Historical Questions

Shorthand notes on the Crusades

by Anthony Schratz


1. It encouraged intolerance regarding other cultures and religions and violence and attacks on innocent people.
2. It encouraged conversion by force via a holy war
3. Religious orders dedicated to warfare
4. Used crusades against heretics, pagans and political enemies
5. Responsible for passions it aroused, excesses, atrocities, though condemned
6. Land grab, impose West culture on Islam (cultural imperialism)

What were the crusades?

Military expedition authorized by the pope. Sworn to with an oath. Accompanied by indulgences and other spiritual and material favours. The original aims of the first crusade to free Eastern Christians living in the Holy Land from Moslem tyranny and to re-conquer the Holy Land from occupation by the infidel to make it safe again for pilgrimages. The liberation of Jerusalem is the central theme.

Brief History of Crusades to Holy Land

1095 - Crusade preached in France by Urban II
1096 - Crusaders set out from France and Southern Italy. Set out from Constantinople in April 1097. Nicea, Edessa (Feb/98), Antioch (June 1099), Jerusalem (July 1099).
1144 - Loses Edessa
1147 - Second Crusade
1187 - Fall of Jerusalem to Saladin and Third Crusade
1204 - Fourth Crusade and Fall of Constantinople. (explain why)
1250 - St- Louis in Egypt
1270 - St. Louis in Tunis
1291 - Fall of Acre.

Continual flow. Some stayed. Most made pilgrimage and left. Most of those who went on the First Crusade returned to Europe after. Numbers: at its height, a fighting force of 5,000 knights and 25,000 foot soldiers. Also families and hangers on. First crusade was spectacularly successful. Fired the imagination of Europe and led to the other crusades. The notion of crusade underwent theological and canonical refinement over the next few centuries. Spain, Slavs, heretics in France and Bohemia, political enemies after 1291


What was the pope doing preaching a war and inciting men to violence? Have to understand that changes in historical circumstances lead to changes in shape of society so that what was once good and just is so no longer. For instance, the Pope's position on capital punishment.

The political situation in Europe

Until around 950 A.D. invasions. Europe: defense and feudalism. The great challenge was to turn a warrior people into Christians. After 950 improved by armed bands did not disarm. No external enemy, they turned to fighting each other. Territorial disputes.

The Popes: Peace of God, Truce of God and finally the crusades which were, in part, an attempt to channel energies of outlaw barons to a more useful end and to get rid of them from Europe. Peace of God. From 975 A.D. Church placed poor, unarmed, merchants, peasants, pilgrims, travelers & clergy under its protection. Excommunicated. Encouraged knights use arms to protect defenseless. An attempt to bring the warrior tradition of the Germanic peoples who had invaded the empire into the Christian tradition. Use your arms for good.

The Truce of God. Prevent private warfare feudal lords. Reduced number of fighting days to 80. Started in 1027. The Crusades will constitute another attempt to accomplish the same thing. Turks had conquered much of Syria. 1071 defeat Byzantines and overrun modern day Turkey. 1076 conquer Jerusalem from Egyptians. Byzantines ask help and Christian pilgrims road Jerusalem not safe. The Normans had conquered Sicily and the Spaniards were reconquering Spain. Toledo fell in 1085.

Attitudes towards Violence and the Just War

For medievals violence & war not intrinsically evil. Circumstances could justify. Augustine: for just war, need upright intention (love of God and neighbour), just cause, last recourse. Proclamation of the war by a legitimate authority. The Church teaches the same thing today. One can turn the other cheek but one can't oblige others to do so and injustice should be opposed. If these criteria were met, then the violence and war were justified. Like a surgeon cutting off a limb or a mother chastising her child. What was a just cause (past or present aggression by the other). Since 9th Century, if die defending Christendom against the infidel then martyr. As we shall see, Urban used this idea and expanded on it.

The political theory was also important. Universal Christian state: monarchy ruled by Christ. Popes, bishops, kings agents with specific functions. Enemies of the Christian republic were enemies of Christ its king. This kingdom universal. Should extend throughout the world. But forced conversion was never permitted. Jews and infidels were not part of the republic or the society. They had no place in it. In the Christian republic, kings wielded the sword on behalf of Christ. St. Paul "The prince does not bear the sword without cause."

Inquisition: pope called upon secular arm to punish heretics found guilty by an eccl. tribunal. So in the crusades the secular arm was called upon to defend Christendom. There were many Old Testament examples of the people of Israel taking up the sword at the command of Yahweh. The Moslems were seen as an enemy of Christendom. They had conquered Jerusalem, the Holy Land, Egypt, the Middle East, North Africa. These places had been the glory of the early Church. Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage, Spain. Churches founded by St. Paul had been destroyed. During its first three centuries, Christianity had spread by preaching and was a persecuted and illegal religion. Islam had been spread by the sword. The Crusades represent a hiatus in the general trend of Moslem aggression. After the Crusades they conquer the Balkans and right up to Vienna.

Struggle Between Emperor and Papacy

Till 1049 papacy in hands of Emperors. Reform movement Leo IX. Free Church from secular control. Free Christians who were labouring under the tyranny of infidels. They could not preach or worship. Gregory VII got the crusading idea moving in a serious way. He died in 1085 without ever having managed to get a crusade going. Urban II one of his disciples. He was also an outstanding pope. He it was who put the disparate elements together into the idea of a crusade.

The Preaching of the First Crusade & the Idea of Crusade

The Crusade which he preached in 1095 had two aims:

1. Freeing the church of Jerusalem and the holy places from the servitude into which it had fallen. It should be in Christian hands.

2. Liberate eastern Christians, especially those of the Holy Land and in the church of Jerusalem from control and yoke of the Muslims. To aid the emperor against the pagans was not spelled out.

There were many Christians in the East. In Syria they were mainly heretical and by the time of the Crusades the majority had become Moslem. In Egypt, Lebanon, modern day Turkey they were orthodox, Coptic, Maronite. They were a majority. The schism of 1054 was not considered permanent. Many of those who were not orthodox were just as happy under Moslem rule. So, freeing places (Holy Land) and freeing people (Eastern Christians, especially those in Jerusalem) from the Moslem yoke. The Holy Land, especially Jerusalem - special place in piety of Christians. Place Christ sanctified by presence & where Redemption. Holy Sepulcher was the most venerated shrine in Christendom. It was also felt that these had been Christian places until the Moslems had conquered them and so their reconquest was a legitimate cause. The Crusade was considered an armed pilgrimage. Pilgrimage specific place in Canon Law. Preached an indulgence. It was considered penitential because it would be arduous. Those who went on the crusade would receive remission of the punishment due for the sins which they confessed and had absolved. Provided they had a right intention.

Other privileges (linked to pilgrims) such as right of freedom from attack; recovery of property seized during their absence; delay in legal proceedings against them; release from spiritual censures; right to deal with excommunicates; right to ecclesiastical ministrations during interdict; release from vows incompatible with crusade; spiritual benefits derived from prayers for crusaders.

Took vow signified by wearing of cross. Vows customary for pilgrims. Crusaders considered themselves pilgrims. Observed liturgical exercises of pilgrimages. It was the goal of Jerusalem which rendered the expedition a pilgrimage. Urban tried to limit it to healthy young men, but since it was a pilgrimage he could not enforce that. Linked Crusade to Spanish reconquest. Alexander II had provided an indulgence to Spanish Crusaders. No Spaniards allowed on first crusade.

Development of theology of the laity. Urban presented crusade as a meritorious act, a path to salvation. He who leaves home and family and take up his cross and follow me. "Up until now, knights and their foot soldiers have been following the example of the ancient pagans by slaughtering one another. But now, with the crusade, they can find a new way of salvation without having to abandon secular affairs to become monks or members of a religious order. Rather they can attain God's grace while pursuing their own career, with the freedom and in the garb to which they are accustomed."

This was revolutionary. It was an important step along to road to recognizing the lay condition as a vocation in itself. The reforming popes were seeking for ways to endow the secular with its own vocation. Both the pope and the emperor were Christ's agents in the Christian republic. But all authority comes from God. They saw the secular as subordinate to the spiritual, but nevertheless with its own God-given mission to fulfill, under the supervision of the papacy.

They wanted to free the Church from secular control. Separate the Church and the State. And supervise the activity of the state. Enlist it in the service of the Church - which was its role according to them. It was also a way to put the energies of these warrior peoples at the service of the Church. By having these warriors place their weapons and skills at the service of the Church they hoped to make them realize that they should not be used for selfish aims.

These popes pressed for separation of Church and State; but supervision of the State by the Church. Somewhat ambivalent. They failed to see that the State could be inspired by religious and spiritual ideals and principles without it being necessary for the Church to supervise or judge the activity of the state. There was no precedent for this. It would take another few centuries before this was worked out and the modern nation states were born.

The source of our political theory. The separation of Church and State would have tremendous consequences for future of Europe.

Taught that the crusade was a work of love. Like a mother chastizing her child. So how justified? Met criteria for just war: Just cause (liberation of the Christians from Moslem tyranny and liberation of the Holy Land from profanation); Legitimate authority; It was last recourse; The participants were encouraged to have an upright intention.

So this was not only something legitimate. It was holy and meritorious. So, a new synthesis: move away from just war (always tainted) to holy war proclaimed by a pope on Christ's behalf, the participants to be treated as pilgrims, took vows and obtained indulgences. The just war was always tainted. You took up arms, which was always against the Christian ideal, to fight in a just cause. Conversion, forced or otherwise, was not part of the preaching of the First Crusade. It had no place in Urban's idea. Also, extermination of the infidel was not part of it either.

In this, it differed from the Moslem Jihad which forced conversion on those who were not Jews or Christians. Crusade was also a brilliant political move. At the time the emperor had set up an anti-pope and was at war with the pope. By preaching the crusade Urban united Christendom behind himself. The idea of the Holy War was reinforced by experience of the First Crusade. They were spectacularly successful against great odds. Only Divine Providence or sheer good luck. Other crusades to Holy Land failed.


Not boy scouts or altar boys. Committed grave injustices. Attacks on the Jews by the first wave. Sacking of some cities. Forced conversions. The vendetta was part of the mentality of these warriors. It was not possible to disabuse them of that. Jews were attacked because the Crusaders could not see the difference between Jews and Moslems - although this was condemned and the bishops tried to protect them.

Clear would arouse passions and entailed the great risk that they would commit injustices. However, this kind of unjust violence was not willed by the popes and took place in spite of their specific prohibition. Popes judged that good sought by the crusade was greater than risk of violence which it entailed, especially given the fact that those going on crusade would be committing injustices against Christians at home.

Compare it to the inciting of soldiers to go to war against the Nazis in W.W.II. There were risks there as well. Understand that the Cross and the Crescent were at war in Spain and in the Middle East and would remain at war in the Middle East for centuries longer. Religion played an important role in these wars, although they were not exclusively religious. War was endemic and no one questioned it. The two religions were at odds.

The Moslems were not saints either. There is no point in comparing, because on both sides there are examples of noble conduct and extremism. Selective history provides a distorted view. The atrocity that is most often talked about is the sacking of Jerusalem by the Crusaders. And the sacking of Constantinople. About Jerusalem we hear enormously inflated numbers. Very often we hear about 100,000 innocent civilians killed. Besieged Jerusalem with 1200 knights and 12,000 foot soldiers. We know from Arab sources that the civilian population of Jerusalem had been almost entirely evacuated before the siege. A community of Jews stayed, but there were at most several hundred non combatants.

Rules of medieval warfare. If the besieged obliged you to storm a castle or city instead of surrendering, there was no quarter given once inside. The extent of the massacre has been exaggerated by both sides. The other event is the sack of Constantinople in 1204, which soured relations between Orthodox and Romans and put the final nail in the coffin of the schism. Outrage at what was seen as complicity of the Byzantines with the Moslems.

Who Went and Why

No king went on First Crusade. Some nobles did. It is sometimes maintained that they were motivated by greed, pillage wealth of the orient. Also, the idea of colonization: younger sons of the nobility could not find land. Motivated by religious zeal. Average knight had to mortgage lands. Most were elder sons. Letters home show true religious zeal. Most lost heavily on the crusade. Many lost their lives. When had prayed at the Holy Sepulcher went home.

Other Crusades

In 1135 Pope Innocent II was at loggerheads with Normans in Sicily who were supporting an anti-pope. He granted the crusade indulgence to all those who fought on the side of the papacy against the Normans. Justified by the notion of the Christian Republic. Since the pope was Christ's representative, those who opposed the pope could be opposed by the armies of the Christian republic if authorized by the pope. In the mid-13th Century the popes (Gregory IX and Innocent IV) authorized several crusades against their political opponents. The papacy was struggling for its independence from the emperors. The same theory held good for the crusades preached against the Albigensians in Southern France at the beginning of the 13th Century and against the Hussites in Bohemia in the early 15th Century. Heresy undermined foundations of Christian society. Public order and order of faith. An attempt to subvert right order of things. Treason - like someone who tries to overturn constitution or to effect coup d'état. Theological justification for crusades in Baltics? Christian Churches there were always under attack from pagans. Crusade necessary to render area safe for the Christian churches and the Christian missions. Forced conversion always prohibited, though abuses took place. Idea that Christians should have the right to preach the word of God anywhere. If locals try to stop them, crusaders could be called in. Problems of converting Moslems. The experience of Spain and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. So we see how the Church justified the recourse to arms theologically. In defense of the Christian Republic, to free Christians from the tyranny of infidels, allow freedom to Christian preachers, to extirpate heresy which threatened the Christian Republic.

Military Orders

What about the military orders? How could the Church agree to the creation of military orders whose purpose was violence? Firstly, the Hospitalers did not begin as a military order. They had set up a hospital in Jerusalem to care for sick and dying pilgrims. Templars 1118 order dedicated to defend pilgrim roads. Novel for a religious order dedicated to warfare. Confirmed by the papacy in 1139. The Hospitalers soon followed them in this and then dozens more. Just as religious orders could dedicate themselves to teaching or hospital work, it was thought that the defense of the Holy Land or of pilgrims or the reconquest of Christian territory in Spain, etc. were laudable ends for military orders. Warriors lay brothers who were professed religious because took 3 vows. Not crusaders as such because did not take crusader vow & were not pilgrims. Not clerics either. Clerics forbidden to bear arms. Sometimes said that crusade degenerated into money making business for papacy. Could obtain the crusade indulgence without actually going on the crusade simply by donating money for the crusade. It became possible to commute the crusading vow for valid reasons. Originally these had to be approved by the pope himself. As time wore on, professional armies took the place of feudal levies. Taking the cross no longer meant going on the crusade but rather contributing to the hiring of a crusading army. It is true that with time these funds were used for other purposes such as the building of St. Peter's.


The crusades were essentially a religious phenomenon which employed war to defend Christians and Christianity. They were also an expression of Christian piety - a desire to secure the Holy Land for Christianity. It did not seek to impose Christianity by force nor to exterminate the infidel. This cannot excuse the abuses and atrocities which were committed. But these were not intended or desired by those preaching the crusade.

The preaching of the crusade seems barbaric to us. But it is important to place oneself in the historical context. If we do we will see that it constituted an important step for the Church which succeeded in having knights place their weapons and skill at the service of God. If we have come to realize that violence is not the solution, this is due to developments in society, to our understanding of how charity should be lived, which have been made possible by Christianity and which were not available to Christians living in the Middle Ages.

At the same time, we have to pay attention to what the Pope has said. The Purification of Memory and the Jubilee. The First Sunday of Lent of 2000: Let us pray that each one of us, looking to the Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, will recognize that even men of the Church, in the name of faith and morals, have sometimes used methods not in keeping with the Gospel in the solemn duty of defending the truth.

St. Catherine of Sienna was a daughter of her time. Justly eager to defend the holy places, she adopted the then prevailing mentality that this task could be accomplished even by recourse to fighting. Today, we ought to be grateful to the Spirit of God, who has enabled us to understand ever more clearly that the appropriate way to deal with problems that can arise between peoples and cultures, one which is also most in harmony with the Gospel, is that of patient, firm and respectful dialogue. Nevertheless, Catherine’s zeal remains an example of brave, strong love, an encouragement to devote our efforts to all possible strategies of constructive dialogue in order to build an increasingly stable and far-reaching peace.

This is the closest the Pope has come to a direct mention of the Crusades. What he says is what we might expect. Over the centuries the Holy Spirit has allowed us to see that violence is not the way to settle problems between nations and cultures. However, that is something that it was not easy for the people of the time to see. The Italian Catechism for Adults on the Crusades: The memory of the past still weighs heavily. Ten centuries of violent opposition have seen repeated attempts on the part of Arabs and Turks to invade Europe and on the part of the West, the Crusades during the Medieval period and forced colonization in modern times. Today, the secularized, individualistic and consumer-oriented culture of the West is penetrating the Islamic world and corroding it from within, thus provoking the reaction of Moslem fundamentalism, which also involves an aversion to Christianity.

The morality of an action can be judged from an objective or a subjective point of view. An action might be morally offensive but the person committing it may not be morally responsible. The person might be acting in good faith. When someone grows up within a certain cultural, sociological context, he may never be led to question the presuppositions on which that society is based: slavery, vendetta, racism, use of force. Some past actions are objectively wrong, but those who committed them were not necessarily committing sin. In the case of the Crusades, there are both kinds. There were clearly sins committed in forced baptisms, massacres of civilians, etc. There was an objective wrong in making war even though there may be no moral responsibility for the sin. The Church asks forgiveness for the objective wrong. Christ assumed our sins. He took them upon himself and suffered for them. The Church can do no less, thereby sharing in the mystery of Christ.

She recognizes the duty to express profound regret for the weaknesses of so many of her children who have sullied her face, preventing her from reflecting the image of her crucified Lord. The pope hopes the purification of memory will lead to dialogue and a removal of the causes of resentment for past evils and so contribute to reconciliation. In this sense, the Church does ask forgiveness. From God. Should we apologize? We should unite ourselves to the pope’s request for pardon. Those Catholics who are pleased to remain bound by the separations of the past and do nothing to further unity are in solidarity in the sin of division.

Anthony Schratz
The Catholic Legate
October 11, 2003