The Crusades remain a sore point for the Roman Church and benighted conservative American Christianists, mostly because of the barbarism unleashed by Papal authority. Hence, the responses to President Obama’s comments were outrage and denial from this quarter. A sampling:
“Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ,” the president told an audience at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday.
“I don’t think the president knows very much about the crusades,” Thomas Madden, a historian at the University of St. Louis, told ABC News.
“He seems to be casting them as an example of a distortion of Christianity and trying to compare that to what he sees as a distortion of Islam in the actions of ISIS,” Madden said. “The initial goal of the Crusades was to give back lands to Christians that been conquered, due to Muslim conquests.”
Thomas Asbridge, a historian at the University of London, said in a statement to ABC News, “It is true to say, that by modern standards, atrocities were committed by crusaders, as they were by their Muslim opponents, it is however, far less certain that, by medieval standards, crusading violence could be categorized as distinctly extreme in all instances.”
Asbridge said he doesn’t have a problem with the president reminding the world that the Christian Church “advocated violence, and at times even encouraged its adherents to engage in warfare” but to suggest a causal link between ISIS and the distant medieval phenomenon of the Crusades is “grounded in the manipulation and misrepresentation of historical evidence.”
“King Louis also spoke to me of a great assembly of clergy and Jews which had taken place at the monastery of Cluny. There was a poor knight there at the time to whom the abbot had often given bread for the love of God. This knight asked the abbot if he could speak first, and his request was granted, though somewhat grudgingly. So he rose to his feet, and leaned on his crutch, asked to have the most important and most learned rabbi among the Jews brought before him. As soon as the Jew had come, the knight asked him a question. ‘May I know, sir,’ he said, ‘if you believe that the Virgin Mary, who bore our Lord in her body and cradled Him in her arms, was a virgin at the time of His birth, and is in truth the Mother of God?’
The Jew replied that he had no belief in any of those things. Thereupon the knight told the Jew that he had acted like a fool when — neither believing in the Virgin, nor loving her — he had set foot in that monastery which was her house. ‘And by heaven,’ exclaimed the knight, ‘I’ll make you pay for it!’ So he lifted his crutch and struck the Jew such a blow with it near the ear that he knocked him down. Then all the Jews took to flight, and carried their sorely wounded rabbi away with them. Thus the conference ended.
The abbot went up to the knight and told him he had acted most unwisely. The knight retorted that the abbot had been guilty of even greater folly in calling people together for such a conference, because there were many good Christians there who, before the discussion ended, would have gone away with doubts about their own religion through not fully understanding the Jews. ‘So I tell you,’ said the king, ‘that no one, unless he is an expert theologian, should venture to argue with these people. But a layman, whenever he hears the Christian religion abused, should not attempt to defend its tenets, except with his sword, and that he should thrust into the scoundrel’s belly, and as far as it will enter.'”
Joinville, “The Life of Saint Louis”, in Joinville and Villehardoun: Chronicle of the Crusades, p. 175
from Jean Richard, The Crusades c. 1071-c.1291
“The crusade poses a problem that is still present in the human consciousness, that of the legitimacy of war. It is easy to contrast Urban II’s appeal with the image of a primitive Christianity that was fundamentally opposed to all use of force. But the inclusion in the Ten Commandments of a precept forbidding the killing of a human being did not prevent the people of Israel from waging wars which seemed to them wholly justified. And, from the earliest times, the Church included in its ranks soldiers who refused to sacrifice to the gods but did not refuse to fight in accordance with their profession. After it had become Christian, the Roman Empire continued to use war as a means of achieving its political ends and, most of all, for its defence. Theologians laboured to reconcile the demands of the divine law and the imperatives of the government of men. Both the byzantine Church and the Latin church continued to regard the killing of any man as a reprehensible act. The former required a penance from the soldier who had killed an enemy, but the Penitential of Alan of Lille, at the end of the twelfth century, effectively said the same: ‘He who has killed a pagan or a Jew’, he wrote, in substance, ‘ought to submit to the penance of forty days, because the person he killed is one of God’s creatures and might have been led to salvation.'” pp. 1-2
Urban II and the purpose of crusade
“The chronicler Bernold of Constance says that, at the end of the council of Piacenza, Urban II asked the Christians who heard him to take an oath to go to the aid of the empire of Constantinople, which had sent envoys to Piacenza. Urban II was, in fact, reviving a project which had been conceived twenty years earlier by Gregory VII, at the time of the defeat of Manikert. The pope had written to several western princes, in particular the emperor Henry IV, to inform them of his intention to accompany the ‘faithful of St Peter’ on an expedition in aid of Christians who had suffered from the Turkish invasion, an expedition which was to culminate in a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre. The emperor was to remain in the West to assure its defence…
Does this amount to saying that the pope conceived the expedition announced in 1095 as a war against Islam? This idea, familiar to propagandists today, has been put forward by various historians, in particular by Joshua Prawer, for whom the crusade was ‘not the defence of the Christians of the East, but a Christian offensive against Islam.’ He goes on: ‘This is probably how Urban II’s objective was formulated and, at any rate, how it was understood in the western world.’
This seems unlikely. The idea of Islam, that is to say of a collection of political and religious beliefs, was alien to western thinking at this period. Some learned clerics might have had a perception of the Muslim faith, especially in Spain, where the Mozarabic Church had had to construct an apologetics to combat Muslim proselytism. The vast majority of westerners, however, saw the ‘Saracens’ as ‘pagans’ who, according to contemporary authors, worshipped idols. The legitimacy of the sovereignty of the Muslim princes was not challenged by the papacy, as the correspondence of Gregory VII with those of North Africa testifies. But their rule over the lands that had belonged to the ‘kingdom of Christ’, where they had abolished the ‘reign of Christ’, might appear scandalous. One may well wonder where this scandalous situation stopped, since Islam had recovered so many lands from the old Roman empire. But there could be no doubt that this was the case for the Holy Land, objective of so many pilgrimages, and regarded by Christians brought up in the Biblical tradition as the heritage of Christ and thus of the people of his faith. Latin Christendom eventually regarded it as the ‘homeland of the Christians’, perhaps only after a certain period of western presence there. At the time of Urban II’s sermon, Jerusalem, above all, represented one of the objects of its veneration, and it was the name of the Holy Sepulchre that rallied the crusaders.” pp. 22-23
The role of “indulgences”
“Also, to encourage them to join the expedition, the pope offered the crusaders the benefit of an indulgence defined as that which was attached to the visit of the tomb of Christ. This, too, was not entirely new. The pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which might be motivated by the desire to deepen a pilgrim’s piety by contact with the places where Christ had lived, and those make familiar by the Bible, also represented a penance. In the course of the development of penitential practice, the Church accepted that a repentant sinner enjoined by his confessor to submit to the often heavy and lengthy obligations attached to absolution (separation from the community, deprivation of the sacraments, the wearing of a special garment, fasts, etc.) might substitute for making a pilgrimage. The pilgrim went to seek the prayers of a saint; when his faults were particularly grave, he was required to make the journey to the tomb of Christ, which represented a major ordeal, involving many sacrifices. This pilgrimage assured him of the remission of temporal penalties and of those which might remain to be accomplished in Purgatory…. The visit to the Holy Sepulchre was believed to assure the pilgrim already absolved from his sins plenary remission of their consequences.
The popes had also begun to encourage the performance of pious works, such as the building of churches, granting their authors the same indulgence as that attached to the veneration of the Holy Sepulchre. Urban II himself had granted it to those who contributed to the restoration of Tarragona, which was regarded as the bastion of the defence of Muslim Christianity, where the Almoravids were posing a new threat. But the grant of the plenary indulgence to those who went to Jerusalem non longer simply as pilgrims but as combatants was new. Gregory VII had intended to accord those who participated in his expedition only the benefit of the prayers of the apostles Peter and Paul. Urban II thought it necessary to speficy, in one of the canons of the council that has survived, that the plenary indulgence would only be acquired by those who embarked on the journey motivated neither by the desire for vain glory nor for material gain.
The substance of the pope’s appeal, therefore, was for participants to bring the military aid they needed to the Christians of Byzantine lands and to liberate the Holy Sepulchre by restoring it to the reign of Christ, thereby enjoying the plenary indulgence linked to the visit to the same Holy Sepulchre.” pp. 23-24
The First crusade in practice: anti-semitism and violence against Jews
from Jean Richard, The Crusades c. 1071-c.1291
“The pope’s message was spread by preachers. It was a monk, we are told, perhaps the abbot of Saint-Beigne of Dijon, Jarenton, who made the duke of Normandy, Robert Curthose, decide to depart. The popular preachers, the men Jacques Heers has called ‘God’s fools’, who already attracted large audiences to whom they preached the reform of morals, were associated in the publicizing of the pope’s message; Robert of Arbrissel is said to have been given a mandate to this effect. The most famous of these preachers was Peter the Hermit, whose surname evokes the eremetical movement of the late eleventh century, of which he was presumably a part. The monk (the Byzantines called him Peter of the Cowl), originally from near Amiens, has become the hero of a legend which portrays him as the instigator of the crusade, having received while on pilgrimage the complaints of the patriarch of Jerusalem, confirmed by a vision…
A recent study by J. Flori has once again emphasized the original features of the crusade as it was preached by these men, who went beyond the lines mapped out by Urban II in his speech at Clermont, in particular by introducing into their sermons an anti-semitic note; this was to result in the exactions of which the Jews of the Rhineland and the Danube valley were the principal victims. We know too little about the conditions in which the troops which followed these preachers were recruited to be sure of this. It is only likely that their sermons added to the proclamation of the indulgence and the effusion of graces promised to participants in the expedition the exhortations borrowed from their usual themes aimed at moral reform…” p. 29
“While it would be unjust to assume that the crusaders were necessarily all great sinners needing to expiate grave faults, as has sometimes been claimed, it is the case that many of them, professional soldiers or peasants, required on occasion to bear arms in military operations, were susceptible to the temptation to violence. The morals of the age were crude. The religious education of many crusaders no doubt remained rudimentary and their leaders had to impose a respect for discipline, which necessitated recourse to harsh measures; looters were sometimes hanged. The clergy present on the crusade might also, by their exhortations, exercise a restraining influence, or urge repentance. But not all of them were supervised with such rigour.
The inadequacy of supervision and the absence of preparation with regard to food supplies probably explain many of the incidents that occurred during the course of the crusaders’ march through Christian Europe. But other factors played a part, especially during clashes with the Jews. These first occurred, apparently sporadically, at the time of the departure of those who joined Peter the Hermit’s crusade in northern france, during the month of December 1095, when serious incidents are recorded in Rouen and Champagne. We know little about what happened, but they probably explain the dispatch of a letter by the Jews of France to their co-religionists in Germany, warning them that they would have to submit to the financial demands of the crusaders and facilitate their progress.
The journey of the first bands of crusaders through the Rhineland was accompanied by abuse of and exactions on the Jewish communities. There were probably asked to make financial contributions to the followers both of Peter the Hermit and of Godfrey of Bouillon. We should remember that such demands were regarded as bound up with the special status of the Jews, who were allowed by lords to practice loans at interest on their lands, they themselves on occasion taxing and even extorting money from them in order to meet their own financial needs.
The Jewish communities suffered much worse from the passage of other troops, in particular those led by the priest Folkmar and, most of all, Count Emich of Leiningen, who had made himself leader of a band composed of German and French lords which also included a popular element. On 3 May 1096 they launched an attack on the Jews of Speyer, a dozen of whom were killed, the bishop managing to protect the rest. Emich then arrived at Worms, where there was a massacre on a larger scale; the count of Leiningen’s crusaders murdered and pillaged and here, too, the bishop offered the shelter of his castle to the Jews. But after the crusaders left the local people attacked the castle and killed a large number of Jews, many of whom cut their children’s throats or killed themselves to escape a forced conversion. Similar scenes occurred in Mainz between 25 and 29 May, but on a larger scale, after which some groups left Count Emich, who continued his journey towards the Danube, to attack the Jewish communities of Cologne, Metz, Trier and the lower Rhine valley. Forced conversions followed from Ratisbon to Prague, without the same scenes of carnage; they were the work of the followers either of Peter the Hermit or of Folkmar.
The explosion of violence directed against the Jews which accompanied the crusade had not been part of the project inaugurated by Urban II…But there may have been other factors more directly linked to the crusade. The Church forbade attacks on Jews, and Alexander II had issued reminders of this at the time of the expeditions to Spain. But the Christians who left for the East might believe that the Jews, in the same way as the Muslims, were enemies of Christ. The followers of Emich of Leiningen were characteristically keener to convert Jews to Christianity than to massacre them. Emich himself is presented by Jewish chronicles as having been blessed by visions and the mark of the stigmata in his flesh, as a sign of his mission. This, according to Paul Alphandery, is in line with the eschatological perspectives which associated the crusade and the imminent Second Coming of Christ. For Emich and his followers, in accord with the conviction that the conversion of the Jewish people must precede this return, it was necessary to force baptism on the Jews and to punish the obstinacy of those who refused.” pp. 37-41
Establishing order: the legality of the crusade
from Jean Richard, The Crusades c. 1071-c.1291
Between 1097 and 1187, large numbers of western Christians had set out for the Holy Land and had there done battle with the infidel. They had mostly departed when the pope proclaimed a crusade, but they had also left on their own initiative or in response to an appeal from the East. The process was still very similar to that of the pilgrimage, with which it was inextricably associated; the crusading indulgence, at least until Alexander III tried to give it a more specific content, was linked to the visit to the Holy Sepulchre.
The definition of the crusade itself remained fluid; the essential element was the fact of taking the cross. But theologians and canonists, at least since St Bernard laid down the first elements of a theology of the crusade, had attempted to make it more specific. It gained greater substance in the thirteenth century.
An expedition could be endowed with the plenary indulgence without having been initiated by the pope. The emperors Henry VI and Frederick II and King Louis IX of France seem to have taken the cross on their own authority. But it was necessary for the pope to confirm the intentions of the sovereigns and endow the expedition with the character of a crusade. A king might undertake a ‘just war’ in the interests of his subjects, but he could not authorize the participants to adopt the sign of the cross. Only the pope could do this. The canonists debated the motives that could justify the launching of a crusade. For some, the legitimacy of the ownership of the soil – which belonged to God – by the infidel might be challenged. This view was attacked by the majority of jurists; Pope Innocent IV, himself a canonist, specified that one could not wage a war against the infidel to convert him to the faith, but only to prevent him from invading or retaining lands of Christians.
A crusade could be undertaken against Christians if they were endangering the faith (as was the case in Albigeois), broke the peace or attacked the Church or its rights. But the crusade par excellence, the one which served as reference when the pope decided to grant the indulgence specific to those who fought at his request, remained that which had the Holy Land as its objective.
Only the pope, then, was able to give the character of a crusade to an expedition. In the thirteenth century the crusade was the subject of a particular type of pontifical bull, noting the reasons which necessitated it and the date fixed for the departure, its essential measure consisting of the grant to the crusaders of the material and spiritual privileges they would enjoy.” Pp. 260-261
Fixing the spiritual and material benefits of fighting “the enemies of the faith”
“The indulgence was granted to the crusader, still in the form fixed by Urban II, but now without any reference to the visit to Christ’s tomb: ‘Trusting therefore in the mercy of the Omnipotent God, and the authority of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, by virtue of the power which has been given us by God, notwithstanding our unworthiness, to bind and to loose, we grant to all those who, in person and at their own expense, accept this duty, full remission of their sins which they have truly confessed, and of which they have repented in their heart, and we promise them an increase of the eternal salvation granted as a reward to the just.’
The theologians and canonists of the thirteenth century defined the doctrine of the indulgence with increasing precision, emphasizing, in the words of Alexander of Hales, that ‘the greatest penance consists of exposing oneself voluntarily to death from faith in Christ or to fight the enemies of the faith. Such definitions always allowed for the possibility of obtaining the indulgence for other battles than those with the recovery of the Holy Land as their objective…
The temporal privileges remained, first, in line with Urban II’s promise, the protection accorded by the Church to the crusader’s family and property, to shield them from the abuses or extortion to which they might fall victim; to this was added extra protection regarding the debts with which the crusade might be burdened or might burden himself in connection with the expedition. The moratorium on interest on loans contracted, in particular with the Jews, had appeared by 1145. In the thirteenth century this was extended to render the crusader and his property exempt from taxes and dues. The clergy enjoyed another privilege; they could continue to collect the revenues from the benefices during their absence.” pp. 261-262