In 1931, one of the 20th century’s greatest writers was invited to the campus of my alma mater, the College of the Holy Cross, a school founded by the Society of Jesus in 1843. That writer was G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), the famous author and convert who is known today by his avid readers as the “apostle of common sense”. He was at Holy Cross to receive an honorary degree, which shows that back then my alma mater had the common sense to honor such a man. Such recognition would not be possible today, as Chesterton would be considered too “narrow” a thinker and not tolerant enough to be honored. But as Chesterton himself noted, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” Indeed, there was certainly more common sense and conviction decades ago on Mount Saint James, the hill where Holy Cross is located in Worcester, Massachusetts, than there is today.
The administration of the college established a committee in 2016 to determine whether or not to keep the “Crusader” moniker for its athletic programs on account of it possibly being too offensive. For over a year the committee engaged in a process of “discussion and discernment” as debate ensued on campus. Finally, last month the college president, Fr. Philip Boroughs, S.J., announced that Holy Cross would maintain the “Crusader” name. But just this week Fr. Boroughs announced the college would be dropping the use of the knight as its mascot and symbol.
The entire committee process of evaluating this matter and the ensuing debate demonstrates the increasingly emasculated nature of higher education. And it shows how Holy Cross, like so many other institutions of Catholic higher education, is more politically correct than it is Catholic or committed to the truth. This is, of course, all a far cry from the Holy Cross of 1931 that welcomed Chesterton. Before a large crowd on the steps of Dinand Library he was lauded as “One of the foremost crusaders in the modern world of letters” and as a result, the college wished to adopt him into “the humble ranks of the Holy Cross Crusaders.” The witty reply came from the large Englishman: “I have to thank you for this very great honor and I do so with all my heart. I can only say that I’m not much of a Crusader, but at least I’m not a Mohammedan!” And all those mean and intolerant people gathered on the library steps laughed.
In the decision to maintain the “Crusader” moniker, the recent statement of the college’s Board of Trustees reads:
While we acknowledge that the Crusades were among the darkest periods in Church history, we choose to associate ourselves with the modern definition of the word crusader, only which is representative of our Catholic, Jesuit identity and our mission and values as an institution and community.
The student newspaper at Holy Cross, named The Crusader, announced that it would, however, change its name to The Spire, stating:
No matter how long ago the Crusades took place, this paper does not wish to be associated with the massacres (i.e. burning synagogues with innocent men, women, and children inside) and conquest that took place therein.
In the decision to drop the logo of the knight for the college mascot, Fr. Boroughs wrote that the image “…inevitably ties us directly to the reality of the religious wars and the violence of the Crusades. This imagery stands in contrast to our stated values. Over the coming months, the College will gradually phase out the use of all knight-related imagery.”
This whole discussion is an embarrassment to the Holy Cross alumni and students. More importantly, it is also an embarrassment to the Church. It is especially dispiriting because it comes at a time when our Christian brothers and sisters are being persecuted across the globe for their faith in Jesus Christ, chiefly in the Middle East at the hands of various Muslim groups. It is appalling how little those in Catholic higher education, blinded by their desire to be respectable, think of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East as opposed to their endless concern over the faux persecution of the “LGBT community” in these United States.
It is ridiculous to think any Holy Cross students—those who laughed at Chesterton’s joke in 1931 or those who cheer on the Crusader basketball team today—uphold the violations of the rules of war committed by certain members of the Crusader armies. This assumption is not only insincere, it is based on an utterly wrong understanding of what the Crusades actually were. The administration of Holy Cross has fallen into the mistaken prevailing wisdom, summed up well by Dr. Rodney Stark in God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, that “during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam. Not so…the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations: by centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places.”
In his superb history of the Crusades, which should be mandatory summer reading for all incoming freshmen at Holy Cross, Rodney Stark writes further:
Many critics of the Crusades would seem to suppose that after the Muslims had overrun a major portion of Christendom, they should have been ignored or forgiven; suggestions have been made about turning the other cheek. This outlook is certainly unrealistic and probably insincere. Not only had the Byzantines lost most of their empire; the enemy was at their gates. And the loss of Spain, Sicily, and southern Italy, as well as a host of Mediterranean islands, was bitterly resented in Europe. Hence, as British historian Derek Lomax (1933-1992) explained, “The popes, like most Christians, believed war against the Muslims to be justified partly because the latter had usurped by force lands which once belonged to Christians and partly because they abused the Christians over whom they ruled and such Christian lands as they could raid for slaves, plunder and the joys of destruction.” It was time to strike back.
And so the Crusades began with this cause and in this spirit. To equate the cause and spirit of the Crusades, which everyone knows (or should know) was what the mascot name is all about, with the atrocities committed over the course of these long wars is very bad and imbalanced history. It is also a violation of justice to the noble character of the many who fought and died for a righteous cause, and with a righteous intention. Simple distinctions have to be made. But such distinctions are apparently impossible for those guided by emotion and political correctness, not by reason and truth.
I graduated as a Holy Cross “Crusader” in 2010. I am now a parish priest whose parochial school’s mascot is, funnily enough, the “Crusaders”. These beautiful children play their sports under this name, with an image adorning their jerseys of a knight riding upon a horse wielding a sword. I don’t know about the players on the Harvard basketball team that Holy Cross plays every year, but the 5th grade opponents of my parish’s basketball team have so far not complained about any hurt feelings. When the students of my parish’s school play their games, they do so as “Crusaders.” They love this title because they are proud to be Catholic and they love our Lord Jesus Christ, the “King of kings” and “Prince of Peace”.