March 26, 1896
THE Christianity of the Crusades was the gospel of revenge, of force, of the sword: it was the National Reform movement of that era.
Europe was already “Christian,” having been made so largely by the sword; and what was more natural than that men believing in national “Christianity” should regard carnal weapons as the most potent means of establishing even the kingdom of the Prince of Peace?
But the Christianity of the Crusades was not in any sense the Christianity of Christ. When the people sought to take Christ by force to make him King, he hid himself from them. 605
When Peter drew a sword in defense of his Master, Jesus said: “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” 606
When arraigned before Pilate as one guilty of speaking against Cesar, Christ said: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight; …. but now is my kingdom not from hence.” 607
And finally, the great apostle to the Gentiles wrote: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imagination, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 608
This is the Christianity of Christ. Its fundamental law is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind;” and, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” 609 Its one undeviating rule of human conduct is: “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” 610
Christ himself came not into the world to condemn the world, “but that the world through him might be saved.” 611 His ministers are ambassadors of peace. Says the apostle: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead be ye reconciled to God.” 612
Such is the Christianity of Christ, of the Gospels, of the Acts, of the Epistles; and such the relation that its ministers should sustain toward all men. But such is not the Christianity of the Crusades. The Saviour said: “Love your enemies; do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” 613 But the Christianity of the Crusades taught the very opposite of all this.
Peter the Hermit, the great apostle of the Crusades, appealed to passion, prejudice, love of conquest, and hope of temporal and eternal reward. He exhorted his hearers to be revenged on the hateful infidels, and assured them that they would at the same time acquire great spiritual “merit”!
Mounted on a mule, the Hermit carried his “gospel” of hate everywhere. In his so-called preaching this man pictured the profanation of the holy places. Pantomine often supplied the lack of words. Depicting the scenes he had witnessed, he displayed a crucifix he had brought with him from Jerusalem, and smiting his breast with it until the blood flowed, he exhorted his auditors to purge the Holy City of the hated Turk.
“For many years,” says Ridpath, “the fanatical religious sentiment of the West had prescribed a pilgrimage to some holy place as the best balm for an inflamed conscience. The morbid soul of the Western Frank saw in the sandal-shoon and scallop-shell of the pilgrim the emblems and passport of a better life. He who had sinned, he who had consumed his youth in lawlessness and passion, he who had I his manhood done some bloody deed for which he was haunted by specters, he who had forgotten the ties of kindred and stopped his ears to the entreaties of the weak, must ere the twilight faded into darkness, find peace and reconciliation by throwing off the insignia of human power and folly and going barefoot to the holy places of the East. And what other spot so sacred, so meritorious, as the scene of the crucifixion and burial of Christ?” 614
The Crusades afforded an opportunity to do penance and to get renown and even wealth at one and the same time. “To destroy the hated Turk,” says the historian, “and eradicate his stock from the earth, was  regarded as the one work worthy of the praise of men and the favor of heaven.” 615
The Council of Clermont assembled in the autumn of 1095. On the tenth day of the Council, Pope Urban II., who had crossed the Alps to be present, ascending a throne, said: “Christian warriors, rejoice! for you who without ceasing seek vain pretext for war have to-day found true ones; you are not now called to avenge the injuries of men, but injuries offered to God. It is not now a town or castle that will reward your valor, but the wealth of Asia, and a land flowing with milk and honey. If you triumph over your foes, the kingdoms of the East will be your heritage. If you are conquered, you will have the glory of dying where Christ died…. Gird your swords to your thighs, ye men of might. It is our part to pray, yours to do battle; ours—with Moses—to hold up unwearied hands, yours to stretch forth the sword against the children of Amalek.” 616
The response to this appeal was just such as might have been expected. From the lips of that mighty throng burst the cry, Dieu le Veut! Dieu le Veut! and answering back, the “successor of St. Peter,” the self-styled Vicar of the Son of God, said, “God indeed wills it. Go forth, brave warriors of the cross, and let ‘God wills it,’ be your watchword and battle-cry in the holy war.”
The Red Cross
“As soon,” says Ridpath, “as the loud cry of Dieu le Veut was hushed at a gesture from the pope, one of the cardinals arose and pronounced a form of confession for all those who would enlist in the holy enterprise. Thereupon, Adhemar, bishop of Puy, came forward and received from the hands of Urban one of the red crosses which had been consecrated for the occasion. Knights and barons crowded around the seat of his holiness to receive the sacred badge and to take the oath of loyalty to Christ. The cross of red cloth was then stitched upon the right shoulder of the mantle, and the wearer became a soldier of the cross—a Crusader.”
“From Scandinavia to the Mediterranean the Crusade was preached with a fiery zeal that kindled a flame in every village. In accordance with a canon of the Council of Clermont the taking of the cross was to be accepted in lieu of all the penances due to the church. The license thus granted was in the nature of a plenary indulgence and became one of the most powerful incitements to the cause…. All the warlike lusts of the age were set at liberty under the sanction of religion and retributive justice.”
“Those who were in debt gladly threw off the burden by assuming the cross. The creditor might no longer menace or disturb those who had become the soldiers of Christ. Offenders and criminals also found the day auspicious. No prison wall might any longer restrain him who took the sword against the infidel. Over the thief and the murderer on whose right shoulders appeared the sacred emblem of the holy war the church threw the egis of her protection. All manner of crime was to be washed white in the blood of the sacrilegious Turks.”
Massacre, Pillage and Burning
Very naturally the movements of large bodies of such men were attended with every sort of excess. The Crusaders “swept through the German territories,” says Ridpath, “like an army of devouring locusts, until through sheer waste of resources they were obliged to divide into smaller masses.” Pillage marked the track of the Crusading hosts; and if they met opposition, massacre too often followed, and this before they had opportunity to cross swords with the infidel Turks. Semlin, in Austria-Hungary, suffered all the horrors of massacre, pillage and burning, at the hands of men made “soldiers of the cross,” by papal decree, and by adopting and wearing a badge.
“One band numbering about twenty thousand, commanded by Walter the Penniless, of Burgundy, pressed forward through Hungary and Bulgaria in the direction of Constantinople. It is said of this advanced host that there were only eight horsemen in the whole number. The rest of the wretched mob proceeded on foot, generally marching without shoes and hundreds falling by the wayside through exposure, disease, and famine. Nothing but the tolerance and friendly disposition of Carolman, king of the Hungarians, saved the miserable vanguard from entire destruction. In Bulgaria, however, the lieutenant of the Eastern Emperor looked with less favor upon the lawless horde that had been precipitated into his kingdom. The Crusaders were quickly cut off from supplies and were obliged to have recourse to violence, but they now found themselves opposed by a race as savage as themselves.
“The Bulgarians took up arms to defend their country from destruction. The track of Walter and his army was marked with blood and fire. The Crusaders were cut off day by day until at the confines of the country only Walter and a few followers remained to make their way through the forests to Constantinople.
The Sack of Semlin
“Meanwhile the second division of the host, numbering about forty thousand men, women and children, under the command of Peter the Hermit himself, pressed on in the same direction taken by Walter. Their march was promoted through Hungary by the favor of king and people. The wants of the vast multitude were supplied, and friendly relations were maintained, as far as the city of Semlin. Here on the walls were displayed some of the spoils which had been taken two months previously from Walter and his savages. On seeing these tokens of their friends’ overthrow the Crusaders broke into ungovernable rage, and fell furiously upon the offending city. The ramparts were scaled, thousands of the people were butchered, and Semlin suffered all the horrors of pillage and burning.” 617
True, these things were committed by an unorganized mob that never actually reached Palestine. But the regular Crusaders were little better. Having cast away the gospel bands from them to the extent of entering upon war for the furtherance of the gospel, why should they stop short of any excess?
Of the host that besieged and finally captured Antioch, Ridpath says: “One of the chief incentives to the uprising had been the license freely offered by the Church to all who should be victorious over the infidel. To them restraint should be unknown. The maidens of Greece and the dark-eyed houris of Syria, were openly named as a part of the reward due to them who should hurl the Turk from his seat on the tomb of Christ; and the Crusader in his dreams saw the half-draped figures of Oriental beauties flitting in the far mirage. Before the walls of Antioch the men of the West sat down to enjoy whatever the land afforded. The god of license became the favorite divinity. All restraint was cast aside. Every village in the surrounding country was recklessly pillaged, and the camp of the Crusaders was heaped with spoils. Then the armed warriors gave themselves up to feasting and love-making with the Syrian damsels. Bishops of the Church wandered wantonly through the orchards and lay on the grass playing dice with Cyprians.” 618
The Slaughter at Jerusalem.
And finally, when Jerusalem was taken by the professed followers of the Prince of Peace, indiscriminate slaughter followed. “Blood,” says the historian, “flowed in the gutters, and horrid heaps of the dead lay piled at every corner. None were spared by the frenzied Christians, who saw in the gore of the infidels the white way of redemption. Ten thousand dead, scattered through the city, gave token of the merciless spirit of the men of the West. Another ten thousand were heaped in the reeking courts of the great mosque on Mount Moriah. ‘God wills it,’ said the pilgrims. The indiscriminate butchery of the Saracens was carried out by the rank and file of the Crusading army. In this blood work they needed no incentive—no commander. Each sword flamed with hatred until it was cooled in the dripping life of the enemies of Christ.” 619
Such were the deeds done and the scenes enacted in the era of the Crusades in the name of Christianity. And what was accomplished? Absolutely nothing for either true religion, or genuine civilization; and worse still, Christianity became with millions of the human race a hissing and a by-word. Henceforth it was to be judged, not by the sublime precepts of its Founder, not by the spiritual truths which he taught, or by the spirit power he had promised, but by the sack of Antioch, by the massacre at Jerusalem, by the rivers of blood that everywhere flowed in the track of the Crusaders.
And who was to blame? Who but the leaders in religious thought? Who but the religious teachers of the day? Suppose that instead of preaching the Crusades, Peter the Hermit had preached the gospel of the Son of God. Suppose that, like the apostle, he had been an ambassador of peace and not of war, how different might have been the history of the eleventh and twelfth centuries; yea, of all subsequent time!