Were the Crusades Just Wars?

crusades09_0This post is the second in a series about the most prevalent modern myths about the Crusades and how to refute them.

Some people find distasteful the idea that the pope exhorted and spiritually incentivized Catholic warriors to fight in the Crusades. They say the Crusades highlight the hypocrisy of Christians, who, on the one hand, profess to follow Jesus, who willingly accepted his Passion and death, and on the other, participated in and supported an armed expedition to the Holy Land. This criticism gained popular favor through the writings of the 20th-century historian Steven Runciman.

Perhaps more than any other scholar, Runciman shaped popular understanding of the Crusades, through his three volume History of the Crusades, published from 1951-54. His well-written and engaging style was highly readable, but erroneously presented the Crusaders as simple barbarians bent on the destruction of a peaceful and sophisticated Islamic culture. His view that the Crusades were “great barbarian invasions” and a “long act of intolerance… which is a sin against the Holy Ghost” solidified the myth that the Crusades were unjust wars of Christian aggression—a myth many Catholics swallow to this day.

Were the Crusades unjust? To answer that question, first we must understand that the Church has never taught that all violence is evil or sinful. Divine Revelation affords the use of violence in certain cases and for just reasons. The Old Testament is replete with examples of legitimate warfare sanctioned by God undertaken by the Jewish people.[1] These examples clearly illustrate that God commanded and allowed the use of violence for a holy purpose.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), in his work City of God, consolidated Jewish and Greco-Roman traditions into a Christian understanding of legitimate warfare, or “just-war doctrine.” Augustine taught that violence could be undertaken for legitimate reasons, including past or present aggression, proclamation by a legitimate authority, and restoration of order and property. A review of the historical record proves the Crusades met these criteria.

The Crusades were born from the violent aggression of Islam, which had conquered ancient Christian territory in the Holy Land and North Africa and established a large foothold in Europe within a century of Muhammad’s death in the early seventh century. To read the rest of the post—>Catholic Answers

450 years of Muslim Conquests BEFORE the 1st Crusade

I am teaching confirmation with a new co-teacher this year. And twice  she contradicted what I said regarding the Church pointing out the evils of the Crusades. From what I had read about the Crusades was that despite horrible crimes committed by the some of the crusaders, these were not sanctioned by the Church or according to our Faith.

But my co-teacher pointed out things indicating I was mistaken. So, I decided to educate myself on the Crusades. After reading the harrowing exploits of El Cid in Spain who was reconquering Spain from the Muslims I read:

The First Crusade…had begun in November 1095, less than a year after El Cid’s greatest victory…What has been said here of the history (of the Christian reconquest of Spain) of the long conflict between Islam and Christendom, both on the eastern front of the Byzantine Empire and on the western front of Spain, not only during all the 450 years since the beginning of the great Muslim conquests but especially during the years immediately preceding 1095, should make very clear the error of the common assumption that the Crusades were an act of unprovoked Christian agression.

Up to this time all aggression had been Muslim. The Muslims were the original and continuing attackers and conquerors of Christian territory. They continued to rule hundreds of thousands of Christian people. The Christian counteroffensives, as in Spain, had all been limited and local: the Muslim aggression was much more nearly perpetual and universal, wherever Christendom was found.  Despite the gradual loss of the temporal authority of their caliph the Muslims had displayed remarkable unity in supporting their war effort against Christendom. Muslim Spain had been saved and almost brought to victory in the age of El Cid by Muslims from Africa, the great new offensive against the Byzantine empire was the work of Muslim Turks from central Asia. Yet never until this time had Christendom generated a united military effort against aggressive Islam.

THE BUILDING OF CHRISTENDOM: A History of Christendom Vol 2, P 529, by Warren Carrol, 1987 (Before 9/11)

What about the Crusades?

The Crusades


This history and apologetic for the Crusades is suitable for junior or senior high school social studies or history students.

Pope Blessed Urban II and the first crusade

Urban had been a Cluny monk and an assistant to Pope Gregory. For a time, be had been a prisoner of Henry IV. When Urban was elected, Rome was held by the imperial anti-pope. Urban spent the first three years of his reign in south Italy, but he held councils and improved ecclesiastical discipline. Finally the forces of Countess Matilda of Tuscany, who had supported Gregory against Henry all along, defeated Henry at Canossa. Urban entered Rome, but the anti-pope still held the strong places. Urban didn’t sit on the Papal throne until six years after his election.

Urban’s main achievement was convoking the Council of Clermont, November 1095, which called the First Crusade. The Byzantine Emperor, Alexius Commenus, had sent a desperate appeal to Urban for armed knights to defend Christianity against the Moslem enemy. When the Pope laid the Emperor’s pleas before the knights in Clermont, the main concern of the noblemen there was not so much the defense of Byzantium as the rescue of the Holy land from Moslem domination. Palestine had been under Moslem control since the days of the Caliph Omar, but at least the Arab Moslems had allowed Christian pilgrims to visit the places made sacred by the life of Christ. The SeIjuk Turks, now the dominant Moslem power, had, on the other hand, closed off the Holy Land.

Thus the Pope concluded his speech to the council with these words: “Men of God, men chosen and blessed among all, combine your forces! Take the road to the Holy Sepulcher assured of the imperishable glory that awaits you in God’s kingdom. Let each one deny himself and take the Cross!” With a shout — “God wills it” — the Assembly rose. They adopted a red cross as their emblem, and within a few hours no more red material remained in the town because the knights had cut it all up into crosses to be sewn on their sleeves. Because of their emblem (crux is the Latin word for cross) they were given the name Crusaders.

It is important to understand that the Crusades were a just war. The Church is frequently attacked on the question of the Crusades, sometimes on the grounds that the Christian nations of Europe were the aggressors and encouraged to be so by the Popes, sometimes on the grounds that this kind of war was inappropriate for Christians to fight, and sometimes on the grounds that immoral things happened on the Crusades. Each of these objections can be countered, showing that the Crusades were a just war.

First, the Christian nations of Europe were definitely not the aggressors. As we have seen in earlier chapters, the Moslems had been aggressors against the Christians since the seventh century. Their attacks on Christian countries were still going on in the eleventh century. In 1071 the Turks had attacked and virtually annihilated the Byzantine army at Manzikert. It was this defeat that led the Byzantine Emperor to appeal to the Pope for aid against the Moslems. The Christian countries of Europe were clearly justified in defending themselves against Moslem attacks and also in going on the offensive in order to prevent future attacks. At no point did the Crusaders attack the Moslem homeland, Arabia, but only those originally Christian territories that the Moslems had conquered.

Second, it certainly was and is appropriate for Christians to defend themselves and the innocent and helpless against attacks, which is exactly what the Crusaders were doing. It is also appropriate for Christians to try to regain lands which their enemy had conquered, as was the case with the Holy Land. The religious significance of the Holy land makes it even better that Christians try to regain it rather than worse, since Christians had every right to govern the lands where Christ had walked and to protect them from desecration.

Finally, there were certainly abuses during the Crusades, most notably the Sack of Jerusalem and the Sack of Constantinople, both of which are discussed below. But an immoral action during a war does not detract from the justice of the cause of the war. The immoral action should be condemned, as Godfrey de Bouillon condemned the Sack of Jerusalem and Simon de Montfort condemned the Sack of Constantinople, but the war itself remains just.

To read the rest of this article click –>The Crusades