28 Nov, 2023 The Crusades – What happened and what’s your opinion?

The Crusades – what do you know?

As a caveat – just in case any modern young ideologies ever read this, I outright oppose what was done in the Crusades of the middle ages. If you think the below says differently, you’ve misunderstood.

The challenge of the Crusades is that there was both ‘good’ and bad – while the greater challenge is maybe that most people today are unaware of of the ‘good’.

(The word ‘good’ is intentionally within inverted commas – as the ethics of the Crusades are a mixed-bag).

The second half of this short article is a story (from the ‘Christian History Institute’) about the sermon made by Pope Urban II in 1095 that started the Crusades of the middle ages. The context was the dominating spread of Islam in those times – country to country – to rule and subjugate Christians and pagans. The matter, however, intensified when this turned to a more explicit and brutal persecution. The Eastern part of the Church was being overrun and wiped out.

To consider the ethics and options – hundreds of years of ‘taking it on the chin’ had certainly achieved no good – if the Christian ethic is actually one of passive submission to tyranny. (Few would believe it is – believing instead in the idea of ‘just war’). So, what could or should be done?

The Western part of the Church decided to help the Eastern part. A military effort was the only option they could see – to push back against hundreds of years of advance and subjugation.

It became a very ‘mixed bag’.

The corruption of our Christian faith is most clear in the spiritual abuses that took place, like the promise that sins would be forgiven by God if a person went to fight. This encouraged the decision of many to join the Crusade – which was purposed to defend the religious liberties of the East (plausibly good) – though tragically through what became the equally terrible battling against and slaughter of the oppressors (which is bad in the Christian view – and hence a widespread Christian condemnation of the Crusades since – which is the view that Western critics of our faith borrow, to point that out).

The events stand out for their violence – yet in context we’re also looking at battles that push back against a few hundred years of military advance and subjugation. The pace and intensity of the ‘push backs’ made them events to remember, along with the loss of Christian ethics in the picture, with soldiers at various times losing restraint, killing many. But it was most significantly wrong because it was believed to be done ‘in the name of God’! While that idea of ‘holy war’ is justifiable and openly promoted in some religions, few would believe it to be justifiable in the name of the Christian faith. This is – again –  why it is Christians themselves who have so widely condemn what happened.

In summary then – what’s not often recognised is that there might have been a case for a just war. Echoes to current and future trends in Europe are not without notice by many. Our children will live to see the future history of Europe play out, as they potentially face similar challenges via demographic changes – we hope – with greater wisdom, resource, strategy and restraint. The challenges are real. The intriguing difference will be that it will likely be atheistic secular Europe facing the challenge this time, rather than ‘Christian Europe’ under a corrupted Church hierarchy. Atheism can again be critiqued – as also very fairly for the hundred-million or more murders under Socialism – as applied in both Communism and Fascism. “The pot calls the kettle black”.

However, what is widely recognised – and correctly so – is that Christian ethics were corrupted and abused in the process. While the atheist can justify killing anyone they want to if the justification is wanted – because there is no actual basis for saying any life, human or otherwise, is sacred, the Christian cannot! The Crusades as a religious effort were categorically wrong – and they remain a mark within history to which the critics of our faith will forever draw attention.

A brief piece of history from Dan Graves – ‘Christian History Institute’

“God Wills it! Pope Urban Preached the First Crusade”

WITHIN EIGHTY YEARS of the death of Mohammed in 632, Muslims had conquered most of the formerly Christian territories of the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. They controlled Spain and were advancing elsewhere. In those early years, Muslims generally allowed Christians and Jews to observe their religious traditions. However, members of non-Muslim faiths had to pay higher taxes and held lower status.

In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks emerged. Tartars from central Asia, they had recently converted to Islam. Their attitude toward other faiths was less tolerant. They conquered much of Christian Asia Minor and extended their rule into the Middle East. Pressed hard by their onslaught, Alexius Comemnus, the Byzantine Emperor, wrote a letter to Pope Urban II pleading for help.

Urban summoned a Council to meet at Clermont, France. There he promoted the concept of a “Truce of God” which would restrain violence in Europe and he called for a crusade against the Islamic oppressors. On this day, 27 November 1095, a great crowd of laymen and clergy gathered in an open field to hear the Pope speak.

Urban described the wretched plight of the Middle East under its new rulers according to his information. He said that churches had been converted to mosques and stables and that Jerusalem was trampled by heathen feet. The persecution and torture of Christians was rampant and Christian women were raped with impunity. Because of constant attacks, pilgrims could not travel in safety. “To whom therefore has the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering the territory fallen, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength to humble the hairy scalp of those who resist you.” Urban promised remission of sins to anyone who would join an expedition to free the Holy Land. He reminded his listeners that the church of the West owed its origin to the church of the East. “Advance boldly, as knights of Christ, and rush as quickly as you can to the defense of the Eastern Church,” he urged.

As with a single voice the crowd responded, “God wills it! God wills it!” Urban agreed. God had shown it was indeed his will by uniting their hearts in a single cry, he said, and that cry must become their battle slogan. He commanded them to sew the sign of the cross on their garments. Following the end of the council, Urban confirmed by letter his promise of remission of sins.

Armies of ill-trained peasants set off, most to die a long way from Jerusalem. Some butchered Jews along their path of march. But traveling behind these peasant hordes came a group of professional soldiers who had outfitted themselves at great personal expense. On their long march toward Jerusalem they overcame obstacle after obstacle and internal quarrels. Finally they wrested Jerusalem from Islamic control on 15 July 1099, butchering so many people that (one of their letters claimed) the blood flowed to the horses’ knees by Solomon’s Portico.

—Dan Graves – Christian History Institute



DAVE MANN. Dave is a networker and creative communicator with a vision to see an understanding of the Christian faith continuing and also being valued in the public square in Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has innovated numerous conversational resources for churches, and has coordinated various national nationwide multimedia Easter efforts purposed to open up conversations between church and non-church people about the Christian faith and its significance to our nation’s history and values. Dave is the Producer of the ‘Chronicles of Paki’ illustrated NZ history series created for educational purposes, and the author of various other books and booklets including “Because we care”, “That Leaders might last” and “The Elephant in the Room”. Married to Heather, they have four boys and reside in Tauranga, New Zealand.

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