Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Impetus for the Crusades

Part 1: Augustine as Conduit to the Inquisition
Part 2: How Confession became a Divinely Instituted Sacrament
Part 3: The Origins of Payment for Penance
Part 4: Crusading and Other Indulgences
Part 5: The Great Schism of the Fifth Century
Part 6: “Deliver us from the hands of the Romans”

Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity”:

Three factors combined together to produce the militant crusades. The first was the development of small-scale 'holy wars' against Moslems in the Spanish theatre. In 1063, Ramiro I, King of Aragon, was murdered by a Moslem; and Alexander II promised an indulgence for all who fought for the cross to revenge the atrocity; the idea was developed in 1073 by Gregory VII who helped an international army to assemble for Spanish campaigning, guaranteeing canonically that any Christian knight could keep the lands he conquered, provided he acknowledged that the Spanish kingdom belonged to the see of St Peter. Papal expansionism, linked to the colonial appetite for acquiring land, thus supplied strong political and economic motives.

There was, secondly, a Frankish tradition, dating from around 800, that the Carolingian monarchs had a right and a duty to protect the Holy Places in Jerusalem, and the western pilgrims who went there. This was acknowledged by the Moslem caliphs, who until the late eleventh century preferred Frankish interference to what they regarded as the far more dangerous penetration by Byzantium. From the tenth century, western pilgrimages grew in frequency and size. They were highly organized by the Cluniac monks, who built abbeys to provide hospitality on the way. There were three well-marked land-routes through the Balkans and Asia, as well as the more expensive sea-route; and elaborate hospices in Jerusalem itself. Powerful lords were allowed by the Moslems to bring armed escorts; other pilgrims joined them; so western Christians moved in large, armed contingents - in 1064-6, for instance, 7,000 Germans, many armed, travelled together to Jerusalem. There was not all that much physical difference between a big pilgrimage and a crusade.

What really created the crusade, however, was the almost unconscious decision, at the end of the eleventh century, to marry the Spanish idea of conquering land from the infidel with the practice of the mass, armed pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And this sprang from the third factor - the vast increase in western population in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and the consequent land hunger. Cistercian pioneer-farming at the frontiers was one solution. Crusading was another - the first great wave of the European colonial migrations. It was, in fact, deeply rooted in Christian cosmology.

The Ptolemaic conception of a circumambient ocean had been accepted by the Fathers and reconciled with the bible in Isidore's encyclopaedia. The three continents were allocated to the sons of Noah after the Flood – Shem stood for the Jews, Japhet for the Gentiles, and Ham for the Africans, or blacks. Alcuin's commentary on Genesis reads:' "How was the world divided by the sons and grandsons of Noah?" "Shem is considered to have acquired Asia, Ham Africa and Japhet Europe."' The passage then went on to prove from the scriptures that Japhet-Europe was by its name and nature divinely appointed to be expansionist. Within a generation of Alcuin, early in the ninth century, we first hear of 'Christendom', an entity judged to be coextensive with Europe, but with special privileges and rights, including the right to expand. Phrases like the 'defence of Christendom' against the Saracens were used (ninth century) and in the eleventh century Gregory VII referred to the 'boundaries of Christendom' and the Church being 'mistress of the whole of Christendom'.

The idea that Europe was a Christian entity, which had acquired certain inherent rights over the rest of the world by virtue of its faith, and its duty to spread it, married perfectly with the need to find some outlet both for its addiction to violence and its surplus population. The famous sermon at Clermont with which Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade in 1095 survives in a variety of conflicting texts. William of Malmesbury's text, for instance, should not be regarded as Urban's actual words, but more an expression of the mood which generated the crusading movement. It contains some striking phrases, the real adumbration of European expansion and colonialism: 'Can anyone tolerate that we [Europeans] do not even share equally with the Moslems the inhabited earth? They have made Asia, which is a third of the world, their homeland. ... They have also forcibly held Africa, the second portion of the world, for over 200 years. There remains Europe, the third continent. How small a portion of it is inhabited by us Christians.' Of course, he added, 'in one sense the whole world is exile for the Christian' but in another 'the whole world is his country'. In any case, he concluded, 'in this land' - meaning Christian Europe - 'you can scarcely feed the inhabitants. That is why you use up its goods and excite endless wars among yourselves.'

Paul Johnson, History of Christianity, © 1976 Athenium, pgs. 243-244.

Philip Jenkins gives a fairly good picture of this “three-part world” on the cover of his “The Lost History of Christianity.”


Anonymous said...


What do you hope to accomplish with these posts. I've read all of them and I find nothing shocking.

Basically all I want to do is read Paul Johnson's book for more.

Viisaus said...

That said, I will not follow the modern PC narrative in bewailing over the crusades being "in themselves" some sort of horrible injustice - Christians had a full right to counterattack the brazen Islamic aggression. Seljuk Turks had barbarously overrun the whole formerly-Christian Asia Minor just on the eve of the first crusade.

But by the 13th century, popes were using crusades to wipe out their theological opponents like the Hussites (or attempting to do so).

John Bugay said...

Augustinefan -- as for the answer to what I hope to accomplish, I've answered Tim Enloe at some length here:

As far as the fact that you find nothing shocking, just keep in mind that I'm not done yet.

I realize this is seeming to go on and on. But what I set out to do is to provide the link between Augustine and the Inquisition. The 1000 years or so in between is a lot of time to have to cover. But we're getting there.

John Bugay said...

Viisaus -- thanks for your comments. I'm getting to a place like the one you've reported here.

I want to assure you, too, that I'm not interested in going the "PC" route. To my understanding, he is a conservative Catholic -- his works "Modern Times" and also "A History of the American People" seemed to me to deeply value the conservative principles that one could find throughout American history. I would expect that he is providing a similar type of reading of church history.