The Crusades and The Church


The Crusades and The Church

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Introduction

The Crusades are a time in history that a lot of Christians would like to forget or erase from our history.  The horrific atrocities and bloodshed that was committed in the name of Christ had more to do with man’s selfish ambition than it ever did with the Holy ground of Jerusalem.  In the eclipse of modern day terrorism of the Boston marathon bombing, 9/11, Oklahoma City bombing, and U.S.S. Cole; we are often desensitized by the social land news media of everyday murder, homicide, raping’s, kidnappings, muggings, and so much more.  We have been through a Revolutionary War for our independence, a Civil Ware, two World Wars, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and others that for some reason or another enough people have not died for them to classify as a war.

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

The Crusades are a set of Holy Wars that lasted around 200 years from the end of the eleventh century to the end of the thirteenth century.  Pope Gregory VII had reformed the office of the papacy.  Shelley states, “The pope’s government was truly universal monarchy, steadily becoming completely centralized.”[1]  When Pope Innocent III became pope, he utilized the power of the papacy to increase the offices range of political authority and religious power.  Pope Innocent III introduced the monarchs to power of excommunication and since almost everyone believed in heaven or hell; this allowed the pope to have an authority over everyone.  It is important to understand how this authority of the pope grew prior to Pope Urban taking office and after him, because it allows us to understand the scope and power the pope yields and why the people respond so well to the office of the pope.

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Deus Vult! First Crusade

Pope Urban is probably one of the best speakers we will never hear.  He gave a sermon that moved the people to pick up arms and fight in the name of Christ.  Pope Urban was masterful at marketing the crusades so that men, women, and even children would want to pick up their weapons and fight for the Holy land.  The original intent was the capture of the Holy city of Jerusalem.  Shelley stated, “As Urban ended his impassioned appeal a roar rose from the multitude: Deus Vult! God wills it! So there on the spot Urban declared that Deus Vult; would be the crusader battle cry against the Muslim enemy.”[2]

Comnenus Alexius 1, Byzantine emperor (1081-1119) Image from History Channel Crusades: Crescent & The Cross

Comnenus Alexius 1, Byzantine emperor (1081-1119) Image from History Channel Crusades: Crescent & The Cross

The opportunity was presented to Pope Urban to make this triumphant speech to the people when in 1095, Emperor Alexius I of the Byzantine Empire requested aid from Pope Urban.  Ferguson states, “Seljuk Turks took Palestine, including Jerusalem. It was now more difficult for Christians to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, so the Byzantine emperor Alexius I Comnenus (1081-1118) made a request for aid from the West.”[3] Pope Urban presented the people with indulgences for committing to the crusades.  Ferguson defines indulgences as, “an indulgence was the remission of the temporal punishments (whether inflicted on earth or in purgatory) for sin.”[4]  These indulgences were taken by some preachers as remission of all sin.  At this point in history Pope Gregory VII had laid the foundation of Christian society that people had become accustom to.  Pope Urban marketed the faith of the people in a way that influenced them to violence and in doing so they committed acts in the name of God.  It should be noted that God has nothing to do with the evil acts that people commit of their own free will and doing so in his name is a sin.

Image from History Channel Crusades: Crescent & The Cross

Image from History Channel Crusades: Crescent & The Cross

The main leaders and knights of the first crusade were: Godfrey of Bouillon; Baldwin of Boulogne, his brother; Bohemond of Taranto; Raymond of Saint-Gilles; and Hugh of Vermandois.  The three knights that have the most recognition of these leaders are Godfrey, Baldwin, and Bohemond.  Godfrey was more pious than his brother Baldwin.  During the crusade with Baldwin’s wife died, he took a force to the city of Edessa.  His wife was very wealthy and when she died her wealth wen to her family.  Baldwin made a deal with the leader of Edessa to adopt him and then he had him killed.

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Baldwin was ruthless and mean.  He and his men were behind many atrocious things that occurred to people during the crusades.  Godfrey was so humble that when they had finally taken Jerusalem, he would not take the title King since it was the Holy city.  Baldwin was all too eager to arrive and take the title.  Bohemond was the Lancelot of the knights and he could fight. He was feared and revered by many.  Bohemond stayed in Antioch after it had been conquered and did not continue towards Jerusalem.  For many years he had fought the Byzantium Empire and continued to do so with his father.

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Edessa’s fall – Second & Third Crusade

The Christians had achieved their goal of conquering the Holy land and capturing Jerusalem.  Gonzalez states, “Many of the crusaders now felt the task was done, and prepared to return home. Godfrey of Bouillon was scarcely able to retain the knights necessary to meet the Muslim army that was already marching on Jerusalem.”[5]  Pope Urban died before every knowing that Jerusalem had been regained into Christian hands.  The flaw in the Popes call to arms was that he had not made a call to remain in arms.  The indulgences had been as much as complete remittance of sin.  If you look at it from those who had survived, why would you remain after you had accomplished all for God that you had been tasked to do?  There was no incentive for the crusaders to stay.  The Holy land had now been divided into two four main territories: Jerusalem; Edessa; Antioch; and Tripoli.  The one thing the Muslims did not have was a united leader after the death of Muhammad.  They had been divided in their faith by the Sunni’s and Shiites.  However, with enough time a Seljuk Turk general named Zangi brought his force down and captured Edessa.  When news spread to France and Germany; the Kings of these countries launched into the second crusades to fight back.  King Conrad III of Germany and King Louis VII of France brought their forces together in Jerusalem for an epic battle that would change the fate of history.  These rulers commanded a military force of 50,000 men to the gates of Damascus.  It was here that this crusader force met with one of the worst defeats in military history.

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

Image from the motion picture Kingdom of Heaven

General Zangi brought in reinforcements from a man who would eventually succeed him named Nur al-Din. Nur al-Din brought a force that dealt a mighty blow to the crusader force that was so great that it ended the second crusade.  After this time the crusaders at Jerusalem decided they wanted to expand and capture Egypt and did so unsuccessfully.  Saladin, who took over command after the death of Nur al-Din had been very successful in Egypt and started to close in on Jerusalem.  Saladin brought a force on Jerusalem that overwhelmed the crusaders and they lost the city and the death of Baldwin.  This outraged the people and launched the third crusade.  It was during this time that we are introduced to Richard the Lion-Hearted of England.  There were two other major kings: Frederick Barbarossa of Germany who drowned in Asia Minor; and Philip Augustus of France who eventually returned home after some time of fighting.  Saladin was not just a bloodthirsty general, bent on killing infidels who disagreed with the Islamic faith.  Shelley states, “His commonsense approach to a settlement was evident when he proposed that Richard marry his sister and be given Palestine as a wedding present, a proposal that shocked Europeans. Richard and Saladin finally agreed to a three-year truce and free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims.”[6]  This marked one of the biggest moments in crusade history when two of the biggest figures in the Holy war were able to come to a peace agreement, when either side could have remained fighting because of the hatred and resentment the others people had created and committed to the other.

Fourth to Eighth Crusade & rise of the Reformation

The crusades started when the Byzantium Emperor request aid from the pope, but by the time we arrive at this point in history these two are both rivals again.  This struggle over power causes the fourth through eighth crusades and sends crusaders after any enemy that contends with the Christian faith.  Western Europe saw a unity develop because of the crusades that it had not had.  The power of the papacy had grown in leaps and had stretched to lengths it had never been able to before.  The introduction of indulgences in order to encourage and inspire the masses had shown an entirely new marketing strategy to the papacy.  While the Holy land is important to our faith, killing people to possess it is not the answer.  Only God has the power to take life and give life.

The Western Wall in Jerusalem, the only remains of the Second Temple, overlooked by the Dome of the Rock. Image from Richard T. Nowitz/Corbis

The Western Wall in Jerusalem, the only remains of the Second Temple, overlooked by the Dome of the Rock.
Image from Richard T. Nowitz/Corbis

Footnotes


[1]. Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language: Third Edition (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008).

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. Everett Ferguson, Church History: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, Volume One (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005).

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity: Volume One, the Early Church to the Reformation (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2010).

[6]. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language: Third Edition.

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