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1095 November – Council of Clermont

The Council of Piacenza. Pope Urban the Second tours France. He consecrates the ‘major ecclesia’ of Cluny.

An appeal for military aid and assistance arose from the Orthodox Byzantine Emperor himself, Alexius Commenus, (1081 – 1118), specifically to Roman Catholic Pope Urban Secondi. Help has never been so forthcoming since the Council of Niscea whence they excommunicated each other. With Latin fervour Pope Urban appeals to the population of France and mounts a coalition of military might the likes of which Christendom has never seen.

His eminence’s presence in Clermont had drawn such a multitude the cathedral couldn’t contain them and a superstructure had to be built to contain the masses. From his zealous speech arose assent from the crowd as his words went from his lips to God’s ears.

“Oh, race of Franks, race from across the mountains, race beloved and chosen by God, – as is clear from many of your works,- set apart from all other nations by the situation of your country as well as by your Catholic faith and the honour which you render to the Holy Church: to you our discourse is addressed, and for you our exhortations are intended. We wish you to know what a grievous cause has led us to your country, for it is the imminent peril threatening you and all the faithful which has brought us hither.

From the confines of Jerusalem and from the city of Constantinople a grievous report has gone forth that a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race wholly alienated from God, ‘a generation that set not their heart aright and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.’ violently invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire. They have led away a part of the captives into their own country, and a part they have killed by cruel tortures. They have either destroyed the churches or appropriated them for the rites of their own religion. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness… The kingdom of the Greeks is now dismembered by them and has been deprived of territory so vast in extent that it could be traversed in two months’ time.

On whom, therefore, is the labour of avenging these wrongs and of recovering this territory incumbent, if not upon you, you upon whom, above all other nations, God has conferred remarkable glory in arms, great courage, bodily activity, and strength to humble the heads of those who resist you?

Let the deeds of your ancestors encourage you and incite your minds to manly achievements: the greatness of King Charlemagne, and of his son Louis, and of your other monarchs, who have destroyed the kingdoms of the Turks and have extended the sway of Church over lands previously possessed by the pagan.

Let the holy sepulcher of our Lord and Savior, which is possessed by unclean nations, especially arouse you, and the holy places which are now treated, with ignominy and irreverently polluted with the filth of the unclean.

Oh, most valiant soldiers and descendants of invincible ancestors, do not degenerate our progenitors, but recall the valor of your progenitors.

But…if you are hindered by love of children, parents or of wife, remember what the Lord says in the Gospel, ‘He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me’. ‘every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life’

Let none of your possessions retain you, nor solicitude for you, family affairs. For this land which you inhabit, shut in on all sides by the seas and surrounded by the mountain peaks, is too narrow for your large population: nor does it abound in wealth: and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you murder and devour one another, that you wage war, and that very many among you perish in internecine strife.

Let hatred therefore depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher, wrest that land from the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves. That land which, as the Scripture says, ‘floweth with milk and honey’ was given by God into the power of the children of Israel. Jerusalem is the center of the earth: the land is fruitful above all others, like another paradise of delights. This spot the Redeemer of mankind has made illustrious by his advent, has beautified by his sojourn, has consecrated by his passion, has redeemed by his death, has glorified by his burial.

This royal city, however, situated at the center of the earth, is now held captive by the enemies of Christ and is subjected, by those who do not know God, to the worship of heathen. She seeks therefore, and desires to be liberated and ceases not to implore you to come to her aid. From you especially she asks succor, because as we have already said, God has conferred upon you above all other nations great glory in arms. Accordingly undertake this journey eagerly for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the reward of imperishable glory in the kingdom of heaven!”

At this revelation, and ushered by the clergy, the crowd erupts in a chant of “Deus Vult! Deus Vult!” “God wills it! God wills it!”

“Most beloved brethren,” Raising his arms to quell the outroar, Pope Urban continued calm was restored. “Today is manifest in you what the Lord says in the Gospel. ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’: for unless God had been present in your spirits, all of you would not have uttered the same cry: since, although the cry issued from numerous mouths, yet the origin of the cry as one. Therefore I say to you that God, who implanted it in your breasts, has drawn it forth from you. Let that then be your war cry in combats, because it is given to you by God. When an armed attack is made upon the enemy, this one cry be raised by all the soldiers of God. Deus Vult! Deus Vult!”

Again, a healthy chorus of “God wills it! God wills it!” fills the air.

He concludes, “And neither command nor advise that the old or those incapable of bearing arms, undertake this journey, Nor aught women to set out at all without their husbands, or brother, or legal guardians. For such are more hindrance than aid, more of a burden than an advantage.

Let the rich aid the needy and according to their wealth let them take with them experienced soldiers. The priests and other clerks, whether secular or regulars are not to go without the consent of their bishop: for this journey would profit them nothing if they went without permission. Also it is not fitting that laymen should enter upon the pilgrimage without the blessing of their priests.

Whoever, therefore, shall determine upon this holy pilgrimage, and shall make his vow to God to that effect, and shall offer himself to Him for sacrifice, as a living victim, holy and acceptable to God, shall wear the sign of the cross of the Lord on his forehead or on his breast. When, indeed, he shall return from his journey, having fulfilled his vow, let him place the cross on his back between his shoulders. Thus shall ye, indeed, by this twofold action, fulfill the precept of the Lord, as he commands in the gospel. ‘He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me’.”

To Pope Urban, the plight of the Eastern Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire was a sign from God. Urban promised instant absolution and the total remission of sins for all who took the cross.

Amidst thunderous applause and battle cries the crowd could not be restrained any longer from rushing the platform in order to receive one of the thousands of little red linen crosses the pontiff had brought with him. It took no time for the stock to be depleted and the more inventive took to marking themselves with any red liquid they could find. Self mutilation found an endless supply of blood for smearing intersecting lines on face or body, cloth or shield. The bloodletting would start here and end in Jerusalem.

The Red Cross would become a potent symbol of Christianity.

Ten thousand Knights, a hundred thousand foot soldiers, and tens of thousands more pilgrims would take the cross. Little was asked… much was forthcoming… Too much.

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