“Soldiers Of Hell, Become Soldiers Of The Living God!”— Blessed Urban II Launches the Crusades

August 23, 2018

Pope Urban II preaching at the Council of Clermont

The new council assembled at Clermont, in Auvergne, was neither less numerous nor respectable than that of Plaisance; the most renowned holy men and learned doctors came to honor it with their presence, and enlighten it with their counsels. The city of Clermont was scarcely able to contain within its walls all the princes, ambassadors, and prelates who had repaired to the council; “so that,” says an ancient chronicle, “towards the middle of the month of November, the cities and villages of the neighborhood were so filled with people, that they were compelled to erect tents and pavilions in the fields and meadows, although the season and the country were extremely cold.”…The council held its tenth sitting in the great square or place of Clermont, which was soon filled by an immense crowd. Followed by his cardinals, the pope ascended a species of throne which had been prepared for him; at his side was Peter the Hermit, clad in that whimsical and uncouth garb which had everywhere drawn upon him the attention and the respect of the multitude. The apostle of the holy war spoke first of the outrages committed against the religion of Christ; he reverted to the profanations and the sacrileges and persecutions which a people, enemies to God and man, had caused those to suffer who had been led by religion to visit the holy places. He had seen, he said, Christians loaded with irons, dragged into slavery, or harnessed to the yoke, like the vilest animals; he had seen the oppressors of Jerusalem sell to the children of Christ permission to salute the temple of their God, tear from them even the bread of their misery, and torment their poverty itself to obtain their tribute; he had seen the ministers of God dragged from their sanctuaries, beaten with rods, and condemned to an ignominious death.

Peter the Hermit Preaching the First Crusade. Painting by James Archer.

Whilst describing the misfortunes and degradation of the Christians, the countenance of Peter was cast down, and exhibited feelings of consternation and horror; his voice was choked with sobs; his lively emotion penetrated every heart.Urban, who spoke after Peter, represented, as he had done, the holy places as profaned by the domination of the infidels. That land, consecrated by the presence of the Savior, that mountain whereon he expiated our sins by his sufferings,—that tomb in which he deigned to be enclosed as a victim to death, had all become the heritage of the impious. The altars of false prophets were raised within those walls which had contained the august assembly of the apostles. God had no longer a sanctuary in his own city; the East, the cradle of the Christian religion, now witnessed nothing but sacrilegious pomps; impiety had spread its darkness over all the richest countries of Asia. Antioch, Ephesus, Nicaea, had become Mussulman cities; the Turks had carried their ravages and their odious dominion even to the Straits of the Hellespont, to the very gates of Constantinople, and from thence they threatened the West.The sovereign pontiff addressed himself to all the nations that were represented at the council, and particularly to the French, who formed the majority;—“Nation beloved by God,” said he, “it is in your courage that the Christian church has placed its hope; it is because I am well acquainted with your piety and your bravery, that I have crossed the Alps, and am come to preach the word of God in these countries. You have not forgotten that the land you inhabit has been invaded by the Saracens, and that but for the exploits of Charles Martel and Charlemagne, France would have received the laws of Mahomet.

Recall, without ceasing, to your minds the danger and the glory of your fathers; led by heroes whose names should never die, they delivered your country, they saved the West from shameful slavery. More noble triumphs await you, under the guidance of the God of armies; you will deliver Europe and Asia; you will save the city of Jesus Christ,—that Jerusalem which was chosen by the Lord, and from whence the law is come to us.”As Urban proceeded, the sentiments by which he was animated penetrated to the very souls of his auditors. When he spoke of the captivity and the misfortunes of Jerusalem, the whole assembly was dissolved in tears; when he described the tyranny and the perfidy of the infidels, the warriors who listened to him clutched their swords, and swore in their hearts to avenge the cause of the Christians. Urban redoubled their enthusiasm by announcing that God had chosen them to accomplish his designs, and exhorted them to turn those arms against the Mussulmans which they now bore in conflict against their brothers. They were not now called upon to revenge the injuries of men, but injuries offered to divinity; it was now not the conquest of a town or a castle that was offered to them as the reward of their valor, but the riches of Asia, the possession of a land in which, according to the promises of the Scriptures, flowed streams of milk and honey. The pontiff sought to awaken in their minds, by turns, ambition, the love of glory, religious enthusiasm, and pity for their Christian brethren.

Mercedarian Fathers ransoming Christian captives from the Muslims.

“There scarcely exists,” said he, “a Christian family into which the Mussulmans have not brought mourning and despair. How many Christians every year leave the West, to find in Asia nothing but slavery or death! Bishops have been delivered over to the executioner; the virgins of the Lord have been outraged; holy places have been despoiled of their ornaments; the offerings of piety have become the booty of the enemies of God; the children of the faithful have forgotten in bondage the faith of their fathers, and bear upon their bodies the impression of their opprobrium. Witnesses of so many calamities, the Christians of Jerusalem would long since have left the holy city, if they had not imposed upon themselves the obligation of succoring and consoling pilgrims, if they had not feared to leave without priests, without altars, without worshippers, a land where still smokes the blood of Jesus Christ.“I will not seek to dry the tears which images so painful for a Christian, for a minister of religion, for the common father of the faithful, must draw from you. Let us weep, my brethren, let us weep over the errors which have armed the anger of God against us; let us weep over the captivity of the holy city!

Statue of Urban II in Clermont-Ferrand & Sculpted by Henri Gourgouillon. Photo by Mussklprozz

But evil be to us, if, in our sterile pity, we longer leave the heritage of the Lord in the hands of the impious! Why should we taste here a moment’s repose whilst the children of Jesus Christ live in the midst of torments, and the queen of cities groans in chains? “Christian warriors, who seek without end for vain pretexts for war, rejoice, for you have today found true ones. You, who have been so often the terror of your fellow-citizens, go and fight against the barbarians, go and fight for the deliverance of the holy places; you who sell for vile pay the strength of your arms to the fury of others, armed with the sword of the Machabees, go and merit an eternal reward. If you triumph over your enemies, the kingdoms of the East will be your heritage; if you are conquered, you will have the glory of dying in the very same place as Jesus Christ, and God will not forget that he shall have found you in his holy ranks. This is the moment to prove that you are animated by a true courage; this is the moment in which you may expiate so many violences committed in the bosom of peace, so many victories purchased at the expense of justice and humanity. If you must have blood, bathe your hands in the blood of the infidels. I speak to you with harshness, because my ministry obliges me to do so: SOLDIERS OF HELL, BECOME SOLDIERS OF THE LIVING GOD! When Jesus Christ summons you to his defense, let no base affections detain you in your homes; see nothing but the shame and the evils of the Christians; listen to nothing but the groans of Jerusalem, and remember well what the Lord has said to you: ‘He who loves his father and his mother more than me, is not worthy of me; whoever will abandon his house, or his father, or his mother, or his wife, or his children, or his inheritance, for the sake of my name, shall be recompensed a hundredfold, and possess life eternal.’”

An angel leading the Crusaders to Jerusalem by Gustave Doré.

At these words the auditors of Urban displayed an enthusiasm that human eloquence had never before inspired. The assembly arose in one mass as one man, and answered him with a unanimous cry,—“It is the will of God! It is the will of God!” “Yes, without doubt, it is the will of God,” continued the eloquent Urban; “you today see the accomplishment of the word of our Savior, who promised to be in the midst of the faithful, when assembled in his name; it is He who has dictated to you the words that I have heard. Let them be your war-cry, and let them announce everywhere the presence of the God of armies.” On finishing these words, the pontiff exhibited to the assembled Christians, the sign of their redemption. “It is Christ himself,” said he to them, “who issues from his tomb, and presents to you his cross; it will be the sign raised among the nations, which is to gather together again the dispersed children of Israel. Wear it upon your shoulders and upon your breasts; let it shine upon your arms and upon your standards; it will be to you the surety of victory or the palm of martyrdom; it will unceasingly remind you that Christ died for you, and that it is your duty to die for him.” When Urban had ceased to speak, loud acclamations burst from the multitude. Pity, indignation, despair, at the same time agitated the tumultuous assembly of the faithful: some shed tears over Jerusalem and the fate of the Christians; others swore to exterminate the race of the Mussulmans; but, all at once, at a signal from the sovereign pontiff, the most profound silence prevailed.

Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, in red to left of Raymond IV of Toulouse.

Cardinal Gregory, who afterwards occupied the chair of St. Peter under the name of Innocent II, pronounced, in a loud voice, a form of general confession, the assembly all fell upon their knees, beat their breasts, and received absolution for their sins. Adhémar de Monteil, bishop of Puy, demanded to be first allowed to enter into the way of God, and took the cross from the hands of the pope; several other bishops following his example. Raymond, count of Toulouse, excused himself by his ambassadors for not being able to be present at the council of Clermont; he had already, he said, fought against the Saracens in Spain, and he promised to go and fight against them in Asia, followed by the bravest and most faithful of his warriors. The barons and knights who had heard the exhortations of Urban, all took a solemn oath to revenge the cause of Jesus Christ; they forgot their private quarrels, and even they who were at actual war had no longer any enemies than the Mussulmans. All the faithful promised to respect the decrees of the council, and decorated their garments with a red cross. From that time, all who engaged to combat the infidels were termed “Bearers of the Cross,” and the holy war took the name of Crusade.

Joseph François Michaud, The History of the Crusades of the Crusades, trans. W. Robson (New York, Redfield, 1853), vol. I, 46, 48-52.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 640


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