Catholics especially are continuously castigated for conducting the Crusades in the middle ages. Most non-Catholics seem to remember the Crusades as stories of barbarian savagery and brutality. Even today, most Muslims consider the Crusades a symbol of western hostility towards Muslims, with Western invasions motivated by their greed and hatred for Muslims. But for some reason, actual history is not recounted.
The traditional Crusades numbered nine during the 11th through 13th centuries. In reality, the crusades continued until the 17th century. But the Pope only “blessed” the first five. Therefore Catholicism, as a religion, was only responsible for those first five.
In Christ the King (Lord of History), Anne Carroll describes how Muslims were the aggressors of the Christians starting in the 7th century. Those attacks by Muslims were still going on through the 11th century. Finally, in 1071, after a major defeat of the Catholic Byzantine Empire, the Emperor (Alexius Commenus) appealed to the Pope for aid against the Muslims (the First Crusade).
The Crusaders were justified in defending themselves against Muslim attacks, and also had to go on the offensive to prevent future attacks. The cause made the war a just one. Pope Urban II knew it was appropriate to defend the innocent and helpless against attacks, and to regain only those originally Christian territories like the conquered Holy Land and the Holy Sepulcher (a structure in Jerusalem containing deposits of many sacred relics). At no point did the Crusaders attack the Muslim homeland of Arabia.
But abuses seem foremost on peoples’ minds when thinking about the Crusades. The Sack of Jerusalem and the Sack of Constantinople were the two atrocities that seem to revolve in everyone’s mind. In the final onslaught as some of the Crusaders entered Jerusalem all their pent-up frustration erupted. They killed many innocent people. The behavior was totally against the promises these men had made upon knighthood, and stained what would otherwise been a remarkable victory.
Leaders like Godfrey de Boullion, Raymond of Toulouse, and knights of Southern France did not participate, nor in any way approve of the Sack of Jerusalem. But soon after the conquest of Jerusalem, the Knights of St. John was organized as a new religious community. They took vows to dedicate their lives to God as did the monks in Europe. They were also entrusted with the protection of the Holy Sepulcher.
By the Fourth Crusade, great wealth had accumulated in Constantinople. But with no money from the new emperor, Crusaders broke into the city and for three days looted, burned and killed. This sack produced such justifiable resentment in the minds of the Byzantines that any hope for reunion of the Greek Orthodox Church with Rome was destroyed.
A Christian Knight who refused to take part in the Sack of Constantinople was Simon de Montfort. Even after the sack, Pope Innocent III excommunicated those responsible for the outrage.
For the most part, the Crusades were generally unsuccessful. But with the threat of Christian extinction in the East, Catholics unified under the banner of the cross. In the time of the Crusades, Catholics were the only Christians that existed. Pope John Paul II has repeatedly asked for forgiveness for those atrocities committed during the Crusades.
Without a doubt, if the West had done nothing, eastern Christianity would have been eliminated by radical Muslims. In Matthew [13:24-30], Jesus did indicate that there would be sinners standing next to saints in the Faith. God will separate them at Judgment Day, so we shouldn’t be surprised when we see people who claim to be Catholic performing terrible acts. And even today many Catholics, in name only, voted for Obama signaling the death of millions by abortion.
Some other positive aspects of the Crusades were the opening of trade routes between the east and west, and dramatic advances in several scientific disciplines. With the Crusades we must couple the origin of the geographical exploration made by Marco Polo, and even later the spirit of the true Crusader in Christopher Columbus when he undertook his perilous voyage to unknown America.
In fact, we could credit the Crusades for stopping the onslaught of Islam in America in general, the subjugation of women to second class citizens, and changing of world history as a whole. But most of us were under the impression the Crusades were an unnecessary bloodbath.
The new administration’s stance to radical Islam must be questioned however, for Islamic terrorists’ persistent advances. Likely, the entire educational system needs to rethink about the correct portrayal of Catholics and the Crusades.
Kevin Roeten can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected] .