Objections to Crusades Answered

DID PEOPLE SPEAK OUT against the Crusades? Yes, but as historians Louise and Jonathan Riley-Smith explain,”Criticism of crusading…was much less widespread…than is often believed.” And when objections did arise, they could be forcefully answered, as shown in the following treatise. Humbert of Romans, a former leader of the Dominican Order, wrote this “closely argued tour de force” in about 1272. Here are brief excerpts, translated by the Riley-Smiths:

There are some men given over to leisure who avoid all labor for Christ and are in the habit of condemning the measures the church has undertaken against the Saracens, like people, to use Jerome’s words, who always pass judgments on everything and can think of nothing to do themselves. These people are like those spies who disparaged the task of gaining the Promised Land,and frightened the people, and therefore were destroyed in the desert.

Christ and the saints did not shed blood.

Objection: Some of these critics say it is not in accordance with the Christian religion to shed blood in this way, even that of wicked infidels. For Christ did not act thus; rather, “When he suffered, he threatened not, but delivered himself to him that judged him unjustly,”as Peter says. The saints of old did not teach this either. One should conclude, therefore, that the Christian religion, which ought to adhere to the example and teaching of Christ and the saints, ought not to initiate wars of any kind whatsoever.

Answer: Who is so stupid as to dare to say that, were infidels or evil men to desire to kill every Christian and to wipe out the worship of Christ from the world, one ought not to resist them? It is clear in the teaching of Christ himself, who says, “He that hath no sword, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.” What the Lord said to Peter,”Put up again thy sword,” etc., applied to Peter on that particular occasion. It must be held without doubt that it is not inconsistent with the Christian religion to wage war according to circumstances against Saracens, extremely wicked men and particular enemies of Christendom.

We should defend but not attack.

There are those who say that, although we have a duty to defend ourselves against the Saracens when they attack us, it does not seem that we ought to attack their lands or their persons when they leave us in peace. I would reply that the Saracens are so hostile to Christians that they do not spare them whenever they have a chance of defeating them. This is why the Christians attack them on their own territory to weaken their power. If the Christians had not done this, the Saracens would already have overwhelmed almost the whole of Christendom.

It is not against God and apostolic teaching for Saracens to be killed by Christians, because they have a law which forbids them ever to hear Christ spoken of. They are the fig-tree from which there is no hope of bearing fruit. And so, if such a fig-tree ought to be cut down, according to the saying, it is obvious that those people ought to be removed from the world.

But it must be said in addition that the lands the Saracens now hold were in the hands of Christians before the time of Muhammad; they seized the opportunity of taking them away from the Christians, and they never had a just cause to occupy them. So when Christians invade the lands in which they live, they are not invading other people’s territory but rather intending to regain their own.

We don’t attack other groups of unbelievers.

Others say that if we ought to rid the world of the Saracens, why do we not do the same to the Jews, and why do we not treat the Saracens who are our subjects in the same way? Why do we not proceed with the same zeal against any other idolaters who still exist in the world?

As far as the Jews are concerned, it has been prophesied that in the end the remnant of them will be converted; as far as the conversion of the Saracens is concerned, no one has any reason to expect it, according to the judgment of hell, because no man can reach them to preach the gospel to them. They [the Jews] must be tolerated because there is hope that they may be converted, just as one does not immediately cut down a tree from which there is still hope of fruit. The same reasons for forbearance apply to the Saracens who are subject to us. For they, whether they like it or not, can be forced to listen to preaching, by which some are sometimes converted.

Attacks do not convert Muslims but anger them.

Other people are asking, What is the point of this attack on the Saracens? For they are not roused to conversion by it but rather are stirred up against the Christian faith. When we are victorious and have killed them, moreover, we send them to hell, which seems to be against the law of charity.

When we get possession of the lands of the Saracens, the filthy practices of their damnable worship are driven out, and the true veneration of God, the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, and his saints is introduced in them. And this is spiritually fruitful in three ways: it leads to the honor of God, the salvation of Christians, and the extension of the church in so far as God is more worshipped.

In reply to the point made about sending them to hell, it should be said that it is not the Christians’ intention to do this but to deal with them as is just, like a judge dealing with a thief. May they see for themselves where they are going when they leave this world. Nevertheless, divine providence treats them kindly, because it is better for them to die sooner rather than later on account of their sins, which increase as long as they live.

If the Crusades were God’s will, he would protect us.

Others say that it does not appear to be God’s will that Christians should proceed against Saracens in this way, because of the misfortunes which God has allowed and is still allowing to happen to the Christians engaged in this business. For how could God have allowed Saladin to retake from us, almost at a blow, nearly all the land which had been won with so much Christian blood and toil, if this kind of proceeding had been pleasing to him?

People who speak like this do not understand at all well how God acts. Not only do trials befall good and evil men alike; no, sometimes, what is more extraordinary, they befall more frequently the good rather than the evil. For it is written about the wicked, “They spend their days in wealth,” etc., but about the good it is said, “All that have pleased God passed through many tribulations, remaining faithful.”

Sometimes these misfortunes happen to our men on account of our sins. Sometimes misfortunes occur because we are incautious and rash. And there are other hidden reasons flowing from the vast depths of the judgments of God.But these considerations ought not to give rise to the criticism I mentioned before, but to other good things. For the hammer of this kind of adversity does not usually destroy good men, but instead makes them stand more firmly, as is sung by the psalmist: “All these things have come upon us: yet we have not forgotten thee: And our heart hath not turned back.” CH

By Humbert of Romans

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #40 in 1993]

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