The Crusades Controversy: Puting Old Myths to Rest

Feeling Cornered

Has anybody ever asked you about the Crusades and what you thought of them? Chances are, somebody has. I myself was confronted with this question some years ago and to be honest, I froze. I felt embarrassed since I had no idea what to say in response.

Certainly the topic of the Crusades is not something most ordinary people have  devoted much thought and study to. It’s not one of those events in history that lots of people are losing sleep over. And yet, some of us wish we’d been better equipped to answer questions about it!

30 Minutes Is All You Need

Thomas F. Madden is Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Saint Louis University. He has written several scholarly works on the history of the Crusades and the impact they’ve had in our modern world.

Thomas Madden
Thomas Madden

His most recent work on the topic is a very short and accessible 50 page booklet called The Crusades Controversy.

In six short, but by no means simplistic, chapters, Madden has managed to provide us with enough information to clear away the most common misconceptions and distortions many people still hold about the Crusades.

Two portions of the booklet deserve lengthy quotations.

“the Crusades….were a response to more than four centuries of conquests in which Muslim armies had already captured two-thirds of the old Christian world. At some point Christianity as a faith and a culture either defended itself or was subsumed by Islam. The Crusades were that defense.”

“The eighteenth century saw the rise of the Enlightenment with its strict emphasis on rational thought, religious tolerance, and anticlericalism. In an intellectual atmosphere like that the medieval Crusades did not fare well…the Crusades were described as a bizarre manifestation of medieval barbarism in which thousands of the deceived and the foolish marched through rivers of blood in a pitiful attempt to save their souls. In his famous Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–88), Edward Gibbon insisted that nothing good at all came out of the Crusades, except perhaps Europe’s exposure to more sophisticated Eastern cultures.”

These two quotes are among the many excellent take-away points of the booklet.

Now you can answer the questions!

I highly recommend Madden’s little booklet The Crusades Controversy. It’s a superb and easy to digest introduction to a topic around which there is much misinformation and even disinformation!.

At 50 pages, you can read it easily in one sitting. I can’t think of a better way to give yourself a sound basic knowledge on this intriguing topic. Enjoy your reading and help set the record straight!

The One Book on the Crusades That You Need

The Crusades are one of the most misunderstood and wrongly maligned events in history. But The Glory of the Crusades is working to change that.

Steve Weidenkopf has done the Church and the world a service by presenting a faithful and accurate account of the Crusades. Most people’s understanding of the Crusades is appallingly inaccurate and sparse. I had one friend’s high school aged son tell me that he learned all he knows about the Crusades from the skewed movie Kingdom of Heaven! (And this young man went to a Catholic high school.)

Weidenkopf draws from numerous sources to piece together the narrative for each of the Crusades. He explains the noble motivation for the vast majority of the Crusaders: to win back the Holy Places that Muslims had invaded and conquered, to receive indulgences, to obtain the mercy of God on their souls.

glorcruThe first Crusaders suffered appalling losses, mainly from disease and starvation. A full 80% of them died during the Crusade. A tiny percentage remained behind to make their home in the Outremer; the rest that survived returned home to the West. The accusation that the Crusaders went on the journey for filthy lucre is false; most lords and knights in fact had to raise enormous sums of money to go, leaving their lands and holdings in danger of being taken over in their absence.

The book is concise and readable. Weidenkopf distills a wide and complex subject into a cohesive story. Each Crusade is explained, including the various massacres (on both the Christian and Muslim sides) that people committed.

Most of my knowledge of the Crusades had come from Dr. Warren Carroll’s treatment of them in his excellent History of Christendom series. But they were only one part of the much larger history in those books. Here they get a welcome, exclusive focus.

Read The Glory of the Crusades, and you will know and understand the Crusades more accurately and in depth than 99% of the world.