The Legacy of the Crusades

Seige of Antioch I say it to those who are present. I command that it be said to those who absent. Christ commands it. All who go thither and lose their lives, be it on the road or on the sea, or in the fight against the pagans, will be granted immediate forgiveness for their sins. This I grant to all who will march, by virtue of the great gift which God has given me.” ~Urban II

The Crusades:

In 1095 Pope Urban II perhaps officially enjoined the physical meaning of “holy war” or fighting for faith and material gain in the same sermon. . While preaching at the Council of Clermont in France Urban roused Christian believers to take up a holy war, a war under the cross of Christ. To accentuate this urge he also promised that the conquered lands would indeed be their own. Historian Bruce Shelley records, “As Urban ended his impassioned appeal a roar rose from the multitude: Deus Volt! God wills it! So there on the spot Urban declared that Deus Volt! would be the crusader battle cry against the Muslim enemy.[1] Until King Louis IX of France this impetus was seeded in each and every effort to follow in taking up this newly idealized cross for Christ. Many men and women would go on Crusade for the next 200 years. It was a time for Christian “holy war” something very similar to the Islamic “holy war” or jihad.

The reasons for holy war ranged from economics, adventure, excitement, or pride but the main motivation was religious. In fact, Louis Brehler, of the Catholic Encyclopedia, states “The Crusades were expeditions undertaken, in fulfillment of a solemn vow, to deliver the Holy Places from Mohammedan tyranny.”[2] During the medieval period Europe was overpopulated[3], crops were failing and disease was running rampant[4]. Famines were also prevalent. Historian Williston Walker has noted that “between 970 and 1040 forty-eight famine years were counted.”[5] The ambition to make money, the dream of adventure, and the pursuit of fame and power permeated the dialogue and minds of that day.

Along with Urban’s suggestion that material gain could be attained through fighting in the Holy War, he also “promised remission of sins to those who marched under the banner of the cross.”[6] The First Crusade was comprised primarily of feudal nobles from Germany, Italy, and France. Men who, no doubt, had great need and desire for remission of sins. Initially Alexis I the Byzantine emperor called for help in defeating Seljuk Turks. Instead he ended up with way more than he probably wanted. An “unruly horde” arrived in Constantinople to only be redirected to fight the Seljuks. This horde probably consisted of about 40,000 men, women, and children who boasted a fighting force of only about 5,000 knights and infantry. It was this First Crusade that was the most successful of any of the subsequent crusades. Victory over the Turks was decisive and absolute as the Crusaders flushed them from Jerusalem, the Holy City. The bloodshed was no respecter of persons as “men rode in blood up their knees and bridle reins.”

Jerusalem would remain a feudal kingdom until 1291 when it fell once again to the Muslims. In 1147 however Bernard of Clairvaux aroused the Second Crusade. It would virtually go nowhere until 1187 when Saladin would capture Jerusalem and all of Christendom would again center on the Holy City. This brought about the Third Crusade (1189-1192) which revealed such men as Richard the Lionheart of England and Frederick Barbarossa of Germany. Barbarossa would drown in Palestine. Richard however would go on to recover coastal cities, including Acre and Joppa. He would also be instrumental in winning the respect of Saladin himself. Saladin also offered Richard his sister’s hand in marriage. The diplomacy of Saladin and Richard should be remembered here since they finally agreed to a three year truce and the restarting of pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Essentially Richard did not complete the very task he intended to accomplish—to free the Holy City of Muslim infidels. This period and these “holy wars” were complex and the nuances of them cannot be simply flattened out to support hasty generalizations.

There would eventually be about seven Crusades into the Holy Land. These Crusades were led primarily by popes from the end of the eleventh century to the end of the thirteenth. Shelley also notes that “the long range results of two centuries of crusading zeal are not impressive.”[6] To confound the notion of popery, it is a bit ironic that a pope is responsible for the very First Crusade and is indeed inspiration for the subsequent ones as well. The Crusades were mostly a papal attempt to bridge the Eastern and Western churches to extend its universal sovereignty.

Seedbed for Questioning and Heresy:

The Crusades contain a seedbed of arguments against religion and faith today. Popular critics of religion and history mention this era of time in rightful disdain. Carrying the cross of Christ ironically does not necessarily mean abandoning morality and embracing evil. The very establishment of the office of pope and the subsequent actions of many of the Crusaders flew in the face of true religion and morality; it was the cause of great evil. The rise of popish rule and ridiculous indulgence for absolution would only grow as a result. In fact, church historian Phillip Schaff wrote “the Crusades gave occasion for the rapid development of the system of papal indulgences, which became a dogma of the mediaeval theologians.”[7]

In the end, the Crusades were an exercise in futility. Schaff also noted, “The Crusades failed in three respects. The Holy Land was not won. The advance of Islam was not permanently checked. The schism between the East and the West was not healed. These were the primary objects of the Crusades.” Not only was the overall impetus of the Crusades incompatible with an authentic Christian worldview they were also self-defeating. All the wealth and efforts of Richards’s lion heart did not win him the Holy City and remission of sin is not obtained by stepping into a gated city or finding oneself in any particular geographical location on earth. This notion, as with much of Catholic doctrine, goes against the text of Scripture since in Christ alone can we have forgiveness of sins. The atoning work of Calvary is final for contemporary Christians as well as Crusaders of days gone by.

“Many wended (sic) their way to the holy city, unmindful that our Jerusalem is not here.”
~Walter Map, an Archdeacon at Oxford

The builders of the Tower of Babel thought that in their rebellious unity that nothing would be “impossible for them” (See Genesis 11:1-6). As they were to soon find out they would be scattered abroad and their goal destroyed. With the popes of the Crusade we see, once again, an attempt at man positioning himself too high. Ego came crashing down. Even though they were a significant influence the advancement and progression of Europe did not hinge upon the Crusades. History could have done without much of this holy war blood shed just as it could have done without the atrocities of the Holocaust. The popes of the Crusades failed to grasp what Christ had come for, and what His work had accomplished while on earth. No special earthly city would ever satisfy man, only Christ and New Jerusalem. No sword would ever extend the Church, only Christ.

JN Anderson

[1] Shelley, B. L. Church history in plain language (1995). (Updated 2nd ed.). Dallas, Tex.: Word Pub. pg. 187
[2] Bréhier, Louis. "Crusades." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 11 Aug. 2008 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04543c.htm>.
[3] Latourette, S. Kenneth. A History of Christianity Volume 2: Reformation to The Present Copyright 1975 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Prince Press pg. 408
[4] Gonzalez, L. Justo. The Story of Christianity Copyright 1984, 1985 by Justo L. Gonzalez. Prince Press pg. 293
[5] Walker, Willistion. A History of the Christian Church, Scribners.© 1959 pg. 219
[6] Vos, H. F., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. Exploring church history. (1996) Originally published in 1994 under title: Introduction to Church History; and in series: Nelson's Quick reference. Nelson's Christian cornerstone series. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[7] Schaff, P., & Schaff, D. S. History of the Christian church. (1997) Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.


Jason Dulle said...

I know many evils were done during the Crusades, but from what little I have explored the topic, I don't think we can conclude that the Crusades in general were evil, or un-Christian. The fact of the matter is that Muslims had been taking over Christian lands for a long time. And they weren't exactly nice to the Christians they conquered. Enough finally became enough. Christians stood up for the weak and defenseless who were being exploited by the Muslims. It would be little different than you and I enlisting in the army to fight an army of foreigners who had invaded the U.S., conquered some states, and were treating our fellow Americans and fellow Christians badly. We would fight to rid ourselves of them. That's what the Christians were doing. Sure, part of the motivation was religious, but much of it was political and economical.

Remember, the Catholic Church was not just a religious institution back then like it is today. It was often the most powerful political force as well, even though the pope was not technically a king. Given the pope's political authority, if he didn't call for a defense of fellow Christians from invaders, who would?

Again, I don't support a lot of the evils that were done by those in the Crusades in the name of Christ, but fighting an invading army that brought the war to you is not an evil. I would argue that it is a requirement. To sit back and do nothing would have been evil.


Christopher Long said...

If it wasn't for the Crusades what would Europe look like today. I do believe that the Crusaders were misled by the Pope. We can only learn from our history. Good article.

Book Talk said...

Jason, when I said "Carrying the cross of Christ ironically does not necessarily mean abandoning morality and embracing evil." I was not referring to war in general or the need thereof. If so, then you haven't read my thoughts on Holy War. lol Check it out if you get the chance.

The evil I am referring to is the evil of the popes and the evils that were committed during the Crusades under the banner or Christ and Cross. These certainly existed as I pointed out, e.g. Urban promising remission of sins by fighting in the Crusades.

Anonymous said...

crusade is a fucking turky

Anonymous said...

A crusade is a fucking turkey

Adversus Trinitas

"...unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins." (John 8:24 ESV)