Philosophy Magazine

Were the Crusades Xenophobic?

By Stuart_gray @stuartg__uk

Were the Crusades Xenophobic?

Previously, I introduced the Crusades and explained the historical background to these Medieval military campaigns. I also challenged the notion that they were triggered by Western imperialism. Actually – these were campaigns initiated by the church to rescue people who were being oppressed.

Of course, atheists are quick to find fault. The late Christopher Hitchens refers to the Crusades as “tempests of hatred, and bigotry and blood lust.”[1] But – does the historical evidence support this idea that the Crusades are examples of Christian hatred and xenophobia (or prejudice against foreigners)?

The quick answer to this question – is to ask a follow on question. When did the Crusaders ever attack the Islamic cities of Mecca or Medina during any of the military campaigns? The answer is – NEVER.[2]

This fact demonstrates the Crusades were NEVER about the West attacking the peaceful Muslim nations. Rather – these Crusades were about mounting a rescue attempt for peaceful Christian inhabitants of the holy land who were being dominated by Islamic aggressors.

The longer answer to the xenophobia question is:

1 – Christians weren’t violent people. Most Christians of the time lived peacefully and coexisted with people of other religious outlooks. In fact, “during … the Crusades … large indigenous Christian populations liv[ed] under Muslim rule.”[3]

2 – The Crusades weren’t the result of hatred. Rather, they were about showing love for Christian brothers and sisters, to rescue fellow Christians and the holy land, “expressing love through … participation in acts of armed force.”[4]

3 – Not everyone in the church at the time agreed that military campaigns were the right response to Muslim aggression. For example:

  • Saint Francis of Assisi, during the 5th Crusade, visited the front lines in an attempt to dialog with the Muslim leaders to bring peace.[5]
  • Isaac of Stella challenged the idea of “fighting monks,” which was the label given to the Knights Templars who were created to protect Christian pilgrims.[6]

If the Crusades were controversial in the Church at the time, how did the Pope (who called for most of the official Crusades) justify them? He appealed to Augustine’s just war theory. Augustine was an influential 5th century Christian leader who viewed violence as an evil which, in certain intolerable conditions, became something justifiable as the lesser of evils. However – a just war could only be mounted under the authority of the national leader.[7] The Pope viewed Christian suffering at the hands of Muslims as intolerable, and so he decided war was the lesser of two evils and so just.

But were the Crusades just?

I do not think so. I have two big problems with the Pope’s justification for the Crusades:

1 – The Crusades don’t qualify under Augustine’s just war theory. It wasn’t the national leader who initiated the Crusade, it was the Pope. The Pope had authority over the church, yet at this time he also interfered in temporal affairs too. He was calling for a war that was not his to call to make, and offering spiritual rewards for those who volunteered. This seems like a gross misuse of spiritual power and position. “The church should not be … deciding when to go to war and who the enemy is, not to mention promising spiritual rewards to those who fight.”[8]

2 – The Christian love shown by the Crusaders is substandard. They claimed to be loving fellow Christians. They forgot Christ’s command to love their enemies too.[9] Two of the leaders who spoke out against the Crusades were:

  • Peter Lombard, who agreed that the safety of Christian brothers and sisters must be considered, but added “enemies must be included in our love for all men … it is more virtuous to love enemies than friends.”[10]
  • Thomas Aquinas, who said that “Christ only gave the apostles … power to authorize punishment by means of force after he had taught them to love their neighbours absolutely.”[11]

In conclusion, the Crusades were not the result of xenophobia and hatred of Islam. Rather, they occurred because going to war to protect Christians and the holy land was (for the Crusaders) an act of love for Christ and his church. Unfortunately, the charity the Crusaders showed lacks Jesus Christ’s understanding of love. It is substandard as far as Christian love is concerned.

I am convinced these military campaigns initiated by the Church, referred to as the Crusades, were a misguided reaction by the Church to Muslim invasion of the holy land.

[1] Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great, (London: Atlantic Books, 2007), kindle edition, 39.

[2] Paul F. Crawford, “Four Myths about the Crusades,” Intercollegiate Review, Spring 2011, accessed October 24th, 2018,

[3] Iain Provan, Seriously Dangerous Religion What The Old Testament Really Says And Why It Matters (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2014), kindle edition, loc 7305.

[4] Jonathan Riley-Smith, “Crusading As An Act Of Love,” in Medieval Religion New Approaches Rewriting Histories, ed. Constance Hoffman Berman (New York: Routledge, 2005), 45.

[5] C. Michael Patton, The Fifth Crusade The Crusades Bootcamp, Credo Courses,, summarised.

[6] Paul Robinson, “Three Myths about the Crusades What they Mean for Christian Witness,” Concordia Journal 42, no. 1 (Winter 2016):28-40, accessed October 24th, 2018,, summarised.

[7] Jonathan Riley-Smith, What Were the Crusades, 4th ed. (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), kindle edition, 6.

[8] Robinson, “Three Myths,” 33.

[9] Matthew 5:43-48.

[10] Peter Lombard, “Sententiarum libri quatuor,” PL, vol. 192, iii, D. xxvii, c 4, DD. Xxix-xxx, quoted in Riley-Smith, “Crusading As An Act Of Love”, 52.

[11] Thomas Aquinas, “Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem,” Opera omnia iussu Leonis XIII P.M. edita, 41 (Rome: Ex typographia Polyglotta, 1948, 1970), cap. xvi, esp. 4, quoted in Riley-Smith, “Crusading As An Act Of Love”, 55.

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