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9-08-2015, 14:44

Pius II calls for a Crusade against the Turks

Along with his letters, histories, and poetry, Pius II wrote autobiographical commentaries that were later combined into an extensive memoir. Throughout his pontifi cate (1458–64), he called for a campaign against the Ottoman Turks, though the response from European monarchs was tepid; he fi nally decided to lead one himself, and died in Ancona on the Adriatic Sea where he was assembling troops. His memoirs include a speech laying out his plans, in which he offers a rousing call to arms and summarizes some of the criticism of the church leveled by his contemporaries. Historians’ views of Pius’s sincerity in regard to the campaign against the Turks are mixed; some see him as motivated primarily by sincere worries about the future of Christendom, others by a desire to build up papal power and prestige. These two motivations were probably not separate in Pius’s mind. We [the pope is speaking of himself in the plural] shall imitate our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, the holy and pure shepherd who hesitated not to lay down His life for His sheep. We too will lay down our life for our fl ock since in no other way can we save the Christian religion from being trampled by the forces of the Turk. We will equip a fl eet as large as the resources of the Church will permit. We will embark, old as we are and racked with sickness. We will set our sails and voyage to Greece and Asia … We hear you whispering. You say, “If you believe war to be so diffi cult, how can you go on without securing adequate strength?” We are coming to that point. An unavoidable war with the Turks threatens us. Unless we take arms and go to meet the enemy we think all is over with religion. We shall be among the Turks in the position in which we see the despised race of Jews among Christians. It is either war or infamy for us. “But,” you say, “war cannot be waged without money.” It occurs to us to ask where we are to look for money … All ways have been tried. No one has answered our prayers. We sent envoys to the provinces. They were scorned and derided. On every single thing we do the people put the worst interpretation. People say we live in luxury, amass wealth, are slaves to ambition, ride on the fattest mules and the most spirited horses, wear trailing fringes on our robes and walk the streets with puffed-out cheeks under red hats and full hoods, breed hunting dogs, lavish much on actors and parasites and nothing on the defense of the Faith. And they are not entirely wrong. There are many among the cardinals and the other members of the Curia who do these things … What do you think we ought to do in such circumstances? Must we not seek a way to recover our lost credit? We must change to paths long disused … Abstinence, purity, innocence, zeal for the Faith, religious fervor, scorn of death, have set the Church of Rome over the whole world … By martyrs and confessors alike our Church was made great. It cannot be preserved unless we imitate our predecessors … there is no longer room for choice. We must go. (From Leona C. Gabel, ed., and Florence A. Gragg, trans., Memoirs of a Renaissance Pope: The Commentaries of Pius II: An Abridgement [New York: Capricorn Books, 1959], pp. 356–9.) Military campaigns are one way for religions to gain or retain adherents, and individual or group efforts at conversion are another. Christian missionaries traveled in all directions from the Mediterranean, reaching Ethiopia by at least the third century, southwest India and Ireland by the fi fth, Russia by the sixth, China by the eighth, and Iceland by the tenth. Stories tell of missionaries traveling further, as well; Saint Brendan of Clonfert (486?–577), an Irish monk, is supposed to have made it to North America in his small skin boat, for which he gained the title “the Navigator.” Christian communities in Asia and Africa were separated from European Christianity by the spread of Islam, which fi rst motivated and accompanied Arab conquests in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Iberian peninsula, and then continued to expand in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia. Muslim legal scholars, Sufi mystics, and other types of religious leaders helped to spread and solidify Muslim teachings both within and beyond territories in which the rulers were Muslim. Effective missionaries in both Christianity and Islam often absorbed and modifi ed indigenous traditions and customs, so that places sacred to specifi c gods became identifi ed with saints or apostles in Christianity and local gods became manifestations of Allah in Islam. By 1450 there were thus wide variations in rituals, practices, institutions, and even doctrines in both religions, some of these sanctioned by the authorities and others not. Travelers from one part of Christendom or one part of the dar al-Islam (land of Islam) to another frequently commented on how strange – and often unacceptable – they found the practices of their co-religionists elsewhere. Though merchants and missionaries were generally different men, they might very well have traveled together. Religious and economic motives were often similarly mixed in European contacts with the rest of the world. Italian merchants often wrote “in the name of God and profi t” on the fi rst page of their account books. According to the Byzantine historian Procopius, knowledge of silk-making and silkworm eggs were stolen from China – despite the emperor’s threat of death to whoever did so – by eastern Christian monks, who brought the eggs back to Constantinople in their long walking staffs. The Byzantine emperors attempted to regulate and guard silk production just as the Chinese emperors had, to prevent a private commercial monopoly from developing and preserve Byzantium’s status as the main supplier of silk to the Mediterranean. They were equally unsuccessful, and silk industries developed in Italian cities such as Lucca, though whether monks were again involved in the spread of silk technology is not clear. Such ventures for God and profi t occasionally merged into diplomacy. In 1287, Arghun, a nephew of Kublai Khan who was the ilkhan in Persia – the ruler of the westernmost regional Mongol Empire – sent Rabban Sauma, a Nestorian Christian priest of Turkic origin, as an envoy to the pope and the kings of France and England, hoping to create a coalition against the Muslims. (Nestorians were a splinter group within Christianity that disagreed with the rest of the church about the relationship between the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ; they split off in the fi fth century and carried out missions in India and China.) A few years later, the pope sent John of Monte Corvino (1247–1328), a Franciscan friar, to Khanbalik, on a similar mission. Both the pope and the ilkhan envisioned themselves as the head of this alliance, however, and neither mission was successful. The journal of Rabban Sauma and the letters of John of Monte Corvino were not copied and printed to the extent that Marco Polo’s writings were, but the events they described became well known in Europe. In 1450, then, though most Europeans never traveled very far from their home towns and villages, some went great distances. They took land routes into Asia, following the roads on which silk had long traveled from China; they took sea routes to Asia, sailing down the Red Sea to Aden; they took sea routes down the African coast to the Mali Empire, then back by way of the Azores. The widening of geographic horizons was not a one-way process, however, for routes that once existed could also disappear or become more dangerous. By 1450 the Viking colony on Greenland had all died of starvation or been killed by Inuit, and the settlements in Iceland had been devastated by the Black Death, which reached the island in the early fi fteenth century. Voyages in the North Atlantic were thus much fewer than they had been earlier, and memories of Viking trips to North America were turned into myths, their reality confi rmed only in the late twentieth century through archeological excavations in Newfoundland. The Mongol Empire in China had broken apart, with the Ming dynasty that succeeded it dominated by scholar-bureaucrats who became increasingly suspicious of contacts with outsiders. Foreign merchants could stay in the carefully watched ports of Quanzhou and Guangzhou (Canton), but not travel around. Government support of naval expeditions and ship-building in China – which had led to seven huge naval expeditions into the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf led by Admiral Zheng He in the early fi fteenth century – ended, and the navigational knowledge they had gained was lost. Though we recognize that 1450 marks the beginning of much greater European interaction with the rest of the world, it is doubtful whether many people living in that year would have noticed this trend.

 

 

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