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TURKEY : THE BLIGHT OF ASIA
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HISTORIC IMPORTANCE OF THE DESTRUCTION OF SMYRNA
THE destruction of Smyrna by the Turks was an event of great significance in Church history. At the time of the birth of the Prophet, about A. D. 570, Christianity had covered, in addition to the area known in general to-day as "Europe," the ancient province of Asia, extending as far east as the Caspian Sea, a broad strip of Syria, and a wide belt of North Africa clear across to the Atlantic Ocean.
In A. D. 30, according to Kurtz, historian of the Christian Church, there were five hundred Christians in the world; they had increased to five hundred thousand by A. D. 100, and they numbered thirty million in the year 311.
Asia Minor and Africa are famous in the history of the Church as the habitat of many of the most famous Christian fathers and martyrs, such as Polycarp of Smyrna, Tertullian of Carthage, Clement of Alexandria, Chrysostom of Antioch, Origen of Tyre, Cyprian of Carthage and a host of others. Saint Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia.
In the eighth century, Timotheus sent a band of missionaries from Mesopotamia to convert the Tartars, who went as far as the Caspian Sea, and oven penetrated into China, "planting and reviving in those parts a knowledge of the gospel." The Seven Churches of Revelation were in Asia Minor, and the fact that Smyrna was the last of these, and kept her light burning until 1922, emphasizes the significance, in Church history, of her destruction by the Turks.
The object of the Emperor Constantine in founding his capital was to build a distinctly Christian city that should be the metropolis of Christendom. Its splendors, its refinement, its art and culture, its wealth, its power, its fame as a center of learning and of piety are unforgettable even to-day. In the presence of its gentlemen and great dames, the knights and ladies of Western Europe were mere boors and hoydens. Wrecked, plundered and mismanaged by the Latin knights, a calamity from which it never recovered, there was enough of its culture left, when the Turks finally laid hands on it, to scatter over Europe and regenerate the West. The Renaissance, that wonderful awakening from the darkness of the Middle Ages, was largely due to the learning brought into Europe by the scholars of Constantinople, fleeing from the Turk. Those scholars had kept the light of the old classic culture burning during all the years of European darkness and ignorance.
If Constantinople could have been spared and Christianity saved in the Near East, the results to civilization would have been incalculable. What a glorious city a Greek Constantinople would be today, if it had always stayed Greek, with its long traditions and its immense treasures of ancient culture! Another and more beautiful Paris, bestriding the Bosphorus, great in commerce, learning, science and all the graces and influences of Christian civilization.
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Cf. A History of the Byzantine Empire
The Blight of Asia in Print