Archive | Christian Crusades

Why I Think the Christian Crusades were Necessary

I remember the first time I heard J. P. Moreland, Christian philosopher and apologist, speak. I was already a J. P. fan after reading his book Love Your God with all Your Mind, but this speaking engagement turned him into a didactic master in my mind. I don’t really recall what he was speaking on—something to do with philosophy and defending the faith—but I do remember an encounter he had with an antagonist to the faith in the crowd. Some guy raised his hand to ask a question. J. P. called on him. But this person was one of those guys who raises his hand not to inquire about something that is confusing him, but to stand up, take the pulpit, and wax eloquent on the subject. This guy’s statement was, for me, very intimidating. Whoever he was, he knew what he was talking about. Whatever he was saying (I could not understand a bit of it) seemed to be beyond what J. P. knew. For a brief moment it looked as if he had single-handedly dismantled over an hour of J. P.’s presentation. I was scared for J. P. However, J. P. handled this guy with finesse and power. J. P. knew that no one understood what this guy had said, and he knew that getting into an extended irenic dialogue with him would leave the rest of the audience out in the cold. So he took him out of the equation as quickly as possible. J. P. showed, in a matter of forty-five seconds, that he understood what the guy was saying, he quickly illegitimized it by referencing the idea’s source (something the guy was not aware of), and he showed why it had been philosophically rejected by virtually all scholars. J. P. flexed his muscles for less than a minute, and then returned to earth with the rest of us. The guy sat down, speechless. I felt sorry for him. I thought someone needed to go give him a hug. J. P. really made this guy look like a fool and I am sure he did not feel great about doing so. But that is what men like J. P. must do when necessary.

Shortly after 9/11, America went to war with Iraq. The reason given to the public for this war was the presence of weapons of mass destruction in this country. This was enough to get the American public on the side of the Bush administration (generally speaking). Shortly after the war began, the weapons did not turn up in Iraq. Because of this, many accused Bush of trumping up the evidence so he could go on his “crusade.” Since then, thousands of people have not been on Bush’s side, claiming that he will go down in history as a terrible president, at least in part because of this. However, I’m not sure if I buy into this. I am open to the idea that the claims about weapons were (at least) somewhat trumped up (although I am no expert at all). But I think Bush’s invasion of Iraq, while a very difficult move to make, may have been a necessary evil for the safety of America. I also think that comparing Bush’s “campaign” to the Christian Crusades, while meant to be derogatory, is a pretty decent description. . . so long as we understand both.

Now, turn with me again to the Crusades . . .

The “Christian Crusades” were a series of battles that took place from 1095 to 1291, in which Christendom waged war against Islamic aggression; their primary purpose was to take back the Holy Land, which had been occupied by Muslims since 638. You see, early in the eleventh century, a deranged Muslim ruler, Abu ‘Ali Mansur, destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Soon all Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land were cut off by Muslims. This guy was a lot like Saddam Hussein. He was crazy and no one really knew where his loyalties stood. He did not attack Christendom directly, but showed contempt for them by this act (along with destroying 30,000 churches in the Middle East). On top of that, the history of Muslim aggression against the West, their disregard for personal property and land, and their hatred of all “infidels” (non-Muslims) had people in the West a bit on edge about what the future held. Even so, it was not until Constantinople, the largest Christian city in the world, was threatened that the West decided something needed to be done. (After all, Constantinople was a buffer between Islam and the West.) Continue Reading →

Finding Trustworthy Scholars

Right now, in my home office, I have material about the Crusades all over the place. It is a paradise to me. I have notes and random thoughts scribbled on various pieces of paper, DVDs, self-made maps, and my precious notebooks which, in theory, contain the most articulate expression of my teachings – before it all gets transferred to PowerPoint for the didactic finale. It is a mess, but I love it.

As with most of my studies, I have a lot of people I rely on to get the information I need. After all, I was not present at the Crusades, so my job is to find the best sources to tell me exactly what happened. My favorite source has been Thomas Madden. He is a modern writer on the Crusades and he is easy to follow. He also seems to write objectively. But I have other sources as well. Of course there is Jonathan Riley-Smith, who is a standard-bearer in this field. As well, Thomas Asbridge provides great work that reads like a novel. Then there is Maalouf’s work which helps me see things through Muslim eyes. And there are others. But all of these are modern writers. We call these “secondary sources.” In order to be more objective, one should also consult “primary sources.” These are works from writers who were actually there. For this, I have an excellent work called The Crusades: A Reader. This is a compilation of dozens of first-hand accounts of the Crusades from Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim sources. I even have on my Kindle is a biography of Alexios I, written by his daughter, called The Alexiad.

Here is a picture of some of my sources (please note: I do not endorse all of these works, but most are very good):


I have been at this study since I started teaching on the Crusades a few months ago. Yet, I am far from an expert on the Crusades. In fact, were I to keep this up for the next few years, expert status would still be far off. I will never be an “authority” in this area. I don’t have the brain power or the time. Therefore, I will always rely heavily on others for an understanding of the Christian Crusades, and I am content with this. Continue Reading →

Four Misconceptions About the Crusades: #3 The Travesty of the Fourth Crusade

This is probably the hardest misconception for me to write about. It is not so much that I am unsure about my leanings here, it is just that I have held to this misconception for so long. In fact, if I remember correctly, the unbalanced view that I am going to speak about here was one I presented as one of the main points in my recent Church History Boot Camp, so I have taught it very recently.

The basic idea is this: the fourth Crusade was an utter travesty, representing the greatest black eye of all Christian history. Christians from the West, who had been called upon to help Christians in the East, stabbed their brothers in the back. Not only did they not help the Eastern Christians, but they sacked the city of Constantinople, raping and murdering their fellow brothers and sisters along the way. This solidified the rift between the East and the West.

It is this basic understanding that has led many to apologize to Eastern Christians, including the Pope.

Now, I know I write this under grave risk of offending many of my Eastern brothers and sisters who believe that the apology was long overdue. But as it stands right now, the idea that the Fourth Crusade was such a display of human depravity is, to me, about as unbalanced as anything I have ever heard.

Let me give you a few reasons why I have been rethinking the Fourth Crusade:

1. It was not unprovoked

As anyone who has studied the history of the Crusades could tell you, the West (Europe) and the East (Constantinople) were certainly not on friendly terms. Yes, in 1095 Constantinople called on the West for help as the Seljuk Turkish Muslims were knocking at their door. Yes, the West sent help during the first Crusade. But the sense of betrayal that the Western world felt from the Eastern Emperor, Alexius I, was hardly uncalled for. An argument could be made that this was Alesius’ war, yet he left the western Crusaders high and dry every time they needed his help. Once they finally took Jerusalem and the other Crusader states, it is easy to see why they did not hand over the booty so easily. Continue Reading →

Four Misconceptions About the Crusades: #2 The Crusaders Were Greedy Opportunists

Misconception #1: The Crusades Were Not Provoked


Misconception #2: The Crusaders Were Greedy Opportunists

One popular history textbook talks about the Crusades as the exploits of soldiers of fortune: “The Crusades fused three characteristic medieval impulses: piety, pugnacity, and greed. All three were essential” (Warren Hollister, J. Sears McGee, and Gale Stokes, The West Transformed: A History of Western Civilization, vol. 1 [New York: Cengage/Wadsworth, 2000], 311).

The idea that the Crusades can be boiled down to the exploits of greedy opportunists is slanted, narrow, and held by the credulous. Of course, every military endeavour has its stories. There are always going to be those who engage in war with passions motivated by personal and selfish gain. Therefore, there is no need to defend those who lost sight of the most noble objective (protection of the West and the capture of the Holy Land).

However, it must be understood that most of the Crusaders had to spend their own fortunes to embark on the Crusades. Plundering Muslim towns did nothing more than help finance the war. This was not anything out of the ordinary in those days. Even the wealthiest nobles had to trade most of their wealth to “take up the cross” of a Crusade. These knights, counts, and kings rarely expected to receive a flow of land and wealth from the east. In fact, the primary leaders of the first Crusade (Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemond of Taranto, and the great Raymond of Toulouse) all swore an oath to Alexius, Emperor of Constantinople, that any lands won would be placed back into the Roman Empire (even if two of the three reneged on this oath after Alexius’ perceived betrayal). Raymond of Toulouse had everything to lose. He gave all of his lands to his son before he left. The financial risk become more severe as the Crusades carried on throughout the years. King of France Louis IX’s seventh Crusade, in the mid-thirteenth century, cost more than six times the annual revenue of the crown.

In short, the money flow was primarily from West to East, not from East to West. For most, the Crusades led to bankruptcy rather than wealth, which is why indulgences became abused and the Crusades eventually had to stop. Criticize the Crusades for many things, but to say that those who “took up the cross” were greedy opportunists evidences a naive indulgence in revisionist history.

Here is another great concise book about the Crusades that I suggest.

Four Misconceptions about the Crusades: #1 The Crusades Were Not Provoked

It is very popular to have a completely negative view of the Christian Crusades that took place between 1095 and 1291. In fact, I have often heard people apologize for them. Why? I am coming to believe that there is a significant amount of revisionist history going on that has poisoned the well. In fact, until recently, I also bought into this tainted way of looking at them.

Over a few blogs, I am going to briefly give four misconceptions about the Crusade that I hope will add some perspective.

Misconception 1: The Crusades were not provoked

Often people will say that the Christian Crusades had no external reasoning behind them. In this, there is no blame that can be placed on the “peaceful” Islamic dynasties which were the innocent victims of ruthless Christians coming from the West.

However, any look at the preceding six hundred years of history will show that this idea cannot be sustained in any way. Notice the progression maps I have created to show a snapshot of world events:





Muslims had been on a conquest of the Eastern world for over five hundred years. Two-thirds of the formerly Christian lands were now ruled by Muslims. Muslim pirate camps were set up all over, threatening the East and the West. They were threatening southern France and Italy, coming as far as the island of Sicily. In 1009, a mentally deranged Muslim ruler, Abu ‘Ali Mansur, destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and ordered the destruction or confiscation of 30,000 churches. A Muslim Seljuk Sultan set up a capital in Nicaea, the site of the first great ecumenical Christian council in 325, just 125 miles from Constantinople.

Is it any wonder that Alexis I, Patriarch of Constantinople, called on Pope Urban II in Rome for help? Is it any wonder that Urban responded by calling on the West to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters in the East, who had long suffered the aggressive tyranny of Islamic invaders?

Far from being unprovoked, the call for the Crusades was one of the most just calls for war in all of history.

God’s Battalions is a great book on the Crusades. Get it.