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Think you know the Crusades? August 30, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, General Catholic, Latin Mass, Society.

You’re likely wrong.  Most of the culturally approved thinking regarding the Crusades is.  First, did you know there were many Crusades, ranging from the Baltic coast to the Levant, and over to the Iberian peninsula?  Anyway, I’ve been reading about the Crusades lately, and, providentially, here’s a very good post from The American Catholic on the subject, discussing how Catholics really need not hang their heads in shame on this subject:

First, the historical facts: a long “train of abuses”, to borrow Jefferson’s phrase, preceded the launching of the First Crusade in 1096. Since its very inception, Islam had waged an unremitting war against Christianity. It conquered and subjugated centuries-old Christian societies in the Middle East and North Africa. After sweeping through France, the Muslim advance was finally checked by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732. Following this, Muslim aggression against Christians continued in southern Italy, with the conquest of Sicily in 827. Resistance to these repeated acts of aggression was not characterized as a “crusade”, but simply necessary self-defense.

Over the next centuries, the Seljuq Turks, who converted to Islam, waged war against the Eastern Christian Byzantine Empire. At the Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Turks wiped out the Byzantine army, leaving Emperor Alexius Commenus helpless before a relentless and determined foe. Not long after this, he sent envoys to Pope Urban II pleading for military aid. The Council of Clermont was called by the pope in 1095, in which he addressed the clergy, knights, and commoners who had assembled. To the knights especially his words were both reproving and encouraging:

You, the oppressers of children, plunderers of widows; you, guilty of homicide, of sacrilege, robbers of another’s rights; you who await the pay of thieves for the shedding of Christian blood — as vultures smell fetid corpses, so do you sense battles from afar and rush to them eagerly. Verily, this is the worst way, for it is utterly removed from God! if, forsooth, you wish to be mindful of your souls, either lay down the girdle of such knighthood, or advance boldly, as knights of Christ, and rush as quickly as you can to the defence of the Eastern Church. For she it is from whom the joys of your whole salvation have come forth, who poured into your mouths the milk of divine wisdom, who set before you the holy teachings of the Gospels.

What was at stake was nothing less than the preservation of Christianity, and the civilization which had, even if imperfectly, sought to embody its teachings in the world. This was also evidenced by the increasingly hostility to Christians still living in the Levant (the Holy Land), as well as those who went on pilgrimage; in 1009, the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered the Chruch of the Holy Sepulcher – in an act the Catholic Encyclopedia rightly calls a “fit of madness” – razed to the ground. This was followed by an even broader campaign against Christianity throughout the Levant, culminating in the destruction of thousands of Christian churches.

Given the scale of the unprovoked and ceaseless attacks, as well as the persecution of Christians within the Holy Land itself, I believe the Crusades were more than justified. When we understand that they were in fact a belated response to centuries of violent Islamic expansion, and not a random and spontaneous act of aggression (like every Muslim assault on Christian territories was), I don’t see how a reasonable person could deny it.

The Crusades, like all historical phenomenon, were complex.  However, as American Catholic states, there was ample justification for the Crusades from the perspective of Christendom.  Even the Fourth Crusade and the sacking of Constantinople have been terribly misrepresented, and Pope John Paul II’s apology on this matter did not really help – “Latin” Christians were rather unhappy that, after over a century of fighting the combined armies of Islam basically alone, with essentially no help from the Byzantine Empire located nearby, that they determined to assert themselves in a messy succession issue in the empire, and wound up rather taking much of Greece for themselves.  Not terribly virtuous, but not completely impossible to understand, either, for they had originally sought to obtain a Byzantine Empire that would be forthcoming in assistance to the Latin Kingdoms of the Holy Land and Syria. 

Many very good and devout men died serving Christ and His Church in the Holy Land.  Yes, some of them behaved awfully at times, but the mission itself was done with very good intentions and with a good aim.  The issue of the Crusades is yet another issue with which secularists try to club the Church.  Since their goal is not really the truth, but the advancement of the secularist left agenda, they have sought to perpetuate a view of the Crusades in which to make Catholics/Christians feel ashamed.  Unfortunately, they have had a great deal of success due to the secular/left’s domination of the education industry, but informed Catholics should not be swayed by their narrative.

And I’m going as a Crusader for All Hallow’s Eve!  Take that, dark forces!


1. Steve B - August 30, 2010


Any “good” books of history (i.e. which faithfully convey a Catholic perspective) on the Crusades that you would recommend?

I bought one a few weeks ago at our parish gift shop (sorry, it’s at home & I don’t recall the author/title), but have yet to start reading it.

Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

Steve B
Plano, TX

tantamergo - August 30, 2010

I’m reading a pretty well-balanced one right now called Monks of War by Desmond Seward. He’s a modern Knight of Malta, but he’s also a university prof type, so the book is not just Catholic rah-rah but takes a pretty well balanced, if generally sympathetic view. The book “What were the Crusades” by Riley-Smith is also good, though I didn’t read all of it. I got it at a library years back but never finished before returning it.

2. Chris Baker - August 30, 2010

I’d recommend reading Rodney Stark’s excellent “God’s Battalions: A Case For The Crusades” as another corrective to the anti-Christian (read anti-Catholic) historical bias that runs rampant. It’s a very clear and concise presentation.

tantamergo - August 30, 2010

I’ll have to check that out. Thanks, Chris! And thanks for the schola information, I should be there on the 12th.

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