Post-classical history

Sermons and Preaching

Sermons were preached on many different occasions in the course of a crusade. Propagandists preached in order to announce new crusades as well as to recruit participants and collect money for military campaigns. Often the departure of a crusader or a crusade army was also marked by sermons. During the campaigns, the clergy accompanying armies regularly preached sermons in order to sustain the participants’ enthusiasm or to give them courage on the eve of a battle or in moments of crisis. Sermons thanking God were held after successful battles. In addition, sermons about the crusade were preached to those at home in the context of penitentiary processions and prayers in support of crusaders in the field.

Crusade sermons were preached by clerics of all levels of the ecclesiastical hierarchy from parish priests to cardinals and popes. From the thirteenth century onward, however, the bulk of crusade preaching was done by the members of the mendicant Franciscan and Dominican orders. Public preaching constituted one of their principal activities, and among other duties, they were commissioned by the popes to propagate the crusades throughout Latin Europe in a systematic manner. Considering the frequency of crusading between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries, the number of different types of crusade sermons preached in various contexts during this time must have been considerable. Thus, sermons were not only an integral part of each crusade; they also played an important role in shaping and sustaining attitudes and responses to the medieval crusade movement.

Crusade sermons differed depending on their specific circumstance and purpose. They varied greatly in length, content, and complexity, ranging from short addresses to a crusade army in the field to elaborate sermons preached at various times in the run-up to a military campaign. Crusade recruitment sermons were preached in churches, in marketplaces, or in front of gatherings of knights and noblemen on the occasion of courtly festivities or tournaments. Preachers often moved from place to place within an assigned area of recruitment, making use of occasions at which people came together for other purposes, such as market days or church feasts. Preferred dates for crusade preaching were the feasts of the Invention of the Cross (3 May) and the Exaltation of the Cross (14 September), which provided a strong symbolic affinity in terms of crusade spirituality, and Lent, because of its strong penitential and Christocentric thrust. But crusade sermons, especially those aimed at eliciting financial support and prayers for crusade armies in the field, were also preached on a regular basis within ordinary church services throughout the year.

At times crusade propagandists were given special powers by the papacy to force parish priests to assemble their parishioners for a crusade sermon. In return, from the thirteenth century onward, attendance at recruitment sermons was rewarded by minor indulgences. This indicates that the dynamics of crowd psychology, especially peer pressure, was considered an important tool for enhancing the effectiveness of crusade preaching. Chronicle reports confirm that successful crusade propagandists showed extreme skill in provoking emotional responses by instilling their audiences with feelings of shame, contrition, anger, or rage. Sermons aimed at recruiting crusaders often took place in elaborate ceremonial settings accompanied by liturgical acts such as prayers, chants, processions, and sometimes the exposition of relics. In addition preachers often read out the papal bulls to their audiences, giving detailed information about the privileges and the terms of a particular crusade. After the sermons people solemnly took the vow by receiving the cross from the preacher, thus publicly demonstrating their transition to the status of crusader. More often than not crusade recruitment sermons were part of carefully planned and choreographed propaganda events.

Some crusade sermons were recorded in chronicles, such as Urban II’s sermon at Clermont in 1095 or the sermons preached by Bishop Henry of Strasbourg in his home town in 1188 and Abbot Martin ofPairis in Basel in 1200. There are also reports of Baldwin of Canterbury’s recruitment tour of Wales in 1188, Eustace of Fly’s preaching in England in 1200-1201, Oliver of Paderborn’s sermons in Frisia prior to the Fifth Crusade, and John of Capistrano’s preaching of the cross in the fifteenth century. In addition we have a number of texts related to the preaching of the crusade against the Albigensian heretics at the beginning of the thirteenth century.

Generally speaking, however, crusade preaching was not the stuff of medieval chronicles, and other narrative accounts and evidence for the exact contents of individual sermons are limited. But there are a number of sermon texts, as well as tracts about preaching the crusade, that give an insight into the sets of ideas and the kinds of arguments that individual preachers would have drawn on. The most elaborate of these preaching aids was De predicatione sanctae Crucis by Humbert of Romans, a handbook for crusade preachers written in the 1260s, which gave practical information and listed numerous themes that might be used in crusade sermons. A shorter and less elaborate tract about preaching the cross to the Holy Land, the Ordinacio de predicatione sanctae Crucis in Anglia, was put together by an anonymous author in the first half of the thirteenth century.

Model sermons were written, copied, and used from the thirteenth century onward. These sermon texts were often derived from the authors’ own crusade preaching and were adapted as models for the use of other preachers. Authors include famous crusade preachers, such as James of Vitry, Odo of Châteauroux, and Humbert of Romans, as well as some of the most prolific medieval sermon writers, such as Gilbert of Tournai and Bertrand of La Tour. Other preaching aids include exempla (illustrative stories to be included in a sermon) about the crusade, which appear in many late medieval exempla collections.

Depending on the occasion and the preacher’s specific aims, crusade sermons varied in content. Judging from chronicle reports and model sermons, the preachers’ messages usually portrayed crusading as a devotional and spiritual activity undertaken for the good of the participant’s soul as well as a justified war against the enemies of the Christian religion. Sermons being a form of exegesis, preachers mainly talked about the crusade in theological terms and with reference to the Scriptures. Crusades were often compared to the wars of the Old Testament in which the Israelites fought against their enemies under the guidance of God. The crusade was thus described, and at the same time justified, as God’s war fought in defense of and for the good of his church.

For participants or supporters, crusading was portrayed as a penitential activity through which an individual could establish a special relationship with God. This relationship was characterized by two main components: obligation and love. In as much as crusaders were perceived as soldiers fighting a war in the service of God or Christ, they were considered to be bound to God by the terms of feudal obligation. In return for this obligation, God rewarded crusaders by an indulgence for the forgiveness of their sins. Just as important for the characterization of the relationship between crusader and God was the model of love and friendship. Taking the cross was described as a spiritual quest for union with God through the bonds of mutual love. Crusaders were said to express their love of God by following him as “soldiers of Christ” or even to imitate Christ’s act of redemption when dying in battle. Crusade preaching often dwelled at length on the spiritual and devotional aspects of the crusade. Crusading was first and foremost portrayed as a penitential activity, and participating or supporting the crusade was advocated as an effective way of dealing with the consequence of sin. This prevailing emphasis on the devotional and the penitential aspects of crusading can, in part, be explained by the strong pastoral thrust of crusade preaching from the thirteenth century onward.

For many, participation in the crusade consisted in supporting the crusade financially and by prayers rather than actually joining a crusade army. This meant that propagandists portrayed the crusade as profoundly relevant to people who might support the crusade movement for reasons that were not primarily connected to its military aspects. Participation in the crusade was thus advertised above all as a way of showing one’s devotion to Christ and of cleansing one’s soul from sin.

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