Crusades from a Christian Viewpoint

Introduction

There are several religions in the world today with members freely choosing with faith to subscribe to at whichever relevant time. The history of Christianity puts importance on the crusades that took place between 70 AD and 1500 AD. It is important to note that the actual crusades began in 1095 AD. The war between Christians and Muslims was then focused on the holy land, which included Jerusalem and the Middle East. Initially, these lands were controlled by the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. However, Islam began to spread to other parts of the world, including Europe. It is important to note that the spread of Islam was attributed to its calm nature. As Fantus observes, Muslims did not try to kill or harm people of other religion until Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah took power and not only killed Christians but also burnt down churches1.

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At this point, Rome and Pope Urban II felt the need to protect their religion and sought the help of their faithful in declaring war on Muslims. This essay looks into the purpose of the crusades from a Christian viewpoint. Additionally, the aftermath and relevance of the crusades will be highlighted. Critical to note is the fact that whereas the crusades affected both Christians and Muslims, Christianity holds more importance to the war than Islam. This might be because the Christians won the war. The discussions presented in the essay will be pegged on the fact that the Christian faithful believed that their spiritual well-being was negatively affected and corrupted by the growth of Islam. Thus, they had to do everything they could to stop the growth of Islam.

Early Doctrinal Developments in the Ancient Church

Before the crusade, there were significant early doctrinal developments in the ancient church. Arguably, it is these developments that eventually led to the First Crusade. Therefore, before discussing the different crusades that took place in the middle years of growth, it is important to understand the changes that were happening in the church before and during that time. This will also enhance understanding of the purpose and intent of the crusades. Fantus notes that leaders in the Christian church, especially the Roman Catholic Church through Pope Urban II believes that their faith was in danger due to encroachment from Islam and other religions between the 11th and the 17th centuries2. Not only was the church fighting for its rights based on the recruitment of people into Islam, but it was also trying to remain relevant among the communities. Nievergelt argues that between 7 AD and 70 AD, the church lost several members due to a sough of liberation3. This, coupled with the fact that some members were subscribing to a new faith, made it prudent for the church to initiate self-preservation techniques4.

The growth of Islam brought in two main factors that enhanced the need and desire for the crusades. The first, as Stark mentions were both a political and social factor. Since 7 AD when Islam was conceived, the religious leaders subscribed to this faith sought to not only expand their population but also acquire land5. It is critical to point out that religious groups acquired and managed territories during this era. Stark notes that the Islamic group had acquired territories in the Middle East and North Africa before 70 AD6. However, they began gaining interest in the East, which was a largely Roman empire. Thus, many of the believers in the region were catholic. During Pope Urban II’s speech on the need for the crusades, he argued that one of the purposes or intents of the activities was to free Christians in the East from the suffering they were going through because of the invasion of Muslims. The Pope was concerned that even though the majority of the Christians had not converted to Islam, they would be spiritually affected by the Muslims7.

Indeed, some political issues also led to the crusades. Going back to the Pope’s argument that Islam would corrupt Christians spiritually, it is arguable that many of the people who supported the crusades did so due to fear of being punished by their God. Political goodwill enhanced this fear as politicians did not put in place any measures to curb the growth of Islam in the traditional Christian territories. Fantus explains that religious leaders had more political power than politicians in the early developments of the ancient church8. This premise can be used to explain why the crusades were initially not influenced by political leaders but rather religious ones.

It is important to note that the Islamic group also had internal political squabbles and this affected their ability to invade other regions. For example, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah was known to kill Christians and torch down churches, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in his regions. However, other Muslim leaders did not torture Christians and even allowed them to practice their religion with minimal interruption. Such differences in ideologies in the leaders of Islam led to the loss of Jerusalem as a Muslim state in 969 AD9. The Pope then urged Christians to participate in the crusade after the break of Jerusalem from Islam rule and the destruction of the church of the Holy Sepulchre10.

Notably, the church also considered the role of warfare in Christianity. This is especially because many Christian doctrines preached peace and not war. Additionally, one of the commandments urged people not to kill as it was a sin. To change the mindset of people, the clergy argued that the crusades were important as the individuals would be fighting for their God11. After several deliberations, it was agreed that the Truce of God be observed and no warfare would take place on Sundays and other identified holy days12. The church had to involve the political lords and the knights who had also been fighting over land and resources to properly organize and manage the war. Therefore, the third purpose of the crusades was penitential warfare, which also sought to bring together the knights, the political lords, and the church.

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Fantus argues that the rallying call of the crusades after Pope Urban II’s speech was “God wills it” to show the spiritual attachment the crusades had on Christians13. At that time, they truly believed that their spiritual wellness was being corrupted by Muslims and God had willed it that they declare war against all Muslims. The growth of Islam also affected Christians spiritually as they believed that it was their duty to stop any “evil” from spreading. This pushed the agenda and the passion for the Christian faithful to support the crusades.

The Middle Years of Growth

Falk argues that the middle years of growth of the crusades were between 900 AD and 126914. The first crusade occurred in 1096 and 1099 and it was led by four army commanders in an attempt to save Christians who were being tortured in Byzantium, which was in the East15. Interestingly, this first crusade recorded various social and economic impacts. First, socially, it allowed different groups of Christians who believed that it was their duty to kill Muslims or face eternal damnation to also join in the war. Fantus explains that several individual groups were formed by different pastors and churches with the most common being led by a pastor referred to as Peter the Hermit16. These groups could not be easily controlled and they ended up massacring women and children in Islamic villages. The economy of these regions was negatively affected due to the warfare. Also, the Roman Catholic Church, the knights, and the political lords contributed large investments in sustaining the war and this affected the general economy.

The issue of the Christian’s concern on how their faith was spiritually affected by the growth of Islam was also clearly demonstrated during the first crusade. Delanty explains that Tancred, who was the nephew of one of the four appointed commanders leading the war has promised that women and children would not be harmed during the war17. Additionally, through other political agreements, villages, and towns were not to be destroyed as this would, as mentioned, negatively affect the economy of the area. Despite these agreements, the crusaders slaughtered any Muslim they could find, including women and children. It can be argued that to them, sparing the lives of any Muslim meant that they were allowing “evil” to live amongst or near them and this should taint their souls in a spiritual sense.

The second most significant crusade was the third crusade which occurred between 1189-1192. This was an important crusade as the city of Jerusalem had been recaptured by Muslims and Christians were being tortured similarly as Muslims were during the first crusade18. The third crusade acted as a reaction to the fall of Jerusalem and was called for by the then Pope Gregory VIII. It is important to note that the whole of Europe supported this crusade, thus, it has a political significance. The Pope asked for help from King Philip II of France, King Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, and King Richard I of England, all of whom accepted the call and pledge both armies and finances to support the third crusade. The fact that Jerusalem had fallen due to internal wrangles between Christians also motivated the crusaders to work effectively together as they blamed themselves. Unlike the previous two crusades, the political wing was heavily involved in the third crusade and political alliances were established. The leaders would often travel to the different cities to encourage the crusaders as they also checked on the progress of the war.

The stated involvement of the political elites opened the door for other lords to join the fight in the best way they could. By the time the eighth and last crusade was being conducted, it was mainly run by the political elite. Delanty explains that King Louis IX of France began the last crusade (the eighth crusade) with the help of Prince Edward of England19. It is interesting to note that whereas King Louis IX of France was catholic, his nephew and ally in the eighth crusade, Prince Edward of England, was protestant. The significance of this difference lies in two main ideologies. The first is that the relationship between Protestants and Catholics had become better throughout the crusades era. Initially, Catholics were deemed better than protestants in terms of purity of faith20. The fight against Islam and the fact that Jerusalem and the holy land had been seized due to internal wrangles ensured a truce between protestants and Catholics of the time. Indeed, whereas the last crusades were mainly driven by the political elite, the church still had an important role to play in ensuring that the crusaders were motivated to end the war. Delanty explains that because the crusades began as a religious fight, there was no way of changing it into a political one although it was being led by politicians21.

Additionally, the crusaders believed that God anointed their political rulers. Therefore, their involvement in the crusades was a welcomed idea as it also meant that God approved of the crusader’s actions against Muslims. Nievergelt argues that the united Christian front and the failing Muslim front ensured that the battle for the holy land was won by Christians22. Muslims were fighting amongst themselves (Shia and Sunni) and this greatly affected their ability to continue with the war. Additionally, the lack of enough resources led to the fall of many of the Islamic states that had already been established. Socially, due to this, many Muslims lost their lives, including those that were not directly involved in the wars.

Later Years of Stagnation in the Middle Ages

Several things came about during the later years of stagnation in the middle ages. These include the fact that more political allies were involved in the cause. It is important to note that after the eighth crusade, there were a lot of activities that happened in the holy land that has been referred to as the stagnation years23. One main activity during the stagnation years was the rebuilding of the holy land. Montgomery notes that the holy land had been negatively affected by the war with both infrastructure and human life lost24. The efforts to restore the holy land fell mainly on the political elite although the church was equally invested in the same25. Interestingly, a few Muslims remained in some of the areas due to treaties and truces that had been discussed. Jerusalem, which was important for both Christians and Jews was, however, still an area of contention. Whereas Christians and Jews had been fighting over this area long before the wars, the situation that had been advanced by the crusades led to the long Palestinian-Israel war that continues till today.

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Equally important to point out is the fact that the stagnation years encouraged the break between religion and political leadership. This argument is based on the fact that many political rulers (in the form of Kings) albeit still being tied to the church, looked for other alliances and ways of doing things that would not have involved the church. One of the reasons for this was the fact that the last crusades were highly political, as mentioned previously. This is especially so for the last two crusades. The fact that a protestant king worked with a catholic one also opened up the minds of the Christian faithful. Fantus argues that the division that had previously been experienced between protestants and Catholics had been put aside to fight Muslims26. Initially, there was concern from the Catholic church and their faithful that interacting with protestants might also affect the quality of their faith. As Fantus notes, this was, however, quelled by the rally that all Christians, regardless of whether they were protestant or Catholic would enter heaven if they joined the crusades27.

Notably, the conquests to take back and protect the holy land ensured that crusaders had lands they could move into and explore. Fantus explains that the idea that crusaders would get as much land as they wanted after the conquest was used to motivate them even further28. This premise ties closely with the legal issues that faithful in England had been fighting. Fantus explains that the English law allowed only firstborn sons to inherit their father’s lands29. The younger sons were motivated to get lands for themselves and start their own families in these new lands. One can argue that this might have been the motivation the Christian faith needed to touch down villages and kill women and children, something that had not been ordered by the four main generals of the war. The new entities that were commonly referred to as the crusader states were predominantly Christian. They flourished due to this as they had easier time trading with the larger Christian states in Europe. This, coupled with the total absolution of sin promised by Pope Urban II, ensured that more young people strived to join the crusades.

Also, during the stagnation years, a new regime referred to as the Mamluks were formed30. The group was mainly made up of former slaves of the Muslim empires that had been destroyed by the crusaders. Indeed, it is arguable that the group sought freedom from both their masters and the new Christian faith that had taken charge of their villages and homes. It is interesting to note that a majority of the crusaders, at first, did not see these slaves as a threat although they practiced Islam. Indeed, several were killed during the war but those that remained were largely ignored. After the formation of the group and their activities in Palestine that halted the crusader’s ability to invade the country, they were attacked and stopped in the ninth crusade. It is important to note that there are critics who do not consider the attack on the Mamluks as a crusade. This is because it was smaller in size and less significant in the history of Christianity.

The aftermath of the Crusades

There were several implications of the crusades in the years that followed. This section analyzes the political, social, and theological implications of the crusades.

Political Implications

One of the biggest political implications of the crusades was that they enhanced the power of the political leader (King) and significantly lowered that of the Roman Catholic. Whereas the crusades indeed began as a purely religious thing, other factors that contributed to the later crusades moved the agenda from a religious one to a political one. Stark explains that the first crusade sought to help Christians who were being tortured in Islamic states, bring together Christian factions that were fighting each other, and free Jerusalem from Islamic rule31. However, by the fifth crusade, it was evident that the war could also help countries trade more effectively by opening up new routes of trade especially to the Middle East and Africa. This made the crusades a significant political tool for many of the kings who were involved.

Additionally, Stark explains that since a significant percentage of the finances that were used during the crusades were collected from Kingdoms, the kings had to raise taxes of the noble families to allow the crusades to continue32. This power also ensured that nobles who refused to pay their taxes were branded traitors of the church. Arguably, some leaders took advantage of the situation to enhance their reach, especially in Rome, where the Holy Roman Catholic Church was situated. Their power over the crusades also made them more powerful in Rome as the church needed their resources and their support to motivate the crusaders. Arguably, this power continued to grow as the crusades grew bigger. Initially, the church was only prepared for a few years of war but the crusaders took over 100 years to end. Therefore, in essence, one can also argue that the crusades became a political war after the first one.

Social Implications

One of the most significant social impacts of the crusades was the large population movement from traditional England to other parts of the world. As mentioned earlier, many young people joined the crusades to conquer new lands and settle there. Scaruffi notes that it is not only the young poor families that sought to make their lives better33. The fact that the kings had become more powerful than ever due to their impact on the crusades also encouraged some nobles to relocate to other areas that had been conquered. Scaruffi explains that due to the increased taxation by many of the Christian kings, a good number of nobles were forced to sell off their property or be jailed due to failure to pay taxes34. Also, failure to pay the taxes meant that they were unfaithful to their religion. Joining the crusades, albeit not at the forefront, ensuring that these nobles had a chance to relocate and gain new lands.

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Falk goes further to explain that whereas no one had denied poor people the freedom to relocate before the war, the costly nature of the act made them stay and live in squalor35. This changed during the crusades as they would be transported to the new lands without paying anything. Thus, the majority joined the cause so that if they survive the war, they would choose to stay in those areas. Using this as the basis of argument, it is debatable that the crusades were a combination war of both social and political issues.

Theological Implications

Indeed, the most significant debate on the crusades is that they were a holy war. Delanty supports this premise arguing that both Muslims and Christians valued the holy land due to its tie to both religions36. Jerusalem was critical to Christians as it was the land where Jesus was crucified according to the Christian doctrines. On the other hand, places such as current-day Mecca were important to Muslims as they held significant roles in the religion37. Therefore, the war was not simply to strop the recruitment of members of both religions but also a preservation of the two faiths. It is important to note that the initial rallying call for Christians was “God wills it” to prove that the war had been ordained by God.

Still, on the same, the crusades were a holy war as they purposed to save tortured faithful of both Christians and Muslims. Arguably, the first faithful to be tortured were Christians. Additionally, Christian churches were burnt down by Muslims who had invaded their territories. It is notable that from the beginning, the war was clearly defined as a religious one. This changed only in the last crusades as explained earlier. The same can be said for Muslims who were looking to also protect the holy land, through their customs. To them, the land had been invaded by heathens and they wanted to do anything to secure it and guide the people back to Allah. Kaplan introduces the controversial debate of who was more hostile between the Christians and the Muslims during the war38. Indeed, the scholar points out that even though Muslims did torture Christians in some areas, a majority of them did not force either Jews or Christians to convert. This was unlike the Christians who killed every Muslim they met without even the chance to convert.

Relevance of the Crusades

Two main factors have to be discussed when talking about the relevance of the crusades. The first is that the “winners” of the war were seen as a superior religion compared to the rest. Kaplan explains that Jerusalem was in the middle of the war due to its significance to three religions – Christianity, Jewism, and Islam39. For Christians, Jesus was crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem. On the other hand, for Jews, it was where the original temple of God was built by King Solomon while for Muslims, it was where Muhammed ascended to heaven40. The fact that Christians won and ended the war automatically gave them an upper hand in terms of faith. Arguably, this is one of the reasons why a large percentage of the world’s population is Christian compared to the other religions.

From a religious standpoint, it is also arguable that the war was relevant to determine the status of the different religions in terms of the strength of their gods. This comes from the fact that all the religions involved in the war believed that the God they worship had ordained their actions. For Christians, this was Jehovah while for Muslims it was Allah. Arguably the religion that came up on top believed they had a superior God, thus, the war was important as it solidified their faiths.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the crusades formed a crucial part of the history of Christians, Muslims, and even Europe as a political block. There are three main purposes of the crusades as stipulated by history. These three purposes were projected by Pope Urban II who championed the start of the crusades. One of the reasons is the need to fight for Jerusalem. Both Muslims and Christians had deep attachments to Jerusalem as it was believed to have been the place where Muhammed ascended to heaven, and where Jesus was crucified. The second purpose of the crusades was the freeing of Christian faithful in the East who were being tortured by Muslims. Thirdly, Pope Urban II argued that the third purpose of the events was to bring harmony amongst some factions that were significant to the ancient church.

These reasons were based on the faith and beliefs of the Christian faithful. They agreed to the war rallying call “God wills it” to attract individuals to join the crusades. Additionally, kingdoms in Europe gave both financial and other human resources support to the church to stop Muslims from expanding to their lands. It is important to note that after the first few crusades, the activities were mainly politically driven as opposed to the religious acts at the beginning. This is because more political leaders began to get involved in the war. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the war created a viable opportunity for trade by opening up new trade routes especially to the Middle East. Indeed, debates on the topic can take either a political, social, or combined or holy war approach. Regardless of the school of thought, it is evident that the crusades were a very significant part of the history of world religions.

Bibliography

Delanty, Gerard. Christianity in the Making of Europe. In: Formations of European Modernity. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

Falk, Avner. Franks and Saracens: Reality and Fantasy in the Crusades. London: Routledge, 2018.

Fantus, James Michael. “The Last Word: Why the Timing of the World’s Religious Writings Matters.” Open Journal of Philosophy, no. 9 (2019): 252-264.

Kaplan, Jeffrey. “Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted: Premodern Religious Terrorism.” Terrorism and Political Violence 31, no. 5 (2019): 1070-1095.

Montgomery Guyton, ed. “An Examination of Religious History: 33-1500 A.D.” 26th Annual NWFSBS Lectureship, Cantonment, FL, February 18-22, 2018.

Nievergelt, Marco. “The Sege of Melayne and the Siege of Jerusalem: National Identity, Beleaguered Christendom, and Holy War during the Great Papal Schism.” The Chaucer Review 49, no. 4 (2015): 402-426.

Pryor, H. John, ed. Logistics of Warfare in the Age of the Crusades. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Scaruffi, Piero. What the Muslims knew. PDF. Self-Published, 2018.

Stark, Rodney. “The Case for the Crusades.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 20, no. 2, (2016): 9-28.

Tyerman, Christopher. The Debate on the Crusades. London: Manchester University Press, 2015.

Footnotes

  1. Michael James Fantus, “The Last Word: Why the Timing of the World’s Religious Writings Matters,” Open Journal of Philosophy, no. 9 (2019): 253.
  2. Fantus, “The Last Word”, 253.
  3. Marco Nievergelt, “The Sege of Melayne and the Siege of Jerusalem: National Identity, Beleaguered Christendom, and Holy War during the Great Papal Schism,” The Chaucer Review 49, no. 4 (2015): 402.
  4. Guyton Montgomery, ed., “An Examination of Religious History: 33-1500 A.D,” (26th Annual NWFSBS Lectureship, Cantonment, FL, February 18-22, 2018).
  5. Rodney Stark, “The Case for the Crusades.” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 20, no. 2, (2016): 10.
  6. Stark, “The Case for the Crusades,” 11.
  7. Christopher Tyerman, The Debate on the Crusades (London: Manchester University Press, 2015), 17.
  8. Fantus, “The Last Word”, 253.
  9. Tyerman, The Debate on the Crusades, 17.
  10. Nievergelt, “The Sege of Melayne and the Siege of Jerusalem,” 403.
  11. John H. Pryor, ed., Logistics of Warfare in the Age of the Crusades (New York: Routledge, 2016) 21.
  12. Pryor, ed., Logistics of Warfare in the Age of the Crusades (New York: Routledge, 2016) 22.
  13. Fantus, “The Last Word”, 254.
  14. Avner Falk, Franks, and Saracens: Reality and Fantasy in the Crusades, (London: Routledge, 2018) 36.
  15. Nievergelt, “The Sege of Melayne and the Siege of Jerusalem,” 416.
  16. Fantus, “The Last Word”, 253.
  17. Gerard Delanty, Christianity in the Making of Europe. In: Formations of European Modernity, (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 12.
  18. Nievergelt, “The Sege of Melayne and the Siege of Jerusalem,” 405.
  19. Delanty, Christianity in the Making of Europe, 18.
  20. Nievergelt, “The Sege of Melayne and the Siege of Jerusalem,” 421.
  21. Delanty, Christianity in the Making of Europe, 18.
  22. Nievergelt, “The Sege of Melayne and the Siege of Jerusalem,” 425.
  23. Montgomery, ed., “An Examination of Religious History.”
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. Fantus, “The Last Word”, 254.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Fantus, “The Last Word”, 254.
  31. Stark, “The Case for the Crusades,” 18.
  32. Stark, “The Case for the Crusades,” 22.
  33. Piero Scaruffi, What the Muslims knew, (PDF. Self-Published, 2018), 9.
  34. Scaruffi, What the Muslims knew, 10.
  35. Falk, Franks, and Saracens: Reality and Fantasy in the Crusades, 37.
  36. Delanty, Christianity in the Making of Europe, 21.
  37. Delanty, Christianity in the Making of Europe, 22.
  38. Jeffrey Kaplan, “Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted: Premodern Religious Terrorism,” Terrorism and Political Violence 31, no. 5 (2019): 1070.
  39. Kaplan, “Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted,” 1085.
  40. Kaplan, “Nothing Is True, Everything Is Permitted,” 1086.
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