Summary: In 732 AD, Charles Martel, AKA "The Hammer", stopped the Islamic invasion of Europe and preserved the future of Christianity for a thousand years. Was Charles choosen by God?
The date was October 11, 732 A.D. The place was southern France in the modern day province of Poitou-Charentes. On that date, two mighty armies met on a wide rolling plain between the ancient, walled cities of Tours and Poitiers. Their confrontation is known as the “Battle of Tours,” and it would determine the fate of Christianity in Europe for a thousand years.
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Western Europe was plunged into its Dark Ages when civilization and trade nearly collapsed. At the same time, however, another empire arose out of the East with astonishing speed. Its followers denied the truth of the Christian Gospel and sought its destruction. This was the Empire of Islam, and it was just entering its Golden Age.
The armies of Islam conquered much of Asia, all of North Africa and Spain and, in less than two hundred years, stood poised to invade France. Had they succeeded, all of Europe and Britain might well have succumbed to Islamic rule. They were finally stopped, however, between the French towns of Tours and Poitiers by a barbarian, Frankish king named Charles Martel.
For four days, wave after wave of Muslim warriors crashed against the wall of Frankish defenders, and each time they were beaten back. Charles gave his army this command, “to stand firm, to hold their ground, to die if necessary, to do anything but break lines.”
Finally, on the fifth day, the battered barbarian lines did break, and the armies of Islam poured into the gap, but it was actually a trap. Once inside the gap, the invaders found themselves surrounded and were decisively defeated. From that time forward, Charles was known as “Charles the Hammer.” Since that time, historians have considered The Battle of Tours as one of the most critical moments in World History. Was it an accident of fate that the Christian forces were led by Charles Martel, or was he called by God for that purpose?
When I read the history of Charles’ rise to power, I couldn’t help noticing some similarities between Charles and the story of David. For one, Charles was an unlikely successor to the Frankish throne. Like David, he endured persecution by the ruling king, and he spent many years as an outlaw evading capture. Yet, even as he evaded capture, he still led an army against the enemies of his native people, the Franks.
Charles won many victories but also knew at least one large defeat. Nevertheless, he persisted and secured allegiances among many of those he fought. Finally in the Spring of 717 A.D., Charles returned to Neustria with an army and confirmed his supremacy with a victory at Vincy. He took the city and dispersed the opposing armies. Then he did something extraordinary. He allowed both of his rivals to live, and treated them with kindness. This was almost unheard of in Europe’s Dark Ages, when mercy to an enemy often meant facing the same enemy again later. But Charles had a greater vision and a deeper insight into the nature of his conflicts. He understood that the obvious solution isn’t always the best.