Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Here is the German translation of Relics from the same company that translated The Thron of Tara as Der Throne Von Tara. For this novel, though, Schulte and Gerth Publishers changed the title to The Sign of the Cross, referring in part to the sign singed on Jean-Michel's sleeve when he rushed into the burning cathedral to save the relics, and in part to the crusade of France's King Louis IX.

I must say that I like the cover much better than the flowery romance design the American publisher used. At the same time, it is unsettling to see a warrior wielding both a sword and a cross.
These misguided adventures had complex personal and political motives, and religious confusion/illusion was only one of them. It does little good (though it does a little good) to say this 200-year tragic episode of history began as a defensive measure against militant, expansionist Islam. But the urgent appeal of the Byzantine emperor and Eastern Church for help in resisting invasion was answered by landless, ambitious, one-step-from-barbaric nobles of north Europe who had nothing to do since the Western Church had banned their violent tournaments. Gee whiz, if vast private feifs could be had with the help of greedy merchants from Venice, Genoa and Pisa (to secure wealthy trade routes) and the blessing of the Church (in the name of rescuing holy places from desecration and protecting pilgrims from bandits and terrorists), then let's go for it, said Boehemond and Tancred and the others, scoundrels all.

Were otherwise decent and devout people caught up in the excitement? Sure - pious men like Bernard of Clairveaux and Louis IX, for example. But going to war in the name of the Prince of Peace is absurd. This is why Thomas Merton, a 1960s Trappist monk and poet I admire once wrote:

"The Christian faith enables - or should enable - a man to stand back from society and its institutions and realize that they all stand under the inscrutable judgment of God and that therefore we can never give an unreserved assent to the policies, the programs and the organization of men or to 'official' interpretations of the historical process. To do so is idolatry, the same of kind of idolatry that was refused by the early martyrs who would not burn incense to the emperor. The policies of men contain within themselves the judgment of God upon their society, and when the Church identifies her policies with theirs, she too is judged with them, for she has in this been unfaithful and is not truly The Church."

(from Dancing in the Water of Life: The Journals of Thomas
Merton, Vol. 5)

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