"Taking Up the Cross": The Use of Scripture During the Crusades

In the last two posts, we examined the motives of the pope in preaching the holy war and the crusaders in taking up the cross. Now it’s time to consider how scripture was used to justify and makes sense of the crusades. How was the message of New Testament pacifism reconciled, against all odds, with the radically new concept of holy war? Scriptures are malleable, but some avenues are almost impossible without the combination of many unlikely factors, and the Christian holy wars are an example.

The favorite and most frequently cited text during the crusades was the following synoptic piece, around which the holy war was understood to revolve:

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16:24/Mk 8:34/Lk 9:23)

“Taking up the cross” amounted to having a cloth in the shape of a cross sewn into one’s clothes.

Interestingly enough, the following text was NOT used to justify the crusades:

“I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt 10:34-36; cf. Lk 12:51-53)

And the reason it wasn’t used is because the original meaning is just too obvious as it stands in the gospels: Jesus had been speaking metaphorically. Not even the boldest theologians and popes dared reinterpret this passage.

Jesus could, however, be seen as alleviating fears about leaving behind one’s family, taking on fiscal hardships, and facing likely death, as one embarked on crusade:

“Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.” (Mt 19:29/Mk 10:29-30/Lk 18:29-30)

By the time of the Second Crusade, Bernard of Clairveaux was focusing on this deutero-Pauline passage:

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against the flesh and blood… Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace…taking the shield of faith…and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:11-17)

Like all innovative theology, Bernard’s reworking of tradition stood in contradiction to it:

“The knight who puts the breastplate of faith on his soul in the same way as he puts a breastplate of iron on his body is truly intrepid and safe from everything… So forward in safety, knights, and with undaunted souls drive off the enemies of the Cross of Christ.” (De laude novae militiae, Sancti Bernardi Opera, ed J. Leclercq, 1963, pp 214-215)

The amazing success of the First Crusade popularized “bloody prophecy”:

“The winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles.” (Rev 14:20)

Revelation certainly does not advocate holy war. The faithful don’t engage in holy war, and they are specifically told not to. They conquer the Dragon through witnessing and pacifist martyrdom — basically to simply endure. Any hacking and slashing is reserved for Christ alone, and ultimate wrath is left to God. Chroniclers nonetheless cited the effects in Revelation when describing the slaughter in Jerusalem. For instance:

“It is sufficient to relate that in the Temple of Solomon and the portico crusaders rode in blood to the knees and bridles of their horses.” (Raymond of Aguilers)

Medievalists were acutely aware of the pacifism of the New Testament. “Love your enemy” was the savior’s most famous saying, and Christianity had always been averse to violence because of it. In the fourth century, Augustine excused violence in cases of “just war” but still insisted it was evil. As we saw in a previous post, this exacerbated a warrior’s guilt, and by the eleventh century, Christianity had become so suffused with Germanic values that knights were left in a state of contradiction. How could they possibly love their enemies? The Truce of God movement tried curtailing violence (banning it on certain days of the week), but that was doomed to fail from the start. It was simply impossible for a medieval knight to practice loving/forgiving his enemy.

But crusading theologians now saw a way out of this. In Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, the word for enemy is inimicus, implying a personal enemy. The Latin word for a public enemy, hostis, never appears in the New Testament. Medievalists began arguing that there was no contradiction between personal, individual forgiveness and certain forms of public violence. Love your personal enemy, yes; but hate and kill your public enemy (the Muslims).

Finally, it was inevitable that the Old Testament would become more relevant. Pope Gregory VII had actually tried to get a quasi-crusade off the ground decades before Urban II, and his favorite text was

“Cursed is he who keeps back his sword from bloodshed.” (Jer 48:10)

Theologians began to see pre-Christian figures like Joshua, Saul, David, and Judas Maccabeus as crusading prototypes — as holy as the spiritually elect preached about in the New Testament.

Thus, in playing certain texts off each other and reinterpreting others, medieval theologians “legitimated” holy war as best they could. In the next post, we will look at Islamic responses to the crusades, in particular the jihad.

From Just War to Holy War: A Godsend to Knights and Warriors

In the last post we examined Pope Urban’s motives in preaching the First Crusade. He was redirecting violence in an attempt to fend off Islamic expansionism. But what about the crusaders themselves? What made them respond so readily to Urban’s war cry?

A popular myth is that crusaders were mostly land-hungry younger sons who saw an opportunity to carve out territories in Palestine. Aside from exceptions who prove the rule (like Bohemund of Taranto), we know this wasn’t the case. Many crusaders were eldest sons, and many of them already enjoyed wealthy lordships — which they obviously jeopardized by going on crusade.

Generally speaking, greed wasn’t a motive. Most crusaders expected to return home, and indeed most who survived did. The cost of embarking on a crusade was lethally expensive: knights had to shell out anywhere between 2-5 times their annual income to afford equipment, supplies, horses, and servants. (Buying a horse back then was as fiscally intimidating as buying a house is for us today.) Most of the crusaders, who had never been more than 100 miles from home, let alone 2000 (the distance to Jerusalem), were terrified about the journey to Palestine. Simply put: those who were looking to improve their lot in life did not go on crusade.

That the goal of the crusade was “materialistic” by definition — repossession of land — does not mean that crusaders were driven by colonial or imperialistic motives; they were not. That leading crusaders ended up quarrelling, sometimes nastily, over who would assume lordship of conquered territory (Antioch, Tripoli, Jerusalem, etc.) does not mean they had been drawn to the holy war for mercenary reasons; all the evidence speaks against it. Our sources depict warriors making harsh sacrifices, driven by sincere piety, a reverence for relics and holy places, and, above all, an insecurity about their moral standing. Thomas Asbridge explains:

“All medieval society was preoccupied with the pursuit of purity, but the knightly aristocracy, forced by the nature of its profession into daily contact with contaminants such as violence and personal wealth, seems to have been particularly prone to harbor an obsession with spiritual infection and the afterlife… Knights across Europe were trapped — their secular obligations made sin inevitable, but monks cautioned them that their transgressions would, in the afterlife, trigger the most gruesome torments.” (The First Crusade, pp 71-72)

Urban’s holy war thus came as a godsend, an antidote to Augustine’s theory of just war which only exacerbated knightly guilt. Since the fourth century, Christianity had taught that violence was intrinsically evil, even when justified. By reversing the morality of violence — by making bloodshed sacred — the knightly dilemma was effectively resolved. For decades the Peace of God movement had tried imposing a quasi-pacifism on the warrior class, obviously to no avail. Now these warriors could “kill for Christ” and have their sins remitted, enabling them to bypass suffering in purgatory.

This is what the crusaders latched onto more than anything: an unprecedented opportunity to use their warrior-profession for salvific purposes. To make a superficial but pointed analogy: the modern al-Qaeda terrorists didn’t fly planes into buildings for material gain; they really believed that a host of virgins would be waiting in paradise to reward them. The medieval crusaders likewise truly believed — with the pope’s promise — that spilling Muslim blood and safeguarding Christian holy places would absolve them of their sins.

In the next post, we will examine the use of scripture during the crusading period.

From Soldiers of Hell to Soldiers of Christ: Exporting Violence

On this day, November 27, 1095, Pope Urban II gave a ringing sermon on a field outside Clermont that set in motion what later became known as the First Crusade, and a radically new concept of holy war that would evolve and last for centuries. No official account of Urban’s speech survives, but we have a good idea of what he said based on four later reports. The commonalities point to a powerfully staged propagandist piece. This is an amalgam of the four reports:

“Distressing news has come to us: a race utterly alienated from God has invaded Christian lands and devastated them with sword, pillage, and fire. They have ruined God’s altars with filth and defilement. They have circumcized Christians and smeared the blood on the altars or poured it into the baptismal fonts. And they have cut open the bellies of those they choose to torment with loathsome death, tearing out their intestines and tying them to a stake, then making them walk around the stake until their innards spill out and they fall dead. Others were shot through with arrows, and still others were decapitated. And what shall I say about the abominable rape of women?

“Rise up, then, Christian warriors: you who continually and vainly seek pretexts for war, rejoice, for you have today found a true pretext. You, who have so often been the terror of your fellow men, go and fight against the barbarians, go and fight for the deliverance of the holy places. Go and merit an eternal reward. If you are conquered, you will have the glory of dying in the very same place as Jesus Christ, and God will never forget that he found you in the holy battalions. If you must have blood, bathe in the blood of the infidels. Soldiers of hell, become soldiers of the living God!!”

With inflammatory rhetoric, Urban was presenting the first crusade as a war of defense (against Muslim aggression) and repossession (of the holy lands), and it is true that the crusade was first and foremost a delayed response to centuries of Islamic jihad. But the Muslim threat doesn’t completely account for the genesis of holy war in Christian thought. Why holy war?

Urban was proactive as much as reactive, designing the crusade to meet his needs, which involved consolidating papal power and expanding his sphere of influence. According to William of Malmesbury, Urban engineered the holy war in order to gain popularity and create enough upheaval to allow him to recapture Rome from the anti-pope Clement, who was a stooge of Urban’s arch-enemy, Emperor Henry IV. Crusade historians recognize that the call to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims was deeply connected to the call to liberate the church from the secular control of the Holy Roman Emperor. And it paid off: the success of Urban’s crusade call allowed him to reestablish the seat of papal power in Rome.

But why would the crusade make Urban so popular? The answer is that by making warfare sacred under the right conditions, he was able to address the spiritual dilemma of medieval knights whose violence had been tearing apart Christendom for the past century, and which the Peace of God and Truce of God movements had tried in vain to remedy. “If you must have blood, bathe in the blood of the infidels; you who have been the terror of your fellow men, go and fight against the barbarians.” By demonizing the Islamic world, Urban was able to channel violence abroad and make bloodshed — for the first time ever — not merely justified-but-evil (per Augustine), but holy and penitential. In the words of a medieval preacher: “By this kind of warfare, people make their way to heaven who perhaps would never reach it by another road.”

The First Crusade, then, was about exporting violence and saving knights’ souls in stopping the tide of Islamic jihad. In the process, the pope hoped to achieve solidarity with the eastern churches and recover the holy lands. All of this served the broader 11th-century reformist agenda, as the church struggled to stay on top of secular authorities and their influence, particularly that of the Holy Roman Emperor. None of this should be taken to imply that the First Crusade wasn’t primarily defensive. It was a long overdue counter to 300 years of jihadist warfare which had ripped away two-thirds of the Christian world, and was still pushing deeper into Christian lands. The time was ripe for this counter, given the papal politics and ongoing problem of knightly violence.

In the next post, we will examine the motives of the crusaders themselves.

Pedophilia and Ephebophilia

Age of consent laws have been of interest to me since watching the indie revenge thriller Hard Candy, in which 32-year old Jeff tries seducing 14-year old Hayley. This makes Jeff not a pedophile, but an ephebophile, and there’s a big difference between the two. In yesterday’s Times article Carol Sarler upholds the distinction over the protests of one Michele Elliott:

“Terry Grange, the Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys and spokesman on child protection for the Association of Chief Police Officers, suggested greater clarity in the labelling of sex offenders: it is incorrect to say that those who have sex with underage teenagers are pedophiles — and if we say they are, we risk overestimating the scale of the problem of pedophilia.

“With predictable fury, Michele Elliott, the director of the children’s charity Kidscape, rounded on the policeman’s wish to reclassify those who have sex with youngsters between 13 and 16: ‘He is saying they are not pedophiles and they bloody well are.’

“If Miss Elliott would care to borrow my dictionary, she would discover that they bloody well aren’t. A pedophile is defined as one who is sexually attracted to children; children are defined as those between birth and puberty. What our teen fanciers are, in fact, is ephebophiliacs: adults attracted to postpubescent adolescents.”

There’s obviously a difference, because pedophilia is intrinsically wrong (or at least, most of us believe so), while ephebophilia is conditionally and arbitrarily wrong, depending on what society says about it. As Sarler notes:

“[Pedophilia] goes to the defiance of a law of Nature… [It] is to have sex with somebody who is, if you will, not ‘ready’. By contrast, to have sex with somebody who has passed the age of puberty is merely to defy a law of Man — and a pretty arbitrary law at that. We cannot agree between one border and the next at what age a boy or girl is emotionally developed enough to give informed consent: Malta and The Netherlands think 12, Canada and Italy weigh in at 14, cautious Greece holds out for 15 and the good burghers of Iceland go as high as 17.”

Here’s a site depicting age of consent laws around the world.

Avert: Worldwide Ages of Consent

Obviously what one country or state thinks is fine, another will throw you in jail for. (And there are homophobic biases: ages of consent can vary within country or state depending on orientation/preference.) Sarler says, quite rightly:

“As long as the law is the law, [the ephebophile] deserves a smacked paw if he gives in to his excitement. But he does not deserve the same opprobrium as the [pedophile] — and nor do we deserve that our police forces’ time be needlessly spent in his pursuit rather than that of the far rarer, but far more dangerous, bogeyman proper.”

But back to Hard Candy. What’s amusing about the film is that Jeff is committing an ephebophiliac felony by Californian standards (where the age of consent is 18), but doing nothing wrong by Canadian standards — the irony being that Ellen Page, who plays Hayley, is Canadian. The age of consent in Canada is 14, that of the character Hayley. Canadians who watch Hard Candy might be a bit puzzled at the film’s premise. What exactly is the problem here? What’s wrong with these uptight Californians?

Of course, it does come out in the story that Jeff is also a pedophile, when Hayley stumbles on his stash of kiddie porn. He appears, then, to be a closet pedophile and an active ephebophile. One critic has suggested that the filmmaker’s choice to make Jeff both was gratuitous, in the sense that it plays on exaggerated tendencies of people to associate one with the other, as if ephebophilia is as bad as pedophilia, or as if a person who is sexually drawn to teens is necessarily drawn to children too. Given the incredible reaction of Michele Elliot to Terry Grange, I think the critic has a good point. But I still love the movie.

Jeffery on Secret Mark

The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery, by Peter Jeffery. Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-300-11760-4.

Like Stephen Carlson a year ago, Peter Jeffery is able to show how obvious it is that Morton Smith fabricated Clement’s letter to Theodore. One would think that Carlson exhausted all of Smith’s anachronisms (the “bald swindler” M. Madiotes, Morton Salt, and modern gays in the 1950s being arrested in public Gethsemanes), but Jeffery has spotted more:

* The three features of Secret Mark’s initiation rite — resurrection symbolism, a period of teaching followed by a night vigil, and the wearing of a white cloth — point to the Anglican Paschal liturgy as it was before the 1960s liturgical renewal movement. In addition, Clement and the Alexandrian church had a theology of baptism that was based not on the easter event of Jesus’ resurrection, but on the epiphany event of Jesus’ baptism by John. Secret Mark should thus have epiphany motifs (i.e. creation, the heavens opening with light, the descent of the Holy Spirit and fire, the seal of priestly and messianic anointings) rather than easter motifs (i.e. Pauline associations between baptism and resurrection).

* The homoeroticism in Secret Mark makes no sense in an ancient context. Adult males were supposed to pursue young boys/men, who in turn were supposed to acquiesce only after “playing hard to get” and only if the boy perceived that the sex would have intiatory value (i.e. that the man would go beyond sex and educate him in proper mores). But in Secret Mark, Jesus does not pursue the young man: just the opposite if anything, and this would have been shamefully unacceptable. Secret Mark was evidently written by a modern person who assumed that ancient homosexuality would have followed Plato’s model of an older teacher with a young disciple, but who didn’t quite understand how the roles played out — and such misunderstandings were common in academic circles before the work of K.J. Dover in the late 70s. (This would seem to improve on Carlson, who argued that the homoeroticism in Secret Mark makes no sense since Jesus and the young man are depicted as social peers. But a “young man”, however rich, suggests they’re not quite peers.)

* Clement’s letter is riddled with allusions to Oscar Wilde’s 19th-century play, Salome, and Wilde was a homosexual martyr to boot. In the play Salome does the “dance of the seven veils”, which is punned by Smith’s Clement, who writes about “the truth hidden by seven veils”. She is punned, in turn, by Smith’s Salome, whom Jesus rejects along with the rest of the female race.

On top of this, Jeffery catches Smith in some pretty amusing lies. A notable one: whereupon discovering Clement’s letter, Smith says he went to Vespers instead of staying to investigate his discovery, apparently forgetting what he said two pages earlier (in The Secret Gospel, p 10) — that he had stopped attending religious services because he no longer “responded” to them.

Jeffery examines Smith’s brief career as an Anglican priest, noting his excessively harsh judgments on homosexuals in a 1949 article — very severe by Anglican standards at the time. Any fool can make the diagnosis: Smith was going through his own sexual crisis that caused him to leave the priesthood a year later. Interestingly, in that same 1949 article, Smith referenced a 19th-century debate between Catholics and Protestants over whether Clement of Alexandria believed that lying was justified if it served the causes of the church. Quelle surprise: the letter to Theodore answers that very question.

Jeffery goes after Morton Smith pretty hard, unlike Carlson who seemed (at least in part) to respect or admire a man who had the skills to bamboozle so many academics. Jeffery expresses sorrow and contempt: Smith “became what he opposed: a hypocritical Clement who condoned lying for the sake of a fundamentalist sexology”; “a man in great personal pain”, who didn’t even understand himself despite pretensions to a superior gnosticism; a bitter academic, whose hoax stands as “the most grandiose and reticulated ‘Fuck You’ ever perpetuated in the long and vituperative history of scholarship”. He’s right about that last one, but whether Smith wrote his hoax more out of experimental amusement or angry revenge remains unclear.

The names Stephen Carlson and Peter Jeffery will soon become closely associated, and that’s a credit to them both. But who has the stronger case? Carlson has the edge with his forensic handwriting analysis. The Morton Salt exhibit (Carlson) and Anglican liturgical analysis (Jeffery) each point to Morton Smith in particular. Both address the homosexuality issue — which also puts Smith directly on the spot — though Jeffery more satisfyingly. Carlson insists on the pernicious nature of fakes, while Jeffery seems more interested in the perniciousness of Morton Smith himself. They complement each other perfectly, and stand as definitive twin debunkings of the Secret Mark hoax.

UPDATE: Don’t miss Stephen Carlson’s reflections, as he compares and contrasts Jeffery’s work with his own.

Peter Jeffery Unveiled

Today I received my copy of Peter Jeffery’s The Secret Gospel of Mark Unveiled: Imagined Rituals of Sex, Death, and Madness in a Biblical Forgery and began reading it over lunch. It looks like it’s going to be every bit as much fun as Stephen Carlson’s Gospel Hoax, though it’s too early for me to tell how sound its arguments are. So far Jeffery is accusing Smith of amnesia (p 10):

“When Constantin von Tischendorf…discovered the Codex Sinaiticus…he stayed up all night studying it, for ‘it really seemed a sacrilege to sleep’. When Smith discovered the letter of Clement, he got up and went to Vespers instead of staying to investigate his discovery, even though his time at the monastery was almost over — or so he says. Smith seems to have forgotten what he told us [two pages] earlier [Secret Gospel, p 10] — that he had stopped attending the religious services because he no longer ‘responded’ to them.”

So there’s a teaser. A full review will follow when I finish the book.