Joinville and the Apostate Christian
By Charles R Geter, December 16, 2008
The time of the Crusades was a time for religious zeal. St. Louis' Crusade was ultimately a military failure, but that is only one aspect of the story. If one looks at the Crusades from their spiritual aspect however, it was not such a failure. If we could be transported back to the 13th Century, probably the most striking thing about the Crusaders is their enthusiasm for doing God's will. They took their mission to win back Jerusalem seriously. We would probably all start thinking "Wow, these guys are hard core! They know what they should be doing, and they are doing it." At the same time, not even the Crusades were immune from selfish people. Some sacked Jerusalem, or forgot about the Holy City and attacked Christian Constantinople. All the same, to acknowledge the evils does not invalidate the good that the best of the Crusaders meant to accomplish.
The Christians were most concerned about their own souls. Of course they were human like the rest of us, and they didn't try to get themselves killed. In fact, many of the crusaders probably would have experienced fears similar to those that all soldiers face. The ideal was to be prepared to give your life for Christ, and so go straight to heaven if you were killed. Consequently, the Crusaders had very little patience for those who left the Christian faith. Such people's souls were in serious trouble.
St. Louis was the heroic type of man that really made the effort to be saintly, and he worried seriously for the souls of sinners. This explains very well why he was so rude to fallen away Christians. When the king and Joinville were imprisoned, a Saracen brought gifts from the children of the sultan of Cairo. This man spoke to King Louis in French! Needless to say, the prisoners were surprised. However, when St. Louis found out that the man was a fallen-away Christian, he would not speak any more to that Saracen. Joinville, as he relates in his Life of St. Louis, spoke to the man, telling him how dangerous it was to be in the state of renouncing Christ, and that he would go to Hell if he died in that state. Despite the words of Joinville, the man readily admitted that he would reconvert, but for the fact that he would be ridiculed back where he lived. Despite Joinville's urgings, the man went away, and Joinville never found out what happened to him.
Now, on the surface it is easy to think "How silly! St. Louis should have been more charitable, and Joinville would have been more effective if he had been more understanding!" However, upon closer inspection, we find that the above argument against St. Louis' mode of action is a modern way of thinking that would not have been apparent to the Crusaders. Moreover, we have this strange idea that charity is never harsh. In fact, charity can be extremely harsh; God is often harsh with us, and yet He loves us. Who knows the best thing to say to the apostate? Only God, and yet, we have to try even if His will does not seem apparent.
Some Catholics of today would be likely to deal with the whole situation in a more touchy-feely manner; "Oh, as long as you're searching for truth, it's fine, whatever". That is NOT the right approach. Some of the more well-versed Catholics would likely say "Look for the truth, and the more you look, the closer you will be drawn back to the Christian faith." In fact, given a little more time with the man, it possibly would have helped to discuss conversion as man searching for God, rather than man afraid of going to Hell.
Two final points: first, hindsight is 20-20. From my desk it is easy to try and think up what I would have said in place of Joinville to the fallen-away Catholic. In the situation St. Louis was in, both he and Joinville at least tried to save the man. Secondly, there is nothing sinful about repenting for fear of Hell. It can still save you. Perhaps they were more concerned with getting through to the man in a short space of time, rather than finessing the argument. Fire and brimstone sermons can often do great things to keep people out of sin. Sometime in the future, that apostate Saracen may have realized his error and returned to Christ's flock. Who can say for sure that he didn't?