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    I wanted to comment first on a reference you make to a geographic area in this lecture and a few times throughout the series as being “modern day Yugoslavia.” As I am sure you know, Yugoslavia has not existed since 1991, but I wanted to point this out for others as well.

    As for my question on the topic, how did the Church justify the spread of Christian faith through military conquest and force? I realize these were different times and I can partly understand in the case of foreign crusades to take back the holy land, albeit 300 years after it was taken by Muslims. But in the case of domestic crusades against pagans like the Slavs or other European peoples, it boggles my mind. It goes against the teachings of Jesus of peace and friendship, does it not? And thus these conquests would kind of defeat the purpose. Why did they not advocate and resort to evangelism, which was so successful in the first few years of Christianity? Did they attempt to justify this morally or was it in and of itself enough that the influence of the Church and the religion was spreading, regardless of the means?

    Jason Jewell

    One of these days I’ll have to stop using “Yugoslavia,” but for now it still seems to me to be the most efficient term to use to refer to the northern part of the Balkan peninsula. Sorry for any confusion.

    Your question is a great one and is very natural to ask. There’s a distinction to be made between Crusades against people who were not Christians (such as the Slavs) and Crusades against people who claimed to be Christians but had been judged heretics. In the latter case at least, “evangelism” in the form of the more benign activities of Inquisitors was tried first, and only if the heretics refused to change their ways was coercion applied via the temporal authority. The thinking was that heresy was analogous to a cancer that would spread if it were not quickly eradicated, and the Church hierarchy believed it was saving many souls (over which it had a paternal responsibility in a spiritual sense) by preventing doctrinal error from spreading.

    Whatever the targeted people, in nearly all cases there are energetic temporal powers (such as the king of France) eager to use a Crusade as a pretext to extend their reach, and that was a factor not present in Christianity’s earlier centuries. As I mentioned in the lecture on the nobility, Crusades were used by the clergy as an outlet for the violent impulses of the warrior class; to their thinking, the nobles were going to fight someone, and better for it to be a non-Christian or heretic than an orthodox Christian.

    Christian kings and nobles, with no New Testament model on which to pattern themselves, usually tried to emulate Old Testament figures such as David, who was often at war with Israel’s enemies.

    Hopefully this helps give a little insight into the thinking behind some the Crusades on the “domestic” front.


    It does indeed help, thank you for the elaboration, though it is hard to wrap my mind around some of the reasoning behind it.

    Here’s my thinking: These were very different times and in an age before the market was a widespread fact of life, people saw each other much more as rivals and a threat to each other than today, where it is cemented somewhere in the conscience of most people that we can benefit from the division of labor and cooperation with each other. Violence was ubiquitous, thus people in general and the nobility specifically were brought up to expect fighting as a fact of life, and in this culture it was their duty to excel in warfare and to showcase this in combat. On the other hand, before the ideas of individual liberty were properly understood, the clergy believed it had a divine duty to spread the ideas of Christianity and thereby save the souls of ordinary people in any way they could. Though, being human, I am sure the Church authority did not exactly frown upon the idea of spreading their power and influence and therefore embraced these crusades all the more eagerly. Would that be about right in your view?

    You mention that the clergy more or less accepted warfare as a fact of life and that the best they could do was at least to channel this aggression against non-Christians and heretics. Were there any attempts to stop the bloodshed in any form, regardless? To say killing people may not be the best way, even if they are non-Christians. How widespread was this idea?

    You use the term “temporal” twice, the meaning of which I cannot pin down precisely. On Wikipedia I read that it means the political power that the popes wielded, as opposed to spiritual authority, though it seems you are using it as a synonym of “secular”.

    I hope I am not showering you with too many questions and I appreciate your engaging in the discussions!

    Jason Jewell

    One thing that might help to understand the clergy’s thinking is that most of them (at least further up in the hierarchy) came from noble households, and thus they were reared in that culture of martial accomplishments. Think of Chaucer’s monk in the prologue of the “Canterbury Tales” who wants to spend all of his time hunting and doing noble-like things.

    There were voices in the church that argued against violence, but they were definitely in the minority.

    “Temporal” is not the same as “secular” in the modern sense; parish priests are “secular clergy” because they are active in society as opposed to the “regular clergy” who are bound by (for example) the Benedictine Rule and live apart in monasteries. Temporal authority is authority exercised in time and on earth (unlike, for example, excommunication) and refers usually to kings and nobles, although some bishops wielded temporal authority in addition to their spiritual authority.

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