It is the 27th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1095.
The beginning of this century, and this millennium, started with a relative whimper. Predictions about the end of the world at the end of any millennium are legion, and to the best of my knowledge, have never happened.
The investiture controversy was in full swing in Europe. The growth of monarchs and regional rulers saw these new centers of power vying for the ability to name their own bishops and ecclesiastical rulers. The Pope rejected the idea of temporal authority, making spiritual decisions. Questions about who had the authority to invest in church offices would be at least a five-century problem for the Western Church.
How individuals could merit grace led to an explosion in pilgrimages to various Holy sites. Access to new roads allowed many to travel to the Holy Land, and they often returned with outlandish stories about the desecration of Christian sites.
Stories like that of the Caliph al-Hâkim of Egypt, who destroyed the church of the Holy Sepulchre, incensed western Christians who would then increasingly look to images of warlike heroes. From an increasingly militant description of God the Father and resuscitated saints like St. George, we see a new outwardly aggressive church.
“Taking back” the Holy Lands would have likely been popular at any time since the 7th century when Jerusalem fell into the hands of Muslim authorities. However, for centuries the church was more concerned with Arabs encroaching into Western lands. But by 1095, things had changed.
The Investiture Controversy gave the Pope a reason to want to assert his authority on a grand stage. When the Byzantine Emperor called on the Western Pope to help him, it gave the Pope an opportunity to reassert his control of western armies from the local authority. The popularity of pilgrimage led to the creation of new roads and the means of travel for religious purposes.
This combined with stories from the Holy Lands and the popularity of an aggressive and warlike faith, led to Pope Urban II, on the 27th of November in 1095, to declare the first Crusade. The Pope proclaimed, “Whoever for devotion alone, but not to gain honor or money, goes to Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God can substitute this journey for all penance.”
Was this a religious pilgrimage or pretense for war and material gain? For almost a thousand years, there has been no shortage of interpretations of the Crusades. How might we understand them? They were motivated by religion, money, fame, and surely boredom. The term “Crusade” is used too widely even in medieval contexts as we have too many divergent campaigns with different goals.
Many of the first-person accounts are highly influenced by the book of Revelation and their apocalyptic beliefs. We don’t need to be cynical, but we also don’t accept everything written at face value.
And finally, states and churches are like people. In fact, that’s what they are made up of. And insofar as one person does not have intentions pure as the driven snow, nor a straightforward narrative and cause for every event, we should not expect different from large quantitates of these people working in unison.
Religion and politics, church and state, Christian/Muslim relations—all those things we are afraid to talk about. But we remember the Crusades, or at least the first Crusade, as tricky as it can be, on the day that it was first called, the 27th of November 25 years ago in 1095.
The reading for today is a little different. It comes from the book of Isaiah, a promise from the second chapter of that book, wherein we hear the promise of God concerning a coming age that will culminate in the Kingdom of the Messiah reigning over all peoples and nations.
The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man whose favorite crusades include: Campus, the Plastic Constellations album, and the 20th-century thoroughbred, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.