The Crusades Are Critical History

Rischgitz/Getty Images

The Crusades Are Critical History

Many history books gloss over the “Christian Crusades.” Here’s why that is dangerous.

The Mainstream of Civilization is the primary history textbook at Herbert W. Armstrong College. When it comes to general history textbooks, Mainstream is as good, if not better, than most.

But it is not without its flaws. The most bothersome to me is the extreme dearth of attention it gives to a certain string of wars. This series of savagery was among the most vicious in Western history, as well as the most defining, and is chillingly prescient in light of current world events.

Of Mainstream’s 979 pages, about one and a half are devoted to the Christian Crusades.

Sadly, this superficial assessment is not an anomaly among history textbooks. This is no small problem. We study history to learn how it should—or, in the case of the Crusades, should not—be repeated.

History students who study the Crusades should explore the following questions: Who exactly was responsible for the Crusades? Why did the Crusades occur? What does this long and vicious series of wars reveal about the nature of the institution that caused them? Beyond bottoming out these questions, students should also consider the medieval Crusades in the context of current world conditions.

This is how we study the Crusades at Herbert W. Armstrong College.

First, although most historians term the gory conflicts between European Christians and Middle Eastern Muslims as “the Crusades” or the “Christian Crusades,” they should more accurately be called the Catholic Crusades. Initiated by Pope Urban ii in 1095, the Crusades were military invasions concocted and fueled by popes with the objective of consolidating and extending Catholic dominion over Europe, the Middle East and the Holy Land.

Notice what Terry Jones and Alan Ereira wrote in their book Crusades (emphasis mine throughout):

By summoning an army under the banner of the cross, the pope [Urban ii] was extending the church’s mantle over all Christendom. This was the idea at the very heart of the revolutionary papacy; in place of separate local churches at the center of discreet communities, there was to be one overarching church, ruled by one overarching pope. The Crusade was to be its expression and its instrument.

Compare that with Encyclopedia Britannica Online’s description of the Crusades: “Military expeditions, beginning in the late 11th century, that were organized by Western Christians in response to centuries of Muslim wars of expansion.” Mainstream is similarly vague. This is entirely misleading. “Christian Crusades” and “Western Christians” are unspecific terms that cloud Catholicism’s central role. The Crusades were a series of Catholic wars initiated and promoted by popes in an effort to extend the Vatican’s influence over Europe, and wrest control of the Holy Land from Muslims.

When studied correctly, the Crusades reveal a lot about the true nature of the Roman Catholic Church!

By the middle of the 11th century, the Catholic Church had become largely secularized and was deeply divided. Papal authority over the Continent was weak and had been severely diminished by European kings who had assumed many of the rights and responsibilities of church leaders. By the end of the 11th century, Rome had had enough.

As Steven Runciman wrote in A History of the Crusades, Volume iii, “The Crusades were the pope’s work.” The Crusades were a papal venture to reestablish Vatican dominion over Christian Europe.

The Crusades essentially began on Nov. 27, 1095, at the Council of Clermont. There in southern France, Pope Urban ii delivered a rousing speech to thousands of followers. Although the pope never released his speech, a few of his followers and listeners wrote it down for posterity. The following snippets, penned by Robert the Monk, provide insight into the reason for the Crusades beyond what you will read in most general history textbooks:

From the confines of Jerusalem and from the city of Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth and has repeatedly been brought to our ears; namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race wholly alienated from God, a generation that set not their heart aright and whose spirit was not steadfast with God, violently invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire.

Urban wasn’t merely upset at the Muslims for taking Jerusalem; he despised them as “an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God.”

Let the deeds of your ancestors encourage you and incite your minds to manly achievements: the greatness of King Charlemagne, and of his son Louis, and of your other monarchs, who have destroyed the kingdoms of the Turks and have extended the sway of church over lands previously possessed by the pagan.

What was Pope Urban ii doing? He was resurrecting the crusading spirit of Charlemagne, the Catholic emperor responsible for expanding Christianity throughout Europe—via the gruesome slaughter of millions of non-Christians!

Let the holy sepulcher of our Lord and Savior, which is possessed by unclean nations, especially arouse you, and the holy places which are now treated, with ignominy and irreverently polluted with the filth of the unclean. … This royal city [Jerusalem], however, situated at the center of the earth, is now held captive by the enemies of Christ and is subjected, by those who do not know God, to the worship of the heathen. She seeks, therefore, and desires to be liberated and ceases not to implore you to come to her aid.

Purging Jerusalem of the infidel was the central theme of Pope Urban’s speech.

“The continued occupation of the holy places,” wrote historian John Julius Norwich, “and above all Jerusalem itself—by the infidel was, [Pope Urban] declared, an affront to Christendom; Christian pilgrims were now being subjected to every kind of humiliation and indignity. It was the duty of all good Christians to take up arms against those who had desecrated the ground upon which Christ had trod to recover it for their own true faith” (The Middle Sea).

Recapturing Jerusalem was Urban’s primary goal for the Crusades.

“Urban’s army would also rescue Jerusalem, the spiritual (and therefore the physical) center of the universe. He hoped that the redeemed Jerusalem would be directly ruled by the church. Every man who enrolled for the struggle must mark himself out by wearing a cross and, most important, vow to continue on his way until he reached Jerusalem” (op. cit., Jones and Ereira).

Too many history books underrate Jerusalem’s central role in the bloody Crusades. It is a fact of history that the Crusades began with Pope Urban telling Catholic Europeans that it was their Christian duty to recapture Jerusalem, butcher the “heathens” who had infiltrated it, and reestablish Vatican control over the spiritual and physical “center” of the universe.

The handiwork of these who called themselves “God’s representatives” was the bloodiest kind of work imaginable.

Norwich wrote, “[O]n Friday, 15 July 1099, amid scenes of hideous carnage, the soldiers of Christ battered their way into Jerusalem, where they celebrated their victory by slaughtering all the Muslims in the city and burning all the Jews alive in the main synagogue.”

Mainstream and many other general history books fail to mention that when the Catholic soldiers invaded Jerusalem, they killed 70,000 Jews and Arabs—or even that 200 years of Catholic crusading left the blood of several hundred thousand to several million people soaking into the holy land!

The battle for Jerusalem was so gruesome, wrote Norwich, that afterward some of the Crusaders, “sickened by the atrocities they had seen committed in Christ’s name,” had to leave. Haunted and ashamed by the unspeakable carnage they had committed, many Catholic Crusaders couldn’t bear to live in the city they had dedicated their lives to conquering!

The Crusades reveal the Vatican’s deep hunger for Jerusalem, and the barbaric extent to which it is prepared to go to control that city!

The Last Crusade

Now, if we are to really give weight and meaning to the medieval Crusades, we must consider them in the context of current world conditions.

Consider Europe, once the bastion of Catholicism. Today, the continent, from the Vatican’s perspective, is far too heavily shaped and influenced by secularism. Pope Benedict xvi has made it clear he believes Catholicism ought to play a much greater role in European affairs. He believes and declares that Europe’s leaders and people need to focus on the contribution Catholicism has made in building Europe.

That’s what led Benedict to revive the words of his predecessor, John Paul ii, who said in 1982: “I, bishop of Rome and shepherd of the universal church … utter to you, Europe of the ages, a cry full of love: Find yourself again. Be yourself. Discover your origins, revive your roots. Return to those authentic values which made your history a glorious one and your presence so beneficent in the other continents.”

Toward the end of the 11th century, Pope Urban would tell you he couldn’t have said it better himself! He too recognized that Catholicism had been marginalized by secularist leaders. In his speech at the Council of Clermont in 1095, Urban—sensing growing concern about marauding Muslim armies to the south—ignited a military campaign that not only brought a temporary end to Islamic expansion and recaptured the Holy Land for Catholicism, but reestablished Vatican dominion over Catholic Europe!

Will Pope Benedict xvi do something similar?

Even as you read this column, war is raging between Israel and Muslims in the Gaza Strip who are bent on purging Israel of Jews and ultimately taking control of Jerusalem. This war is merely one battle of a larger campaign by radical terrorists and terrorist-sponsoring states and organizations around the world, as the Trumpet has explained, to bulldoze Israelis into the sea and regain control of Jerusalem!

When the pope looks at the Middle East today, he basically sees what Pope Urban ii saw in 1095. He sees the Holy Land wracked with chaos and surrounded by empowered, motivated and increasingly combative Muslim armies. He sees that Muslims have infiltrated and heavily influenced Jerusalem, which, he believes, as Urban ii put it, increasingly “seeks … and desires to be liberated, and ceases not to implore [Catholics] to come to her aid.”

He sees radical Islam seeking confrontation with Catholicism! “Both Iran and its Hamas proxy in Gaza have been busy this Christmas week showing Christendom just what they think of it,” Caroline Glick wrote last week. “On Tuesday Hamas legislators marked the Christmas season by passing a sharia criminal code for the Palestinian Authority. Among other things, the code legalizes crucifixion.” Hamas now endorses nailing the enemies of Islam to the cross!

How will Pope Benedict respond to these conditions?

Bible prophecy reveals that he will follow in the footsteps of Pope Urban!

One of the most pertinent prophecies about this last crusade is in Daniel 11:40: “And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.”

This spirit of the medieval Crusades is embodied in this end-time prophecy!

The clash of Daniel 11:40, as we have often explained, occurs when the king of the south, or radical Islamic forces led by Iran, pushes the king of the north, a Catholic-inspired, German-led union of European nations, into war. Here’s what Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote about this scripture in the Royal Vision (January-February 2005):

This “push” actually triggers World War iii! The king of the north, the Holy Roman Empire, will win. What is that push? Just like the Crusades, there will be two great religions fighting over Jerusalem. That push will probably revolve around Jerusalem.

You can’t get this in mainstream textbooks.

This is why the Trumpet pays so much attention to what’s happening in Jerusalem. That city is the nucleus around which the majority of end-time Bible prophecies revolve. Whether it’s the impending fall of East Jerusalem to the Arabs prophesied in Zechariah 14, or the “push” and the violent clash described in Daniel 11:40 and elsewhere, time can be measured by events unfolding in Jerusalem!

The reason for Jerusalem’s centrality to end-time prophecy could not be more exciting: Each of these events immediately precedes the return of Jesus Christ to the Mount of Olives and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on Earth whose headquarters will be in Jerusalem! That’s right: Despite the bloody, misguided efforts of mankind to control Jerusalem, this city will soon be ruled by Jesus Christ Himself.

Soon, lasting peace will flow from this city forever!