world “largely.” There were certainly some incidents of major persecution during the era, but nothing like what was to come.)

Christianity in the East held on under the new rulers and their new religion. In fact, the invaders didn’t try to convert them. The Christians paid a special tax and their governmental and technical expertise was useful to the new masters. That started to change in around 900 AD.  300 years after the first Arab invasion of Roman Christian territory, the great Christian centers, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia started to become Arabized. Christians found themselves under increasing pressure to convert to the new religion. There had been an increase during the previous century in the persecution of those Christians still remaining in the Holy Land and pilgrimage to the Christian shrines had been forbidden. In addition to the increasing Arabic pressure, a central Asian people, the Turks accepted the new religion and its prophet, and did so with the devotion of new converts.

An ambassador from Constantinople arrived in Rome in 1095 from the Byzantine/Roman emperor Alexius asking for help against these new invaders, the Turks who were invading what was left of the old Roman Christian empire. The pope called a council in Clermont in France and urged the nobility of Europe to come to the aid of their Christian brothers in the east in addition to the depredation of the Turkish invaders.

Around this same time, the Fatimid Caliph of Cairo al-Hakim, (or Hakim the crazy to those who knew him well) under whose jurisdiction the Holy Land fell, decreed that the Christians would no longer be allowed to observe the feasts of Epiphany or Easter. Wine was outlawed not just for Muslims but for Christians, which made the celebration of Mass impossible, and wasn’t much appreciated by Jews either who use wine in their religious rituals. In 1005, he ordered Jews and Christians to wear distinctive item of clothing. In1009, al- Hakim ordered the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher in order to end the Holy Fire ceremony that he was sure was a fraud. Eventually all Christian religious buildings in the Holy Land were confiscated or destroyed. The situation in the Holy Land, and the Turkish juggernaut into the remaining Christian territory, (which was only stopped in 1683 at the gates of Vienna,) finally woke up a sleeping Christendom. The nobility of Europe “took the cross,” that is, they pledged themselves to make pilgrimage to the holy sites. Access to the Christian shrines could only be had by means of war with the rulers of the east.  The nobility of Europe prepared for war. The peasants of Europe were not to be outdone by the nobility and felt no need to prepare. God would help them! A holy (and probably looney) hermit named Peter decided to act on the pope’s call to liberate the formerly Christian lands of the east. He gathered 20,000 peasants together in Easter 1096 and declared a people’s crusade. They promptly started the march to Jerusalem though they weren’t quite sure where Jerusalem was. This did not strike them as a problem.

 At one point they seem to have been led by a goose. I quote Albert of Aachen, a contemporary source:

There was also another abominable wickedness in this gathering of people on foot, who were stupid and insanely irresponsible…They claimed that a certain goose was inspired by the Holy Ghost, and a she-goat filled with no less than the same, and they had made these their leaders for this holy journey to Jerusalem; they even worshipped them excessively, and as the beasts directed their courses for them in their animal way, many of the troops believed they were confirming it to be true according to the entire purpose of the spirit.”

Things soon went from stupid to evil when the goose died and was replaced by politicians. Peter the Hermit was joined by Count Emicho of Flonheim who knew a good thing when he saw it. The peoples crusade arrived in Germany in spring 1096, and promptly started slaughtering Jews, the reasoning being, “We don’t have to wait until Jerusalem to kill the enemies of Christ, we’ve got plenty of Jews right here in the Rhine valley.” In Speyer, Worms, Mainz and Cologne, Jews died by the thousands despite the efforts by Catholic bishops to protect them. Things changed for "We’re right. You’re wrong.” to “We’re right. You’re dead.” When they finally got the Roman/Byzantine Empire, they were ambushed by the Turks and what goes around comes around. Of the 20,000 only 3,000 survived. The delicate balance ended. Jews became even useful to the moneyed interests of the west. Now there was a way to cancel debts to Jewish moneylenders. Preach a crusade and kill the Jews. How efficient! 

Next week: How odd of God to choose the Jews.

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