Why the Crusades Were "Glorious"

By October 30, 2014 One Comment

This post is the first in a series about the most prevalent modern myths about the Crusades and how to refute them.
The Crusades are one of the most misunderstood topics in Church history. Movies and TV present as established fact an outdated anti-Catholic narrative about them that stays alive by sheer repetition. Not only do secular critics of the Church use this narrative to attack Catholicism (and religion in general), but many Catholics uwittingly accept it as true.
The negative “spin” on the Crusades began in the sixteenth century with the Protestant revolutionary Martin Luther, who saw them as an outgrowth of papal authority and power. Later Enlightenment authors such as Voltaire and Edward Gibbon shaped modernity’s negative view of the Crusades by portraying them as barbaric projects undertaken by greedy and savage warriors at the behest of a corrupt papacy. Modern-day Crusade historians, thankfully, eschew the anti-religious prejudices behind this view, and are bringing to light an authentic understanding of these Catholic events from the perspective of those who participated in them. But such scholarship has not eradicated the popular myths.
In order to properly understand the Crusades, we must recognize them as authentically Catholic events in an age of faith. This does not mean that everyone in the Middle Ages was a saint, or that society was perfect; but it was an era in which people made radical life decisions, such as going on Crusade, because of their faith in Jesus Christ and his Church. The modern secular-humanist world, lacking faith, struggles to understand the authentic religious worldview of the medieval period and so is handicapped when trying to understand the Crusades..
The Crusading movement was a Catholic movement. Popes called for Crusades, clerics (and saints) preached them, ecumenical councils planned and discussed them, and Catholic warriors fought them for spiritual benefits. The Crusades cannot be properly understood apart from this Catholic reality. The modern world’s historical amnesia on this point is curable, and the cure begins with Catholics learning the authentic history of their Church and the culture it created. Like the Benedictine monks of old, we modern Catholics can maintain the inheritance of Western Civilization, and correct the errors and biases of our age, through a commitment to learn our history and take pride (where appropriate) for the actions of the men and women who came before us in the Faith.
Many Catholics cringe at the mention of the Crusades, either because they know an anti-Catholic attack is coming, or because they feel embarrassed. But I propose that rather than trying to change the subject or dodge the criticism, we should recognize the “glory” of the Crusades.
What does that mean?
After Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they sinned against God by worshipping the golden calf. God wanted to destroy the Israelites for their idolatry, but Moses interceded for the people and the Lord relented. Moses’ special relationship with God included the gift of being in the presence of the Lord in the meeting tent, where he spoke to God face to face. Moses pleaded with God for his presence to remain with the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land so that the other nations would see their uniqueness.
Moses also begged the Lord to show him his glory (Ex. 33:18). The Hebrew word for glory used most often in the Old Testament is kabod, which means “heavy in weight” or something of great importance. In this sense, the Crusading movement—which occupied 600 years of Catholic history—cannot be seen as anything but glorious. That does not mean we whitewash or ignore their bad parts, but simply that we give due attention to their import in the life of the Church.
We live in a time ripe for a reinvigorated sense of Catholic identity, and a thorough knowledge of the Crusades helps us build it. Catholics need to know the authentic history of the Church in order to defend it from its many critics in the modern world; however, for a truly vibrant Catholic identity to take root and flourish, defending the Church is not enough. We must go on the attack, and present the story of our Catholic family with vigor, courage, and resolve.
In the words of Walter Cardinal Brandmüller, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for the Historical Sciences:

[W]e should finally stop being like the frightened rabbit that stares at the snake before it is swallowed by it. This defeatist attitude, this whining self-pity that has gained so much ground… in Catholic circles, is an insult to God. What is needed is a new, forceful consciousness of being Catholic.

Recognizing the “glory” of the Crusades is one way that we can take pride in our Catholic identity and contribute to a forceful and positive resurgence of the Faith in the Western world.
Written By Steve Weidenkopf

One Comment

  • Not much historically has been said here. One would need historical evidence citing primary sources, having archaeoogical evidence to support the argument. A Catholic is now asked to discredit an argument that has been for so long established. This topic comes up repetitively in my classes and now today as a consideration in light of the Popes comment about the use of a UN force to address the barbarity in the Mid East, by extension at least 10 other nations have a group affiliated with the organization in Iraq. Add a religious leader like the Pope and it is viewed as an ancient call to arms but not throughout Europe but the entire world. For further consideration are the Templar Knights and the cults growing around their history as an unjustly separated order by Clement V. Several groups claim lineage to the Templars most notably the Free Masons. It would seem to be a wound from an inequitable injustice with a consequence throughout modern times with the obvious solution as restoration of the order as a Hospitaller. I felt that it would put quite a kink in Free Masonry as some lodges claim lineage. I entertained a priest by such a notion once. Stranger things have happened such as just the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter brings an older style of Mass reflecting back to the times of Thomas Becket. There is a zealous energy in the group as some see themselves as restoring the Anglican Church to Rome as an eventual consequence.
    What you say about the Crusades has had a far reaching impact. What you say of Martin Luther however needs to be carefully chosen. I influence many of my Protestant associates to reconsider the Catholic Church due to the reforms oddly enough caused by the protests of Martin Luther. It is interesting that I have read fr the past two weeks of the need to understand both sides of an argument to reconcile differences.
    There are also other negative impacts of the crusades, such as the split of the Eastern Churches after Crusaders sacked Constantinople in 1204 in defiance of a Papal decree by Urban III. The very fall of Byzantium itself. These are the internal effects and do not address the Crusading Armies external effect on the Mid East or conduct of crusaders. The fall of Byzantium and Russia’s self appointed place as its replacement – hence, the double eagle. World history and the environment we live in today is itself is a very real consequence of the Crusades. One would need much historical evidence to refute that idea.
    While I would like to continue this – space and reader interest prevents me.

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