Papal Libertarianism and the Crusades


Introduction

Often times the Crusades are peripherally summated to be in stark contrast to Christianity’s theological paradigm.  The command to love one’s neighbor can be ascertained as a direct interruption of this principle ideology, however, for the Christian plight against Islam and its encroachment upon the Holy Land of Israel, and likewise various city states throughout Europe proper, the Christianized government felt the need to respond to the Muslim threat by developing the Just War Theory “which made it acceptable for Christians to use violence under some circumstances.”[1]  This offensive, known as the Crusades, seems to have begun in order to breakdown Islam’s plight against Constantinople by delivering the Byzantine Empire from its grasp, to reconcile the schism which divided the Christian East and the West, and advance towards Islam’s occupation of the Holy Land, averting the ideological paradigm that Heaven had been defeated and must be in turn, won over in order for Christendom to survive.

Climate Leading Up to the Call for the Crusade

The environment prior to the Crusades was dominated by belligerently, warring factions and feudal kings, a residual effect caused from the fall of the Roman Empire.  This period was known as the Dark Ages, and the barbarous advancements of these factions nevertheless plagued the territories throughout the empire with divisions annexed by various kings and servants from within the Church.  Civil wars and fractalized territories offered little support for the people and their rulers, which culminated in a hierarchal simony in the Church, lacking brevity and the ability to promote real, substantial change or progress for the Western half of the empire.  What ensued, or albeit, gave primacy for the Christianized “Angles, Saxons and the Franks was rudimentary,”[2] thereby revealing the “aggressive and martial people”[3] wanting a contentious religion.  When Rome finally fell, the invasions of the Barbarians “poured down over the East as well as over western Europe,” [4]  temporarily cutting off the Holy Land from the West.  Nevertheless, the Crusades “were dynamic and adaptive to changing circumstances, and their properties were historically and socially constructed.”[5] 

As the Muslims advanced onto the Pyrenees, all that was left was the northern most part of Spain and the encroachment of Islam was making substantial headway.  In the Holy Land, by the 8th century, “Muslim rulers banned all displays of the cross in Jerusalem and increased the penalty tax on Christians.”[6]  The proliferating ease of the Islamic military onto Western lands was paramount because the Church had little control over the regions throughout its territories, and the erosion of control from the clergy was transparent which inevitably “helped shape the environment within which the Crusades evolved.”[7]  Pilgrimage to Palestine was encouraged after Constantine’s enthronement, and in time, even though Muslims welcomed their economic activity, eventually their presence began to cause problems which resulted in restrictions like the aforementioned.  As the millennium approached, monasticism flourished in the West “while Byzantium and the Islamic states shared a flourishing commercial system”[8] and it would have appeared that these different faith centers could in fact live harmoniously with each other regardless of their exclusive worldviews.  They all believed in monotheism, but that neither quelled the desire for their evangelistic efforts, even if it was in the form of a war.

Papal Libertarianism

The propagation to “liberate the Church of God”[9] was essentially the premise by which the Crusades were predicated on, and it is in that premise by that the Crusades gave rise to its political and religious bent which would later result in the advancement made throughout the campaigns as its “ultimate end.”[10]  For papal authority, it was freeing the Church from “imperial, royal and feudal domination,”[11] who had been conquered by Islamism, thereby instituting (or, restoring) the rule of Christendom in the known world from the Muslim front, which was “regarded as tyranny that should be overturned because of it attack the most basic rights of Christians: the right to autonomy, the power to create one’s own laws and act according to them, and the right to self-determination, the capacity to control’s ones destiny free of external compulsion.”[12]  Therefore, Christianity needed to heed the call in order to recapture and restore Christian agenda wherever it saw fit so that its ability to propagate papalism’s libertarian commandment would become a reality.

Finally, in November of 1095, Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in southern France, incited Christians in the West to embrace St. Augustine’s Just War Theory[13] and defend the encroachment of Islam onto the Byzantine Empire and further its plight to retake the Holy Land.  Because the Seljuk Turks were continuing to advance on Byzantine territories, general Alexius Comnenus (Emperor Alexius I) eventually took control of the throne, and consolidated his power throughout the region, dispatching envoys to Pope Urban II for assistance from the increasing threat Islam was having on the Eastern Empire.   The aggression of Islam onto the various territories of the East nevertheless provoked the Christian response as “part of a rearguard action aimed at stemming the Muslim advance which, by the start of the eleventh century, was threatening as never before to overwhelm the whole of Europe.”[14] 

Subjective Assertions

            Although the Crusades seemed inevitable, considering the breakdown of societal structure within the West and the continuous threat of Islamic invasion in the East, it nevertheless is contradictory to the Christian ideological premise.  Jesus Christ commanded His disciples to preach the Gospel in His name under the pretext of love and forgiveness of sins (Matt. 28:19; John 13:34; 15:12, 17; cf. Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 John 3:22; 4:7; 4:11-12), which both are fundamental to Gospel ideology, and perhaps the stark reminder of this exercise would most certainly be welcomed when persecution ensued because of it.  To assert that war is a strategy for the Great Commission would nevertheless be contradictory to the New Testament, and most importantly, to God’s encompassing nature, for He is the God of love (2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 2:4; 1 John 4:8, 16).

            In Peter 1st epistle, he encouraged believers that even in the midst of persecution (1 Pet. 2:18-19; 5:9), one was to count themselves worthy as they would be suffering for Christ’s sake.  Paul certainly examined his own life under the same pretext (Eph. 3:13; 2 Tim 1:5; 2:3, 9), as well as those who he preached to (Rom. 5:13; 8:17; Phil 2:29; 3:10), whether he was imprisoned or beaten because of Christ’s Gospel.  Christians, regardless of the situation, are to steadfastly remain pacifist, obey the government, whether it is a despotic emperor, and in this context, an Islamic state which had overthrown, or sought to overthrow, the entire Empire-wide geography.  Jesus promised His followers that they would be beaten, imprisoned and killed for His sake (Mark 13:9; cf. 1 Pet. 2:20), and unfortunately, Augustine’s assertion that war is just in the eyes of Christ is nevertheless a paradox of sorts when brought before the light of the Gospel. 

Jesus Christ vindicated all those who believe in Him and His resurrection (Luke 14:14; 18:7; John 5:29; 6:40; 11:25; 14:6; Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 6:14; 15:51-54; Phil. 3:10-12; 1 Thess. 4:16; 1 Pet. 2:24; cf. Deut. 32:36; Psalm 37:6; 43:1; Isa 26:19; Dan. 12:2), promising them that in death, they would nonetheless receive the crown of life for their endurance in the midst of persecution.  The resurrection of the dead ones is the final act of vindication for the believer, and whether one is controlled by Islam, Hindu, pagan, or atheistic worldviews and systems, the premise to remain loving is a prerequisite for the submissive and subservient nature (Phil. 2:1-5) the Christian is to employ without deferring to war or violent behavior.  If God wanted to destroy the devil with warfare and violence, He could have very easily, however His choice was love (John 3:16).  Complete, quintessential love by sacrificing His life in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, forever defeating the enemy once and for all.

Bibliography:

Armstrong, Karen, A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, (New York: Alfred A Knoff, Inc., 1993).

Chevedden, Paul E. “The View of the Crusades from Rome and Damascus: The Geo-Strategic and Historical Perspectives of Pope Urban II and ʿAlī Ibn Ṭāhir Al-Sulamī.” Oriens 39, no. 2 (2011): 257-329.

González, Justo L., The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1 (New York: Harper Collins Publishing, 2010).

Merton, Thomas. “From Pilgrimage to Crusade.” Cithara 48, no. 1 (11, 2008): 5-21.

O’Neill, John, J. “The Crusades: A Response to Islamic Aggression.” Comparative Civilizations Review, no. 63 (Fall, 2010): 7-9.

St. Augustine, Contra Faustum Manichaeum, book 22. 69–76.

The Councils of Urban II, vol. 1, Decreta claromontensia, ed. Robert Somerville, Annuarium historiae conciliorum, Supp. 1 (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1972).

Theron, Jacques and Erna Oliver. “Changing Perspectives on the Crusades.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 74, no. 1 (2018). 1-12.

Footnotes:

[1] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1 (New York: Harper Collins Publishing, 2010), 293, Accessed July, 2018, www.mywsb.com/reader

[2] Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, (New York: Alfred A Knoff, Inc., 1993), 197.

[3] Ibid., 197.

[4] Merton, Thomas. “From Pilgrimage to Crusade.” Cithara 48, no. 1 (11, 2008): 6, Accessed July 2018, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/201725818?accountid=12085.

[5] Chevedden, Paul E. “The View of the Crusades from Rome and Damascus: The Geo-Strategic and Historical Perspectives of Pope Urban II and ʿAlī Ibn Ṭāhir Al-Sulamī.” Oriens 39, no. 2 (2011): 264. Accessed July 2018. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23072750.

[6] Theron, Jacques and Erna Oliver. “Changing Perspectives on the Crusades.” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 74, no. 1 (2018), 2. Accessed July 2018. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/2025301598?accountid=12085.

[7] Ibid., 2.

[8] Ibid., 2.

[9] The Councils of Urban II, vol. 1, Decreta claromontensia, ed. Robert Somerville, Annuarium  historiae conciliorum, Supp. 1 (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1972), 74. Accessed July 2018.

[10] Chevedden, Paul E. “The View of the Crusades from Rome and Damascus: The Geo-Strategic and Historical Perspectives of Pope Urban II and ʿAlī Ibn Ṭāhir Al-Sulamī.” Oriens 39, no. 2 (2011): 267. Accessed July 2018. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23072750.

[11] Ibid., 268.

[12] Ibid., 269.

[13] St. Augustine, Contra Faustum Manichaeum, book 22. 69-76.

[14] O’Neill, John, J. “The Crusades: A Response to Islamic Aggression.” Comparative Civilizations Review, no. 63 (Fall, 2010): 1. Accessed July 2018. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/858019166?accountid=12085.