An anecdote from Syria, learning Christianity from a Saracen

Jean de Joinville relates...

John the Armenian, who was the King's master of artillery, went about that time to Damascus to buy horn and glue to make cross-bows, and saw an old man far advanced in years sitting in the booths of Damascus. This old man called him and asked him: whether he were a Christian? And he told him: Yes. And he said to him: " You Christians must hate one another: for I have seen the time when King Baldwin of Jerusalem, who was a leper, routed Saladin, though he had but three hundred men-at-arms, and Saladin three millions; and now your sins have brought you to such a pass, that we capture you in the open like beasts."

Thereupon John the Armenian told him, that he might hold his peace about the sins of the Christians, seeing the sins the Saracens commit which are much greater. And the Saracen replied: That was a foolish answer. " Why? " asked John. He said he would tell him; but that first he would ask him a question. And he asked him, whether he had not a child? "Yes," replied John, "a son." "And would you," asked he, "be more angry with me, or with your son, if either of us were to strike you? " He answered: With his son. "Then," said the Saracen, " thus do I answer you. You Christians are sons of God, called after His name, Christ; and to you He has shown grace in giving you teachers, whereby you may know good from evil; wherefore God is more wroth with you for a little sin, than with us for a big, who know no better, and are blinded. For we deem ourself free of all sin, if we may but wash in water before we die; since Mahomet hath said: in death, by water shall we be saved."


Joinville, like his king, was obviously very attached to the Christian religion, to its doctrines, its morality and its practices. For proof of this there is a small work of edification, composed in 1250, titled li romans as ymages des poinz de nostre foi, where Joinville makes a brief commentary on the Credo. But his deep and sincere faith contrasts with the almost exalted Christian heroism of King Louis IX. The Christianity of Joinville is closer to that of the common people of that era.

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