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Critics of the Crusades by their contemporaries


In a speech given by John Paul II during the Day of Forgiveness in the Holy Year 2000: “ We cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel that some of our brothers have committed, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask forgiveness for the divisions which have taken place among Christians, for the violence to which some of them have resorted in the service of the truth, and for the attitudes of mistrust and hostility sometimes adopted towards the faithful. other religions ". In his address, John Paul II assumes in the name of the Catholic Church the responsibility of the crusades which he qualifies as "infidels" with reference to the biblical texts ...

Beyond a supposed moral or political fault, it is first of all the irreconcilable relationship between the values ​​taught by the Gospels and the results of the actions carried out during the Crusades whose Church he seeks to amend. If it took nine centuries for the Vatican to position itself so categorically, voices were raised from the early days of the crusade, to question its merits, to criticize it and even in a few rare cases, s 'oppose it.

The sources

Critics of contemporaries of the Crusades never represent the mainstream. It must be noted that their social acceptance remained dominant during the 11th-13th centuries. The challenges are transmitted mainly by oral means and have, in fact, been lost. We note that the sources increase from 1200, after the successive failures of the Second and Third Crusades and the diversion of the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople in 1204 which crystallizes the condemnations, even among its defenders.

The speech of these opponents is interesting in what it brings innovative to the reader, it transcribes the point of view of contemporary Westerners of these events.

The attitude of the crusader

The First Crusade is a special case in what René Grousset called “the Epic of the Crusades” in that it was the only expedition which succeeded in fulfilling its objectives - namely to conquer the city of Jerusalem - by the warlike way. His success and his undoubtedly innovative character ensure him the support of all chroniclers and troubadours.

There are, however, writings that crack this facade. Guibert de Nogent, Abbot of Nogent -‐ sous -‐ Coucy (1053-‐1124) who wrote a Gesture of God by the Franks or Albert, canon of Aix -‐ la -‐ Chapelle, in his History written around 1130 are both in favor of the crusade. However, they blame the "Very cruel massacre (1)", in particular towards the Jews of the Rhine cities who undergo Pogroms and are baptized by force (2).

The two chroniclers also point to the mistakes of the Crusaders during the massacre which followed the capture of Jerusalem in July 1099. Albert d'Aix speaks of a "drug-related carnage (3)" and condemns the leaders who massacred the Muslim survivors they had spared for ransom or for the sake of humanity (4) ”to ensure that they do not revolt.

"They behead and stone girls, women, noble matrons, even pregnant or with young children."

It is not the crusade or its merits that is questioned by the chroniclers but the attitude of its participants who they consider not in accordance with the ethics that must be adopted by the penitent who goes to Jerusalem and takes the cross. for her.

The idea that a crusader must know reason to keep and conform to an attitude which conforms to the status of pilgrim, is the main criticism which one meets in the texts for the period of the 12th century. The success or otherwise of an expedition is even largely attributed to the attitude of the Crusaders and their behavior during the expedition.

A prior of Vigeois, in Limousin, Geoffroy (died in 1184) attributes to the indiscipline of the Crusaders the inability "to take any city" (5). In Brabant, a Continuation of the chronicle of Sigebert de Gembloux dated 1112, gives a catastrophic dimension to the failure: “it is not easy to find (...) since the origins of Christianity, such a large portion of the people of God were wiped out so quickly and so miserably ”.

In the same way, the bull Audita tremenda by which Gregory VIII proclaims the third crusade opens on the “dissensions which the malice of the men recently aroused in the homeland of the Lord”, and attributes the conquests of Saladin to the quarrels of the Latins ( 6).

The Life of Saint Louis, written between 1305 and 1309 by Jean de Joinville, draws a similar observation. He attributes the defeat of the Seventh Crusade to infighting among Christians. In 1270, he refused to follow Louis IX, who made a second wish for a crusade, on the pretext of abuses committed by the Crusaders during the last expedition and by recalling that the duty of state took precedence over a distant and hazardous adventure. He attributes the start of the Eighth Crusade to the king's bad advisers who "commit a mortal sin" by pushing him to call for a new expedition to the East because they leave the future of the kingdom uncertain.

The monk Rutebeuf (1230-‐1285) composed his Disputation of crossed and uncrossed (7), a poetic debate in which he takes up these arguments. The uncrusader prefers to keep his inheritance which he would have to spend to get to the Holy Land and points out that he would leave his children poor and without their father if he crossed paths.

Crusade and Gospels

The promoters of the Crusades refer to the reflections of the Fathers of the Church who wondered under what circumstances a Christian can wield the sword and wage war. The principle of “Just War”, widely theorized by Saint Augustine in the 5th century in La Cité de Dieu, allows a Christian to fight an infidel in a defensive war, and only if he does so in the name of Christendom. The Crusade, an enterprise created in the name of God to "recover" the Holy Land and Jerusalem, which rightfully belongs to the Christian people, therefore theoretically falls within the criteria of Just War.

Other theologians have offered a more peaceful interpretation of the Gospels. The canonist Gratien, residing in Bologna, wrote a Decree (8) between 1140 and 1150 in which he brought together more than 3,800 sometimes contradictory ecclesiastical laws that he put in relation and tried to reconcile.

Cause 23 of the second part of its Decree recognizes that a legitimate use of violence can be accepted in the service of justice but that it necessarily goes against the message of Christ who rejects it en bloc. Gratien concludes "that it appears that waging war is a sin". He draws up a list of verses from the Bible that favors the non-violent attitude of the Christian (9).

Cause 23 of Gratian's Decree also shows the paradox that is established between the Christ message and the crusade. Its proclamation, its direction and its encouragement by religious break with the tradition which forbids the clergy to push for war.

Bernard de Clairvaux, who preaches the Second Crusade, becomes the scapegoat for detractors after the disaster of the expedition. The Annals of Würzburg open the year 1147 with a diatribe against "the pseudo -‐ prophets, sons of the demon Belial and witnesses of the Antichrist, whose" illusory words "and" vain preaching "called for the crusade.

Terrestrial Jerusalem and Heavenly Jerusalem

The Cistercian order very early on put forward the idea that being a Crusader is not enough to save one's soul, despite the “remission of sins”, gain obtained by a person who takes the cross if he were to die on the pilgrimage route. .

The inner journey must be at least as important as the land journey. The Cistercians quote Saint Jerome: "It is more praiseworthy to live for Jerusalem than to have gone to Jerusalem". Bernard de Clairvaux himself affirms that “the goal of the monks is not to seek the terrestrial Jerusalem but the celestial Jerusalem”. In 1219-‐1223, the Dialogue des Miracles, composed by Césaire (died 1240), master of novices from Heisterbach (Rhineland) offers the listener "the cross of the overseas expedition", or
“The cross of the Cistercian order”. He explains that he chose the second because it is "the salutary cross (...) preferable to a piece of fabric temporarily sewn onto a garment".

Raoul le Noir, a contemporary of Thomas Becket wrote in the fall of 1187 a Military Art (10) which describes the paths leading to Jerusalem. The author lists three bodily and material pilgrimages to the holy city, but there are also spiritual ones: an interior journey guided exclusively by faith. He writes that “we must prefer the merits of the mystical pilgrimage” and to quote Saint John “Happy are those who believed without having seen (11)”.

The criticism of Raoul also recalls that during his arrest, Christ forbids Peter to use the sword to defend him from his aggressors and concludes that "God does not desire human vengeance, nor the propagation of faith by violence" .

Rather than strike the pagan with the sword, he prefers that the word of God be brought to him so that a reasoned conversion is allowed (12). In 1155, Peter the Venerable, author of Against the Saracen Sect addresses Muslims by emphasizing the infinite love of God for all men, including pagans. He affirms that he prefers the missionaries who convey his message to them rather than the knights who fight them: "I do not attack you, as ours so often do, with arms, but with words, and not by force, but by reason, not in hatred, but in love ”.

The comparison of Muslims and the Apocalypse and the impossible success of the crusade

The rejection of violence to the detriment of faith is reflected in the writings of other thinkers from the end of the 12th century who identify Muslims as the armies of the Antichrist.

Father Joachim de Flore (died in 1202) writes after the defeat of the Third Crusade that the victories of Saladin are harbingers of the end of time, as they are described in the Apocalypse. It therefore appears useless to oppose them by the sword since they accomplish - despite themselves - the divine mission. Obeying Providence requires favoring the mission to the detriment of the crusade (13). "Let Christians impose themselves more by preaching than by war (14). Ultimately, the short-term war against Islam is lost in advance since it must favor the coming of the Antichrist. If only out of Christian charity, it is therefore important to allow the conversion of the pagans before the arrival of the Antichrist, who are doomed to hell otherwise.

Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order, advocates universal preaching which must be accessible to all, Christians and pagans. In 1219, he went so far as to go to the camp of the Sultan of Egypt al -‐ Kamil to preach the Gospels to him in an attempt to put an end to the crusade.

The repeated defeats and the disinterestedness of the Orient

In 1204, the Crusaders heading for Jerusalem attacked and pillaged the city of Constantinople. Pope Innocent III writes to Peter of Capua his legate "You have abandoned the land that the Lord has consecrated (...) We had delegated our power to you, not to conquer the Empire of Constantinople, but to defend what remain in the Holy Land (...) using the swords, which should have been intended for the pagans to shed the blood of Christians ”.

Despite the reproaches of the papacy, it remains in the eyes of Christians those which allowed such alienation from the crusade. The poet Guilhem de Figueira, found in the county of Toulouse, wrote in 1227 "Traitorous Rome, greed made you lose measure (...) You do little harm to the Saracens but you massacre the Greeks and the Latins".

Even among those who hate the Greeks, the expedition remains indefensible. Roger Bacon wrote in 1260 in his Opus Maius "The war is useless against them (the Greeks) because the survivors and their children have only more resentment with regard to the Christian faith".

Conversion and the biblical message therefore remain the preferred route, as evidenced by the failure of the expeditions, even when they are as well prepared as those of Saint Louis (Seventh and Eighth). In 1250, he was taken prisoner with the survivors of his army at the battle of Mansourah. The chronicler Matthieu Paris reports that a long mourning is established throughout the kingdom of France and that many people are losing their faith (15). During his second crusade, Louis IX died while sieging the city of Tunis on August 25, 1270. There will be no more crusade after his death.

In the spring of 1274, Gregory X wanted to put a new crusade project on the agenda of the Council of Lyon II, but he was forced to give it up before the kings' lack of enthusiasm (16). His death in 1276 put an end to the project. The Franciscan chronicler Salimbene d'Adam writes that “it is not in God's plans that we cover the Holy Sepulcher, for all who have tried it have failed”.

Between 1291, fall of Saint -‐ Jean -‐ d'Acre and 1307 when the Order of the Knights of the Temple was dismantled, Christians no longer had strongholds or armies capable of intervening in the East. For the chroniclers, God does not intend to yield to the conquering temptation of the Christian.

In his Confession of the Lover, John Gower (1330-‐1408) asks “if it is right to cross the Mediterranean to fight and kill the Saracens” to a penitent who replies: “I quote the Gospel my son and I read there that one must “preach” and “suffer” for the holy faith. I do not find '' killing '' '17. Beyond the observation of the failure of overseas expeditions over two centuries, it is the very idea of ​​a crusade that no longer appears to be legitimately defensible and socially acceptable.

Sources and Bibliographies

1 Albert d'Aix, 26.

2 The ban on forcing Jews to become Christians dates back to the Council of Toledo IV in 633 at the earliest when forced baptism was prohibited, even if it obliged those who were baptized against their will to remain Christians.

3 Albert d'Aix, VI, 23.
4 Op.cit, VI, 29-30.
5 Geoffroy, stanza 52.

6 Particularly concerning the succession of Baudouin IV where the two aristocratic factions come to arms, by allying with the Turks.
7 The "uncrossed" is here the one who denies his vow of crusade.

8 Concordia discodantium canonum, “concord of discordant canons”.
9 “Revenge and retribution are mine (DT, 32,35); "It is the peace that I give you" (Jn, 14, 27); "Why take revenge, rather than accept to suffer some insults or fraud? (I, Co, 6, 7).
10 De re militari Tripli via peregrinatio Jerosolomitane.

15 Matthieu Paris, Historia Majora, 1251, t.5, p.108, 169-170.
16 Only King James IV of Aragon, old and sick, attended the Council.
17 John Cower, Confession of the Lover, III, I, v. 2242-2506.

11 John (20,29).
12 Raoul le Noir, De Re Militari ... III, 90.
13 Daniel “Apocalyptic Conversion: The Joachite Alternative to the Crusade”, p.136-139.
14 fol. 164v.

15 Matthieu Paris, Historia Majora, 1251, t.5, p.108, 169-170.
16 Only King James IV of Aragon, old and sick, attended the Council.
17 John Cower, Confession of the Lover, III, I, v. 2242-2506.

- Albert d'Aix, History of the Crusades, t.1, paleo.
- Guibert de Nogent, Geste de Dieu par les Francs, (transl .. Monique Cécile Garant), Mirror of the Middle Ages, Brepols, 1998.
- Aurell Martin, Christians against the Crusades, 12th -‐ 13th century, Fayard, Paris, 2013. Riley -‐ Smith Jonathan, Atlas des Croisades, “Critics against the Crusades”, Éditions - Autrement, 2005 (1990), p. 80.
- Siberry Elisabeth, The Critique of the Crusade (1095-1274)., Clarendon Press, 1985. Throop Palmer A., ​​The Critique of the Crusade: A Study of Public Opinion and Crusade Propaganda, 1940.


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