Editors note: This is the first in a series of posts about the Crusades. If you enjoy it you’ll find a link at the bottom to the next post.
The Crusades have a special place in history, so far as I can tell, because they involve Christianity. Implicit in any critical view of the Crusades is the belief that Christianity is inherently peaceful.
It seems to me that the crusades are treated with particular contempt because of their shocking contrast to a meek and loving Jesus Christ. Jesus who was all about love, who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Not only that but the crusades were directed towards the tolerant, enlightened Islamic community that was so rich with innovation at the time makes it all the more unacceptable and basically unchristian.
The Crusades were a bloody, red-stained chapter of human history. There’s no denying it. For better or worse, the Christian crusaders took lives. Lots of them. In the name of Jesus Christ, wars were waged.
These wars were savage and violent. A world with (essentially) no fire arms, comprising primarily hand-to-hand combatants, archers and siege weapons. A world where a soldier knew the face of every life he took, the final blood-stained expression of every defeated enemy he ran through was burned into his conscience. Battlegrounds were littered with the slain.
The main strategy of a siege was for the most part, to prohibit supplies into the occupied region until a truce was arranged, the defenses fell, or the enemy either surrendered, or starved to death.
It is a reality so distant and difficult to comprehend as to be perceived almost as a fairy-tale in the peacetime of the modern West (owing in part to the often embellished, actual fairy tales told of these periods for entertainment purposes).
Of course this might all sound very dramatic, if it wasn’t for the fact that this is no different to every single other period of history in this fallen world. When one takes a bird’s eye view of human history, it is a patchwork of the ebb and flow of empires, rising and falling. Imperialism, war, conquest and violence. In some form or another there has always been war and violence, and right now today, is absolutely no exception. More importantly, is the view that Christianity, or you might say, the history of God’s people, is also no exception.
In the words of the eminent Crusade historian Jonathan Riley-Smith “the concept that violence is intrinsically evil belongs solely to the modern world. It is not Christian.” (Madden, 2009).
That being said, the view that the Crusades were the actions of a greedy, oppressive, intolerant Christendom looking to dominate Muslim occupied territory, is thoroughly misguided and simplistic.
Especially given the ‘truth’ of the Crusades is not a discovery of modern scholarship. For anyone alive, right now today, there is no shortage of accessible information which can provide a solid, historically accurate perspective. A perspective shared by the majority of scholars and historians who have made a career of studying the Crusades. But as American scholar of the Crusades Thomas Madden puts it ‘popular writers simply write better stories than the professional historians’, as a result the picture of power mad conquerors ravaging through the countryside forcing Muslims to convert to Christianity is almost unshakably entrenched in modern thought (Madden, 2009).
But there is still hope.
Actually, tomes have been written about the Crusades over the years. Even more than that, there are already numerous works made to be especially readable to a general audience. There is little I could add to the discussion. This is my humble attempt to inspire Christian men with the glorious history of past Christian hero’s.
Of course I will beg you to share it. I want my blog to be fantastically popular, but that’s because I really, really, want people to know the truth.
The truth that if it weren’t for those knights and soldiers – emblazoned with the symbol of the Cross of Christ, men who would stare death in the face, and charge in the name of Christ Jesus, we – you and I – may not exist, literally. And those that lived here today may well be speaking Arabic, and living in a tent.
It’s easy to speak highly of the bravery of the soldiers who protected our freedoms during the first and second world wars, and so we should, but what of the bravery of the knights and infantry of Medieval Christendom, and the freedoms protected there? If Constantinople had fallen in the 11th Century, Christianity may have been exterminated from the face of the earth.
Love them or hate them, the Crusades were awesome. As I will show you, they occurred during an eventful and industrious period of history, crucial to the survival of Christianity and Western culture. Exciting and full of incredible stories as engaging as any inspired work of fiction, they are all the more fascinating given that they are true. Take for example King Philip the IV of France whose debt and infamy, ultimately wrought the demise of the Templars. Or Peter the Hermit, the leader of the people’s Crusade; Peter was a charismatic figure who somehow managed to inspire a large group of mostly untrained peasants on a pious rampage toward Jerusalem before the first Crusade… not a great plan. Don’t forget about the fateful day, July 15th 1099, the end of the first Crusade. The day the crusaders, traipsing through the blood running streets of Jerusalem set their eyes on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, cried tears of joy and according to Ernest Barker (1923), ‘put their blood-stained hands together in prayer’. Jerusalem was finally theirs.
… Welcome to the Crusades.
All Bible references are taken from biblegateway.com, from the ESV version, unless otherwise stated.
Barker, Ernest, 1923. The Crusades. Oxford University Press, London, pp 23.
Dean, Kenda Creasy, 2010. Almost Christian – What the Faith of American Teenagers is Telling the American Church, Oxford University Press, pp 28.
Madden, Thomas, 2009. Inventing the Crusades. Columbia University Press, pp 41-44.