So when I started researching this topic, I thought I was going to be finding all the reports of “Christians” slaughtering innocent people. I would then give an account on how this is wrong by showing Biblical examples calling what they did sin. Now that I’ve been a little research for a couple of weeks, I just keep finding evidence that shatters my previous opinions on what the Crusades were. I had never really looked into this topic at all, I had just heard the same thing from everyone that talked about it. They say that the Crusades were in the Middle Ages, when the Church decided to take over Jerusalem as a Holy War. The Muslims were having a time of huge prosperity, and the Church not only ruined it, but stole, raped, and murdered all the innocent people. They did this claiming God told them to. They got rich, and gained a whole bunch of land out of it. Now my views on this are based off of the research I’ve done, rather than common opinion, and I’ve actually thought a lot about it.
Obviously, because I wrote this, you will see my biased opinion all throughout it. I encourage you to challenge me, and debate, if you disagree, or at least feel like playing the role of the opposition in order to learn, or just have fun.
(This is EXTREMELY brief; even so, if you don’t like history then skip to “Bad View of the Crusades) There were nine main crusades, and different side ones as well. Lasted about 200 years. From 1095-1291ad. The term “Moors” in this context applies to the Muslim people during this period.
The First Crusade Basically, the Muslims conquest of the Levant took Jerusalem, and the First Crusade was to get it back. It was started in 1095 by Pope Urban II, and they managed to get Jerusalem back. It was first started because the Byzantine Emperor requested help in repelling an invading armies attack. It soon took a new objective, the Christian re-conquest of Jerusalem from the Muslims, considering they had just conquered Jerusalem from them. They also wanted to free the Christians in the area from the Muslims rule. They were also trying to reopen international trade in the west, because it had been killed with the fall of the Western Roman Empire. It is a controversial issue among scholars as to whether this was a defensive or aggressive act.
Second Crusade There was peace in the Holy Land between the Muslims and the Christians, and then the Muslims attacked, and conquered the town of Edessa. There was a new Crusade launched by the French and South German armies. They traveled to Jerusalem, but failed to win any major victories. They did, however, succeed in helping Portugal take back Lisbon from the Muslims. They also conquered Tortosa. They returned home after only about three years. During this time, there was much misdirected violence and slaughter of the Jewish people of the Rhineland. Key word is “misdirected.” It was not part of the Crusade to kill the Jewish people, it was to defend against the Muslim attacks and take back their land from them. While still horrible, it wasn’t ordered by the Pope, and didn’t represent Christianity, or even the government. It was immoral soldiers acting on their own.
Third Crusade The Christians had Jerusalem for almost a century at this point. Then Egypt attacked, conquering Jerusalem in 1187. They did leave the civilians, churches, and shrines as people claim, saying that Egypt was merciful, and the Crusaders weren’t. The problem is that the Muslims left them alive in order to hold them for ransom. This caused the Pope to call for another Crusade. They captured some of the Muslim territory, but didn’t manage to take Jerusalem. They made a peace negotiation that Christians could travel to Jerusalem on their pilgrimages, but it was still Muslim land.
Fourth – Ninth Crusades At this point, at least in my opinion, it went VERY downhill. For the most part, these Crusades were direct attacks without the Muslims provoking in any way. The Crusaders did still have some justification, because the Muslims had taken so much of their land, that it could be argued that it was right for them to want to get some of it back. However, they were in fact starting conflicts now, whereas before they were retaliating (the ethics here could be debated obviously). The rest of the Crusades were pretty much unsuccessful, with the exception of the Sixth Crusade.
Sixth Crusade Kind of a unique one. Emperor Frederick II had promised a Crusade, and didn’t deliver. Because of this, he was excommunicated. He then went to Palestine, and through DIPLOMACY got Jerusalem, Nazareth, and Bethlehem for 10 years! He then tried to get Egypt, failed, and made a peace treaty where the Christians got most of Jerusalem. The Muslims were given the Dome of the Rock, and Al-Aksa. This lasted 10 years, but the Muslims were very unhappy that Egypt gave the Crusaders Jerusalem, so they attacked, and took control of it.
Bad Side of the Crusades (These are some of the opinions that I’ve found, they are not textbook truth)
The people (regular civilians I believe) felt impassioned, and wanted to do something. They felt pious, and like they could decide what was the will of God, so they went around killing Jews, and members of another sect of Christianity.
There was a cultural diffusion between the Europeans and the Middle Easterns.
There is an assumption by most that the crusades started because of religious intolerance, or to further the spread of Christianity.
Gregory of England would actually kill his own people if they didn’t believe.
Religion and State Innocent III was the first pope to relate heresy to “treason”.
Person in an online debate “I’ve never heard of a situation where a bunch of barbarians burning, pillaging and raping everything on their path was a good thing…”
Roger Bacon (1095) “Those who survive, together with their children, are more and more embittered against the Christian faith.” 18th Century Enlightenment thinkers started judging the whole thing. Before that they were considered a good thing for the most part.
Steven Runciman (1950s) “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed … the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God”
Good View of the Crusades Here’s an interesting article, I sum up his main points below. It’s definitely an interesting perspective.
Since the time of Mohammad, Muslims had been conquering Christian land. By the 11th century (Crusade time) they had already taken two thirds of Christian land. This includes the area where Israel began, the home of Jesus Christ, and the places that Paul started up some of the first churches of Christianity. It was reaching into Europe, so it was either fight back or die. The people setting out on crusades had to sell or mortgage their land to afford it. They weren’t taking land to conquer it, most of them returned home after, just like today troops going over to do their duty, but longing to come home. There was even fear that they wouldn’t be able to keep the land after taking it because they knew everyone wanted to go back home. Sometimes crusades ended because they ran out of men because they all went back home. They also rarely even got back what they had spent, none the less became rich. So for the most part, they weren’t benefiting financially or property wise.
They also went to aid their Christian brothers and sisters in the East. “Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
As for killing everyone. During that time, that’s what happened, when you attacked a city, if they resisted, and you won, you owned the city, and the people. This is why they would weigh the odds, and surrender if they thought they couldn’t win. These cities resisted until the very end, which in that time meant once they lost, they were in the hands of the victors. They killed a lot, ransomed some, and some went free. It was regular practice in those days, not out of the ordinary. This doesn’t mean it’s morally acceptable, it just means that the actions weren’t any more unjust than other people’s during that time.
Also, “It is worth noting that in those Muslim cities that surrendered to the Crusaders the people were left unmolested, retained their property and were allowed to worship freely.” (Thomas Madden)
The media and other influences try to make it look as if the Crusades were a horrible, blood bathed event, where innocent people were slaughtered by the millions. Really we find that, at the very least, is that it’s not as horrible as we often think. People, for a long long time, mostly believed the Crusades to be a good thing. It wasn’t until the 1800’s when people started writing about how horrible it was. This also could have been because of false impressions by the people making these claims. Who knows? The point is that everyone today has a false view of this issue, which distorts their assumptions made by these events. They use them as a reason to either hate God, or doubt His existence, when really, this is just another chapter in the history of civilization, that has been blown out of proportion by false assumptions. It actually has very little to do with Christianity, and more to do with millennia old politics.
Basically, learning this side of the story completely changed my viewpoint a bit.
Not Representatives of Jesus Christ This is the point that I’ve always thought of when dealing with the problem of the Crusades. Anyone that goes out murdering innocent people in the name of God, is not actually doing the will of God. I could go out, and say that the government is telling me to kill some people, but it’s not true, so I’d be arrested by the government. In the same way, my opinion was that the Crusaders were claiming to be God’s hand, and fulfilling their own selfish wants and ideals in the name of God. And in the same way with the government, they would face the wrath of God because of their sin.
However, through my study, I can see that they weren’t acting out of selfishness, or false ideals, they were acting out of defense (at least at first). Even when they were attacking NOT for defensive purposes, is it not possible, if God wanted to relieve the Muslims of their control of the God ordained “Holy Land”, that He would use Christians to do so? Think about the Old Testament of Israel being told to annihilate whole people groups because they were so sinful that they would impact the world. In the Middle Ages, the Muslims were basically trying to take over the world, and were succeeding. Is it not possible that God used the Crusaders to stop the beginning of a world wide Muslim empire during this time?
Another point to consider is this. Were the Crusades really caused by Christianity? Think of the war going on right now. America is considered a “Christian” nation by the countries they’re attacking. Bush kind of hinted at it being the will of God, because he makes himself appear to be a good Christian man. They also made it look like a defensive action. Would it be right to hate God because of this war? No, this war was for political, financial, and national reasons. It had nothing to do with religion on our part, BUT the Muslims will see it as an attack by the Christians. Also, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Pope, are seen as representatives of Christianity, and they are not. They merely represent Roman Catholicism.
In the same way, we now look back at the Crusades as if it was considered to be “ordained by God”. For the most part, the Crusades seem to be merely a collaborative effort of people uniting under common goals and beliefs. They rallied together because they were Christian, but their reason for attacking was not because they were Christian (for the most part anyway, not entirely). This can obviously be debated, which I would encourage, but it does make a good point that I had never considered up until now.
Things to think about The Moors had started a holy war against the Christians, that’s why the Muslims were taking over so much of the land. This is the base cause for the Crusades. Would it then be wrong to launch a “holy war” in opposition to this?
Were the original Crusades justified by their reasons?
Is it wrong to claim that God told you to do something, when He didn’t actually, even if it’s the right thing? (For example “claiming” God ordained the Crusades, when really it was just a proper political move, and nothing more?)
Were the Crusades actually considered to be “ordained” by God? Or was this just separate groups of people rallying together because of a common denominator (their Christianity, and defense against the Muslims)?
Is it possible that God “could” have ordained the Crusades, at least in the beginning? And then some people used the opportunity to be immoral?
If someone openly says that God told them to do something, then they did it, and it was very successful, would that mean that God did ordain it? Or, would God purposefully make it NOT successful in order to show He wasn’t in it?