The Crusaders and the Church

The Crusaders and the Church

            Up to this point the Roman Catholic Church has gained unprecedented power with the fall of the Western Empire, and with feudalism, they flexed their muscle and sought to dominate Europe. “The Byzantine Emperor, Alexius I Comnenus (1048-118), appealed to Pope Urban II for mercenaries to help him resist Muslim advances into the Byzantine Empire. However, in 1071, at the Battle of Manzikert, the Empire was defeated, leading to the loss of all of Asia Minor save the coastlands and the region around Constantinople.”[1] This would be the beginning where Pope Urban II would recruit people for the First Crusade. To gain support there would be need of justifying what they wanted, and using God’s word would be one tool they sought to use. As Christopher Tyerman, author of, Crusades: A Short Introduction, reminds us,

“Christian holy war, although a conceptual oxymoron, has occupied a central place in the culture of Christianity. Crusading represented merely one expression of this warrior tradition. Urban II did not invent Christian holy wars in 1095; neither did they cease with the demise of the Crusades; nor were the Crusades the only manifestation of medieval religious violence. However, the Crusades have appeared almost uniquely disreputable because of the apparent diametric and exultant reversal of the teaching of Christ and the appropriation of the language of spiritual struggle and the doctrine of peace for the promotion of war, exquisitely demonstrated in the ubiquitous use of the image of the cross.”[2]

There would be three objectives the church would want the Crusades to accomplish. They would be to reclaiming the Holy Land, the schism between the West and East to be healed, and Islam to be permanently constrained. To put their plan in play, there needed to be someone who could “fire-up” the preverbal stove to gain acceptance and bodies to fight. The Roman Catholic Church called upon Pope Urban II, and thus it began at the Clermont assembly during the Pope’s sermon. “What the pope said is not known. Witnesses and later commentators subsequently depicted him as delivering a rousing call to arms to the fighting classes of western Europe to recover the Holy City of Jerusalem, insisting that this was no ordinary act of temporal warfare but a task enjoined on the faithful by God Himself, a message echoed back in the cries of ‘Deus lo volt!’ – ‘God wills it!’ – said to have greeted Urban’s words.”[3]

The Pope’s words reached very few, compared to the number of people they needed. Therefore, the Pope used alternative ways of reaching the millions needed, and during this time, the best form of communication was letters, emissaries, and councils. To gain populace, the church provided certain benefits to those who enlisted for their cause. Some of those benefits included, “The church promised to protect the crusaders’ fiefs and personal goods, free crusading serfs, excuse crusading villagers from taxes, absolve crusaders of their debtors, and free any criminals who joined. Younger sons of noblemen hoped to gain land, and all crusaders sought the church’s promise of salvation.”[4] If thoughts of going to hell was not enough to convince people to join the cause, then making them to believe Islam was an intolerant and violent would drive many to enlist.[5] Certainly, these would be the motivating factors behind the first Crusade.

If any of the Crusades were deemed successful, the first would be the only one, even though it was short lived. The seriousness and reality is often under-felt until reading the accounts of what both sides went through. The first crusade began in 1095 and did not extinguish until June/July of 1099. The first swarm, “comprising from twelve thousand to twenty thousand under Walter the Penniless, marched safely through Hungary, but was cut to pieces at the storming of Belgrade or destroyed in the Bulgarian forests. The leader and a few stragglers were all that reached Constantinople.”[6] The next band comprised of forty thousand, made it to the Bulgarian frontier only to be met with massacre, fire, blood, and robbery. Only seven thousand reached Constantinople.[7] The third band, “contained fifteen thousand and they were all killed by the Hungarians.”[8] There can be no doubt, the previous outcomes of their predecessors built up an enormous amount of anger, rage, and pain which can be seen in the fourth swarm of crusaders. The fourth band began by “massacring and robbing the Jews in Mainz and other cities along the Rhine”[9] which is seen, by the crusaders, as divine judgment for what happened in Hungry. It is estimated that two hundred thousand shared in this round, as they enjoyed their spoils they had just taken.[10] One could see the humor once they reached Hungry, had to face a real army, in which, panic took over, and they were destroyed. The beginning of the first crusade, up to this point, has cost nearly three hundred thousand lives. The regular army is said to have more than three hundred thousand and they continued until they captured the Holy Land in 1099. Though this is not without its discouragements and sufferings, such as, “they were forced to eat horse flesh, camels, dogs, and mice, and even worse.[11] Keep in mind this was the first crusade and many more would follow leaving a trail of death and destruction. The motivating factor of the proceeding Crusades all came from the same promises and beliefs of the first Crusade, taking possession of the Holy Land, and all the promises and rewards mentioned above, and the outcome would always remain the same, defeat.

The effects of the Crusades were felt everywhere and by many people some negative and some positive. The negative impacts were the “increased persecution of Jews as well as Muslims that led to other campaigns against opposing religious groups. They also contributed to the development of more intolerant attitudes among many Muslims shocked by the Crusades’ atrocities.”[12] The positive effects felt from the crusades, “They built Western commerce by opening Eastern trade and brought sugars, spices, silks, silverware, dishes, glass windows, and other luxuries to Europe. They created a new European middle class of merchants, craftsmen, and clerks and increased currency’s importance. The Crusades lessened feudal wars by opening new lands for conquest as they hastened feudalism’s demise when kings and nations gained power. Finally, the Crusades improved military technology and fostered a spirit of exploration, conquest, and colonization that would continue into the following centuries.”[13] These are only a few examples of the effects that sent negative and positive waves throughout the Western and Eastern Empires. The negative and positive impressions left by the Crusades are still felt in today’s society.

Someone could write an essay simply explaining that the Crusades were or were not of God, but it would be incomplete without understanding of what started the Crusades and what they had to endure. Therefore, after reading and researching, the events that led up to, during, and after the Crusades, one could not fathom to think that these events represent the Christian worldview. Furthermore, there was obvious misuse of God’s word to gain supporters of the Crusades. Christopher Tyerman goes on to say this about Bernard of Clairvaux, a recruiter for the Second Crusade, “As if to counter directly those who condemned the church’s advocacy of holy war as unchristian, Bernard took New Testament passages and radically reinterpreted them. The Epistles of St Paul used military metaphor to emphasize the revolutionary nature of the new faith in contrast to the Roman world dominated by religiously sanctioned military systems: ‘We do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal’ (II Corinthians: 3– 4).”[14] This is obvious not what Paul meant, and further proof can be seen in Ephesians 6.

In conclusion, Christians must remember what Jesus Christ’s command was to his believers, Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The church forgot this command and believed it was of Christ to wage war and recapture the Holy Land. They did not stop to think, that perhaps it was not their place or in God’s plan for them to recapture the Holy Land. When there was an obvious need of searching out God’s will, the leaders simply told God what they wanted and expected Him to provide, when they should have been on their knees asking for God’s guidance and following Him.


Islam, Need to Know ? The History of Islam. n.d. (accessed June 24, 2013).

Present, Encyclopedia of World Trade From Ancient Times to the. Crusades. n.d. (accessed June 22, 2013).

Schaff, Phillip, and David Scheley Schaff. History of the Christian Church. Michigan, 1910.

Tyerman, Christopher. Crusades: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, GBR: Oxford University Press, 2006.

[2] Christopher Tyerman. Crusades : A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, GBR: Oxford University Press, UK, 2006. p 12.

[3] Ibid.

4 Encyclopedia of World Trade From Ancient Times to the Present, s.v. “CRUSADES,” accessed June 22, 2013,

5 Ibid.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

[5] Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, vol. 5, History of the Christian Church (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 232.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid., 233.

9 Ibid., 235.

[11] Ibid., 236.

[12] Encyclopedia of World Trade From Ancient Times to the Present, s.v. “CRUSADES,” accessed June 22, 2013,

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.


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