the Crusades


The Crusade born without being called that. There is a crusade in the late eleventh century, but there are i “crusaders”, i.e. i signed with a cross, pilgrims heading to Jerusalem who, as a sign of this pilgrimage, have a small cross sewn or embroidered on the shoulder or on the chest or on the saddlebag (like those who go to Santiago de Compostela carry the shell).

At the end of the XI century, at the council of Clermont Ferrand del 1095, Pope Urban II indicated to the restless French chivalrous class – exhausted from the constant wars within it – a new purpose: let the knights eager for honor and booty leave towards the East, on the pilgrimage route, because the emperor of Byzantium needs brave warriors to face the advance of the Turks in Anatolia.

But in that twilight of the century the news had reached Europe that the Seljuk Turks had also occupied Jerusalem, overlapping the milder Arab occupier. Being much more brutal than their predecessors, subjected European pilgrims to harsh persecutions – employee, thefts, killings, and devastation of the places object of their veneration.

Unarmed or half-armed pilgrims followed the knights: The journey of God's soldiers coincided with the pilgrimage of God's poor. He was born, almost suddenly, the Crusade.
War against pagans and mission: a tragic bond revealed very soon, that is, starting from the last quarter of the seventh century. In a Christian world in name only, in appearance, but not intimately; in rites but not in customs, the theme of the choice between baptism or death that the winner emerges “cristiano” proposes to the unfaithful vanquished. The Catholic religion that presided over such attitudes was a sacred and royal religion, with his relics carried into battle, his blessed weapons, its bishops-feudal lords more expert in the art of deploying troops or in that of tracking down the bear and chasing the boar than in obedience to the Lord.

With the Crusades a new way of being was born little by little “warrior of Christ”: until then, this expression had been used for martyrs, victims of persecution; now it was used to refer to those knights who chose to put their strength at the service of the Roman Catholic Church. The new chivalrous ethic of struggle for justice was born as a penitential ethic proposed to a class of professional fighters for whom the struggle and the risk of life became, Now, means of spiritual salvation: and in this the essence of the spirit of crusade is already evident.

The monk Peter the Hermit was the great popularizer of the Crusade among the populations. An incredible enthusiasm pervaded the masses to rush to Palestine and wrest the dominion of the Holy Land from the Muslims and avenge the outrages and injuries suffered by the pilgrims.

A crowd of nobles and commoners (circa 300.000 people) he left for Palestine in August 1097 under the guidance of Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine. Thus began the First Crusade (1097-1099).

Reached Constantinople, heavy fighting began with the Turks in Asia Minor. Having won victories over them, the 15 July 1099 they stormed Jerusalem and liberated the Holy Sepulchre. But at what price! The crusaders indulged in all cruelty, sparing neither sex, nor age, nor the Jews themselves. Godfrey of Bouillon assumed the title of “defender and protector of the Holy Sepulchre”, He is his brother, later, had the title of “king of Jerusalem”.

But the situation in Palestine remained precarious, which required another seven Crusades, which occurred over the course of two centuries, without in the end Jerusalem being definitively taken from the Turks.

I Papi, afterwards, they tried to induce the Princes to organize other Crusades, but to no avail. In the beginning, the success of the Crusades helped to strengthen papal authority, but later on suffered chess, it came out resized.

The Crusades were not missionary ventures to convert souls, but rather military pilgrimages; were manifestations of a "zeal without knowledge", Paul the Apostle would say (Rm. 10:2), because it is badly enlightened and contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and to every teaching of Christ.


By promising participants ecclesiastical indulgences and exemption from taxes, Pope Urban II had given the crusaders two goals that would remain priorities for centuries, in the Eastern Crusades. The first was to free the Christians of the East. So had his successor write, Pope Innocent III:

How can the man she loves, according to divine precept, his neighbor as himself, knowing that his brothers in faith and name are held in the strictest confinement by the perfidious Muslims and burdened with the heaviest servitude, do not devote yourself to the task of freeing them? […] You may not know that many thousands of Christians are shackled and imprisoned by Muslims, tortured with innumerable torments?

Go on a crusade“, said Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith, “it was lived as an act of love“. In this case, the love of one's neighbor. The Popes equated participating in the Crusades with offering help to Christ himself (in calling for the Fifth Crusade, in 1215, Innocent III wrote: “Christ will not condemn you for the vice of ingratitude and the crime of infidelity, if you refuse to help Him?”). The indulgence received for participating in the Crusades was canonically equivalent to the indulgence for pilgrimage.


But what was Christian about the Crusades?? Killing one's enemy to free a captive brother is a teaching of Christ?

The Lord Jesus Christ said very clearly:

Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and who persecute you” (Matteo 5:44-46).

It's still:

Do not oppose the wicked; rather, if someone strikes you on the right cheek, give him the other one too; and whoever wants to quarrel with you and take your tunic, leave him the cloak too” (Matteo 5:39).

Apostolic teaching, which the popes would have had to refer to if they were really doctors of the church, is:”Don't pay anyone back bad for bad. Commit yourselves to doing good before all men.
If it is possible, how much is up to you, live in peace with all men.
Don't take your revenge, my dear, but give place to the wrath of God; because it is written: "Revenge is mine; I will give retribution
», says the Lord.
Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if there are seven, give him a drink; as, doing so, you shall heap burning coals on his head.
Don't let yourself be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good
” (Romans 12:17-21).

If violence was justifiable “christian” for defensive purposes e “for love of neighbor”, what should we say about the millions of persecuted Christians around the world today? They, who like the early Christians know oppression, the martyrdom, the injustice, suffering of all kinds just because they are Christians, how they react? Praying for their persecutors, telling them of the love of their Savior even when they are about to be executed, just as Jesus while he was nailed to the cross asked the Father for forgiveness for his executioners. Jesus is the example we must follow, not men. I conclude with the words of exhortation addressed to us by the apostle:

Be my imitators, brothers, and look at those who walk according to the example you have in us. Because many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ (I have often told you and I am telling you even now while crying)… As for us, our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for the Savior, Jesus Christ, the Sir” (Philippians 3:17-20).

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