Historicism of Christians and Muslims of the Crusades Pt. 2


Please visit my previous post, part 1, if you have not read it.

What drives the opinions of President Obama and writer Adam Gopnik is the effect of the Enlightenment, Madden writes, “In a post-Enlightenment world, the concept of religious warfare is odious, largely because most people no longer believe one’s religious beliefs are relevant to one’s view of the world,”[1]—see, President Obama and Adam Gopnik. Madden goes on to explain that only after the event of 9/11  Westerners received a rude awakening that yes, in fact, “religion remains a reason to wage deadly war.”[2] However, Madden asserts that the reasons we wage war have changed very little since the Crusades, the secularist states have only replaced religion as a reason for war with loyalty to the state or political ideology.[3] Madden’s analysis is something that people like Adam Gopnik can never understand due to their bias loyalty to their political ideology. I would certainly surmise that Gopnik is even fanatical enough that it isn’t possible for him to understand that the Crusaders reasons for war and his reason for writing this piece are both rooted in the same metaphysics.

So unlike Gopnik, Madden reviews the bare bone facts of Christianity, the Crusades, and Islam.  Madden asserts, “Unlike Islam, Christianity had no well-defined concept of holy war before the Middle Ages. Christ had no armies at his disposal, nor did his early followers. Only in AD 312, after the conversion to Christianity [of the Roman Empire], did the religion come into direct contact with statecraft and warfare.”[4] Christopher Tyerman gives a more in-depth description of the development of Christian Just War writing, “When Christianity became adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century, Graeco-Roman just war confronted the Judaic traditions of war fought for faith and not merely temporal but divinely ordained rights…prompted the emergence of a set of limited principles of Christian just war.”[5]

Adam Gopnik’s interpretation of the ‘facts’ appears to be missing a vital understanding that folks in the past do not think in the same manner as people today. So to balance the ‘facts’ laid out by these two scholars are Christ was lowborn, most of his disciples were low born, and they had no access to warfare. Christianity developed a philosophy of just war when the Roman Empire incorporated Christianity officially into its empire. During this period, St. Augustine of Hippo developed the doctrine of Just War incorporating the practicality of time, Pax Romana, and Christian moral goodness.[6] In this manner, the foundation of Christianity is very different from Islam.

In 7th century A.D., Christianity finds its first true competitor when the Prophet Mohammad founded Islam. Madden explains that “the Prophet was both a political and religious leader, Islam was at once a faith and a means of government. Commerce, justice, diplomacy, and war were built into the bedrock of the religion…Mohammad waged war first against other Arab towns and then against Mecca itself.”[7] Traditional Islam is divided into two different concepts for the world, the Dar al-Islam (Abode of Islam) and the Dar al-Harb (Abode of War). Madden explains that the Abode of War does include the Christian world where Muslims “were enjoined to wage jihad against unbelievers.”[8] Tyerman explains that with the Abode of Islam, People of the Book (Christians, Jews, and others) “living in Muslim lands…religious tolerance was guaranteed by early Islamic texts (see, Sura 109)…the People of the Book had to recognize their subordinate status and pay a tax, the jizya. Despite the reaction of some modern sentimentalist, there was little generosity…by contrast…in the Dar al-harb…individuals were open to attack.”[9]
After the Prophet died in 632 A.D., the Muslim faith expanded greatly within a century by military conquest of Persia, Egypt, and Syria. As explained by Madden, around the same period, Muslim conquerors “swept through all of Christian North Africa also crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and established their rule in Spain.”[10] During the 8th century, Muslim forces were marching across the Pyrenees, into Gaul (what is now France), and wouldn’t be sent back to Spain until the Battle of Tour by Charles Martel. Although defeated, Muslims continued to harass Christians living in southern Gaul throughout the 8th century.[11] By the time of Pope Urban II’s declaration in 1095, ¾ of originally Christian lands had been conquered by Muslim caliphates. Madden’s thesis articulates that after 300 years and demands from the Byzantine Empire for aid, the Pope was called to launch a defense of Christendom.

It’s natural to ask, what was the motivation for Muslims to pursue this type of conquest and Christians to wage a counter attack? Tyerman attempts to articulate a ‘balanced’ history by not stressing that the idea of imperialism, but dismissing the religious motivation of  a religious pilgrimage that is the basis of Madden’s thesis. In regards to Islam, “Thus on the Muslim community  was enjoined jihad…this took two forms, the internal spiritual struggle, and the less, the military struggle against infidels…In theory, fighting was incumbent on all Muslims until the whole world had been subdued.”[12] Tyerman differs from Madden by articulating the drive for Christianity was “the opportunity they afforded for a revival of religious enthusiasm, devotion and piety, essentially concerns internal to the church and Christian society.”[13]

Madden’s thesis rest on a social and cultural history from a bottom-up perspective. He explains that an average crusader’s understanding of Pope Urban II’s call was not a call for a Holy War per say, but rather what was known to them as a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher. Madden stresses the point that “The distinction between holy war and pilgrimage was real. Crusaders usually referred to themselves as ‘pilgrims’ or ‘cross bearers, and “they took vows of fasting or abstention from sex or by special devotions to be performed during the course of the pilgrimage.”[14]

All in All, there is no disagreement with Adam Gopnik that the Crusades are complex; however, it’s appearing that modern scholarship is disagreeing with the tired old rhetoric that these wars were waged in the name of Christianity for the purpose of spreading imperialistic atrocities. It is certainly true as Tyerman and Madden both agree that Christians are guilty of committing atrocities throughout the period, but these actions are more due to the period than any foundation of Christian faith by looking at the facts with proper historicism. It must be stressed that these wars, a thought made popular by historians like Sir Steven Runciman, were not imperialistic in nature, but rather were due to religious motivations, as these people were intrinsically religious. Whether those motivations are more pious or Machiavellian in nature is still up for debate.

[1] Madden,  1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 2.

[5] Tyerman, 33.

[6] Ibid, 34.

[7] Madden, 2

[8] Ibid, 3.

[9] Tyerman, 52.

[10] Madden, 5.

[11] Tyerman, 52.

[12] Ibid, 53.

[13] Ibid, 54.

[14] Madden, 9.


12 thoughts on “Historicism of Christians and Muslims of the Crusades Pt. 2

  1. These have been very interesting, Philip. They remind me of a guest lecture I attended years ago where the visiting speaker was discussing the role of crusader rhetoric and iconography in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I recall him mentioning that Kaiser Wilhelm had been involved in some sort of stunt organised for a tour of the Middle East, where he was dressed up in some ludicrous fashion to make a “triumphal” entry into some city.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Nicholas, Yes indeed, other figures in history have done much to sway a false perception of the Crusades. Take WWI French General Henri Gouraud, “Behold Saladin, we have returned.” Furthermore, we have a perception that Saladin has always been a great hero of Islam, this isn’t true. The West has always seen him as a great adversary and we kept him alive in our history. It wasn’t until 20th Century European colonial schools reintroduced him and also the Crusades to Middle East, as described by Professor Madden (p. 201) He indicates this “long memory” rhetoric is actually very recent memory.

      It’s interesting what I’ve noticed in my time around the ole’ secular University. The Academic elite who focus so much on the marginalized classes with their new modern focus on social and cultural history still carry such an antiquated view of the Crusades. It’s weird how every other period they look at is from the bottom-up, but when it comes to the Crusades it’s back to a Top-down philosophy of who controls historical events.

      So ah…which is it?

      Most folks just have a general idea about the Crusades, they don’t know the even the major political players like Godfrey of Bouillon, Raymond of Toulouse, Bohemond of Taranto etc. to make a top-down argument.

      Of course, the problem studying the major players leads one to Peter the Hermit and the People’s Crusade, who were mainly poor and unarmed, and exterminated.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed. I doubt most people could tell you that Bouillon is in the modern territory of Belgium, or that the Belgians preserve the name of Baldwin – spelt Baudewijn in Flemish.


    • Nicolas, I notice you have two posts in draft at the moment. Let me know when you are ready to schedule them. I have one for tomorrow and Phillip has two for next week. So if you would like to schedule something for this weekend let me know.


  2. Pingback: Historicism of Christians and Muslims of the Crusades Pt. 2 — All Around the Western Front – The Latin Community

    • I am familiar with Bill Warner, somethings as you can probably figure out I disagree with him; however, in regards to his examination of the Islamic caliphate it’s fairly close to Madden’s view on the expansion of Islam into Christian territory.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I doubted you agreed with Warner’s theory about us being afraid to come to grips with the danger pose by Islam. However, I was not certain what you thought of his views on Muslim expansion. I was somewhat surprised by Warner’s assertion that Muslim attacks caused the Dark Ages. I expect that is a bit of an overstatement. Nevertheless, I can believe that Muslim assaults prolonged the Dark Ages by hundreds of years. Once the Roman Empire collapsed, and the Roman legions no longer existed to maintain order, Muslim assaults could have forestalled the reestablishment of order. In fact, such assaults, along with attacks from the north (like those of the Vikings) would have made trade difficult and the organization of a new government very difficult.

        Liked by 1 person

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