Trending in the 12th Century

What was trending in the twelfth century? If you were alive during the 1100s, it would have been very hard to miss it. It was not the church’s brightest hour—it is the Crusades.

The First Crusade was launched just before the beginning of the twelfth century. It occurred from 1096 to 1099. Pope Urban II issued the call in response to Islamic forces’ having taken control of the Holy Land. At the time, there was a spiritual malaise due to corruption and decline in the church. The sense was that God had removed His hand of blessing because the infidels—the Muslims—had overtaken the Holy Land. And so, the pope issued a call for the armies to gather and retake the Holy Land.

The First Crusade succeeded in retaking Jerusalem from Islamic forces. The Crusaders established four Crusader states and constructed castles for their defense. This lasted for about three decades. But, by the 1130s and into the 1140s, Muslim forces began to gain control.

The need was then for a second expedition. So, the Second Crusade was called in 1147 and it lasted until 1149. This was a very intense crusade; one Crusader army that attacked Damascus, Syria, numbered fifty thousand soldiers. The Crusaders were roundly defeated at Damascus and many of the Crusader states were ceded back to Islamic forces. Things settled down then, but by the 1160s and the 1170s, the Muslim forces, under Saladin, set their sights on recapturing Jerusalem.

This brought about the Third Crusade. It occurred from 1189 to 1192. It did result in the recapturing of some cities, but it ultimately failed in its main objective of retaking Jerusalem. And so, we have the end of the Crusades in the twelfth century. The Crusades continued for another two hundred years, and there are even more sad episodes in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. But the twelfth century was the century of the Crusades, and it was a century of war. It has left a bitter legacy down to our own day.

We should end on some good news. Two other things were also trending in the twelfth century, and these are worthy of honorable mentions. The first concerns the Waldensians. In 1173, Peter Waldo gave away his considerable wealth and established what amounted to a new monastic order, a new group of Christians who were committed to “back to the Bible” reform. As they carried on in their movement, they aimed their sights at corruption in the church—both in terms of the wealth of the church and of the corruption of doctrine. As they read Scripture, they saw how far the church had drifted, and they began promoting some of the very same doctrines that would become central during the Reformation.

And finally, at the beginning of the twelfth century, we have Bernard of Clairvaux. In 1115, Bernard established his monastery at Clairvaux. It too was a center for reform within the church. His movement was much more like that of the Waldensians, and it had to do with reforming the church’s practice and the church’s doctrine. Bernard is a significant figure. He is one of the few medieval figures whom Luther actually liked. And that is what was trending in the twelfth century.

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