Monday, September 20, 2010

More Crusade Thoughts

I reflected on the Crusades a while back. I was trying to find something to learn. The first crusade seemed very much in the will of God. Not only because we won but because we won with supernatural help. But then things went bad from there. Why was that? What were we supposed to do after that first crusade that we didn't do?

Lately I have been reading Belloc's book The Great Heresies. He talks about the Muslim heresy at length and the crusades to a lesser degree. One point he does make is that the first crusade could have succeeded permanently if they had done a little more. They took Jerusalem but that was not enough. There were some key cities that are often referred to as desert ports. This is because they are on the edge of the desert and all the caravans start and end their desert journey's at one of these. There were a number in the area that the crusades never bothered to capture. The most important is Damascus. What Belloc suggested is that by taking these dessert ports the Crusader states would have become permanent fixtures. Without them you have a long skinny piece of territory along the coast. It is hard to defend and the Muslims have some obvious places from which to launch attacks.

Belloc goes even further. He says if the crusaders would have done this that Islam would have died out in a few centuries. His theory is that Islamic soldiers were often recruited from Africa or China. That they greatly benefited from being able to move people and goods between Asia and Africa. Taking the desert ports would have cut the Islamic world in two. They would not have been able to bail each other out. You can identify times in history when both halves would have been crushed.

That is interesting from an historical and military point of view. But what about from a spiritual point of view? Why should the Crusaders have not quit with Jerusalem? Why did they set Jerusalem as a goal anyway? It was a symbol. It was a pilgrimage destination. In some ways it was Old Testament thinking. That this was the promised land and we must defend it. But in the New Testament places don't matter as much. What matter is souls. They were not really thinking that way. With the Albigensian heresy they really wanted to crush it and make the south of France Christian again. With the Muslim heresy they didn't have the same mindset.

Their real motivation was their pride. They didn't want Jerusalem to sit in Muslim hands. The thought was humiliating to Europeans in a way Muslims holding Damascus was not. So it was their own feelings that were a big part of the Crusade mission. They wanted to please God and they thought liberating a holy city would be a good way to do it. But they also wanted to please themselves and the European public. So they didn't see the need to crush the enemy. Once the symbolic victory was won they would have needed to bring in more soldiers and more supplies to keep pushing the Muslims back. But Damascus did not have the big name appeal that Jerusalem did. You already have the public relations victory. Why risk another hard battle? If it is about souls then the reason is obvious. You want everyone to know that Islam is gone forever from the region. That is how Christianity prevailed in Spain.There is no reason why Syria could not have been the same. It was a Christian country for 600 years.


  1. I would love to chat about the "Great Heresies" with you--I read through it a couple of months ago, and participated in some discussion on the "Why I'm Catholic" blog:

  2. It is a book that gets you thinking. I haven't gotten to the section on the reformation yet but I already want to write about 3 posts on what he has said about protestants.

  3. That chapter is interesting. He approaches Protestantism more from a historical and social viewpoint than a doctrinal one, so it provides a different view.