Monday, November 27

Recovering Conquered Lands

The idea of some kind of a just war to avenge the Muslim subjugation of Christian lands first occurred to Pope Gregory VII, and then to his successor Victor III, but affairs closer to home kept them both more than a little preoccupied. Soon though, stories of gross atrocities against captive churches began to reach Europe. The brutal conquest of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq sent shudders of fear throughout the kingdoms of the West. The penetration of Moslem armies into Spain, France, and Italy and the slaughter of whole communities of believers shook their confidence even more. The vulnerability of the once invulnerable Byzantine empire was utterly terrifying to them. And horrific stories of the occupation of the "Holy Land"--Jerusalem and Palestine--and the desecration of the beloved and historic sites of the Christian faith there distressed them no end. Soon, they could no longer ignore such abscesses of despotism.

At the Council of Clermont on this day in 1095, Pope Urban II issued a call for concerted and forthright action that was heard throughout Europe: "From the confines of Jerusalem and from the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth. An accursed people, a people utterly alienated from God, has invaded the lands of those Christians and depopulated them by the sword, plundering, and fire."

He went on to list in detail the outrages of Ji'had and Dhimma: the plunder of churches, the rape of Christian women, the torture of priests and monks, the pilfering of villages and towns, and the occupation of the territories. He appealed to both their sense of Christian mercy and their sense of covenantal honor: "Recall the greatness of Charlemagne. O most valiant soldiers, descendants of invincible ancestors, be not degenerate. Let all hatred between you depart, all quarrels end, all wars cease. Start upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher, to tear that land from a wicked race and subject it to yourselves thereby restoring it to Christ. I call you to take the cross and redeem defiled Jerusalem."

Immediately a stirring chant arose from the crowd there at Clermont: Deus Vult, "God wills it." It was a chant that would quickly spread throughout Europe. The following year, their campaign of liberation the historians now call the "Crusades" began in earnest resulting in the emancipation of all the lands from Edessa to the Gaza--including the city of Jerusalem--less than four years later.

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