History of Missions Lecture 4: 1000-1500 AD



A basic look at the Crusades, Francis of Assisi and Ramon Lull.


  • Popes wanted to stop the knightly classes from fighting eachother, stop the mini wars in the western world, and instead send them to the East, the “Holy Land”.
  • The knights would either:
    1. Die but receive the honour of Christian martyrdom
    2. Survive and be given material reward, and possibly new land
  • Muslims were unbelievers, they had no right to exist, may as well be slaughtered (or be servants/slaves to the Christians).
  • Nothing could be done with “the infidel” because they were destined for hell, they may as well die.


  • The Crusades educated the West about the world, people were travelling, and so heard about the world and what was in it. This eventually led to the Age of Discovery.
  • They were the first sign of recovery after the Dark Ages. Europe was in some respects working together as a Christian whole.
  • They were fighting for the deliverance of Christian holy places from the hands of unbelievers (they had fought for worse things).


  • Irreparable damage to the Christian cause. Hate breeds hate, and so the Saracens, Muslim population, were equally justified in slaughtering Christians. All this hate was caused by an idea in the name of Christ.
  • Injured relations between western and eastern Christianity. The Western guests started to set up their own Latin churches rather than join the Greek Church. The Crusaders even attacked Constantinople so badly that it was too weak to hold off the Turks in 1453.
  • The Crusades left a trail of resentment and anger over history. The West is the great aggressor. Even if the Muslims fought and were aggressive at times, it was the Christians who claimed to follow “the Prince of Peace”.
  • The Crusades involved a lowering of moral temperament of Christianity. It was not long after the Crusades that the same ideas were used by Innocent III to suppress Christian heretics.
  • The Crusaders did not just kill the Muslim population. Ironically despite the Muslim conquest of certain areas, most of the population was still Christian. However, many were killed by the crusaders, or caught inbetween the Muslim and western Christian fighting. It was from the Crusades on that the Christian population diminished.

Final quote from book: “There was so much courage and so little honour, so much devotion and so little understanding. High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness; and the Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is sin against the Holy Ghost.”

Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Vol. III (1954), pp. 469, 480.


There were Christians who believed, despite the Crusades, that the infidel still held some basic human rights and must be respected. Almost the first Christian to act on this was Francis of Assisi.

He felt that if someone hadn’t been converted it was because the Gospel had not been presented to them in its simplicity and beauty. So he made three attempts. The first to Morocco (1212) and the second to Spain (1214) came to nothing, but the third was at the time of the Fifth Crusade (1219) in Egypt. He managed to get himself into the presence of the Sultan of Egypt, and although he may not have understood Francis was shown respect as a holy man.

Later sources even suggest that the Sultan secretly converted, or had a death-bed baptism as a result of meeting with Francis, but this isn’t too credible.

With Francis there was a new missionary zeal created in the Christian world. From now on there would be two main Orders of Friars: the Dominicans and the Franciscans.

Francis (1181-1226) lived to bring simplicity and joy back into the Christian world, and serve the poor.

Quotation: “Preach at all times, and when necessary use words.”
& “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.”

Francis’ attempt to connect with the Muslim population had far-reaching effects. For example, after the crusaders “kingdom” fell it would be the Franciscans who were allowed to stay in the Holy Land and recognised as “custodians” on behalf of Christianity.


Was converted by a vision of Christ that was repeated to him three times as a young man. The next fifty years were spent in the service of the Lord: the central theme being the conversion of the infidels to faith in Christ.

For him evangelism required three things:

  1. Accurate and full knowledge of their language. Necessary languages also included: Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and Greek.

Lull was probably the first to relate study of languages directly to evangelism – he needed to be able to have conversations with people about religion!

  1. A book about why the Christian religion was true demonstrated by reasons. “If you hold that the law of Christ is true and that Mohammed false, you must prove it by necessary reasons.”
  2. The willingness to be a faithful and courageous witness even at the cost of your life. Preaching the Gospel in Islamic countries, under Islamic law was punishable by death.
    “Missionaries will convert the world by preaching, but also through the shedding of tears and blood and with great labour, and through a bitter death.”

He, of course acted out what he said, and paid four visits to North Africa to preach to Muslims. On the fourth of these visits, in 1315, he was stoned and died of his injuries a few months later.

It has been said that he went on his fourth trip, because he had been told a lie: he had been told that the ruler of Tunisia was interested in Christianity. So he went. He was 82 years old.


Riber, Raimunco Lulio (1935, 1949) [220-221]; Bonner, “Historical Background and Life” in his Doctor Illuminatus (1985) [42-44].

Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions (Penguins Books, Great Britain, 1964).

National Geographic: Arab Christians (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/06/arab-christians/belt-text/2)

The Franciscan Presence in the Holy Land, by Fr. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, OFM, Franciscan Printing Press – Jerusalem 2008 (link found via Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Custodian_of_the_Holy_Land#cite_note-9)


Recommended viewing: Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
ll media recommendations should be seen as extracurricular to classes. History is often changed by directors and writers to make it more entertaining. However, film and television can help to imagine the situations we talk about in class.

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