Thursday, August 17, 2006

The First Crusade


I recently finished a great book, by Thomas Asbridge. Very neatly written, a fast read for a history of the 11th century, and full of interesting insights on what has turned out to be the first of many conflagrations between Christians and Moslems. Here are a couple of reviews from Amazon:

From Publishers Weekly
In 1095, Pope Urban II preached a fiery sermon that changed the course of Western history: he urged Christian warriors to take up the sword and defend their brothers in the East who had been defeated by the Muslims, and to retake the holy city of Jerusalem, then under Islamic control. Asbridge, a British authority on the Crusades, brilliantly re-creates the three-year history of the First Crusade, chronicling its difficulties and victories, not downplaying its brutality but emphasizing its genuinely religious impulse. He vividly recounts the terrible winter of 1096 in Antioch, which reduced the Christian armies from 100,000 to 30,000. Focusing on the warriors' beliefs, Asbridge astutely points out that the warriors interpreted this as God's cleansing of the weaker and less committed fighters and concluded that victory was ordained for the survivors in the final, bloody battles. Asbridge also observes that the Christian forces acted less out of an inborn hatred of Islam than out of a desire for a place in heaven if they died in battle. While relations between Christianity and Islam did not break down immediately as a result of the crusaders' triumph, later pro-war propaganda on both sides drove a wedge between the two religions. Asbridge combines fast-paced history writing, evocative prose and lucid research for a first-rate history of the First Crusade. B&w illus., 9 maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–This concise, fascinating account begins with a brief discussion of the events and individuals who influenced Pope Urban II's call for a holy war in 1095. Blending recent research with 11th- and 12th-century writings, Asbridge describes the extraordinary circumstances that introduced the pacifist Christian church to militarism and launched tens of thousands of men and women on a journey they could scarcely comprehend. The number of significant participants of the First Crusade was huge, but the author keeps the telling manageable by focusing on two dozen of the most famous. Readers learn about their appearance, backgrounds, and beliefs before setting out with them for Jerusalem. Vivid eyewitness accounts are quoted, with corrections made for obvious errors, such as estimates of numbers of fighters. The frenetic preparations for departure, the horrors of the journey, and the savage battles are described with compelling realism. The bloody sack of Jerusalem concludes the main narrative, but an aftermath covers the subsequent lives of the major participants, and a conclusion evaluates the crusade's long-term impact. Several useful features include 9 maps, 16 pages of black-and-white photographs of medieval art and fortifications, an annotated cast of characters, and a glossary.–Kathy Tewell, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.



Unfortunately, the author does not provide much lead-in history of the forced expansion of Islam into the Christian territories of the Middle East from the time of Muhammad up to the mid-11th century. Therefore, what ensues in the narrative may be taken, if the reader so chooses, as unprevoked and illegitimate action against a set of peaceful "states". However, my take away from reading the text was that the Crusade was the ultimate, delayed reaction of a western Christian culture to several centuries of violent, forceful encroachment of a foreign culture. And, oh yeah, it was a pretty bloody affair.

And thinking about that in modern terms, it is not difficult to understand that large percentages of Christians are reticent to open challenges of Muslim influence. Most of us are hoping that moderate voices in the Muslim world will prevail and stop the current wave of violence. Considering over a thousand years of history, not likely. The more likely outcome will be that the jihadists will have their way until the Christian minds congeal to the fact that the next Crusade is upon us. What shape and means that takes, only God knows.

Sir Chuck, checking the armor and mounts

10 comments:

  1. "introduced the pacifist Christian Church to militarism?" Charlemagne would have found that odd.
    The original church was never pacifist as pacifist cannot mean anything other then holding a doctrine that regards all war as sinful. If one does not use that definition one must define pacifist as, "getting more upset about the matter then other people do", which is an emotional state, not a doctrinal position.
    And yes Sir Chuck is right. There had been centuries of Islamic aggression beforehand.The Crusades were in fact justifiable from the political circumstances-the Byzantine Empire was dying and it was the main guardian of Christiandom. The error of the Crusades was to make a decision of state into a sacrament. What seems to have happend is that the Emperor wanted to hire a large number of mercenaries and the pope decided to go one better in order to give him control over the venture.
    The Crusades were in fact exagerrated because of the latter importance of Western Europe. To the Orthodox Christians it was just another war not a "Crusade". Christians who lived farther east never heared about it. Moslems of course thought of the Kingdom of Jerusalem as a petty nuisance.

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  2. What shape and means that takes,...
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    Oh we will simply recoil back from oversentimentalism to overruthlessness again once danger becomes obvious-I suppose I should pity them more, the Moslems are setting themselves up for something quite terrible.

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  3. Oh we will simply recoil back from oversentimentalism to overruthlessness again once danger becomes obvious-I suppose I should pity them more, the Moslems are setting themselves up for something quite terrible.
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    Alternatively it could just settle down to an endless series of Kiplingesque "Savage Wars of Peace". That may be the best that can be hoped for.

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  4. "introduced the pacifist Christian Church to militarism?" Charlemagne would have found that odd.

    I too found that and odd statement, Sir J. Pacifist up until becoming the official religion of Rome, perhaps. Never, after that.

    But perhaps some believers (Quakers, for instance) would maintain that the true faith is still pacifist, and that what evolved out of Roman adoption became something else. Might make for a great future topic...

    Sir C

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  5. Oh we will simply recoil back from oversentimentalism to overruthlessness again once danger becomes obvious-I suppose I should pity them more, the Moslems are setting themselves up for something quite terrible.

    That's what I see, too, Sir J. Let's pray that God's Crusade consumes Man's Crusade this time, and that His Will be done instead...

    Sir C

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  6. I too found that and odd statement, Sir J. Pacifist up until becoming the official religion of Rome, perhaps. Never, after that.

    But perhaps some believers (Quakers, for instance) would maintain that the true faith is still pacifist, and that what evolved out of Roman adoption became something else. Might make for a great future topic...

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    As Sir Chuck says it is an interesting idea for discusssion.
    The problems with that idea are manifold. One is simply philosophical. Pacifism is by corralary anarchism-if it is immoral to make war in all circumstatances then it is immoral for the state to exist as the state must by nature exist by military means. If God had demanded so radical a change in human society we would have been told and no one in the Bible is rebuked for his service to the state.
    Another point is that it is uncharitable-it implies that 1500 years of Christians were following heresy.
    Furthermore it is "to easy". Always be suspicious of an interpretatation that is "to easy"-it is likly to have ignored an important point simply because it could not be understood. When one does that sort of thing anything can be claimed to be "Real Christianity". That of course is verging on a slippery slope argument. On the other hand experience shows that it is in this particular case not far from the truth.
    Finally it is ahistorical. In a sense Christianity began to go wrong immiediatly-that comes from the nature of man not from Rome. Christianity only very slowly evolved into a state religion, and one suspects that the first thing the elders of the Church did was not to begin nefarious plotting for power but thanking God most ernestly that they no longer had to worry about persecution.
    The belief also displays an uncomfortable embarrassment toward the Roman part of Western heritage among some circles. Rome looks ponderous, all-prevasive, and red-tapeish. It looks in fact like the IRS and it is no wonder it is disliked. Yet Rome is as much a part of what we are as Athens or Jerusalem. The fact that the Church after Constantine was looked on with favor by the Empire is not in itself grounds for suspicion. The fact that some Christians took undue advantage of that is regretable but not really suprising. Most important Rome is an "easy answer". The idea that Christianity would have been pristinly holy but for Rome is oversimple and few things are simple. The fact is if people can be corrupted they will be and that applies to Christians as well. It is no more a suprise that some Christians were corrupted by power when they had access to power then it is that others were corrupted by the internet. Neither power or the internet are bad-such evil as they have was put there by those who use it.

    Sir Jason the Longwinded

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  7. "introduced the pacifist Christian Church to militarism?" Charlemagne would have found that odd.
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    "Militarism" is a vague word and one must be careful with vague words. For one thing if an exact definition becomes degraded and the word is used for no more then an expression of approval or disapproval then it loses use for respectable conversation, but becomes more useful to propagandists who are often more motivated by the nature of their calling to cloud the truth then reveal(propaganda is ironically a word of that nature).
    A classic example is "gentleman." Gentleman used to mean, "minor aristocrat" and if anyone asked why a peasant couldn't be a gentleman the obvious answer was that he just couldn't and that that was like asking why he couldn't be a blacksmith-it simply wasn't his place in society. However snobbery, tied to the in many ways laudible code of conduct that gentlemen in that sense were taught soon made people start saying things like, "he may wear overalls but he's more of a gentleman then many who call themselves that"-which was all very well but tended to degrade the meaning of the word as we already have many variants on "honorable".
    Millitarism is like that. The best definition I can see is the, "glorification of the profession of arms especially when it is inordinate". Also millitarism itself has subtle variations. Much of it is simply -love of pagentry and saga-the type of "militarism" we see in Britain. Another aspect is fascination with studying a craft-the "millitarism" of many young Americans. Both of these are fairly harmless as far as they go.
    Where it becomes harmful is when it is taken to excess, particularly when it becomes vulgar worship of power, the form it took most dramatically among Nazi's and Communists and in a rather silly fashion, among the Italian Fascists but is at work in other movements. This format of course draws from the first two, but makes it into something different.
    Also it is argueable that for it to be militarism it must be associated with, well, a "military"-a bureaucratized organization for the purpose of making war. In that case Homer could not have been militaristic and Charlemagne would have barely qualified. They would have been "warlike" but not militaristic.

    Sir Jason the Longwinded

    PS The reason I sometimes sign anonymous is that I am only signed in on one of the family's computers. Perhaps lazy but I always do identify myself.

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  8. Pacifism is by corralary anarchism-if it is immoral to make war in all circumstatances then it is immoral for the state to exist as the state must by nature exist by military means. If God had demanded so radical a change in human society we would have been told and no one in the Bible is rebuked for his service to the state.

    An excellent point, Sir Jason, supported forcefully by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the "militaristic but pacifist" Roman believers.

    "1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God." Romans Chap. 13

    IN fact, Paul takes it a step further...

    "2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."

    Which could mean, of course, that pacifists who deny the authority of the government to wage a just war are denying God's will, and will have to answer for that.

    Most important Rome is an "easy answer".

    Yes, as is that bumper sticker "Give peace a chance." Peace is always given a chance, but poverty, hate, prejudice, and opportunism always take the initiative. Peace doesn't seem to be a very strong force by itself. I suppose that is why Our Lord calls us to be peacemakers; it's a tough job, and somebody has to do it.

    Sir C

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  9. Where it becomes harmful is when it is taken to excess, particularly when it becomes vulgar worship of power, the form it took most dramatically among Nazi's and Communists and in a rather silly fashion, among the Italian Fascists but is at work in other movements. This format of course draws from the first two, but makes it into something different.
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    Ironically the militarism of tyrants described here seems to bear no relation to the actual prowess of the force that a given tyrant has at his command.

    Sir Jason the Longwinded

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  10. Aye, witness the bravado of the leaders of the great forces of Iraq, Iran, Hesbollah, Hamas...

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