The Problem With Church Sanctioned Violence

Source: Public domain

In the last 4 weeks I have consumed so much written and audible material on the Crusades. Not only have I read modern historians one the subject but have so far read three primary accounts. I’ve roughly read 3-4000 pages of work. I feel like I’m at least somewhat qualified to throw around my opinions upon the Crusades.

I can understand why so many people would be uncomfortable with the thought of a Pope calling for war. Immediately we are quick to quote the Gospel on turning the other cheek, even though the same scriptures legitimize an official authority sanctioned by God to punish others with violence. It’s not easy for the average person with no understanding of Catholic theology to accept the concept.

Even Tancred of Hautville, a young 20 year old knight on the first crusade didn’t want to go. He was reasoning that Christ did not want war and he was sick at the thought of going. It was not until someone comforted him with the Popes approval and remission of sins for doing so did he suddenly begin to warm to the idea. Even all those years ago, people themselves engaged in warfare saw it all as an unholy mess. Therefore, the concept of a “Holy war” has a hypocritical ring in ancient times so it’s not just a modern perception.

Then, when one actually reads the story of the Crusades, it’s not long before we begin to wince a little at the rather macabre stories we find there. I’m talking about stories where we know the Church did not sanction the actions, such as alleged forced conversions of Muslims or the killing of innocent Jews or civilians not of the Christian faith. But add to that the troubling words of some saints like Bernard of Clairvaux. Writing about the pagans of modern day Poland, he said that if they wont be converted they should be completely wiped out.

That is an incredibly tough statement from a Catholic Saint for the average person to digest let alone a die hard Catholic who loves his faith. Don’t get me wrong, these pagans were not some tree loving well behaved hippies. The whole reason for the Crusade was to defend the already converted missionaries there as they constantly attacked them. However, it quickly evolved into a full on frontal attack to wipe them out all together.

My point about all of this is that when reading about Church sanctioned violence, there is a need to separate the wheat from the Chaff. For example many blame the Church for the actions of some rogue Crusaders who murdered civilians and in Europe used this authority to kill Jews. There is always a desire to take the bad actions of Church members and somehow conclude that this whole Catholic Church can’t be the true Church or that God himself wasn’t behind it all.

As I read through these accounts of the Crusaders, I’d be lying if I told you I felt comfortable reading them. To be honest, there were moments where I got upset at the carelessness of it all. Yet, at the same time I must see the positive. The Crusades have kept the Islamic religion at bay to be cornered in a certain part of the world for a very long time and that makes me a happy chappy. In Europe we forget that we owe our freedoms to the Crusades and many battles afterwards in the 17th century against the Ottoman Empire.

My summary is this: The Crusades may have been at times disordered, but like the money we cross hands with every day, they were a necessary evil. You don’t have to like them, but regardless of the bad actions of many who allegedly took the Cross, it’s not hard to see God was behind it. You can be sure that whatever God is behind, Satan will enter to twist and corrupt it through the ignorance of a few bad apples. It’s now history, but it’s a history that shaped the world.



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