Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

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Crusades, The.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

The expeditions of Christian knights and soldiers for the delivery of Palestine (the "Holy Land") from the Moslem were called Crusades (Campaigns of the Cross) because the soldiers marked themselves with a cross. The idea proved so useful to the Popes that they began to call for Crusades against the peaceful and wealthy Moslem cities of Spain, against bodies of heretics (Albigensians, etc.), and at length against Christian monarchs who defied the Papacy. This gross abuse culminated when Gregory IX demanded a Crusade against the kingdom of Frederic II, even (against the laws strictly laid down by the Popes themselves) while he was absent on Crusade, because he got favourable terms for Christians from the Sultan by negotiation instead of by an unnecessary war. Moreover, the romantic idea of the Crusades in Palestine which one still finds in school-manuals and religious writers is heavily discredited by modern historical studies, which are based upon contemporary documents. There is a general agreement that, while some soldiers were prompted by religious fervour, the primary impulses of the immense majority both of leaders and soldiers were love of fighting and richness of loot in the opulent East; that the Papacy and local Churches sought and gained an enormous accession of wealth and power by organizing the Crusades; and that though hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed, they ended in complete futility. Our highest authority, The Cambridge Mediaeval History, a by no means anti-clerical summary of modern scholarship, observes that genuine religious zeal was almost confined to the rank and file, while the leaders (including those heroes of the romantic version Godfrey of Bouillon and Raymond of Toulouse) were "intent solely on their private interest that of carving out principalities for themselves" (iv, 335). Archer and Kingsford's lenient work, The Crusades (Story of the Nations Series, 1894) says that "only of a few of the Crusaders can we predicate absolute purity of motive" (p. 446). Other writers point out that the common soldiers themselves had very secular motives. "Famine and pestilence at home drove men to emigrate hopefully to the Golden East," says Prof. E. Barker in the Encyclopaedia Britannica ("Crusades"); and even the very resolute American Catholic propagandist Dr. Walsh, who (though he has not the least authority in history) is entrusted with the corresponding article in the new Encyclopedia Americana, admits that "for the lower classes in the West life had become almost intolerable because of the oppression of the nobles, the frequent wars, and the almost (!) servile duties that feudalism enjoined." Yet not one of those writers mentions the fact that Urban II, who is usually described as summoning the First Crusade in a mood of pure religious fervour - his conduct in Italy bad already been so vile [see Urban II] that it shocked Christendom - openly appealed to the cupidity of the knights and princes. "The wealth of our enemies," he said in his famous address to them (Migne, CLI, Col. 586), "will be yours, and you will despoil them of their treasures"; and his chief aim was to secure the submission of the Greek Church to the Vatican (Camb. Med. Hist., iv, 599). No historian reminds his readers that, of the rich loot which had already attracted the French knights to join the Spaniards in ravaging the Arab-Spanish cities, a large part had been sent to Rome; nor do they tell how, as we read in the contemporary monk-chronicler Ordericus Vitalis (Hist. Eccles.), when the news of the splendid loot secured by the first Crusaders reached Europe, the Duke of Aquitaine (the most licentious and most irreligious prince in France), the Duke of Bavaria, and other nobles, with more than 100,000 men and "swarms of girls" (the monk says, though the one historian who reproduces this translates his phrase, "a great crowd of pilgrims"), set out gaily to join them, and all but a few score perished on the way. On the other hand, modern historians agree that the traditional practice of blaming the Greek Christians, who were alienated by the looting even of the followers of Peter the Hermit, for the failure is unjust, and that the appalling losses were due to the incompetence of the leaders. They were mighty in single combat, but too ignorant to direct campaigns.
      The Syrian Moslem princes had from the start been for the most part tolerant and sceptical, like those of Spain, but in the tenth century Egypt and Palestine had fallen under the power of the ignorant and fanatical Fatimite Caliphs, and pilgrims had been vilely treated; and this continued when, in 1073, Palestine passed to the Turks in their primitive zeal for Islam. Peter the Hermit then began to inflame crowds, but modern historians smile at the old accounts of his influence, and they recognize that the horde which followed him and perished was a disorderly rabble, "the dregs and refuse of Christendom" one historian says. No one questions that large numbers of soldiers took the cross out of religious fervour in the First Crusade (1096-9); but now that we know the real character of the mediaeval knights and nobles [see Chivalry] we understand how rare even a man like Godfrey of Bouillon, with all his defects, was among them. The Second Crusade (1147) was of the same character, and was, although some claim that it numbered 1,200,000-men, a complete failure. The Third (1189-92), against Saladin, who had captured Jerusalem, obtained generous terms from that prince, whose character put to shame the Christian leaders. Romantic versions of this Crusade under Richard the Lion Heart are the most numerous of all. In sober history Richard, a Frenchman who knew hardly a word of English and despised England - the film Crusade was in this and other respects ludicrously false - was "a splendid savage" and "a man of brutal violence and callous indifference to honour" (Dictionary of National Biography). The contemporary documents collected and translated in T. S. Archer's Third Crusade (1888) throw a lurid light upon the whole body of knights and men of this Crusade. The Fourth (1203) was not seriously needed and was just part of the power-policy of Pope Innocent III; and to his intense anger the Crusaders appropriated, with every circumstance of barbarity, all the wealth of Christian Constantinople and refused to go to Palestine. The Fifth was that of Frederic II, who got generous terms for pilgrims by friendly negotiation and was excommunicated for this by the Pope. Europe was now itself getting rich and critical, and the Sixth (under St. Louis) and Seventh Crusades failed. By 1291 the Moslem had regained the whole of Palestine, and the Christian princes and knights refused to stir. They were now comparatively rich, and there was a widespread contempt of the clergy.
      As some compensation for stripping the Crusades of their glamour, modern historians strain the facts to prove that they had beneficent consequences. The first claim, that it was this cultural contact with a superior civilization which roused Europe from the Dark Ages, may seem a dubious compliment to Christendom, yet it must be corrected. The awakening of Europe, which was due to friendly contact with the Arabs of Spain, not to brutal clashes (from which, indeed, few returned) in the East, had proceeded far in Southern France before the First Crusade was launched. The second claim, that the passage and transport of the soldiers promoted the revival of trade in Italy, is just; and it is equally true to say that the need of the nobles to raise money for the venture enabled many towns to purchase charters of freedom, and bodies of serfs to win or buy emancipation. We should, in fact, find it counted one of the greatest benefits of the Crusades that the common people of Europe got for a time considerable relief from the brutality of the knights and princes if this argument did not compel the apologist to recognize their true character, as Walsh inadvertently does. Against these services we must put the enrichment of the Papacy, the bishoprics, and the abbeys which hastened their mediaeval degradation; the debilitation of the Eastern Empire and eventual sacrifice of it to the Turks; the encouragement of a pious violence which soon showed itself in the massacre of the Albigensians and the founding of the Inquisition; the growth of such abuses as the sale of indulgences on the plea that to pay to the Church the price of the voyage to Palestine earned as many indulgences as actual participation; and the general imposition, by Innocent III, of tithes, which had hitherto been local and sporadic. The Cambridge Mediaeval History (vols. IV and V) generally endorses these criticisms, though the writers of the various chapters are unequal in candour and often contradict each other. G. A. Campbell's The Crusaders (1935) is candid about the brutality of the Crusaders and greed of the Church, but not broad enough. Harold Lamb's works (Iron Men and Saints, 1930, and The Flame of Islam, 1931) are vigorous but not consistently critical. A. Jamieson's Holy Wars in the Light of To-day (1918) is a summary of sound criticisms, but little more than a pamphlet, and E. R. Pike's Story of the Crusades (1927) is a good popular account, without serious criticisms, by a Rationalist.

 

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