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Question 116:

We can understand that you are hostile to Muslims. But why did you also kill Orthodox Christians during the Crusades? What was your hatred of the Orthodox?

 

Answer: 1. It cannot be denied that in the past the relationship between Christians and Muslims was often marked by hostile actions and thoughts. In its publication „Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate”, 3, the Catholic Church declared publicly and bindingly for all Catholic believers that: “The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men.”

2. In response to the second part of the question we should remember the following:

In 1204, Constantinople was conquered by Catholic (in the sense of: Christians belonging to the Latin Church, the Church under Papal authority) crusaders and was plundered. In those days, the city was the shining centre of the Greek-Orthodox world. The capital of the Byzantine Empire never recovered from this blow and in 1453 was conquered by the Ottomans.

On Good Friday, 2000, the Pope made a public Confession of Sins against the Unity of the Body of Christ.

A representative of the Roman Curia, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Central Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, led the introduction:

Let us pray that our recognition of the sins which have ruined the unity of the Body of Christ and wounded fraternal charity will facilitate the way to reconciliation and communion among all Christians.

Silent prayer

The Holy Father

Merciful Father,

on the night before his Passion

your Son prayed for the unity of those

who believe in him:

in disobedience to his will, however,

believers have opposed one another,

becoming divided,

and have mutually condemned one another

and fought against one another.

We urgently implore your forgiveness

and we beseech the gift of a repentant heart,

so that all Christians, reconciled with you

and with one another,

will be able, in one body and in one spirit,

to experience anew the joy of full communion.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

Later, during his visit to Athens on May 4th and 5th 2001, the Pope spoke in his confession about misguided sons and daughters of the church who had sinned.

There follows a short review of the events in 1204 and the role of Pope Innocent III and the Catholic Church as a whole, to which the question alludes: Soon after his election in 1298 Pope Innocent III (1198 – 1216) proclaimed what is known as the fourth crusade, whereby he addressed mainly the clergy and the gentry of France as well as the Italian costal towns. In 1202 the Margrave Boniface of Monferrat, Baldwin VII of Flanders, Count Ludwig von Blois and others sailed from Venice to Egypt. As a price for a debt cancellation against the Popes will they conquered the Dalmatian costal town of Zara (the modern day Zadar), which had seceded in 1186. Following a request of his brother Isaak II, who had been banished by his brother, Emperor Alexios III, and his son Alexios IV, a brother-in-law of the German king Philipp of Swabia, the crusaders then turned against Constantinople which they conquered and plundered in the spring of 1204.

On April13th, 1204 and in accordance with a contract that had already been concluded in March, Baldwin was elected by the Venetians and Franconians to be the Latin Emperor, and a formal unified Church was created. This, however, was rejected by the Greek population. The setting up of a Latin rule occupied the crusaders so much that they abandoned their original goal.

According to eyewitnesses: "the clergy and those given papal authorization" told the crusaders prior to the final and decisive attack, that he who died during the attack would be absolved of all his sins. After a third of the town was burnt, thousands of inhabitants sold into slavery, raped and murdered, after the city was completely robbed, the churches plundered and desecrated, and King Baldwin, newly consecrated by the Latins, reported enthusiastically about the miracles of conquest and that the hand of the Lord had accomplished all this, the Pope wrote back: "We rejoice in our Lord and in the power of his strength, that He…..condescended to do such wonderful miracles through you…. to the glory and the magnification of the Holy See and for the purpose and rejoicing of Christendom....

The Greek-Orthodox theologian Anastasios Kallis describes what it is that still moves and troubles the Orthodox community to this day: "The initiator of this unholy Crusade, Pope Innocent III, was horrified about the cruelty of the crusaders, who for three days plundered palaces, churches, monasteries and houses, who murdered without distinction, raped mothers and nuns – and yet he sent the crusaders his best wishes and interpreted the dissolution of the Byzantine Empire and the ecumenical patriarchate by the Latins as a deed of godly predestination, which had thus created a church unity in accordance with his wishes. The issue is that the Pope imposed a Latin patriarch in Constantinople, who then presided in place of the Orthodox patriarch for over half a century, while the Orthodox patriarch, together with the Emperor, had to flee to Nicaea in Asia Minor. This is the sore point that still burdens the relationship of the two Churches.

Now, on May 4th, 2001 in Athens, Pope John Paul II admitted: "Some memories are especially painful, and some events of the distant past have left deep wounds in the minds and hearts of people to this day. I am thinking of the disastrous taking of the imperial city of Constantinople, which was for so long the bastion of Christianity in the East. It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith." The Pope continued: "For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him." The Orthodox Archbishop of Athens, Christodoulos, spontaneously applauded; the other present Bishops joined him.

These were the words of the Pope:

“I wish first of all to express to you the affection and regard of the Church of Rome. Together we share the apostolic faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; we have in common the apostolic heritage and the sacramental bond of Baptism; and therefore we are all members of Gods family, called to serve the one Lord and to proclaim his Gospel to the world. The Second Vatican Council called on Catholics to regard the members of the other Churches ‘as brothers and sisters in the Lord’ (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3), and this supernatural bond of brotherhood between the Church of Rome and the Church of Greece is strong and abiding.

Certainly, we are burdened by past and present controversies and by enduring misunderstandings. But in a spirit of mutual charity these can and must be overcome, for that is what the Lord asks of us. Clearly there is a need for a liberating process of purification of memory. For the occasions past and present, when sons and daughters of the Catholic Church have sinned by action or omission against their Orthodox brothers and sisters, may the Lord grant us the forgiveness we beg of him.

Some memories are especially painful, and some events of the distant past have left deep wounds in the minds and hearts of people to this day. I am thinking of the disastrous taking of the imperial city of Constantinople, which was for so long the bastion of Christianity in the East. It is tragic that the assailants, who had set out to secure free access for Christians to the Holy Land, turned against their own brothers in the faith. The fact that they were Latin Christians fills Catholics with deep regret. How can we fail to see here the mysterium iniquitatis (i.e., the mystery of evil) at work in the human heart? To God alone belongs judgment, and therefore we entrust the heavy burden of the past to his endless mercy, imploring him to heal the wounds which still cause suffering to the spirit of the Greek people. Together we must work for this healing if the Europe now emerging is to be true to its identity, which is inseparable from the Christian humanism shared by East and West”

 

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