The Crusades

During the Middle Ages a concerted effort was made to rescue the Holy Land from Muslim rule. This was effected through the organising of 7 different Crusades from 1096 to 1270. The results of the Crusades were mixed. Some achieved considerable victories, while others had only minimal success militarily. However, there were other advantages that were gained, in particular, the unification of Christians of different countries under a common banner with a common sacred goal and the defence of the Church in the West from a threatened Muslim conquest. The Crusades prompted cultural and economic exchanges between East and West and they also gave rise to Knightly Orders.

By the time of the Crusades, Christianity had entirely reversed its attitude to force.

Not true. In the Old Testament God Himself commanded many a war. Jesus is the same God, and at no time did He ever condemn soldiers for being soldiers. He did teach non-violence, but not in every instance. In Jn 18:23, after being struck, He rebukes His captors rather than turning the other cheek. His Church never taught absolute pacifism.

The Crusaders were the aggressors.

When considering the history of the long conflict between Islam and Christendom, both on the eastern front of the Byzantine empire and on the western front in Spain, not only during all the 450 years since the beginning of the great Muslim conquests but especially during the years immediately preceding the First Crusade, it should be very apparent that all the aggression had been Muslim. The following points offer a glimpse into Islamic aggression prior to the Crusades:

- Caliph Omar led the great Arab conquests between the years 634 - 644. He is on record as saying: "It behooves us to devour the Christians and our sons to devour their descendants, so long as any of them remain on the earth." When Omar conquered Jerusalem in 638, the city had been Christian for over 300 years. Later, it was the turn of Spain, Sicily, Greece and what is now Turkey, where the communities founded by St Paul himself were turned into ruins.

- From 686 to 689 a series of edicts in Egypt ordered every publicly visible cross destroyed, and every Christian church to bear on its door an anti-Christian slogan.

- The traditional Muslim demand upon every newly encountered sovereign throughout the years of Islamic expansion was: 'accept Islam, or prepare for war'.

- In 838 Caliph al-Mu'tasim killed 30,000 men from the city of Amorion in Asia Minor; he sold the same number of men, women and children into slavery.

- In 846 Muslim soldiers descended upon Rome and sacked St Peter's Basilica.

- In the 850s in Spain a number of Cordoba's Christians were martyred for declaring that Mohammed was not a true prophet. They refused to submit to the prohibition of public Christian worship and an enforced second-class status in their own land.

- In 1071 the Muslim Turks virtually annihilated the Byzantine Christian army at Manzikert. It was this defeat that led the Byzantine Emperor to appeal to the Pope for aid against the Islamic threat, thus sparking the Crusades.

- No competent historian questions the fact that Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land were given a very difficult time by marauding Turks. In the years preceding the First Crusade, Christian pilgrims were robbed and sometimes killed.

The Crusades were a just war. They were a justifiable military reaction to more than 450 years of Islamic aggression. The Christian nations of Europe were definitely not the aggressors. As seen above, the Muslims had been aggressors against the Christians since the 7th century. The Christians of Europe were clearly justified in defending themselves against Muslim attacks and also in going on the offensive in order to prevent future attacks. The Crusades were morally justifiable wars fought in self-defence to recapture what was lost to an unjust aggressor whose actions over the previous 450 years had shown an intention to conquer all of Christendom. At no point during any Crusade did the Crusaders conquer the Muslim homeland, Arabia, but only those originally Christian territories that the Muslims had conquered. It was entirely appropriate for Christians to defend themselves and the innocent and helpless against attacks, which is exactly what the Crusaders were doing. Christians had every right to govern the conquered lands where Christ had walked and to protect them from desecration. In spite of their flaws, the Crusades revealed the great spirit of faith prevailing in the Middle Ages.

The Crusades were responsible for many atrocities and the Church approved them.

There were certainly abuses during the Crusades, most notably:

- the Sack of Jerusalem which was condemned by Crusade-leaders: Raymond of Toulouse and Godfrey de Bouillon, was an action not uncommon in siege warfare

- the Sack of Constantinople which was condemned by Crusade-leader Simon de Montfort, and by Pope of the time Innocent III who said of the incident: "No wonder the Greeks call you dogs!" He excommunicated those responsible for the outrage.

- the anti-Jewish pogroms, which were a direct violation of a Papal decree protecting Jews, were condemned by the Church

- the Children's Crusade and the People's Crusade were unofficial popular Crusades that claimed many lives and were in no way ever officially approved by the Church

The excesses and violence committed in the course of the Crusades must be evaluated in the painful but usual context of military events. Like any other human endeavour, the Crusades had their share of saints and sinners.

The Crusades were Religious Wars in which the Church granted indulgences for evil.

The Crusades were never religious wars, their purpose was not to force conversions or suppress the Muslims. The Crusade was an armed pilgrimage that played a pivotal role in the life of the Church of the Middle Ages even though it was sometimes undertaken or diverted from its sacred purpose by individual Crusaders for commercial, political or personal aims. A Crusade was considered a holy act for which indulgences should be given. But they did not guarantee anyone Heaven. Every Crusader was still subject to Church law and discipline. The Pope who called the 1st Crusade, Blessed Urban II, promised indulgences only to those Crusaders who undertook the Crusade for devotion alone (Catholic Encyclopedia, 1917). It was, in fact, the Muslims who promised unconditional and instant Heaven to their war dead.

References:
Carroll, W. ewtn.com Q+A, 11/27/2001 Lovasik, L. Church History, 1990, Pps. 96 " 99 and McBrien, R. Encyclopedia of Catholicism, p. 384 Carroll, W. The Building of Christendom. 1987 P. 529 Carroll, A. Christ the King. Lord of History. 1976 P. 135 Zenit News Agency. AD2000, December 1999 - January 2000 Carroll, W. op. cit. P. 264 Ibid. P. 343 Ibid. op. cit. P. 345 Ibid. op. cit. P. 346 Ibid. op. cit. P. 164

* Please note that this text should be read in the context of the whole work and in recognition of the appropriate paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlighted in the index.