Addressing the faithful of three Canadian dioceses on Oct. 16, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver emphasized the importance of historical awareness for contemporary Christians. An accurate and faithful view of the past, he said, should inspire the faithful toward "an ideal of knighthood" that remains relevant today.
The Oct. 15 – 17 conference titled, “Faith in the Public Square: A Prophetic Conference,” is taking place in Victoria, British Columbia.
"The way we remember history conditions how we think and choose," Archbishop Chaput observed. He went on to describe how politicized distortions of history have caused many Catholics to dismiss, or simply ignore, many achievements of their forerunners in faith.
Archbishop Chaput pointed to "the standard modern criticism of the Crusades and the medieval Church," a "product of Protestant and Enlightenment resentment for the Catholic heritage of Europe."
Even many serious scholars, he said, tend to clear away proper context and objectivity, in order to dismiss the Church's historic achievements and read modern agendas into the past. The reality of the medieval Church, the archbishop pointed out, differs sharply from popular conceptions.
Quoting the 20th century German theologian Romano Guardini, the prelate said that "the medieval achievement ... stands with the loftiest moments of human history." Christians today, he indicated, must know and value their own history -- both for the sake of the inspiration and cautions it can provide, and to avoid being cowed by misrepresentations of complex events such as the Crusades.
While affirming that believers today should "acknowledge and repent of the sins committed by Catholics in the past," Archbishop Chaput spoke of an equal need to remember "the greatness of Catholic witness and the Church's transformative role throughout history." He then encouraged the faithful to seek inspiration for the Church's contemporary mission in these great achievements.
The Archbishop of Denver also noted that Catholics who examine their own history honestly, have the duty of “calling others, outside the Church, to the same self-examination and honesty," including adherents of other religions, whose convictions must be respectfully questioned.
He offered the example of Islam, noting that two different concepts of "jihad” – a spiritual "war" against oneself, on the one hand, and a violent struggle for domination on the other -- comprise one "basic element" of the religion. "Both forms of jihad can be legitimate in Muslim thought," he noted, as both "draw their authority from the very beginnings of Islam."
Turning his attention to the thoughts of St. Augustine, Archbishop Chaput drew a contrast between the ideology of political jihad, which aims for an earthly theocracy, and Augustine's notion of the "City of God," which emerges only at the end of human history and cannot be established on earth.
He offered Augustine's insights into human nature and history as "the 'Catholic' tools for judging the nations of man, including our own," and for putting the importance of public affairs into the proper perspective in light of eternity.
On the one hand, "Augustine believed that no perfect society and no perfect justice are possible because all human efforts are compromised by sin." Human imperfection and finitude, however, did not cause the saint to despair: "He also knew that the virtue of charity draws men into society and therefore inevitably into public affairs."
The prelate reflected that even as political winds change, human nature remains the same, as does the Christian vocation, "to follow Jesus Christ faithfully, and in following Jesus, to defend Christ's Church and to serve her people."
Invoking the spiritual militancy of the Jesuits' founder St. Ignatius Loyola, Archbishop Chaput went on to state that "the Catholic ideal of knighthood" was not a relic, but a necessary and living outgrowth of perennial truths. "The essence of Christian knighthood remains the same," he announced, describing it as "sacrificial service rooted in a living Catholic faith."
"A new 'spirit of knighthood' is what we urgently need now," he announced. "Unselfish, tireless, devoted disciples willing to face derision and persecution for Jesus Christ."