22 February 2016

Anglican Studies (2015-2016)
6.1: Christianity and nationalisms

A Serbian Orthodox Church in Zadar in Croatia after it was the spray-painted with multiple Us for Ustasa, with the Catholic cross in between

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute

MTh Year II

TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context:

Mondays: 10.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The Hartin Room.

Monday, 22 February 2016, 10.30 a.m.:

Anglican Studies (6.1)
Christianity and nationalisms.


Last week [15 February 2016], we looked at some of background to and experiences of sectarianism, North and South of the border. Some these were so culturally rooted that it is difficult to challenge them as we live our lives of mission and ministry in the Church. Others, at times, seem to be enshrined in legislation.

Most of us probably react with embarrassment and cringe when we face up to our own intimate experiences of nationalism and identity expressed as Christianity, especially when they relate to our own families, our own parishes, our countries.

How long have you thought that these experiences were unique?

Part of the cause of social embarrassment is being over self-aware, and feeling that few if any share the same experience. Shame goes hand-in-hand with public exposure.

How often have you asked yourself questions like:

● Why is this happening in my parish/diocese?
● How often have you been exasperated, wondering do things like this happen only in Ireland?
● Only in Northern Ireland?
● Only in the Republic of Ireland?
● Only in the Church of Ireland?

This morning, I would like us to discuss the conflict of cultures and the place of religion in conflict, especially looking at the link between Christianity and nationalisms.

This is not only a concern for the Church of Ireland, or for Christianity, or for Ireland, but this is a global concern. We live in a world of conflict in which religion plays a key role.

Have our perceptions of Islam changed after 9/11?


● The way Serbs and Croats were defined as the former Yugoslavia broke up – Serbs were Orthodox and used Cyrillic letters for their shared language, and were dismissed as “Chetniks,” while Croats were Catholics who used Roman letters and were dismissed as “Ustasas.”
● The role of religion in conflict in Iraq;
● The perceptions of Islam following the 9/11 attacks or due to the activities of the self-styled “Islamic State”;
● The response in the Islamic world to George W Bush’s use of the word “crusade”;
● The conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Pakistan, and many Gulf states.

How do you think Muslims reacted to George Bush’s use of the word “Crusade?”

Our cultural assumptions about religion frames and is framed by the language we use about conflict.

For example, there has been a series of bombings in Bali, in which have killed or injured many tourists.

Two cultural images were conveyed, two cultural presuppositions were confirmed, in the news coverage of these incidents and their aftermath:

1, Bali is an island of peace;
2, Unlike the rest of Indonesia, Bali has a strong Hindu presence, making it an oasis of peace.

There is something amiss with these two images:

Are there some religions we are culturally conditioned to think of as peaceful?

1, That there are peaceful religions, and there are violent religions. In particular we are culturally disposed towards thinking of Hinduism and Buddhism as religions of peace, and Islam as a religion of violence.

And yet, one of the factors in years of political violence in Sri Lanka – another island that once had the image of being an island haven of peace – is the tension between Buddhists and Hindus, and the Buddhist sangha or monks were among the most vocal critics of any government effort to enter dialogue with the Tamil Tigers.

Indeed, the image of violent Buddhists runs contrary to historical reality. Yet, how many Japanese suicide pilots went to death in World War II chanting praise to Buddha of with the words from the Lotus Sutra, Namyoho Renge Kyo?

Japanese kamikaze pilots waiting for their flights

2, The second image is that those violent religions usually boil down to one religion in particular, that is, Islam.

We have inherited a cultural prejudice that Islam is a religion with an inherent violence built into its thoughts, values and teachings.

Is this image of Hizbullah typical or stereotypical? And how often do we transfer this image to Islam in general

Popular media regularly conveys images of Islam as a religion of institutionalised violence, expressed in judicial sentencing, such as stoning, chopping off hands, and of social violence, typified in how we discuss jihad, the threats from Isis, suicide car bombers, the attacks in Paris, New York, Madrid and London, the wars in the Middle East, the export of violence or the perceived nuclear threat from Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah in Palestine and Lebanon, or Chechen fighters in the former Soviet Union.

Is there a ‘Christendom’? Is there a looming clash of civilisations? Dark blue: Western ‘Christendom’; sky blue: Orthodox ‘Christendom’; green: Islamic world; dark red: Sinic world; purple: Latin America; brown: Sub-Saharan Africa; orange: Hindu world; yellow: Buddhist world; grey: former British colonies; turquoise: Turkey; blue: Israel; light brown: Ethiopia; light green: Haiti; red: Japan

In a paper in the journal Foreign Affairs in 1996 that gave its title to a subsequent book in 1997, Samuel Huntington spoke of a “clash of civilisations” between the Christian or post-Christian world, and the Islamic world.

Until his death in 2008, he continued to speak in terms of a looming “clash of civilisations between Islam and the West.”

Despite the apparent outworking of some of his predictions, there are many faults in the theory of an inevitable “clash of civilisations.” Huntington equated a religion with a civilisation, so that Islam is a unitary political, social and definable “civilisation” that depends on a religion for its understanding and explanation, while Christianity underpins western civilisation, and that Islam made no contribution to Western culture and civilisation.

But there is also a reality that must concern us. Many people associate religion with violence, and with war. For example, Polly Toynbee wrote a commentary in The Guardian in the run-up to the first anniversary of 9/11 (6 September 2002) that was headed: ‘Religion isn’t nice. It kills’.

One of the major criticisms of religion in general, and religions in particular, is the role of religion in violence and conflicts.

In all religions, and we should be aware of it most in Christianity. Awareness allows us to face one of the main criticisms of Christianity from those on the margins, and allows us to have some terms and terminology so we can face the problems of violence in our own areas.

I want us to consider three concepts that have made it difficult to disentangle religion – and Christianity in particular – from politics and nationalism:

● Christendom
● The Crusades
● The Nation State

1, Christendom:

Constantine the Great … the beginning of Christendom?

Christendom is not co-terminal with or another phrase for “the Kingdom of God.” But it has often been misrepresented as such. The term “Christendom” may have several meanings, but it refers in particular to a world view that identifies Christianity with cultural, economic and political expressions of a society that is perceived as being normative for or a standard for the rest of human society.

It is a common perception that the Church was pacifist until the Constantinian settlement, when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in AD 313, extending toleration to Christianity. This claim needs objective historical analysis, because it is often argued from a partisan viewpoint. Other questions we need to ask include whether the Church under persecution could consider co-operating with the state in such circumstances, and whether there was a separation of the role of policing and the role of the army?

The earliest use of the terms Christianity (Χριστιανισμός) and Catholic (Καθολικός) is in the writings of Saint Ignatius of Antioch (2nd century). The word Christendom comes from the Latin word Christianus. The Christian world was also known collectively as the Corpus Christianum, often translated as the Christian body, referring to the community of all Christians. The Christian polity, embodying a less secular meaning, has been compared with the idea of both a religious and a temporal body: Corpus Christianum, and at times the Corpus Christianum has been seen as a Christian equivalent of the Muslim Ummah.

In a more political or secular was Christendom has been used as a descriptive term for the “Political Christian World,” as if this had been in the past and might or ought to be now or in the future a cultural hegemony, what we might now refer to as “the West.”

But of course, from where we stand geographically, Christianity began in the East, or at least in the Middle East or the Eastern Mediterranean.

In looking at early church history a few weeks ago, we noticed briefly how Christianity spread through the Classical or Greek and Roman world in the apostolic and then post-apostolic period.

The period of Early Christianity came to a close when the imperial persecution of Christians ends, with the coming to power of Constantine the Great, the Edict of Milan (313), and the First Council of Nicaea (325).

The 4th century palace complex in Thessaloniki … the Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the empire under the Edict of Thessaloniki in 392 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Later, Christianity became the state religion of the Empire under the Edict of Thessaloniki in 392 when the Emperor Theodosius I prohibited the practice of pagan religions and the Church gradually became a defining institution of the Empire.

Saint Augustine envisions the City of God

And so, we can see, the Christian attitude to war begins to shift after Constantine and with the writings of Augustine (died 430). Was this good theology, or was it forged in the face of a real threat, with the barbarians at the gates? Augustine wrote The City of God shortly after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410. But, even then, is it any less valid a way of formulating theology in the face of the real pressures of life?

After the Barbarian invasions and the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, a new threat was posed to Christianity with the rise of Islam, the Muslim capture of Jerusalem in 638, the arrival of Muslim armies in Europe, and the threat to the New Rome, Constantinople.

As the Empire in the West disintegrated into feudal kingdoms and small states, the concept of Christendom changed as the western church became separate from the Emperor and Christians in the Empire of the East.

In the East, the Byzantine Empire saw itself vas the last bastion of Christendom. Christendom entered a new phase with the rise of the Franks and their conversion to Christianity.

Christendom later refers to the mediaeval and renaissance notions of the Christian world as a socio-political polity. In essence, the earliest vision of Christendom was a vision of a Christian theocracy or a government founded on and upholding Christian values, whose institutions are spread through and over with Christian doctrine.

In this period, the clergy wield political authority. The specific relationship between political leaders and clergy varied. But, in theory, the national and political divisions were often subsumed in the leadership of the Church.

On Christmas Day 800, Pope Leo XIII crowned Charlemagne as the Emperor of what became the Holy Empire.

This empire created an alternative definition of Christendom in contrast to the Byzantine Empire. The question of what constituted true Christendom would then occupy political and religious leaders for generations and centuries to come.

The pontificate of Innocent III is considered the height of temporal power of the papacy. The Corpus Christianum describes the then current notion of the community of all Christians in communion with the Pope – a community guided by Christian values in its politics, economics and social life.

However, in the East, Christendom was seen as co-terminus with the Byzantine Empire, which was gradually loss of territory in the face of the rapid expansion of Islam and the rise of new Persian Empire.

2, The Crusades

The capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade

Until the Great Schism divided the Church religiously, there had been a concept of a universal Christendom that included the East and the West. But this was rocked by the Great Schism and was destroyed by the Fourth Crusade.

The Crusades originated in Western Europe, particularly in the Frankish realms (France) and the Holy Roman Empire. They were proclaimed as a campaign, fought under the Cross, to reclaim control of Jerusalem and the “Holy Land” for “Christendom” and were fought for almost two centuries, between 1095 and 1291. Initially the Crusades were proclaimed for the recovery of Jerusalem and the ‘Holy Land,’ and the protection of pilgrims, but they soon became a ‘holy war’.

In the First Crusade (1095-1099), at the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, Orthodox Christians fought alongside Jewish and Muslim residents to defend Jerusalem against the Crusaders, so that many Christians were slaughtered alongside their Muslim neighbours.

Many Muslims sought shelter in al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Temple Mount area. One Crusader account reports how the Crusaders “were killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles.”

According to Raymond of Aguilers, “in the Temple and porch of Solomon men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins.”

Fulcher of Chartres says: “In this temple 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.”

The Fourth Crusade ended in the sack of Constantinople in 1204

Some of the crusade expeditions were diverted completely from their original aim. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) resulted in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and the partition of the Byzantine Empire between Venice and the Crusaders, and hastened the destruction of Byzantium.

But it was not until the Sixth Crusade (1228-1229) that any Crusade received the official blessing of the Pope.

Dante in his Inferno places Muhammad in the Eighth Circle of Hell as a sower of discord, along with Christian schismatics, while in a frozen lake at the bottom of hell he placed Ganelon, who betrayed Roland and the rear-guard of Charlemagne’s army. In the Fifth Heaven he placed the Crusader King, Godfrey of Bouillon.

Godfrey de Bouillon, leader of the first crusade … placed in a frozen lake at the bottom of hell by Dante

But, writing about the Crusades, Sir Steven Runciman says: “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed ... the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God.”

We still use, misuse and abuse the term “Crusade” when we are describing certain campaigns. The Crusades have left far-reaching political, economic, and social legacies that continue to survive in our time.

Colin Chapman says the Crusades “have left a deep scar on the minds of Muslims all over the world. Although they ended more than 700 years ago, for many Muslims it is as if they happened only yesterday. And recent events such as the Rushdie affair, the Gulf War and the Bosnian conflict have made many [Muslims] feel that the Crusades have never ended.”

Later Christendom

Palais des Papes, Avignon … the Western Schism and the Avignon Papacy posed a major crisis of identity for Western Christendom

The Western Church was boosted in its political authority and its perception of a shared boundary with Christendom through the shared experience of the Crusades, the fight against the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula, and against the ottomans in the Balkans. But some of its worst expressions were also found, for example, in the Inquisition, the pogroms directed against Jews, and “crusades” against heretics, such as the Albigenses and the Cathars.

Western Christendom faced a major crisis of identity with the Western Schism and the Avignon Papacy, a split that came to an end only with the Council of Constance. And mediaeval Christendom was also challenged by the reputation of morally lax pontiffs and their dependence on secular rulers, coupled with greed for material wealth and temporal power.

The Reformations and the concurrent rise of independent states gave the term “Christendom” a new, more general, meaning in Western Europe, signifying countries that were predominantly Christian – whether they were Catholic or Protestant – as opposed to Islamic or other countries.

Post-Reformation Roman Catholics the restoration of Christendom and argued that, the term applied to the civilisation of Catholic nations that espoused the doctrine of the Social Reign of Christ the King, and that recognised the Roman Catholic Church.

3, The nation state

The Coliseum seen from the Irish Dominican church at San Clemente. The nation state is a post-16th century concept … the modern Italian state dates from 17 March 1861 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Hundred Years’ War accelerated the process of transforming France from a feudal monarchy to a centralised state. The rise of strong, centralised European monarchies was part of the transition in Europe from feudalism to capitalism and the rise of modernity.

The Peace of Augsburg in 1555 officially ended the idea among secular leaders that all Christians must be united under one church. The principle of cuius regio eius religio (“whoever the king, his the religion”) established the religious, political and geographical divisions of Christianity.

The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 ended the concept of a single Christian hegemony. After that, each government determined the religion of its own state, and the wars of religion came to an end.

With the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, the concept of the sovereign national state was born. The Corpus Christianum has since existed with the modern idea of a tolerant and diverse society consisting of many different communities.

The nation state, in seeking to define itself, must by definition limit itself. These limitations find a number of expressions, such a language, a constructed culture (including music, poetry, drama, songs, architecture and paintings), and, of course, religion.

Is it possible to imagine the construction of the modern Italian state – proclaimed over 154 years ago on 17 March 1861 – without a shared Italian language, seen as the creation of Dante, and expressed in the operas of Verdi?

Consider how the revival of the Irish language and the popularisation of images such as Round Towers and Celtic High Crosses came at a crucial time in Irish nationalism in the late 19th century.

Germany is a modern nation state without a shared religious identity. Nevertheless, it still resulted in the most profane effort to exclude one religious expression – the Holocaust.

Some contemporary examples of the role of religion in conflict:

“Το παιδομάζωμα” (ή “το σκλαβοπάζαρο”) του Νικολάου Γύζη ... The Levy of Christian Children, by Nicholas Ghyzis

In the creation of the modern Greek state and the modern Turkish state, religion played a key role in the forging of national identities, so that Greek was equated with Orthodox Christian and Turk with Muslim.

The consequences of this reached beyond the generations, after the creation of an independent Cyprus in 1960. The Muslim/Christian dividing line defined the line of advance when the Turks invaded Cyprus in 1974.

Did religion define nationality for Europe nation states?

What role does it play in our understanding and creation of a new European identity?

But this is not solely a European phenomenon. Religious identity has been used to define separate national identities in India and Pakistan. This has created problems for those outside these definitions, including Christians and Sikhs, and the conflict continues between Hindus and Muslims, with violence constantly and continually threatening to inflame border conflicts between Pakistan and India.

Religion has been a factor in many of the conflicts in Europe in the 1990s. As Yugoslavia was breaking up, the labels Catholic and Orthodox were used to distinguish Croat from Serb. When Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo slaughtered, was it because they were Muslims in Bosnia (where they were otherwise like all other Slavs)? Was it because they were Albanians or Muslims in Kosovo?

A Muslim holding the Quran and a Coptic Christian holding a cross are carried through opposition supporters in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the ‘Arab Spring’ protests

In Egypt, many Arabs and Muslims have found it difficult to see Coptic Christians as true Egyptians. On the other hand, the word Copt means Egyptian, and many Christians have seen themselves as the true and authentic Egyptians.

How did you react to the way in which Muslim-Christian unity became one of the themes during the ‘Arab Spring’ protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo some years ago? Do you recall the news scenes where members of the Coptic Christian minority prayed in the square and how many of the placards combined the crescent and the cross? A common chant was: “Hand in hand.”

To what degree did religious divisions play a role in the more recent conflicts in Egypt?

What about the conflicts in Sudan and the Central African Republic? Is this a conflict between Arabs and Africans in Sudan, or between Muslims and Christians in both countries? And did the churches become too closely identified with the cause of Southern Sudan?

Consider the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Is this a Jewish-Muslim conflict? How do Christians whose families have been living there for generations and centuries feel in terms of their identity? Is there a place for them there?

Was the invasion of Iraq built on a case for a ‘just war’? Or did it build on our traditional antipathies towards, fears of, and misconceptions of Islam?

With the murder of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya last year [February 2015], what are the appropriate Christian responses to violence?

What do we mean by a ‘just war’?


In today’s world, how do we move from encounter to dialogue and understanding?

Appendix 1:

The criteria for a just war:

Seven conditions:

Declaration by a legitimate authority;
2, Just cause;
3, Formal declaration;
4, Right intention;
5, Last resort;
6, Reasonable hope of success;
7, Due proportion between the benefits sought and the damage done.

Three Conditions for conduct:

Guaranteed immunity of non-combatants.
2, Prisoners must be treated humanely;
3, International treaties must be honoured.

Were these conditions met in Northern Ireland?

In Iraq?

Who was responsible for meeting these conditions?

Can there be an ‘unjust’ war or a ‘just’ revolution?

Or are these models relevant?

What is a jihad?

The word jihad in fact has its roots in the Arabic verb to exert, and means not holy war (as translated by Thomas Aquinas) but an exertion on behalf of true religion and submission to God.

On the other hand, Islam allows no other form of war and violence except that with some religious objective.

Appendix 2:

Περιμένοντας τους Bαρβάρους (Waiting for the Barbarians), CP Cavafy:

— Τι περιμένουμε στην αγορά συναθροισμένοι;

Είναι οι βάρβαροι να φθάσουν σήμερα.

— Γιατί μέσα στην Σύγκλητο μια τέτοια απραξία;
Τι κάθοντ’ οι Συγκλητικοί και δεν νομοθετούνε;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Τι νόμους πια θα κάμουν οι Συγκλητικοί;
Οι βάρβαροι σαν έλθουν θα νομοθετήσουν.

—Γιατί ο αυτοκράτωρ μας τόσο πρωί σηκώθη,
και κάθεται στης πόλεως την πιο μεγάλη πύλη
στον θρόνο επάνω, επίσημος, φορώντας την κορώνα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα.
Κι ο αυτοκράτωρ περιμένει να δεχθεί
τον αρχηγό τους. Μάλιστα ετοίμασε
για να τον δώσει μια περγαμηνή. Εκεί
τον έγραψε τίτλους πολλούς κι ονόματα.

— Γιατί οι δυο μας ύπατοι κ’ οι πραίτορες εβγήκαν
σήμερα με τες κόκκινες, τες κεντημένες τόγες•
γιατί βραχιόλια φόρεσαν με τόσους αμεθύστους,
και δαχτυλίδια με λαμπρά, γυαλιστερά σμαράγδια•
γιατί να πιάσουν σήμερα πολύτιμα μπαστούνια
μ’ ασήμια και μαλάματα έκτακτα σκαλιγμένα;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα•
και τέτοια πράγματα θαμπώνουν τους βαρβάρους.

—Γιατί κ’ οι άξιοι ρήτορες δεν έρχονται σαν πάντα
να βγάλουνε τους λόγους τους, να πούνε τα δικά τους;

Γιατί οι βάρβαροι θα φθάσουν σήμερα•
κι αυτοί βαρυούντ’ ευφράδειες και δημηγορίες.

— Γιατί ν’ αρχίσει μονομιάς αυτή η ανησυχία
κ’ η σύγχυσις. (Τα πρόσωπα τι σοβαρά που εγίναν).
Γιατί αδειάζουν γρήγορα οι δρόμοι κ’ η πλατέες,
κι όλοι γυρνούν στα σπίτια τους πολύ συλλογισμένοι;

Γιατί ενύχτωσε κ’ οι βάρβαροι δεν ήλθαν.
Και μερικοί έφθασαν απ’ τα σύνορα,
και είπανε πως βάρβαροι πια δεν υπάρχουν.

Και τώρα τι θα γένουμε χωρίς βαρβάρους.
Οι άνθρωποι αυτοί ήσαν μια κάποια λύσις.

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate
on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him,
replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual
to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard


The Good Friday/Belfast Agreement and its consequences: a reflection on the Hard Gospel Project.

Next week:

29 February 2016: reading week.

7 March 2016,

7.1: Partition, conflict and peace: the Church of Ireland in the 20th and 21st centuries.

7.2: Theologies of reconciliation and the challenges of divided societies (M Volf, R Schreiter, J de Gruchy).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 22 February 2016 was part of the MTh Year II course, TH 8825: Anglican Studies in an Irish context.

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