Apologia for the Second Crusade
[Adapted from Brundage] One of the few leaders of Western Europe
who refused to be daunted by the failure of the Crusade was St.
Bernard of Clairvaux, against whom was vented so much of the bitterness
over the failure of the Crusade. Shortly after the outcome of
the Crusade became known in the West, St. Bernard wrote a defiant
apologia, defending the role he had played in preaching and organizing
the recent expedition. Despite St. Bernard's courageous resignation,
the results of the Crusade were indeed ominous. The Second Crusade
had embittered large numbers of Western Europeans against the
whole notion of Crusading, and thereby both the Papacy and the
West as a whole suffered a setback. The Second Crusade, in fact,
was destined to be the last Crusade in which the armies were accompanied
by large groups of pilgrims and other noncombatants. Henceforth,
the Crusades were to become more strictly military expeditions,
whose objectives were limited, military ones.
Even more important, perhaps, was the deterioration of relationships
between Byzantium and the Crusaders and between the princes of
the West and the rulers of the Latin states in the East. Most
important of all, in the final analysis, was the effect of the
Second Crusade upon the Moslems. The failure of the Crusade to
achieve any victories whatever in the East emboldened Moslem military
leaders, destroyed the myth of Western prowess in arms, and was
to be responsible, at least in part, for causing the Moslem states
of the East to draw closer together, to unite for further attacks
upon the Latin states .
The First Crusade had succeeded in achieving its objectives
and it bad been possible to found Latin states in the East largely
because the Moslems had been divided against one another and had
thus been almost completely unable to cooperate effectively to
stave off their Western foes. The end of the Second Crusade saw
the Moslems preparing to unite, for the first time, against the
Latin intruders in their midst, while the Latins, for their part,
were divided sharply against one another.
The portents for the future of the Latin East were dark in
1148, but no one then could have foreseen the manner in which
these portents were to be fulfilled.
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
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.
De Consideratione Libri Quinque, II, 1., in Patrologia
Latina 182,: 741-45, translated by James Brundage, The
Crusades: A Documentary History, (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette
University Press, 1962), 115-121
Copyright note: Professor Brundage informed the Medieval
Sourcebook that copyright was not renewed on this work. Moreover
he gave permission for use of his translations.
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© Paul Halsall December 1997