The Roman Catholic Church is in crisis. Both within its traditional stronghold of Europe and without, it is under attack.
While the Catholic Church is still the world’s largest Christian denomination by far, its popularity is shrinking fastest in the areas it has historically been strongest. In 1965, approximately 9 out of 10 Central and South Americans identified as Catholic. By 2010, nearly every country in the Western Hemisphere saw its Catholic population decline—in many of them by more than one third. In the United States, for every individual who becomes Catholic, another six leave.
At the same time, Christianity is literally under attack in the Middle East. On April 9, an Islamic State terrorist came within a whisker of assassinating the Coptic pope. As it was, the Islamic State killed 44 people in two bombing attacks that day. Since the Arab Spring of 2011, some 200,000 Christians have reportedly fled Egypt. Iraq’s Christian population has fallen from 1.4 million in 2003 to an estimated 275,000. If Christians in Iraq cannot be protected, “they have no future—it’s as bleak and as simple as that,” wrote Benedict Kiely, a priest who runs Nasarean.org, a website drawing attention to the plight of Christians in the Middle East.
Recent popes seemed to acknowledge the ongoing crisis and have reached back in history for ways to fix it. The last pope, Benedict xvi, named himself after St. Benedict, the founder of a system of monasteries that helped Catholicism survive the col- lapse of the Western Roman Empire. The current pope named himself after St. Francis of Assisi, who reinvigorated Catholicism with his message of pious poverty.
But there is perhaps a more effective—albeit far more threa- tening—template for the church’s current problems: the late 11th century.
Pope Gregory vii had decided to pick a fight with the most powerful king in the Western world, Henry iv, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Gregory launched an audacious power grab, pushing what historian Paul Johnson calls “a theory of papal world-government” in his book History of Christianity.
At one point, Henry iv was reduced to groveling barefoot in the snow outside the pope’s residence, a testament to the power of the papacy. But the fight between pope and emperor continued, and it took a heavy toll on both sides.
Besides that, a few decades earlier, a major chunk of the church had split off, when in 1054 the Eastern Orthodox Christians split from Rome. To make it worse, Christianity’s eastern bastion was at risk of being wiped out. Invaders poured into what is now Turkey and were banging on the doors of Constantinople, Christendom’s richest and most glorious city. Even though Eas- tern Christianity was now independent of the Roman Catholic Church, its fall would deal a major blow to the Vatican. If it fell, Eastern Europe could turn Muslim, the way so much of the rest of the world already had. The church’s political power seemed on the brink of being broken forever.
Few would expect that in just a few years, it would blaze with renewed glory.
In 1088, Pope Urban ii took the throne. He found one solution that solved all these problems. It is the single event for which he is most remembered—the act that wrote him into the history books forever. He launched the Crusades.
“War with Germany, conflict in France, a rival pope and Chris- tians in the East under siege: Remarkably, the Crusade could solve all of these problems,” writes Jay Rubenstein in Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse. ”If the initial rallying cry were successful, it would unite behind Urban ii a significant portion of Christian Europe …. The advantages of the Crusade, in retrospect, seem obvious.”
“By summoning an army under the banner of the cross, the pope was extending the church’s mantle over all Christendom. This was the idea at the very heart of the revolutionary papacy; in place of separate local churches at the center of discrete com- munities, there was to be one overarching church, ruled by one overarching pope. The Crusade was to be its expression and its instrument” (ibid).
The plan worked. In 1122, the Holy Roman Empire came to an agreement with the church. […]
More importantly, the Crusades forged a new unity in Europe. “The Crusade helped to fashion a broader sense of Christian identity in an otherwise divided European homeland,” writes Rubenstein. “Pilgrims came from different cultures and spoke different languages—German, Flemish, Norman, French, Proven- çal and Italian—but their shared experiences instilled in them a common identity. … It would be no exaggeration to say that the economy, spirituality, technology and morality—the foundations of Western culture—would be remade because of the First Cru- sade”
“Today, there’s the ecumenism of blood,” Pope Francis told an Italian reporter in December 2013. “In some countries they kill Christians because they wear a cross or have a Bible, and before killing them they don’t ask if they’re Anglicans, Lutherans, Ca- tholic or Orthodox. The blood is mixed. For those who kill, we’re Christians. We’re united in blood, even if among ourselves we still haven’t succeeded in taking the necessary steps toward unity and perhaps the moment hasn’t arrived. Unity is a grace that we have to ask for.”
How much more unity could the church achieve if it mounted a more vigorous defense of Christians in the East? If the Vatican saves the day and arrests the persecution, could it win full unity with the Orthodox churches—a dream that eluded even Urban?
By no means is this a recommendation for such a course of ac- tion. A crusading Catholic Church is one of the bloodiest, most fearsome threats the world has faced, and it has faced it time after time. But it is important to realize that this exact type of aggression is an option the church is well aware of—a “nuclear option” it has used repeatedly.
Exactly what role the current pope will have in a resurgent, more aggressive Vatican is unknown. But surely the Vatican recognizes the success that such a policy has enjoyed in the Islamic State.
A Rally to War
The Islamic State is doing all it can to pick a fight with the Vati- can. It too remembers the Crusades: After all, the other belli- gerent in those wars was Islam. Last December, the Islamic State attacked a building next to the Coptic Church’s headquarters, which is the biggest cathedral in the Middle East and Africa. In April, on Palm Sunday, it attacked a church the Copts claim is built on the site of a church founded by the man who wrote the Gospel of Mark, and tried to kill the Coptic pope. The Islamic State is specifically and repeatedly targeting this church, and packing as much symbolism as possible into its attacks. It wants war.
A much more forceful defense of Christians in the Middle East is the next logical step. A Catholic leader traveling around Europe goading politicians to take real action to defend Christians in the Middle East would be instantly popular.
So far, the evil building in the Middle East within the Islamic State and Iranian-backed terror groups has been met with an incre- dibly soft response by Europe and the rest of the West. But Europeans are starving for someone to finally respond with strength.
History warns of what can happen when the Catholic Church rises in power. Bible prophecy gives the same warning.
The Warning in Prophecy
The Bible often portrays churches symbolically as women (e.g. Revelation 12). Isaiah 47 describes a church called “the lady of kingdoms.” She has power over many nations. […]
The Bible prophesies the next move of this church. This same “woman” will lead the political power in Europe (Revelation 17). This church-state combine is prophesied to attack Iran, cutting off the head of its Islamic terrorist empire (Daniel 11:41-44). Many other prophecies show that the resulting conflagration will explode into globe-encompassing war.
This is where the Catholic Church is heading! This is what a Pope Urban-inspired solution to its current crises will produce!