Pope Innocent III and Crossbows


This canon concerning crossbows and archers was in the second lateran council:

  1. We prohibit under anathema that murderous art of crossbowmen and archers, which is hateful to God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics from now on.

quoted from here: papalencyclicals.net/Councils/ecum10.htm

Now, if I understand this canon correctly, this canon states that if someone were to use a crossbow or a bow against another Christian that they are anathema ( another word for excommunicated right?)

So I have a few questions about this sort of thing, the first being, what is the logic behind such a canon? Can the use of a particular weapon be considered “hateful to God” ? And if it is, how would firearms (which are far more lethal) not be considered the same?

And another question is essentially, are canons such as this still binding today? I don’t think there is a similar canon denouncing the use of firearms, so is this sort of canon still relevant today? I have no plans of shooting arrows at people lol, but like let’s say a hunter was spending some time in a cabin of his and someone broke in and tried to rob and kill him, and in self defense the hunter shot the attacker (who happened to be a Christian) with his hunting crossbow, would this person who presumably acted in legitimate self defense be considered anathema because he happened to use a crossbow in self defense?



You have to understand that when archers and crossbows were outlawed by the Church, these weapons were the equivalent of Weapons of Mass Destruction today.
When the crossbow was introduced in Europe, it was the only weapon that could penetrate armor at that time…which meant a commoner could kill a nobleman from a distance in battle…something that was morally unthinkable at that time. The Nobility were considered by the Church to have control over the mass of people because of G*d’s will. This was part of the “Devine Right of Kings” theory.
Then came the English victory at the Battle of Agincourt in the early 1400’s. Instead of numerous Knights in Armor on horseback, the English used several hundreds of longbowmen who rained down such a horrendous storm of arrows on the French that almost all of their knights, which was most of the French nobility, were killed.
This kind of slaughter had been unknown in Europe up until that time between warring European Nations, and it horrified Rome…especially since the Vatican at that time was more partial to France than it was to England. Thus, the council used their religion to counter the English victory. A lot of good it did, since this was one of the things, along with the Popes refusal to allow Henry VIII to get rid of his wife, that caused the English to separate from the Church of Rome.
One note: You cannot judge the actions of Rome or of Church Councils in past times by the standards of today. To do so, leads to revisionist history which is the same as inventing history to agree with your beliefs. You are headed to intellectual self deceit and doom by doing so.
In any case, these canons were superceded by later Church Councils and can no longer be considered valid.




So I have a few questions about this sort of thing, the first being, what is the logic behind such a canon? Can the use of a particular weapon be considered “hateful to God” ?

Yes, if it used in a “murderous” fashion, as the canon describes.



Repost of a comment of mine from this thread (about a month ago): forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=748562

Knighthood also had religious connotations and denotations, whereas a peasant called up for military service (generally) did not. I seem to recall reading somewhere that crossbows were seen as a threat to one aspect of the Three Estates (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Estates_of_the_realm).



What immediately struck me as I read the quote was the “We prohibit…” nature of the statement. This indicates that the pope was making a command based on obedience to his authority, not a declaration about the inherent morality of using bows in warfare.

That suggests to me that the pope was purposely stating it that way so that the command COULD be changed later if needed. It’s the same way that catholics once would have been sinning if they ate meat on a Friday in January while today catholics are free to substitute another sacrifice instead of meat abstinance. The sin isn’t inherent to the action, the sin was in the defiance of authority.

The pope seems to have tried to prevent the adoption of increasingly horrific weapons of war. Noble effort, even if it didn’t work.



Actually even today - at least in Canada - courts will explicitly prohibit the carrying or possession of a crossbow by those on bail for suspected acts of criminal violence. Crossbows are extremely dangerous - “murderous” weapons. I suspect a bullet wound might not even be as potentially lethal as a shot from a crossbow.



So you just *happened *upon the 29th canon of the second lateran council? Or is there some other agenda here?



If crossbows are outlawed, only outlaws will have crossbows.



lol my interest was actually originally sparked by a character from the tv show “The Walking Dead” (Daryl) who happens to wield a crossbow, and I remembered reading something about the Church speaking out against crossbows in some capacity so I googled it, read the canon which sparked further questions and so I wondered why the Church made such a declaration against a particular weapon, and it spurred a general curiosity over whether canons from councils like this are still binding. Are the canons from these councils the canon law of their time? and if so, wouldn’t that mean that the 1983 code of canon law supersedes all of these previous canons or abolishes them?

They’re certainly dangerous but idk how you could say a bullet wound could be less lethal than a crossbow bolt, that wasn’t really the point of the thread though xD.



Innocent II presided over that Council, not Innocent III (he presided over Lateran IV).

And yes, such canons would be considered canon law. There was no code until the early 20th century: canon lawyers had to sift through concilliar and papal decrees to determine what was still in force, what had been abrogated, what had been superceded, what had been allowed to fall into desuetude, etc. Organizing the canons into a Code simplified this a great deal.

This canon is no longer in force.


closed #11

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