Objections to the Crusades

By Luke Lancaster

Objection #1. Some will argue today that the sacking of Jerusalem was horrible and stains the entire 1st Crusade. The Crusading chroniclers said that blood was up to the ankles of the warriors after the sacking of the city, so how could that be defended?

Answer: First, this language of “blood up to their ankles” was hyperbolic. It was recalling Revelation 14:20, where God judged the evil of the world. This was interpreted to refer to the Islamic forces who had taken Jerusalem and whom God had judged through the Crusaders. Second, the whole city was not murdered. Historian Steve Weidenkopf claims that around 3,000 combatants and non-combatants died in Jerusalem out of the 20,000-30,000 inhabitants, so the sacking of Jerusalem was not completely evil. To support this claim, he cites the article: “The Jerusalem Massacre of 1099 in the Western Historiography of the Crusades,” Crusades vol. 3, The Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2004), 75. Third, the city was offered peace terms before the Crusaders took the city, but the people refused. It was understood by all in the 11th century that if a city did not surrender peacefully, they would be killed. Yet when the Crusaders entered the city, the Muslim governor surrendered, and he was not killed. Historian Thomas Madden says that “many” of the Muslims and Jews of Jerusalem “were also allowed to purchase their freedom or were simply expelled from the city” (The New and Concise History of the Crusades, p. 34).

Objection #2. Some say that the Crusaders were power-hungry. They will argue that the European firstborn sons of families within Europe owned the land, and that the second, third, and fourth born sons had no land. So, these sons went off to the Holy Land to get land of their own.

Answer: This is untrue, for modern historians have shown that it was actually the firstborn sons who owned the lands that went on Crusade! They had the most to lose! The odds of the Crusaders winning against Islam were also heavily weighed against them. Most died in the fighting. And when the Crusaders won, most then went home. What did they bring back? Nothing but a good deed. The Crusaders did not return home to the West with loads of wealth. They had funded their entire voyage on their own, resulting in bankruptcy for many. They went to the East to defend their innocent brethren.

Objection #3. Some will claim that the Crusades were launched against peaceful Muslims in the East for no good reason.

Answer: The religion of Islam had gobbled up 2/3’s of the Christian world by force before the Crusades. Muslims took over Christian lands in Spain, North Africa, Egypt, Jerusalem, and Asia Minor. Their objective: bringing the world under the dominion of Islam. They even reached into Western Europe, launching raids from Spain and collecting Christians as slaves. Particularly devastating to the Western Christians was when Islam conquered Sicily (Italy) in the 9th century, a land so close to home that it made modern-day Europe very uncomfortable. So, the Western Christians in Europe finally attempted to defend themselves. They also wanted to protect the innocent, for the lives of Christians in Muslim countries was miserable. Muslims consider non-Muslims to be devoid of God’s image and dignity, so they justified heavy persecution of Christians. The Christian lived barely above the status of a slave. They were second class citizens, unable to testify in a court of sharia law. They had to pay a huge fine every year just to live there, and their Christian churches and icons were damaged and destroyed. Because of these things, the Western Christians became fed up with the mistreatment and were totally justified to attempt to free their Christians brothers and sisters in the East.

Objection #4. Some will claim that the lands taken over by Muslims only belonged to Christendom from the 4th to the 7th centuries, so Christians had no right to the lands anymore in the 11th century. The Crusaders, then, were unjustified to Crusade, specifically because they reacted to the Islamic conquest much too late. Christians responded four centuries after the Muslims originally overtook the lands in the 7th century.

Answer: (1) It’d be great if the Crusades had been called way back in the 7th century. However, the Christians did not have the resources to do so back then. The West was rural and poor. They needed time to become wealthy and powerful enough to fight. (2) Another reason for the long wait is that the West had not been fully Christianized as a united front. For example, a major player in the Crusades was the Normans. They had joined the West when the Vikings converted to Catholicism in the 10th century. Those Vikings came to Normandy and became the Normans. The Saxons also had only joined the West only when Charlemagne conquered and converted them. So, time was needed. The Gregorian reform of the papacy of the 11th century also solidified the notion of a united Christian West. This separated the papacy from the political state and strengthened the power of the Pope. (3) Another reason for the wait is that Islam had mostly attacked the Eastern Christians, which was very far away from the West. Thousands of miles separated them. (4) Christians also had been taught about Jesus’s desire for peace, so it was difficult to reconcile fighting back against Islam. It probably took centuries for St. Augustine’s just war theory, outlined in the City of God, to settle in. But they did have smaller crusading efforts against Islamic forces in Spain and Sicily leading up to the First Crusade in 1095 AD. (5) One of Pope Urban II’s predecessors, Pope Gregory VII, had planned to go to Jerusalem with 50,000 Western Christian men to aid the Christian East, but he was having political troubles with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, and was unable. So, it was on their minds.

Further Reading:

Steve Weidenkopf, The Glory of the Crusades (Catholic Answers Press, 2014).

Thomas Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006).

Thomas Asbridge, The First Crusade: A New History (Oxford, 2004).

Jonathan Riley-Smith, What Were the Crusades? (Ignatius Press, 2009).

Rodney Stark, God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (Harper One, 2010).

J. Stephen Roberts, Real Crusades History.