The Church has stolen art, etc?

I have a friend who just took a tour of Rome and she said it was hard to see all the art, etc since so much of it was stolen from other countries. Is that true and if not where does that thought come from?

Fourth Crusade.

Stolen art? She sounds like she is confusing the Church with the Nazis. Most Catholic art was commissioned for the Church. Some was gifted by kings. Some was brought back from the Holy Land by St. Helena.

Can you give an example? The only examples I can think of are where the Catholic Church took art from other Catholic churches that were in the hands of schismatics. Does that count as stealing?

Yes. According to Nicetas Choniates a whole lot of things were stolen by Roman Catholics from the Greek Orthodox Churches during the fourth crusade.
". . . How shall I begin to tell of the deeds wrought by these nefarious men! Alas, the images, which ought to have been adored, were trodden under foot! Alas, the relics of the holy martyrs were thrown into unclean places! Then was se en what one shudders to hear, namely, the divine body and blood of Christ was spilled upon the ground or thrown about. They snatched the precious reliquaries, thrust into their bosoms the ornaments which these contained, and used the broken remnants for pans and drinking cups,-precursors of Anti-Christ, authors and heralds of his nefarious deeds which we momentarily expect. Manifestly, indeed, by that race then, just as formerly, Christ was robbed and insulted and His garments were divided by lot; only one thing was lacking, that His side, pierced bv a spear, should pour rivers of divine blood on the ground.

Nor can the violation of the Great Church [note: Hagia Sophia] be listened to with equanimity. For the sacred altar, formed of all kinds of precious materials and admired by the whole world, was broken into bits and distributed among the soldiers, as was all the other sacred wealth of so great and infinite splendor.

When the sacred vases and utensils of unsurpassable art and grace and rare material, and the fine silver, wrought with gold, which encircled the screen of the tribunal and the ambo, of admirable workmanship, and the door and many other ornaments, were to be borne away as booty, mules and saddled horses were led to the very sanctuary of the temple. Some of these which were unable to keep their footing on the splendid and slippery pavement, were stabbed when they fell, so that the sacred pavement was polluted with blood and filth.

Nay more, a certain harlot, a sharer in their guilt, a minister of the furies, a servant of the demons, a worker of incantations and poisonings, insulting Christ, sat in the patriarch’s seat, singing an obscene song and dancing frequently. Nor, indeed, were these crimes committed and others left undone, on the ground that these were of lesser guilt, the others of greater. But with one consent all the most heinous sins and crimes were committed by all with equal zeal. Could those, who showed so great madness against God Himself, have spared the honorable matrons and maidens or the virgins consecrated to God?

Nothing was more difficult and laborious than to soften by prayers, to render benevolent, these wrathful barbarians, vomiting forth bile at every unpleasing word, so that nothing failed to inflame their fury. Whoever attempted it was derided as insane and a man of intemperate language. Often they drew their daggers against any one ivho opposed them at all or hindered their demands.

No one was without a share in the grief. In the alleys, in the streets, in the temples, complaints, weeping, lamentations, grief, the groaning of men, the shrieks of women, wounds, rape, captivity, the separation of those most closely united. Nobles wandered about ignominiously, those of venerable age in tears, the rich in poverty. Thus it was in the streets, on the corners, in the temple, in the dens, for no place remained unassailed or defended the suppliants. All places everywhere were filled full of all kinds of crime. Oh, immortal God, how great the afflictions of the men, bow great the distress!"

Catholic looting of Greek Orthodox churches:
"Not satisfied with the vast treasures they stole from private houses and imperial palaces, they looted churches, desecrated the most holy of objects, (206) dismembered the great altar, ambon (“pulpit”), and iconostasis of the Church of Hagia Sophia, and distributed its gold and silver ornaments as souvenirs. They pried off the jewels and precious stones from reliquaries and sacred vessels and used the latter as dishes and drinking cups. The Church of Hagia Sophia itself was defiled by the vilest sacrilege, when the Crusaders entered it mounted upon mules and horses, which slipped on the polished stone floor and befouled the church with their blood and excrement. Α prostitute sat in the patriarch’s throne and provided lewd entertainment with ribald songs and indecent dances.

The Crusaders spared no one, old or young, male or female, humble or powerful. Soldiers, leaders, and clergy all stole whatever they could, wherever they found it, save that the Abbot Martin of Pairis, out of piety, would take no plunder except from ecclesiastical establishments. After three days, the indiscriminate, unorganised larceny was brought to a halt, and gave way to methodical, systematic spoliation conducted officially by the Latin governing powers themselves, who relentlessly sought out the riches which their hapless victims had concealed, and resorted to torture and violence whenever necessary to expedite the search.

The booty was so enormous that no one could estimate its value, but all agreed that never before had a single city yielded up such treasures. Fortunately, many of the Crusaders prized the works they had stolen,(207) and, for years, ship after ship, heavily ladened, carried off their loot to Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, and England, where many of the objects thus acquired in 1204 and in the succeeding years of the Latin occupation can still be seen in churches, museums, and private collections. So numerous were the chalices, censers, cups, enamels, jewels, ivories, embroideries, and richly ornamented reliquaries (the last of which were reputedly heavy with the blood of Christ, fragments of the True Cross, relics of the saints, and other objects of devotion) that special treasuries were built to house them.

Perhaps the most notable of these was the Treasury of the Church of St. Mark in Venice, whose wealth still dazzles tourists in Venice. But many of the most precious objects, including vast quantities of manuscripts, ancient sculptures, revered icons, sparkling stones, gold and silver beyond price, and fabulous stuffs of all sorts were inadvertently or deliberately destroyed by wanton hands. Worse still, a large proportion of the most valuable possessions of the Treasury of St. Mark in Venice was confiscated and destroyed by the Republic of Venice in 1795 to provide funds for its war chest, so that the wondrous Treasury as it is now constituted is only a pitiful fragment of a once far more glorious collection."

If this is true why hasn’t the Church returned it?

The Church has taken pagan treasures and symbols of power and displayed them as trophies. For example, the Church took a symbol of power from the pagan Egyptian Empire and used it to decorate Her courtyard.

See that obelisk? That is from the Fifth Dynasty of pagan Egypt (ca 2494 BC – 2345 BC) and it now sits smack-dab in the center of St. Peter’s Square (which is actually oval shaped, BTW). See how the Cross rises above it?

In traditional warfare, if an enemy flag is captured, it is proudly displayed as a trophy at headquarters. The severed heads of enemy commanders were displayed on pikes at the gates of the capitol. The Church has similarly captured and displays trophies of conquered pagan religions.

This practice has not traditionally been considered theft, but legitimate spoils of victory. The Vatican is not about to give this trophy back to Egypt.

Because “the Church” did not loot the Greek Orthodox.

Soldiers did. And they kept the loot for themselves.

Things happen in war, regrettable things. But not necessarily things sanctioned by the Church.

Then your friend shouldn’t visit ANY museum-- the Greeks have been trying to get the Parthenon back from the British Museum for years to no avail. And, of course Egypt has many claims on treasures in the British Museum, Louvre, and just about every museum in the WORLD.

And of course, MANY of these so-called looted treasures were legitimately part of the Roman Empire for centuries so no one in the ancient world saw these things as being “looted”. All of north Africa, Egypt included, was conquered first by the Greeks then the Romans.

Like it or not, this is how things worked in the ancient and not so ancient world. As various powers ebbed and flowed, conquered and ruled, they did not see treasures as belonging to those they conquered but to themselves. Many temporal rulers eventually gave some of the treasures and artifacts to the Church. Now they are protected and preserved for all to see.

Your friend really lacks an understanding of ancient cultures and their ways. There ways were not our ways. Doesn’t make them wrong, just different.

How do you explain the loot which is on display in St. Mark’s cathedral in Venice?

But isn’t that obelisk were one of the apostles was martyred, was it Peter? I would say it should be kept.

Well, we also hear from people that the Church has too much wealth and how horrible it is. They don’t consider how the Church is the biggest charity in the world just see how rich it is and criticize it for that. All the gold in the Churches, etc.

True to an extent. But if the Catholic Church was more serious about its apology and guilt about the Fourth Crusade, it never would have accepted those gifts in the first place. Or they would have returned at least a good portion of them. One cannot have their cake and eat it too.

Sure, the Church was against the mission to Constantinople the whole time and disowned the crusaders. That alleviates a lot of blame. However, they still called for it and made many of the preparatory arrangements. They still accepted its spoils and sanctioned an occupying power in the Latin Empire.

a) I think you misunderstood me. Most “loot” taken by the soldiers was kept by the soldiers for their own profit.

b) You cannot impose 21st century ideas about what they “should” or “should not” have done 1000 years ago. Easy to say “the Church” (which is a misnomer as “the Church” is spread out all over the world) should have done X or Y. But, in reality, it probably went something like this:

Soldier takes X in “loot” (chalice, bowl, gold ring, whatever) in 1200 and tucks it away in his nap-sack. Brings it back home to his little principality 1000s of miles away. Keeps it, sells it, or gives it to local church. Winds up in the hands of another and then another. Is stolen in a raid and taken off to another fiefdom 200 miles away. Two hundred years later, it is taken again as politics change hands. It is then bequeathed to a monastery in England in the 1400s. Is then looted by Henry VIII in the 1500s. It winds up in the British Museum in the 1800s.

To whom, exactly, does it belong? Where did it come from? Who exactly do you believe it should be given it back to? It’s not like a chalice in 1200 had a sticker on the bottom “if lost, return to…”.

And to that I say, so what?

that was the age they lived in. We might do things differently. But, governments and private individuals are doing the exact same thing today with treasures of the Middle East and elsewhere, I hardly think those who live in glass houses can throw stones.

We really haven’t evolved as much as we like to think.

Actually I can impose 21st Century ideals. Do we not judge slave owners of the American South by our own modern standards? Do we not impose our morality upon the Jim Crow South too?

Can every wrong be corrected? No, but there are a number of relics and artwork that can easily be returned to the East and should. That would be a big step towards reconciliation and would help the ecumenical movement greatly.

As for the second part, the age they lived in does not excuse their actions. The age they lived in helps us understand why they did what they did, but it does not in itself justify their actions. That is not the basis of the moral order established by God.

Whether or not someone or some government still does the same thing today has no bearing on the morality of the action. Governments still sanction forms of rape today. Does that make rape okay? No. It’s a terrible argument.

We shouldn’t.

“The East” is awfully vague. Who specifically should they be returned to? What specifically should be returned? Perhaps you can write to the Vatican Museum and suggest this.

I did not say it justified what they did.

But, to try to state that “the Church” should make reparations today for something that happened 1000 years ago, with actions perpetrated by individuals unnamed and long dead, against countries and empires that NO LONGER EXIST, and when various antiquities have changed hands numerous time without provenance is just silly.

I mean, why stop there? let’s give land back to the Visigoths, the Huns, the Lombards while we are at it.

Let’s give the Netherlands back to Spain. Or is it the Burgundians of France? Or is it Franks and the Holy Roman Empire? Or is it the Saxons? Or the Roman Empire? Or the Frisii?

I see now ISIS just destroys treasures when they take over a city, etc. They even beheaded the director who oversaw the antiquities.

If your friend was looking for Fourth Crusade 'loot", he/she was in the wrong city. Venice is the place.

And if you ask the Venetians, they say it was revenge for their guy having been unjustly blinded years before by the Constantinople court system.

I would say that if you put a guy with a grudge in charge of running the expedition, Bad Things Will Happen. It’s like forcing Snake Plissken to work for you and then not expecting the ending of Escape from New York.

(The Byzantines avoided the death penalty where possible, which was why they blinded so many people. Somehow I don’t think this was what Pope Francis currently has in mind…)

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