For centuries, the Crusades have been held over the heads of Christians everywhere in an attempt to paint Christianity as a religion of dominance and violence. The Crusades are depicted as a holy war founded upon tenants of aggression and bloody zeal for God, but that’s not entirely true. While there were battles for years and the Crusades did result in several bloody campaigns, there’s more to the picture than historians often let on. So, what was the real cause of the Crusades? And what are some of the biggest myths surrounding these episodes in the Holy Land?
John Morales welcomed Steve Weidenkopf onto Morning Air to discuss these questions, the influence of Pope Urban, and what we can learn from this period of history.
Steve, a historian, author, and adjunct professor at Christendom College, explained the origin of the campaigns that came to be known as the Crusades. Towards the end of the 11th century, Pope Blessed Urban II called for the liberation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Jerusalem which had been occupied by Islamic military forces. In addition, the military of the empire known as the Seljuk Turks had traveled down from the Mongolian Steppe and begun invading the Byzantine Empire. The emperor sent for help from the east because he feared more clashes with the Turks.
“And so, contrary to some people’s misinformed opinions, it was not an aggressive attack on the part of Christianity. It was just the opposite. It was a defensive move on the part of Pope Urban II to try to liberate the holy land,” suggested John. Steve confirmed, disparaging the modern interpretations of the Christian involvement in the Holy Land from the 11th to the 13th centuries. They would have us believe that Christians entered the Holy Land in some attempt to convert peaceful Muslims in the area using force and violence.
“But when you look at the actual historical records, that’s not exactly what had happened, right? There had been Christians, indigenous Christians, and Jews living in the Holy Land since the initial Islamic invasion back in the 7th century. And there have been relative periods of peace between those peoples and sometimes there were times of great violence.” But when the Seljuks entered the picture, the peace was less prevalent than the violence. They harassed and attacked indigenous Christians and Jews, as well as pilgrims from other countries. So, in effect, Pope Urban’s call to arms was a defensive tactic aimed at removing the occupational military in order to protect civilians.
John brought up the idea of Christian persecution and asked Steve just how bad it was, given that Christianity was unified and only relegated to Western and Eastern Christians. Even before the Protestant Reformation, Steve said, it was very difficult. Early in the 11th century, Al-Hakim, a well-known Egyptian caliph, demolished the original Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It wasn’t fully rebuilt until the first crusaders arrived. He also told the story of a group of a few thousand German pilgrims who traveled to the Holy Land with their bishop just a few years later and as they arrived, they were slaughtered by the Turks. It was not a friendly relationship between Muslims and Christians, to say the least.
John brought up the book by our very own Patrick Madrid titled Pope Fiction, a collection of myths about the popes that have been permeated by anti-Catholic entities. One of the myths Patrick addresses in his book is the idea that the greed of the Papacy was the driving force behind the heartless murder of thousands of Jews and Muslims during what is known as the Jerusalem Massacre. An allegorical reference by Christian historians trying to describe God’s judgment after the siege of Jerusalem led many non-Christians to perpetuate this idea that the Christians slaughtered everyone in cold blood. In the context of the siege, it ended in a battle, and while many were killed, it did not happen as this myth suggests.
Steve continued, saying that the common response to the Crusade topic is for Christians to hang their head in shame and guilt. Instead, it’s important that people are educated on not only the events that took place, but the timeline and the context of it all. The Church called for defense against Turkish occupants of Jerusalem because they had invaded and were attacking Jewish and Christian inhabitants. It was a violent time in a violent area, and many armed and unarmed people died on both sides. Without justifying immoral actions, it’s important to understand the cause and effect of historical events, especially the Crusades.
Listen to more myths and facts about the Crusades below:
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