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|July 8, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 64
Here's a book to read twice
by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large
Here's a book to read twice: Warriors of the Lord: the Military Orders of Christendom (Eerdmans). First time to glance at text and illustrations; next for the closer reading:
"On July 2, 1187 the crusading army of some 20,000 foot soldiers and 1,300 knights set up camp just north of Nazareth. There was plenty of grazing for their horses and an ample supply of water for men and beasts."
Raymond (Regent of Tripoli) would wait out the Muslims until summer heat forced them to withdraw. Sneaky Gerard de Ridefort instead convinced King Guy to attack. The Arab chronicler Ibn-al-Athir reported the rout -- the few surviving Templars and Hospitallers were bought by Saladin for 50 dinars each and decapitated.
Author Michael Walsh rolls through history -- but with a difference. For these knights were monks.
Walsh is chronicling the changes in the church that came with Constantine's official recognition of Christianity. And retelling the Crusades -- some of them.
Change: Hippolytus's 4th century to early 5th century canons warned "no Christian should voluntarily become a soldier; if he did he should not shed blood; if he sheds blood no sacraments until a penance was completed."
Came Constantine and escalation: the church first blessed knights' swords; then -- Holy Land in mind -- it created its own knights and, inevitably, as Walsh reveals the history, knight monks.
Plenty of them, from A to T, from the Order of Alcantara (1160) to the Order of St. Thomas of Acre (1192).
There's the warlike sounding Cistercian Order of Sword Brethren (Order of the Knights of Christ of Livonia). There's the Templars, Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon; the Teutonic Knights, Order of the Hospital of Saint Mary of the Teutons of Jerusalem; and the still familiar Knights of Malta, the Sovereign Military and Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights of Rhodes.
The latter occasionally makes headlines in the United States but, toujours la politesse, this is not the time to go into that.
So what have we got from Walsh? A sorry, intriguing tale well told, with marvelous medieval illustrations? Certainly.
But more, a reminder of the huge evolutionary, revolutionary, skin-shedding, constantly re-emerging (and occasionally re-energizing) process that is the Catholic Church overall as it wrestles and writhes and responds to the pressures of the successive eras in which it lives.
The two millenia of response: Not always salutary. Always memorable. Periodically laudable.
© 2003 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115
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