Question 41:

Why did the crusaders slaughter thousands of innocent people? What kind of God’s love and tolerance is that?


Answer: I would like to start with a brief description of the crusades in the narrow sense, i.e. the crusades to the Holy Land, penned by Ludwig Hagemann (Was glauben Christen? Die Grundaussagen einer Weltreligion. Herder-Taschenbuch nr. 1729, Freiburg, 1991, 126f.): “When the Turks conquered Jerusalem in 1071 A.D, the returning pilgrims reported harassment and obstructions from the new rulers. This news was not to remain without effect. When the Byzantine Emperor Alexius I. (1081-1118) called on Pope Urban II (1088-1099) for help because of the threat to Constantinople, the popes call for assistance for Christians in the orient and for the liberation of the Holy Land from Muslim occupation, at the Synod of Clermont on 27 November 1095, ignited a mass movement which united the peoples of the occident for two centuries across all national borders.

‘Deus lo volt’, God wills it, was the all conquering slogan. The pope himself led the crusade movement.

The original goal was never achieved. On the contrary, all attempts to re-establish Christian dominance in the Holy Land were only successful for a limited period of time; in the final analysis, they all failed. The motivation behind the movement, which had originally been purely religious, became to be obscured behind a passion for war and adventure, a thirst for blood and the clamor for loot and power. The relationship between Christians and Muslims was put under the most severe pressure with the consequence of a new Islamic solidarity against Christians. The Eastern Church was more embittered than before. Efforts to establish a union remained without success, and the gap between the Western and the Eastern Church was deepened by the, albeit short-term, establishment of the Latin Empire in Constantinople (1204-61).”

In 2004, an impressive, well-researched exhibition in the Bischöfliches Dom- und Diozesanmuseum in Mainz with the title "No War is Holy -- The Crusades” has generated much interest. The prologue to this exhibition states:

"The history of the crusades has often been described in a very idealistic light, and has been exploited by the State and the Church for political and religious reasons.

The 19th century with its romantic admiration of knights and chivalry saw the deeds of the crusaders as expressing bravery, gallantry and nobleness, and the fear of God.

This way of thinking is represented by the fresco in the Cathedral of Speyer showing the great crusade preacher Bernhard of Clairvaux, which clearly illustrates the uncritical, romanticized depiction of an important historic event. Such depictions of history have little in common with reality.

The crusades were bloody, cruel wars of conquest that caused wretchedness and suffering.

But those who from the year 1095 took up the cross acted according to the values of their time, which we today still find very hard to understand. The crusaders considered the liberation of the Holy Land from the hands of the unbelievers a just war which God himself had authorized through the Pope.

The consequences of this pious belief were immense. In any case, the idea of the crusades, the mixed motives of many who took part in them and the ways in which they actually took shape in history is tainted by error and sin. The crusades not only led to hundreds of thousands of dead, but also and importantly to the deep separation of the oriental Muslim and the occidental Christian world, the traces of which can still be seen today.

The Roman church played a major part in this development, and for this reason, Pope John Paul II spoke clearly on this issue: In Athens on May, 5th 2001, he made an appeal for pardon of the sins, which "the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church committed against orthodox Christians. He specifically named the conquest of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1204. It was the first visit of a Roman pontiff in Greece for more than 1000 years.

On May 6th 2001, the Holy Father visited the Omayyad Mosque in Damascus. He expressed the hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will represent our two great religious communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict. For the first time in history a Roman pontiff had set foot inside a mosque.

This public admission and the appeal for pardon for the injustices of the crusades, which were partly the fault of the Church, should give the necessary encouragement to improve the relationship between the three monotheistic faith communities of Christians, Jews and Muslims (quoted from the prologue of the exhibition mentioned above, “No War is Holy -- The Crusades”. Mainz: Bischöfliches Dom- und Diözesanmuseum, 2004)

Pope John Paul II declared the first Sunday of Lent of the Jubilee year 2000 (12th March) to be the Day of Pardon. 2000 was the year in which Christians celebrated the 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and the beginning of the third millennium. In his homily that Sunday, the Pope said: (the following to the end of this question is copied from the official website

"Before Christ, who, out of love, took our guilt upon himself, we are all invited to make a profound examination of conscience. One of the characteristic elements of the Great Jubilee is what I described as the "purification of memory" (Bull Incarnationis mysterium, n. 11). As the Successor of Peter, I asked that "in this year of mercy the Church, strong in the holiness which she receives from her Lord, should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters" (ibid.). Today, the First Sunday of Lent, seemed to me the right occasion for the Church, gathered spiritually round the Successor of Peter, to implore divine forgiveness for the sins of all believers. Let us forgive and ask forgiveness!

“Let us forgive and ask forgiveness! While we praise God who, in his merciful love, has produced in the Church a wonderful harvest of holiness, missionary zeal, total dedication to Christ and neighbor, we cannot fail to recognize the infidelities to the Gospel committed by some of our brethren, especially during the second millennium. Let us ask pardon for the divisions which have occurred among Christians, for the violence some have used in the service of the truth and for the distrustful and hostile attitudes sometimes taken towards the followers of other religions.

Let us confess, even more, our responsibilities as Christians for the evils of today. We must ask ourselves what our responsibilities are regarding atheism, religious indifference, secularism, ethical relativism, the violations of the right to life, disregard for the poor in many countries.

We humbly ask forgiveness for the part which each of us has had in these evils by our own actions, thus helping to disfigure the face of the Church.

At the same time, as we confess our sins, let us forgive the sins committed by others against us. Countless times in the course of history Christians have suffered hardship, oppression and persecution because of their faith. Just as the victims of such abuses forgave them, so let us forgive as well. The Church today feels and has always felt obliged to purify her memory of those sad events from every feeling of rancour or revenge. In this way the Jubilee becomes for everyone a favorable opportunity for a profound conversion to the Gospel. The acceptance of God's forgiveness leads to the commitment to forgive our brothers and sisters and to be reconciled with them.”

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