I have some interest in studying about the Crusades, because they are considered to be a black spot on the Church. However, I tend to believe that most of the individuals who participated in the Crusades were likely not true born-again Christians at all. The Crusades were something generated by the Medieval Catholic Church, and I tend to believe that most of them were not a part of the true Body of Christ (i.e., the ‘invisible church’). In fact, the Catholic Church at that time was responsible for martyring some who were, in fact, true followers of Christ. Part of my interest in studying a bit more about the Crusades is to attempt to find out how correct my theory is. The following is a brief, overall review of the Crusades:
“THE FIRST CRUSADE
In part, the call for a crusade must be viewed as connected with the investiture struggle. At the Council of Clermont in 1095, in the midst of the contest with Henry IV, Urban II proclaimed a Crusade. This was evidently a show of force in his struggle with the emperor. By this means Rome could direct the energies of Europe in a way that would bring her great advantages.
Although many went on the Crusades for economic reasons, or for adventure, or for other lesser reasons, the primary and official motive of the Crusades was religious. In fact Urban promised remission of sins to those who marched under the banner of the cross.
The event that sparked the Crusades was the advance of the Seljuk Turks in the East and the call for help from the Byzantine emperor Alexis I. Tales of the sufferings pilgrims endured at the hands of the Turks in the Holy Land provided emotional appeal for many to engage in holy war. And, in fact, Urban’s professed goal was to deliver the shrines of the Holy Land from Muslim control and return them to Christian supervision.
In response to Urban’s call a great host gathered from Western Europe, especially from France, the Lowlands, and Italy, and finally took Jerusalem in 1099. The Crusaders then set up the kingdom of Jerusalem and a series of Crusader states along the coast of Syria and Palestine.
Estimates of the number participating in this Crusade vary greatly. About 40,000 arrived at Nicaea (northwestern Turkey) in June of 1097; of these less than 5,000 were nobles and knights. The rest were wives, sisters, relatives, friends, retainers, and assortment of pilgrims, and even prostitutes.
BERNARD AND THE SECOND CRUSADE, 1147
The burden of arousing enthusiasm for the Second Crusade (1147) fell on the famous Bernard of Clairvaux. Europeans were concerned with meeting the Muslim threat to the northern borders of the kingdom of Jerusalem. The king of France and the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire led the Crusade, but it was completely unsuccessful, leaving Jerusalem in greater danger than before. The crusading movement ground to a standstill until 1187, when Saladin captured Jerusalem and all Christendom was again aroused.
THIRD THROUGH SIXTH CRUSADES, 1189-1229
The Third Crusade (1189-1192) is known as the Crusade of the Three Kings: Richard I of England, Philip II of France, and Frederick I of Germany. Frederick drowned on the way to Palestine; Philip stayed in Palestine for only a very short time, leaving Richard to carry on the struggle alone. Although he was unsuccessful in taking Jerusalem, he recovered territory along the coast of Palestine and won permission for pilgrims to enter the Holy City for a few years.
The Fourth Crusade began in 1202 under the leadership of Pope Innocent III. He urged the capture of Egypt as a base of operations against Palestine. When the army gathered, it found itself without sufficient funds to pay for shipping. In return for financial guarantees it agreed with Venice to recapture nearby Zara from the Hungarians. For the same reason, it subsequently decided to support the deposed Byzantine emperor in his bid to regain the throne of the empire. The attack on Byzantium was more fiercely opposed than the Crusaders had expected, however.
The result was a prolonged struggle there, permanent sidetracking of the Crusade, the sacking of Constantinople and destruction of the power of the Eastern empire, and establishment of a Latin kingdom in its place. Innocent was able to have some indirect influence in this Latin kingdom and over the Eastern Orthodox church.
The last Crusade of any significance was the sixth, led by Frederick II of Germany in 1228-1229. By diplomacy he acquired for ten years Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and a corridor connecting Acre and Jerusalem.
THE END AND EFFECTS OF THE CRUSADES
The Crusades ended in failure, with Jerusalem falling to the Egyptians in 1244 and remaining in Muslim hands until 1917, when the British General Allenby captured the Holy City from the Turks. Yet it must be said that while the Crusades lasted, the Roman church enjoyed wave after wave of popular enthusiasm in support of her causes.
Moreover, while the church directed the energies of Europeans in fighting an external foe, she provided a safety valve that spared her a great deal of internal stress.
The effects of the Crusades were destined to be mainly political, social, and economic rather than religious. They contributed to the commercial revolution and its accompanying rise of the middle class, the demise of feudalism, and the decline of provincialism in Western Europe. It is hard to measure fully the impact on Western Europe of the travel of hundreds of thousands of people to strange lands where they discovered new foods, new modes of dress, and new ways of doing things. All this ferment also helped to pave the way for the coming of the Renaissance. And since profits from commerce usually do not flow in one direction, rising commercial activity also stimulated a new prosperity in Muslim lands, notably Egypt. Moreover, the Fourth Crusade helped to bring about the fall of the Byzantine Empire.”
(pp. 66-67, “Exploring Church History,” by Howard F. Vos)