It is the 1st of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1420.
There are few words in the history of the Christian Church as fraught as that of "Crusade." You might remember that in 2011 Campus Crusade for Christ change its name to CRU. This had to do with them moving beyond college campuses and ditching a word that was being set aside on account of its association with religious violence.
Of course, the controversy isn't etymological as much as it was as associative. The word "crusade" means to be marked by a cross. A "crusader" is one bearing the cross of Jesus. Except… what was going on in the 11th century devolved into what David Hume called "the most signal and most durable monument of human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation." He was a cranky fellow, but he wasn't all wrong.
Of course, part of this has to do with what we call "crusades." There were several unofficial popular movements in the Middle Ages intended to take the land, intimidate authority, or claim eschatological significance. Just because they call themselves crusaders doesn't mean we have to. We also want to make sure that we don't start calling any war with ties to the church a crusade. Of course, you can use whatever words you'd like. But for precision's sake, a Crusade is a papally backed military campaign with the promise of indulgence or spiritual dispensation. The crusading years in the church's history parallels those years in the Middle Ages when the Papacy was strongest. And perhaps to frame the last Crusade, and possibly the least successful, we might look at the decline of Papal power.
Those of you at the head of the class might instantly jump to the Council of Constance from 1414-1418. Lots of stuff is happening at this council. You might remember this as the council that saw the execution of Jan Hus. And you might remember that this is the council where the question of "conciliarism" first rocked the foundations of the Papacy with its claim that councils called Popes and thus were more powerful than Popes.
The execution of Jan Hus and the weakening of the Papal office didn't stop Pope Martin V. The Pope that reunited the church after the Papal Schism decided that he would put down the rowdy Hussites in Bohemia. Why were they so rowdy? Because the Pope had Jan Hus burned at the stake for heresy.
Nevertheless, on the 1st of March in 1420, Pope Martin V declared a Crusade against the Hussites with his Papal Bull "Omnium Plasmatoris Domini." This Crusade, unlike the earliest Crusades, had nothing to do with taking the Holy Land. That focus on reclamation was an early emphasis, but as the Crusades became more sprawling, they came to oppose anything seen as detrimental to Western Christendom. Here we see the crucial Medieval linking of heresy with sedition. Execution for sedition was a given. Execution for heresy wasn't. But by linking the two, the age of Christian Holy Wars would kick-off, only to come to an ignominious conclusion at the finale of the 30 Years' War in 1648.
It should be noted that this Crusade was an epic failure. Five times troops came to Bohemia, and five times they were turned back. The whole situation was resolved with a peace struck by moderate Hussites. And so, you know, the Hussites did indeed throw a papal official out of a window, marking the first "official" defenestration at Prague. The next one would ironically start the 30 Years War.
Today we remember, solemnly, the Papal Bull "Omnium Plasmatoris Domini," which called for a Crusade against the Hussites on the 1st of March in 1420.
The reading for today, some good news after the crusade-talk. This is a quote from St. Ephrem of Edessa.
"We give glory to You, Lord, who raised up Your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to You who put on the body of a single mortal man and made it the source of life for every other mortal man."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 1st of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a Crusader… of love. He is 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.