Nowadays, it became a common trend among politically correct historians to evaluate the legacy of Crusades through methodological lenses of psychology. That is while referring to the religion of Christianity as being beneficial to humankind in general, these historians explain Christian atrocities by the fact that those who considered themselves Jesus’ most ardent followers, had wrongly reinterpreted his message of “love and tolerance’, on the account of their euro-centric ‘wickedness’. 1 By doing it, such historians prove their unawareness of the principle of Occam’s razor – when it comes to explaining the essence of a particular phenomenon, there is no need to resort to the utilization of complex theories, for as long as simple ones are available. When we apply the principle of Occam’s razor within the context of this paper’s discussion, it will inevitably lead us to conclude that the premise of Crusades was more socio-economic than of strictly religious nature.
To realize what the actual driving force behind the Crusades was, one would simply need to familiarize itself with what was Europe’s socio-political realities at the time of the Dark Ages. During the 11th-12th centuries A.D., the political power of European nobility was steadily increasing, which had led Papacy to realize that it was only a matter of very short time before Europe’s powerful feudal (in possession of their private armies) would come to recognize a simple fact that Church’s high-ranking clergymen were nothing but blood-sucking parasites and that the religious authority, claimed by the Church, was of essentially mythical essence. Something needed to be done quickly, so that nobility’s growing appetites would never start posing an immediate danger to the interest of the Church.2
In 1095, Byzantine emperor Alexios asked Pope Urban II to assist him with fighting off Muslims. This request had helped Pope to realize that the best way for the Church to deal with the impending danger, on the part of aristocrats – was taking advantage of their illiteracy and their genetically predetermined sense of existential idealism. In 1096, Urban II had proclaimed that God could no longer suffer from the ‘holy land’ being in the hands of Muslim infidels and that those who will volunteer to defend God’s geopolitical interests in the area would be automatically qualified for the life in heaven. Pope’s appeal was met with a great degree of enthusiasm, on the part of both: commoners and the representatives of Europe’s nobility. In 1097, Jerusalem fell to Crusaders, who managed to slaughter 30.000 city’s inhabitants, during a few days, following the capture.
In the meanwhile, ‘holy fathers’ in Rome continued to come up with more and more ‘spiritual’ incentives for the wealthy Crusaders to continue remaining in Palestine, with their land, their castles, and their peasants being ‘taken care of’ for them by the Church. And, it had to be said that most of the Crusaders that participated in the First and Second Crusades, were indeed concerned with trying to appease God. However, after having come in close contact with Arabs, which at the time were much more culturally refined, as compared to often illiterate ‘defenders of faith’ from Europe, Crusaders were slowly beginning to realize that there is the only thing in this world that represents universally recognized value – money. The story of the Knights Templar substantiates the validity of the earlier suggestion perfectly well. Even though the original purpose for the founding of the Knights Templar Order was providing an opportunity for particularly pious nobles to lead the life of chastity, poverty, and self-deprivation while protecting Christian pilgrims to the ‘holy land’ – by the middle of the 12th century, Order’s activities became solely concerned with the accumulation of material riches. It is namely the fact that the Knights Templar refused Papacy to have a share of their riches, which had led to the Order’s eventual destruction.3
By the time ‘holy fathers’ proceeded with trying to gather crowds to participate in consequential Crusades; the volunteers could no longer be motivated by the ‘God wills it’s a slogan, as much as they could be motivated by the prospect of material enrichment. This was illustrated during the Fourth Crusade when Crusaders had sacked the Christian city of Constantinople in 1204. In other words, the outcome of a Fourth Crusade, which was officially organized to free the ‘holy land’ from Muslims, became the destruction of one of the most important Christian strongholds in the area.
Nowadays, it is being commonly assumed that the recent scandals, involving Catholic priests being caught, while indulging in the acts of pedophilia with adolescents, are incidental. Yet, the history of the Church abusing children dates back to 1212, when the first and the last Children’s Crusade had been set up by Papacy, to ‘liberate God’s Tomb’. The real purpose of Children’s Crusade, however, had nothing to do with the officially proclaimed one. Out of an estimated 30-50 thousand children from France and Germany (with their age ranging from 7 to 14), only 7 thousand were able to make their way to Marseilles, where they were put on board 10 Genoese commercial ships (owned by Jewish merchants, in cahoots with Pope), taken straight to Muslim Algeria, and sold into slavery.4
Nevertheless, even though the actual motivation behind Crusades was essentially secular (clergymen wanted to get rid of potential competitors), it is namely during the Crusade era that Christianity had reached the peak of its power, as ‘alive religion’. Just as it is the case with Islam nowadays, during the 12th-14th centuries, Popes have turned Christianity into the tool of reaching geopolitical objectives. And, it is specifically when a particular religion is being capable of reaching these objectives that it can be referred to as ‘real’. Even though Crusaders did not know anything about Bible’s actual contents (Catholic Church always resisted the attempts to translate Bible into secular languages), they nevertheless succeeded with promoting Jesus’ cause rather spectacularly. The reason for this is simple – people subconsciously evaluate the ‘truthfulness’ of just about any religion by looking into whether such religion emanates strength or not. Therefore, the fact that Crusaders had proven Christianity as an utterly intolerant religion, aimed at the physical destruction of ‘infidels’, established objective preconditions for this religion to continue attracting a great number of potential converts, up until comparatively recent times.
What it means is that, there cannot be much certainty as what would be Jesus’ attitude towards Crusades– after all, according to Jesus, it is namely people that are ‘poor in spirit and ‘meek’, who will inherit the ‘kingdom of heaven.5 And, Crusading armies consisted out of predominantly this type of individuals. As we all know, Jesus had repeatedly insisted that believers should not be overly preoccupied with taking care of earthly matters. Instead, they should be relying upon the sheer strength of their faith as the ultimate instrument of dealing with just about any challenges. Children that participated in the Children’s Crusade possessed plenty of faith – after having arrived in Marseilles and before being put on Genoese ships, for five days, child-crusaders have been praying God to make sea waters to recede, so that they would be able to make their way to the ‘holy land’ on foot.
The following is the summary of explicit/implicit suggestions, contained in the paper:
- Crusades were organized by Papacy to strengthen its religious, intellectual, and legal dominance in Europe’s geopolitical arena. After having convinced the representatives of European nobility to take part in the Crusades, Catholic clergy had eliminated the potential danger of Europe’s feudal challenging Church’s dominance.
- The initial motivation behind the Crusades was essentially socio-economic, even though that the actual participants of the First and Second Crusades were being driven by religious fanaticism.
- Crusades had established initial preconditions for Western civilization to be able to attain an undisputed geopolitical, technological, and cultural dominance in the world, during the latter centuries. Therefore, to answer the question about whether the crusaders did promote Jesus’ cause or not, we would have to hypothesize on what would be Jesus’ attitude towards Western civilization. Given the fact that Jesus never ceased associating his mission with enlightening Jews, as God’s ‘chosen people, and given the fact that Jews contributed greatly to the building and maintaining of this civilization, it appears that he might have supported Crusades. On the other hand, given Jesus’ apparent cosmopolitism, he might have refused to support Crusades as such that fostered the hatred between Christians and Moslems even further.
Barber, Malcolm. The Trial of the Templars. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1978.
Cahen, Claude. “An Introduction to the First Crusade”. Past & Present 6 (1954): 6-30.
Culpepper, Alan. The New Interpreter’s Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.
Hill, Jonathan. Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity. Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2007.
Munro, Dana. “The Children’s Crusade”. The American Historical Review 19.3 (1914): 516-524.
- Jonathan Hill, Handbook to the History of Christianity (Oxford: Lion Hudson, 2007), 206.
- Claude Cahen, “An Introduction to the First Crusade”. Past & Present 6 (1954): 8.
- Malcolm Barber, The Trial of the Templars. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 311.
- Dana Munro, “The Children’s Crusade”. The American Historical Review 19.3 (1914): 520.
- Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 63.