This difficult era of the crusades raises many questions for us:
1. Did the Crusades attempt to stem the tide of Moslem aggression, or did they in fact cause more Moslem unity and a resurgence of Moslem power?
Some see the Crusades as a legitimate attempt to strike against Moslem expansionism. Others argue that the Crusades forced the Moslems to unite once again. Having been invaded by the West, they determined to renew their attacks against them. Do the Crusades bear any blame for the eventual collapse of Constantinople in 1453?
2. What role should faith and reason play in everyday affairs?
The Third Crusade is a good example of this problem. Richard I fought his way to Jerusalem, but went home in part because he believed he could not hold the city even if he took it. Therefore, it was pointless to risk his live and the lives of his men for nothing. Some criticized his actions, saying something to the effect of, “You must step forward in faith, and watch God bless you. This is what faith is all about! You cannot think of this in practical terms. That is not thinking with faith. Put a foot into the Jordan, and then watch it part.”
We see this same question also running through the idea of the tragic Children’s Crusades, though here the Church strongly opposed Europe’s youth to no avail.* How should the balance between ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ guide our daily lives? How should we answer the argument of many young people who participated in the ‘Children’s Crusades,’ which ran something like this:
- God has called his people to crusade for Jerusalem. We believed so in 1097. Has God changed? He is the same, yesterday, today, forever. Therefore, His call is the same. We must still vie for the Holy Land.
- But how shall we go? Let us not trust in princes, horses, or chariots (i.e. Ps. 20), let us know that our trust is in God, by marching out in true faith. We see in Scripture that Moses led the Israelites to the Red Sea and it parted. Joshua marched around the city, and it fell. Guided by God’s word, we shall emulate their example. God shall make a way for us to take Jerusalem, and do so in a way so that all glory goes to him.
- Many argue that the problem with the Crusades was a lack of organization, supplies, or reinforcements. This only betrays worldly thinking. Would more supplies have made the Crusaders less greedy in 1204? Would it have made them less violent inside Jerusalem’s walls in 1099? No, the problem has been our lack of faith and obedience.
- Jesus pointed out the strength and purity of the faith of children. Therefore, who better than the Church’s youth to undertake this venture?
We know that the Children’s Crusades ended in utter disaster.* But what would you say in response to their argument? How can you disprove them? What is faith’s relationship to reason?
3. The west attempted at least seven times at retaking Jerusalem. What should this tell us about them?
- That they were foolishly stubborn?
- That they were intensely dedicated and willing to make great sacrifices for achieving their goal?
- That they were a people of faith willing to trust in spite of adversity?
- That they were foolish, naive, and used ‘faith’ as a cover for their prejudice and desire for gain?
In the end, the Crusades would have many unintended consequences. The West was exposed to Greek literature and philosophy for the first time. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Renaissance, and Exploration may all have been by-products of this, among other things. The Crusades also raise many questions about using violence as means to bring about the Kingdom of God that are still with us. If we agree with the Crusades, should we also agree with the bombing of abortion clinics?
Next week we will return to our look at Medieval Feudal society, and I hope that the students will be confronted with good questions.
*I should note that scholars debate when these crusades took place, and whether or not there was one crusade or two. A few even doubt whether or not they were children at all, as some believe they may have been a mass of landless unemployed. My rendering in class will be the traditional story.