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§ 59. Effects of the Crusades.


"... The knights’ bones are dust

And their good swords are rust;

Their souls are with the saints, we trust."

Coleridge.

Literature.—A. R. L. Heeren: Versuch einer Entwickelung der Folgen der Kreuzzüge für Europa, Göttingen, 1808; French trans., Paris, 1808.—Maxime de Choiseul-Daillecourt: De l’influence des croisades sur l’état des peuples de l’Europe, Paris, 1809. Crowned by the French Institute, it presents the Crusades as upon the whole favorable to civil liberty, commerce, etc.—J. L. Hahn: Ursachen und Folgen der Kreuzzüge, Greifsw., 1859.—G. B. Adams: Civilization during the M. A., N. Y., 1894, 258–311. See the general treatments of the Crusades by Gibbon, Wilken, Michaud, Archer-Kingsford, 425–451, etc., and especially Prutz (Kulturgeschichte der Kreuzzüge and The Economic Development of Western Europe under the Influence of the Crusades in Essays on the Crusades, Burlington, 1903), who in presenting the social, political, commercial, and literary aspects and effects of the Crusades lays relatively too much stress upon them.


The Crusades failed in three respects. The Holy Land was not won. The advance of Islam was not permanently checked. The schism between the East and the West was not healed. These were the primary objects of the Crusades.

They were the cause of great evils. As a school of practical religion and morals, they were no doubt disastrous for most of the Crusaders. They were attended by all the usual demoralizing influences of war and the sojourn of armies in an enemy’s country. The vices of the Crusading camps were a source of deep shame in Europe. Popes lamented them. Bernard exposed them. Writers set forth the fatal mistake of those who were eager to make conquest of the earthly Jerusalem and were forgetful of the heavenly city. "Many wended their way to the holy city, unmindful that our Jerusalem is not here." So wrote the Englishman, Walter Map, after Saladin’s victories in 1187.

The schism between the East and the West was widened by the insolent action of the popes in establishing Latin patriarchates in the East and their consent to the establishment of the Latin empire of Constantinople. The memory of the indignities heaped upon Greek emperors and ecclesiastics has not yet been forgotten.

Another evil was the deepening of the contempt and hatred in the minds of the Mohammedans for the doctrines of Christianity. The savagery of the Christian soldiery, their unscrupulous treatment of property, and the bitter rancors in the Crusading camps were a disgraceful spectacle which could have but one effect upon the peoples of the East. While the Crusades were still in progress, the objection was made in Western Europe, that they were not followed by spiritual fruits, but that on the contrary the Saracens were converted to blasphemy rather than to the faith. Being killed, they were sent to hell.488488    So Humbert de Romanis, 1274; Mansi, XXIV. 116. A sixth objection against the Crusades as stated and answered by him ran as follows: quod ex ista pugna non sequitur fructus spiritualis quia Saraceni magis convertuntur ad blasphemiam quam ad fidem; occisi autem ad infernum mittuntur, etc.

Again, the Crusades gave occasion for the rapid development of the system of papal indulgences, which became a dogma of the mediaeval theologians. The practice, once begun by Urban II. at the very outset of the movement, was extended further and further until indulgence for sins was promised not only for the warrior who took up arms against the Saracens in the East, but for those who were willing to fight against Christian heretics in Western Europe. Indulgences became a part of the very heart of the sacrament of penance, and did incalculable damage to the moral sense of Christendom. To this evil was added the exorbitant taxations levied by the popes and their emissaries. Matthew Paris complains of this extortion for the expenses of Crusades as a stain upon that holy cause.489489    II. 338, etc.

And yet the Crusades were not in vain. It is not possible to suppose that Providence did not carry out some important, immediate and ultimate purpose for the advancement of mankind through this long war, extending over two hundred years, and involving some of the best vital forces of two continents. It may not always be easy to distinguish between the effects of the Crusades and the effects of other forces active in this period, or to draw an even balance between them. But it may be regarded as certain that they made far-reaching contributions to the great moral, religious, and social change which the institutions of Europe underwent in the latter half of the Middle Ages.

First, the Crusades engaged the minds of men in the contemplation of a high and unselfish aim. The rescue of the Holy Sepulchre was a religious passion, drawing attention away from the petty struggles of ecclesiastics in the assertion of priestly prerogative, from the violent conflict of papacy and empire, and from the humdrum casuistry of scholastic and conventual dispute.490490    Archer, p. 447, well says: "They raised mankind above the ignoble sphere of petty ambitions to seek after an ideal that was neither sordid nor selfish. They called forth all that was heroic in human nature, and filled the world with the inspiration of noble thoughts and deeds."491491    Decline and Fall, LVIII.

Considered in their effects upon the papacy, they offered it an unexampled opportunity for the extension of its authority. But on the other hand, by educating the laity and developing secular interests, they also aided in undermining the power of the hierarchy.

As for the political institutions of Europe, they called forth and developed that spirit of nationality which resulted in the consolidation of the states of Europe in the form which they have since retained with little change. When the Crusades began, feudalism flourished. When the Crusades closed, feudalism was decadent throughout Europe, and had largely disappeared from parts of it. The need petty knights and great nobles had to furnish themselves with adequate equipments, led to the pawn or sale of their estates and their prolonged absence gave sovereigns a rare opportunity to extend their authority. And in the adjoining camps of armies on Syrian soil, the customs and pride of independent national life were fostered.

Upon the literature and individual intelligence of Western Europe, the Crusades, no doubt, exerted a powerful influence, although it may not be possible to weigh that influence in exact balances. It was a matter of great importance that men of all classes, from the emperor to the poorest serf, came into personal contact on the march and in the camp. They were equals in a common cause, and learned that they possessed the traits of a common humanity, of which the isolation of the baronial hall kept them ignorant. The emancipating effect which travel may always be expected to exert, was deeply felt.492492    This is clearly apparent from the English and other mediaeval chronicles, such as the Chronicles of M. Paris, Hoveden, etc. earliest annalists of the First Crusade, who wrote in Latin, to Villehardouin and John de Joinville who wrote in French. The fountains of story and romance were struck, and to posterity were contributed the inspiring figures of Godfrey, Tancred, and St. Louis—soldiers who realized the ideal of Christian chivalry.

As for commerce, it would be hazardous to say that the enterprise of the Italian ports would not, in time, have developed by the usual incentives of Eastern trade and the impulse of marine enterprise then astir. It cannot be doubted, however, that the Crusades gave to commerce an immense impetus. The fleets of Marseilles and the Italian ports were greatly enlarged through the demands for the transportation of tens of thousands of Crusaders; and the Pisans, Genoese, and Venetians were busy in traffic at Acre, Damietta, and other ports.493493    The ships of the two great Military Orders alone carried great numbers of pilgrims. In 1182 one of their ships was wrecked on the Egyptian coast with 1500 pilgrims. In 1180 several vessels met the same fate, 2500 pilgrims were drowned and 1500 sold into slavery. In 1246 their ships carried from the port of Marseilles alone 6000 pilgrims. See Prutz in Essays, p. 54. This author, in laying weight upon the economic influences of the Crusades, says properly, that they "had only in part to do with religion, and particularly with the church," p. 77. Arabic words, such as damask, tarif, and bazar, were introduced into the vocabularies of European nations, and products, such as saffron, maize, melons, and little onions, were carried back by the Crusaders. The transfer of money made necessary the development of the system of letters of credit.

In these various ways the spell of ignorance and narrowing prejudice was broken, and to the mind of Western Europe a new horizon of thought and acquisition was opened, and remotely within that horizon lay the institutions and ambitions of our modern civilization.

After the lapse of six centuries and more, the Crusades still have their stirring lessons of wisdom and warning, and these are not the least important of their results. The elevating spectacle of devotion to an unselfish aim has seldom been repeated in the history of religion on so grand a scale. This spectacle continues to be an inspiration. The very word "crusade" is synonymous with a lofty moral or religious movement, as the word "gospel" has come to be used to signify every message of good.

The Crusades also furnish the perpetual reminder that not in localities is the Church to seek its holiest satisfaction and not by the sword is the Church to win its way; but by the message of peace, by appeals to the heart and conscience, and by teaching the ministries of prayer and devout worship is she to accomplish her mission. The Crusader kneeling in the church of the Holy Sepulchre learned the meaning of the words, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, He is risen." And all succeeding generations know the meaning of these words better for his pilgrimage and his mistake.

Approaching the Crusades in enthusiasm, but differing from them as widely as the East is from the West in methods and also in results, has been the movement of modern Protestant missions to the heathen world which has witnessed no shedding of blood, save the blood of its own Christian emissaries, men and women, whose aims have been not the conquest of territory, but the redemption of the race.494494    The Crusades, said the eloquent Dr. Richard S. Storrs, Bernard of Clairvaux, p. 558, furnished "as truly an ideal enthusiasm as that of any one who has sought to perform his missionary work in distant lands or has wrought into permanent laws and Institutions the principles of equity and the temper of love. And they must forever remain an example resplendent and shining of what an enthusiasm that is careless of obstacles and fearless of danger can accomplish."



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