Torturing the Truth

If you ever get the suspicion that many pundits don't know what the heck they're talking about, I can assure you, as a former newspaperman myself, that you're absolutely right. And this is especially the case when it comes to ritualistic uses of words like "the Middle Ages," "the crusades," and "the Inquisition," all of which are mere standbys for "the bad old days before we tamed, reformed, and fenced in the musty and pernicious Catholic Church."

Take for instance, Chuck Colson, who in a recent column about the "epidemic of anti-Christian books" that have "erupted" on the New York Times bestsellers list, made the usual demurral: "This is not to say that over the centuries Christians haven't tried to impose their values at times, which in the Middle Ages produced bloody crusades and inquisitions."

Oh, those dastardly Middle Ages! Oh, those bloody-thirsty crusaders and scheming inquisitors! Oh, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! (Or at least those Catholics should mea culpa: Protestants can claim they were on sabbatical from the first century until the middle of the sixteenth century.)

But any reasonably educated Catholic, at least, should know that the Middle Ages was one of the most creative and regenerative periods in the history of the human race — and you don't have to read Catholic historians to discover this. Good secular historians will do — including chaps who are writing today, like Professor Rodney Stark, whose book The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success is not a bad place to start. And there are plenty of other good books available too, pointing up the fact that it was the Age of Faith that established the university, modern science, capitalism, ideas of universal human rights, and triumphs of art and literature that led to the efflorescence of the Renaissance.

 As for the crusades, it seems a trifle, well, trifling, to dismiss them as Christians "imposing their values at times" when they were launched into the teeth of Islamic aggression that over the course of four centuries had overrun the Christian dominions of the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, Sicily, and southern Italy, and was besieging the remnants of Byzantium. The crusaders' initial task was to defend Byzantium and protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land; it later became the defense of the Crusader Kingdom of Outremer. If this amounts to "imposing their values at times" one can only thank God for it, as one might thank God that the British imposed their values to stop widow-burning in India, or that the Allies imposed their values to liberate France in 1944.

As for the inquisitions, these were various, from those organized by the Church to those operated by the crown (the Spanish Inquisition). But it is so well-established by now, for anyone who cares to know, that the inquisition of popular imagination is a myth, that the various inquisitions were more lenient and fair in their judicial procedures than their secular counterparts, and that the inquisitions were, in fact, occasionally a judicial alternative to war (in putting down heretical movements), that to invoke the horror of the inquisition is merely to reveal that one's historical memory is stocked more with bogeymen than with fact.

Oh how the soul would rejoice for the smashing of these clichés about nasty crusaders and inquisitors, and their replacement with "Of course, over the centuries Christians have tried to impose their values at times, as in Elizabethan England, when Catholic priests were hunted down and executed, or in Calvin's Geneva, Christianity's first and only police state."

Alas, even Catholics often fail when it comes to applying Christian history to contemporary debates. Take, for example, Mark Shea, of this parish, who in a recent piece in The National Catholic Register wrote that Catholics who "try to figure out just exactly how much you can waterboard or inflict pain or otherwise frighten and torment prisoners before it's exactly, legally, technically, precisely, you know, torture," are talking sophistical, anti-Christian rubbish.

Oh well, then, so much for the Church, which, in its own judicial deliberations during the medieval inquisitions did precisely this, and did it for prisoners occasionally less markedly dangerous than the al-Qaeda terrorists we confront today.  

Cardinal Newman believed that for an idea to have value it had to be real. But when commentators don't engage with the reality of the past, they're no sure guides to the reality of the present.

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  • Guest

    God loves you .

    Mr. Crocker,

    Bravo, and thank you.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    Yes.  Keep it up.  We need more truth like this.

    God bless you!

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    "Oh well, then, so much for the Church, which, in its own judicial deliberations during the medieval inquisitions did precisely this, and did it for prisoners occasionally less markedly dangerous than the al-Qaeda terrorists we confront today."

    This wrong …..dead wrong.

    We may never … ever do evil that good may result.

    Please refer to the CCC - 

    2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

     

  • Guest

    Furthermore –

    2297 states that

    "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity"

  • Guest

    Encore, Bravo! It's a lofty ideal that we're all on the same side but we know that when Pilgrims to the Holy Land got butchered and I mean every letter of that word, it wasn't done by our buddies. The Crusades was a response, the Inquisition was a response and as the author pointed out a measured one. Every once in a while our cousins need to throw our critics a bone. That bone just perpetuates the lie that makes certain smug groups feel good about themselves. My quess is that this "Torturing the Truth article won't get much circulation.

    Goral

  • Guest

    I take it that billtuba is in agreement with the article that is against "torturing the truth".

    Goral

  • Guest

    I'm going to give this article as much circulation as I can

  • Guest

    To billtuba:

    If you carefully read the last 3 paragraphs of the essay, you will see that the author is argreeing with your sentiments and your quotations from the Catechism.  What Mark Shea so glibbly wrote (no knocks to Mr. Shea, love his writing) as 'debatable torture', the Church DEFINED as torture during the Inquisition.  By saying Catholics are 'trying to figure out' instead of making flat out use of direct history, the lesson the Church learned in a dark part of Her history, is completely lost in a vital debate today.  Not everyone, in fact very few, know much about real Inquisition history.  The irony of Mark Shea's statement is completely lost on them, and hence the lesson.

    The Church defined it as torture AND used it.  We have to come to grips with that.  Does that make the Church evil?  NO!  Does it mean the Church sanctions torture today?  Abolutely NO!!!  But, make the argument from the historical context in a way modern readers will understand.  Don't let history repeat itself. 

  • Guest

    This was an excellent article that effectively addresses many of the errors frequently used in the media, and current revisionist history directed against the Catholic Church.  I'm going to forward on as well.

  • Guest

    It is an excellent and timely topic, given Mr. Rudy Guliani, a Catholic candidate for President of the USA, is one who advocates torture.  But I think the article was not as clear as it could be towards the end.

    I think Mr. Crocker confused some of us when he cited Mr. Shea's critique by writing:

    Alas, even Catholics often fail when it comes to applying Christian history to contemporary debates. Take, for example, Mark Shea, of this parish, who in a recent piece in The National Catholic Register wrote that Catholics who "try to figure out just exactly how much you can waterboard or inflict pain or otherwise frighten and torment prisoners before it's exactly, legally, technically, precisely, you know, torture," are talking sophistical, anti-Christian rubbish.

    Mr. Crocker came across as critical of Mr. Shea, not critical of the Catholics Mr. Shea is critical of.

    Maybe it's me, but apparently some others who posted comments got confused by this as well. Maybe I'm still not getting it correctly?

  • Guest

    May I make a (sad) recommendation to Mr. Crocker, Mr. Shea, et al.: it seems to me that sartire does not work well in an "information" society.  Part of the problem with teaching the Bible is that there are a variety of writing styles–we've all heard "you don't read the want-ads the same way you read the op-ed pages".  The problem is that, in this Information Age, most people DO. 

    Lighten up on the satire, guys–I think you'll get farther faster.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    I must confess that sometimes I wish that article authors would make a ‘week-later’ pass at our comments and clarify confusion and misinterpretations – and/or correct their own text that caused the misinterpretations.

    In fact, I will copy this suggestion into the ‘Migration’ forum about just such formalized reviews.

    God most greatly bless you all . . . and . . .

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

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