The First Christian Holy Wars

by Richard L. Rubenstein (March 2011)

The Crusades are never very far from Muslim memory, as was evident on February 23, 1998 when the London-based, Palestinian newspaper, Al Quds Al-Arabi, published the full text of aDeclaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders.The document was signed by al-Qaeda’s leaders, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as by an Islamist leader from Egypt, Pakistan, and Bangladesh respectively.[1] The most spectacular outcome to date of that jihad has been the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center and the assault on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Contemporary Islamists often identify the United States as “the Crusaders” rather than by its proper name. Similarly, the memory of Saladin’s defeat of the real Crusaders in 1187 assures most Muslims that their jihad against the  State of Israel will soon succeed. By contrast, the West has a far weaker memory of the Crusades in spite of their contemporary historical relevance. It is for that reason that this writer has written the essay that follows

It is not difficult for the casual visitor to Paris to find the city’s true center, the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Construction began in 1163 and, save for a brief period during the French Revolution, the magnificent structure has been the material embodiment of the Christian character of France ever since. In almost every other European community, the cathedral is the sacred space around which the city is organized. Until very recently-perhaps even today-to be European meant to be Christian. Non-Christians domiciled in Europe were, and in many places continue to be, at best outsiders and, at worst unwanted strangers. Even so brilliant a physicist as Einstein and families so rich as the Rothschilds and the Warburgs were considered outsiders despite their talent or wealth.[2] Although they played a significant role in European history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Rothschilds were not Europeans. To save themselves, they had to flee Nazi-occupied Europe during the Holocaust years. They could not meet the fundamental test of a family heritage with membership in the Christian Church. To prevent any threat to its Christian cultural character, Europeans have been prepared to resort to whatever means were necessary, including holy wars, expulsions, inquisitions, and even mass extermination.

In pagan times, there was a land mass modern maps identify as Europe, but there was no Europe as we now understand it. Our Europe is a humanly-constructed civilization originally organized by Latin Christians. Full fellowship in European society has traditionally been accorded only to those who shared the common faith. This does not mean that every baptized European believes in God or affirms that Christ is literally the Savior. Nevertheless, Europe has been the heartland of Christendom and the traditions proclaiming  Christ as Savior form the basis of the way Europeans mark  the seasons and celebrate or commemorate the most important events of their lives. Today, no less than yesterday, few aspects of European civilization-art, literature, music, philosophy, religion and politics-can be entirely divorced from their Christian roots.


Of especial importance is the fact that Christianity also served as the foundation of European political legitimacy, as is evident in coronation ceremonies of monarchs as separate in time as Charles, King of the Franks, known to posterity as Charlemagne, and  Queen Elizabeth II of England. The relationship between the Carolingian dynasty and the papacy was crucial. In Charlemagne's era, European Christendom was virtually surrounded by hostile peoples who did not share its religion or culture. More than three-fourths of the Iberian peninsula was occupied by Muslim forces. Charlemagne himself was born only ten years after his grandfather Charles Martel had defeated the Arabs under Abd-ar-Rahman in 732 at the battle of  Tours and Poitiers, thereby preventing the further advance of Muslim forces into Western Europe. To the northeast, Charlemagne made war against the Saxons whose defeat was followed by their conversion to Latin Christianity. Beyond the Saxons, there were pagan Scandinavian, Baltic, Slavic, Avar and other tribes. Our Europe only came into being with their conversion.

Charlemagne's father, Pepin the Short, was anointed king of the Franks at Soissons ca. 751 by the Papal Legate Boniface after deposing the last Merovingian king, Childeric III. Shortly thereafter, Pope Stephen II requested that Rome be placed under Pepin's protection. Pepin and the Pope needed each other. The Pope’s request was granted and  the  Pontiff made the arduous journey from Rome to St. Denis, outside of Paris, to anoint the king  yet again on July 28, 754. Without papal sanction, Pepin's action in deposing Childeric would have lacked legitimacy. The Pope needed the protection of the Franks to defend Rome from Lombard attack. By crowning Pepin, the Pope acquired a credible protector and strengthened the bonds between Pepin's house and the papacy.

The close link between Charlemagne and the papacy is highlighted by the events surrounding Charlemagne’s coronation. On April 25, 799 Pope Leo III was attacked by a group of Roman citizens who accused him of criminal behavior. They attempted unsuccessfully to blind him and cut out his tongue. Had they succeeded, the Pope would have been compelled to give up all priestly offices. The Pope fled to Charlemagne’s camp at Paderborn in what is now Germany. On November 24, 800, Charlemagne entered Rome and crushed the rebellion.[3]

On Christmas day 800, Leo III consecrated Charles as Emperor with the title, Romanorum gubernans imperium.[4] The consecration was a watershed event in the formation of the religio-cultural unity of Western Christendom. Charlemagne's most important achievement was the integration of Germany into the Roman Catholic Church through the conquest and forced conversion of the Saxons.  Charlemagne’s fundamental objective was to make his pagan enemies adherents of Roman Catholic Christianity. As the English historian H.A.L. Fisher observed shortly before World War II:

The purpose of the wars of Charlemagne, of his fifty-three campaigns fought upon every front, Danish, Slav, Saxon, Avar, Dalmatian, Lombard, Spanish, was not to give lessons in the Latin spirit, but to defend the orthodox Christians of the west against the enemies who assailed them on every side…In that struggle Charlemagne emerged the victor. He made central Europe safe for the Roman Church.[5]

Charlemagne's consecration contained the seeds of future conflict between Eastern and Western Europe and Latin and Greek Christianity. Michael I,  the Roman Emperor in Constantinople recognized Charlemagne as an Emperor, but many Greek-speaking Byzantines viewed Charlemagne and his successors as unworthy barbarian pretenders.  Byzantium regarded its Emperor as the only authentic Emperor and Constantinople as the true capital of the  enduring Roman Empire.  As we shall see, the effects of  this alienation between the heirs of Latin Rome and Greek Constantinople continued to be felt down to the present century, both in the Cold War and in the Balkan peninsula.

The Origins of the First Crusade

Charlemagne's campaigns against the pagans differed markedly from the Islamic conquests. Apart from the Jews, western Christendom had no place for non-believers. .Although Muhammad gave pagan Arabs the choice of “Islam or the sword,” Muslim conquerors treated Jews and Christians, and Zoroastrians as humiliated minorities or dhimmis. Treatment was usually harsh. At times, Jews and Christians prospered, but always as second class citizens subject to a special tax and other disabilities.[6]

In the formative period of western Christendom, especially after the Muslim conquests in Spain and France, Islam threatened to engulf all of Western Europe. Under the circumstances, insistence upon religious conformity was undoubtedly a strategic necessity in order to resist and eventually turn back Christianity’s militant opponent.[7]

In Third World ideology, the Crusades were an early example of Western imperialism and colonialism. In reality, Palestine had been Byzantine Christian before the Muslim conquest ca. 635 C.E. By the end of the eleventh century, Western Christendom had begun to develop  the vitality and self-confidence that ultimately expressed itself in the First Crusade. There was good news in the West. Iberian Christians aided by the Franks captured Toledo in 1085. The Normans took Sicily and Malta in 1091.

There was less reason for confidence in the Byzantine East and its capital, Constantinople or Byzantium. In 1070 Seljuk Turks invaded Palestine and besieged Jerusalem, which fell in the summer of 1073. While at first the Seljuks were moderate in their dealings with Jerusalem’s inhabitants, when firmly in control they proceeded to loot and kill three thousand of the city’s inhabitants, including many Christians.[8] The Seljuks were among the most militarily competent of the Turkoman peoples. Their most important victory was their defeat of the forces of the Byzantine Empire. in 1071 which John Julius Norwich has described as “the greatest disaster suffered by the [Byzantine] Empire in the seven and a half centuries of its existence.”[9]

Word of the Seljuk atrocities in Jerusalem reached Pope Gregory VII and his successor, Pope Urban II. In 1095 Urban II received a deputation from the Byzantine Emperor, Alexius Comnenus I, at the Council of Piacenza. Alexius appealed to the Pope to assist him in his struggle against the Seljuk Turks. Urban was favorably disposed. Like his predecessor, Gregory VII, Urban regarded the use of force in the pursuit of Christian objectives as entirely legitimate.  He also believed that a positive response to Alexius would lead to better relations between Rome and Constantinople. On November 27, 1095 at the conclusion of the Council of Clermont, Urban summoned the First Crusade in an extraordinarily inflammatory address.[10]

According to H.H. Cowdrey, the Crusades were the outcome of several developments one of which was the population increase that took place in the eleventh century.[11] A surplus population came into being among the common people whose labor was no longer needed on the land or in the developing industries of Flanders, northern France, and western Germany. With little or nothing to lose or hope for, the dispossessed and disinherited were susceptible to the idea that they could participate in a mission that would result in the total transformation of society. The Crusade offered them something to hope for. Determined to capture the earthly Jerusalem, the poor could not always distinguish the earthly from the Heavenly City. They came to  believe that capture of the former was the final prelude to the establishment of the latter.[12] In reality, as many as half of those who undertook the journey perished from hunger, disease, or the hazards of combat. Population pressure also tended to destabilize the traditional system of inheritance. The French system allowed for equal inheritance among male siblings, but the youngest male often had to choose between a monastic life and seeking his fortune in a distant place. Nevertheless, Cowdrey regards the rise in population as the least important of the developments making for the Crusade.

The rise of  knights in social status was of greater importance. In Old English the word for knight  meant a boy or a lad. Later, it came to mean a boy or an attendant in the service of a lord or a lady. Modern German retains the older connotations of slavishness in the cognate word Knecht. The wordKnechtschaft connotes a condition of servitude or slavery.[13] As rulers became less capable of defending  their subjects, Christians turned to knights for protection. Knights rose in status. The Church enhanced knightly status by creating religious ceremonies for knightly investiture modeled after the crowning of kings. The Church also developed formulas for blessing of swords and other weapons, thereby becoming the patron of the military caste.

The knights who entered combat against Muslims and pagans did so for Christian objectives. This led to a radical change in Christian thinking about war. Before the Crusades, the Church was ambivalent about killing and wounding in war. St. Augustine helped to formulate the idea of a “just war” by arguing that killing carried out in obedience to divine command or legitimate public authority did not violate the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”[14] Nevertheless, even a “just war” did not receive the Church’s wholehearted approval. A war that the Church promoted and blessed, such as the First Crusade, had been unthinkable

Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) was the prelate most responsible for the Church’s changed attitude towards war.[15] One of his favorite quotations from Scripture was “Cursed be he who keepeth back his sword from blood.” (Jeremiah 48:10).[16] Gregory proclaimed a new type of Christian soldier-saint.[17] Before Gregory, Saint George and Saint Sebastian had become saints in spite of having been soldiers. As a result of his teachings, men became saints because they had been soldiers. The long-range consequences of this transformation remain with us to this day. Whenever Western Christians are honestly convinced they are fighting a divinely-sanctioned war, they can kill with a good conscience. 

Killing with a good conscience was facilitated by the Church’s penitential system, one of the most important preconditions for the Crusades. In the Middle Ages men and women sought remission for their sins with an intensity difficult for moderns to comprehend. Traditionally, penitents were restored to communion after completing their penance. By the eleventh century the penitential system was thrown into doubt because penitents were frequently restored to communion before completing penance. As a result, penitents could  never be sure their penance sufficed and they began to look for alternative means for securing the remission of  their sins.

In addition to the regular penitential system, the upper classes had two major sources of remission: One could enter or endow a monastery or one could go on a pilgrimage. As a  pilgrim, a  knight temporarily cast aside his knightly status. Traveling unarmed with only purse and staff, the pilgrim abandoned himself to the mercy and protection of God.  When he returned home, the pilgrim reverted to his old status, and to his old anxieties about sin.

Pope Urban II

The Pope's summons to the Crusade offered knights a highly desirable, albeit novel, solution to the problem of remission of sins. Instead of requiring the pilgrim-knight temporarily to abandon his knightly vocation, the Crusade offered him remission because of his vocation. Guilbert of Nogent, an eye witness chronicler of the First Crusade, observed:

In our own time, God has instituted a holy manner of warfare, so that knights and common people have found a new way of winning salvation. They no longer need…entirely to abandon the world by entering a monastery or by some other like commitment. They can obtain God's grace in their accustomed manner and dress, and by their accustomed way of life.[18]

For many reasons, some demographic, others political, and still others religious, the First Crusade was an event waiting to happen. All of the elements were in place when Pope Urban II summoned the Crusade at Clermont. Urban himself was a highly sophisticated French nobleman who had served as Grand Prior of the great monastery of Cluny before becoming cardinal-bishop of Ostia and then Pope. As Prior of Cluny, Urban had already understood the urgency with which men and women sought remission for their sins. As a statesman-diplomat, he also understood the minds and hearts of the military caste and turned to them for leadership in the field.[19]

No contemporary accounts of  Urban's epoch-making speech at Clermont have come down to us.[20] Many chronicles of the Crusade were written in an atmosphere of triumph and euphoria after the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. Nevertheless, it is clear that Urban had two objectives, the liberation of the Christians of Asia Minor from the Turks and the restoration of Jerusalem to Christian rule.[21] According to Robert the Monk, an eye witness writing after 1099, in his speech Urban denounced the Seljuk Turks as “an accursed race, utterly alienated from God…”[22] Fulcher of Chartres, another eye witness who wrote after the event, reported that the Pope asserted that the Turks were enemies of God and that the Christians were duty bound “to exterminate this vile race from our lands.”[23] The Pope was especially disturbed that the Holy Land was in Muslim hands, as indeed it had been since 634 C.E.[24] In summoning the Crusade, the Pope declared that the “Holy Sepulcher of our Lord is polluted by the filthiness of an unclean nation…Therefore go forward in happiness and confidence and attack the enemies of God.”[25] When the Crusaders overcame all resistance,  both the Christian and Muslim accounts confirm that in three days the Crusaders killed virtually every inhabitant of Jerusalem, both Christian and Jew. [25A]

Just War, Holy War and the Way of the Pilgrim    

The Holy War proclaimed by Urban differed from a just war. For the latter, a just cause and proclamation by legitimate authority sufficed. More was required to initiate a holy war. It was necessary to believe that violent acts, such as homicide and inflicting bodily harm, are morally neutral, and that good and evil depend upon the perpetrator’s intentions. If the perpetrator's motives are altruistic, even homicide can be seen as a positive good.

The conviction that Christ is profoundly involved in the concrete historical events and institutions of this world became essential.[26] The Crusaders believed Christ himself had authorized the Crusade through Urban's agency.  Every Crusader saw himself as a fighter for Christ and  his acts of violence were morally evaluated in that light. Moreover, because he regarded the Crusaders as soldiers fighting on Christ’s behalf, the Pope granted them indulgences. Participation in the Crusade was thought to be so laden with pain and suffering that it alone sufficed for all the penance the sinner owed to God.[27].

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, many Christians believed that the Holy Land was Christ's patrimony. They were also convinced that Livonia, modern Latvia, was the Virgin Mary's private estate. According to Jonathan Riley-Smith, a Crusade was “a holy war fought against those perceived to be the external or internal foes of Christendom  for the recovery of Christian property or in the defense of the Church or Christian people.”[28] Since both Palestine and the Baltic lands were in non-Christian hands, it was considered a sacred duty to enter into combat to restore to Christ and the Virgin the property that was rightfully theirs. The same obligation applied to Christian land taken by the Muslims in the Iberian peninsula. Urban himself regarded the reconquista in Spain as of equal importance as the war in the East and explicitly equated the two conflicts in a letter:

In our days [God] has fought through Christian men in Asia against the Turks and in Europe against the Moors.[29]

Few, if any, aspects of the First Crusade were as radical as linking the idea of pilgrimage with that of Holy War. Because Jerusalem, with its incomparable treasure of relics of Christ's life and Passion, was the goal, Urban identified the Crusade as both a pilgrimage and a Holy War. In particular, the Pope regarded the Crusade as a Cluniac pilgrimage in which the soldiers would live as monks. The Crusaders themselves also believed they were engaged in a pilgrimage, but there was a crucial difference. In the past pilgrims had occasionally armed themselves for self-defense; in the Crusade the soldier-pilgrims bore arms and killed in the name of God.

The Crusade was also a war of conquest. There was land to be won. Nevertheless, setting forth in quest of material gain was too much of a gamble for most knights who had to provide their own retainers, horses, supply animals, and equipment. The cost of  the campaign in the East has been estimated at four to five times a knight’s annual income. Such sums could normally be secured only by the sale or mortgage of family land or other possessions. Hence, taking up the cross was seldom decided upon by the individual alone. Most knights were motivated by religious idealism and the response to the Pope's call exceeded both his expectations and his intentions. No less than 136,000 from France, Flanders, Italy and Germany took up the cross, of whom approximately 90,000 left for the Holy Land.[30]

Germany’s First Jewish Massacre

In calling for the Crusade, the Pope did not anticipate the explosive enthusiasm with which Christians responded. Against Urban’s wishes, tens of thousands unwisely set out for the Holy Land before the summer harvest. Fearing the Crusader armies would start out with inadequate supplies, the Pope told the knights to wait until after the harvest. He also wanted to limit participation to weapons-bearing knights. Thus, Priests and monks were forbidden to go.[31] Above all, the Pope had no desire to see an undisciplined horde leave for the East, where many were to perish.

The success of Peter the Hermit in gathering a Crusader army of 10,000 was an early indication that Urban had released forces beyond his control. Peter was an extraordinarily charismatic monk who encouraged his followers’ belief that Christ had appeared to him in Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulcher before 1095 and had given him a “Heavenly Letter” commissioning him to call a Crusade. Peter carried the “letter” with him wherever he preached. As Peter passed through northern France, people in large numbers sold their belongings to buy weapons and travel kits in order to join him. Many, but not all, of Peter's followers were poor. Peter's preaching also contained a  powerful anti-Semitic element which resulted in sporadic violence in France and attempts to extort money from Jewish communities on the way. The situation worsened for the Jews when Peter reached Cologne on  April 12, 1096. He preached on Easter Sunday, calling upon Cologne’s Christians to take up the cross. The Easter season was always dangerous for Jews because it commemorates Christ's betrayal by Judas and his Crucifixion. It was especially dangerous in 1096 at the start of the Crusade to recover the Holy Sepulcher which came into being, in Christian eyes, as a result of the alleged Jewish crime of deicide.[32]

Although Peter lit the spark that set off the flames of murderous antisemitism in the Rhineland, he himself left the Jews alone. A Hebrew chronicle reported that the French Jews gave Peter a letter which stated that in every place that he would encounter Jews, “he should be given provision for the journey and he would speak kindly of Israel.”[33] Peter kept his word, but soon lost control of his movement which was seized by messianic religious frenzy and swollen in numbers beyond all expectations. Sensing grave danger, the Rhineland Jewish community of Mainz sent a delegation to Emperor Henry IV, who immediately wrote to the princes, bishops, and counts of the empire forbidding them to harm the Jews. The emperor's prohibition was effective with Duke Godfrey of Bouillon who had previously vowed that he would set forth on the Crusade only  “after avenging the blood of the crucified one by shedding Jewish blood and completely eradicating any trace of those bearing the name  ‘Jew’…”[34] The emperor 's effectiveness with other vassals was limited by the fact that he was not in residence in Germany but in southern Italy.

The Church’s attitude towards the Jews was complex. Although opposed to inflicting physical harm on them, Church teachings were an incitement towards violence among ordinary folk. Not surprisingly, when the Jews were perceived as no longer fulfilling a function the Church or Europe’s Christian leaders found useful, they became prime targets for religio-ethnic “cleansing.”

And, so it went in the First Crusade. In addition to summoning the knights of Western Europe to a Holy War, the Crusaders were also summoned to a vendetta, a very familiar enterprise for knights of the period. The Crusaders were called upon to avenge Christ who had been crucified and “banished from his estates” and who still cried out “desolate and begging for aid.”[35] In feudal times, acts of vengeance for wrongs perpetrated against a kinsmen, friend or liege lord were accounted as morally good. Avenging the violence done to the crucified God came close to being an ultimate moral good and the Jews became a primary target. If vengeance were to be taken against the Turks for daring to take possession of  Christ's patrimony, how much more, many of the Crusaders thought, ought they to avenge Christ's excruciatingly painful death!

That vengeance was carried out by first wave of Crusaders in the spring of 1096. Anti-Jewish attacks had not been part of the Pope's intentions, In general, the attacks were also opposed by the bishops, prominent nobles, and some, but by no means a majority, of the burgher class. Nevertheless, the situation rapidly disintegrated. The most unrelentingly hostile Crusader commander was Count Emicho of Leinigen, a member of the lesser German nobility who saw himself as the Emperor of the Last Days and linked the slaughter of the Jews with the coming of the Last Days.[36] He was convinced that,  as he marched eastward, he was saving the world and inaugurating the Last Days. On May 3, 1096, Emicho's forces attacked the Jews of Speyer. Eleven were killed, but the majority were actively protected by the bishop who defended them with his militia. The Crusaders subsequently slaughtered the Jews of  Wurms, Mainz and Cologne. Jews were also massacred in Metz, Prague and throughout Bohemia. By the time the carnage subsided, more than 5,000 Jews had been killed. This may not seem like a large number in the light of the millions who have been killed in the twentieth century. At the time, it was a devastating blow to the Jews of the Rhineland.         

The Crusader attacks were a harbinger of things to come. They marked a new level of anti-Jewish violence by a radical segment of Western Christendom. For the first time, a movement arose within Western Christendom that sought the total destruction of Jews and Judaism.As noted above, the movement did not have the approval of the Pope, most bishops, or most members of the upper nobility. Nevertheless, it was strong enough to devastate some of the  most important Jewish communities in Western Europe.

Historians have often seen Crusader violence against the Jews as a precursor of National Socialism. Both the Crusader radicals and the National Socialists sought to rid their world of Jews and Judaism. Nevertheless, there were some very important differences. The National Socialist goal was, and remains to this day, the physical destruction of every Jew, even baptized Jews, on earth. Although the Crusader radicals killed thousands, their preferred method of elimination was baptism. They often urged the Jews to convert a save their lives.[37] A few did; the overwhelming majority preferred to die, often at their own hands.

The last thing the Crusaders wanted Jews to do was freely to choose death. Given the memory of Christian martyrdom in the face of Roman persecution, they understood the power of martyrdom as an affirmation of faith. Inevitably, Jewish martyrdom left the Crusaders with nagging doubts about the Judaism’s allegedly degraded character. They preferred insincere conversions that confirmed the Christian view of Judaism as a false faith and  made the converts subject to canon law. Moreover, Christians had the confident expectation that the offspring of insincere converts would be properly instructed in the true faith.

Rival Faiths and Religious Insecurity

Although Christian antisemitism has been examined in depth elsewhere, it will be helpful to consider some elements of this phenomenon as they relate to the Crusades. In the language of social psychology, a perennial Christian objective has been to put an end to the Jew as disconfirming other. As we have seen, the Crusades were initiated in a wave of unprecedented religious enthusiasm, largely motivated by the Christian penitential and pilgrimage systems. Christians made pilgrimages to pray at the tombs of saints and martyrs in the belief that physical proximity to their relics brought them nearer to Heaven itself.  Although the educated clergy discouraged an overemphasis on relics, ordinary people saw them as tangible links to the saints and martyrs who were already in Heaven. Hence, relics were a singularly important element in Christian religious life.[38]

They were also manifestations of a tremendous religious insecurity. In the eleventh century, Jerusalem occupied a major place in the Christian symbolic universe.[39] Christians regarded Jerusalem as the holiest place on earth. And, no Jerusalem site was holier than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to be the site of both Golgotha and Christ's tomb. Hence, nowhere was Christ's saving power more manifest. Nevertheless, the very passion that impelled people to seek direct contact with the site was also an expression of a certain religious insecurity concerning the efficacy of the Church's promise of salvation. This anxiety was not diminished by the utter inaccessibility of the sovereign God in the experience of ordinary people.

On the surface, Christ did not appear to share the inaccessibility of God the Father. As truly God and man, he  was the supreme Mediator. It was possible for men and women to identify with his suffering yet recognize his Divinity. Nevertheless, even Christ did not always suffice as the link between God and man in medieval Christendom; hence, the attractiveness of the cult of the saints. The saints served as mediators to the Mediator, but here again, something more concrete was sought to connect the believer to the Holy. That “something” consisted of the saintly relics. And, it was to recover the Supreme Relic that the pilgrim-crusaders set out on their journey.

In addition to the hunger for concrete links with the Divine, religious insecurity had another dimension. Both Judaism and Islam claim that, whatever Jesus may have been, he was not the Incarnate Deity. Without that belief, the entire medieval Christian symbolic universe, its system of religion, morality, education, penance and even politics, would have collapsed. For example, it was in his capacity as Vicar of Christ on Earth that Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor and bestowed legitimacy on his imperial office. By contrast, the Byzantine Roman Emperor’s legitimacy did not depend upon the blessing of Pope or Patriarch. The Byzantine Emperor was in a direct line of succession from the emperors of Imperial Rome, while Charlemagne was a descendant of the barbarians who had conquered the western Roman empire. Absent the papal ceremony, Charlemagne’s imperial office had little legitimacy. Insofar as the political system of the West rested on anything other than naked force, it depended upon belief in the truth of Christianity. Any movement that cast doubt on the truth of Christianity was regarded as a threat that had to be dealt with. Both Judaism and Islam were such movements.

From its inception Islam challenged the truth of Christianity and was that faith's most powerful and effective rival. Islam had long threatened the very existence of Christian Europe by putting an end to Christian supremacy in the Levant, North Africa and much of Spain. Nevertheless, in some respects the Jewish challenge was just as serious because Jews could claim that their rejection of  Christ’s Divinity was based upon greater familiarity with a kinsman. They could also claim that their interpretation of Scripture was based on greater knowledge of Hebrew, the language of Scripture.

Sophisticated Christians did not appear to take very seriously the Jewish claims, which were seldom stated explicitly for reasons of safety, but neither did they entirely ignore them. The literature of ancient and medieval Christianity is replete with extreme defamations of Jews and Judaism that were clearly intended to explain why the Jews did not believe in the divinity of Christ. This vast literature hardly ever contains the suggestion that the Jews were honestly unable to believe in him. Instead, Jewish unbelief is ascribed to some ultimate evil, such as the accusation that they are in league with the Devil. Alternatively, they are described as being so hopelessly blind or vicious that they are incapable of believing what good Christians know of a certainty to be true.

Again using the language of social psychology, the Christian response to Jewish unbelief can best be understood as a form of dissonance reduction, which is one of the ways a group responds to disconfirming items of information that threaten beliefs or values regarded as indispensable to its very existence. As noted, no belief was more indispensable to medieval Christendom than that Christ is the Incarnate Deity who deigned to suffer and die on the Cross for the salvation of humanity. Jews and Muslims challenged that belief simply by fidelity to their respective traditions. Christian dissonance reduction is already evident in the Fourth Gospel where Jesus is depicted as condemning those Jews who do not believe in his mission:

If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires... He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:42-44, 47, italics added)

The Fourth Gospel is believed to have been written between 80 and 100 C.E. by a group modern scholars identify as the “Johannine School.” The above passage reflects the school's attempt to explain Jewish unbelief shortly after the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 C.E.. Radical defamation is the principal strategy. By ascribing a satanic character to the Jews and by accusing them of deicide, Christian defamation of Judaism reached an extreme more radical than that employed by any other world religion to discredit a rival.

Motives for Tolerance

Theoretically, such passages make licit any violence whatsoever against the Jews. If the Jews are of the devil, any measure, no matter how extreme, is justified in terminating the threat they pose to Christians and Christendom. This was especially true of those who believed, as did Emicho’s forces, that the final battle between good and evil and the Last Days were speedily approaching. Nevertheless, as noted, the official Church almost always sought to limit the violence that might be perpetrated against the Jews. There were both theological and practical reasons why Church officials sought to curb the violence. One was the influence of Paul of Tarsus and Augustine. In his letter to the Christians of Rome, Paul offered an even earlier Christian explanation of Jewish unbelief  than did the Johannine School: 

A hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved… (Romans 11:25,26.)

Whereas the Johannine School interpreted Jewish unbelief as a consequence of Jewish evil, Paul explains it as part of God’s plan. According to Paul, God has decreed that the Jews must remain in unbelief until the conversion of the Gentiles is complete.  Like Paul, St. Augustine saw Jewish unbelief as part of God’s plan. He explained Jewish unbelief in terms of the witness-people myth, the idea that God had dispersed the Jews among the nations to bear witness by their misfortune to the truth of Scripture's prophecies concerning Christ.[40] No matter how punitive the restrictions on Jewish life became or how extreme the anti-Jewish polemic, the views of Paul and Augustine helped to prevent the official Church from promoting acts of outright violence.

In keeping with this tradition, the anti-Jewish violence of the First Crusade was, for the most part, not repeated in the Second. No person was more influential than St. Bernard of Clairvaux in initiating the Second Crusade which effectively began at Vézelay on Easter Sunday 1146. Bernard’s writings were harsh in their anti-Jewish polemic, but he played an active role in preventing anti-Jewish violence in the Crusade, even traveling to the Rhineland partly to oppose the monk Raulf and others who were inciting it. Bernard wrote in his general exhortation and letters to the affected cities that “the Jews are not to be persecuted, killed, or even put to flight.”[41] Because of Bernard and the determination of Church authorities, 1146 did not witness a replay of the events of 1096.

There were also non-theological motives for permitting Jews domicile, however tenuous, in the Christian world. The motives are already evident in the history of the Jewish community of Speyer. The community was granted a Charter of Invitation by Bishop Rudiger in 1084. The bishop was interested in the economic development of Speyer and actively  sought to attract Jews. He granted them self-government and empowered Jewish leaders to adjudicate disputes among members of their own community. The bishop also built a wall around the Jewish quarter, not to segregate Jews but to alleviate their fear of attack.

Although the bishop saw the Jewish presence as beneficial, the burghers of Speyer, like their twentieth-century descendants before World War II, reacted with intense hostility to their new neighbors. They resented competition from a community long familiar with the sophisticated business and financial methods of the period. The burghers also saw the bishop's treatment of the Jews as a serious attempt to reduce burgher power and influence. Because the Jews were absolutely dependent upon the bishop, it was in his interest to give them preference in commercial and financial matters rather than the more independent burghers. Understandably, the situation aroused burgher hostility. Nevertheless, in spite of the obvious risks, the Jews had no choice but to accept the bishop’s invitation. Many had left nearby Mainz for Speyer after a fire of suspicious origin swept through Mainz’s Jewish quarter. When Count Emicho appeared before the walls of Mainz during the Crusade in 1096 determined to slaughter the city’s Jews, the burghers opened the gates for him and Emicho’s forces proceeded with their murderous mission.

By accepting the bishop’s protection and, elsewhere, the protection of emperors, kings and princes, the Jews aroused the hostility of their principal competitors, the burgher class. It was a story destined to be repeated in one form or another throughout European history down to the final days of Eastern European Jewry. As Hannah Arendt has shown, in the nineteenth century the Jews sought the protection of the state long after every other element in European society had grown hostile to it.[42] In some countries the overt hostility of non-Jewish competitors came sooner. In the lesser developed communities of Eastern Europe, where the Jews remained a complimentary rather than a competitive economic class for a longer time, overt burgher hostility came later. Finally, in the twentieth century, there was hardly a corner of Europe in which an indigenous and articulate class of bourgeois competitors did not seek to eliminate the Jews. Burgher cooperation with the Crusaders in slaughtering the Jews was a foretaste of things to come.

The Crusaders’ First Encounter With Byzantium

Jews were by no means the only objects of Crusader hostility. Possessing more enthusiasm than rational planning, the poorly provisioned, first Crusader wave resorted to foraging and pillage along the way to the Holy Land. When the survivors of the first wave and the better-equipped second wave reached Constantinople, there was tension with the Byzantines. Crusader supplies were short, and the Byzantines were more interested in recovering conquered Greek lands in Asia Minor than in capturing Jerusalem. The Crusaders also expected that Emperor Alexius would assume overall command of the expedition he had asked the Pope to dispatch, but the Emperor excused himself claiming he was needed in Constantinople.

Alexius regarded the Crusader armies gathered at Constantinople as a greater threat than the Turks. Alexius had asked the Pope for a conventional army. Instead, he had to deal with an ill-provisioned horde and a smaller number of Crusader knights. In any event, the Emperor had good reason to be wary of the Westerners, partly because of  the long standing tradition of mutual hostility between East and West and partly because of Crusader behavior en route. Upon reaching Byzantine territory in the Balkans, the Crusaders discovered that the imperial government had made no preparations to feed or guide them. Marching through the Balkans, the Crusaders resorted to pillaging when they could buy no food. Inevitably, pillaging led to clashes with Greek forces and much mutual ill-will and distrust. Alexius offered money to those Crusader leaders who were willing to swear an oath of fealty to him and who promised to return to him all imperial lands captured by the Turks. When some Crusaders objected, Alexius cut off  their supplies. The disaffected Crusaders responded by attacking Constantinople several times but were beaten off. They finally took the oath.

After leaving Constantinople for Jerusalem, the Crusaders, together with a Greek-speaking Byzantine force, besieged and captured the Seljuk Turk capital of  Nicaea. The Muslims surrendered to Alexius rather than the Crusaders because the Emperor had promised that there would be no looting. Alexius’ promise infuriated the hungry Crusaders who had seen some of the poorer pilgrims die of starvation during the siege. The soldiers were also angered when they learned that the Greeks treated the captured Muslim nobles with honor and lodged them in an imperial palace until they could be ransomed. The Greeks understood that they would have to live alongside of the Muslims after the Crusaders departed and acted accordingly. Prudential calculation was irrelevant to the Crusaders who saw themselves as engaged in a cosmic struggle against absolute evil.  Not surprisingly, contact between the Crusaders and the Greeks intensified their distaste for each other. By February 1098 the Greeks had all but ceased to participate in the Crusade.

Mutual alienation, mistrust and contempt between East and West, Latin and Greek, intensified over the next century until it culminated in the Sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. Moreover, the alienation has continued to affect the course of events down to the present day. It is perhaps no accident that during the Cold War all of the NATO allies were the heirs of Latin Christendom whereas Russia, the West’s principal adversary and the dominant power in the former Soviet Union, had long considered itself the heir of Constantinople and, as such, the “Third Rome.” Similarly, the effects of  the schism between the two great branches of Christianity have been manifest in the bitter, genocidal conflicts fought between Latin Catholic Croatia and Serbian Orthodox Serbia during World War II and in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.[43]

The Struggle for Jerusalem

After capturing Nicaea in June 1097, the Crusaders found themselves in hostile Muslim territory. They were afflicted with disease and famine and were weakened by the battles they had to fight. Out of desperation, Peter the Hermit deserted in January 1099. His army had been massacred by the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor in 1096. When his comrades found him, they did not judge him harshly because of the sufferings all the Crusaders had endured. Yet, as the sufferings increased, so too did the Crusaders’ conviction that they were truly God’s army and, as such, holy in their own right.[44] Like Christ’s sufferings, theirs testified to the sanctity of their cause. Of the original crusader armies, half  had died, more had deserted. Only 50,000 remained.[45] Some Crusaders began to see visions of saints, such as Saint George and  Saint Demetrius, who promised them victory. Some scholars regard the visions as the result of the ever-present malnutrition and hunger the Crusaders endured. Whatever their actual source, the visions helped to transform Crusader morale. Against very great odds, they conquered Antioch and proceeded confidently to Jerusalem 

On June 7, 1099 the Crusaders arrived at the walls of Jerusalem and marched around the city seven times barefoot and singing hymns. As they passed, the Muslims jeered at them from the walls. The Christians thought the Muslims were insulting Christ which reinforced the idea that their pilgrimage was also a vendetta. On July 15, 1099, the victorious Crusaders entered Jerusalem. Treating their adversaries as enemies of God, the Crusaders massacred more than 40,000 Muslims and Jews, practically every single inhabitant of the city, during the next two days.[46]The few survivors were sold as slaves.[47] A well-known  eyewitness account of Raymund of Aguiles testified to the carnage:

Wonderful sights were to be seen. Some of our men (and this was more merciful) cut off the heads of their enemies;….Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were small matters compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon, a place where religious services are normally chanted. What happened there? If I tell the truth it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the  blood of the unbelievers since it had suffered so long from their blasphemies.[48]

Clearly, the author has mistaken either the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Jerusalem Temple had been destroyed long ago. In any event, the memory of this massacre endures. Muslims have never forgotten it. Moreover, historical memory plays a more important role in the Muslim Middle East than in the United States.

Jerusalem remained in Christian hands from 1099 to 1187. Its recapture by Saladin (?al?? ad-D?n Y?suf ibn Ayy?bi) shocked  western Christendom. Even before taking Jerusalem, Saladin had inflicted a catastrophic defeat on the Christians at Hattin, near Tiberias, where his forces captured a relic of the True Cross. The Muslims proceeded to parade the relic, fixed upside down on a lance, through Damascus. The Christian response was swift. Within days of succeeding to the papacy in late October 1187, Pope Gregory VIII called for a new crusade, the Third which neither began nor ended well. By the middle of the twelfth century service in the crusader armies was no longer universally regarded as a religious pilgrimage. For some it had become a form of  penal servitude. For example, in 1139 the Second Lateran Council decreed  that arsonists should serve for a year in the Holy Land. Murderers and other violent offenders were often sentenced to fight in Palestine.[49]

In 1188 the German Emperor Frederick Barbarosa rekindled some of the old Crusader enthusiasm, at least in Germany. Taking up the cross when he was nearly seventy, he left Germany with a Crusader army of approximately 100,000.[50] Frederick was careful to ask the Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelus for permission to traverse the latter’s domain and purchase the necessary provisions along the way. Although Isaac consented, he was fearful that Frederick’s forces would attempt to plunder Constantinople because of Byzantium’s previous experience with Crusader armies. Moreover, in spite of  religious differences, Islam and Byzantium were closer to each other culturally than to the Latin West. Muslims and Byzantine Christians made war frequently, but they also engaged in a constant exchange of scholarship and craftsmanship.

Byzantine and Western objectives were irreconcilable. The Westerners were fighting a Holy War with a non-negotiable objective, the recovery of Christ’s patrimony. The Byzantines, who had strong reservations about the idea of a Holy War, were primarily interested in maintaining their increasingly precarious sovereignty.[51] If necessary, they were prepared to fight limited wars but preferred diplomacy. Moreover, the Byzantines were willing to enter into alliances with non-Christians against Christians. The Emperor Isaac regarded Saladin as less of a threat than Frederick. For the crusaders, Isaac’s behavior was the worst kind of perfidy. With a common interest in obstructing the Crusaders, Isaac and Saladin secretly agreed to place every possible obstacle in Frederick’s path. When Frederick’s army reached Byzantine lands in the Balkans, they were harassed by peasants, bandits, and regular imperial units. In addition, Dositheus, the Patriarch of Constantinople, proclaimed in advance a general absolution for all murderers of Crusaders.[52] Because of Isaac’s tactics, Frederick decided to attack Constantinople before proceeding further. Realizing the danger, Isaac promised Frederick Barbarosa’s forces safe passage as well as markets in which to purchase provisions. However, after leaving Constantinople, the imperial army continued to be harassed and obstructed as it passed through  Byzantine territory, a foretaste of things to come in the Fourth Crusade.

On June 10, 1190, Frederick drowned while trying to swim in a swiftly flowing river. His body was never recovered and his passing broke the morale of whatever was left of the German Crusade. Most of the surviving Germans returned home by the spring of 1191. The Third Crusade came to an end when King Richard I of England signed a truce  with Saladin stipulating that Christians and Muslims would be permitted freedom of access to Muslim-controlled Jerusalem and Christian Acre.

The Sack of Constantinople

Just as the Muslim world never forgot the slaughter of the Muslims in Jerusalem during the First Crusade, the Eastern Orthodox Churches never forgot the Sack of Constantinople by the Latin Christians in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. The Crusade was summoned by Pope Innocent III in August 1198. Its leaders decided to attack Egypt first and then proceed up the coast to Palestine instead of going by way of Constantinople and Asia Minor. Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice, agreed to provide ships and provisions for 33,500 Crusaders at a price of 85,000 silver marks. When the Crusaders assembled in Venice in 1202, only a third of  the anticipated number had taken the cross and only two-thirds of the sum owed to the Venetians had been collected.[53] The their own naval and commercial position in the Adriatic.

From Zadar the Crusaders sailed to Corfu and, after a brief stay, set sail for Constantinople instead of Cairo as originally planned. The purpose of the diversion was to remove Alexius III and place Prince Alexius, the son of the deposed Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelus, on the throne. Prince Alexius’ envoys had promised the Crusaders that he would compel the patriarchate of Constantinople to submit to the papacy if they made him Emperor. He also promised to give the Crusaders and Venetians 200,000 silver marks, to send 10,000 men to Egypt with the Crusaders, to join the crusade himself, and to maintain 500 knights in Palestine for the rest of his life.

When the Crusaders laid siege to Constantinople in July 1203, the Emperor Alexius III fled the city. To the surprise of  the Crusaders and the Venetians, the deposed Emperor Isaac II Angelus was hastily restored to the throne instead of his son. The Crusaders agreed to recognize Isaac as co-Emperor, provided his son also reigned as Alexius IV and both Emperors honored the prince’s promises.  After he had been installed as co-Emperor, Alexius IV discovered that his promises were easier to make than to keep. Pressed by his Greek subjects, he made a few payments and then stopped. In  December 1203, the Crusaders demanded that Alexius IV pay up or suffer the consequences.  He was in no position to comply and hostilities broke out. In January 1204, both co-Emperors were deposed by Alexius Ducas Mourtouphlos, an anti-Latin who took the name Alexius V Mourtouphlos. Alexius IV was strangled and then given a full State funeral..

Still expecting payment, the Crusader barons demanded that Mourtouphlos pay the balance due them. When he refused, the Crusaders found themselves in the untenable position of owing the Venetians large sums of money and lacking sufficient funds to continue on to Egypt and Palestine. The Crusaders and the Venetians solved their problem by taking Constantinople and dividing up its immense spoils. The attack began on April 9, 1204. On the evening of  April 12/13, Mourtouphlos realized that the end was near and fled with a small entourage.

The Doge of Venice and Boniface of Montferrat, the leader of the Crusade, gave their followers permission to loot and pillage, whereupon the Crusaders went on a three-day rampage involving rape, murder, pillage and “wanton and systematic sacrilege.” The Latin Crusaders tore to pieces the altar and the iconostasis of the magnificent Church of St. Sophia. Prostitutes were set upon the Patriarch's throne and sang bawdy songs. The sacred treasures of the city were vandalized and carried back to the West. The four magnificent late Roman bronze horses on the portal of  St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice were part of the booty. Geoffroy de Villechardouin, the eye witness chronicler of the Fourth Crusade, did not exaggerate when he wrote that “…so much booty had never been gained in any city since the creation of the world.” [54]

In addition to unsurpassed treasure of gold, silver, jewelry, art works, and ancient manuscripts, Constantinople possessed another treasure of even greater value to the Crusaders, the greatest store of relics in Christendom. According to Riley-Smith, Latin Christians did not believe that successful theft of the bones of a saint was a crime. Success was ipso facto proof of the saint’s desire to have his or her relics transferred to another place. Neither the Byzantines nor the Pope shared that view.[55]

Once again, a Crusade initiated by a pope had completely escaped his control. Nevertheless, Innocent III could not help but be pleased when he learned that Constantinople was in Western hands. After Baldwin of Flanders was elected Emperor of conquered Byzantium, he wrote to the Pope promising to introduce the Latin liturgy and to set out for Palestine as soon as his position was secure. In his reply, the Pope congratulated the Latin Emperor and characterized the taking of Constantinople as a “splendid miracle.” He also asserted that the union of the Church under Roman supremacy must now be made a reality.[56]

Even though Innocent’s congratulatory message was sent before he understood the extent of the damage perpetrated by the Crusaders, it was a major historical blunder that  made the schism between the Latin and the Greek churches Byzantine churchmen never forgave him for his initial reaction, in spite of the Pope’s fury when he learned of the sack of Constantinople. The Pope disapproved of the destructive and sacrilegious behavior of the Western forces and understood that Byzantine hatred of the West could no longer be undone. Innocent was also angry that the Venetians, never his favorites, had used the Crusade for their own material advantage. Nevertheless, he remained pleased that the seat of Eastern Christianity was in Latin hands and was convinced that the Latin conquest of  Byzantium necessarily entailed the union of Greek and Latin Christianity under the papacy.[57] These hopes were, of course, doomed to disappointment. Apart from the irrevocable separation of the Latin and Greek Churches and its long-range effect on European politics and civilization, the principal  political consequence of the sack of Constantinople was drastically to weaken the Byzantine Empire and hasten its final defeat by the Ottoman Turks in 1453. According to Timothy Ware, an English Greek Orthodox scholar and titular Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia, “Christians in the west still do not realize how deep is the disgust and how lasting the horror with which Orthodox regard actions such as the sack of Constantinople by the Crusaders… After 1204 there can be no doubt that Christian east and Christian west were divided in two.”[58]

The Latin empire of Romania-the Crusader name of conquered Byzantium-survived for 57 years, but the memory of  the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople continue to influence events to this day. What used to be Yugoslavia lies on the fault line between the ancient boundary of the Christian Austro-Hungarian Empire and Muslim Ottoman Empire, the conqueror of and successor to the Orthodox Christian Byzantine Empire. Yugoslavia also lies astride the frontier between Greek and Latin Christianity. The Balkan wars of the nineteen-nineties thus had very deep roots. As the late Samuel Huntington wrote in his book, The Clash of Civilizations, history, religion, language, politics and economics divided the peoples of the region.[59] Initially, the Balkan conflict of the nineteen-nineties was between Greek Orthodox Serbia and Roman Catholic Croatia. Subsequently, the principal conflict was between Bosnian Serbs and  Bosnian Muslims.

The Albigensian Crusade

Four years after the Sack of Constantinople, Latin Christians again fought a Crusade against other Christians who did not share their understanding of the path to salvation. On March 10, 1208, Pope Innocent III summoned another Crusade, this time against the Christians in the Languedoc region  of southern France known as Cathari or Albigensians. Although Rome regarded the Cathari as heretics, the Cathari considered themselves members of a rival religion that had never accepted the Catholic Church. During the twelfth century, the belief was widely held in Italy, the Rhineland, and southern France that the True God  was absolutely without material embodiment and was perpetually involved in a cosmic war against the Evil Demiurge who had created the material world. The movement undoubtedly had its roots in ancient Gnosticism and Iranian Zoroastrianism, but its immediate source was probably the dualistic Bogomils of the Balkan peninsula. The Bogomils are thought by some, but not all, scholars to have converted to Islam when the Turks conquered the peninsula and to have been the ancestors of  the majority of today’s Bosnian Muslims. [60]

If, as the Cathari asserted, the material world is the creation of Satan, the whole Catholic cult of relics and its accompanying theology of pilgrimage could be nothing but a pathetic delusion. Pope Innocent III’s launching of the Fourth Crusade as well as all the other Crusades that attempted to regain Chrst’s “lost patrimony” would thus have been an exercise in futility. The Cathari also denied the doctrine of the Incarnation, holding that Christ was an angelic figure untainted by a material body. They thus rejected the entire Catholic sacramental system, especially baptism and Holy Communion, with their dependence on material elements such as water, bread and wine. In some places, there were Cathari sympathizers who went so far as to desecrate Catholic religious objects such  as communion chalices.

The fundamental objective of the Cathari was to liberate themselves from the material world in order to be worthy of entrance into the pure world of the spirit. Such liberation required strict celibacy, austerity, and evangelical poverty, a way of life very few could maintain. In recognition of this understandable difficulty, the Cathar Church had two classes of members, the perfecti, who lived lives of exceptional purity, and the credentes or “believers,”who led normal lives, married, and had children, but were likely to receive the Cathari sacrament, the consolamentum,and become  perfecti only on their deathbed. Because of the exemplary lives of the perfecti, they were  highly successful in gaining adherents including members of the nobility. By the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Cathari had a church organization and a hierarchy that paralleled the Roman Catholic Church.

Initially, Pope Innocent III used persuasion to convince the Catharis of the error of their ways. The most important leader of the effort to persuade was a young Spanish priest, Dominic de Guzman, and the Dominican order he founded, but very few Cathari returned to the Church of Rome. When the pope realized the futility of  persuasion, he turned to the use of force. On November 17, 1207, he wrote to King Philip Augustus of France urging him to fight against the heretics in Languedoc and offering indulgences similar to those who went on a Crusade to fight the Muslims. He admonished Philip that such  an alien body in the heart of Christendom could only be cured by the knife, enjoining the king to arm himself and “eliminate such filth.”[61]

By his letter, Innocent initiated a new kind of Holy War, one against Christians within Europe itself. Philip did not leap at the opportunity to enlarge his influence in the South which the Pope had, perhaps inadvertently, offered him. The affair was brought to a crisis when Innocent instructed Count Raymond VI of Toulouse and Count Raymund-Roger of Béziers and Carcassonne to root out the heretics from their lands. Although both noblemen were Catholics, they had no interest in killing loyal subjects to oblige the pope and the Northern King of France who was alien to them in both custom and language.

A crisis ensued when Peter of Castelnau, the Papal Legate, invited Count Raymond VI of Toulouse to join a league of Southern barons in hunting down heretics. When the count refused, Peter excommunicated him in public, pronouncing the anathema: “He who dispossesses you will be accounted virtuous; he who strikes you dead will earn a blessing.”[62] Since excommunication freed the count’s subjects from all obligation toward him, the count had little choice but to capitulate. The capitulation came on January 13, 1208 at St. Gilles. The next day, vengeful officer in the count’s service ran his sword through the Papal Legate.

The pope was furious when he learned of the legate’s fate and immediately summoned a Crusade against the “heretics” and their accomplices, especially Raymond, whom he regarded as responsible for the murder and “a turncoat, both cunning and fickle.”[63] On July 22, 1209, the Crusader army surrounded the city of Béziers, at least half of whose population was Cathar. The Crusaders consisted primarily of knights from Northern France-at the time a foreign country with a foreign language-and the routiers or mercenaries who formed a large proportion of the infantry. The typical routier has been aptly described as a “godless, lawless being, who had no rights and showed no mercy…a living emblem of Hell on earth.”[64] When the city surrendered, the Crusaders and the routiers slaughtered every man, woman and child. According to one tradition, when the Crusaders asked Arnauld-Almaric, Abbot of  Citeaux and a leader of the Crusade, how they could tell the Catholics from the Cathari, the Abbott replied, “Kill them all. God will know his own.”[65] This legend may be apocryphal, although the same prelate boasted in a letter to the pope that “nearly twenty thousand of the citizens were put to the sword, regardless of age or sex.”[66]

The Inquisition

In spite of the bloodshed in the Languedoc region, we cannot characterize Innocent III, a Roman patrician, as a fanatic. His thinking was institutional rather than personal. He acted out of the conviction that, without what sociologists of religion would call a shared symbolic universe, the distinctive civilization he had undertaken to lead could not survive the external threats of its militant rivals or the perpetual threat of disorder that lurks beneath the surface of any humanly constructed world. The pope also understood the need for a more systematic  way to deal with religious dissidents than that suggested by Arnauld-Almaric at Béziers. On the basis of work begun by Innocent III during his lifetime, the Inquisition was established in 1233 after his death by Pope Gregory IX and staffed in France by the Dominicans. With the Crusade and the Inquisition, the Church had created two potent instruments for assuring religio-cultural homogeneity within Western Christendom.

Of the two instruments, the Inquisition proved to be the more effective.[67] In Languedoc, many of the nobility were at least tolerant of the Cathari, if not outright supporters. Hence, it was important that the agency responsible for rooting out heresy be unrestrained by local secular or church officials. The Inquisition was such an agency. The Inquisitors usually began their work in a new community with a public sermon attacking heresy and announcing a “period of grace,” usually a week, for all who those who came forward and confessed of their own accord. Those who came forward voluntarily were assured that their goods would not be confiscated nor would they be imprisoned.

In every town some credentes rose to the bait. Since no one knew whether he or she had been accused by a neighbor, relative, friend or enemy, some people played it safe by coming forward and accusing themselves. Because the accused were never informed of the nature of their alleged offense, those who came forward often reasoned that it was better to confess to trivial or imaginary sins than risk facing more serious accusations later. However, minimal confessions seldom satisfied the inquisitors who invariably demanded denunciations of others as proof that the “sinner” had truly purged him or herself. Anonymity was guaranteed and the sinner’s sincerity was judged by the importance of heretics he or she accused. The system thus had a built-in incentive for denouncing neighbors and friends and for stressing  their importance as heretics.

The testimony of two witnesses was sufficient to initiate action against a presumed heretic. The accused often confessed to more than they were asked out of ignorance of what the Inquisitors knew. Those who refused to confess and implicate others were imprisoned and tortured under conditions calculated to force even the most recalcitrant to submit. Unrepentant heretics were condemned to death. One of the harshest instances of Inquisitor justice occurred at Moissac where 210 persons were found guilty of heresy and burned to death. The terror of the Inquisition became so great that threats alone usually sufficed to produce the desired results.

Nor did the Inquisition confine itself to the living. The Inquisitors held posthumous trials, exhuming and burning the corpses of  those found guilty. In Toulouse, for example, the decomposed bodies of the town’s dignitaries were dragged through the streets before being burned. Both the exhumations and the burning of heretics aroused the bitter hatred of the population, but it hardly mattered. The Inquisition overcame all overt resistance.Individual resistance was impossible. A well-organized, determined community might have resisted successfully, but the Inquisition’s methods had the effect of atomizing the entire population, thereby destroying all possibility of communal resistance. Over time, the Inquisition accumulated a detailed list of thousands of suspects which gave it a kind of omniscience that added to the terror it inspired.[68] Most people simply wanted to live normal lives, but no one could. Nobody knew whether he or she might be accused of heresy or of having informally consorted with a heretic, something that could easily happen in the Languedoc region. No one could trust a neighbor or even a relative, especially with the secret of  opposition to the Inquisition. Any opposition could be regarded as heresy for which severe punishment including death by fire could result.

There was only one safe course: unwavering public obedience to the Catholic Church. The Inquisition succeeded in turning an entire population into spies upon each other in which few, if any, credentes dared publicly reject the sacraments or lead anything but exemplary Catholic lives. It is, however, possible that many of those who found safety in such public conformity remained Cathari at heart and hated the Church. In March 1994 in Tampa Florida, a French scholar told me that, although he was nominally Catholic, the religion of  les bons hommes never died out and was his family’s tradition. He also told me that his family and their friends have never forgotten the Inquisition. But it made no difference. Such dissent could no longer be made public.

A somewhat similar pattern developed in Spain during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries where tens of thousands led their own version of a religious double life as baptized Catholics and secret Jews. In both the Languedoc region and Spain, Latin Christianity successfully defended its cognitive monopoly where it really counted, in the public sphere.


The first Christian Holy Wars produced several important results. Among them were: the widening of the gulf between Latin Christianity and Islam, a new style of anti-Jewish assault by radical Christian elements aiming at the elimination of Judaism from Christian Europe,  the creation of  harsh but effective methods of securing public religious conformity in Western Christendom, and the permanent separation of the Latin and Greek Churches. The Crusades also contributed to the strengthening of  the identity of western and central Europe as the heirs of Latin Christianity. That identity persisted until recently and had been a fundamental fact identifying all non-Christians domiciled in Europe as non-Europeans. Until recently, the presence of such non-Europeans in Europe had been tolerated in times of limited social stress. Nevertheless, whenever the times became really difficult, whether in the Middle Ages or in the modern era, the situation of the resident non-European becomes precarious. As events as widely separated as the Albigensian Crusade, the Holocaust, and the Spanish Inquiition demonstrate, far harsher measures have never been ruled out by Europe’s leaders in their dealings with the strangers in their midst.

However, the continent’s traditional strategies of enforced religio-cultural uniformity and population elimination may no longer work on Europe’s recent Muslim immigrants, who appear to have developed effective strategies of infiltration, resistance and perhaps even take over. Many observers fear that historian Bernard Lewis may have been correct in his prediction that “Europe will be Islamic by the end of the twenty-first century.[69]


[1]           The text is available on the World Wide Web at <>.

[2]              On the Warburgs, see Ron Chernow, The Twentieth Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family (New York: Random House, 1993); on the Rothschilds see Frederic Morton, The Rothschilds: Portrait of a Family (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1963) and Derek A. Wilson, Rothschild: The Wealth and Power of a Dynasty (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1988).

[3]             The Pope felt compelled to swear before Charlemagne that he was guiltless of his enemies’ accusations at a synod that met December 23, 799. At the same synod, Charlemagne, the most powerful sovereign in the west, decided to assume the imperial title. See Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, Two Lives of Charlemagne, trans. and ed. Lewis Thorpe (London: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 186, n. 65.

[4]            See Heinrich Fichtenbau, The Carolingian Empire: The Age of Charlemagne, trans. Peter Munz  (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1964), pp. 74-75.

[5]            H.A.L. Fisher, A History of Europe (London: Collins, 1970), Vol. I, pp. 175-76.

[6]           For an authoritative exploration of the subject of the treatment Jew and Christiaans under Islamic domination, see Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam (Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985).

[7]              See Daniel Pipes, In the Path of God: Islam and Political (New York: Basic Books, 1983), pp. 78 ff.

[8]             See Eric H. Cline, JerusalemBesieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel (Ann Arbor: University of Michigsn Press, 2004), pp. 159-161.

[9]            John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium (New York: Vintage Books, 1999),  p. 242.

[10]          Several versions of Urban II’s speech are available in translation in Edward Peters, ed., The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres” and Other Source Materials , 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), pp. 26-29.  I am indebted to Eric H. Cline, op. cit.,, pp. 164-165 for his choice of the version of Robert of Rheims, pp. 164-165.

[11]            Cowdrey's discussion is to be found in H.E.J. Cowdrey, “The Genesis of the Crusades: The Springs of Western Ideas of Holy War,” in Thomas Patrick Murphy, ed., The Holy War, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1976), pp. 9-32.

[12]          See Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millnium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists in the Middle Ages, rev. ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 57-65.

[13]          This usage is found in Hegel’s celebrated reflections on Herrschaft, Lordship, and Knechtschaft, bondage  in The Phenomenology of the Spirit. See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes, ed. Johannes Hoffmeister (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1952), pp. 140-51.

[14]           Saint Augustine, The City of God, in The Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, Whitney J. Oates, ed. (New York: Random House, 1948), Vol. 2, p. Ch. XXI, p. 28.

[15]          Before becoming, Pope Gregory was known as Hildebrand. He served as Archdeacon of Rome from 1059 to 1073.

[16]          Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950-1350 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), p. 260.

[17]          Cowdrey, op. cit.p. 20.

[18]          Guibert of Nogent, Historia quae dicitur Gesta Dei per Franco, cap. 1, in Recueil des historiens des Croisades: Historiens occidentaux, (Paris: Imprimerie national, 1844-95), Vol 4. p. 195 (italics added). For this citation, I am indebted to H.E.J. Cowdrey, op. cit., p. 23.

[19]           Urban’s predecessor, Gregory VII, tried unsuccessfully to summon a Crusade in 1074  with himself as the leader, a move that was met with suspicion and disapproval by the knights.

[20]         See Karlfried Froehlich, “The Crusades” in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: MacMillan, 1987), Vol.4, p. 168

[21]          Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A Short History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), p. 6.

[22]          Robert the Monk, Historia Iherosolomitana, cited by August C. Krey, The First Crusade: The Accounts of Eye-Witnesses and Participants (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1921), p. 30. For this reference I am indebted to Karen Armstrong, Holy War: The Crusades and their Impact on Today's World (London: Macmillan, 1988), p. 387.

[23]          Fulcher of Chartres (Foucher de Chartres), A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, 1095-1127, ed. Harold S. Fink, trans. Frances Rita Ryan (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1969).

[24]         Jerusalem itself fell to the Muslims in 638 C..E.

[25]          Cited by Roland H. Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace: A Historical Survey and Critical Re-Evaluation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1960), p. 112.

[25A]           See Cline, op. cit.., pp. 178-182.

[26]         Riley-Smith, op. cit., p. xxviii.

[27]          By contrast, in Spain only those who died in combat were granted the indulgence, although in other respects fighting the Muslims in Iberia was regarded as the equal in merit to going to the Holy Land.

[28]         Riley-Smith, loc. cit., italics added.

[29]         Urban II, “Epistolae et Privilegia,” Patrologus cursus completus. Comp. J. P. Migne (1844-64) vol. 151, col. 504, cited by Riley-Smith, op. cit., p. 6.

[30]         Riley-Smith, op. cit., p. 11.

[31]          W.E. Wiederhold, “Papsturkunden in Florenz,” in Nachtrichtenvon der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen. Phil.=hist.K1. (1901), p. 313, cited by Riley-Smith, op. cit., p. 8.

[32]         See Robert Chazan, European Jewry and the First Crusade (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), pp. 55 ff. and p. 316, n. 66.

[33]         Solomon bar Simson, “The Chronicle of Solomon bar Simson” in Shlomo Eidelberg, ed. and trans., The Jews and the Crusaders: The Hebrew Chronicles of the First and Second Crusades (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977), p. 62.

[34]         Solomon bar Simson, op. cit.pp. 24-25.

[35]          Baldric of Bourgeuil, “Historia Jerosolimitana”, in Recueil des Historiens des Croisades, Historiens occidentaux (1844-95) Vol.4, p. 101, cited by Riley-Smith, op. cit.p. 16.

[36]           See Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millenium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, rev. ed.(New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 73.

[37]           See Chazan, op. cit., pp. 99 ff.

[38]          Karen Armstrong, op. cit., pp. 42-43.

[39]        On the concept of a symbolic universe, see Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1967), pp. 95 ff.

[40]         Augustine, The City of God in Oates, op. cit., Vol. 2, Ch. XLVI, pp. 455-56. On the witness-people myth, see Stephen R. Haynes, Jews and the Christian Imagination: Reluctant Witness (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), Introduction, pp. 8ff.

[41]         Sancti Bernardi opera, VIII, 316; cited by Chazan, op. cit., p. 175.

[42]         Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York: Harcourt, Brace) ????

[43]          See Chapter 6.

[44]           Riley, op. Cit., p. 106.

[45]          Riley, op. Cit., p.  111.

[46]          Krey, op. cit., p. 262.

[47]         For a brief overview of the Crusades from a Jewish point of view, see article, “Crusades,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing Company, 1972), Vol. 5, pp. 1138-39.

[48]          Krey, op. cit., p. 261.

[49]         John Godfrey, 1204: The Unholy Crusade (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 19.

[50]           Modern scholars assign a lower number to the Emperor’s force. See Riley-Smith, op. cit., p. 111.

[51]          When the emperor Nicephorus II Phocas  wanted to have his soldiers who died fighting the Muslims proclaimed as martyrs, the patriarch cited a tradition dating to the fourth century recommending that anyone who killed in battle should refrain from communion for three years. See Godfrey, op. cit., p. 24.

[52]          Godfrey, op. cit., pp. 19-20.

[53]        This is Riley-Smith’s estimate. See Riley-Smith, op. Cit., p. 125. Other estimates suggest that about half showed up.

[54]           Geoffroy de Villechardouin, The Conquest of Constantinople in Joinville and Villehardouiin, Chronicles of the Crusades, trans. M. R. B. Shaw (London: Penguin Books, 1963) , p. 92.

[55]         Riley-Smith also contends that the massive theft of relics took place “against the background of hysteria that had swept Europe following the loss of the relic of the True Cross of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin in 1187.” Riley-Smith, op. Cit., p. 129.

[56]           Innocent III, Opera Omnia, PL, 215, cols. 454-5.

[57]          Donald Nicol, “The Papal Scandal,” in Studies in Church History, XIII, 1976, p. 145.

[58]          Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin, 1964), p. 69.

[59]         See Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order (New York: Touchstone  Books, 1997).

[60]         On the question of whether the Bogomils are the ancestors of  today’s Bosnian Muslims, see John V.A. Fine, “The Medieval and Ottoman Roots of Modern Bosnian Society,” in Mark A. Pinson, ed., The Muslims of Bosnia (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), pp. 11-19.

[61]         The text of the letter is fond in Jonathan and Louise Riley-Smith, The Crusades: Idea and Reality (London: 1981), pp. 78-80.

[62]           ZoeéOldenbourg, Massacre at Montségur: A History of the Albigensian Crusade, trans. Peter Green (New York: Pantheon Books, 1961, p. 5.

[63]          Innocent III to Philip II Augustus of France, March 10, 1208 in  ???

[64]          Oldenbourg, op. cit., p. 104.

[65]         Oldenbourg, Le Bûcher de Montségur: 16 mars 1244 (Paris: Gallimard, 1959), pp. 115-116.

[66]           Oldenbourg, Massacre at Montségur, p. ???

[67]          For a description of the Inquisition in Southern France, see Oldenbourg, op. cit. p. 286-309.

[68]           The term “omniscience” is Oldenbourg’s. See Oldenbourg, op. cit., p. 297.

[69]         See Christopher Caldwell, “Islamic Europe?” The Weekly Standard (October 4, 2004)


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