In The Name Of God
A Re-Evaluation Of The Crusades
IT IS NAIVE to believe that history is simply
a chronological record of events. History
is never objective. It always includes an
interpretation of the events. Events happen
and historians color them!
It was in the summer of 1099 that the
armies re-conquered Jerusalem after
years of travel and military campaign.
year is the 900th anniversary of the
A Dark Legend
What were these crusades? They were
expeditions organized by the Church
the Holy Land from the Muslims. Some
they were 'armed pilgrims' acting in
defense, trying to recapture what was
theirs. Others assert that they were
of bloody and greedy soldiers who made
carnage of the Jews and Muslims they
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
an intellectual movement developed
which underscored the powers of human
and belittled faith. This movement
auto-defined itself as the Enlightenment,
was very keen in using the Crusades
psychological weapon against the Church.
They even invented the name 'Crusades'
means 'the war under the sign of the
The Crusades were described as 'Holy
a massacre of the Jews - a kind of
to the Holocaust-, another proof, they
of how the Church eliminates its opponents
in the name of orthodoxy.
However truth will make you free, said
And the Church is not afraid of truth.
of this pontificate's most stunning
was John Paul's unprecedented call
examination of conscience. "Another
painful chapter of history to which
and daughters of the Church must return
a spirit of repentance is, that of
given, especially in certain centuries,
intolerance and even the use of violence
in the service of truth."
Under The Sign Of The Cross
What are the facts? "It is utter
to view the Crusades outside of their
context" remarks Professor Franco
the world's foremost expert on the
The historical milieu is always of
importance when one studies past events.
When the Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem
in 638, the followers of the Mohammed
on a frenzy destroying all the Christian
Churches built during the previous
period (324-640). The only surviving
was the Church of the Annunciation
Going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
order to tread on the same ground on
Jesus Christ walked, became a life
In late 1095, Pope Urban II, responding
an appeal from the Byzantine Emperor
I Connenus, proclaimed a holy expedition
to win the Holy Land from the Muslims.
guaranteeing a safe passage to the
and helping the Christians in the area.
contemporary illustration would be
intervention to save the ethnic Albanians
in Kosovo from the Serbs. The most
Frankish princes organized themselves
four different armies. There was even
army led by the charismatic Peter the
and Walter the Penniless, which tried
precede the more princely army. They
massacred by the Turks in the Dardennelles.
The Christian army convened in Constantinople
(North West of Turkey), then crossed
Syria where they captured Antioch and
after long and difficult sieges. Jerusalem
was captured in 1099. An intense period
reconstruction followed - Churches
holy places and hospitals and houses
pilgrims. Jerusalem remained under
sovereignty until 1187 when Saladin
The hostile confrontation between Christianity
and Islam in medieval Palestine continued
and six more crusades were to follow.
of them however were full of internal
and plagued with many problems. None
even reached Jerusalem. Militarily,
ended in failure. However, scholars
the Crusades did produce positive cultural
and economic results, even occasionally
alliances, between Christians and Moslems.
Lambs Or Lions?
An exaggerated self-blame is not healthy.
It is obvious that the Crusades, as
stressed in one Angelus speech, were
of 'the prevailing medieval mentality'.
intention was good - to recapture 'holy
which non-Christian rulers had usurped.
According to Dr. Cardini, the Crusades
never 'religious wars'; their purpose
not to force conversions or to suppress
infidel. "In fact the real interest
in these expeditions was the restoration
of peace in the East, out of service
Christian brethren threatened by Moslems.'
One important phenomenon of the Crusades
was the fusion of two medieval ideals
and chivalry. This is how the Knights
the Knights Hospitallers (also known
Knights of Malta) and the Teutonic
came into being.
To pursue their agenda however, some
and journalists overstate the brutality
gory aspect of these conflicts. Last
I was reading that "the Franks
70,000 people in a mosque.' It must
been an enormous Mosque!
But there is no denying the simple
'unholy' purposes distorted these high
'Piety, pugnacity and greed' compounded
holy intentions. Lots of bloodshed,
accompanied these campaigns. Warfare
viewed differently in the Middle Ages.
always begets violence.
Besides, the Gospel is very clear.
resist the evil one' says Jesus. 'Today
must be grateful to the Spirit of God,
enables us to more clearly understand
the appropriate way to deal with problems
between peoples, religions and cultures,
one that is most in harmony with the
is that of patient, firm and respectful
stated the Pope in the Angelus speech
February 12, 1995.
Saint Francis of Assisi had understood
The biographer Thomas of Celano recalls
Francis, wishing to bring Christ to
in 1219 embarked at the port of Ancona
Egypt where he even managed to have
with Sultan Malik al-Kamil, nephew
The Egyptian ruler was deeply impressed
Francis' sanctity. He remained several
on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. His
simplicity was disarming. This prophetic
gesture of love and courtesy toward
is the Gospel
Jesus Christ is clear. When we try to be
lions we lose. Our victory lies in remaining
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright