Christianity and History by Herbert Butterfield

By Herbert Butterfield

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Maybe even fewer doubted the apocalyptic efficacy of Christian rule in the Holy Land. While many disapproved of the papacy’s increasing obsession in the thirteenth century with pursuing wars of the cross to eradicate enemies within Christendom, others were happy to join those campaigns and take advantage of the spiritual and material benefits on offer. Fighting under the cross, a uniquely potent metaphor for physical and spiritual struggle, held the gaze of lay and clerical elites and, judging from their wills, of lesser propertied faithful, men and women, because it appeared to them to embrace issues crucial to their beliefs: how to earn salvation in a sinful world; how to lead an active life of faith; how to measure God’s approbation of individuals and society on the gauge of temporal victory and defeat; even how to ensure the political survival of their religion.

Between 1095 and, say, 1500 there were scores of military operations that attracted the privileges associated with the wars of the cross. Yet only a few later became known by a number, all of them aimed at Muslim targets in and around Syria and Palestine in the eastern Mediterranean. Obviously, the nobles, knights, foot soldiers, unarmed pilgrims, and hangers-on who answered Urban II’s appeal in 1095–6 did not know they were embarking on the first of anything; they were told their 32 DEFINITION 8.

Maybe even fewer doubted the apocalyptic efficacy of Christian rule in the Holy Land. While many disapproved of the papacy’s increasing obsession in the thirteenth century with pursuing wars of the cross to eradicate enemies within Christendom, others were happy to join those campaigns and take advantage of the spiritual and material benefits on offer. Fighting under the cross, a uniquely potent metaphor for physical and spiritual struggle, held the gaze of lay and clerical elites and, judging from their wills, of lesser propertied faithful, men and women, because it appeared to them to embrace issues crucial to their beliefs: how to earn salvation in a sinful world; how to lead an active life of faith; how to measure God’s approbation of individuals and society on the gauge of temporal victory and defeat; even how to ensure the political survival of their religion.

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