Criticism of Crusading After the Second Crusade

N.B. What follows is a brief essay/collection of quotations from Christian sources considering criticism of crusading in the wake of the failure of the Second Crusade. The success of the First Crusade had stifled such criticism, but the failure of the Second Crusade, led by Europe’s most important monarchs, led to soul searching about the cause of the failure, as well as finger pointing. This was originally written in 2005 for an old crusades website I used to run (e.g. “crusades-encyclopedia) while I was an ambitious M.A. graduate student at the University of North Florida. The website is no longer online, but I plan to resurrect it, in a more polished form, at some point in the future. But for now, this may be useful for those searching the web for information on this topic or as a link to supplementary reading for a crusades course, so I include it here in its original form.


The Search for Answers

Since Urban II’s calling of the First Crusade, popes and preachers had promised crusaders that they acted with divine sanction and that God would grant them significant spiritual rewards for their efforts. Pope Eugenius III and his preachers used the same formula in their preaching of the Second Crusade, announcing that those willing to take the cross would win no less than the full remission of their sins. Thousands responded to Eugenius III’s call and headed for the Holy Land confident of God’s support. Few were prepared for the disastrous events that followed, which witnessed the nearly total destruction of King Conrad III’s army and the ignoble withdrawal of King Louis VII’s forces. Once the demoralizing results of the crusade became known, disillusioned Christians began to seek answers for the failure of warriors whom, as they had been assured by their priests, fought on God’s behalf. It was not long before the search for answers turned to criticism of nearly all involved with the crusade. 

Criticism of Non-Combatants

The First Crusade had developed in the context of a pilgrimage with papal promises of spiritual benefits for those who participated. Although Pope Urban II had discouraged non-combatants from participating in the crusade, it was not strictly forbidden and women, children, the sick, and the elderly all took part. When problems were encountered during the First Crusade, including starvation, thirst, and immorality in the camps, non-combatants were often blamed. Following the Second Crusade, when the pragmatic causes of the crusaders’ failure were examined, the presence of non-combatants again became a source of criticism.

Theorists and strategists concluded that crusading armies needed to be more professionalized, with less popular participation. Rather than dealing with the logistical problems of providing provisions and security for large numbers of poorly supplied and unruly non-combatants, later crusades preaching efforts focused more on the recruitment of disciplined men of fighting age and select members of the nobility to lead them. In England, France, and Germany official measures were implemented to prevent those who were unable to bear arms or support themselves from going to the East, which excluded the vast majority of the population of these countries from taking part in future crusading efforts. Although such efforts reduced the total number of non-combatants in later crusades, smaller numbers continued to go to the East.

Criticism of Byzantium

Setbacks were also attributed to Byzantine duplicity by Latin Christian writers since the First Crusade.(1) Yet the criticism directed toward Byzantium after the First Crusade was little in comparison with the aftermath of the Second Crusade. Odo of Deuil was reflective of western writers who considered Byzantine treachery as fundamental to the cause of the crusaders’ failure. He claimed the “idol of Contantinople,” a disparaging name for the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus, had given the crusaders inadequate supplies and provided them with a “treacherous guide” whose goal was to “prostrate the Christian faith, strengthen paganism, encourage the timid pagans, and cool our ardor.” (2) Odo cited Manuel’s distaste for Louis VII’s relationship with Roger of Apulia, a longtime enemy of the Byzantine Emperor, as the primary motive for the Emperor’s actions.(3)

Criticism of the Crusading Leadership .

Unsurprisingly, the leaders of the failed Second Crusade also became the subject of criticism. The German monk and theologian Gerhoh of Reichersberg, for example, primarily blamed avarice for the failure of the Second Crusade noting that Franks in the Holy Land had sought financial assistance from the West only to amass gold and silver, rather than to secure the peace.(4) Members of the crusades leadership also blamed each other. Conrad III attributed the failure poor decisions and inaction by other members of the crusade leadership as the cause of failure without mentioning the destruction and enslavement of most of the forces under his command in an early battle at Dorylaeum. The later work of William of Tyre also criticized crusades leadership, noting that through their strategic blunders some leaders had even assumed “the role of the traitor Judas.” (5)

Criticism of Crusades Preachers

Critics also targeted the clergy that supported and preached the Second Crusade. The anonymous Annalist of Wurzburg was particularly aggressive in his condemnation of those who had advocated the expedition. Writing shortly after the failure of the Second Crusade, he referred to the clerics that had preached it as “pseudo prophets, sons of Belial, and witnesses of anti-Christ” and complained that they had “seduced the Christians with empty words.” He noted that the effect of this preaching was “…so enormously influential that the inhabitants of nearly every region, by common vows, offered themselves freely for common destruction.”(6)

Such words might have been especially troubling for Bernard of Clairvaux, the Christian preacher most associated with the Second Crusade. His popularity and reputation for piety before the crusade did not shield him from criticism after its failure. Bernard had once stirred his listeners with powerful exhortations to take up the cross, telling them, “now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.” Yet once the Second Crusade had been deemed a failure, he found it necessary to write a defense of his advocacy of the crusade. In response the monk Geoffrey of Clairvaux, a disciple of Bernard’s who had accompanied him during his preaching of the Second Crusade, wrote a spirited defense of Bernard’s preaching. Geoffrey accused Bernard’s critics of “ignorance or malignity” and argued that Bernard was not the primary cause of the crusade. Geoffrey noted that Bernard had been “commanded” by the Pope and “urged” by the King of France to preach the crusade and prior to that he had “refused to speak or to give his advice in the matter.”

Criticism of the Morality of the Crusaders

In addition to disapproval of crusading as an institution, the crusaders were also subjected to personal criticism.  Crusades preachers, perhaps seeking to deflect criticism of their earlier preaching of failed crusades, pointed to the sins of the crusaders and other Christians as the source of failure. This did not begin with the Second Crusade, as in the First Crusade, particularly during the troubling siege of Antioch, clerics attributed problems to sin. In the later crusades, clerical sources are full of references to sin as the cause of crusading failures.  This position offered a twofold advantage for clerical leaders; such an argument not only offered the hope of future victory to demoralized crusaders who through repentance could win back God’s favor, but also provided a convenient explanation for failures that appeared to contradict earlier clerical claims of divine sanction for the crusade. Bernard of Clairvaux had resorted to such an explanation in his apologia for the Second Crusade when he argued that God had not abandoned the crusaders; rather, the crusaders had abandoned God through their “iniquity.”

Reduced Enthusiasm for Crusading

The debate over the causes of the failure of the Second Crusade was foundational to the decline in popular support for future crusading efforts. The success of the First Crusade had unquestionably set a favorable precedent for the calling of the Second Crusade. Pope Eugenius III had cited the accomplishments of the First Crusade in his crusading encyclical Quantum Praedecessores (see chapter five) and many crusaders joined the Second Crusade in hopes of following in their successful ancestor’s footsteps. Yet the failure of the Second Crusade reversed this formula. Now the precedent for future crusades was one of failure. Popular support for crusading activities was considerably limited in the decades that followed. This was through no fault of the papacy, which issued numerous crusading encyclicals during this period that received lackluster responses.(7) It would not be until the shocking news of Saladin’s successes in the Holy Land that support for a crusade would again approach the levels witnessed after the calling of the First and Second Crusades.

The Sources

Criticism of Non-Combatants

Odo of Deuil on the Problem of Non-Combatants during the Second Crusade 

The following short selection from Odo of Deuil [chaplain to the King Louis VII during the Second Crusade] emphasizes the main problems created for the leaders of the Second Crusade by the presence of weak and poorly equipped non-combatants. This source selection is taken from Odo of Deuil. De profectione Ludovici VII in orientem. Edited and translated by Virginia Gingerick Berry. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1948), 95.

But, would that he [Pope Eugenius III] had instructed the infantry in the same way and, keeping the weak at home, had equipped all the strong with the sword instead of the wallet and the bow instead of the [pilgrim’s] staff; for the weak and helpless are always a burden to their comrades and a source of prey to their enemies.

The Anonymous Annalist of Wurzburg on the impious motivations of opportunists, the indebted, and the poor during the Second Crusade. 

While popular participation during the First Crusade had caused limited concern, it was somewhat muted by the overall success of the expedition. With the Second Crusade concerns about the participation of non-combatants again became a source of concern, but in this case, with the crusade resulting in failure, there was little to restrain critics of popular involvement in the crusading movement. The following selection, from the Annales Herbipolenses of the Anonymous Annalist of Wurzburg, reflects such concerns. The author notes the various motivations of those who took part in the crusade, often with undesirable goals and motivations. This source selection is taken from James Brundage. The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 121-122.

The intentions of the various men were different. Some, indeed, lusted after novelties and went in order to learn about new lands. Others there were who were driven by poverty, who were in hard straits at home; these men went to fight, not only against the enemies of Christ’s cross, but even against the friends of the Christian name, wherever opportunity appeared, in order to relieve their poverty. There were others who were oppressed by debts to other men or who sought to escape the service due to their lords, or who were even awaiting the punishment merited by their shameful deeds. Such men simulated a zeal for God and hastened chiefly in order to escape from such troubles and anxieties. A few could, with difficulty, be found who had not bowed their knees to Baal, who were directed by a holy and wholesome purpose, and who were kindled by love of the divine majesty to fight earnestly and even to shed their blood for the holy of holies.

Criticism of Byzantium

Odo of Deuil on the Treachery of Manuel I Comnenus during the Second Crusade

The following selection from Odo of Deuil presents the initial negotiations, and supposed later betrayal, between King Louis VII and the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenos for resupply of the crusaders during the Second Crusade. Odo notes that after Manuel agreed to supply guides and insure suitable markets for resupplying the crusaders, the Emperor only provided markets for a few days and never sent the guides, amounting to “treachery by the Greeks.” It is possible that Manuel held up supplies and did not send guides because he was upset with Louis VII refusal to form an alliance with him against his opponent Roger of Apulia.(8) This source selection is taken from Odo of Deuil. De profectione Ludovici VII in orientem. Edited and translated by Virginia Gingerick Berry. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1948), 81-83.

On meeting, therefore, they first set forth the agreements, that is, that the king should not take from the emperor any stronghold or town which was under his jurisdiction. This reasonable and modest request was followed by an equally generous, but false promise; for in order to grant a favor which would form a counterpart to the king’s agreement of peace the emperor added that two or three of his chief barons should go along to guide the king on the right route and to furnish a suitable market everywhere. When a market should be unavailable, however, he would willingly allow them to plunder castles and seize cities, if, when the spoils had been taken, the land should remain unoccupied…Finally homage had been exacted from the barons, when the king and the barons had been honored with gifts which were imperial in their generosity, Louis hastened after his army. The impious emperor, sullied with a new breach of faith, but relieved from fear, stayed behind, procuring for only a few days the market which was needed for a long time and never sending the guides which he had promised.

On that day the sun saw a crime which it could not endure, but, so that this crime should not seem equal to the betrayal of the Lord, half of the sun gave light to the world and only half hid itself. Thus, when the army was proceeding without the king and saw the sun shaped like half a loaf of bread for most of the day, it feared that the king, who above all others shown with faith, glowed with charity, and attained celestial heights because of hope, had been deprived of some part of his light by the treachery of the Greeks.

Odo of Deuil of the betrayal of the Byzantines During the Second Crusade

From Nicaea, the crusaders traveled to the city of Antalya where they planned to meet a Byzantine fleet that would take them to the crusader state of Antioch. After their arrival at Antalya in February of 1148, they discovered the Byzantine fleet was far too small to carry even the majority of the crusaders. As a result, King Louis VII found himself faced with the choice of extending what was becoming an expensive wait in hopes of securing more ships, or continuing the expedition by land. After reportedly receiving the approval of his men, who apparently saw no other alternative, Louis VII agreed to send the bulk of his forces to Antioch by land while he and a small retinue took the ships. The crusading army traveled most of the way through Byzantine territory, but suffered several attacks from the Turks and received little assistance from local populations. These hardships were the cause of later speculation by Latin Christians that Manuel I had schemed for their demise. This source selection is from Odo of Deuil. De profectione Ludovici VII in orientem. Edited and translated by Virginia Gingerick Berry. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1948), 137.

…but how will a just judge, either God or man, spare the Greek Emperor, who by cunning cruelty killed so many Christians in both the German and Frankish armies? Thus, when the host of new paupers [crusaders in Antalya], succumbing to tedium, robbed of their money, and wasted with disease, learned that the Greeks had lied about the ships, they came to the king and set forth their will and their poverty to him in these words and others like them: “O Lord King, in the presence of your majesty, we stand confused, as is right, but we dare to come because we put our trust in your goodness; for when we did not wish to march with you by land, because we believed in the Greeks, we were both lazy and deluded. But because we now feel the compulsion of poverty, we wish to make the march without our leader. We are rushing to meet death, but, if God wills us to prevail, we can avoid the death which threatens us. Perhaps it will be easier to endure the Turk’s sword than the treachery of these natives after your departure. With his usual compassion the king [Louis VII] sympathized with them, and he provided for their needs with such generous largesse that you would have thought he had spent nothing heretofore…Since he wanted his subjects to be safe during their journey…

Criticism of the Crusading Leadership

Conrad III: Second Letter to Wibald, Abbot of Corvey on the Failure of the Crusaders Siege of Damascus, 1148 
The following letter was composed by Emperor Conrad III to Abbot Wibald of Corvey while the Emperor was returning home from the failed crusade. While Conrad’s letter describes the disastrous results of the Second Crusade, it also casts the blame for its failure on the poor decisions and inaction of other leaders. The following source selection is taken from Dana Carleton Munro. Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History: Letters of the Crusaders. (Philadelphia: Department of History, University of Pennsylvania, 1894) vol. 1, no. 4, 14.

Conrad, by the grace of God, august king of the Romans, to venerable Wibald, abbot of Corvey,  his most kind greeting.

Because we know that you especially desire to hear from us and to learn the state of our prosperity, we think it fitting first to tell you of this. By God’s mercy we are in good health and we have embarked in our ships to return on the festival of the blessed Virgin in September, after having accomplished in these lands all that God willed and the people of the country permitted.

Let us now speak of our troops. When following the advice of the common council we had gone to Damascus and after a great deal of trouble had pitched our camps before the gate of the city, it was certainly near being taken. But certain ones, whom we least suspected, treasonably asserted that the city was impregnable on that side and hastily led us to another position where no water could be supplied for the troops and where access was impossible to any one. And thus all, equally indignant grieved, returned, leaving the undertaking uncompleted. Nevertheless, they all promised unanimously that they would make an expedition against Ascalon, and they set the place and time. Having arrived there according to agreement, we found scarcely anyone. In vain we waited eight days for the troops. Deceived a second time, we turned to our own affairs.

In brief therefore, God willing, we shall return to you. We render to you the gratitude which you deserve for your care of our son and for the very great fidelity which you have shown to us, And with the full intention of worthily rewarding your services; we ask you to continue the same.

William of Tyre on the Treachery of the Crusades Leadership at Damascus,

William of Tyre (b. 1130- d. 1185), perhaps the most prolific historian of the Latin East, was Archbishop of Tyre and Chancellor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. William was born in the Holy Land and as a young man he may have been an eyewitness to some aspects of the Second Crusade, although this is not certain. He wrote his Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum [History of Deeds Done Beyond the Sea] towards the end of the twelfth century for which he largely relied on other surviving sources and possibly eyewitness accounts. In the following selection William accuses the “princes” of the Holy Land, inspired by bribery, of inspiring the crusading leadership to make a disastrous strategic blunder in relocating to a siege position from which the crusaders could not resupply themselves or overcome the cities defenses before the arrival of Muslim reinforcements for Damascus. As a result, the crusaders had to withdraw and this effectively ended the Second Crusade. This source selection is taken from James Brundage. The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 115-121.

The city, as we have said, was in despair and its citizens held no hope of resisting or of being saved, but rather they were packing their bags and preparing to leave. At this point, for our sins, they began to work on the greed of our men. Using money, they attempted to conquer the hearts of those whose bodies they could not overcome. With consummate skill they proposed a variety of arguments to some of our princes and they promised and delivered a stupendous sum of money to them so that the princes would strive and labor to lift the siege. They persuaded these princes to assume the role of the traitor Judas. Corrupted by gifts and promises, led on by greed, the root of all evil, these princes fell in with the crime. By impious suggestions they persuaded the kings and the leaders of the pilgrims, who trusted their good faith and industry, to leave the orchards and to lead the army to the opposite side of the city.]

Criticism of Crusades Preachers

Bernard of Clairvaux Letter Promoting the Second Crusade, 1146.

No preacher was more associated with the promotion of the Second Crusade than the renowned Cistercian Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux. Because Bernard was the most dominant Christian voice of the 12th century he was encouraged by the papacy to preach the Second Crusade and his efforts rank among the most powerful propaganda of the entire crusading era. The following source selection is taken from James Harvey Robinson. Readings in European History. Vol. I (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1904), 330-333.

To the Lords and very dear Fathers, the Archbishops and Bishops, with the whole clergy and the faithful people of Eastern France and Bavaria: Bernard, called Abbot of Clairvaux, desires that they may abound in the spirit of strength.

I write to you with respect to a matter which concerns the service of Christ, in whom is our salvation. This I say in order that the Lord’s authority may excuse the unworthiness of the person who speaks; let the consideration of its usefulness to yourselves also excuse the faults of my address. I, indeed, am of small account; but I have no small love for you all, in the bowels of Jesus Christ. This, now, is my reason for writing to you, that I may thus approach you as a whole. I would rather do so by word of mouth, if the opportunity, as well as the will, were afforded me.

Behold, brethren, now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation. The earth also is moved and has trembled, because the God of heaven has begun to destroy the land which is his: his, I say, in which the word of the Father was taught, and where he dwelt for more than thirty years, a man among men; his, for he enlightened it with miracles, he consecrated it with his own blood; in it appeared the first fruits of his resurrection. And now, for our sins, the enemies of Cross have raised blaspheming heads, ravaging with the edge of the sword the land of promise. For they are almost on the point, if there be not One to withstand them, of bursting into the very city of the living God, of the holy places of the spotless Lamb with purple blood. Alas! they rage against the very shrine of the Christian faith with blasphemous mouths, and would enter and trample down the very couch on which, for us, our Life lay down to sleep in death.

What are you going to do then, O brave men? What are you doing, O servants of the Cross? Will you give what is holy to the dogs, and cast your pearls before swine? How many sinners there, confessing their sins with tears, have obtained pardon, after the defilement of the heathen had been purged by the swords of your fathers! The wicked man sees and is grieved; he gnashes with his teeth, and consumes away. He prepares the instruments of sin, and will leave no sign or trace of so great piety, if ever (which God forbid!) he gain possession of this holiest of holy places. Verily that would be an irremediable grief to all time, an irrecoverable loss, a vast disgrace to this most graceless generation, and an everlasting shame.

What are we then to think, brethren? Is the Lord’s arm shortened so that it cannot save, because he calls his weak creatures to guard and restore his heritage? Can he not send more than twelve legions of angels, or merely speak the word, and the land shall be set free? It is altogether in his power to effect what he wishes; but I tell you, the Lord, your God, is trying you. He looks upon the sons of men to see if there be any to understand, and seek, and bewail his error. For the Lord hath pity upon his people, and provides a sure remedy for those that are afflicted.

Think what care he uses for your salvation, and wonder. Behold the abyss of his love, and trust him, O ye sinners. He wills not your death, but that you may turn and live; for now he seeks occasion, not against you, but for your benefit. What opportunity of salvation has God not tried and sought out, when the almighty deigns to summon to his service murderers, robbers, adulterers, perjurers, and those guilty of other crimes, as if they were a people that dealt righteously? Doubt him not, O sinners; God is kind. If he willed to punish you, he not only would not seek your service, but would not accept it when offered.

Again I say, weigh the riches of the goodness of the Highest God; hear his plan of mercy. He makes, or feigns, a need for himself, while he desires to help you in your necessity. He wills to be held a debtor, that he may give pay to those that fight for him, pardon of sins, and everlasting glory. Therefore I may call it a highly favored generation which has happened upon a time so full of indulgence; upon which has come that acceptable year of the Lord, a very jubilee; for this blessing is spread over the whole world, and all fly eagerly to the sign of life.

Since, therefore, your land is fruitful in brave men, and is known to be full of robust youth, since your praise is in the whole world, and the fame of your valor has filled the entire earth, gird up your loins manfully, and take up arms in zeal for the Christian name. Let not your former warlike skill cease, but only that spirit of hatred in which you are accustomed to strike down and kill one another and in turn be overcome yourselves. How dire a madness goads those wretched men, when kinsmen strike each other’s bodies with the sword, perchance causing the soul also to perish! But he does not escape who triumphs; the sword shall go through his own soul also, when he thinks to have slain his enemy only. To enter such a combat is madness, not valor: it is not to be ascribed to bravery, but rather to foolishness.

But now, O brave knight, now, O warlike hero, here is a battle you may fight without danger, where it is glory to conquer and gain to die. If you are a prudent merchant, if you are a desirer of this world, behold I show you some great bargains; see that you lose them not. Take the sign of the cross and you shall gain pardon for every sin that you confess with a contrite heart. The material itself, being bought, is worth little; but if it be placed on a devout shoulder, it is, without doubt, worth no less than the kingdom of God. Therefore, they have done well who have already taken the heavenly sign; well and wisely also will the rest do, if they hasten to lay upon their shoulders, like the first, the sign of salvation.

Besides, brethren, I warn you, and not only I, but God’s apostle, “Believe not every spirit.” We have heard and rejoice that the zeal of God abounds in you, but it behooves no mind to be wanting in wisdom. The Jews must not be persecuted, slaughtered, nor even driven out. Inquire of the pages of Holy Writ. I know what is written in the Psalms as prophecy about the Jews. “God hath commanded me,” says the Church, “Slay them not, lest my people forget.”

They are living signs to use, representing the Lord’s passion. For this reason they are dispersed into all regions, that now they may pay the just penalty of so great a crime, and that they may be witnesses of our redemption. Wherefore the Church, speaking in the same Psalm, says, “Scatter them by thy power; and bring them down, O Lord, our shield.” So has it been. They have been dispersed, cast down. They undergo a hard captivity under Christian princes. Yet they shall be converted at even time, and remembrance of them shall be made in due season. Finally, when the multitude of the Gentiles shall have entered in, then, “all Israel shall be saved,” saith the apostle. Meanwhile he who dies remains in death.I do not enlarge on the lamentable fact that where there are no Jews there Christian men judaize even worse than they in extorting usury, — if, indeed, we may call them Christians and not rather baptized Jews. Moreover, if the Jews be utterly trampled down, how shall the promised salvation or conversion profit them in the end?

This also we must warn you, dearest brethren, that if any love to bear rule among you, and wish, by hastening, to anticipate the army of his country, he shall by no means attempt to do it. If he pretend to have been sent by us, it is not true; or if he show letters as if given by us, I warn you that they are altogether false or obtained by fraud. It is necessary to choose warlike and skilled leaders, and for the army of the Lord to set out together, that it may have strength everywhere, and not be liable to sustain injury from any.

There was in the former expedition, before Jerusalem was taken, a certain man, Peter by name, of whom (if I mistake not) you have often heard mention. He went alone, at the head of a mass of people who had entrusted themselves to his care, and led them into so great dangers that none, or at least very few, escaped death, either by hunger or the sword. So there is danger lest, if you do likewise, the same fate should overtake you also, which may God, who is forever blessed, avert from you. Amen.

Criticism of the Clerical Advocates of the Second Crusade by the Anonymous Annalist of Wurzburg .

Few Christians writing in the wake of the failure of the Second Crusade were as vitriolic toward those who had preached the Second Crusade as the Anonymous Annalist of Wurzburg. This following source selection is taken from James Brundage. The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 121-122.

God allowed the Western church, on account of its sins, to be cast down. There arose, indeed, certain pseudo prophets, sons of Belial, and witnesses of anti-Christ, who seduced the Christians with empty words. They constrained all sorts of men, by vain preaching, to set out against the Saracens in order to liberate Jerusalem. The preaching of these men was so enormously influential that the inhabitants of nearly every region, by common vows, offered themselves freely for common destruction. Not only the ordinary people, but kings, dukes, marquises, and other powerful men of this world as well, believed that they thus showed their allegiance to God. The bishops, archbishops, abbots, and other ministers and prelates of the church joined in this error, throwing themselves headlong into it to the great peril of bodies and souls….

Geoffrey of Clairvaux’s Defense of Bernard of Clairvaux

In the following selection by the monk Geoffrey of Clairvaux, who wrote a biography of Bernard of Clairvaux’s life and served as his personal secretary, defends his revered master from critics who blame him for the outcome of the Second Crusade. This source selection is taken from James Harvey Robinson. Readings in European History. Vol. I (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1904), 334-335.

We ought not to conceal the fact that certain men, through ignorance or malignity, took offense because Bernard had by his preaching stimulated the expedition for the deliverance of Jerusalem, which had such an unfortunate issue. Nevertheless we can confidently affirm that he was not the first mover in the matter. Even after the report of the unfortunate situation had already deeply stirred the souls of many, and he had been repeatedly urged by the king of France, and he had also been pressed by apostolic letters, he still refused to speak or to give his advice in the matter until the sovereign pontiff himself, in a general letter to all the faithful, had commanded him, as the natural interpreter of the Roman Church, to set forth to the peoples and their rulers the necessity of the crusade. The tenor of this letter was that both people and princes should, for the purpose of penance and the remission of their sins, betake themselves to Jerusalem, where they would either deliver their brethren or sacrifice their lives for them.

Bernard accordingly preached the expedition in the most convincing manner, with the aid of the Lord, who confirmed the truth of his servant’s words by miracles. So many were the miracles, and so great, that it would be difficult to enumerate, still more to narrate them. At one time an effort was made to write them out, but the number of the prodigies to report exceeded the strength of the writer, and the grandeur of the subject, the faculties of him who had undertaken to treat it.

In short, as many as twenty sick folk, and even more, were cured of divers ills in a single day, and hardly a day passed that similar miracles were not performed. In a word, at this time Christ permitted his servant, by his touch and his prayers, to restore sight to men who had been blind from their birth, to cause the lame to walk, to cure the paralytic, to make the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak. All these were restored to a perfection of health truly remarkable in view of that which they had previously enjoyed.

The Eastern Church was not, it is true, granted the happiness of being delivered by the expedition of which we are speaking; but at least the heavenly Church was filled thereby with pious souls and may therefore rightly rejoice. If, on this occasion, it pleased the Lord, instead of saving the bodies of eastern people from the pagans, to snatch the souls of many of the western from sin, who shall say, “Wherefore, Lord, dost thou so?”…

It happened that at the moment when the first news of the lamentable rout of the crusaders’ army reached France a father came to present his blind son to the servant of God, that the boy’s sight must be restored. After he had succeeded, by many prayers, in overcoming the reluctance of Bernard, the saint, laying his hands upon the child, addressed the Lord, saying that, if it were truly his word that Bernard had spread abroad when he preached the crusade, and if the Holy Spirit had really inspired him when he preached, the Most High might deign to prove this by opening the light the eyes of this blind child. While after this prayer they awaited the outcome, the child cried out, “And what shall I do now, for I can see?” Immediately a great stir arose among those present, including not only a great number of monks, but secular persons also, who, realizing that the little child could see, were greatly consoled and rendered thanks to God.

Criticism of Christian Immorality as the Cause of Defeat

Bernard of Clairvaux’s Apologia for the Second Crusade .

The intense criticism of crusades preachers that followed in the failure of the Second Crusade inspired Bernard of Clairvaux to write a defense of his advocacy of the expedition. The following source provides the text of Bernard’s apologia. This selection is taken from James Brundage. The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 122.-124.

I remember, most Holy Father Eugene, My promises [to complete the treatise De Consideratione] made to you long ago, and at long last I shall acquit myself. The delay, were I aware that it proceeded from carelessness or contempt, should cause me shame. It is not thus, however. As you know, we have fallen upon grave times, which seemed about to bring to an end not only my studies but my very life, for the Lord, provoked by our sins, gave the appearance of having judged the world prematurely, [1Cor: 4:5] with justice, indeed, but forgetful of his mercy.” He spared neither his people nor his name. Do not the heathen say: “Where is their God?” Nor do I wonder, for the sons of the Church, those who bear the label, “Christian,” have been laid low in the desert and have either been slain by the sword or consumed by famine….

We said “Peace, and there is no peace”; we promised good things, “and behold, trouble.”,’ It might seem, in fact, that we acted rashly in this affair [i.e. The Second Crusade] or had “used lightness.[2 Cor 1:17] But, “I did not run my course like a man in doubt of his goal,” [1 Cor 9:26] for I acted on your orders, or rather on God’s orders given through you. . . . The judgments of the Lord are true indeed. Who does not know that? This judgment, however, “is a great deep,” [Ps. 32:7] so much so, that it seems to me not unwarranted to call him blessed who is not scandalized thereat. ”

How, then, does human rashness dare reprove what it can scarcely understand? Let us put down some judgments from on high, which are “from everlasting, ” for there may, perhaps, be consolation in them. . . . I speak of a matter which is unknown to no one, but of which no one now seems to be aware. Such is the human heart, indeed, that what we know when we need it not, is lost to us when it is required.

When Moses was going to lead the people out of the land of Egypt, he promised them a better land. Otherwise, would that people, who knew only earthly things, ever have followed him? He led them away-but he did not lead them into the land which he had promised them. The sad and unexpected outcome, however, cannot be laid to the rashness of the leader, for he did everything at the Lord’s command, with “the Lord aiding them and attesting his word by the miracles that went with them.” [Mark 16:20] But, you may say, they were a stiff-necked race ’20 forever contending against the Lord and Moses his servant. Very well, they were rebellious and unbelieving; but what about these other people? [i.e. The Crusaders] Ask them. Why should it be my task to speak of what they have done? One thing I shall say: How could they make progress when they were always looking backward as they walked? Was there a time in the whole journey when they were not in their hearts returning to Egypt? But if the Jews were vanquished and “perished because their iniquity,” is it any wonder that those who did likewise suffered a similar fate? Would anyone say that the fate of the former was contrary to God’s promise? Neither, therefore, was the fate of the latter….

These few things have been said by way of apology, so that your conscience may have something from me, whereby you can hold yourself and me excused, if not in the eyes of those who judge causes from their results, then at least in your own eyes. The perfect and final apology for any man is the testimony of his own conscience. As for myself, I take it to be a small matter to be judged by those “who call evil good, and good evil, whose darkness is light, whose light darkness.” [Is. 5:20]

If one or the other must be done, I would rather that men murmur against us than against God. It would be well for me if he deigns to use me for his shield. . . . I shall not refuse to be made ignominious, so long as God’s glory is not attacked.


1. A number of instances during the First Crusade, sometimes resulting in outright hostilities, were cited by Latin Christian writers as a cause for mistrust of the Byzantine Empire. Not only did skirmishes take place between Byzantine and crusader forces as they made their way to Constantinople, but on the crusaders arrival at the capital city, the Emperor demanded oaths of loyalty from the crusade leadership, a problem for western nobility already sworn in allegiance to other western rulers and a major source of controversy during the crusade.
2. Odo of Deuil. De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem. Trans. Virginia Gingerick Berry, (New York: W.W. Norton, 1948), 91.
3. Odo of Deuil, 83.
4. Elizabeth Siberry. Criticism of Crusading, 1095-1274. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), 200.
5. See this selection from William of Tyre in,  James Brundage, The Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962), 115-121.
6. See the selection from the Annales Herbipolenses included in this essay.
7. Crusading encyclicals were issued in 1157, 1165, 1166, 1169, 1173, 1181, and 1184.  These efforts did have some effect in raising money to send to the East to provide for its defense, and several small expeditions did make it to the East, but they were nothing of the scale of the First and Second Crusades. For further information, see Jonathan Riley-Smith. The Crusades: A Short History. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987), 104.
8. Odo of Deuil,, 82, f.n.