What do I need to know about the Crusades?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Thursday 12, March 2015 | Category:   Church History
Crusades
 

All of us in the modern world need to know more about the Crusades! These events have done much to shape East-West relations to the present time. There were nine altogether, from the 11th through the end of the 13th centuries: armed expeditions of western medieval Christians against "infidels" in general, and Muslims occupying the Holy Land in particular. Many Crusades were disasters, and few achieved the goals set for them.

Crusades were holy wars with a biblical pedigree, as historian Joseph Kelly puts it. Their rationale was pasted together from the books of  Joshua through Revelation to support the idea that fighting to secure the Promised Land of Israel is a divinely ordained mission. Since the 7th century, Muslim Arabs had taken charge of Palestine, Egypt, Syria, and northern Africa by means of jihad or their own version of holy war. Specifically they attacked both the Persian and Byzantine Empires on the threshold of their desert territories, incidentally cutting off access to Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria from the West. The Arabs and Byzantines eventually found a way to co-exist, and pilgrim access to the Holy Land was restored.

By the late 11th century the Byzantine emperor wanted to be rid of his enemies and appealed to Western leaders for help. Pope Urban II couldn't drum up support for the Byzantine cause but knew that Catholics would fight to liberate the Holy Land, sweetened with the offer of indulgences. The Crusades invited the religiously fervent, the adventurous, the greedy, and especially landless younger sons who were assured of getting a plot of their own in the bargain. The First Crusade actually did manage to recapture Antioch and Jerusalem, but at the cost of mass slaughtering of Muslims, Jews, and indistinguishable local Christians.

After that, the holy places of the Near East would exchange hands many more times. Crusades were launched to retake them, or to achieve whatever political aims the kings and popes of the West had in mind. Wholesale slaughters, rape, looting, and destruction became programmatic. While some of these wars restored the holy places to Western control, it would be hard to describe the military actions that accompanied them as holy.

Scriptures:
holy war theology in
Book of Joshua; Deuteronomy 20:4; the campaigns of King David in 1 and 2 Samuel; Joel 3:10; Book of Revelations

Books:
101 Questions and Answers on the Crusades and the Inquisition
- John    Vidmar, OP (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2013)

The Crusades Through Arab Eyes - Amin Maalouf (New York: Schocken/Knopf Doubleday, 1989)

 

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