A Holy War?

The Crusades were a significant series of events that help define the Middle Ages. The cause of the Crusades is debated among historians to this day. This is evidenced by the assertions made by Arthur Jones and Jonathan Phillips. Jones argues that the Crusades were a holy war and supports this claim through several key points. Conversely, Phillips stipulates that religious fervor was not the sole cause of the Crusades. He maintains that there were many other significant factors leading up to the Crusades.

Jones supports the position that the Crusades were the result of a religious fervor that materialized into a holy war against the Muslims. He describes the current tensions between Christians and Muslims and how it is evidence of the ongoing holy war. One of the specific examples used to make this claim was the Muslim community’s reaction to President Bush’s use of the word “Crusade” when referring to the war on terror.1

During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Jones describes the religious fervor that existed. He points to the use of the term “holy war” by Fulcher of Chartres, priest-chaplain during the First Crusade.2

Jones furthers his main point by describing how Christianity and Islam are the two main religions that were the foundation of entire empires throughout history. Protestant Christianity was a religion that adapted quickly to the pressures of an emerging secular society. Christianity, in many ways, has allowed a secular society to define the culture. Islam, on the other hand, remains inseparable from the society and culture.3

Islam contrasts with Christianity in another major way. Jones mentions how Muslims deal with issues of shame and honor differently that their western counterparts. The perception of honor is highly valued by the Muslim culture—to the point where a victim of rape faces possible execution by the husband or father. This strong sense of shame and honor is only significant among the fringe groups in Western society, such as the various street gangs and the Mafia. This clash of cultures is yet another example of how the Crusades have impacted society to this day.4

Phillips argues that the Crusades have many causes. The first point that he makes is the crusaders were people of a wide array of backgrounds. People came from different regions and spoke different languages. Phillips argues that religion was a main factor, but not the only one. Europeans were very spiritual during the Middle Ages and a call to serve for the Pope was likely an attractive offer.5

Financial reasons proved to be an incentive for the diverse group that answered Pope Urban’s call to arms. The droughts in the late eleventh century prompted people to seek fortunes in the Middle East. Some Europeans hoped to acquire new lands while others brought back relics and treasures. Coupled with the Pope’s promise of guaranteed salvation, Christians no doubt saw the opportunity to serve as beneficial.6

Both authors make valid points concerning the cause of the Crusades. No one can deny lasting effects the Crusades had on Christian-Muslim relations. Jones argues that point at great length. However, the nature of mankind has not changed since the Middle Ages. Phillips points out that the desire for wealth coupled with the desire to achieve a right standing with God motivated people to take up arms against the Muslims.

For the Christians, the Crusades were a holy war. The causes that Phillips lists were merely secondary. Jones does an excellent job pointing out the retaliatory nature of the First Crusade.7 In the eyes of European Christians, the Muslim advance needed to be repelled. Pope Urban used the Muslim expansion as justification for the war against Islam and the call to reclaim the holy land. People’s greed and the lust for battle made them easier to convince.


  1. Joseph R. Mitchell and Helen Buss Mitchell, editors. Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in World History. Volume I. (Guilford, CT: McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2002); 155.
  2. Mitchell, Taking Sides, 155-156.
  3. Mitchell, Taking Sides, 156-157.
  4. Mitchell, Taking Sides, 158.
  5. Mitchell, Taking Sides, 164.
  6. Mitchell, Taking Sides, 158.
  7. Mitchell, Taking Sides, 160.
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