According to the ten commandments, you shall not kill anyone. How did Pope Urban II justify from a theological standpoint the First Crusade? Since it was successful, Pope Urban II must have had to deal with the theological ramifications of killing all of the innocent people that were in the way of the armies.

What did he do/say to defend his position?

2 Answers 2


It is true that in the Ten Commandments we read that it is not permitted to kill. But we do have a duty to protect ourselves and our neighbors in times of war or persecution. The helpless needed to be defended in Palestine and the Holy Sites liberated from oppression.

We must not forget that the Greek Emperor Alexius Comnenus had sent letters to Pope Urban II asking for "aid against the against the infidels, representing that, unless assistance was extended immediately, the capital with all its holy relics must soon fall into the hands of the barbarians."

Causes of the crusades:

  • The reason and cause of the crusades was a war between Christians and Moslems which centered around the city of Jerusalem and the Holy places of Palestine. The City of Jerusalem held a Holy significance to the Christian religion. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem commemorated the hill of crucifixion and the tomb of Christ's burial. Pilgrims throughout the Middle Ages made sacred pilgrimages to the Holy city of Jerusalem and the church. Although the city of Jerusalem was held by the Saracens the Christian pilgrims had been granted safe passage to visit the Holy city.

  • Among the early Christians it was thought a pious and meritorious act to undertake a journey to some sacred place. Especially was it thought that a pilgrimage to the land that had been trod by the feet of the Saviour of the world, to the Holy City that had witnessed his martyrdom, was a peculiarly pious undertaking, and one which secured for the pilgrim the special favor and blessing of Heaven. The Saracen caliphs, for the four centuries and more that they held possession of Palestine, pursued usually an enlightened policy towards the pilgrims, even encouraging pilgrimages as a source of revenue. But in the eleventh century the Seljukian Turks, a prominent Tartar tribe and zealous followers of Islam, wrested from the caliphs almost all their Asiatic possessions. The Christians were not long in realizing that power had fallen into new hands. 3000 Christian Pilgrims were insulted and persecuted in every way. The churches in Jerusalem were destroyed or turned into stables.

  • The immediate cause of the First Crusade was the preaching of Peter the Hermit, a native of Picardy, in France. Having been commissioned by Pope Urban II to preach a crusade, the Hermit traversed all Italy and France, addressing everywhere, in the church, in the street, and in the open field, the crowds that flocked about him, moving all hearts with sympathy or firing them with indignation, as he recited the sufferings of their brethren at the hands of the infidels, or pictured the profanation of the holy places, polluted by the presence and insults of the unbelievers.

  • Whilst Peter the Hermit had been arousing the warriors of the West, the Turks had been making constant advances in the East, and were now threatening Constantinople itself. The Greek emperor (Alexius Comnenus) sent urgent letters to the Pope, asking for aid against the infidels, representing that, unless assistance was extended immediately, the capital with all its holy relics must soon fall into the hands of the barbarians.

  • Pope Urban II & the Council of Clermont: Pope Urban II called a great council of the Church at Placentia, in Italy, to consider the appeal (1095), but nothing was effected. Later in the same year a new council was convened at Clermont, in France, Pope Urban purposely fixing the place of meeting among the warm tempered and martial Franks. Pope Urban II himself was one of the chief speakers. He was naturally eloquent, so that the man, the cause, and the occasion all conspired to achieve one of the greatest triumphs of human oratory. Pope Urban II pictured the humiliation and misery of the provinces of Asia; the profanation of the places made sacred by the presence and footsteps of the Son of God. Pope Urban II then detailed the conquests of the Turks, until now, with all Asia Minor in their possession, they were threatening Europe from the shores of the Hellespont. - Cause of the Crusades

In 1094 or 1095, Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine emperor, sent to the pope, Urban II, and asked for aid from the West against the Seljuq Turks, who taken nearly all of Asia Minor from him. At the Council of Clermont, Urban addressed a great crowd and urged all to go to the aid of the Greeks and to recover Palestine from the rule of the Muslims. The acts of the Council have not been preserved, but we have five accounts of the speech of Urban which were written by men who were present and heard him.

1. Fulcher of Chartres (notes):

"For, as the most of you have heard, the Turks and Arabs have attacked them and have conquered the territory of Romania [the Greek empire] as far west as the shore of the Mediterranean and the Hellespont, which is called the Arm of St. George. They have occupied more and more of the lands of those Christians, and have overcome them in seven battles. They have killed and captured many, and have destroyed the churches and devastated the empire. If you permit them to continue thus for awhile with impurity, the faithful of God will be much more widely attacked by them. On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ's heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends. I say this to those who are present, it meant also for those who are absent."

2. Robert the Monk

From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth and very frequently has been brought to our ears, namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race utterly alienated from God, a generation forsooth which has not directed its heart and has not entrusted its spirit to God, has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire; it has led away a part of the captives into its own country, and a part it has destroyed by cruel tortures; it has either entirely destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either spread upon the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate upon the ground. Others they bind to a post and pierce with arrows. Others they compel to extend their necks and then, attacking them with naked swords, attempt to cut through the neck with a single blow. What shall I say of the abominable rape of the women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent. The kingdom of the Greeks is now dismembered by them and deprived of territory so vast in extent that it can not be traversed in a march of two months. On whom therefore is the labor of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you? You, upon whom above other nations God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength to humble the hairy scalp of those who resist you.

3. The Gesta Version

When now that time was at hand which the Lord Jesus daily points out to His faithful, especially in the Gospel, saying, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me," a mighty agitation was carried on throughout all the region of Gaul. (Its tenor was) that if anyone desired to follow the Lord zealously, with a pure heart and mind, and wished faithfully to bear the cross after Him, he would no longer hesitate to take up the way to the Holy Sepulchre.

And so Urban, Pope of the Roman see, with his archbishops, bishops, abbots, and priests, set out as quickly as possible beyond the mountains and began to deliver sermons and to preach eloquently, saying: "Whoever wishes to save his soul should not hesitate humbly to take up the way of the Lord, and if he lacks sufficient money, divine mercy will give him enough." Then the apostolic lord continued, "Brethren, we ought to endure much suffering for the name of Christ - misery, poverty, nakedness, persecution, want, illness, hunger, thirst, and other (ills) of this kind, just as the Lord saith to His disciples: 'Ye must suffer much in My name,' and 'Be not ashamed to confess Me before the faces of men; verily I will give you mouth and wisdom,' and finally, 'Great is your reward in Heaven."' And when this speech had already begun to be noised abroad, little by little, through all the regions and countries of Gaul, the Franks, upon hearing such reports, forthwith caused crosses to be sewed on their right shoulders, saying that they followed with one accord the footsteps of Christ, by which they had been redeemed from the hand of hell.

3. Version of Balderic of Dol

And turning to the bishops, he said, "You, brothers and fellow bishops; you, fellow priests and sharers with us in Christ, make this same announcement through the churches committed to you, and with your whole soul vigorously preach the journey to Jerusalem. When they have confessed the disgrace of their sins, do you, secure in Christ, grant them speedy pardon. Moreover, you who are to go shall have us praying for you; we shall have you fighting for God's people. It is our duty to pray, yours to fight against the Amalekites. With Moses, we shall extend unwearied hands in prayer to Heaven, while you go forth and brandish the sword, like dauntless warriors, against Amalek."

4. Version of Guibert de Nogent

"If in olden times the Maccabees attained to the highest praise of piety because they fought for the ceremonies and the Temple, it is also justly granted you, Christian soldiers, to defend their liberty of your country by armed endeavor. If you, likewise, consider that the abode of the holy apostles and any other saints should be striven for with such effort, why do you refuse to rescue the Cross, the Blood, the Tomb? Why do you refuse to visit them, to spend the price of your lives in rescuing them? You have thus far waged unjust wars, at one time and another; you have brandished mad weapons to your mutual destruction, for no other reason than covetousness and pride, as a result of which you have deserved eternal death and sure damnation. We now hold out to you wars which contain the glorious reward of martyrdom, which will retain that title of praise now and forever."

5. Urban II: Letter of Instruction to the Crusaders, December 1095

Urban, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to all the faithful, both princes and subjects, waiting in Flanders; greeting, apostolic grace, and blessing.

Your brotherhood, we believe, has long since learned from many accounts that a barbaric fury has deplorably afflicted an laid waste the churches of God in the regions of the Orient. More than this, blasphemous to say, it has even grasped in intolerabe servitude its churches and the Holy City of Christ, glorified b His passion and resurrection. Grieving with pious concern at this calamity, we visited the regions of Gaul and devoted ourselves largely to urging the princes of the land and their subjects to free the churches of the East. We solemnly enjoined upon them at the council of Auvergne (the accomplishment of) such an undertaking, as a preparation for the remission of all their sins. And we have constituted our most beloved son, Adhemar, Bishop of Puy, leader of this expedition and undertaking in our stead, so that those who, perchance, may wish to undertake this journey should comply With his commands, as if they were our own, and submit fully to his loosings or bindings, as far as shall seem to belong to such an office. If, moreover, there are any of your people whom God has inspired to this vow, let them know that he (Adhemar) will set out with the aid of God on the day of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary, and that they can then attach themselves to his following. - Pope Urban II's Speech Calling for the First Crusade

Pope Urban II also issued a "Crusader's Indulgence" for those partaking in the Crusades.

The earliest record of a plenary indulgence was Pope Urban II's declaration at the Council of Clermont (1095) that he remitted all penance incurred by crusaders who had confessed their sins in the Sacrament of Penance, considering participation in the crusade equivalent to a complete penance.


As happened frequently in Muslim countries, stronger and less tolerant Muslims took over control of the lands and "The whole of Asia Minor up to the Bosporus soon fell under Turkish Muslim Control". So That was really coming right up to the borders of Byzantium. Which, even though there were theological discrepancies, had not yet ceased to be friends with the west (that happened after the 4th crusade).

The emperor of the East in Constantinople "asked the Pope for a contingent of knights to help the Byzantine armies hold back the Seljuks from overrunning the Eastern Empire".

Now, I'm not gonna ret-con Just War theory into the mix because it obviously hadn't been invented yet and it would be crazy to anachronistically say that Peter the Hermit's underwhelming force was a violation of it, whereas Godfery and Baldwin had the right idea.

It seems more likely that the First Crusade just happened as a result of Emperor Alexis wanting to get a big army out of his city before they ate them out of house and home. Peter the Hermit's merry band had probably already wasted their reserves (or at least their patience) and now you had some real meat-eaters in the walls of Constantinople.

Now, as my daughter's history book (which I'd love to hear comments as to why this my not be true) says.

After receiving oaths of loyalty from the crusade learders, the Byzantine emperor hastily sent the "Frankish" force off to Asia Minor, where they were lucky enough to find the Muslims so distracted by local rivalries and religious differences that they were unable to resist the invaders effectively. ... Only one in five of their number had survived the trip (to Jerusalem)

So, yes, at this point they laid siege to Jerusalem and slaughtered everyone in their path once they had gotten through the walls. But the next day they

trooped in to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to give thanks to God for their victory and pray for forgiveness for their sins.

Which is not necessarily what a conquering army would do in every case. That is the history of the matter, there was safe passage for some Muslims out of the city, Jews were killed by the burning of their synagogue, Orthodox Christians had already been expelled and Muslims were indiscriminately killed. But if there's evidence that some, if not most, Crusaders weren't sorry for their sins through shameful acts committed against victims and captives, I'm not sure that has been shown to history.

The Crusaders weren't necessarily the pinnacle of virtue (Well Godfrey might have been in not proclaiming himself king of Jerusalem) but they were Chivalrous knights, which meant that they had a code by which they lived under a penalty of public disgrace. So, either all the surviving Crusaders were co-conspirators against the way of life that they adhered to in medieval Europe or they kept their word as lords of the Holy Land (and thereabouts) for the short hundred years in which they controlled the place.

Back to Pope Urban II, he could safely say that in sending the best and brightest of the civilized world, he was counting on them to fight a good fight against an enemy whose perceived threat was, possibly, greater than it really was at the very real request of the oldest ally whose empire was nothing, if not a buffer against Muslim invaders.

As for the crusaders themselves, the Pope told them Deus lo volt! "God wills it!". So, unlike the obvious comparison - redictio ad Hitlerium where Nazi's say "The State wills it". For a Crusader, "God wills it" means get up and do something about it, or you're not really a Christian. And back then, Popes would excommunicate Emperors for going against their will (let alone God's will) and the emperors would come barefoot in the snow asking for forgiveness. This probably had some impression on other noblemen who would become the leaders of the Crusades. It was their reputation they had to pass on to their sons and daughters even more-so than money or great... tracts of land.

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