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The Crusades

A Synopsis and a Question of the Ethical Implications



The origin of the word Crusades can be traced to cloth worn as a banner on the outer garments by the knights who participated in the wars (Bre’hier 2014). The crusades although commonly thought to be wares directed against the forces of Islam in the Holy Land also include campaigns against pagans in Northern Europe and the Moors in Spain and the conquest of Saxony. These wars in the name of the spread of Christendom and reclaiming territory and relics in the Holy Land brought great wealth to the Papacy and Empire. The crusades also illustrate the power of the Pope to raise military force in defense of the state, This will come in to play as Bishop are inaugurated by kings  in times to come and as allegiances are made between church and state. This vital role of protection will aid the established feudal system of medieval Europe and set precedents for centuries to come. However, ultimately the crusades with the rise of the merchant class and influx of people moving to cities would bring about the return of currency and ultimately the rise of nations and the end of feudalism.  In regards to ethical issues related to evangelism and the crusades this would depend on one’s perspective of good and evil and one’s own view of morality. Several different views will be explored in the regards to ethics and the conversion of humankind during the crusades. The question of whether or not war in itself is ever moral or just has been debated and argued for centuries and still remains a topic of contingent today and may never truly be settled.


The Crusades

“The idea of the crusades corresponds to a political conception which was realized in Christendom only from the eleventh to fifteenth century; this supposes a union of all peoples and sovereigns under the direction of the pope. All crusades were announced by preaching. And after taking a solemn vow each crusader received a cross from the pope or his legatees, and was free from indulgences, civil jurisdiction and the like.”



The New World

The crusades in the New World can be characterized by numerous campaigns of conquest of the indigenous people in the name of Christianity. Most were little more than Church and State sanctioned expansion. However in Paraguay resistance was met when the Jesuits order armed the people against the conquistador. The order was later expelled and conquest continued. It was common practice for an order of conversion to be read before battle began especially in the Incan territories. Despite the cruelties inflicted the spread of Christianity also gave rise to education to the people of the region (Bre’hier 2014).” The combination of shortage of lands, peace movements and holy pilgrimages were a view of the determining factors of the crusades. However the crusades were in fact a result of a conjuncture of several slowly- evolving factors with immediate causes. The former was the ideal of pilgrimage to the Holy Land conceived from the 7th century as a legitimate war to the idea of sacred war waged for the defense of Christians against infidels, applied notably in Spain in the 11th century. The immediate causes were the advance of the Turks in Asia Minor and appeals to the Pope for help by the Byzantine Empire and reports of misfortune in the Holy Land. However the church had visions of expansion and growth of Power since the time of Gregory the second and this was another cause for the crusades (Vauchez 2005).”

The first crusade was little more than an armed pilgrimage to recapture the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land and nearly failed. “The Leaders of this Crusade promoted an ideal that combined saintly pilgrimage with chivalric warrior values. However ultimately the Kingdom of Jerusalem, The County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli were established as Jews and Christians fought valiantly side by side to recapture the Holy Land (Trumpbour 2014).”  During this crusade the discovery of the lance that pierced the side of Jesus Christ boosted moral and led to quest for the discovery of other relics to be used as artifact of worship by the Church.

The second crusade called by Pope Eugenius III was called as an attempt to reclaim Edessa. This led to the counter crusades by the Seljuk Turks and the conquest of Egypt and Syria.

The third Crusade was an attempt to reverse the victory of Saladin and is probably the most famous. Such historical figures as Richard the Lion Heart of England, Fredrick Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire and Phillip II of France were champions of this crusade. Although only moderately successful in the recapturing of territory a treaty was established that would allow pilgrimages to continue to the Holy Land.

The fourth Crusade was another failure but lead to establishing the European as a major sea power.

The Fifth crusade left Cairo under the rule of the crusaders and brought Jerusalem back under European control from the next ten years finally in 1290 under Louis IX the area of Acre  and most some of Egypt was stabilized by the crusaders enduing the crusades in the Holy Land.

An Apology on the Crusades

In regards to the question of moral and ethics and the crusades one needs to examine the issue of the crusades from several angles. The first view to consider would be that of the biblical prospective. The easy answer is that the crusades and the use of violence and coercion were against the teaching of Christ. The principle of brother of love and that of loving thy enemy is definitely violated by the brutal acts committed during the crusades, the instances of rape and the persecution of the Jews. The persecution and abuse of the Hebrew people is a crime against God himself under biblical law as the Jews are the chosen people. However alternate views can be taken on the biblical perspective as well. One is that by expelling the Islamic occupation the Holy Land was restored to the rightful heirs of the territory. Another and more dramatic is the Jews were persecuted because they had fallen away from the teachings of the Law and God. That Christianity is the only true way and God sent the crusaders to restore spiritual balance to the people and the region much as he did with the Assyrians and Babylonians in times past.

A second philosophical view is that the end always justifies the means. This view holds that by the use of whatever means necessary the greater good should be accomplished. Holding to this theory the use of force to convert the infidels, reoccupy the Holy Land and free the chosen people the crusades were just.

A third view is one of predestination. The crusades were part of the Will of God and thus just. Humankind simply was an agent carrying out a divine directive at a predetermined time in history to promote the spread of Christianity.

The final view that the author wishes to cover is that of free will. Humankind acting solely on their own will and desires and ambitions outside the will of God is responsible for the crusades. The crusades were no more than a case for expansion, economic gain, Papal and secular Power and a means to revitalize the economy and face the threat of the encroaching Islamic Army.

Depending on one’s world view and one’s own personal philosophic ideas will depend on whether or not one views the crusades as just or as an act of evil. One’s own view of God and how God relates to the concept of evil also plays an important factor in the view on the crusades.

At the time of the crusades the most prevalent theodicy was that of the Augustine view. This theodicy holds four basic points. “First, God was not obligated to create any world, for his own existence is the supreme good. Secondly, it was fitting for him to do so but not the only fitting thing to do. God created the universe and the world out of reason and not necessarily law. Third, there is infinite number of finite worlds, some evil some good. The worlds by nature that are evil could not be created God. There is however one best possible world. Finally, God was free with the respect to whether or not he should create which good realm and how he would create them (Elwell 2001).”

The authors view is a mixed philosophical view holding that mankind was fulfilling a predestined directive to spread Christianity but was free to carry out the action as the saw fit. However, when excessive force, undo cohesion or outright sin was used the individuals will be held accountable first by their own conscience, then by church and secular law and final by Christ and God himself.

In regards to the crusades within the New World, although in many cases the conquistadors would read a statement of conversion and give the indigenous population time to repent, and convert to Christianity, one can only concur that the events in the New World were little more than a movement of expansion, an exploitation of resources and wealth of the people living in the territory and a cruel crusade to increase the wealth of the various national states of Europe sanctioned by the Church.

The benefits on society brought forth by the crusades include a resurgence of classical literature, the discovery of new science, mathematics and medicine, art, technology and most importantly the rise of cities the Bourgeois class, increase of Papal power, and ultimately the fall of feudalism and nationalism of Europe.

The greatest consequence was a further division between Islam and Christianity and growing tension between these cultures a tension that still exists to this day. For the Jewish people the crusades led to a growth of anti-Semitisms in Europe. “The history that now unfolded was predominantly a tragic one. Whereas in Europe Jewish History before this date episodes of violence and persecution are occasionally known, there mow began a period of intermittently reoccurring massacre and persecution which colored European Jewish experience for centuries to come (Berenbaum and Skolnik 2007).”







In God, Christ and Spirit,

Trenton Clark Rindoks


Word Count# 1773










Berenbaum, Michael, and Fred Skolnik. “Crusades.” Encyclopedia Judaica, 2007: 310-315.

Bre’hier, L. Catholic Encyclopedia:Crusades. 4 21, 2014.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books House Company, 2001.

Trumpbour, John. “Crusades.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Islamic World, 2014.

Vauchez, Andre. “Crusades.” Encyclopedia of the MIddle Ages, 2005.










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