Review of The New Concise History of the Crusades

A while back, I had the pleasure of reading Thomas F. Madden’s The New Concise History of the Crusades.  This introductory yet detailed work covers all the major Crusades to the Levant, certain minor ones–including the Children’s Crusade, and the important Crusades within Europe: the Reconquista, the Albigensian Crusade, and the Northern or Baltic Crusades.  (The last might be especially interesting to fans of the Spice and Wolf light novels, since Hasekura’s fantasy world is reminiscent of Northern Europe during that time.)  The most important thing to note about many popular recent histories of the Crusades is that they often come from an unfriendly perspective: Marxist, of the Enlightenment, or pro-Islam.  (Runciman’s famous history, for example, falls into the pro-Islam category.)  This is to say that many historians of modern times have used the historical data with the purpose of discrediting the notion of a just holy war, tarnishing Christendom, or imputing false motives to the Crusaders and the Church.  Madden’s history diverges from those sorts by taking the Crusaders’ and the Church’s words and deeds for what they are rather than as a cover for greed.

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However, Madden does highlight the greed and lust for power of certain participants, especially the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.  (Frederick II may be credited for many good things, but he both delayed egregiously the fulfillment of his oath to crusade and then used his time in the Levant for personal enrichment.)  Madden also notes how the Fifth Crusade might have become the greatest success since the first one had it not been for the papal legate’s greed: the Caliph of Egypt, due to internal strife and initial setbacks against the Crusaders, had offered Jerusalem and its environs on a silver platter.  Yet, the papal legate, a cardinal, wanted more.  It is true that others also argued against the initial treaty and subsequent offers because they did not fully secure the Kingdom of Jerusalem against invasion; yet, as the position of the army became more untenable prior to the final catastrophe, this cardinal’s desire for more territory was primarily responsible for the Fifth Crusade’s failure.

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Observations on How Religion Rolls Back Superstition

Many watching Mayoiga have no doubt discerned that the characters are stupid.  Not that this sort of thing is rare in the horror genre, but here it should be pointed out that much of their stupidity derives from their superstitious ideas, which plainly comes forth in that most believe Masaki to be a ghost.  What is a ghost?  The soul or spirit of a deceased person.  It is in the nature of ghosts to be immaterial, and so they can’t be touched and don’t need food, which explains why Our Lord had St. Thomas the Apostle touch His wounds and why He ate fish before the apostles after His Resurrection.  I might add that one cannot tie up or wound ghosts either, as the protagonists of Mayoiga were able to do to Masaki.  The point of the above is that no Christian would take seriously the contention that Masaki was a ghost, but particular nonbelievers, lacking the education provided by the Faith, are more susceptible to superstition in this matter.

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The concept of religion guarding against superstition sounds odd to us: we’re trained to think of religion as promoting superstition.  Even in the days of Plutarch (c. 46 – c. 120 AD), the Romans were held to be superstitious by the Greeks because of their fervor for religion.  There are even some Catholic superstitions, which often base themselves on certain acts or rituals guaranteed to gain the object of our prayers.  In reality, there are several elements which much be present for a prayer to be effective, such as humility, devotion, confidence, necessity for salvation, and the will of God.  Believing a pious practice will obtain one’s prayers may increase one’s confidence and devotion, but without the other three conditions, one’s prayer will not be answered.  Sometimes a prayer to a lesser saint is more effective because one’s devotion to that saint is greater; but, as George MacDonald wrote, God would “instead of being a merciful Savior, be the ministering Genius of our destruction” if He answered every prayer exactly as we wished it.  Not everything we want advances our salvation or is in accord with God’s will.

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“Looking down with Malicious Intent”: How a Remark in Spice and Wolf Volume Six has Irked me

Those of you looking for an enjoyable light novel need look no further than Spice and Wolf by Isuna Hasekura.  The translation put out by Yen Press reads quite easily and still manages to have a lot of character.  In particular, one of anime’s most beloved characters, Holo, can be read in all her sly wisdom, cunning repartee, archaic usage, culinary enthusiasm, and love of liquor.  Besides Holo, the other characters, especially the protagonist, feel compelling.  I cannot but love how the medieval setting reminds one of the Baltic Crusades and how Hasekura attempts to create a merchant hero who adheres to the code of contract law.  (Very interesting and unusual.)  Also, the novels cover more adventures than the anime ever will.

Lawrence and Holo

However much fun these novels are, they never fail to needle me a little.  The tales are written from an atheist’s perspective, which varies from disdain to curiosity in regards to monotheism as practiced by the Church.  This Church is reminiscent of the medieval Catholic Church, but their theologies don’t square perfectly.  One of my favorite pot shots has to be Holo’s “The universe is too big for it to have been created by a single god.”  How limiting the word kami must be on the Japanese theological imagination!

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Be an Erza-like Christian This Lent

While reading The Spirit of St. Francis, one particular conversation between St. Francis de Sales and Bishop Jean Pierre Camus, his spiritual son, struck me.  Camus claimed that reading Plutarch and Senaca helped him to aspire to virtue in his younger days.  Whereupon St. Francis de Sales responded that Seneca’s understanding of virtue was quite against Christianity’s understanding of it.  For Seneca, virtue comes from within.  In reality, virtue comes from without through God’s grace and love entering the soul.

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Perhaps Erza of Fairy Tail is most representative of this attitude.  Everyone in the guild looks up Erza for her strength, but we discover in her difficult fight with Azuma on Mavis’ island that she relies on the strength of others.  She can only be so strong because others are there for her.  Shortly after her victory, she helps a member of Fairy Tail (Gray, I think), who comments that he is always being saved.  Whereupon, she responds “me, too” or something like that.

Erva vs. Azuma

The guild of the Christian is the Church.  We are all on the same side, whether we are struggling in the Church Militant, undergoing purification in the Church Suffering, or perfect in the Church Triumphant.  It is certain that God distributed His virtues and talents among the faithful to differing degrees: one is more just, another more temperate, another more patient, etc.  Yet, all are made in God’s image and likeness and called to perfect this likeness.  To this end, God both abundantly pours forth His grace and provides models of imitation, especially through Himself in the most divine life of Jesus and through St. Mary’s perfect adherence to God’s will.  It is a common phenomenon that people imagine that they have a virtue after reading or hearing about someone who displays the same virtue.  Rather, they have the model of the virtue which they are on fire to bring to life in the world.  They love the virtuous man and want to become close to them through imitation.  Thus, we are drawn to Jesus and Mary by learning their deeds and trying to imitate them.  In this way, virtue is imposed on us from the outside: we ardently desire to be like someone we know and the grace of God works within us to help us produce this likeness to the virtuous person, which is a likeness to God.

Here's a great Catholic meme.

Here’s a great Catholic meme.

For this purpose, God has established many saints and great men so that we are drawn to virtue.  St. Joseph makes us love obedience, silence, and diligence; St. Anthony of Egypt faith and courage; St. Leo the Great theology and compassion for the poor; St. Ignatius of Loyola nobility of aspiration and obedience to the Church; St. Magnus justice and love of family; the Prophet Moses humility and meekness; St. Bartholomew simplicity and cheerfulness, St. Therese of Lisieux purity and lowliness, and St. Francis de Sales patience and sweetness towards enemies.  God tells us to be like little children.  Little children are always imitating their elders.  In the same way, we should treat the saints as the elders in our guild and imitate them so that we can gain Christ-likeness.  Even virtues which are arduous or not particularly wanted–think of St. Augustine’s understanding of his prayer for chastity really meaning “Make me chaste, Lord, but not yet.”–become sweeter and more desirable when we see them shining in the person of a saint.

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So, perhaps the best way for us to make progress this Lent is to study a saint possessing the virtue we want.  Perhaps the saint struggled with it also, and his conquest of the opposing vice will give us hope of doing the same through God’s grace.  Like Erza does in Fairy Tail, let us form relationships with those in the Church past and present and then tighten these bonds through imitation of the Master.  Do not forget that God loves his saints greatly, and rejoices when we take an interest in them–even telling St. Gertrude that He gives whoever thanks Him for a saint that very saint’s virtues.

Have a happy Lent and most penitential Ash Wednesday, my dear readers!

Kiba and Cheza’s Love as Symbolic of Jesus and Mary’s

While watching Wolf’s Rain this time, the utter delight Kiba and Cheza had in each other’s company struck me.  Those of my dear readers familiar with Wolf’s Rain know that this show is essentially a Christian allegory.  Though, I must confess to being so obtuse that I actually missed on this obvious connection the first time; but, this only proves how well it works as an allegory: the symbolism works such that it falls short of being blatant, which marks a perfect allegory.

Of course, one of this pair of characters might be conceived of as the Church rather than Mary, as the love of Our Lord for the Church is unfathomable; but, traditionally, many places in Scripture which some say refers to the Church, others say refer to Mary–the Song of Songs being a perfect example.  This is due to Mary being the most perfect disciple of Our Lord.  (Feminists please note that this honor was not given to a man, nor the honor of being the most powerful intercessor among the saints, nor did any other saint have as important a role in the history of salvation, nor is anyone else’s heart so like the Sacred Heart.)

I wrote “one of this pair” above because I hesitate to name either Kiba or Cheza as definitely Jesus or Mary.  If we were to assign them by gender, Kiba would symbolize Jesus and Cheza Mary; yet, Cheza has healing powers, is the one being sought by the pack, and is depicted as if crucified.  On the other hand, Kiba needs to save Cheza, is gravely wounded especially toward the end, and is the obvious leader of the pack–despite his unwillingness to be recognized in that role.  But this similarity brings out a fine point: the better a believer becomes, the closer he approximates Our Lord.  We have the examples of those people who seem so sweet and filled with goodness that we never wish to leave them.  Some people approach Christ-likeness so perfectly that they become an image of Him, as in the Orthodox idea that icons of Christ point to the Father as icons of the saints point to Christ.  Once when someone saw Padre Pio at prayer, he believed he saw Jesus Christ praying.

Also, I remember Louis de Montfort’s claim that it is easier to separate Our Lord from all created beings and things than to separate Him from Mary.  This is similar to Kiba and Cheza’s love.  When Cheza is present, Kiba is always at her side.  When she is absent, she’s all Kiba thinks about.  When Cheza thinks about the pack or feels that the wolves are near, Kiba is the first name that comes to her mind.  At the end of the series, when everyone else has perished, Kiba and Cheza hold each other in a firm embrace.

But that last scene reminds me of a symbol of how Christ is united to his Church, which I cannot pass without remarking: the blood pouring from Kiba and Cheza’s wounds changes into water as it flows out into the sea.  At Mass, a little water is mingled with the wine before consecration.  The water symbolizes the Church, and the mingling with the wine means that Christ is always united with His Church.  And this perpetual union I wish for you all.

Seeing this show again also makes me wonder whether it would have been better to have ended the show at episode 26 rather than creating another four episodes.  After all, the person symbolizing the devil has been destroyed and good victorious.  Even though one may say that the show doesn’t seem complete since the wolves haven’t found paradise, do we not experience the same thing in our lives?  Christ has conquered sin and death, but we still struggle with living virtuously, and, though we possess the Kingdom (“The Kingdom of God is within you” Luke 17:21), we do not yet enjoy the Beatific Vision.

So, what do you think?  Would it have been better to have ended Wolf’s Rain at episode 26 or does the addition of four more episodes make for a superior ending?