Folks, I have met a number of good people over the years, both inside the Church and out, that seem to believe that the only legitimate expression of Christianity when dealing with aggression of any kind is pacifism. I even had a professor in college, a laicized priest, who actually said in a class that the aggression of the Nazis in WW II should have been dealt with using non-violent civil disobedience!
Why I am writing about this? Today if Christians criticize Islam and its accompanying violence there are a number of people who will insist that Christians “could” be just as bad. And when I’ve asked them to give me an example, they have inevitably reached back about 800 years and say two words: The Crusades.
First, let me point something out. Today we are dealing with people in ISIS who crucify children, kidnap women and even young girls and sell them into sexual slavery, burn people alive, and set fire to churches. And in the face of this, someone (who is no doubt trying to be politically correct) will try to equal the playing field by saying Christians have committed atrocities. And they have to go back centuries to find an example.
So the first question is: what kind of people would crucify a child today to settle a score from 800 years ago? Is there any basis for a justification of modern day violence in this?
If so, then perhaps in the US we should fight the Civil War again when someone discovers atrocities on either side which happened in the 1860s!
But now that we have the time difficulty documented, I want to address this casual statement of the words “The Crusades” as if the people who went on Crusade were the ones who committed atrocities and that these armed pilgrimages (which are what they were) were acts of aggression that had absolutely no provocation. So in other words, people who say “The Crusades” to try to find a reason for what ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and other fanatical Islamic groups do today don’t have the slightest idea what they are talking about!
The Crusades were led up to by 4 centuries of Muslim aggression
Go back to the time after Muhammad’s death in 632. Muslim armies began to spread Islam by conquest, running across North Africa. One hundred years exactly (732) after the death of Muhammad, Islamic armies had swallowed up North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula and were poised to take the area now known as France. They were stopped in 732 by the great Charles Martel, grandfather of Charlemagne, who raised an army and thrashed the Moorish forces at the Battle of Tours. If Martel had not won this battle, there is a distinct possibility that all of us might be living under Sharia Law.
But let’s not stop there. In 659 the Muslims began attacking Sicily, and engaged in a full conquest of the island beginning in 827. They conducted this for the next 75 years, when in 902 the last Byzantine stronghold fell on the island. The Muslims held the island until 1091, when the Normans finally ran them out.
In 705, the Muslim conquerors of Armenia assembled all the Christian nobles in a church and burned them to death.
In 846 a fleet of Muslim Arabs arrived at the Tiber and sacked Rome. They carried away gold and silver from the Basilica of St. Peter. The following year, 847, due to this attack, the newly elected Pope Leo IV began the construction of walls and towers around the entire perimeter of the Vatican. Some traces of these “Leonine” walls still remain today.
Muslim armies occupied parts of southern Italy during the 9th century, including Brindisi, Bari, Benevento, and Taranto. Muslim piracy in the Mediterranean lasted for centuries, including the time after the United States was founded. Thomas Jefferson as president of the US had to deal with these pirates in the early 1800s!
In 1004, in Egypt, the Caliph Abu Ali al–Mansur al–Hakim started a violent wave of church burning and destruction, confiscation of Christian property, and slaughter of both Christians and Jews. Over the next ten years, thirty thousand churches were destroyed and vast numbers of “infidels” were forcibly converted or killed.He also ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which was carried out by the Islamic governor of Palestine, Yaruk.
There are many examples of Muslim harassment and murder of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Here are just a few:
In 1064, German Bishop Gunther of Bamberg led a group of pilgrims estimated to have numbered 12,000 to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage. They were set on near Caesarea by Muslims and all of the pilgrims were killed.
In 1026, Richard of Saint-Vanne was stoned to death for having been detected saying the Holy Mass in Islamic territory.
In 1040, Ulrich of Breisgau was stoned by a Muslim mob near the river Jordan.
In 1093, Muslims in Palestine prevented Christian pilgrims from going to Jerusalem. This may have been the final spark which precipitated the Crusades.
The Crusades were ANYTHING but unprovoked. The Byzantine Emperor called for help, and the Pope, Urban II, answered in the affirmative.
Don’t let people follow up with saying that the only thing Crusaders wanted was treasure. This is absolutely and utterly FALSE. The men who went on these armed pilgrimages exhausted personal fortunes, often borrowing up to three (3) times their annual incomes, to outfit a party to go on crusade. And along the way many died of disease.
Invariably, two other accusations will be leveled about the Crusades. Let me treat them here.
- Crusaders committed atrocities – Let me divide this into two (2) parts. The first is that, when Jerusalem was sacked in 1099, many innocent people were killed.
People of today need to understand the medieval way of conducting warfare. When an army laid siege to a city, which is what the Crusaders were doing, a parlay was conducted. The standard was that if the city surrendered, the inhabitants would be spared. If the city resisted, and the invading army took casualties, those who resisted would be put to the sword.
This happened on both sides during the Crusades. In 1144, for example, the Muslim warlord Zengi, when he conquered the city of Edessa, slaughtered 6,000 men, women and children on Christmas Eve. Another Muslim leader of the 13th Century, Baybars, after conquering Antioch, ordered the city gates locked with the entire Christian population trapped inside. All of the Christians were massacred. This event even shocked Muslim chroniclers of the age.
Does this excuse the massacre by Crusaders? No. But it puts it into the perspective of the time.
- The Crusaders committed pogroms against the Jews on their way to the Crusades
This occurred in Germany by some Crusaders, certainly a minority. These actions were roundly condemned by the Pope. It is also on record that German bishops protected as many Jews as they were able. Further, when wind of persecutions came to the attention of St. Bernard of Clairvaux during the Second Crusade, he rode to Mainz in Germany to put an end to this. He confronted the cleric Radulf, who had inspired these actions, and publicly rebuked him. The pogroms ceased.
Since this is about the Crusaders who went to the Holy Land to fight for the Cross, let me now give you your “marching” orders about defending the faith:
- Stop apologizing for the past. The Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ. It is a divine institution but it is run by men. Men make mistakes. God knows this. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for us to reconnect humanity with Him.
- Do not accept the claptrap put forward by those ignorant of the Catholic faith and history in general that the Crusades were unprovoked aggression. This is FALSE.
- Do not throw Crusaders under the bus (or under the cavalry horse if we’re sticking with medieval times). They do not deserve to be treated that way. The Crusaders were not perfect people, they committed sins and made mistakes, but they went to the Holy Land to fight for the Cross, and most of them at a great cost to themselves and their families. They deserve our thanks, our respect and our prayers for any who may remain in Purgatory.
- Do not buy the claims bandied about today that modern day violence is caused by the lasting memories of the Crusades. The sad fact is that the Crusades did not keep the Holy Land. So the Muslims did not lose. And blaming violence of today for what happened centuries ago makes no sense. This would be like someone coming down to Mississippi from New York and killing several people, then justifying this due to the Civil War which ended 150 years ago. The North won. So what would be the reason?
- You may be a pacifist, but do not hold to the belief that that is the only justifiable world view that a Christian can have. If we all took this world view in the United States we would soon be under the governance of Islam. Wake up.
- If on the other hand you are inspired to be a modern day Crusader, good! Don’t go out and buy chain mail and a sword. Buy a rosary, have it blessed, and attend liturgy every Sunday and during the week if possible. Fast and pray.
- Homework assignment – Buy and read The Glory of the Crusades by Steve Weidenkopf, a professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College, and also God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades by Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University.