Bo Giertz, the late beloved Bishop of Gothenburg and author of “The Hammer of God” wrote this novel in 1972 long before Sept 11th (coincidentally a chapter title in this book?). Yet the book is written with prescient genius tackling all the hard questions and issues confronting Christians in the west since 9/11: Can a Christian be a soldier? What is Islam? How is it different than Christianity? What is the proper response to aggression? Torture, etc. In tackling these hard questions he writes a superb novel exposing people for who they really are.
If “The Hammer of God” was a narrative exposition the distinction between Law and Gospel then “The Knights of Rhodes” is a narrative exposition of the theology of the cross. Almost nothing goes right for the Knights Hospitallers. As the Ottoman Turks lay siege to their little Island Kingdom under Suleiman’s leadership you see two theologies of glory clash, and the Christians lose. In the process you see the Christian characters as sinful men, adulterers, connivers, ambitious, racist, and revilers. They aren’t exactly Sunday school heroes, but they are real men, real Christians, and real heroes through whom Bo Giertz exposes the human condition raw and laid bare in the midst of war, ugly for all to see. Yet for all the ugliness the story is sublime as Christ, the Cross, and the forgiveness of sins are brought to the fore.
Today it is common for western citizens to denounce the crusades, and the crusaders as barbaric. Here you see another side. There is no hagiography here, but you see these men for all their faults as lovers of their countries and western civilization, defenders of their countrymen, and faithful Christians. Perhaps you may develop a fondness for these men who gave their lives to defend if not our values today, the environment in which these values developed. One might say they lost. For sure they lost their city, their fame, wives, children, goods, and for many even their own lives in the face of defeat. Yet, as they fell back and retreated to Malta, these men halted or at least slowed the militant advance of Islam for all their efforts. Had they folded easily the renaissance, the reformation, the scientific and cultural advances of the west may never have happened. Religious freedom and tolerance may not be known at all in the world, as they are still unknown in many parts of the world, where peace and life may not be valued as much as we in the West think they ought to be either.
It has been my joy to translate this book little by little over the last couple years. I thank Birgitta and Martin Giertz for their permission to publish this translation. Thanks are also due to Laura, my wife, who has to put up with my nose in a book for days on end. My congregation, First Lutheran in Tooele Utah, you might say has been a patron of this translation also. I never exactly asked for the time to translate, but they have provided it for me nonetheless. They are a wonderful congregation, patient, loving, and generous. I am indebted to them, and so are the readers of this book.
Monday the Eighteen week after Pentecost