Misconceptions About the Crusades, and the Speech of Pope Urban II

      What are some common misconceptions about the Crusades, and why are they incorrect?
      The Crusades are a well-known piece if Western history, although there are many misconceptions today about what they actually were and what caused them. A popular one claims that they were an unprovoked, unwarranted attack on Muslim nations. The reality was that the Christians and the Muslims had had peace with one another for many years until a more warlike group of Muslims, the Turks, conquered the Muslim lands. These new conquerors were not as peaceful or tolerant of Christian pilgrims as the old Muslims had been. They began assaulting ancient cities in Asia Minor such as Ephesus, Antioch and Nicaea that were important to the Catholics of the West. The Byzantine emperor of the time, Alexios I Komnenos, sent word to then-pope Urban II to beg for help against the Muslim invaders.
     Another common misconception is that the Catholic crusaders were second- or third-born sons of nobles who were not likely to inherit any land from their fathers, and so set off to Muslim countries to conquer and bring back wealth. Recent research shows that this is not actually true; most of the crusaders were actually first-born nobles with plenty of wealth already. A long and costly trip such as a crusade, where victory was not guaranteed and many men and resources would be lost, was not a good idea to attempt if one was simply looking for wealth. Most crusaders returned home poorer than when they had left, if they returned at all.
      A third popular misconception concerning the Crusades is that the Christians' attacks angered the Muslims so much that they were an indirect cause of modern-day terrorism on Western countries. This would be sound reasoning, save that for the Muslims, the Crusades were a tiny blip of their history that were barely even worth mentioning. The Crusades did not have any lasting effect on Muslim history; indeed with the majority of Muslims, for hundreds of years the Crusades were nearly forgotten.

      Based on the different versions of Pope Urban II's speech, discuss the main themes in the Pope's remarks.
      Although there is no official record of what Pope Urban II said in his speech, various people who heard or heard about the speech have written it down in their own versions, so from them we can glean an idea of what the pope's words were. A major theme of his speech seemed to be a charge to punish the Turks, whose atrocities towards Christians Pope Urban listed in graphic detail. This part of the speech appeared designed to incite the crowd to anger, being "filled" as it were with the righteous anger of God.
      But that wasn't the only part of Urban's speech; in fact, most of the sources do not even record it as the longest part. Much more of the pope's words were directed towards encouraging peaceful Christian behavior in kindness towards one another. The pope called out the knights and men-at-arms of the day, saying that they had become plunderers and murderers, using their strength to oppress the weak in contrast to their oaths as knights. Urban rebuked them for this abominable behavior and charged them to turn their energies towards reclaiming the Holy Land. Meanwhile he encouraged those left at home – the elderly and the infirm, women, children and clergymen – to remain at peace with one another and support the crusaders with prayer. Urban was equally occupied with sending soldiers on Crusades and with keeping a holy peace at home.
      Although we have no way of knowing exactly what Urban said, we do know the reaction he received: Upon hearing the words of the pope, the crowd cried out, "It is the will of God! It is the will of God!"
      The pope was so moved by this outcry that he closed his speech by saying, "Let this then be your war-cry in combats, because this word is given to you by God. When an armed attack is made upon the enemy, let this one cry be raised by all the soldiers of God: It is the will of God! It is the will of God!"


The Great Schism, Sacraments and Indulgences

      What was the Great Schism? What factors brought it on?
      The Great Schism was a division between the East and West Christian Churches that occurred because of differences in how they worshiped and lived out their faith. Because of the geographical distance between the two major churches (the Western Church based in Rome and the Eastern Church based in Constantinople), such differences were hard to work out, and each church felt that its example should be the one followed by the majority of Christians. The Great Schism found its beginning when a man of the Eastern Church, named Michael Cerularius, began shutting down churches in the East that worshiped in the Western way. The Pope in the West sent men to try and reason with Celarius, whose refusal to negotiate led the Pope to excommunicate him from the Church. Until that point Christians from both the East and West Churches had seen themselves as one brethren, different in some aspects but united under the same God. Now tensions only escalated between the two Churches, with aggressions on both sides that ultimately led to the Churches separating themselves from each other once and for all. Even today, the Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox Church in the East do not see themselves as one Christian brethren.

      What are the sacraments?
      According to Roman Catholic religion, the sacraments are "sensible revelations of insensible grace," meaning that they are visible and audible signs of God's nonphysical grace of salvation in a believer. The Roman Catholic Church holds that every sacrament relates to a particular significant event in the life of each believer. The Sacrament of Baptism signifies the washing away of the stain of Original Sin, while the Sacrament of Penance signifies the removal of every successive sin confessed to a priest. The Sacrament of Holy Communion signifies the sacrifice of God's Son on the cross, and the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, or anointing the sick, signifies the washing away of sins in the very old or ill. The sacraments are meant to follow Catholics from their birth to their death; an entire lifetime of signs of God's grace.

      What is an indulgence?
      An indulgence is an often-misunderstood piece of Catholic doctrine introduced in the Early Middle Ages. The widest belief about indulgences is that they are bought by people who want their sins forgiven; therefore, an indulgence is the forgiveness of sins bought with money. This is not, however, what the Catholic Church teaches. To them, one's Original Sin is already washed away at baptism, and every mortal sin thereafter is confessed to a priest, who then gives the sinner penance to wash away these new sins. As long as Catholics are faithful in confessing their sins, the Catholic Church teaches, they are forgiven as a matter of course. No one has to purchase with money what they can get for free in a confessional. Indulgences, then, do not relate to actual sins but to time spent in Purgatory. According to the Catholic Church, if a person dies or is killed before they can complete their next confession of sins, their soul – burdened with unforgiven sins – goes to Purgatory to do penance for those unconfessed sins and wait. Indulgences are granted to shorten the length of a soul's stay in Purgatory, thus quickening their trip to heaven. While indulgences could indeed be bought for money, most indulgences were granted for free to those that the Church deemed worthy. Indulgences could also be acquired for someone already dead, whose friends or family worried that their soul might be in Purgatory, as a kind of last favor to those loved ones who are deceased.