Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Look At The Crusades


Like many things in modern times the Crusades have become overly romanticized by some. When they reference the Crusades they speak of it in this light and fluffy manner as though it were almost a fairy tale like time in the history of Christendom. When in all actuality it is one area in Christian history we would erase if we could. The Crusades were not a time of joy in the world, but a horrific time of war under the guise of God.

The Crusades are spoken of in the plural because there were seven major campaigns along with multiple minor ones. Throughout the entirety of the Crusades there were several major reasons given as the driving forces behind the battles; they included taking back Jerusalem from the infidels, converting the Muslims, and rejoining the eastern and western church under one head. By the end of the Crusades none of the original goals that had been laid out were accomplished and the church was in a declining state.

Gonzalez points out, “Among the many ideals that captivated the imagination of Western Christendom during the Middle Ages, no other was as dramatic, as overwhelming, or as contradictory as was the crusading spirit.”[1] The point Gonzalez is making is that as “Christians” the crusaders felt so strongly that they never took a moment to stop and reason whether what they were doing was truly in the will of God.

Out of all seven of the major Crusades, I intend to examine the first three a little more thoroughly than the rest. It has been said that out of them all the only one with any real sense of victory was the first.

The First Crusade (1095-1099)

The first Crusade originally began as a mission of help. Shelley tells us, “In 1095, after the Eastern Emperor Alexius I sent out an urgent appeal for help, Pope Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade to regain the Holy Land.”[2] The Crusades would begin and end with the initiative of France. Urban II would preach at the Council of Clermont making declaration about the people and the need to regain the land so it may provide more space to live and more food to sustain the rising population. The people who were in attendance became so impassioned “a roar rose from the multitude: Deus Volt! God wills it! So there on the spot Urban declared that Deus Volt! would be the crusader battle cry against the Muslim enemy.”[3]

With the First Crusade there was a multitude of lives lost, Schaff says, “These preliminary expeditions of the first Crusade may have cost three hundred thousand lives.”[4] This is a fact that can either be confusing or amazing considering the fact the Shelley says, “The First Crusade was the most successful of the seven; with not more than 5,000 knights and infantry, it overcame the resistance of the Turks, who were no longer united. Above all, it captured the Holy City—Jerusalem.”[5]

The city of Jerusalem was captured from the Turks on July 15, 1099. However hard fought it was to win the city back it did not last long because the crusaders were unable to hold the city for a hundred years. When the Crusades originally began it was to regain Jerusalem, as they progressed they became known for their brutality. For this to be a “Christian” war, “Such a slaughter of the pagans had never been seen or heard of. The number none but God knew.”[6] This was not showing the mercy of God that was to be extended to men, especially those who follow Christ. While there was some relative peace for a short period, in 1144 with the fall of Edessa came the call for the Second Crusade.

The Second Crusade (1144-1148)

While the First Crusade may have had some good points, by the time of the Second Crusade the effects of mans sinful nature were beginning to show themselves. Shelley expounds on the matter telling us,

“The original frenzy had clearly cooled, and the signs of corruption of the holy cause were apparent. The popes needed money to meet such obligations as providing legates for the new Christian lands in the East. So they turned spiritual benefits into money-making advantage.”[7]

Of all the flaws that arose in Christendom during the Middle Ages, the practice of indulgences must be the most abhorrent. The church completely disregarded the doctrine of grace through faith and the propitiation of Christ on the cross. During the Crusades the church would allow a man to pay his penance for his sins by choosing to go forth into battle out of a “pure heart”. They even went as far as to allow men to pay financially to send another man in his stead to be his substitute.

The man who spearheaded this venture was St. Bernard of Clairvaux, he was a fervent preacher who opposed the idea that Jews should be exterminated; while seeking to organize a military response to help Jerusalem and slow the rush to Jerusalem.[8] Even though this was a Crusade it ended in defeat and reaping no real benefit.

The Third Crusade (1189-1192)

This Crusade was full of very powerful men, Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, Richard the Lion-Hearted of England, and Phillip Augustus of France. The major goal of the Third Crusade was to regain Jerusalem after it had been taken by Saladin the sultan of Egypt in 1187. Because of the men attached to this crusade it has been one of the more widely celebrated out of the seven. It is a shame however that before Frederick Barbarossa made it to Jerusalem he drowned “on June 10 in the waters of the Kalycadnus River into which he had plunged to cool himself.”[9] Something that is quite interesting is that “The famous Saladin tax was levied in England, and perhaps also in France, requiring the payment of a tithe by all not joining the Crusade.”[10] Which some today might consider a legal form of racketeering.

While the remaining men in charge were unable to retake Jerusalem they did manage to take Acre, and according to Schaff, “Acre, or Ptolemais, under Mount Carmel, had become the metropolis of the Crusaders, as it was the key to the Holy Land.” [11] For most the gaining of Acre would not be considered a victory, but in Phillip’s eyes enough must have been enough. Shortly after taking control of Acre he returned home with the motive to try and gain as much of Richard’s lands as possible. Richard on the other hand had reached a point where he was willing to negotiate with Saladin. “Richard and Saladin finally agreed to a three year truce and free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims. Since Saladin would have granted this concession at anytime, the truce scarcely compensated for the cost of such an expensive crusade.”[12] On his return trip home he would be taken hostage until a large ransom was paid, this would not be his first time dealing with this situation, “A dark blot rests upon Richard’s memory for the murder in cold blood of twenty-seven hundred prisoners in the full sight of Saladin’s troops and as a punishment for the non-payment of the ransom money.”[13]


In later Crusades some crusaders would actually invade Constantinople and for a short period rejoin the East and West churches, but in the end there would be a divide that seems irreconcilable. While there have been a lot of negatives focused on there were several good points that emerged from the Crusades, one of them being the uniting of the European states which have not divided much since that period. Schaff sums up the Crusades wonderfully when he says, “In this case, as in the other Crusades, it was not so much the Saracens, or even the splendid abilities of Saladin, which defeated the Crusaders, but their feuds among themselves.”[14]

So before we go off waging anymore holy wars, let us check our motives and be assured from God that it is his plan; always keeping ourselves accountable before more lives are lost because of man’s greed and trying to hide under the guise of fighting for God.


Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christinaity- Volume 1. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

Hill, Jonathan. Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Johnson, Paul. A History of Christianity. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.

Schaff , Philip and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Shelley, Bruce L. Church History in Plain Language. Nashville: Nelson, 1995.

[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christinaity- Volume 1. (New York: Harper Collins, 2010) 345.

[2] Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language. (Nashville: Nelson, 1995)187.

[3] Ibid, 187.

[4] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[5] Shelley, History, 188-89.

[6] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[7] Shelley, History, 189.

[8] Gonzalez, Christianity, 350.

[9] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Shelley, History, 190.

[13] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

[14] Ibid.