March 2003

A Concise History of the Crusades.  By Thomas F. Madden. Rowman & Littlefield. 274 pages. $No price given..

"The crusades are quite possibly the most misunderstood event in European history." Madden made this statement after George W. Bush was roundly criticized for using the term “crusade” to describe the response the U.S. would make against the 9/11 terrorists. By using the term, it was said that Bush had been insensitive to Muslims. As a professor of history at St. Louis University, Madden is in a position to know how misunderstood the Crusades are. The usual attitude of the “enlightened” thinker is disdain. No attempt is made to appreciate the spirituality of the medieval world, much less the social and political necessities that prompted the Crusades.

This attitude was exhibited by the well-known author Thomas Cahill (How the Irish Saved Civilization) in a New York Times column (Feb. 2, 2002). Expecting his readers to assume he was talking about Muslims, he said, “Once upon a time there was a religion whose adherents thought it to be the only true one. Because their God wished everyone (or so they thought) to believe as they did, they felt justified in imposing their religion on others.” But the reader soon learns that Cahill is describing Christians. He refers to the Crusades (and the Inquisition) as part of Christianity’s “dark history.” Cahill’s point is that, thanks to the 18th-century Enlightenment and America’s “agnostic” view of religion, Christianity learned tolerance. After all, except for some unenlightened Muslims, who goes to war anymore for religious convictions? Eventually the Muslims will be sufficiently secularized so that they too will learn about tolerance.

Madden’s A Concise History of the Crusades is free of such blatant bias. It is a clear handling of a complex subject that lets the facts speak for themselves. Madden has no axes to grind (the Crusades have long been a favorite axe of the axe-grinders chopping away at Catholicism). The book, moreover, lives up to its title. It is concise, but not overly simplified. It would serve as a fine text for undergraduate history students.

Because of Madden’s concise treatment of the Crusades, some impressions emerge that would be more subdued in a lengthier narrative. One accurate impression is that the Crusades occurred at a time of nearly unrelieved war — skirmishes and battles followed by more of the same, with the cycle then repeating itself. Madden’s story unveils an incredible military feat prompted by the Christian vision that the sacred land of Christ and the holy places of Christianity should be freed from the Muslims, who were threatening to conquer the Byzantine Empire. (The emperor of Byzantium, in A.D. 1095, asked Pope Urban II to help him regain lands from invading Turks.)

Madden’s book is not only concise but ambitious. It covers the People’s Crusade preached by Peter the Hermit and ends with the final crusade of Pope Leo X in the 16th century. Along the way, we meet all of the important players in this most disturbing military, political, and spiritual drama. When one finishes the book, one can’t but reach the verdict that the Crusades, on the Christian side, were ultimately a huge failure — indeed, a tragedy. The Christian reader will come away frustrated at the totally this-worldly motivation of some of the leaders and the constant bickering, intrigues, and even treachery carried out by Christian leaders to gain power in the Holy Land. And the reader will be dumbfounded at the witless military decisions that led to the slaughter of whole Christian armies.

All of the good and the bad are contained in this volume, including the pure-minded leaders such as Richard the Lion-Hearted and St. Louis IX of France. Madden’s narration of the sack of Constantinople makes for especially difficult reading. The inhabitants of the city welcomed the Crusaders, only to be subjected to slaughter, rape, and the desecration of the Eucharist in Eastern churches. The Great Schism was just over 150 years old. We can only wonder what would have been the spiritual outcome had the Crusaders acted with simple decency.

In his Afterword, Madden points out that although “we are quick to condemn the medieval crusader…he would be just as quick to condemn us. Our infinitely more destructive wars waged for the sake of political and social ideologies would, in his opinion, be lamentable wastes of human life. In both societies, the medieval and the modern, people fight for what is most dear to them.”

- Monica Migliorino Miller



Anti-Abortionist at Large: How to Argue Intelligently About Abortion and Live to Tell About It.  By Raymond Dennehy. Trafford Publishing (888-232-4444). 208 pages. $16.95.

The abortion debate has been raging for three decades with little movement on either side, but it remains one of the most controversial issues of our time.

Telling the truth about abortion has proven as difficult and frustrating as ending the actual slaughter itself.

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decided some 30 years ago in Roe v. Wade that a woman has a constitutional right to end the life of her unborn child, opponents of abortion have striven valiantly to stop the carnage.

The fruits of this abominable decision have resulted in the legalized killing of approximately 1.3 million innocent human beings in the U.S. each year and has given our country the distinction of having the highest abortion rate (22.9 per 1,000 pregnancies) of any industrialized Western nation. Abortion is now the most common surgical procedure in the country.

One man who has been on the front lines of the debate, even before Roe v. Wade, is Prof. Raymond Dennehy of the University of San Francisco. His new book Anti-Abortionist at Large is an invaluable tool. Dennehy, a professor of philosophy, writes eloquently about the extremely well-funded pro-abortion industry and its willing allies in the media, the legislatures, and academia. He has carried the fight to inhospitable universities, high schools, national conferences, and women’s meetings. He has appeared on radio and TV to press the case that life begins at conception and the unborn child is a human being entitled to all the rights and privileges conferred by God and (were it just) the law.

Prolifers such as Dennehy see in the Roe decision a striking parallel to the Dred Scott decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that blacks were only three-fifths of a person and could be used as chattel. One way of justifying the deliberate killing of members of a special class, he writes, is to argue that they are not human beings. But that cannot be done in the case of the fetus, because it is a human fetus — conceived by human parents.

The pro-abortion community argues that the fetus is not a person, but will develop into one. They describe it as a potential person. They extend this line of reasoning by claiming that the rights of an actual person — the expectant mother — override the rights of a merely potential person and therefore the mother can abort the fetus without violating its right to life and without committing murder.

But one of the most difficult obstacles for the pro-abortion crowd to surmount occurs when a pregnant woman is injured and her unborn child is killed; in such cases, the perpetrator can be charged with murder. In contrast, if the woman aborts her child, she is protected by the Constitution.

The prolife community has been well served by this easy-to-read and articulate discussion of abortion. It belongs in the library of everyone involved in the battle for the right to life.

- Arthur J. Brew



Lectures on the Present Position of Catholics in England.  By John Henry Newman. University of Notre Dame Press. 500 pages. $40.

In his excellent Introduction, Nash supplies us with the context in which Newman delivered nine lectures discussing the present position of Catholics in England. In 1851 England was in its latest spasm of anti-Catholicism due to a remark by Cardinal Wiseman rejoicing over the fact that the Pope was about to restore the hierarchy in Great Britain after an absence of three centuries. The English public reacted as if the Pope were going to invade the country the next day. Calling it the “Papal Aggression,” the masses rioted in the streets, the preachers preached No Popery, and the politicians passed anti-Catholic legislation. At first, Newman’s reaction to the uproar was to let it pass without comment. Later, however, he thought better of it, saying that the best way to handle a bully is to face him. So when he was asked to give a series of lectures, he took up the offer and proceeded to show his fellow Catholics how to stand their ground, using humor, satire, irony, analysis — and steely outrage — in a way he had never done before and would never do again. The audience, mostly those despised Catholics, hugely enjoyed the lectures. Newman was their champion, using his genius to give public voice to a minority that had been flattened for centuries. The larger audience, the English public who would read about Newman’s lectures in newspapers and journals, would not enjoy them very much. But the fair-minded among them would have to admit that Newman had given them an accurate portrait of themselves.

One might wonder over the fact that the lecturer spoke in such a straightforward way. Perhaps it was because he was an Englishman who loved those qualities of frankness and fair play respected by his countrymen in their ordinary dealings. He would show them that they might exercise some of those qualities in regard to the Catholics among them. And so he arose in the controlled but deadly way of a gentleman and showed how anti-Catholic prejudice is an ignorant and cowardly blot on the honor of Englishmen. What is surprising about Newman’s tone in these lectures is the deep indignation he showed beneath a lightness of touch totally dedicated to nailing prejudice right between the eyes. Newman was not a man to “mess with” when he had decided that the honor of the Church was at stake.

He relates how upper-class fathers preferred that their sons and daughters had died or become atheists rather than that they had become Catholics. He depicts in great detail how the preachers, themselves educated men, would periodically stir up the masses with all sorts of wild anti-Catholic tales. Newman asks why Englishmen were so ready to believe the worst of other Englishmen simply because they were Catholics. Cannot a person of one religion differ with another without hating him?

He answers his own questions by going into the history of the matter, showing how a people who had been all Catholic at one time were turned into a nation of violent anti-Catholics. Newman’s history lesson shows how a hostility may be built up and added to over the centuries, so that one class of citizens may learn how to hate another even though they rub shoulders with them every day. The story begins with the days of Queen Elizabeth, when the political leaders determined that, if they were ever to rule securely, they would have to root out the Church which had planted herself in the heart of the nation for centuries. They used all the power of the Throne and the Establishment to make the Church an enemy of the nation. Being a Catholic was made tantamount to being a traitor. And did not traitors merit the most shameful of deaths? Further, Catholics were banned from the Church, the Law, the University, and the Political, thus being rendered powerless. The process went on for three centuries, the heritage of hate being handed down to later generations who would know nothing about the actual Church but everything about the lie.

What seems to have added to the burning indignation of Newman was the behavior of those whom he knew and loved in Oxford. When he became a Catholic, he was simply shut out as if he had never walked the halls of Oriel College. It would seem that at least they would have maintained some respect for their former colleague. But the power of inherited prejudice seemed to be even stronger than any personal bond, even among gentlemen. If the Establishment would treat Newman in this way, imagine how it would treat poor Irishmen and Italians crowding its big cities.

Rereading this book of Newman’s reminded me of how violent the anti-Catholic prejudice in England was in the 1850s. I also got a renewed appreciation of how gutsy Newman was in following his own advice of standing up to bullies in defense of the defenseless. He was certainly a saint who loved the sinner. But he surely hated the sin and made no bones about it!

- Richard Geraghty



The Dead Sea Conspiracy: Teilhard de Chardin and the New American Church.  By James K. Fitzpatrick. WinePress Publishing. 250 pages. $12.95.

The enigma for the reader begins with the nonfiction-sounding title for this work of fiction. Its plot concerns two anti-hero jocks who stumble upon a story that appears to prove that there was no resurrection or ascension of Jesus, with a presumed endorsement by Teilhard de Chardin.

The problem of credibility for the reader continues with the contrast between the tough, sardonic narrative voice of a sinful but practicing Catholic stockbroker and his sensitive intellectual side. Our uncertainty builds as we think we are reading a militantly conservative writer’s plot designed to mock liberal dissenters — Fitzpatrick is a well-known Wanderer columnist — but find eventually that the novel could just as easily be understood in an opposite way — as a story written by a doubter to show conservative readers how plausible liberal theories really are.

To make things even more confusing, the author insists that any use of historical persons is just for credibility, but that the story is fictional. This is supposed to justify describing Teilhard in a realistic, factual way concerning two-thirds of his biography, but then making it look as if Teilhard had proof that Jesus was only a man. It strikes me as somewhat unethical for a writer to do this. Suppose someone wrote a novel with a character called Ronald Reagan and then added to what we all know about him a dreadful story that many would believe is really true but for which the author gives no evidence.

On the other hand, Fitzgerald’s style is delightful, rollicking, and engaging, although you must endure accounts of sinful one-night-stands. The New York City backdrop is fun, especially for former New Yorkers like me.

Still, I found this novel frustrating. Throughout I was sure we were going to have a miracle at the end to convert all the main characters to the true Faith. Instead, even the hero, a believer of sorts, continues to be riddled with doubt at the finish line. That it is impossible to judge whether the writer is purposely trying — as in an old New York City expression — to “fake out” readers of all persuasions only added to my unhappiness with the book.

- Ronda Chervin





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