When I look at http://www.amazon.com and see the following statistics on a recent book, I become curious:
What book has snared these incredible spots on the Amazon sales rankings (along with the unheard-of ranking, for a history book, of #140 overall)? Is it some new Dan Brown potboiler? No (thank God), it’s Jonathan Phillips’s Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades.
Here is an excerpt from Phillips’s book published on the Wall Street Journal’s website. It’s harrowing, disturbing, and dismal. But there’s just no way to nuance this: so were the Crusades. They were one of the worst ideas of the church’s 2,000-year history. And it sounds as though Phillips, a University of London historian and History Channel contributor, has done us a service by a careful, but also powerful, rendering of their history.
I know I’ll be picking up this book, as I continue to work on the forthcoming Medieval Wisdom for Today’s Christians (Baker, 2012). This is not a “usable medieval past” in any positive sense. Yet we stand to learn a lot even (perhaps especially) from the church’s worst blunders:
The First Crusade and the Capture of Jerusalem, 1095-99
” ‘A grave report has come from the lands around Jerusalem…that a race absolutely alien to God…has invaded the land of the Christians….They have either razed the churches of God to the ground or enslaved them to their own rites….They cut open the navels of those whom they choose to torment…drag them around and flog them before killing them as they lie on the ground with all their entrails out….What can I say of the appalling violation of women? On whom does the task lie of avenging this, if not on you?…Take the road to the Holy Sepulchre, rescue that land and rule over it yourselves, for that land, as scripture says, floweth with milk and honey….Take this road for the remission of your sins, assured of the unfading glory of the kingdom of heaven.’ When Pope Urban had said these things…everyone shouted in unison: ‘Deus vult! Deus vult!,’ ‘God wills it! God wills it!’ ”
In this vivid-and hugely exaggerated-language, as reported by Robert of Rheims, Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade at Clermont in central France in November 1095. Four years later, having endured a journey of astounding hardship, the self-proclaimed “Knights of Christ” arrived at Jerusalem. On July 15, 1099, the crusaders stormed the walls and put its defenders to the sword to reclaim Christ’s city from Islam
Pope Urban II and the Call to Crusade
While nine hundred years later a distant descendant of Pope Urban’s creation continues to cast its shadow on Christian-Muslim relations across the world, it is an irony that crusading was primarily intended to remedy problems within western Europe. As the head of the Catholic Church, Urban was responsible for the spiritual well-being of everyone in Latin Christendom. Yet Europe was beset by a variety of evils: violence and lawlessness were rife and Emperor Henry IV of Germany, the most powerful secular ruler, was, at times, an excommunicate, cast out of the Church because he had challenged papal authority. In Urban’s mind, the fundamental cause of such chaos was a diminution of faith; it was his role to restore peace and stability. If this was to be achieved, spiritual concern would have to be blended with canny political calculation; perhaps to a modern audience the second of these elements sits a little uneasily on a man in his position, but to Urban the two were indivisible; as pope he did everything that was necessary to further God’s work
It was Urban’s genius that he conceived of a plan that offered benefits to the pope and to all of his flock. . . . Read the rest of the excerpt from www.wsj.com.