– Darkest before the Dawn in Europe
– Late Medieval period
“God Wills It!” was the battle cry of the First Crusade that the Roman Catholic Church sent to assault what is the “Holy Land” for three world religions; Palestine, and specifically the area of Jerusalem. A great source of information about the Crusades is Zoe Oldenbourg’s The Crusades. But, before we discuss the Crusades, I want to first explore the minds and the culture of the medieval men and women of Europe.
The majority of early Medieval Europe was completely rural with vast areas completely without towns or composed of only villages with a few hundred inhabitants or so an article by Georges Duby tells us in Social History of Western Civilization, edited by Richard M. Golden. The people in these small villages were completely involved in working fields and farms surrounding them. Even for those in the few larger, urban areas life was dominated by the seasons and by the produce of the ground. They were dependent on it for their wealth and their basic livelihood. The Roman Catholic Church ruled virtually unopposed throughout all of Europe with the exception of those small pockets of New Testament Christianity that survived amidst persecution and being hunted like wild game.
Therefore, the average medieval child was baptized as a baby, having made no profession of faith, nor even knowing what was happening to it and was immediately subject to the laws of “the Church”. Every child received a “Christian name”, usually the name of a bonafide Catholic saint. Saints for the Catholic Church were different than saints in the Bible. In the Old and New Testament all of God’s people are His saints;
“O fear the LORD, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him.” Psalm 34:9
“And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda.” Acts 9:32
But, in the Roman Catholic mythology, any important person in the Church or martyr or even a pagan god brought over from the old religions would become, at the order of the Pope and the Church hierarchy, a godlike entity that would bestow blessings on those who prayed to him or her from the other side of death.
Surnames (added names) were of various origins and usually had to do with kinship (Arthur Johnson), occupation (Thomas Smith), a bodily or character feature (Agnes Redhead), or church oriented (Robert Litany).
There was an extremely high infant and childhood mortality rate so that many more children died early on than survived to adulthood. Families lived close together and cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents were always near to instruct, train, and raise the
individual to be useful to their small society. Christian ethics, that is, Catholic ethics, were taught to every child of the Church and it wasn’t until the Crusades introduced some
of the baser elements of Oriental morality to Europe that some of the more egregious evils of the pagan world such as pederasty returned in full force much like how many new and old habits and morals came home from World Wars I & II, Korea, and Vietnam with returning servicemen that were alien to American tradition and custom. An example would be how the average American woman viewed the use of makeup before and after the experience of World War I.
With some men taking “holy orders” and entering a monastery, a home for monks, and women entering a convent as nuns, called a “nunnery” in some early literature, sexual custom became even more confused due to the unisex isolation. So much so that in 1177, Henry, Abbot (head of a monastery) of Clairvaux wrote of France that “ancient Sodom is springing up from her ashes”, as we are told by Durant in Volume 4 of The Story of Civilization entitled The Age of Faith.
Throughout Europe, in spite of the nominal adherence to the Church’s precepts and with the lack of the “born again” experience of the Bible and a daily relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, promiscuity and sexual immorality were as common then as they are today. There were just no billboards, radios, television, or movies praising the virtues of sin.
Youth was brief and risky and marriage came early in Medieval Europe. A child of seven could consent to a betrothal, a commitment to marry, and engagements such as this were often made to protect the inheritance of property. One example that Durant gives us is a little girl named Grace de Saleby, who was married to a rich noble at age 4 who then died. At age 6 she was married to another who also died, and at age 11 she was married to a third. The union could be annulled at any time before the child was old enough to consummate the marriage, which for girls was usually 12 and for boys, 14. The consent of the parents was not necessary according to the Church (when I use a capital “C” I am referring to the Roman Catholic Church) if the children were of the age of consent which at times could have been 15 for girls. Marriage was often an economic necessity, a partnership designed to protect money or the rights to land. Not only the engagement but the wedding itself, the word coming from the Anglo-Saxon weddian, or promise, also being a pledge, was in many instances a financial relationship. Both state and church acknowledged a consummated union accompanied by a verbal pledge as a marriage even without a legal or ecclesiastical (church) ceremony.
It wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1563, the great act of counter-reformation against Protestantism and the Anabaptist sects, that a priest was required to be present. Marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person was forbidden although marriages between Christians and Jews were not uncommon. The Church permitted separation for adultery or cruelty and this was called by the Latin divortium. But, not until Pope Innocent III refused to grant a divorce to Philip Augustus, the King of France, was the
Church powerful enough in the realm of marriage to forbid local customs regarding actual divorce and remarriage. This will be an important matter when we get to the era of the Reformation in England.
Church beliefs were harsh on women. While many Church dictates made her not much more than a possession, other Catholic principles improved her status. To priests and theologians, much like the ancient Greeks, a woman was a “necessary evil”, a type of Eve who was accused of bringing man down and according to Thomas Aquinas, a famous Catholic theologian, still Satan’s preferred method of leading men to Hell. Civil law in the medieval period was even harsher than Church law for women, although some pagan cultures had given women more of a legal standing than during the age of the Church. Women could be beaten by their husbands, often could not give testimony in court, and a person was fined only half of what was expected for a crime against a man if a woman was the victim. Still, the Medieval Catholic mind was split on its opinion of women. Men worshipped her as a goddess in that they prayed to Mary, the Catholic incarnation of Ishtar not the simple but obedient Jewish maiden of the Bible, and yet spoke of the ideal woman as an obedient servant even while dreaming of her as a goddess. Knights fought over a lady’s handkerchief and poets’ wrote of woman’s virtue while monks tried to convince themselves of her inferiority.
There were, however, many noteworthy women in Medieval Europe. Eleanor of Aquitaine, Galla Placidia, Theodora, Irene, Anna Comnena, Heloise, etc. were famous in their time and after that.
Generally speaking, life in Medieval Europe was bleak, without much comfort, and very short. The home was simple, often with few windows, protected by wooden shutters, and heated by one or more fireplaces. Drafts came through many cracks in the walls. It was not uncommon to wear warm hats and fur indoors in the winter. Furniture, although often well made, was also rare in the home. Chairs were few and low backed and carpets were unusual before the 13th century. Usually a floor was strewn with rushes or straw and the common house would have smelled very bad by our standards today. Thick tapestries might be hung from a wall to cover a draft if the people were not among the most poor.
Cleanliness was not considered important and the early Roman Catholic disdain for the pagan baths of ancient Rome discounted their use or the care of the body at all as being carnal and worldly. Modern handkerchiefs were unknown as sleeves were used. The common person rarely, if ever, submersed him or herself in a bath. However, the people of the cities began to see public baths in the 12th century and it is said that Parisians of that century bathed more frequently than they did in the 20th. Another result of the Crusades was the public steam bath being introduced into Europe from the Middle East. Monasteries, feudal castles, and the homes of the wealthy had latrines that emptied into cesspools but the common man used an outhouse, many of which served more than one family. Chamber pots were unceremoniously dumped into the streets, sometimes from upstairs windows, and often with unpleasant effects for pedestrians walking below.
The poor slept on beds of straw and all the sexes shared the same room, parents and children, as well.
As for entertainment, the rich might have jugglers, clowns, or musicians at a party. Playing cards were still unknown, gambling was sometimes forbidden by law, and sometimes not. Chess was even forbidden in France by Louis IX (9th) in 1254. Dancing, while being condemned by the clergy, was practiced by all classes. Sports revolved around practicing martial arts or hunting, for the most part. Tournaments of knightly, martial sports such as jousting and swordplay developed throughout the Medieval period. One of the more interesting books on that specific subject is called Tournaments, by Richard Barber and Juliet Barker.
So, this is a small bit of what life was like for the average person in Medieval Europe and it was only a little better for the wealthier. The Church dominated the thought life of medieval persons and plain survival from day to day occupied their actions. Comfort and personal hygiene were very rare commodities and not much regarded as important.
While historians credit Pope Urban II and Raymond of Saint-Gilles, the Count of Toulouse, with starting the First Crusade to take over the Holy Land from the Muslims for the Church, popular opinion credits Peter the Hermit. Supposedly, Jesus Christ appeared to him in a dream, giving him a letter addressed to the pope. He took the letter, which he himself obviously wrote, as the real Lord Jesus Christ has never called us to war in the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3-5), and read it to the pope. A holy war was called, the Christian version of the Muslim Jihad, a Crusade, to “deliver” Jerusalem from the infidel. So, here we have an unregenerate medieval Pope answering a demonic vision and a forged letter to attack another group of unregenerate sinners in order to take something from them that belonged to neither, the city of Jerusalem. It is true that the Muslims were in control of the city of David politically but Jews and Christians of various stripes and persuasions did live there, usually peacefully, as well.
Peter the Hermit was apparently quite a preacher and very impressive in his behavior and his apparent holiness. He was sent as an ambassador to the Muslims and even impressed them with his piety. He also did the same with the emperor at Constantinople. Like many other wandering preachers of his day who had a large following, and there were many, just as today, celebrity Christians who could mesmerize a crowd with their oratory even if they were fakes, exhibitionists, or madmen, he was quite popular. His reputation was so great that the idea of a Crusade was accepted throughout Europe. Unlike many others loyal to the Church, Peter was even on friendly terms with the Jews of France, who sometimes supported his efforts.
As Peter’s followers, both common and knights and soldiers, gathered they moved eastward, acquiring an unsavory reputation for lawlessness and murderous behavior. Pitched battles broke out in Hungary and Belgrade had to be evacuated. Finally, after four months the motley “army” reached Constantinople with Peter leading his ragtag band of
perhaps 50,000 singing psalms and carrying banners of the cross. Several thousand Jews perished in Germany as anti-Semites whipped up the mobs to a frenzy of hatred for the “Christ killers” as they were called. Hunger, accidents, fighting, and disease killed many of his followers but many more joined them in the lands through which they passed. What they needed at Constantinople were boats to cross the Bosporus. Their “army” consisted not only of pious men like Peter the Hermit but the Jew killer Emich of Leisingen and Volkamar who had unleashed their soldiers to kill Jews and Christians along the way. There were also honorable men like Walter Sans-Avoir, the Count of Tubingen, and Walter of Teck who lent an air of bravery and decency to the Crusaders.
The Emperor, Alexius Comnenus received Peter the Hermit and treated him with great respect but advised him to wait for the arrival of better armed troops. Before long, bands of Crusaders were burning and looting towns around Constantinople itself. The emperor finally gave them their boats just to get rid of what the Greeks called a rabble, told them to keep close to the shore, and promised to see them supplied with food. The barons of Europe were to be following with genuine armies and it was suggested that they wait for them but Peter insisted on pressing on. Christian villagers were slaughtered along the way and the emperor’s daughter, Anna Comnenus, leaves an account of children being spitted and roasted alive. One group of Crusaders did manage to take the Turkish castle of Xerigordon before the Turks slaughtered them to a man.
Peter the Hermit was losing control of his army. He went to Constantinople to try to persuade the emperor to provide military protection for his “army”. While he was away a Turkish sultan, Kilij Arslan, attacked the Crusader camp and killed all but about 3,000 people. This effort, today called, “the People’s Crusade”, was now over. Peter the Hermit and the survivors waited now for the arrival of the Barons of Catholic Europe. Eventually, several thousand knights under Raymond of Saint-Gilles, Godfrey of Bouillion, and Robert of Normandy, along with the Counts of Blois and Flanders, and Bohemond arrived. Anna Comnena estimated that there were 12,000 knights and 70,000 foot soldiers in this army that comprised the true First Crusade.
The European referred to all of the Muslim forces in the Middle East as “Turks” and “Saracens”. The Seljuk Turks were a dynasty and part of the larger Oghuz Turks that moved out of Central Asia to be a major force in the Middle East from the 11th to the 14th centuries. The term “Saracen” from the Greek word Sarakenoi and the Arabic Sharqiyyin, meaning “easterners” eventually came to be applied to all Arab Muslims. In Catholic writings it was said to mean those descended from Hagar, not from Sarah, as in Ishmael.
The Muslim forces in the Holy Land were not united. This was their great weakness. In the beginning, Crusaders from Western Europe and the Greek empire, still called Rome by the Muslims, being formerly the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, worked together with great success. But, after the capture of Nicea, where the Turks insisted on negotiating with the Greek general, considering the “King of Roum” to be the leader of all Christians there was a rift. Nicea once again belonged to Byzantium and all the
European Crusaders could do was to move on. The Crusaders had been forced to swear allegiance to the Emperor to pass through his lands and all did so again for political reasons other than Tancred, Bohemond’s nephew. Again, the Greeks and the Latins, as the Europeans were called, agreed to work together. Alexius, the emperor, though, was using this force of what he thought of as barbarians to help him regain the territory his empire had lost to the Muslims.
The siege of Antioch lasted for seven and a half months, and in 1098, it was taken, and after that the Crusaders themselves were besieged in it so that they could not resume their march to Jerusalem until January of 1099. In spite of theses setbacks, the morale of the knights was unwaivering, for the most part, with some exceptions. The effort at this Crusade was seen by some as a way to show love and devotion to Jesus Christ and to earn their way to Heaven and by others as an opportunity for glory, riches, and conquest and by all, perhaps, a combination of these things. Once the Crusaders had taken Antioch and the head of the commander Yaghi-Siyan was presented to them, they were besieged by the relief force under the governor of Mosul, Kerbogha. The Crusaders were nearly beaten in this siege but a vision of the lance that pierced Christ’s side and the discovery of a piece of metal which a visionary named Peter Bartholomew claimed was that very lance head turned the tide. Even Muslim historians attributed the Crusader’s victory to the discovery of this piece of metal that was used as a holy relic and a sign. Rallying, they left the city and attacked the besieging forces and defeated them.
The Muslims generally called the Crusaders, “Franks”, or in Arabic, Firenj, for the dominate group, the French. The Germanic tribe that had settled in the area of France centuries before and dominated it was the Franks and the French retained this name during the Crusades.
The siege of Jerusalem lasted for a month and a day after which the Crusaders massacred the inhabitants in what historians consider to be one of the great war crimes of history. There is no explanation for it, as it served no military purpose. Rabid fanaticism, bloodlust, and mob frenzy have all been given as the cause. In any event, on July 15 and 16 of 1099 the Pope’s Army, and I will quote directly from Oldenbourg; “scoured the streets and alleys, gardens and courtyards, breaking down doors of houses and mosques and killing, killing all who fell in their path, no longer the soldiers, who had been killed first, but civilians, men, women, children, and old people.”
The Jews were shut up in their synagogue which was then set on fire. The entire Jewish community of Jerusalem died there. In the Al Aqsa Mosque and surrounding areas, thousands of Muslims were killed. Both Catholic and Muslim historians agree that the entire population was massacred, exterminated; Christian, Jew, and Muslim alike. Forty thousand people, at least, were slaughtered. On a side note, by way of observation from a point of view of being a Bible believer, this is the result of an ecclesiastical organization calling itself a church attempting to bring in the Kingdom of Heaven by armed force without the King, remembering that the weapons of our warfare are not
carnal (2 Corinthains 10:4). As one modern preacher, Dr. Peter Ruckman has put it, “kingdom builders are bloody killers”.
Jerusalem was considered the third holiest city in Islam, next to Mecca and Medina. It was a place where it was believed in Islamic mythology that Muhammad ascended to Heaven from there to visit during a special event in his life called the Miraj. The city was called al-Quds or the Holy. The fall of Jerusalem was therefore a great triumph for Roman Catholic Christianity over Islam. It was a symbolic rather than a strategic victory. The two Muslim empires centered at Baghdad and Cairo had viewed Palestine as the frontier dividing them. Half the population was Christian and the loss of Jerusalem had more of a spiritual importance than a military one. The one thing that shocked the Persian and Egyptian centers of Islamic power the most was that, unlike the Greek Christians, the Latin Christians were extremely religiously intolerant.
Godfrey of Boullion was elected King of Jerusalem. He was a man of great and noble character and became a legend for his piety and religious devotion. On the other hand he was calculating, ambitious, and jealous of his authority. However, this characterization must be viewed from Catholic eyes. From the perspective of the New Testament it must be remembered that he is given much of the credit for the massacre at Jerusalem, as well. He refused the title of King but accepted a more righteous sounding title of “Advocate of the Holy Sepulcher”. Over the brief period of time that the Crusaders ruled a Frankish kingdom in Syria many of the knights became orientalized, some even adopting eastern dress and traditions. There was war between Crusader cities and alliance with Muslims against other Crusaders and Muslims. The politics were complicated and intertwined.
Although the Crusades were a military failure in that the last Frankish kingdoms fell to the Mamelukes, slave soldiers of Egypt, in 1291 they had a lasting effect on European culture and civilization. Literature and popular music were full of tales of this heroic but doomed enterprise for centuries. A great many cultural fashions and scientific advancements entered Europe due to the Crusades.
Many notable heroic figures on both sides were created by the Crusades which still intrigue our collective memories. There was Richard the Lion Hearted, King of England, and Saladin, the Kurdish Muslim general who retook Jerusalem and later signed a peace treaty with King Richard. The Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem itself survived for 88 years and saw 8 kings. One of the greatest was a leper, Baldwin IV, who, if he had not been so ill, it is believed, would have changed history by keeping a firm grip on the holy city against Saladin. It is also believed that if the Crusaders had held on until Saladin’s death, six months after his treaty with Richard, they would have remained in power for perhaps many more decades before the Ottoman Turks, who we will discuss later, came to power.
There were many attempts at Crusade but three important ones. Some of the more pathetic efforts were the first “People’s Crusade” already mentioned and the “Children’s
Crusade”, a terrible tragedy in itself. In 1212 a shepherd boy, near Chartres, France had a vision in which he insisted that Christ told him to gather all the children of Europe and walk down to the Mediterranean Sea, where God would dry it up like He did the Red Sea for Moses and “let the children seek for the holy cross”. An army of 13,000 of these waifs between 8 and 17 years old reached Marseilles, France from the Pyrenees, Brittany, and Germany. Since the sea did not dry up they went through the Alps to Genoa, Italy where their number was reduced from 13,000 to about 7,000. In the end, they were deceived into boarding ships for North Africa where the ones who weren’t drowned in shipwrecks were sold in the Muslim world for slaves.
The so called Fourth Crusade which occurred between 1200 and 1204 merely resulted in Constantinople being captured and since, Catholics were so in awe of relics, not only did the Crusaders slaughter a great many citizens of the city they brought back such important items as the head of St. Stephen, a thorn from the crown of thorns that was forced onto Christ’s head, the Lord’s towel with which He girded Himself with in John 13, one of John the Baptist’s arms, and the finger of Thomas that was thrust in Christ’s side (John 20:27). Along with these other phony relics they stole the head of James the Just, a tear that Christ shed, and some of His actual blood that was shed on the cross. Gullible people have been present in all ages. Frederick II led the Crusade which spoiled the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The last effort at Crusade was under Louis IX of France and it, too, was a monumental flop. The final stand of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitalers at Antioch can be found in Harold Lamb’s Iron Men and Saints . The siege of Acre in 1291, the last Catholic stronghold in the Holy Land, is best described in a book entitled The Flame of Islam.
Many thousands of Catholic civilians; men, women, and children wound up as either slaves or corpses on the way to glory. Like Islam, Latin Roman Catholicism holds a belief that it is destined to conquer the world and that the world is rightfully its possession, promised by God. The rider on the white horse of Revelation 6, which most evangelicals regard as the anti-Christ, has traditionally been viewed in Roman Christianity as Christ Himself spreading the gospel over the earth by conquest through the Church, although few would put it in exactly those terms after the Reformation.
A product of the Crusades were military orders such as the Knights Templar, Knights of St. John, and Knights Hospitaller. The Knights Templar make an interesting topic of independent study themselves and are the subject of a great many conspiracy theories having to do with the formation of semi-secretive societies such as the Freemasons. However, the Knights Templars were destroyed by a King Philip of France in 1307, probably in an attempt to take over the great wealth the order had made from banking and plunder. One story that comes down to us is that their ships which terrorized the Eastern Meditteranean Sea carried a red cross on the sails which was called the “pretty red” or “jolie rouge” in French. Some writers say that this has come down to us as the Pirates’
Jolly Roger flag of a skull and crossbones in various forms that struck fear in the hearts of merchant ships so many years later.
Who were these knights? The economic and the political system of Medieval Europe was based on Feudalism. This was a system by which the warrior nobility had certain obligations to those above them in rank as their “lord” with the lower ranked person a “vassal” or servant all revolving around inheritable land called a fief or a fiefdom. The Knight in History by Frances Gies is an interesting sourcebook on the Medieval Knight. A knight, originally, was a person without great status who was raised above the common peasant by his ability to own an expensive suit of armor and a horse. Slowly, he became part of the nobility. Although they remained the lowest rank of the upper class being knighted became prized by nobility and even by royalty themselves.
The title of “Sir” along with the wearing of plate armor which we often associate with a knight came late. Chain mail was the dominant form of personal armor for most of the knight’s effective military usefulness. In England and America the appeal of the knight is based mostly on the popularity of the King Arthur legend which is most famous in its literary representation in such works as Thomas Malory’s 15th century work, Le Morte D’Arthur or The Death of Arthur. Although his work and others are based on the historical Briton warlord who fought against the Germanic invasions of the 5th and 6th century, after that it is pure invention, literary fiction, legend, and myth. Still, the Arthurian legend is a powerful messianic myth in western literature and is the yardstick by which all concepts of knighthood are measured. Arthur defeated the pagan enemies of his people, died, and will one day return to lead his people again in truth and righteous judgment. That is the essence of the myth. All people are looking for a messiah, most often the wrong one.
Another word that reverbrates in the history of the knight is “chivalry”. This is an ideal more than something that was practiced in fact. Medieval romantics had written about the knight being the sword arm of society, purposed to do right and seek justice, with a tradition going back to the Romans and then further back to the Bible, including King David and Judas Maccabeus as part of the knightly circle. However, it is clear that the concept of knight is a medieval invention. Rome had a class of “knights”, called equites or horsemen which were originally the cavalry wing of the Roman army and the source of its officers but during the period of the Republic they became politicians. This Roman equestrian order has no real connection to the medieval knight except in the mind of some historians and a few romantic novelists.
The medieval knight was first and foremost a soldier, as identified from the Latin term for him, miles, and the Anglo-Saxon cniht. He was always mounted; in most languages the words that replaced the Latin miles denoted horseman. There is the French chevalier, German ritter, Italian cavaliere, and Spanish caballero. Militarily the knight was an armored cavalryman devoted to his “lord” and to the Church, which controlled all aspects of medieval society on the surface, at least. The knight was a “soldier of Christ”, which
meant a soldier of the Roman Catholic Church, an idea first put forth by Pope Gregory VII. Under Church direction and approval the economic reason for many landless knights taking part in the Crusades was the prospect of acquiring estates, fiefdoms if you will, in
the East, a pleasing payoff for fighting the enemies of God, or rather, his earthly representative, the Pope. As with the introduction of the stirrup to Europe, the cavalryman became a more effective warrior, with the approval and authority of the Pope, his actions became “spiritually” effective in the Church’s propagation of the kingdom of Heaven, not by the word of God but by the sharp edge of a sword or the point of a lance.
Chivalry was originally a warrior code and was later appropriated by the Church to include the duty of protecting and defending it from all comers. The medieval knights were first and foremost the armed wing of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope, our modern romantic notions aside. Chivalry might be another possible topic for your independent study.
Now, turning to the strain of Christians who did not represent worldly power but the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and His written word. Throughout Christian history, from the first and second century and beyond there were Christians who did not pursue worldly (temporal) power, who did not acknowledge the authority of any Pope or The Church, and adhered to a belief in salvation by grace through faith, and the authority of the written word of God, often in the form of the Old Latin or Vetus Latina Bible (not Jerome’s Latin Vulgate). How these various groups became merged into the Reformation churches is the subject of a later class. Some of the strongholds of these groups of New Testament Christians called heretics by The Church and treated as criminals were Ireland and Scotland before the Norman Conquest, the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, Southern France, and various pockets throughout Europe.
Much of the information about these groups comes from their great enemy, Rome. The names they are given such as Donatists, Paulicians, Bogomils, Waldensians, Albigensians as well as any description of their practices are often dependent upon the bigotry of Roman Catholic writers and historians. It is hardly fair to call them all dissenters as they existed before there was ever any such thing as a Roman Catholic but it is fair to call them a minority that was hunted and scourged at least until the Reformation and sometimes beyond.
A conservative estimate of the number of non-Catholic Christians killed by the Church, based on various sources would be about 2,500,000 during the Medieval period making the Rome of the Popes a far more effective martyr making machine than pagan Rome. Some historians have claimed 5 million and some extreme writers have claimed 50 million. None of this is independantly verifiable. John Dowling’s 19th century work, An Introduction to the Critical Study of Ecclesiastical History, quoted in Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, claims that 1,000,000 Waldensians alone were martyred in France, others claim 36,000 Christians in Holland, 150,000 put to death by the Spanish
inquisition, and another 900,000 killed in various crusades such as the Albigensian Crusades where non-Catholic Christians to which were ascribed by Catholic writers all sorts of grossly heretical beliefs were slaughtered.
Remembering the New Testament admonitions of the Lord Jesus Christ and writers such as Paul and understanding that no true follower of Christ would kill anyone for their beliefs even if in direct opposition to the gospel because the weapons of our warfare are not carnal or of the flesh, we can read a number of historical works that describe the slaughter of the Cathar sect of the French region of Languedoc in the Albigensian Crusades. One excellent work on this crusade is called The Yellow Cross by Rene’ Weiss. There are many others. The reason the Cathars were called Alibigensians by the Church was due to their strong affiliation with the town of Albi. When you read the descriptions of the practices and beliefs of these Christians, all often labeled “Anabaptists” for their rebaptizing of believing adults, try to picture what would happen if the state church of today were to decide that Independent Baptist or Assemblies of God churches’ practices were heretical and that belief in eternal security or speaking in tongues needed to be exterminated. Imagine what the propaganda would say that would be spread in the newspapers to justify the actions of the state church. We, here, are all united by our belief in salvation by grace through faith and the authority of scriptures, regardless of our differing forms of worship. We are united by our belief. We do not accept the authority of any Pope or any ecclesiastical organization calling itself a church particularly if it denies our freedom to worship as we feel directed by God and the Bible. We have that right in this country right now. There are no greater freedoms than the freedom of religion and of conscience allowed for by our Constitution and these should be held onto for the cherished principles they are. These Cathars and countless others were not afforded such a right. Be very thankful for the country in which you live. Just holding up a Bible and proclaiming Christ in downtown Baghdad can get you the same treatment, even under American military authority, that the Cathars received from the state church in the 13th century as Islam is the state religion of Iraq by their own constitutional dictates.
Anabaptist preachers like the French Olivetan, would go on to produce some of the greatest true Bibles of the Reformation such as Olivetan’s French Bible and Diodati’s Italian Bible and inspire the former Catholic’s Reina and Valera to produce the true Bible in Spanish, called the Reina-Valera, all in the 1500’s and 1600’s. But that is for a future class.
The Waldensians were another group of Anabaptists or Re-baptizers as the Church called them. There are many historical differences of opinion concerning the origin of the Waldensians or Valdenses. The Roman Catholic Church claims either that they derived their name, organization and beliefs from Peter (Valdo) of Lyons in France, or early historians say that they pre-dated Peter who probably acquired the name Valdo from his connection with the Valdese because that’s how many people obtained their last name in those days; after their occupation or location. These people were known as Vaudois and Valdenses in ancient writings pre-dating Valdo. Peter and his followers were first known as the Poor Men of Lyons, who were expelled from that city in the 1180s before they joined with the valley men of the Cottian Alps in northern Italy. Volumes have been written on both sides of this question and few agree. I believe that it is most likely that the French word for valley, vaux, gave rise to the nickname Vaudois, while the Italian
vallis, likewise created Vallenses or Valdesi or Valdenses, all meaning "valley-men," referring to those who lived in the near and remote reaches of those valleys of the Cottian Alps lying within the Catholic dioceses of Milan and Turin. There is a famous 19th century work on them by Alexis Muston called Israel of the Alps.
The Roman Catholic Church, who steadily persecuted them through the centuries, as I said before, maintained that the Valdenses derived their origin, name and beliefs from Peter (Valdo) of Lyons. It is more probable that the Roman Catholic authors are as mistaken in their statement of the origin of the Valdese as in their statement of their heresies. It was not in Roman Catholic interests to admit they opposed a group which traced their history back to apostolic primitive Christianity in a purer tradition than the Roman of which, as I have pointed out, there were more than a few such groups around throughout the Middle Ages. The Valdese themselves trace their descent as a church to the time of Claude, Bishop of Turin in the ninth century. Those churches were probably the descendants-spiritual, if not lineal-of the many generations of believers in that area of northern Italy since the early days of the church. There was a line of bishops and leaders there, started by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan in the fourth century, who maintained independence from the Roman See, a reference to the authority and government of the bishop of Rome, and upheld the supremacy of Scripture in all things, including the gospel of justification by faith alone. Many of the successors of Ambrose through subsequent centuries held to the same doctrines.
Of these was Claude, "the most distinguished advocate of evangelical doctrines whom that age produced," who boldly resisted Roman innovations, "owned Jesus Christ as the sole Head of the church, attached no value to pretended meritorious works, rejected human traditions, acknowledged faith alone as securing salvation, ascribed no power to prayers made for the dead, maintained the symbolical character of the Eucharist, and above all, opposed with great energy the worship of images which he...regarded as absolute idolatry."(Muston’s Israel of the Alps). It is to this bishop the Valdenses claim their origin as a church, although spiritually, they could and often did, claim a descent as well from the evangelical groups preceding Claude, those groups led by the evangelical leaders after the time of Ambrose, and perhaps before Ambrose, back to the earliest Italian converts. Such early Christians are believed to have taken refuge from persecution in the Alps valleys where the traditional independence of these northern Italian bishoprics provided a protecting shield to those later to become known as the valley-men, the Valdenses.
The Noble Lesson (Nobla Leyczon) was the basic creed of Valdese beliefs. It dates itself within its text to the year 1100. This pre-dates Peter of Lyons, who with his followers, were chased from Lyons about 1186, when they joined the valley dwellers, the Valdese. (Lyons is situated in southeast France, west of the Italian border and the Cottian Alps.) The Lesson mentions the Vaudois (Valdense) as being already persecuted and as having already a well-known history. J.A. Wylie’s History of Protestantism (read it online free) is another reference work I would suggest for further study. The idiom of the
Nobla Leyczon is that of the valleys, the Romance language, and not that of the idiom of Lyons, a French dialect, which it would have been if Peter (Valdo) and his Poor Men had authored it according to writer Judith Collins in her brief sketch entitled Heritage of the Waldensians from which I have borrowed heavily. No mention of Peter and his followers is found in the Lesson.
The courage and perseverance of the Valdense throughout their persecutions is a tale beyond the scope of this class but R.M. Stephens The Burning Bush and Henri Arnaud’s The Glorious Recovery by the Vaudois of Their Valleys. The severest campaigns against them filled the 13th through the 17th centuries, with short periods of rest now and then. To condense their sufferings into one inadequate paragraph, the nouns deceit, trickery, broken promises, flattery, threats, robbery, pillage, slow tortures, destruction, slaughter, exile might serve for a start. The Roman Catholic persecutors ripped limbs from live victims, dashed the heads of children against the rocks, marched fathers to their deaths with the heads of their sons around their necks; parents watched their children violated and murdered. Other tortures were too disgusting to describe. Women and children were thrown off high peaks to be dashed to pieces. Valdese taking refuge in caves were suffocated by fires lit at the cave mouths. Soldiers took refuge in Valdese homes, only to rise up and slaughter their hosts upon the given signal.
In J. A. Wylie's words:
“These cruelties form a scene that is unparalleled and unique in the history of at least civilized countries. There have been tragedies in which more blood was spilt, and more life sacrificed, but none in which the actors were so completely de-humanized, and the forms of suffering so monstrously disgusting, so unutterably cruel and revolting. The 'Piedmontese Massacres' in this respect stand alone. They are more fiendish than all the atrocities and murders before or since, and Leger may still advance his challenge to 'all travellers, and all who have studied the history of ancient and modern pagans, whether among the Chinese, Tartars and Turks, they ever witnessed or heard tell of such execrable perfidies and barbarities.
In a document Pastor Henri Leger carried from the Valdese to the Protestants of Europe, they wrote:
“Our tears are no longer of water; they are of blood; they do not merely obscure our sight, they choke our very hearts. Our hands tremble and our heads ache by the many blows we have received. We cannot frame an epistle answerable to the intent of our minds, and the strangeness of our desolations. We pray you to excuse us, and to collect amid our groans the meaning of what we fain would utter for the love of the Scriptures.”
All through their long history these valley dwellers, the Valdese, had owned, revered, obeyed their Scriptures. It was their main distinction to hold Scripture as their supreme authority. They translated the Bible (possibly from the Hebrew and the Greek) into their vulgar tongue, the Romance language, and laboriously made many copies of this Scripture for their disciples and used the Old Latin Bible as well and this while the rest of
Europe was content with the Latin of the Catholic Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Before Wycliffe thought of putting the Bible into the English of his day, the Valdese had their vernacular Bible. They memorized great portions of Scripture. One inquisitor in 1260 tells of meeting a pastor who recited the whole of Job, and of many others who memorized the whole of the New Testament. They copied other good writings; this was one of the tasks of the Valdese Pastors in order to instruct their disciples. Old bibliographies tell of many ancient manuscripts of spiritual treatises, poems, sermons, confessions, catechisms and the like according to Muston.
“With such a love of truth in a people, we are not surprised to learn that they founded their own little college for their Pastors, who ...were required to commit to memory the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. John, the general epistles, and a part of those of St. Paul.... During two or three successive winters [they were] trained to speak in Latin, in the Romance language, and in Italian. After this they spent some years in retirement, and then were set apart to the holy ministry by the administration of the Lord's Supper and by imposition of hands. Pastors were required to take their turn as missionaries. They went out two by two, a young man and an old one. Taking to the roads as peddlers, or as artisans, or as physicians, they carried the Bible in their hearts and minds. Stopping for the night in a remote cottage in the course of their travels, they would testify of the gospel and write out Scripture portions to leave with their hosts. A light and a blessing wherever they went! Very few were married, as their manner of life, travels, poverty, and the attendant dangers often precluded family life. They traversed Italy and had stations organized in many places with thousands of secret adherents in most of the towns. And not only Italy, but Valdese missionaries spread the Gospel over the greater part of Europe.” (Collins).Valdese missionaries evangelized Bohemia before the time of John Huss. In 1142 six of them were condemned and beaten in Oxford, England, thrown out of the city in mid-winter and left to perish. In Cologne, 1332, a Pastor, named Walter Lollard, was burned at the stake. From him came the nickname "Lollard" for English followers of Wycliffe.
“High up in the impenetrable remoteness of their highest mountains stands still today the small stone building of the college of the Pastors, in a tri-level construction to fit the slope. Modern travelers today draw in breath as they gaze at the smoke-blackened walls, the tiny windows, the fireplace, and the great slabbed table-top, said to be six to seven hundred years old. It is not hard to imagine the student-barbe seated around that huge stone slab. Today on the center of the slab is an open Olivetan Bible, and thereon hangs a tale.” (Collins)
At the time of the Reformation, the Valdese heard the news of its beginning and were encouraged to join in. They initiated a translation of the whole Bible into French with the help of a cousin of John Calvin, named Robert, who received the name of Olivetan, as did his Bible, due to the great effort he went through, paid for by the Waldensians themselves.
Unfortunately, what is called the Waldensian Church today has become a member of the apostate World Council of Churches and no longer holds to the authority of the Bible but their mantle of having the Bible as their final authority passed on to the great reformers like Calvin and others he supported.
Many modern evangelical churches claim descent at some point from Jesus through the apostle John and his disciple Polycarp then eventually through the churches of the valley men, to churches in Wales, and then on to America. These claims are extremely controversial and would take much more time to trace for historical accuracy than we have here.
Two of the most notable names of “reformers” from the Middle Ages are Wycliffe and Huss. Jan Huss was a Protestant reformer born in Bohemia, now a part of the Czech Republic. The city of Prague might help you find it on the map as that city is almost in the geographical center of Bohemia. Jan Huss started a movement based on the actions of John Wycliffe in England which brought him into direct opposition to the Pope and the Church hierarchy. One of his more famous statements was his Indulgences, taken literally from the writings of Wycliffe which stated that no Christian bishop or pope had the right to take up the sword in the name of the Church but to pray for their enemies and those that would curse them. They objected to the temporal power of the Church in assigning life and death to theological issues. He was excommunicated in 1411 and burned at the stake in 1415. His followers became known as Hussites who actually followed the teachings of John Wycliffe strictly. Their cornerstone was freedom to preach the word of God.
Now, back to Wycliffe. From the 12th to the 14th century, Old English became Middle English. Our language fundamentally changed, particularly in spelling. For example, Old English cwen became Middle English queen. The narrow Germanic base of Old English began, as Middle English, to include Scandinavian, Latin, and French words. French, in particular, because Normans from France had invaded England and the royalty of England would speak French for several centuries, fighting many bloody wars over the land holdings they clung to in France and even stubbornly calling themselves kings of France. In the 13th century (1200’s) the Bible was translated into Anglo-Norman for the upper class to use. French words appearing in our traditional English Bible (KJB) have come down to us; crown, majesty, minister, prince, heir, trespass, prison, baptism, etc.
During the 14th and 15th centuries many Latin words were introduced such as antichrist, pope, priest, scribe, scorpion, conspiracy relic, idol, etc. etc. Many English words have their base in these other languages. English became a rich language, an international language and after 1450 Modern English began to appear in its purest and highest form, according to many linguists and language historians. There were many English Bibles before Wycliffe. I refer to Scott’s The Story of Our English Bible and Dore’s Old Bibles (which is actually two separate books using the same main title). According to Dore, the Lord Chancellor of England in the early 1500’s referred to the
many old Bibles in English written before Wycliffe. Thomas Cranmer was said to have memorized the entire New Testament before he was burned at the stake. He penned the preface to a Bible version called the Great Bible.
John Wycliffe (spelled in many ways) lived from 1325 to 1384. He believed that a Bible written in English was as much Scripture as the originals and that translation could be inspired. He also is attributed with saying, “The clergy cry aloud that it is heresy to speak of the Holy Scriptures in English, and so they would condemn the Holy Ghost, who gave tongues to the Apostles of Christ to speak the word of God in all languages under heaven.” This is a quote attributed to him in a book he wrote in Latin by already mentioned historians. In Connolly’s The Indestructible Book he quotes Wycliffe saying that the Bible comes “from the mouth of God”. The Church did not approve of Bibles in the vernacular, that is, the language of the people, whether it be German, French, or English. Wycliffe’s belief in God’s preservation of His word angered the Catholic hierarchy. There are several great myths about Wycliffe’s work as a translator that come down to us in many traditional histories. One is that he wrote the first scriptures in English. Hasting’s Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics directs readers to numerous books documenting early English scriptures which I have told you about. Dr. Christopher De Hamel of Oxford, for 25 years the Curator of Medieval and Illuminated Manuscripts at Sotheby’s auction house in London, is quoted as stating that the earliest extant (still existing) Wycliffe Bible was obviously already copied from a previous English Bible and that he wasn’t so much translating as he was transcribing.
Wycliffe taught at Oxford for 35 years. He remained a Catholic all of his life but insisted, in opposition to Church teaching that the Bible must be available in English. He is called “the Morning Star of the Reformation”. I have already told you that he influenced Jan Huss and many others throughout Europe. A second myth is that Bibles in English were rare in the Medieval period. Just scanning Foxe’s Acts and Monuments can rid you of that myth. In Sir Thomas More’s A Dialogue Concerning Heresies written in 1529 he says that Bibles in English were not at all rare. De Hamel had said that quite often a Wycliffe Bible was the only book in a person’s household. Wycliffe’s followers, called Lollards, were quite common in 1300’s England. If you really want an eye opener about the numerous Bibles passed around in Wycliffe’s time read The Cambridge History of the Bible. It is clear that in spite of laws against even owning a copy of the Bible, particularly at this time, they were available.
Another myth you will hear and no doubt read is that Wycliffe used only the Latin Vulgate of Jerome to translate his English Bible. Included in this myth perpetrated by Catholic scholars and Protestant scholars who idealize the Roman Catholic Church is the incorrect statement that Wycliffe had no access to manuscripts in the original languages. In Wycliffe’s work On the Truth of the Holy Scripture, translated from the Latin by Ian Christopher Levy, as published in Western Michigan University’s Medieval Institute Publications, in 2001, Wycliffe refers to having access to Hebrew and Greek manuscripts by which he “corrected” Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. The Cambridge History of the Bible
quotes Wycliffe stating that many Latin Bibles were completely false and that the current English Bibles were more accurate than Jerome’s Latin Bible. The confusion comes from the statement “made from the Latin Vulgate” which was added to the front page of the 1850 printed edition of Wycliffe’s Bible, edited by Frederic Madden and Josiah Forshall. The Cambridge History of the Bible questions the reliability of this edition, at any rate.
Foxe’s Acts and Monuments credits Wycliffe as depending on the Old Latin Bibles while many others add that he had Greek and Hebrew manuscripts, as well as earlier English Bibles in front of him. After Wycliffe died the Church had many of his books burned and his bones dug up and thrown into the river Swift, he had made them so angry.
Another anti-Catholic group you should hear about is the Bogomiles, who came up from Asia Minor into Bulgaria; the chief information we have on them is from their bitterest enemies- Rome. Schaff in his History of the Christian Church allows for no origin of the Bogomiles before the tenth century, forgetting that their spiritual ancestors (the Paulicians) came from the same place back in the sixth and seventh centuries. One of their outstanding pastors was a physician (medical doctor) named Basil, who was burned at the stake by the Greek Orthodox Emperor Alexander Comnenus I. The Bogomiles may have had some heretical ideas but they did believe that the Roman Catholic “mass” was a sacrifice to devils, that the early church fathers who contradicted the Bible were false prophets, that organized Roman Catholicism was Satanic, and, above all, that they would baptize no one but an adult believer. As far as any heretical beliefs the Catholic writers had to say about them, it was common for the Church to call anyone who they didn’t like an Arian or a Manichean. Information on the Bogomiles can be obtained from Robinson’s History of Baptism and Baker’s Summary of Christian History. Most, if not all of the books I refer to can be found, if not on amazon.com then by going to alibris.com. If you wish to purchase a book I have referred to and can’t find it, let me know and I’ll help you get it or lend you my copy once it’s returned from whomever has it. If I am referring to a work that contains a reference to another work I have mentioned I will alert you to that as well.
Every horrible torture that could be invented by the depraved nature of man was used by the Church at Rome against these dissenters and groups that had existed concurrently with Rome for centuries. In Geoffrey Abbotts’ Rack, Rope, and Red-Hot Pincers as well as Brian Innes’ The History of Torture you will find only a few of the many horrors
visited on those Christian groups who did not acknowledge the supremacy of the Roman Catholic Church in all matters spiritual and temporal. Millions were killed in the period from Justinian’s Code reinforcing the primacy of the bishop of Rome in the 500’s through the Reformation. I will not describe those horrors for this class but will leave it up to you to research further. We have yet to discover the Inquisition in all of its perverse glory which we will do later.
The state of the Jew in Catholic Europe was little better than the so-called heretic. There were many violent anti-Semitic laws established in the Middle Ages and periods of
50 to 100 years of peace were interspersed with massacres and expulsions. In the Byzantine realm the Jews “enjoyed a harassed prosperity from the eighth to the twelfth century” according to Durant. In Europe itself, there were prosperous Jewish settlements in Germany by the 9th century and Jews in England by the late 600’s. Many more came with William the Conqueror and at first were protected by the ruling elite, their communities being outside of local authority and under the protection of the king. They were successful merchants and bankers and important to the ruling class, particularly. This protective barrier played a great part in the pogroms (actions against Jews including murder, confiscation of property, and exile) of the 12th century. Gaul had Jewish merchants from the time of Caesar and by 600 there were Jewish colonies in all the cities. They were, at times, persecuted mercilessly. But, they were useful to society as merchants, craftsmen, doctors, financiers, and even farmers. In spite of attacks, Jews in France knew a prosperity they would not know again after the 10th century until after the French Revolution.
Spanish Jews called themselves Sephardim and traced their origin to the tribe of Judah. After the conversion of King Recared, the Visigothic king, to Catholicism in the late 500’s life became more difficult for them. They, in turn, aided the Muslim conquest of Spain in hopes of better treatment, which, at times, did happen the way they hoped. Durant says that the main source of hostility toward the Jew may have been economic with religious differences used to cover the main reason. Two statements by the Jews at the crucifixion sealed their shoddy treatment by Roman Catholic Europe, however. John 19:15 determined what city would do its utmost to persecute them and Matthew 27:25 marked them for 2,000 years. However, no true Christian would ever hate or persecute the race of people God originally chose through which to give light to a dead world. Read John 4:22. The statement of Genesis 12:3 still applies by judging the events of history. Nations that hunted the Jew from mighty, gold loving Spain to Nazi Germany all met similar fates. That being said, the Third Council of the Lateran in 1179 forbade Christian midwives or nurses to minister to Jews. The Council of Beziers forbade the employment of Jewish doctors by Christians. The Council of Avignon in 1209 reinforced these proscriptions and added more such as ordering that “Jews and Harlots” (prostitutes) were not allowed to touch bread and fruit offered for sale. Of course, Jews and Christians were forbidden to marry and there is at least one account of someone being burned at the stake for doing so.
The Fourth Council of Lateran in 1215 ordered that Jews wear something on their clothing to distinguish themselves from Christians. This was enforced in various ways including a wheel or a circle of yellow cloth being ordered to be displayed prominently. Hitler would revive this practice. In England this was enforced in 1218. In 1219 it was enforced in France. Several Popes, however, were friendly to the Jews; among these were Eugenius III, Alexander III, and Innocent IV, who repudiated the legend of the ritual murder of Christian children by Jews. Modern evangelical Christians, aware of God’s plan for the Jewish people as evidenced by the formation of Israel in 1948 against all odds and their miraculous protection against overwhelming odds in several wars fought
against them by their neighbors plus the clear, black and white statements in Revelation and other prophetic books about their conversion and Christ directed actions in the tribulation to come, pray for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel while still acknowledging that, for an individual, the future is hopeless for anyone, Jew or Gentile, who rejects the Lord Jesus Christ.
A long series of violent assaults on the Jewish communities of Europe began in earnest in the 12th and 13th centuries. Beginning roughly when the entire Jewish population of Belitz, near Berlin was burned alive on the charge that some of them had “defiled a consecrated Host”, which is to say that they may have touched a wafer that a priest had claimed was now the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, in 1243 to Edward I of England, in 1290, ordering all Jews to leave England immediately, Jewish persecution was the order of the day.
There were several important Jewish rabbis in the Middle Ages who left their mark on Jewish thinking and culture. One of the most famous was Moses Maimonides, who, according to Ronald Isaacs’ Every Person’s Guide to Jewish Philosophy and Philosophers, was the “foremost intellectual figure in medieval Judaism”. Commonly referred to as RaMBaM (an acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon), he was born in 1135 in Cordova in Muslim Spain. A persecution or pogrom in 1148 forced his family to flee to various Spanish cities. In 1159 he settled in Morocco and then later to Cairo, Egypt, where, in 1168, he wrote his commentary on the oral law that I have explained earlier. His 14 volume work was called The Commentary on the Misnah. He, like Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, believed in the existence of an incorporeal God, that is, a God without a body. He believed that God created everything but denied even the possibility that He would come to earth and live among us as well as denying the Trinity by his interpretation of God’s oneness. He also, like a New Ager, believed that evil is not a positive force but rather a negative, simply the absence of God or His goodness. Evil, to Maimonides, was the denial of good. He, like Philo earlier, allegorized many of the literal statements of the Bible. You can hear him echoed in a modern Christian teacher saying, “What it really means is this or that…” rather than, “The Bible says this or that…” Like
Philo, I believe, Moses Maimonides made a connection between Greek philosophy and God’s words, which, I also believe, is a denial of God’s words.
In our next class I am going to discuss the Black Plague, the internal wars in Europe in the Medieval period, the Inquisition, literature, arts, and science in Medieval Europe, the rise of the Ottoman Turks, and the final fall of the Roman Empire in the East, called the Byzantine Empire.
This era of history is long and complex and there is no way that I would have time to include everything of importance. I am trying to give you some basics to consider, not expecting you to agree with my conclusions or to accept my basic premises. I would like you to consider the evidence of history that I put forward, do independent study, and
along with reading your Bible, prayerfully seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance in understanding the great conflicting forces in history.
Remember, for everything God does, Satan has a counterfeit. Not being deceived by that counterfeit is a constant spiritual battle for Christians.