23 November 2012

Church History 6.3: External and internal priorities: the Crusades and the Monasteries

Monasticism and the Crusades … Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preaches the Second Crusade

Patrick Comerford,

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

Church History Elective (TH 7864)

Friday 23 November 2012, 11 a.m.:

Church History 6.3:
External and internal priorities: the Crusades and the Monasteries


We left a few moments ago with the division of the Church at the Great Schism into East and West. By then the Western Church was in need of consolidation, and two priorities, pressures or forces, one external and one internal, helped to provide that consolidation or focus for it in very different ways – the development of monastic and mendicant traditions, and the lessons and disasters of the Crusades.

In many ways, those two movements are brought together in the person of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who is remembered for his efforts to reform the Benedictine monastic tradition, and for his zeal in preaching on behalf of the Crusades.

Part 1: The Crusades

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem … at the heart of the conflict between Islam and Christianity in the Holy Land

The Crusades were a series of religious wars between 1095 and 1291 blessed by the Pope and the Church with the expressed goal of restoring Christian access to holy places in and near Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the sacred city and symbol of the three principal Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It was first captured by Islamic forced in the year 638. When the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine army in 1071, Christian access to Jerusalem was cut off and the Emperor Alexis I feared the Turks would over-run all Asia Minor. The Byzantine emperor called on western Christian leaders and the papacy to come to the aid of Constantinople and to free Jerusalem from Islamic rule.

In all, there were nine Crusades from the 11th to the 13th century, along with many “minor” Crusades. Several hundred thousand Crusaders came from throughout western Europe, but they were not under any one unified command. Their emblem was the cross, and the term “Crusade,” although not used by the Crusaders to describe themselves, comes from the French term for taking up the cross. Many were from France and were called “Franks” – the common term used by Muslims.


The Cathedral of Pisa … funded through two raids on Muslim territories in the 11th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In the decades immediately before the launch of the Crusades, the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim bin-Amir Allah ordered the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. His successors allowed the Byzantine Empire to rebuild the church in 1039 and Christian pilgrims were allowed once again to visit the holy sites in Palestine.

In second half of the 11th century, even before the First Crusade, European forces had been at war with Muslim forces:

● The city of Pisa in Italy funded its new cathedral through two raids on the Muslims – in Palermo (1063) and Mahdia (1087).
● In Sicily, the Norman adventurer Robert Guiscard had conquered northern Sicily by 1072.
● In 1085, Moorish Toledo fell to the Kingdom of León.

The Crusades came as a response to wave-after-wave of Turkish assaults on the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine emperors sent emissaries to the Pope asking for aid in their struggles with the Seljuk Turks. In 1074, Emperor Michael VII sent a request for aid to Pope Gregory VII, but there was no practical response.

In 1095, Emperor Alexios I Komnenos appealed to Pope Urban II for help against the Turks, and Urban II responded by launching the crusades on the last day of the Council of Clermont.

His speech is of the most influential speeches ever. He called for Christian princes across Europe to launch a holy war in the Holy Land. He vividly described attacks on Christian pilgrims and contrasted the sanctity of Jerusalem and the holy places with the plunder and desecration by the Turks. He urged the barons to give up their fratricidal and unrighteous wars in the West for the holy war in the East. He also suggested material rewards in the form of feudal fiefdoms, land ownership, wealth, power, and prestige, all at the expense of the Arabs and Turks.

When he finished, those present chanted: “Deus vult, God wills it.”

Immediately, thousands pledged themselves to go on the first crusade. Pope Urban’s sermon at Clermont was the start of an eight-month preaching tour he undertook throughout France. Preachers were sent throughout Western Europe to talk up the Crusade.

Urban’s example inspired the preaching of Peter the Hermit, who eventually led a “People’s Crusade” of up to 20,000 people, mostly from the lower classes, after Easter 1096. When they reached the Byzantine Empire, Alexius urged them to wait for the western nobles, but the “army” insisted on moving on. They were ambushed outside Nicaea by the Turks, and only about 3,000 people escaped the ambush.

First Crusade (1095–1099):

The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem in 1099 (Ökumenisches Heiligenlexikon; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris)

The leaders of the First Crusade were Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke William II of Normandy, but not King Philip I of France or the German Emperor Henry IV. In all, the forces may have numbered 100,000.

The first crusader armies set off from France and Italy on 15 August 1096. They received a cautious welcome in Constantinople from the Byzantine Emperor. The main army, mostly French and Norman knights, then marched south through Anatolia and first fought the Turks at the lengthy Siege of Antioch from October 1097 to June 1098. Once inside the city, the Crusaders massacred the Muslim inhabitants and pillaged the city.

Most of the surviving crusader army then marched south, finally reaching the walls of Jerusalem on 7 June 1099 with only a fraction of their original forces. Although Jerusalem was defended by its Jewish and Muslim inhabitants, who fought alongside each other, the crusaders entered the city on 15 July 1099. They proceeded to massacre the remaining Jewish and Muslim civilians and pillaged or destroyed the mosques and the city itself.

As a result of the First Crusade, several small Crusader states were created. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, at most 120,000 Franks ruled over 350,000 Muslims, Jews, and e Eastern Christians. The other Crusader states were the County of Edessa, the Principality of Antioch and the County of Tripoli.

Eventually, the Muslims began to reunite and Edessa was retaken in 1144 It was the first city to fall to the Crusaders, and was the first city recaptured by the Muslims. This led the Pope to call for a second Crusade.

The historian Steven Runciman writes of the First Crusade as a barbarian invasion of the civilised and sophisticated Byzantine empire, ultimately bringing about the ruin of Byzantine civilization.

The Second Crusade (1147–1149):

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preaches the Second Crusade

After a period of relative peace in the Holy Land, the Muslims reconquered Edessa and a new crusade was called for by various preachers, especially Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. However, Bernard of Clairvaux was upset with the amount of misdirected violence and the slaughter of the Jewish population of the Rhineland.

French and German armies under the King Louis VII and King Conrad III marched to Jerusalem in 1147 but failed to win any major victories. Even the pre-emptive siege of Damascus was a failure. By 1150, the kings of France and Germany had returned home without any gains. As part of the wave created by the Second Crusade, however, Lisbon was retaken from the Muslims in 1147, and Tortosa was captured in 1148.

The Third Crusade (1187-1192)

The Crusaders before Saladin

The divided Muslim forces and powers were united by Saladin, who created a single powerful state. Following his victory at the Battle of Hattin, he overwhelmed the disunited crusaders in 1187 and all of the crusader holdings except a few coastal cities. The Byzantines, who now feared the Crusaders, made a strategic alliance with Saladin.

Saladin’s victories shocked Europe. When he heard of the Siege of Jerusalem (1187), Pope Urban VIII died of a heart attack on 19 October 1187. On 29 October, Pope Gregory VIII issued a papal bull calling for the Third Crusade. Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, King Philip II of France and King Richard the Lion-Hearted of England responded by organising a crusade.

But Frederick died on the way and few of his men reached the Holy Land. The other two armies arrived but were beset by political quarrels. Philip returned to France. Richard captured Cyprus from the Byzantines in 1191, recaptured the cities of Acre and Jaffa, and his Crusader army marched south to Jerusalem. However, Richard did not believe he could hold Jerusalem once it was captured.

The crusade ended without Jerusalem being retaken. Instead, Richard negotiated a treaty with Saladin allowing merchants to trade and unarmed Christians to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204):

The Crusaders assault Constantinople in 1204

The Fourth Crusade was initiated by Pope Innocent III, with a plan to invade the Holy Land through Egypt, with a fleet contracted from Venice. But the crusaders lost the support of the Pope and were excommunicated.

They lacked supplies, the leases on their vessels were running out when they turned on Constantinople and tried to place a Byzantine exile on the throne. In 1204, the Crusaders sacked the city and established the so-called “Latin Empire” and a collection of petty Crusader states throughout the Byzantine Empire.

Finally, the Pope returned his support to the Crusade, and backed a plan for a forced reunion between the Churches of the east and the West. But this forced but short-lived reunion was the final breaking point of the Great Schism.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221):

Saint Francis of Assisi before the Sultan at Damietta in 1219

In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council formulated yet another crusade plan for the recovery of the Holy Land. In the first phase, a crusading force from Austria and Hungary joined the forces of the “King of Jerusalem” and the “Prince of Antioch” to retake Jerusalem.

In the second phase, the Crusader forces captured Damietta in Egypt in 1219. Saint Francis of Assisi crossed the battle lines at Damietta to speak to the Sultan, who was impressed by Francis and spent some time with him. Francis was given safe passage and his action eventually led to the establishment of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

But in 1221, the Crusaders launched a foolhardy attack on Cairo, where they were turned back and forced to retreat.

The Sixth Crusade (1228-1229):

The Dome of the Rock ... left in Muslim hands by the Sixth Crusade

Emperor Frederick II launched the Sixth Crusade in 1228, when he set sail from Brindisi for Saint-Jean d’Acre. There were no battles in the Crusade, and Frederick signed a treaty with the Sultan of Egypt allowing Christians to rule over most of Jerusalem and a strip of territory from Acre to Jerusalem, while the Muslims had control of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque. In 1228, Frederick crowned himself king of Jerusalem. The peace lasted for about ten years. Following the Siege of Jerusalem in 1244, the Muslims regained control of the city.

The Seventh Crusade (1248-1254):

King Louis IX of France organised a crusade against Egypt from 1248 to 1254. The crusaders were decisively defeated on their way to Cairo and King Louis was captured, released only after a large ransom had been paid.

The Eighth Crusade (1270):

Louis IX again attacked the Arabs in 1270, this time in Tunis in North Africa. The king died in Tunisia, ending this last major attempt to take the Holy Land.

The Ninth Crusade (1271–1272):

The future Edward I of England, who had accompanied Louis on the Eighth Crusade, launched his own Crusade in 1271. But the Ninth Crusade was a failure and it marks the end of the Crusades in the Middle East.

Antioch had fallen in 1268, Tripoli fell in 1289, Acre n 1291, and the island of Ruad, 3 km off the Syrian shore, was captured by the Mamluks in 1302. The last traces of Christian rule in the Levant disappeared.

The Knights of Saint John relocated themselves to the island of Rhodes, which they held until 1522. Cyprus remained under the House of Lusignan until 1474, and then in the hands of Venice until 1570.

Some other “Crusades”:

The Albigensian Crusade was launched in 1209 to eliminate the heretical Cathars of Occitania in southern France. It was a decades-long struggle that had as much to do with the concerns of northern France to extend its control southwards as it did with heresy. In the end, the Cathars were exterminated and the autonomy of southern France came to an end.

The “Children’s Crusade” The chronicles report a spontaneous youth movement in France and Germany attracted large numbers of peasant teenagers and young people in 1212, convinced they could succeed where older and more sinful crusaders had failed. Many of the children died of hunger or exhaustion on the hot summer’s journey to the port of Marseilles, others were captured and sold into slavery. At Marseilles, seven ships were put at their disposal. It was 18 years before anything more was heard of them.

Evaluating the Crusades:

The Crusades had political, economic, and social impacts on western Europe. Later consequences were, on the one hand, the way they weakened the Byzantine Empire, which fell eventually to the Muslim Turks; and on the other hand a long period of wars in Spain and Portugal leading to a Christian conquest or reconquest of the Iberian peninsula. The Crusades allowed the Papacy to assert its independence of secular rulers and developed the arguments for the proper use of armed force by Christians, leading eventually to the development of the “Just War” theories.

Some historians have argued that the Crusades opened up European culture to the world, especially Asia, and gave Christian Europe a more cosmopolitan world view that led to its world-wide empires.

Sir Steven Runciman says of the Crusades: “High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed ... the Holy War was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God.”

Runciman has highlighted the tension between the Patriarchs of Constantinople and the Popes in Rome during the Crusades, and the more tolerant attitude of the Byzantines towards Muslim powers. For Runciman, the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 was the culmination of the mounting dislike and suspicion that western Christendom felt towards Byzantium.

The West misunderstood Byzantium, and could not accept the ideas that the Roman inheritance had shifted from Rome to Constantinople and that the civilised, Christian world was centred on Constantinople. For their part, the Byzantines had a deep-rooted antipathy towards the West, convinced of Byzantine cultural and religious superiority, despite Byzantium’s military and political weakness.

Nevertheless, the Crusades had an enormous influence on the Church and on western Europe in the Middle Ages. In part, they contributed to the development of nation states such as France, England, Spain, Burgundy and Portugal.

Much knowledge in areas such as science, medicine, mathematics, philosophy and architecture were introduced to Europe from the Islamic world during the crusades.

Along with trade, new scientific discoveries and inventions made their way east or west. Arab and classical Greek advances, including the development of algebra and optics and the refinement of engineering, made their way west and sped the course of advancement in European universities that led to the Renaissance in later centuries.

Maritime passage brought the rise of Western European and Mediterranean trading and naval powers such as the Sicilian Normans and the Italian city-states of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa.

Trade routes opened across Europe, bringing many things to Europeans that were once unknown or rare, including a variety of spices, ivory, jade, diamonds, improved glass-manufacturing techniques, early forms of gun powder, oranges, apples, and other Asian crops and produce.

The Crusades mark Europe’s recovery from the Dark Ages (ca 700–1000). The economy of Western Europe advanced, and the Renaissance began in the Italian maritime republics of Venice, Genoa, and Pisa which were opened to the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans.

But the rising Ottoman Empire would pose a new threat to Western Europe in advance of Christopher Columbus’s voyage in 1492 and the opening of the Reformation at the beginning of the 16th century.

Part 2: The rise of the monastic tradition:

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux ... links the Crusades and Monasticism

The role of the monastic and mendicant orders at the time of the Crusades is crucial to their development. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, responsible for the reform of the Benedictine tradition, “preached up” the Second Crusade; Saint Francis of Assisi crossed the battle lines at Damietta to speak to the Sultan in 1219 during the Fifth Crusade; and the Carmelites arrived in Europe as a loose group of hermits forced to leave the Holy Land in the wake of the failure of the Crusades.

However, we last left the monks at our visit to Kells, when we looked at the rise of the monastic tradition in Ireland. Perhaps we should take a step back a few centuries to understand the development of monasticism in the history of the Church.

Two particular rules have shaped Western monasticism: the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Rule of Saint Augustine. But the monastic tradition has its roots in the Desert Fathers and a tradition that developed in Egypt and Syria.

Origins of Monasticism:

Saint Anthony of Egypt (252-356) ... the founder of the eremetical or solitary monastic life

The word monk comes from the Greek word monos, indicating someone who lives alone. At first, monks did not live in monasteries but lived alone in the wilderness or the desert. When their followers started to come together and model themselves along the lifestyle of the monks, the monks began to form communities.

Saint Anthony the Abbot (252-356) could be regarded as the founder of the eremetical or solitary monastic life, while Saint Pachomius is seen as the founding figure in the cenobotical or community-style monastic life.

Eremitic monasticism, or solitary monasticism, is marked by a complete withdrawal from society. The word “eremitic” comes from the Greek word eremos, meaning desert. Saint Anthony of the Desert, or Saint Anthony of Egypt, left civilisation behind in the third century to live a solitary life on an Egyptian mountain. Although he was probably not the first Christian hermit, he is generally seen as such.

Then, ca 323, at Tabenna in Upper Egypt, Saint Pachomius gathered his disciples into a more organised community that lived in individual huts or rooms, but worked, ate and worshipped together. Similarly, in 328, Saint Makarios established individual groups of cells. These two monastic saints wanted to bring together individual ascetics who were not able to live a solitary existence in the desert.

The head of these monasteries came to be known as “Father” – in Syriac Abba, which gives us our English “Abbot.”

Saint Pachomius helped to organise other communities, so that by the time he died in 346 there were 3,000 such communities throughout Egypt. From there, monasticism quickly spread first to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and then through the rest of the Empire.

Two different two types of monastic lifestyle developed – the permanent and the mendicant; the permanent monks were committed to living in one community, while the mendicants renounced all of their worldly possessions and travelled about preaching, dependent on the alms and offerings of others.

Western monasticism:

Saint Marin of Tours ... a bas relief in Oxford of Saint Martin giving half his cloak to a beggar

After serving in the Roman legions, Martin of Tours converted to Christianity and established a hermitage near Milan, and then moved on to Poitiers, where he gathered a community around his hermitage. He became Bishop of Tours in 372, and his community has strong associations with the story of Saint Patrick and his mission in Ireland.

Saint John Cassian began his monastic career at a monastery in Palestine and Egypt around 385 and established two monasteries, one for men and one for women, near Marseilles ca 415. In time, these attracted over 5,000 monks and nuns.

Ireland was the first non-Roman area to adopt monasticism. The earliest monastic settlements in Ireland emerged at the end of the fifth century. Irish monasticism spread widely, first to Scotland and northern England, and then to Gaul and Italy.

The Benedictine tradition:

Saint Benedict of Nursia ... the key figure in the foundation and development of the Western monastic tradition

Within the Western monastic tradition, there are two key figures, Saint Benedict and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Saint Benedict of Nursia is the most influential figure in western monasticism. He was educated in Rome but soon sought the life of a hermit in a cave at Subiaco, outside the city. He attracted followers and with them he founded the monastery of Monte Cassino ca 520, between Rome and Naples.

Saint Benedict was more focused on schools, and the education of the monks who followed his rule. He wished to reform the education throughout the monasteries so that a monk could be a better person, and more greatly achieve their quest of living a life like that of Christ.

He set out the rule that led to him being credited with the title of Father of Western Monasticism.

By the ninth century, largely under the inspiration of Charlemagne, the Rule of Saint Benedict had become the guiding rule for Western monasticism.

The Mendicant orders:

Saint Dominic in Prayer by El Greco

In the 13th century, with the decline of the monasteries, new mendicant orders of friars were founded to teach the Christian faith. Within the mendicant orders, two principal groups of friars emrged: the Franciscans and the Dominicans.

The Franciscans begin with Saint Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century. Saint Francis realised that as the monks became rich from their earnings, they ultimately started to become lazy and proud. His Franciscans believed in living in poverty and sought to survive by begging.

The Dominicans or the Order of Preachers was founded by Saint Dominic de Guzman in the 13th century. He established a systematic and organised method of teaching the monks so they would be prepared to travel and preach to the people. Saint Dominic taught the most importance of linking the monastic rules with lives of poverty, chastity and obedience. He also emphasised charity and meekness.

Later, the Dominican friars would be linked with the Spanish Inquisition. But among their great scholars and theologians were Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Catherine of Siena.

The principal western monastic and mendicant traditions include:

● The Benedictines: founded in 529 by Benedict at Monte Cassino. They, stress the combination of work, prayer and study in the monastic life.
● The Augustinians, who evolved from the canons who lived under the Rule of Saint Augustine.
● The Carmelites (Whitefriars) who were founded ca 1206 and 1214, but claimed to have originated on the slopes of Mount Carmel.
● The Cistercians or Trappists, who developed out of reforms of the Benedictine tradition initiated by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.
● The Dominicans (the Blackfriars), founded in 1215 by Saint Dominic.
● The Franciscans, who followed the lifestyle of Saint Francis and Saint Clare.

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich … “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”

If you recall how we looked at the monastic tradition including both those who lived in community and those who lived a solitary life, then one of the most interesting people, from an Anglican perspective, to live a solitary, religious life at the end of this period must be Julian of Norwich (ca 1342 – ca 1416).

She was an English anchorite who is regarded as one of the most important Christian mystics. Yet, apart from her writings, we know little about her life: we do not know her birth name, nor do we know the date of her death, whether she was a nun or a laywoman, single or widowed.

Her major work, Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love (ca 1393), is believed to be the first book written in the English language written by a woman.

The saying, “…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,” which Julian claimed was said to her by God, reflects her theology. It is well-known line in Anglican and Catholic spirituality, and one of the best-known phrases of the literature of her era. It has been given new literary currency in recent generations by TS Eliot, who drew on this quotation and her phrase, “the ground of our beseeching,” in his poem Little Gidding, the fourth of his Four Quartets:

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us – a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.

Monasticism in the East:

The Monastery of Vatopediou on Mount Athos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Eastern Orthodox monasticism does not have religious orders as in the West, and there are no formal monastic rules, and no division between the active and the contemplative life.

There are three types of monasticism in the East: eremitic, cenobitic and the skete. The skete is a small community, often of only two or three, under the direction of an elder. They pray privately for most of the week, then come together on Sundays and Feast Days for communal prayer.

Among the first figures to try to regulate the monastic life is Saint Basil the Great. He was educated in Caesarea, Constantinople and Athens, and visited groups of hermits in Palestine and Egypt. He was deeply impressed by the communities that developed under the guidance of Saint Pachomius.

Saint Basil wrote a series of guides for monastic life which, while not rules as later understood in West, provided guidelines for communities living under one abbot.

The Ladder of Divine Ascent, represented in an icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai

An important place in the development of Eastern monasticism is Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai. There the Ladder of Divine Ascent was written by Saint John Klimakos (ca 600).

The central and unifying feature of Orthodox monasticism is Hesychasm, the practice of silence, and the concentrated saying of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on me, the sinner” ... which is a good place to end this part of our module on Church History.

Next (Week 11):

7.1, A house divided: Rome and Byzantium.

7.2, Seminar: readings in key thinkers in the late Mediaeval Church: Gregory the Great, Aquinas, Francis, &c.

7.3, Meanwhile, back in Ireland: the Anglo-Norman and post-Norman Church.

Semester II:

8.1: New questions: Lollards, Hussites and Erasmus.

8.2: Reformation readings: Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

8.3: The Anglican Reformation: readings.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This lecture on 23 November 2012 was part of the Church History Elective (TH 7864) on the MTh course, Year I.

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