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In 1099, a crew of nobles, knights, vassals, monks and penitents took Antioch, where they established a Crusader principality and a Latin (or Roman Catholic) patriarchate. Traveling south to Jerusalem, the Crusaders encountered the Maronites, who welcomed them as allies and companions in the faith. Some may have even joined the Crusaders in their successful quest to free Jerusalem for Christendom.

The rise of Crusader states throughout Palestine and Syria emancipated the Maronites from their exile in the mountains, enabling them to settle in the diverse cities of the eastern Mediterranean coast. Thus begins the Maronites’ association with the West, an association that would permanently affect the Maronites’ position.

This relationship was bolstered less than a century later. The primary chronicler of the era, William of Tyre (circa 1128-1186), notes that in 1182, the Maronite patriarch and his bishops, representing the Maronite people (which then numbered some 40,000), approached the Latin patriarch of Antioch, abjured their allegiance to the Ekthesis of Heraclius, made professions of faith and oaths of loyalty to the bishop of Rome, Pope Alexander III.

Traditional Maronite histories dispute William’s account; the Maronites had nothing to renounce. At the very least one can point to 1182 as the year the Maronite Church formally confirmed its union with the Church of Rome. It also marks the beginning of the Latinization of the Maronite Church, the process of conforming its rites and disciplines to those practiced in Rome.

Latinization. After traveling to Rome to attend the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), Maronite Patriarch Jeremias al-Amshitti received a bull from Pope Innocent III outlining a number of initiatives in doctrine and discipline he wished to introduce, including: an emphasis on the two wills in Christ; revisions to the sacramental administration of Christian initiation, or chrismation (baptism, Eucharist and confirmation); regularizing the number of Maronite episcopal sees; and encouraging the use of Latin vestments and bells.

And while the papal bull also granted the patriarch the pallium - a traditional symbol of communion with Rome - it was to be granted to him by the Latin patriarch of Antioch, which suggested the pope recognized Jeremias as a primate, but not as Maronite patriarch of Antioch.

As the late medieval Crusader states of the Middle East evaporated, so too did the Crusaders’ protection of the Maronites. Fleeing the Mamluks – a class of professional Sunni Muslim soldiers who pursued the retreating Crusaders and their allies – the Maronites returned to the sanctuary offered by Mount Lebanon and the security of Crusader-held Cyprus. Rallying around their patriarch and their village leaders (who were ordained to the subdiaconate and considered members of the patriarch’s household), the Maronites guarded their political and ecclesial autonomy, retaining their Syrian legacy for more than a century.

When contacts with Rome were restored in the mid-15th century, so too were the requests to conform. The success of these Roman reforms appears marginal, until Pope Gregory XIII established, in 1584, Rome’s Maronite College, which sought to form Maronite clergy in the Counter Reformation Catholicism of the Council of Trent.

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Tags: Lebanon Church history Maronite Church