December 11, 2015

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Medieval Church: The six crusades of the 13th century

John F. Fink(Eighteenth in a series of columns)

There were six crusades during the 13th century. (Seven, if you count the Children’s Crusade.) In this series, I already wrote that the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) was a disaster because the crusaders abandoned their original purpose of liberating the Holy Land, and instead conquered Constantinople from the Orthodox, establishing the Latin Empire of Constantinople for 57 years but setting back relations between the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches.

The Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) was proclaimed by Pope Innocent III, but he died before it could be organized. Pope Honorius III tried to carry it out, but the political situation in Europe made it difficult. He arbitrated between the kings of Aragon and France, got France to abandon its planned invasion of England, and helped Henry III obtain the English crown.

He also tried to participate. Honorius had earlier crowned him as the leader of the Holy Roman Empire, which was largely made up of present-day Germany and Austria. Eventually, some troops were sent to fight, but they weren’t very effective. The crusade eventually simply fizzled out.

The most remarkable thing that happened during the Fifth Crusade was that St. Francis of Assisi showed up in Egypt where the crusaders were in 1219 and, during a truce, met with the Sultan al-Kamil. Francis was allowed to continue on to the Holy Land, and the Franciscans have been there ever since.

Emperor Frederick II seemed ready to lead the Sixth Crusade (1228-1229), proclaimed by Pope Gregory IX. However, he seemed to abandon the crusade after he became ill. Pope Gregory, remembering the trouble Pope Honorius had with Frederick, excommunicated him for not fighting.

But Frederick recovered his health and went on to fight the crusade, even negotiating the surrender of Jerusalem. But it only enraged the pope that an excommunicate would lead a crusade. Soon, Jerusalem went back under the control of the Muslims.

Nineteen years later, the Seventh Crusade (1248-1254) was led by the saintly King Louis IX of France when he was 30 years old. During a battle in Egypt, St. Louis was captured. He was released after paying a ransom, and he then remained in Syria for four years before returning to France.

But St. Louis returned to crusading in 1267, leading the Eighth Crusade with his younger brother, Charles of Anjou. It ended disastrously when the army was decimated by disease within a month, and Louis died at age 44.

In 1271, Pope Gregory X was on the Ninth Crusade with the future King Edward I of England when he learned of his election to the papacy. He returned to Rome.

In 1291, Acre, the last Christian outpost in the Holy Land, fell to the Muslims. The crusades were over.

About that Children’s Crusade: In 1212, thinking that the Holy Land could be captured by the pure of heart, 40,000 children started a march toward Palestine. There were two groups, one from France and the other from Germany. Few of the children reached the Holy Land. Many died on the way, and some were sold into slavery. It must be considered amazing that this was permitted to happen. †

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