In 1095 Pope Urban called upon Christians to take up arms against the invading Turkish Muslims to free the lands that were overtaken, specifically Jerusalem. His call was seen as a call to faith, a call to duty and a call to serve Jesus by the people. People by the thousands picked up the banner of the Roman Catholic Church and rode off to the Holy Land which held no promise of return for them, but they did so to preserve their faith and the safety of Christians throughout the land. One of the motivating factors behind Pope Urban’s call to service was that after the Turkish invasion force moved through Jerusalem, Byzantine Emperor Alexios Komnenos asked for a show of force in order to protect his lands from further incursion by the Muslims. This can been be seen as the pope reaching out to increase the power of the Church and force the re-unification of the eastern and western factions of the Catholic Church. By coming to the aid of the Byzantines the pope could be seen as the powerful one who came and bailed out the less powerful side of the Church. If this angle had worked out, Pope Urban II would have had the momentum to fold the eastern and western factions back together into one church that spanned the majority of the European continent, and history would have seen him as the great uniter. As history records it, Pope Urban II was the one who’s call to action started what was (at least) a two hundred year war that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Christians and Christians alike. And each successive Crusade after the First Crusade became less about protecting Christianity and more about holding land and furthering power.
While the world may not know the name of the pope who started the Crusades, they certainly know that the Crusades happened. What many in the world remain unaware of is the scandal that some say the Crusades served to cover up. That scandal is the Investiture Controversy. The Investiture Controversy was a major dispute between the church and the kingdoms about the role that the local authorities had in the appointment of bishops and abbots within the local churches. In 1073, Pope Gregory VIII declared that that the church itself would be responsible for appointing and confirming those into the roles of bishop and abbot. Before this, the local church lay people had the power to appoint local church leadership. The kingdoms did not like this power grab by the pope and resisted it at every turn. The resistance stemmed from the idea that those who were able to appoint church leaders would control those leaders. And if you had some degree of control over the church leaders, you would have their favor. Over the next two decades this fissure between church and state continued to grow until Pope Urban II felt that it had to be pushed aside and made less important. Many scholars surmise that Pope Urban II’s rush to the First Crusade was partially to draw attention away from the Investiture Controversy. However, it wasn’t until the Concordat of Worms in 1112 that this issue was laid to rest. It was decided that all bishops would still be approved by the church, however the local authorities could select the candidates.
The Second Crusade was launched by Pope Eugene III and was lead by the nobility of Europe. Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany took up the cause and marched to reclaim County of Edessa from the Zengi. After the first crusade, four crusader states had been established: Kingdom of Jerusalem, Antioch, County of Edessa and later the County of Tripoli. The County of Edessa had been the northern most and least populated of them but represented a spread and power base for the church. When Edessa fell, Pope Eugene responded to take the crusade state back because he did not want to lost any territory. This crusade seemed to lack any real spiritual backbone and did not accomplish anything that moved in the direction of a Christ-centered goal.
The Third Crusade, also known as the King’s Crusade, was a direct response to Saladin’s rise in power. The Muslims had been in-fighting for a long time, but Saladin came along and united them into a single power that began taking back the land lost to the Christians in the First Crusade. After the Second Crusade failed to displace the Zengi, they continued to control the area of Syria and their forces were eventually assumed by the armies of Saladin. In 1187, Saladin marched the same armies of the Zengi into Jerusalem and continued to take Christian held cities and states throughout the area. These incursions were said to have caused Pope Urban III to have a heart attack and subsequently die. The next pope, Pope Gregory VIII then called for a Third Crusade in 1187. This Third Crusade would be lead by King Richard I of England, King Phillp II of France and Emperor Barbarossa of Germany. While the armies looked strong at first, they were immediately beset with problems and political strife that ended up with only King Richard’s forces actually reaching the Holy Land to do any real fighting. What is most interesting about the Third Crusade is that most scholars see it as successful because the Crusaders drove the Muslims from Acre and Jaffe, and Saladin failed to score a decisive win against King Richard, but at the end of it all Jerusalem remained under Saladin’s control with only a treaty that allowed Christians safe transit to Jerusalem.
When Pope Innocent III assumed papal power in 1198 he made it clear that he wasn’t pleased with the treaty that ended the Third Crusade when he launched the Fourth Crusade with its stated goal of recapturing the city of Jerusalem. However, the execution instead was to invade and take the city of Constantinople, which is seen as the last great act of the Great Schism in the Catholic Church. The Crusaders established the Latin Empire within the Byzantine states at that time. This only lasted from 1204-1261 because the disparate sections of the Byzantine empire would not be ruled over and fought back eventually destabilizing the Latin Empire and eventually liberated their capital city. The ramifications of this reverberated through Europe for some time. For centuries experts have debated what the goal of the Fourth Crusade actually was. Was it to conquer Constantinople? Or was it to take back Jerusalem and things just shifted? Constantinople was seen as a haven for Christians, and defended Christianity throughout the Crusades. By sacking the city the Crusaders sent a message that they really weren’t out to defend Christianity and the cause of Christ, but instead to wield power and extend their reach. It was nothing more than a stab in the back that has been felt for centuries and has stood as a bigger division within the Catholic church than the Great Schism itself.
Summing up the Crusades is a difficult task. So many actions were taken, battles were fought and lives were lost that the root causes and goals become less clear as time goes on. While the Catholic Church stated reasons and goals that were pure and sought to defend Christianity at its roots, there is still question about how much of it was true and how much was a power play. However, as we continued to look over the reasons and actions that lead to the other major Crusades it become more and more clear that they became about no more than who controlled what land, when and how in order to facilitate trade and – in the end – create more wealth through real estate. And in the end, the sacking of Constantinople can’t be seen as anything more than a back-handed action that sought to deal a death blow to the western church, but instead revealed the eastern church for what it truly was: an organization that had started out to spread the word of Christ, but got lost along the way and instead of using its power to spread the good news, they used it to control lands and people in the guise of evangelizing to the world.
Bruce holds a degree in Computer Science from Temple University, a Graduate Certificate in Biblical History from Liberty University and is working towards a Masters Degree in American History at American Public University. He has worked in educational and technology for over 18 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom. He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.
Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of Time, Towering Pines Volume One:Room 509, The Star of Christmas, Philadelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel -- with a new book, Learn the Basics: Digital Forensics, due soon.
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