A Brief History Warlords and Holy Wars
In The year 711 Moslem armies crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and defeated the Goths, bringing Islam to Spain. By 720 the armies of Islam reached the Pyrenees and threatened France. One hundred years after Mohammed’s Hegira, Charles Martel stopped the Islamic advance at the Battle of Tours. Western Europe was awakening from two centuries of turmoil and confusion that was not unlike today’s chaotic Afghanistan where the law is the law of the Warlord. No individual was safe and no life was deemed sacred. Violence was only escaped by becoming the servant of the most violent man. The peace of Islam was also purchased by much violence. The Sword of Medina met its match in Charles “the Hammer,” and Europe was granted a reprieve. In France, feudalism melded with the Teutonic sense of knightly nobility and honor creating a new kind of life and government that was not so easily crushed as was Africa. Islam turned its attention to building harems, and holy shrines.
Power in feudal Europe was centered around the fief. A fief was some valuable thing. It was usually a piece of land, but it could be a toll road, or a grist mill. It represented power, and men wanting a piece of that power and a measure of peace paid homage to its owner, pledging loyalty and services for a fief of their own or a fee (which comes from the word fief). Martel’s hammer broke the spirit of Islamic aggression and Charles’ son Pepin and grandson Charlemagne brought an order and a kind of peace that gave more time for the Gospel to turn the Germanic tribes away from their pantheon of gods (Odin, Thor to name just two) to accept Christianity as the order of the age.
While there were true followers of the Jesus Christ of the Bible, for the most part the Christianity of Europe was another fiefdom, howbeit a religious one. The titles, ranks, and rights were bought and sold, traded and bartered like the gold bullion piling up in the crypts of Rome. The visible church was a political beast that was jealous for the carcass of what H.G. Wells called “the corpse,” or what we would call the once mighty Roman Empire. The Church, a body politic, knew more about preying than praying.
In 795 Pope LeoIII sent Charlemagne the keys to tomb of St. Peter’s and in 800 AD planted a crown on his head while declaring him both Caesar and Augustus. Nowhere in all this was there even a hint of the spirit of the one who wore only a crown of thorns. With the death of Charlemagne this Empire broke up into a struggling mass of ambitions, treachery, and intrigue. Energy was spent in building castles and then defending them. In 928 Morazia, a woman and warlord, overthrew the Pope and placed her son on the Papal throne. After him she installed her grandson as Holy Father of the Roman Catholic Church.
All this time Islam, taking time to turn in, was building a great civilization and had taken full charge of the Holy Land and built a temple on the Jewish Holy Mount. In the year 1096 Urban II called for a holy crusade to wrest the land of Christ’s birth from the Turks. His motives had little to do with the cause of Christ or the spirit of Jesus. Not only would this unite a chaotic Europe behind the church, but it would provide an outlet for the blood thirsty who could rape and pillage across half a continent and get an indulgence or guarantee of heaven in return. Imagine that, throwing away this life for the promise of the next.
Once again there is much talk about crusades. A Christianized America, startled out of its orgy of materialism, has awakened to the plight of Palestine. Israel, a democratic and secular Jewish nation, and the descendants of Ishmael are locked in a death struggle over occupied territories that each are convinced they must have. So loud are the explosions, and deafening the lamentations that I can hardly hear myself think as I read the words of Jesus who said to a Samaritan woman who lived in what is now called the West Bank, that the day was coming when men would worship “neither on this mountain nor on that” but that men “would worship in spirit and in truth.” Until Jew and Arab bow before the Prince of Peace, there will be no peace. Unlike Mohammad, Jesus was no War Lord. Two thousand years ago this one who refused to wear the political crown of popular opinion said it is better to “love your enemies” rather than kill them. Now, like then, it seems few are listening.