THE CRUSADES TO THE HOLY LAND
“Undertake this journey for the remission of your sins,
with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the Kingdom of Heaven!”
Pope Urban II, in one of history’s most powerful speeches, launched 200 years of the Crusades at the Council of Clermont, France on November 27, 1095 with this impassioned plea. In a rare public session in an open field, he urged the knights and noblemen to win back the Holy Land, to face their sins, and called upon those present to save their souls and become “Soldiers of Christ.” Those who undertook the venture were to wear an emblem in the shape of a red cross on their body. And so derived the word “Crusader,” from the Latin word cruciare – to mark with a cross. By the time his speech ended, the captivated audience began shouting “Deus le volt! – God wills it!” The expression became the battle-cry of the crusades.
This brief paper will review the background that led to this momentous event in world history; the actual crusades themselves; and finally conclude with a reflection on the aftermath of the crusades and the relevance to our world today.
THE BACKGROUND OF THE CRUSADES
Why did Pope Urban II call for the recapture of the Holy Land? Three reasons are primarily given for the beginning of the Crusades: (1) to reclaim the Land of Christ and stop the Moslem invasion; (2) to heal the rift between Roman and Orthodox Christianity following the Schism of 1054; and (3) to marshal the energy of the contstantly warring feudal lords and knights into the one cause of “penitential warfare.”
The Moslem Invasion
The Romans, with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, named the lands of the birthplace of Christ Palestine. The Holy Land has always been the spiritual home and symbol of the Christian faith. Following Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 ending Christian persecution, pilgrimages to Jerusalem became safe for those who had the means of travel.
The founding of Islam by Mohammed (570-632) changed the complexion of the Middle East. The concept of holy war, or jihad, to expand religious aims was embraced by the followers of Islam. The Muslims captured Jerusalem in 638, and the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria were placed under the control of the Caliphates. However, Islam proved a tolerant religion in victory, in keeping with the teachings of Mohammed. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was allowed to remain Christian, and Christians were allowed to practice their religion with the payment of a special tax, called the jizya. The Moslem invasion captured the eastern part of the Byzantine empire but twice they were held off at Constantinople, decisively in 717 by Emperor Leo III. By the next century, Islam under the Umayyad Dynasty extended all the way from India to Spain. It was only their defeat by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732 that stopped the European advance of Mohammedan forces.
Events turned for the worse, however, in the beginning of the eleventh century.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was completed in 335 by Constantine’s family on the site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, was destroyed in 1009 by a Fatimid Caliph. A new wave of Moslem aggression by the Seljuk Turks led to Christian persecution in the Holy Land and the invasion of the Byzantine Empire. The defeat of the Byzantines at the decisive Battle of Manzikert in 1071 gave the Seljuk Turks possession of Asia Minor. Nicaea and then Antioch fell to the Turks. Constantinople was vulnerable, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land abruptly ended. This led Byzantine Emperor Alexius I Comnenus to appeal to Pope Urban II for help. The Emperor sent his emissaries to the Pope’s Council of Piacenza in the March of 1095, with a request for knights to defend the East.
Healing the Schism
One of the most tragic events in Church history has been the Schism between the Western Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Byzantine (Orthodox) Churches, formally declared on July 16, 1054. While the actual Schism occurred by the mutual excommunication of Pope Leo IX and the Byzantine Patriarch Michael Cerularius, the Schism historically evolved over centuries, and was sealed in 1204 with the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
On 11 May 330 Constantine renamed the Greek city of Byzantium in his honor, and Constantinople became the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor. There were now two primary centers of authority in the Empire, Church authority in Rome and civil authority in Constantinople. The Patriarch of Constantinople had the Emperor’s ear.
The language of Rome was Latin, but that of Constantinople Greek.
There was a difference in perception of Church authority between the East and West. All of the early Christian Churches were followers of Jesus Christ from the time of the Apostles, and considered themselves one holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Each developed and retained their ancient and distinctive liturgies, rites, and customs. However, Rome asserted the Pontiff, as the representative of Peter, had supreme in authority over all of Christianity, whereas the East considered the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and the representative of Peter, as presiding “with love, as a first among equals.” Decisions made in the first seven ecumenical Councils of the Church were universally recognized by East and West.
The difference in perception of Church authority produced the conflict over the addition of the word filioque (“and the Son”) to the Nicene Creed by the Roman Catholic Church. The Nicene Creed originated at the Council of Nicaea in 325, and was expanded to quote John 15:26, “the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father” at the Council of Constantinople in 381.
Theological thought on the Trinity progressed with time, particularly with St. Augustine, who saw the Holy Spirit as an expression of love between the Father and the Son. The Council of Toledo, Spain in 587, in an effort to combat Arianism, added the word filioque to the Nicene Creed. Charlemagne had the word filioque added to the Nicene Creed, and the phrase read “the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son” (as Roman Catholics say today). The Eastern Churches claim that the Nicene Creed “is the common possession of the whole church and that any change must be done by an ecumenical Council.”
The naming of Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800 only deepened the rift between East and West.
The iconoclast controversy in the eighth century worsened matters, when the Eastern Emperor Leo III, influenced by Muslim and Jews, ordered the destruction of all Church images in 726. This was reversed by the Empress Irene and the seventh ecumenical Council, the second council of Nicaea in 787.
The excommunication of Pope Nicholas by the Patriarch Photius in 867, which was reversed within two years, signaled deepening East-West estrangement.
What began as a conciliatory effort between Pope Leo IX and the Greek Patriarch Michael Cerularius ended in disaster in 1054. The Papal envoy Cardinal Humbert in anger delivered a Papal Bull of excommunication (after Leo IX had died), and laid it on the altar, right during the afternoon liturgy at the Church of Santa Sophia on Saturday July 16, 1054.
Pope Urban II saw the request by Alexius I Comnenus as an opportunity to heal the Schism of East and West, especially as Alexius promised he would take measures toward recognizing Rome once Constantinople was safe from the Turks.
How could the Pope justify a war when Christianity was a religion of peace?
The Ten Commandments direct “Thou shalt not kill.”
While St. Basil and the early Church Fathers would never have accepted war, St. Augustine held that war was justified at the command of God. Unfortunately European warfare during the age of feudalism primarily involved Christians, noblemen and knights fighting each other over land, possessions, romance, or right of succession! The Church attempted to place some measure of control on warlike behavior by the institution of the Peace of God, which protected defenseless women, children, and the elderly; the Truce of God, which banned warfare on Sundays and holydays, as well as Advent and Lent; and the development of a Code of Chivalry for the proper conduct of knights. The knights’ Code called for the knight to defend and obey the Church and Commandments and to be the champion of right and good against injustice and evil. The Church raised the reception of Christian knighthood to an honor through a Christian ceremony.
Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085), following St. Augustine, developed the concept of “penitential warfare,” whereby warfare was justified when performed in the service and defense of the Church and the faith. He offered absolution to those who died fighting for the Cross in the reconquest (reconquista) of Spain .
But it was Pope Urban II who formally invoked “penitential warfare” – warfare in the service and defense of the Church for the remission of sins, when he called for the First Crusade on November 27, 1095.
|MAP OF CONSTANTINOPLE|
TO THE HOLY LAND
THE ACTUAL CRUSADES
There were eight major Crusades that departed Europe for the Holy Land, with several campaigns interspersed between 1096 and 1291. This paper will primarily focus on the successful First Crusade, review the Third and Fourth Crusades, and present a capsule of the remaining five.
The First Crusade (1096-1099)
Just as Pope Urban II had finished his speech at Claremont, Adhemar de Monteil, Bishop of Puy, volunteered for the expedition. The Pope nominated him to be the Papal Legate and head of the Crusade, to ensure that the Church would lead the effort. The choice was an excellent one, as Adhemar of Puy proved to be fair-minded, calm, and diplomatic in his attempt to coordinate the major armies that crossed Europe in different routes and assembled in Constantinople by May of 1097.
Raymond of St. Gilles, Count of Toulouse, was the first who “took up the cross.” He made a vow to God, and pledged his service to the Pope and his loyalty to Bishop Adhemar of Puy; the Bishop travelled with Raymond for the entire Crusade. Several noblemen and their troops from France joined Raymond and the Bishop. They left France in October of 1096 and crossed the Alps into Dalmatia and the Balkan states, through Thessalonica, reaching Constantinople in April of 1097.
Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine, and his younger brother Baldwin of Boulogne, took the northern route through Germany, and followed the Danube River through Hungary, arriving in Constantinople just before Christmas 1096.
Hugh of Vermandois, brother of King Philip I of France, left from Paris, traveled through Italy to the port of Bari, and sailed to Dyrrhacium in the Balkan States. He was met there by the Byzantines and escorted to Constantinople. As the first to arrive there, he was showered with gifts and pledged his loyalty to Emperor Alexius. Later, Robert, Duke of Normandy, his cousin Stephen, Count of Blois, and his cousin Robert II, Count of Flanders led a large army and travelled the same route and reached Constantinople in early May of 1097.
Bohemond of Taranto, his nephew Tancred, and the Normans of Southern Italy sailed to Dyrrhacium and then traveled by land, reaching Constantinople in April 1096.
With the exception of Bohemond of Taranto, religious fervor was the strongest motive for joining the Crusade, although the greed for earthly riches and petty rivalries of the leaders would create troubles for the Crusaders far beyond Adhemar’s control.
Emperor Alexius deftly handled the Crusaders, and dispatched them across the Bosporus Straits into Asia. The Crusaders laid seige to Nicaea, a major stronghold of the Seljuk Turks. The seige induced them to negotiate with Alexius, who took back Nicaea in June of 1097. Alexius did not allow the Crusaders to enter Nicaea, a decision which affected his future relationship with them.
Following a victory at Dorylaeum which routed the Turks, the Crusaders faced the arduous task of crossing the mountainous terrain of Anatolia (modern Turkey) in Asia Minor. The goal to reach Antioch took months to accomplish, and was marked by the Crusaders taking two different routes. Baldwin of Boulogne, Godfrey’s younger brother, went through Armenia, and, setting out on his own conquest, ended up capturing Edessa. After marrying an Armenian princess, he was invited by the people to rule. The first Crusader state, the County of Edessa, had been established.
The main Crusading force finally reached Antioch, on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea in October of 1097. The first Patriarch of Antioch was St. Peter himself, and following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, became important to early Christianity. The followers of Christ were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Matthew wrote his Gospel there, Paul set out on his three missionary journeys from Antioch, and St. Ignatius of Antioch established the order of Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon. The Eastern Catholic Maronite rite originated in Antioch.
Antioch’s defenses were formidable, and it took nine months before its walls could be stormed. Rivalries began, as Bohemond of Taranto wanted Antioch for himself, while Raymond of Toulouse argued that it should be handed back to the Byzantines, as agreed upon in Constantinople. Following a bribe by Bohemond of one of the Turks, the Crusaders scaled the walls and invaded Antioch in June of 1098.
The town became a bloodbath as every Turk was massacred. No sooner than they had taken over Antioch when they were besieged within the city by an invading Turkish army from Mosul. Trapped within the walls, disease and discouragement set in.
It was then that the Holy Lance, the lance that pierced the side of Christ, was discovered in the Church of St. Peter. Taken as Divine intervention, the Crusaders were rallied. Led by Bishop of Adhemar of Puy carrying the Holy Lance, the Crusaders proved invincible. The knights charged, mounted on their horses, and, pressing next to each other, routed the Turks. The cavalry charge was a formidable weapon for the Crusaders throughout their campaigns in the Holy Land.
Bishop Adhemar of Puy died from an illness in August of 1098, and his leadership was sorely missed. The Crusaders began squabbling for the next few months, until finally Bohemond of Taranto ended up with Antioch. The second Crusader state, the Principality of Antioch, was established.
Raymond of Toulouse was left the undisputed leader of the Crusaders, and set out for Jerusalem in January of 1099. He traveled through Tripoli, Lebanon, and discovered the Maronites, a Christian group in the mountains that had resisted Turkish rule, and who confirmed loyalty to the Pope in 1181. The Crusaders, or Franks, as the Muslims called them, reached Jerusalem on June 7, 1099, and began their siege.
A Genoese fleet arrived with materials to help them scale the walls of the heavily fortified city. Morale sank, as an initial attack failed, and water became scarce. But then a priest had a vision of the deceased Bishop Adhemar, who urged the Crusaders to fast and then walk barefoot around the city to atone for their sins.
The Crusaders eagerly complied, and encouraged, they attacked the city, and two days later, on July 15, 1099, entered the city of Jerusalem. Maddened after three years of suffering and frustration, the Crusaders massacred every Moslem and Jew within the city.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in the northwest quarter of the old city at the end of Via Dolorosa, was once again in Christian hands. The Crusaders thanked God in a solemn ceremony. After Raymond declined to rule the city, Godfrey of Bouillon was chosen as the ruler, taking the title of Defender of the Holy Sepulchre.
The First Crusade, the only successful one, was over. The two that began the effort never heard the news – Pope Urban II died just two weeks later, before word reached Rome, and Bishop Adhemar had died in Antioch. Many of the Crusaders, having fulfilled their vow, returned home.
The Crusader States and The Military Orders
Godfrey died after only a year, and his brother Baldwin, the ruler of the County of Edessa, was crowned King of Jerusalem on Christmas Day, 1100. The third Crusader state, the Kingdom of Jerusalem, was established. Raymond of Toulouse headed North and established the County of Tripoli, the fourth Crusader state. The four Crusader states of Edessa, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Tripoli collectively became known as Outremer, or the “overseas” Latin states of the East (see Map).
One of the positive elements of the Crusade was the restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Fifty years after the capture of Jerusalem, the Crusaders completed and dedicated the church on 15 July 1149. The Church one visits today is the one built by the Crusaders (see following picture)!
The Crusader states lived a fragile existence, and survived only because of Muslim disunity at the time. An important event was the foundation of the three military orders, instituted to protect the renewed flow of pilgrims into the Holy Land. The military orders were composed of monks who performed clerical and civic functions, and knights and the lay, who jointly provided the military arm. The first order were the Knights of St. John or Hospitallers, as they were first monks who staffed Hospitals. They wore a white cross, and protected the pilgrims who entered Jerusalem. The Knights Templar were instituted in 1119 by the French knights, and were housed in the Temple of Solomon. They wore a red cross, and were responsible for protecting pilgrims going to and from the Holy Land. The Teutonic Knights were a German group, founded in 1190 in Jerusalem.
The Second Crusade (1147-1149)
The capture of Edessa by the Turks in 1144 led Pope Eugenius III to call for a Second Crusade. Bernard of Clairvaux played an active role in inspiring Western Europe to protect the Latin states of the East. King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany led their armies into the Holy Land and met in Acre (see Map). They set out for Damascus, but failed because of their lack of cooperation. Soundly defeated and then massacred by the Turks, they never reached Edessa.
The greatest warrior of the Muslims was Saladin. Noted for his chivalrous behavior, he was respected by both Muslim and Christian alike. The Byzantine Orthodox of Jerusalem actually preferred rule by Saladin compared to the heavy taxations of the Latin patriarch.
Saladin, or Salah ed-Din, also proved to be a skilled diplomat. The Muslim world was completely divided into the Shiite and Sunni religious sects, as well as the warring secular nations of the Turks, Syrians, and Egyptians. Saladin was the one who brought all of them into one unified Islamic force in the twelfth century.
Saladin began his career as a young Kurdish warrior in the army of his uncle Shirkuh, who commanded the Syrian army and captured Egypt. Shirkuh became vizir of Egypt, the secular head of government under the Shiite Caliph. Shirkuh died shortly thereafter in 1169, leaving his 31 year-old nephew Saladin as vizir of Egypt.
Saladin was a Sunni muslim in the predominantly Shiite land of Egypt. When the Shiite Caliph of Egypt died, Saladin extended the spiritual authority of the Sunni Caliph of Baghdad over Egypt, but at the same time allowed the Shiites to practice their own form of Islamic faith. The religious world of Islam was united. When the secular regent of Syria died, Saladin captured Damascus in a bloodless coup.
While Saladin, the new Sultan of Syria and Egypt, was uniting the Moslem world, the Crusader states were in a power struggle after the death of King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, who died at age 24 of leprosy in 1185. Guy of Lusignan became King.
Saladin set his sights on the Crusader states. He first attacked Tiberias in the county of Tripoli in 1187. The Crusading army foolishly rode out into the desert to the Horns of Hattin, and, deprived of water, were no match for Saladin, who defeated the Franks on July 4, 1187, and imprisoned Guy. He captured Acre on July 10, 1187. Unopposed, all the Crusader cities except Tyre fell to Saladin’s army as he swept through the Holy Land. Finally Jerusalem was captured on October 2, 1187. Unlike the Crusaders of 1099, Saladin spared the inhabitants of Jerusalem from bloodshed or injury!
The Third Crusade (1190-1192)
The ending of 88 years of Christian rule in Jerusalem sent shock waves throughout Europe. Pope Gregory VIII quickly called for the Third Crusade to liberate Jerusalem. He was greeted with enthusiasm by King Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, King Philip II of France, and Richard, the son of King Henry II. Before Richard left England, his father died, leaving him King Richard I of England. Before the Third Crusade was over, he would be known as Richard the Lionheart.
King Richard, eager to join his friend Philip in the Crusades, placed the throne in the hands of his brother John. Several disagreements between Philip and Richard on the way to the Holy Land soured the relationship, however, and their broken friendship affected their cooperation and the outcome of the Third Crusade.
King Frederick drowned in a river near Tarsus on the way to Antioch, and his German army dispersed. King Philip sailed directly to the city of Acre to assist Guy of Lusagne in his attempt to recapture the city. Guy had been graciously released by Saladin from imprisonment. In spite of their efforts, Acre remained in Muslim hands.
After capturing Cyprus, King Richard arrived in Acre on June 8, 1191. With his energy, and, without Saladin to lead the Muslims, Acre surrendered on July 11, 1191.
While there was no one as brave as Richard, his hot-temper marred his leadership. Too impatient in a negotiation with the gentlemanly Saladin, he had 2500 Muslim prisoners-of-war slaughtered by the Franks. War became inevitable.
It was at this juncture that King Philip returned to France with the excuse of illness and troubles at home. This proved disastrous to the cause.
Saladin attacked Richard at Arsuf with 80,000 men, three times the size of Richard’s army, but Richard led a cavalry charge and routed Saladin’s troops.
Their spirits heightened by victory, Richard marched on to Jaffa. Then he headed towards Jerusalem, but the French army without their King would not support Richard’s plan of attack. Richard turned back and captured Ascalon on the coast. A second march to Jerusalem in June 1192 ended with Richard again turning back, for the Knights Templar and Hospitallers advised that, even if Jerusalem were captured, the Knights would be unable to hold onto the city once Richard returned to England. He then engaged Saladin at Jaffa. Even though heavily outnumbered, Richard again defeated Saladin. After 15 months in Outremer, Richard captured the Mediterranean coast of Palestine from Saladin, but ended up never firing a shot at Jerusalem.
At this point, the two mighty warriors of the Crusades decided to negotiate. Richard was eager to return home, and Saladin was weary of war. On September 2, 1192, they signed a peace treaty. The Crusader states would retain control of the coastal strip from Tyre to Jaffa, with their other holdings in Antioch and Tripoli. Jerusalem would stay in Muslim hands, but Christian pilgrims would be allowed free access to the Holy sites of the city. Acre rather than Jerusalem became the center for the Crusader States, and became known by some as the Kingdom of Acre.
Both the Third Crusade, as well as any religious idealism, were over.
The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204)
One of the primary reasons for Pope Urban II calling for the Crusades was to reconcile Roman and Byzantine Christianity. Any hope for Christian unity was completely dashed by the Fourth Crusade.
Pope Innocent III commissioned the Fourth Crusade, as Jerusalem was still in Muslim hands. Crusaders planned to leave Venice by sea and first attack Egypt and divide the Muslim world before heading to Jerusalem. Under the Doge of Venice, the city had become a wealthy and independent political port as the point of entry for trade from the East. The crusaders, both Franks and Venetians, accepted the Doge’s offer for free passage to Egypt if they seized the Venetian town of Zara, which had been lost to the Hungarians. When the news of the sack of Zara reached Rome, Pope Innocent III excommunicated the Doge of Venice and the entire expedition.
In Zara, the Crusaders were approached by Alexius, who claimed his father Isaac as the rightful heir to the Byzantine throne. The Franks accepted his promise that if they restored his father to the throne, he would finance their crusade to Egypt.
The Crusaders arrived off Constantinople on June 24, 1203. To appease matters, Alexius and his father Isaac were hastily made co-emperors, However, tensions grew, and in a direct challenge to the Crusaders, Alexius and his father were unseated in a palace coup. When it became evident that the new Emperor would not release funds, the Christian Franks and Venetians attacked the Christian Byzantines and sacked Constantinople on April 12, 1204. The Franks massacred the citizens while the Venetians looted priceless treasures. Count Baldwin of Flanders took the throne on May 16, 1204, commencing the Latin Empire of Constantinople.
The sack of Constantinople has been called one of the greatest crimes against humanity.
Roman and Byzantine Christianity have remained severed to our present day.
The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221)
Pope Innocent III called for a fifth Crusade. But he died in 1216, just after convening the Fourth Lateran Council. Pope Honorius III sent Cardinal Pelagius as his legate. After an initial success in capturing Damietta, Egypt, many Crusaders were conquered by disease in the Nile Delta. The Franks were then trapped on the way to Cairo. A truce that returned Damietta to the Muslims freed Crusaders that lived.
The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229)
Pope Gregory IX called for the Sixth Crusade in 1227, and King Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire responded. However, the Pope excommunicated Frederick because of his failure to keep his vow. Frederick finally departed in June of 1228. However he chose diplomacy over warfare and negotiated with the Sultan of Egypt for the return of Jerusalem, which remained in Christian hands once again for 15 years.
The Seventh Crusade (1249-1250)
The Mongolian invasion, initially led by Genghis Khan, conquered Asia all the way to Baghdad. The Khwarismian Turks fled the Mongols, and, on the way to Egypt, conquered Jerusalem in 1244. Pope Innocent IV called St. Louis IX , King of France, for the Seventh Crusade. He took Damietta, Egypt in May of 1249, but was captured on the way to Cairo in 1250. He had to pay a grand ransom for his army’s freedom.
The Eighth Crusade (1270) and The Fall of Acre (1291)
The Muslim Mamluks of Egypt ended the Mongol scourge at Ain-Jalut (near Nazareth) on September 3, 1260. The Muslims then captured the Christian towns of Caesarea, Jaffa, and Antioch by 1268. King Louis IX led an Eighth Crusade in 1270 (during the Papal vacancy of 1268-1271), but died of infectious disease in Tunis, which left Prince Edward of England insufficient forces to prove effective. Unchecked, the Mamluks easily conquered the rest of Crusader territory. The 192- year Christian presence in the Holy Land ended with the fall of Acre on May 18, 1291.
The Crusades were an example of a high-minded ideal betrayed by human nature. The plans of Pope Urban II to recapture the Holy Land, to come to the defense of the Byzantine East, and to unite Europe in a common cause were truly principled. The outcome, in the hands of the warring noblemen and knights who became obsessed with power, land, and riches, proved disastrous, particularly with the Fourth and following Crusades.
One interesting observation is that, while the record of events for the first three Crusades were relatively consistent throughout the literature, many conflicting reports exist for the Fourth and following Crusades. Did historians lose interest or had the Crusades become an embarrassment by the disastrous turn of events?
The two figures that received lasting respect by both Eastern and Western historians alike were Saladin, the Muslim leader, and St. Francis of Assisi. Whereas the Christian crusaders were barbarians when they captured Jerusalem, Saladin recaptured Jerusalem in gentlemanly fashion, without loss of life to Christian citizens. St. Francis of Assisi risked his life in the Fifth Crusade by calling directly upon the Sultan of Egypt in an effort to bring peace.
The Crusading effort was all for naught, as the Crusader states lasted only from 1099 to 1291. And Jerusalem itself was in Christian hands for only 88 years.
The Crusades left the Byzantine East alienated and severed from the Roman West. And Christianity and Islam have been thrown into opposition to this very day.
On the other hand, one cannot help but admire the valour and fortitude exhibited by the early Crusaders. When the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem became a place of refuge for Palestinians in their war with the Jews in 2002, did any Christian nation speak up or defend our Christian heritage?
The Crusades have become most relevant to current events. American and British troops presently occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israelis and Palestinians are locked in an endless and bitter struggle. Like it or not, Osama bin Laden struck a chord with Muslim extemists when he recently called the West “Crusaders.”
Recent efforts have been made to bridge the gap created by the Crusades.
The Second Vatican Council has done much to open a dialogue with the Byzantine Orthodox East. Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras held an historic meeting in Jerusalem in January of 1964, and on 7 December 1965 the anathemas of 1054 were mutually revoked at simultaneous ceremonies, in Rome by the Second Vatican Council and in Constantinople by the Holy Synod.
The Papacy of John Paul II has been one of rapprochement. On May 25, 1995 he published Ut Unum Sint, his encyclical on Christian unity. In the Jubilee year of 2000 he prayed the traditional Nicene Creed (without filioque) with Orthodox leaders. His visit to Egypt in March 2000 did much to improve relations with Islam. He pointed out that Christian, Muslim, and Jew alike worship the same God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And in Jerusalem on March 12, 2000, referring to the Crusades (as well as other events), he asked God forgiveness for the sins of the Catholic Church.
The Crusades leave one wondering is there really such an entity as a just war?
The Commandments direct us not to kill. And Jesus himself instructed us:
“Do not resist one who is evil;
if anyone strikes you on the right cheek,
turn to him the other also.”
“You have heard it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 5:39, 43-44; 22:39
May the Crusades be an important lesson to all of us who cherish peace.
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2 Runciman, Sir Steven. History of the Crusades – in 3 volumes, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge: I -The First Crusade, publishied 1951 and 1980; II – The Kingdom of Jerusalem; published1952; III – The Kingdom of Acre and the Later Crusades, published 1954.
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