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Were the Crusades a Just War?

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by Dawn Sanders


Were Catholics morally right to wage war against the Muslims over the Holy Land? Or was it a political power grab? Or worse, a form of religious genocide?


Depending on whom one listens to—secularists, Moslems, Protestants or Catholics, one can form an argument to support any of those views. The problem with history is that those who lived it are usually gone and not able to defend their choices. Another problem is all the revisionist history written since the 1960’s which is meant to skew public opinion and misinform the young.


There are, however, those who are making an effort to relay the truth to an uninformed and wrongly-informed world about the actual reasons for the Crusades to re-take the Holy Land in the eleventh century. Only two will be quoted in this article, followed by links to some others.


Why the War?


Islam has never been an entirely peaceful religion. Most of the time it has been spread by war. When Mohammed was battling the city of Mecca in the seventh century, most of the known world was Catholic, due to the Faith being accepted by the Roman Empire. Since Islam sees the world as existing either in the Abode of Islam or the Abode of War, it didn’t take long for the caliphs to attack the Christians.


“With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul.” (Madden, Thomas F. The Real History of the Crusades. crisismagazine.com/april2002/cover)


The defense of the Christians and other occupants of these lands was seen as the responsibility of the Byzantine emperor; however, with the reduction of the empire to little more than Greece, Emperor Alexios Komnenos was forced to turn to the West for help. That he should receive any was an act of God. In 1054, Pope Leo IX and Patriarch Michael Cerularius had excommunicated each other. “But Urban II was able to rise above the differences that produced the schism and to make common cause with eastern Christians. Not too long after he received the emperor’s request, the Pope went to the Council of Clermont [France] in 1095—within living memory of the Schism—and called for a Crusade against the Turks.” (Fleming, Thomas. Facing the Muslim Threat. chroniclesmagazine.org)


Pope Urban II first presented to the European Christians their own multitude of sins within and outside the Church. Next he addressed the horrific conditions their Christian brethren in the East were enduring: murder, torture, enslavement. He mentioned the destruction of the Holy Places. Then the Pope promised “the remission of sins” to those who would exercise Christian charity by going to the aid of their besieged fellow-believers.


“And, the crusaders were not to go in a spirit of contempt or with a sense of superiority. It was precisely because they had led evil lives that they should take the cross.” (ibid.) Hence the red cloth cross sewn on the clothing and banners of the soldiers. It is this cross which gave the name to the endeavor: the Crusades (croix=cross, croisades=crusades in French).


Right to Fight?


Did the Crusades meet the Church’s requirements for a just war? Let’s look:


“The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration…At one and the same time:


—the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain;


—all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;


—there must be serious prospects of success;


—the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated…” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2309)


Were the Crusades a defensive measure?


Yes. The Muslims had attacked the Christians without provocation in order to force their religion upon them. They were also attacking pilgrims to the Holy Land and destroying the sacred sites, such as the Holy Sepulcher and all the Christian establishments in Jerusalem in 1009, by order of Hakem, the Fatimite Caliph of Egypt. The taking of life and destruction of Christian religious sites was unquestionably “lasting, grave and certain.”


Were “other means of putting an end to it…shown to be impractical or ineffective”?


Unknown. Some truces had been accomplished before and after the Crusades, between rulers already in the area, but nothing long-lasting. The Seljukian Turks finally overthrew the weaker European rulers after the end of the Fourth Crusade.


What were the prospects of success?


“By any reckoning, the First Crusade was a long shot. There was no leader, no chain of command, no supply lines, no detailed strategy. It was simply thousands of warriors marching deep into enemy territory, committed to a common cause. Many of them died, either in battle or through disease or starvation. It was a rough campaign, one that seemed always on the brink of disaster. Yet it was miraculously successful. By 1098, the Crusaders had restored Nicaea and Antioch to Christian rule. In July 1099, they conquered Jerusalem and began to build a Christian state in Palestine.” (Madden)


Did greater evils result from the Crusades than were eliminated?


Considering that the Islamic position was convert, die or be enslaved, and that the Europeans did not force conversion on the Moslems, No.


“Muslims who lived in Crusader-won territories were generally allowed to retain their property and livelihood, and always their religion. Indeed, throughout the history of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, Muslim inhabitants far outnumbered the Catholics. It was not until the 13th century that the Franciscans began conversion efforts among Muslims. But these were mostly unsuccessful and finally abandoned. In any case, such efforts were by peaceful persuasion, not the threat of violence.” (Madden)


Was the force used extreme? One would have to contrast Christian-European battle practices against Islamic practices of that time period. To our modern sensibilities, both were barbaric.


Criteria Met?


I believe the Crusades were necessary for the sake of Christendom. That one religion should be allowed to violently force itself on another people is wrong. Secularists have accused Catholics of such as regards Native Americans but ignore the grievances of Christians against their oppressors. Christians are not perfect, but the tenet of our religion is to proselytize by peaceful methods, not by war.


Plus, the loss of our sacred sites was and is as excruciating as it would be to any other religion. The Muslims were destroying, on purpose, Catholic churches and defiling other sites dear to us for the sake of Christ. It would be like us bombing the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Would secularists ignore that? Or tell the Muslims that they should be understanding of our feelings? Highly unlikely.


At some point, which even Pope Benedict has come to admit (see Spencer, Robert. Pope Benedict XVI: Enemy of Jihad. http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles), Christians must say enough is enough. That is what the Crusades were; we had had enough. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re going to be forced to make that clear to the bully once again. Or die.

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