The Crusades: Just Wars?

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A typical catalogue of the supposed historical crimes of the Catholic Church — or of Western men in general — would include the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Just as the latter has its received history, known as the Black Legend, that provides the modern “thinking man” with his talking points, so too is there a common source for his not-terribly-well informed opinion of the Crusades: Steven Runciman’s three-volume History of the Crusades. It is this work, by a man who considered himself an author of literature and not an historian, that has given us the narrative of oafish plunder-seeking European “barbarians” going off on Crusade to attack a more civilized Moslem foe.

Catholic authors may be rightly accused at times of overly romanticizing the Crusades, but Runciman’s version both romanticizes Islam (much as progressivist Western elites have) and commits a grave injustice against the rank-and-file of the Crusaders, as well as their leaders.

What did the Crusaders hope to accomplish? Quite simply, they set out to liberate formerly Christian lands that had been invaded and brutally subjugated by a foreign religious and military superpower. Specifically, the Crusades to the Holy Land (there were other Crusades) set out to liberate its Christian shrines and to provide safe passage to the many Christian pilgrims journeying there. Why would they need safe passage? “In 1065 the Seljuks [the Turkish Muslims then dominant in the Holy Land] began a campaign of persecution against Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land in which the Bishop of Bamberg and 12,000 pilgrims were massacred by the Muslims only two miles from Jerusalem” (Crash Course on the Crusades by Steve Weidenkopf).

Among the conquests for the Crescent in Islam’s explosive expansion outside of the Arabian Peninsula: Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, formerly the most Christian areas in the world; Anatolia (part of modern Turkey), stolen from the Greeks in 1071 and Christian since Apostolic times; Galatia and Ephesus, those cities addressed by Saint Paul in his Epistles; Christian North Africa, where Saint Augustine was bishop and where many Catholic churches flourished; and Spain (Spain!) — which, of course, we got back. Eventually, the sons of the Prophet would reduce the Christians of Constantinople to dhimmitude, just as they did the faithful of all those other lands. They would also attempt the conquest of Gaul (France), Sicily (which they had for a time), and various coastal regions of Italy. And I am making no effort to be comprehensive in this listing.

Ancient Christian cities and regions like Nicea, Chalcedon, Nicomedia, Cappadocia, Laodicea, Carthage, and Hippo have all been Moslem for over a thousand years. This fact should put things in perspective: the first eight Ecumenical Councils, all of which met in the first millennium, took place in cities long since subjugated by Islam, their Christian populaces forced to choose between apostasy and a brutal system of discrimination we might loosely compare to Apartheid.

The Crusades, then, were defensive wars against Islam. Without Jihad, Crusade would not have existed. Certainly this is true of the major conflicts most commonly known as Crusades. There were Crusades against the heretical Cathars in southern France, and various pagan peoples in the so-called Baltic (or Northern) Crusades. But these other Crusades were fairly minor compared to the effort against Islam, and were seen in contrast to it. It was fighting back against Islamic aggression that gave rise to this unique phenomenon of Christian wars of pilgrimage. And lest there be confusion about this, both the effort to liberate Spain and the Battle of Lepanto were Crusades, because the one man with authority to call a Crusade dubbed them so: the Pope.

In Catholic just war doctrine, as summarized by the Evangelical Christian, Mark Kreslins, the criteria for going to war (ius ad bellum) are as follows:

1. Last Resort

A just war can only be waged after all peaceful options are considered. The use of force can only be used as a last resort.

2. Legitimate Authority

A just war is waged by a legitimate authority. A war cannot be waged by individuals or groups that do not constitute the legitimate government.

3. Just Cause

A just war needs to be in response to a wrong suffered. Self-defense against an attack always constitutes a just war; however, the war needs to be fought with the objective to correct the inflicted wound.

4. Probability of Success

In order for a war to be just, there must be a rational possibility of success. A nation cannot enter into a war with a hopeless cause.

5. Right Intention

The primary objective of a just war is to re-establish peace. In particular, the peace after the war should exceed the peace that would have succeeded without the use of force. The aim of the use of force must be justice.

Do the Crusades meet these criteria? I believe they do. I further believe that, while there were injustices committed by crusaders (some severe), on the whole, the conduct of the wars was also just. The Latin term for the conduct of a just war (whether it is actually carried out in a just way) is jus in bello, and the following are its criteria (again, from Mark Kreslins):

6. Proportionality

The violence in a just war must be proportional to the casualties suffered. The nations involved in the war must avoid disproportionate military action and only use the amount of force absolutely necessary.

7. Civilian Casualties

The use of force must distinguish between the militia and civilians. Innocent citizens must never be the target of war; soldiers should always avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are only justified when they are unavoidable victims of a military attack on a strategic target.

My next Reconquest will be on the subject of “Just War Doctrine and the Crusades.” My guest will be J Stephen Roberts, the founder of Real Crusades History. Listen to it HERE on February 10 at 8:00 PM Eastern. It will then be rebroadcast on Friday at 7 PM Eastern (6 Central), and again on the following Monday at 3 PM Eastern (2 Central) and 7 PM Eastern (6 Central).