Christian History has some great moments and also some terrible moments. The Crusades are a period of history that Christians are often made to feel badly for, especially by those who do not like Christianity to start with. Christians will readily agree with their opponents that many disgusting and barbaric things were done in the name of Christ during the Crusades against the Muslims (as well as by the Muslims to the Christians).
This Paper will explore the events, influences, and beliefs that were contributing factors to individuals and nations participating in the Crusades. The paper will also show that many who participated in the first Crusade against Islam had good motives and that there were some positive results of the Crusades.
There are many background events that led to the crusades. Christianity during its infancy was spread by individuals sharing their faith and belief in Christ with others. Islam by contrast very quickly began a history of using the sword (warfare) to spread its beliefs.
Is it fair to blame Islam for contributing to the Crusades? Many people like to blame only Christianity: "Five centuries of peaceful coexistence elapsed before political events and an imperial-papal power play let to centuries-long series of so-called holy wars that pitted Christendom against Islam and left an enduring legacy of misunderstanding and distrust."
The truth is that for the five centuries before the Crusades, Islam had been slaughtering and enslaving whole nations and groups of Christians. During this time period large numbers of Christian churches were wiped out, forced to convert, or forced into dhimmitude (a way of life similar to slavery). Below is a map of showing the spread of Islam.
Fig. 1 Islam in A.D. 1000
The Christians during the 11th century were living during a time when Islam was threatening to take over the known world. Christians were being attacked and subjugated all across the Middle East. In the early 11th century alone during a 10 year period "thirty thousand churches were destroyed, and untold numbers of Christians converted to Islam simply to save their lives."
In March 1095 Pope Urban II received an ambassador from the Byzantine Emperor (Alexius I Comnenus) asking for help. The Byzantine Emperor needed the Popes help to fight back against the Muslims. At the Council of Clermon (November 1095), part of Pope Urban’s speech (Appendix B) in part states:
. . . For your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impurity [impunity], the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them.
Pope Urban II believed that if the Church did not answer the cry for help from Christians in the east, those professing Islam would be more likely to increase their attacks against Christian nations.
Spencer states that in the years prior to the Crusades, ". . . Muslims may have stoked that "millennial hostility" by seizing Christian lands, which amounted to two-thirds of what had formerly been the Christian world- centuries before the Crusades."
Muslims had been attacking Christian churches and countries for hundreds of years, it was time for Christians to defend their brothers and sisters in Christ.
There were other influences in addition to defending Christians against Muslim attacks that contributed in varying degrees to the Crusades. One reason often given by secular authors is that the Crusaders were just greedy for money and gain.
"Undoubtedly the diversion of the warlike impulses of knights to external enemies played a role, as did also, as we see from many districts in France, the prospect of ensuring for many younger sons of nobles a patrimony of their own. Finally the love of adventure was also a factor."
Research shows that Crusading was very, very expensive. Many Crusaders had to sell their land and belongings in order to make the journey. Many also knew they were facing the likelihood that they would not live to enjoy any wealth they did find. Most were not "second sons" and most returned to Europe with nothing material.
Many forces, ideological and social, combined to produce the Crusades. The long tradition of pilgrimages to the Holy Land was strengthened at this time by the growing devotion to the Lord’s historical life, and hence to the places where He had lived. The W. Church had progressively abandoned the original Christian hostility to *war, and had come to a rapprochement with the military aristocracy. Crusaders were encouraged by the grant of *indulgences and by the status of *martyr in the event of death. At the same time, the prospect of acquiring land in the E., and the pressure of an expanding population, helped to persuade both the nobility and the peasantry to participate in the movement. However, the actual form and date of the First Crusade can be explained by the collapse of the E. frontier of the Byzantine Empire in the face of attack by the Seljuk Turks after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071."
The best explanation for the first crusade was not monetary lust, but the attack of the Seljuk Turks upon Christians and the Byzantine Empire. Many, such as the Duke of Lower Lorraine did not give up the title to his properties before going off to war, even though he sold many of his possessions. He did not plan on staying in the East and keeping land there.
The Seljuk Turks were per
secuting and forcing into dhimmitude many of the Christians in the Byzantine Empire. Christians were not allowed to worship openly. They were not allowed to build new Churches, nor to wear certain clothes. They also were force to pay jizya (a tax). If this was not paid when requested they could quickly lose their lives. They were constantly humiliated and degraded. The Muslims also destroyed many historical Churches and places that Christians would travel on pilgrimages to visit.
"During the eleventh century, however, Christian pilgrims began to encounter persecution, and when the Seljuk Turks, new and fanatical converts to Islam, came sweeping and plundering into the Near East, the situation became especially tense. The Seljuks seized Jerusalem from their fellow Muslims and then swept north into Asia Minor."
Another Author states:
"There was no total war on either side, let alone an ideological one. Both were, of course, utterly convinced of the superiority of their respective religions both their actions were guided by a far more earthly combination of territorial and material ambition, military strategy, and political expedience. . ."
The events leading up to the 1st Crusade show a definite emphasis on ideology and religious beliefs. The Pope called upon his people to help protect and save from persecution and murder the Christians of the East. Karsh seems to not take into account how important religious beliefs were during this time period.
Christians have often disagreed regarding whether war is ever justified, and specifically, if a Christian is able to participate in a "just war." Martin Luther felt a Christian could participate in two circumstances:
"Luther’s concern throughout the book is to teach men how to fight with a clear conscience. In so doing he develops two major points. There are, he says, only two men who may properly fight the Turk. The first of these is the Christian, who by prayer, repentance, and reform of life takes the rod of anger out of God’s hand and compels the Turk to stand on his own strength. The second man who may wage war is the emperor. The Turk has wrongfully attacked the emperor’s subjects, and by virtue of the office to which God has appointed him, the emperor is duty-bound to protect and defend the subjects with whose care God has entrusted him."
Many authors who write about the Crusades appear to be biased in their viewpoints. Shelley, whom has many good things generally to say states:
"Unfortunately the popes never held two basic truths that we must never forget: Christianity’s highest satisfactions are not guaranteed by possession of special places, and the sword is never God’s way to extend Christ’s church. This fault assured the religious collapse of the whole structure."
First, Pope Urban II never said in his speech that he wanted to convert the Muslims to Christ (that is to extend Christ’s Church). He emphasized the need of the eastern Christians for help. He also understood that if these attacks went unchecked, the Muslims would be emboldened to destroy and plunder more cities and Christians.
The followers of Islam were taught in the Qur’an that they are required to attack and subjugate unbelievers (in Islam) and to slay them if they resist. While Christians spread their faith in the early Church through witnessing, Islam was spread through the sword and war:
"After the death of Muhammed, the Caliphs who succeeded him spread their empire and their faith by conquest. There is little doubt that they believed this to be the will of Allah, since the Qur’an gives numerous injunctions to take arms against unbelievers. "Fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them" (Surah 9:5). "Fight those who believe not in God nor in the Last Day" (9:29). "When ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight) smite at their necks" (47:4). In addition, Paradise is promised to those who fight such wars: "I will blot out from them their iniquities, and admit them into Gardens with rivers flowing beneath" (3:195). . . . Islam has a long heritage of spreading its influence at the point of the scimitar. Offensive and deliberate militarism, then, commanded by the holy book, is part and parcel of Muslim heritage and is one of the ways in which the faith is spread and enforced. Not everyone in a conquered land was forced to become Muslim. Monotheists such as Christians and Jews could assume the status of protected minorities, or dhimmis, and retain their faith heritage. But they did so only under very severe restrictions, religiously, politically, and culturally."
The Christian belief in love and non-violence was put to the test when confronted with a religion that called for the death or subjugation of those that did not follow its (Islam’s) teachings. Many felt that it was ok to go to war to defend the helpless brothers and sisters in Christ in the East.
"Pope Urban II and other preachers of the Crusades wanted to defend Christian society. In launching the First Crusade, Urban reportedly exhorted his listeners, "You must carry succor to your brethren dwelling in the East. The Turks have attacked them, occupying more and more the lands of those Christians." They have "destroyed the churches and devastated the kingdom of God." If Christians permitted them to go unchallenged, "they will extend their sway more widely over many faithful servants of the Lord." Furthermore, Christians of the time believed that violence, if used rightly, was a proper means of defending Christians. Augustine had laid down the principles of a "just war": it was conducted by the state; its purpose was the vindication of justice, meaning the defense of life and property, and it respected noncombatants, hostages, and prisoners. For Augustine, a just war’s purpose was to achieve peace. Even in waging war, a follower of Christ must "cherish the spirit of a peacemaker."
The Crusades were a complicated affair. There were many different factors and events that influenced individuals to take part in the Crusades. Some reas
ons were Godly, and others were selfish. It is important to understand the context and history that preceded the Crusades:
"For seven centuries Christians have tried to forget the Crusades, but neither Jew nor Muslim will allow them to do so. In our liberated generation it is easy to dismiss the whole bloody affair as insane religious bigotry, forgetting the context in which it occurred."
Many secular and religious "scholars" attempt to paint Christianity during this time period in a negative, selfish, and brutal light. They have their own motives for wanting to look only at the negative aspects. Other Scholars prefer to see a flawed, yet godly group of Christians trying desperately to save other Christians from slaughter and the slavery of dhimmitude.
Bongars. A Source Book for Medieval History. Translated by Oliver Thatcher. New York: Scribners, 1905.
Bruce L. Shelley. Church History in Plain Language. 2nd ed. Dallas: Word Pub, 1995.
Shelley. "How Could Christians Do This? Why Followers of the Prince of Peace Waged War." Christian History: The Crusades, no. 40 (1993).
Chad Owen Brand. "As Far as the East is from the West: Islam, Holy War, and the Possibility of Rapproachment." Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 8, no. 1 (2004): 4-14.
Efraim Karsh. Islamic Imperialism: A History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
F.L. Cross, and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Fahlbusch, Erwin, and Geoffrey W. Bromiley. The Encyclopedia of Christianity. Edited by . Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wn, B, Eerdmans, 1999.
Galli, Mark, ed. Christian History: The Crusades. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 1993.
Hazard, Harry W. Atlas of Islamic History. Edited by . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951.
Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds. Luther’s Works, Vol. 46: The Christian in Society III. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999.
Spencer, Robert, ed. The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And The Crusades). Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 2005.
The Qur’an: Translation. Translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Elmherst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc, 2006.
Below are some maps showing the spread of Islam from the 7th to the 11th centuries. (Control+Click on them to see the full size map online).
Fig. 2 – Islam in the 7th Century
Fig. 3 : Islam in the 8th Century
Fig. 4 : Islam in the 9th Century
Fig. 5 : Islam in the 10th Century
Fig. 6 : Islam in the 11th Century
"Most beloved brethren: Urged by necessity, I, Urban, by the permission of God chief bishop and prelate over the whole world, have come into these parts as an ambassador with a divine admonition to you, the servants of God. I hoped to find you as faithful and as zealous in the service of God as I had supposed you to be. But if there is in you any deformity or crookedness contrary to God’s law, with divine help I will do my best to remove it. For God has put you as stewards over his family to minister to it. Happy indeed will you be if he finds you faithful in your stewardship. You are called shepherds; see that you do not act as hirelings. But be true shepherds, with your crooks always in your hands. Do not go to sleep, but guard on all sides the flock committed to you. For if through your carelessness or negligence a wolf carries away one of your sheep, you will surely lose the reward laid up for you with God. And after you have been bitterly scourged with remorse for your faults-, you will be fiercely overwhelmed in hell, the abode of death. For according to the gospel you are the salt of the earth [Matt. 5:13]. But if you fall short in your duty, how, it may be asked, can it be salted? O how great the need of salting! It is indeed necessary for you to correct with the salt of wisdom this foolish people which is so devoted to the pleasures of this -world, lest the Lord, when He may wish to speak to them, find them putrefied by their sins unsalted and stinking. For if He, shall find worms, that is, sins, In them, because you have been negligent in your duty, He will command them as worthless to be thrown into the abyss of unclean things. And because you cannot restore to Him His great loss, He will surely condemn you and drive you from His loving presence. But the man who applies this salt should be prudent, provident, modest, learned, peaceable, watchful, pious, just, equitable, and pure. For
how can the ignorant teach others? How can the licentious make others modest? And how can the impure make others pure? If anyone hates peace, how can he make others peaceable ? Or if anyone has soiled his hands with baseness, how can he cleanse the impurities of another? We read also that if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch [Matt. 15:14]. But first correct yourselves, in order that, free from blame , you may be able to correct those who are subject to you. If you wish to be the friends of God, gladly do the things which you know will please Him. You must especially let all matters that pertain to the church be controlled by the law of the church. And be careful that simony does not take root among you, lest both those who buy and those who sell [church offices] be beaten with the scourges of the Lord through narrow streets and driven into the place of destruction and confusion. Keep the church and the clergy in all its grades entirely free from the secular power. See that the tithes that belong to God are faithfully paid from all the produce of the land; let them not be sold or withheld. If anyone seizes a bishop let him be treated as an outlaw. If anyone seizes or robs monks, or clergymen, or nuns, or their servants, or pilgrims, or merchants, let him be anathema [that is, cursed]. Let robbers and incendiaries and all their accomplices be expelled from the church and anthematized. If a man who does not give a part of his goods as alms is punished with the damnation of hell, how should he be punished who robs another of his goods? For thus it happened to the rich man in the gospel [Luke 16:19]; he was not punished because he had stolen the goods of another, but because he had not used well the things which were his.
"You have seen for a long time the great disorder in the world caused by these crimes. It is so bad in some of your provinces, I am told, and you are so weak in the administration of justice, that one can hardly go along the road by day or night without being attacked by robbers; and whether at home or abroad one is in danger of being despoiled either by force or fraud. Therefore it is necessary to reenact the truce, as it is commonly called, which was proclaimed a long time ago by our holy fathers. I exhort and demand that you, each, try hard to have the truce kept in your diocese. And if anyone shall be led by his cupidity or arrogance to break this truce, by the authority of God and with the sanction of this council he shall be anathematized."
After these and various other matters had been attended to, all who were present, clergy and people, gave thanks to God and agreed to the pope’s proposition. They all faithfully promised to keep the decrees. Then the pope said that in another part of the world Christianity was suffering from a state of affairs that was worse than the one just mentioned. He continued:
"Although, O sons of God, you have promised more firmly than ever to keep the peace among yourselves and to preserve the rights of the church, there remains still an important work for you to do. Freshly quickened by the divine correction, you must apply the strength of your righteousness to another matter which concerns you as well as God. For your brethren who live in the east are in urgent need of your help, and you must hasten to give them the aid which has often been promised them. For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impurity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it meant also for those who are absent. Moreover, Christ commands it.
"All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested. O what a disgrace if such a despised and base race, which worships demons, should conquer a people which has the faith of omnipotent God and is made glorious with the name of Christ! With what reproaches will the Lord overwhelm us if you do not aid those who, with us, profess the Christian religion! Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels and end with victory this war which should have been begun long ago. Let those who for a long time, have been robbers, now become knights. Let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians. Let those who have been serving as mercenaries for small pay now obtain the eternal reward. Let those who have been wearing themselves out in both body and soul now work for a double honor. Behold! on this side will be the sorrowful and poor, on that, the rich; on this side, the enemies of the Lord, on that, his friends. Let those who go not put off the journey, but rent their lands and collect money for their expenses; and as soon as winter is over and spring comes, let him eagerly set out on the way with God as their guide."
What if there had been no crusades?
Many in the world today believe and teach that the hatred Muslims hold against the West, and Christianity in particular is the result of the Crusades. History shows though that those who practiced and held to Islam were attacking and killing Christians for hundreds of years before the first Crusade. The distain and hatred for "unbelievers" is a result of their teachings (specifically the Quran and the Hadith). The Quran for example says "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."
Islam had taken over much of what had previously been Christian nations. It is my personal opinion that if the Pope had not called the European countries together to form Armies for the First Crusade, Islam would have continued to take over, plunder and destroy the European countries.
The Crusades bought time for the Europeans to develop. The Crusades also helped farmers and peasants learn how to fight and defend themselves. If the Islamic armies had moved against the relatively disunited western countries in force, they could have likely overcome them. While it is just
my opinion, it is my belief that without the Crusades, all Christians in Europe would have been subjugated and Christianity would have become a small, pitiful group (as has been done to once thriving Christian groups within lands that have been taken over by Islamic armies).
 John Esposito, Islam: The Straight Path (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 58.
 Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And The Crusades) (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 2005), 124.
 Robert Spencer, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And The Crusades) (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc, 2005, 2005), 121.
 Fahlbusch, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, ed., The Encyclopedia of Christianity, vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans, 1999), 738-741.
 F.L. Cross, and Elizabeth A. Livingstone The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 439.
 Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 2nd ed. (Dallas: Word Pub, 1995), 186.
 Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 75.
 Hilton C. Oswald Jaroslav Jan Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds., Luther’s Works, Vol. 46: The Christian in Society III (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 158.
 Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 2nd ed. (Dallas: Word Pub, 1995), 186.
 Chad Owen Brand, "As Far as the East is from the West: Islam, Holy War, and the Possibility of Rapproachment," Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 8, no. 1 (2004): .
 Bruce L. Shelley, "How Could Christians Do This? Why Followers of the Prince of Peace Waged War," Christian History: The Crusades, no. 40 (1993).
 Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 2nd ed. (Dallas: Word Pub, 1995), 186.
 Harry W. Hazard, Atlas of Islamic History, ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951), 6,8,10,12,14.
 Bongars, A Source Book for Medieval History, trans. Oliver Thatcher (New York: Scribners, 1905), 513-17.
 , The Qur’an: Translation, trans. Abdullah Yusuf Ali (Elmherst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc, 2006), Surah 9:5.
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