Catholics and the Military in the Age of Catholic France (700 - 900 A.D.)

The Wars of Catholic Spain
---The Reconquest

The Wars of Catholic England
---Against the Vikings

The Wars of Catholic France
---Charles Martel
---Charlemagne

The Wars of Catholic Italy
---Against the Muslims
---The Battle of Ostia

The Wars of the Catholic Byzantine Empire
---Against the Muslims
---Armenia and Cyprus Liberated
---Against the Bulgarians
---Sicily Lost
---Against the Russians

The Monastic Fathers on Just War
---St. Cyril the Philosopher on Just War
---Pope Leo IV on Just War
---Pope St. Nicholas the Great on Just War
---Pope John VIII on Just War


The Wars of Catholic Spain


The Reconquest

722 A.D. - “What are thirty barbarians, perched upon a rock? They must inevitably die,” [said the Muslims. And the bishop who had gone over to them said:] “I believe that you understand how the entire army of the [Spanish] cannot resist the force of the Muslims; how then can you resist on this mountain? Listen to my advice: abandon your efforts and you will enjoy many benefits alongside the Moors.” [And King Pelagius responded:] “Have you not read in Sacred Scripture that the Church of the Lord is like the mustard seed, which, small as it is, grows more than any other through the mercy of God? ... Our hope is in Christ; this little mountain will be the salvation of Spain and of [its] people...the mercy of Christ will free us from that multitude.’ ” (Ibun Hayyan's Al Makkari Book 2 Chapter 34 [excerpt], and the Cronica de Alfonso III Chapter 9, as translated in Carroll, W. (1987). The Building of Christendom. Christendom College Press. p. 263.)


The Wars of Catholic England


Against the Vikings

“[When] Alfred...the son of Ethelwulf, took to the kingdom of Wessex...within a month...[he] fought against all the [Vikings] with a small force at Wilton, and long pursued them during the day; but the Danes got possession of the field. ... [In 883 A.D.] the [Viking] army [went] up the [rivers of England], and there sat a year. And Pope Marinus sent King Alfred the [wood of the Cross]. The same year...Sighelm and Athelstan [went] to Rome [with] the alms which King Alfred ordered thither, and also in India to St. Thomas and to St. Bartholomew. Then they sat against the [Vikings] at London; and there, with the favour of God, they were very successful after the performance of their vows.” (Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Years 871 & 883)


The Wars of Catholic France


Charles Martel

“[The Muslim commander] decided to despoil Tours by destroying its palaces and burning its churches. There he confronted [a French official] by the name of Charles, a man who [had] proved himself to be a warrior...and an expert in things military. … In the blink of an eye, [his men] annihilated the Arabs with the sword. … [At] dawn, the Europeans saw the tents and canopies of the Arabs all arranged just as they had appeared the day before…[but] they were empty…[for] the Ishmaelite troops had left [and] had indeed fled silently by night in tight formation, returning to their own country.” (Chronicle of 754 Chapter 80)

Charlemagne

“Charles did not cease, after declaring war, until he had exhausted [the Italian Lombards] by a long siege…[and] restored to the Romans all that they had lost. … [He also] marched over the Pyrenees into Spain at the head of all the forces that he could muster. All the towns and castles that he attacked surrendered… This King [also] undertook...very many works calculated to adorn and benefit his kingdom... Among these, the most deserving of mention are the basilica of the Holy Mother of God at Aix-la-Chapelle, built in the most admirable manner…and throughout his whole reign the wish that he had nearest at heart was...to defend and protect the Church of St. Peter.” (Einhard's Life of Charlemagne Chapter 6, 9, 17, 27)


The Wars of Catholic Italy


Against the Muslims

“In the same year [Emperor Charlemagne] sent his marshal Burchard with a fleet to Corsica to defend the island against the Moors, who in past years used to come there and pillage. The Moors embarked, as usual, from Spain and went ashore first in Sardinia, where they waged a battle with the Sardinians and lost many men -- three thousand are said to have died there. Then they came by a direct route to Corsica. Here they again engaged in battle with the fleet under Burchard's command, in a harbor of this island. They were defeated and put to flight with thirteen ships lost and most of their men killed. The Moors in this year [807 A.D.] were plagued by so much misfortune everywhere that they themselves admitted that this had happened because the year before they had unjustly carried away sixty monks from Pantelleria and sold them in Spain. But some of these monks returned home again through the [generosity] of the emperor.” (Royal Frankish Annals Year 807)

The Battle of Ostia

“[Muslims] had lately plundered St. Peter's church [in] the Vatican, and were still hovering about Rome. ... To prevent a second plundering of that holy place, [Pope Leo IV], with the [approval] and liberal contributions of the emperor Lothaire, enclosed it and the whole Vatican hill with a wall...which from him is called Leonin[e] [Wall].” (Butler's Lives Entry for July 17)

“[Then] the [Muslims] marched towards Porto in order to plunder that town. [The city of Naples] sent an army to the assistance of the Romans: the pope met these troops at Ostia, gave them his blessing, and all the soldiers received the holy communion at his hands. After the pope's departure, a bloody battle ensued, and the [Muslims] were all slain, taken, or dispersed.” (ibid.)


The Wars of the Catholic Byzantine Empire


Against the Muslims

“Emperor Nicephorus dispatched a fleet under the command of the patrician Nicetas to reconquer Dalmatia. And the envoys, who about four years earlier had been sent to the king of the Persians, sailed through the very anchoring places of the Greek ships and returned to Treviso, into the shelter of the port, without being noticed by one of their enemies.” (Royal Frankish Annals Year 806)


Armenia and Cyprus Liberated

815 A.D. - St. Theophanes the Confessor - “[A Muslim] expedition presently came to Cyprus from Alexandria while a Roman fleet was there. The general of the [Catholic ships] suddenly attacked the Arabs in the harbor and captured the mouth of the harbor. They say that, although there were 1,000 warships, only three got away.” (The Chronicle of St. Theophanes Year 6238 [September 746 to September 747 A.D.])


Against the Bulgarians

815 A.D. - St. Theophanes the Confessor - “In [773 A.D.], the Emperor received from his secret friends in Bulgaria a message that the lord of Bulgaria had sent out boyars with a 12,000-man army to capture Berzitia and transfer its population to Bulgaria. Constantine [VI] did not want it known that he was going to move against the Bulgars, because the lord of Bulgaria's envoys had come to him. While they were still in the city, he pretended he was moving against the Arabs, and his banners and equipage even crossed over. ... [Soon he] fell on the Bulgars without sounding his trumpets and routed them: a great victory. He returned to the city in triumph, with much booty and many prisoners. He called the war a noble one, since he had invaded successfully without any opposition, slaughter of Christians, or Christian blood shed.” (The Chronicle of St. Theophanes Year 6265 [September 773 to September 774 A.D.])


Sicily Lost

“Around this time, a powerful force of [Arabs] came from Babylonia and Africa with the appearance of a swarm of bees and hastened to Sicily, devastating everything around; at length they captured the city of [Palermo], where they dwell even now, and destroyed many cities and towns on this same island, so that nearly all of them now groaned, scattered under the control of those races.” (Erchempert's History of the Lombards of Benevento Paragraph 11. Translated by Joan Rowe Ferry.)


Against the Russians

“There was [then] an invasion of the barbarian Rus, a people, as everyone knows, who are brutal and crude and bear no remnant of love for mankind... [They] began their brutal outrage from the Propontis and then spread up the coast. They came as far as the native city [Amastris]...and cut down unsparingly people of both sexes and every generation...[k]nocking over churches and desecrating relics... No one provided aid, no one stood against them...but [God] performed a miracle that was not less than the others performed here on earth. For when the barbarians entered [a certain] church and viewed the tomb, they suspected that the treasure truly was a treasure. And rushing forward to dig it up, their hands and feet were visibly weakened, bound by invisible fetters, and they remained completely motionless, piteous, and filled with amazement and fear...” (Life of St. George of Amastris 43-44)

“Since their leader recognized the paradox of the deed...[he] summoned one of the [Catholics] and asked him why this had happen[ed], what God has this power... [He then] allowed the Christians to speak and move about freely and permitted their prayers to God and the saint. And so there was an all-night service and the singing of psalms with abundant light, and the barbarians were delivered from the wrath of God and became somewhat reconciled and at peace with the Christians. They were no longer insolent to holy objects or insulted divine altars. ... One tomb was enough to refute the barbarian folly [and] to make them cease their excessive bloodthirstiness...” (ibid. 45-46)


The Monastic Fathers on Just War


St. Cyril the Philosopher on Just War

851 A.D. - St. Cyril of Constantinople - “Christ is our God Who ordered us to pray for our offenders and to do good to them. He also said that no one of us can show greater love in life than he who gives his life for his friends [cf. John 15:13]. That is why we generously endure offences caused us as private people. But in company we defend one another and give our lives in battle for our neighbors, so that you [Muslims], having taken our companions as prisoners, could not imprison their souls together with their bodies by forcing them into renouncing their faith and into godless deeds. Our Christ-loving soldiers protect our Holy Church with arms in their hands. They safeguard the sovereign in whose sacred person they respect the image of the rule of the Heavenly King. They safeguard their land because with its fall their homeland's authority will inevitably fall too, and the Gospel Faith will be shaken. These are precious pledges for which soldiers should fight to the last. And if they give their lives in battlefield, the Church will include them in the community of the holy martyrs and call them intercessors before God.” (The Slavonic Life of St. Constantine-Cyril. In the Orthodox Church and Society VIII.2.)

Pope Leo IV on Just War

Before 855 A.D. - “Now we hope that none of you will be slain, but we wish you to know that the kingdom of heaven will be given as a reward to those who shall be killed in this war. For the Omnipotent knows that they lost their lives fighting for the truth of the faith, for the preservation of their country, and the defence of Christians. And therefore God will give [them] the reward which we have named. (Speech[?] to the Frankish Army. In Migne, Patrologia Latina, 115: 656-657, and 161:720. Trans. Oliver J. Thatcher, and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., A Source Book for Medieval History, (New York: Scribners, 1905), 511-12.)

Pope St. Nicholas on Just War

866 A.D. - Pope St. Nicholas the Great - “[If] no necessity compels you, you should abstain from battles not only during Lent, but at all times.” “[For] the struggles of battles and wars...are revealed by the fraud of the diabolic art... But if some unavoidable event drives you, you should without hesitation spare no preparation for war in defense of not only yourself but also your country and the laws of your fathers.” (Response to the Consultations of the Bulgarians)

Pope John VIII on Just War

878 A.D. - Pope John VIII - “You have modestly expressed a desire to know whether those who have recently died in war, fighting in defence of the church of God and for the preservation of the Christian religion and of the state, or those who may in the future fall in the same cause, may obtain indulgence for their sins. We confidently reply that those who, out of love to the Christian religion, shall die in battle fighting bravely against pagans or unbelievers, shall receive eternal life. For the Lord has said through his prophet: "In whatever hour a sinner shall be converted, I will remember his sins no longer." By the intercession of St. Peter, who has the power of binding and loosing in heaven and on the earth, we absolve, as far as is permissible, all such and commend them by our prayers to the Lord.” (Letter to the bishops in the realm of Louis II [the Stammerer]. In Migne, Patrologia Latina, 126: 816. Trans. Oliver J. Thatcher, and Edgar Holmes McNeal, eds., A Source Book for Medieval History, (New York: Scribners, 1905), 512)