Thursday, March 3, 2016

Urban II - The Crusader

The crusades are commonly put forth as a blatant Christian atrocity. But they have also been put forth as a glorious enterprise. How should they really be looked at?

The originator of the crusades was Pope Urban II. He was in the midst of the struggle between the pope and the civil rulers for control of the church organization. He was probably trying to do something papal to show he was a statesman with broad goals. He did base the  First Crusade on an appeal for help from the Byzantine emperor. Though all the emperor was really asking for was a few reinforcements, presumably under his command. Also, the urging of Peter the Hermit has been claimed as an important influence, though he is now frequently considered irrelevant. But the basic idea seems to have been Urban's.

It should be noted that the purpose of the crusades was not to forcibly convent Muslims.  It was to recover territory that had been traditionally under Christian control from Muslim rule and to free the Christians living there from Muslim domination. It was also intended to recover Christian holy sites and allow pilgrims safe access to them. (It was further incidentally intended to give the European standing armies something useful to do besides fight each other.) In fact, the  whole thing makes sense from a worldly point of view. "They have taken our land for no other purpose but to spread their religion; we are going to take it back." But Christians should not approach things from a worldly point of view.

There were various problems from the outset. Should Christians have been attaching such significance to certain holy places (an idea not found in the New Testament)? The idea of an indulgence, a blanket remission of the penalties of sin for some service (in this case dying in the crusades), later proved mischievous and sparked the Protestant Reformation. The way the crusades were carried out was often awful, with out of control mobs persecuting Jews and fighting other Christians until they meet their deaths in battles they were not prepared for, and with conflicts widening the breach between the Western and Eastern churches. But the main problem was with the basic concept. The Christian church was trying to further the cause of Christ through military action. This represented a reliance on military power rather than the power of God. It made sense from a human point of view, but Christ's church should raise above the human point of view and reach out with a hand of love and not a gauntlet of war. The basic point is that we cannot use worldly political power to accomplish God's purposes.   

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