This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Holy War and the Crusades

Christianity has always held as axiomatic the saying vita est militia super terram, that ‘life is a struggle on Earth.’ For this it has often been condemned as pessimistic, and it is sometimes said that Christianity holds a dim view of man and of life as a ‘vale of tears’, etc. Of course, from our point of view, this is merely a statement of fact, and it would be dishonest to say otherwise, and this is why humanism is a fundamentally dishonest worldview.

But to return to the idea of life as struggle, we can now point out the fact that this struggle, for the spiritual man, has a dual aspect. In every act of resistance to external evil, man fights on two fronts, one spiritual, which is to say, against evil, and the other physical and temporal, against this particular man. Each act of resistance is what it is in the concrete, but it is also a specific battle on the universal front in the war between good and evil that continues throughout cosmic history and transcends time, place, and individual.

From this religious view of conflict, we come to the traditional distinction between the lesser holy war and the Greater Holy War. A famous statement of this comes from the Prophet Muhammad, who said upon returning from a military outing: “We return from the lesser jihad (‘holy war’) to the Greater Jihad.” He continued by specifying that the lesser holy war was fought externally and was to defeat the external infidel, but that the Greater Holy War, the Greater Jihad, was against the infidel within each of us, who must always be kept at bay.

This notion is key to understanding the Crusades, since the Crusades are not ‘typical’ of traditional war, and it would be wrong to present them as ‘normative’ since they are rather exceptional in many respects, the first and foremost being the fact that they were so clearly based on a spiritual understanding of life and of war.

To leave one’s home to go to the Holy Land and to fight the infidel was, in a sense, to leave the worldly plane altogether and to fight on a front that transcended politics and earthly concerns. There were, of course, political motives, and as we should expect, these were usually imperfect, but that does not change anything.

It is important to emphasize this point: when historians describe the Crusades from a purely materialistic or ideological point of view, as the result of racism, bigotry, wealth, political advantage, etc., they are not necessarily wrong, except that they are only described the most superficial aspect of the thing, and not its essence. In other words, what they say is true, but there are other things to be said about the phenomenon that are more true in the sense of being a more complete or adequate explanation, and this more true explanation is that the two sides both entered into a sacred space and fought a holy war that transcended the worldly and therefore offered a different type of victory to those who fought, whether they lived or died.

We will add here that what we have said about ‘motivation’ remains true even if most of the participants were not consciously aware of all that we’ve said. It would be silly to expect such men to be able to enunciate with any clarity the nature of such an endeavor, but the collective spirit of the thing speaks for itself and ‘does the thinking for them’.

In the Crusades, Jerusalem was truly a geographical point with political significance, sought after for worldly advantages, but at the same time it was symbolic of the Kingdom of Heaven, for both sides. The Crusades were both spiritual pilgrimage and earthly conflict in the same moment.

This is evidenced in the sermons preached to knights of the time, which promised them a ‘celestial fief’ as a reward (either in victory or heroic death), as opposed to the earthly fief which would have normally been the spoils of war.

What is interesting is that the Crusades are criticized as being the most ridiculous, excessive, and perversely motivated expression of the ‘ignorance’ of the Middle Ages, when in fact what we see is an exceptional instance of collective action and self-sacrifice for motives that are predominantly supra-human and supra-political. But of course we would expect this to appear insane to a secularized people.

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