By Fr. Richard Sorfleet
The history and development of the Teutonic Order and its transformation into a state covering the southern Baltic litoral raises three questions; how a successful state firmly tied to the Roman Catholic Church could accept the Reformation so quickly , what the broader implications are for us in other ways to evangelize and convert other than at the point of a sword, and when is any war justifiable.
Given the highest ranks of State and Church in the medieval period were open only to the highest and most powerful families in society, the grand mastership of the Teutonic in the late 15thC was no exception.
Abert of the House of Hohenzollern [which would be the ruling house of the German Empire 1871 until the end of WWI] became Grand Master of the Order in 1510. With his family's dynastic ties across the Empire and with neighboring Poland and with no settlement to a war with Poland, the solution was to have him abandon the order, marry and establish himself as Duke of Prussia .
In the meantime Albert had met with leading members of the Lutheran Reform including Martin Luther himself. Even though he as grand master had assured the Pope [Adrian VI] of his intentions to reform the order and punish knights accepting Lutheran ideas, the main objective was securing a power-base and position for himself with his own dukedom [February 10th., 1525] and as a fief of the Polish Crown from his uncle Sigismund the Old.
The ducal capital at Koenigsberg [now Kaliningrad] became a center of learning and the expanding Lutheran Reform.
The Order remained but centered after the secularization of its Baltic holdings in Germany itself and after 1555 with the religious settlements accepted Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed members into its ranks.
The Teutonic Order had incorporated  a previous military monastic order already operating in the Baltic States [renamed the Livonian Order 1237] and with the secularization in 1525, reasserted its own independence in the Duchy of Livonia [until 1561] comprising present-day Latvia and Estonia. It was a patchwork of both religious and secular holdings with its capital at the oldest point of Christian entry  into the region at Riga
The primary source for the earliest Northern Crusades is Livonian Chronicle of Henry [of Latvia] covering 1180 to 1227 and recounts the events into which the Teutonic Order was called.
Thomas Hobbes' quote of 'continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short' [Leviathan 1651] summarizes life in the medieval world, and the association of monastic vows of poverty, chastity and obedience together with work and prayer to putting unbelievers to the sword with religious zeal and justification requires little leap in understanding.
Do not murder.
Ex 20: 13 CEV
Forms the basis of the Catholic view of war in teaching against the intentional destruction of human life and the call to avoid war.
It examines the strict parameters for legitimate defense which in part reflects St Bernard of Clairvaux's thesis in the call to establish an organized military monasticism in the 12thC.
Those being lasting damage by the aggressor, all other ways to avoid conflict have proven ineffective or impractical, serious prospects at success, and the end result not producing situations of even worse conditions and disorders.
In addition humane treatment and respect is to be given to civilians, the wounded and prisoners.
We are called to overcome the causes of war citing injustice, excessive economic and social inequality, envy, distrust and pride and build peace.
He will settle arguments
They will pound their swords
and their spears
into rakes and shovels;
they will never make war
or attack one another.
Isa 2: 4 CEV
The other medieval dynamic was the forgiveness of one's sins by taking up the crusader's cross as St Bernard of Clairvaux preached March 31st., 1146 at Vézalay south of Paris to whip up enthusiasm fior a second crusade to Palestine.
The din of arms, the danger, the labors, the fatigues of war, are the penances that God now imposes upon you. Hasten then to expiate your sins by victories over the Infidels, and let the deliverance of the holy places be the reward of your repentance....Cursed be he who does not stain his sword with blood. Dieu le veult.
To his credit, Bernard traveled to the Rhineland to prevent attacks on Jews who were targeted for not contributing to the cause and thereby preventing massacres as had been the case in the First Crusade, again justifying his call for a focused professional and organized monastic military instead of chivalrous efforts degenerating into predatory armed mobs eg Constantinople 1204 and débâcles in the desert. eg Egypt 1249
The whole premise of military monasticism studying St Bernard of Clairvaux's sermon in 1149 is based on a theology of works for the forgiveness of sin.
Does an individual waging war in what may be seen as just, however closely adhering to the parameters as expressed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, forgive sins?
Satisfaction for sins calls for, among others, prayer,offerings, works of mercy, service to one's neighbor, self-denial and accepting the cross we must bear. Forced conversions and holy wars are not on the list.
Go to the people of all nations and make them my disciples. Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20 and teach them to do everything I have told you. I will be with you always, even until the end of the world.
Mt 28: 19- 20 CEV
Christ sent forth the apostles whom he had chosen, commissioning them [and now us] to proclaim the Gospel.
The issue we face is how and from the lessons learned from the past, how not.
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