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Peter The Hermet

Peter The Hermet



Peter The HermetPeter the Hermet is known to posterity through the single great effort of his life: the preaching of the Crusade. Born at Amiens in Picardy, about 1050, he had laid aside the accoutrements of war to strive for perfection in the solitude of a hermit's life. Like others, he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and was stirred to wrath at sight of the indignities suffered by the pilgrims and the Christian inhabitants of the city at the hands of the infidels. When he visited Simeon, the Greek Patriarch of the Holy City, that venerable man who had suffered from the persecutions of the Turks, deplored the weakness of the Byzantine Empire, which prevented it from protecting the Christians in Syria. Peter rebuked his despondency, and promised him the aid of Western Christendom. Then entering the Temple, he heard as he believed the voice of the Lord: "Rise, Peter, go forth to make known the tribulations of my people. The hour is come for the delivery of my servants for the recovery of the Holy Places."


Peter returned to Europe, fully persuaded of his divine commission, and devoted with self-sacrificing enthusiasm to the task of delivering the Holy City from the hateful and oppressive rule of the Mohammedans. He gained an interview with Pope Urban II., to whom he delivered letters from the patriarch Simeon, and whom he moved by his eloquent and pathetic account of the humiliation of the church in the Holy City. With the sanction of the Pope, Peter set out in 1094, to prepare the way for the great enterprise and rouse Christendom to a high pitch of enthusiasm. Unprepossessing in appearance, poorly clad, this fervent enthusiast imparted his stirring earnestness to those to whom he preached : high and low, rich and poor, all were aroused, both by his fiery appeals and his earnest piety and sympathetic uprightness. When, in November, 1095, the Pope met at Clermont, an immense assemblage of church dignitaries, he found the time propitious, and with earnest eloquence urged his hearers, already inflamed by the preaching of Peter, to undertake the deliverance of the Holy Sepulcher, evoking from them the passionate cry" It is the will of God, I and bidding them as soldiers of the cross to wear the blood-red sign of the Sou of God.


Thus was inaugurated, in a torrent of enthusiasm, that great movement which, projected under so pure and noble a motive, was destined to cost so many lives, and which, holding out the promise of salvation to all who should take part in the redemption of the Holy Land, enlisted in its service a large element with sordid, purely selfish, and unworthy motives. The very beginning was unpropitious, for, while prudence dictated the forming of armies under practical guidance, all impatient rabble started out prematurely under the command of Peter the Hermit and Walter the Pennyless.


This motley crew of men and women was followed by other large and equally disorderly hordes, tlnderthe leadership of the monk Gotschalk and others, who soon rushed into excesses, slaughtered the Jews, and by their plundering and other outrages roused the enmity of the inhabitants of the countries-more especially Hungary and Bulgaria,-through which they passed. The undisciplined throng became scattered and entirely disorganized, Peter being for a time a lonely fugitive. When the remnants of the host reached Constantinople, the Emperor Alexios, desirous of ridding himself of the lawless band, persuaded them to cross the Bosphorus. But once on Asiatic son, they were entrapped and crushed by the Seljukian Sultan Kilidje Arslan it is said that, in all, some 300,000 people perished in this in-advised and disorderly movement.


Peter, with the remnant of his crowd, effected a junction with Godfrey of Bouillon's grand army of Crusaders, which had in the meantime been organized and sent out under more auspicious circumstances, and he finally won the reward for his labors and his disappointments, by entering Jerusalem with the victorious army in 1099.


Before that happy consummation of his efforts, however, Peter, like his great Apostolic namesake, had a severe hour of trial. This intrepid and dauntless man, simple and earnest in his faith, which had seemed invincible, wavered in an hour of weakness. During the long and wearisome siege, aggravated by the pangs of hunger and thirst, he deserted with the doughty Count William of Melun but they were overtaken and captured by Tancred. Peter's backsliding was forgotten when the Christian army had entered the Holy City as conquerors, and the throng fell down at his feet with thanks to God. When he was able to preach upon the Mount of Olives, the scene must truly have been one of joyful triumph to him it was the closing incident of his lire-work. His task was done the first Crusade had come to a successful termination. Peter returned to Europe and founded the Abbey of Neufmoustier at Huy in the diocese of Liege, of which he was the first prior. There the monk whose great work it had been first to unite and set in motion the nations of Western Christendom for aggressive warfare against the fanatical followers of Mohammed, died peacefully on the 7th of July, 1115.




The Crusades, if we should calculate the incalculable waste of human life from first to last a waste without achieving any enduring result, and all the human misery which is implied in that loss of life, may seem the most wonderful frenzy which ever possessed mankind. But from a less ideal point of 'view -a view of human affairs as they have actually evolved under the laws or guidance of Divine Providence, considerations suggest themselves which mitigate or altogether avert this contemptuous or condemnatory sentence.


The Crusades consummated, and the Christian Church solemnly blessed and ratified the unnatural, it might be, but perhaps necessary and inevitable, union between Christianity and the Teutonic military spirit. What but Christian warlike fanaticism could cope with the warlike Mahommedan fanaticism which had now revived by the invasion of the Turks, a race more rude and habitually predatory and conquering than the Arabs of the Prophet, and apparently more incapable of yielding to those genial influences of civilization which had gradually softened down the Caliphs of Damascus, Bagdad, Cairo, and Cordova to splendid and peaceful monarchs? Few minds were, perhaps, farseeing enough to contemplate the Crusades, as they have been viewed by modern history, as a blow struck at the heart of the Mahommedan power, as a politic diversion of the tide of war from the frontiers of the European kingdoms to Asia. Yet neither can this removal of the war to a more remote battle field, nor the establishment of the principle that all Christian powers were natural allies against Mahommedan power though this principle, at a later period, gave way before European animosities and enmities, have been with. out important influence on the course of human affairs.


The effects of these expeditions to the Holy Land may further be considered under four beads. The first and more immediate result of the Crusades was directly the opposite to that which bad been promised, and no doubt expected, by the advisers of these expeditions. The security of the Eastern Christian empire, and its con· sequent closer alliance with Latin Christendom, though not the primary, was at least a secondary object. But instead of the reconciliation of the Byzantine empire with the West, the Crusade led to a more total estrangement instead of blending the Churches into one, the hostility became more strong and obstinate. The Emperors of the East found their friends not less dangerous and destructive than their enemies could have been. Vast hordes of disorderly and undisciplined fanatics came swarming across the frontiers, trampling down everything in their way, and spreading desolation through the more peaceful and flourishing provinces. The leaders of the Crusade, the Hermit himself, and a soldier of fortune, Walter, who went by the name of Pennyless, were altogether without authority, and had taken no steps to organize or to provide food for this immense population which they had set in motion. This army consisted mainly of the poorer classes, whose anus, such as they were, were their only possession. The more enthusiastic, no doubt, vaguely trusted to the protection of Providence; God would not allow the soldiers of His Blessed Son to perish with want. The more thoughtful calculated on the hospitality of their Christian brethren. The pilgrims of old had found hospitals and caravan series established for their reception i they had been fed by the inexhaustible bounty of the devout. But it had occurred to none that, however friendly, the inhabitant of Hungary and the provinces of the Byzantine empire through which they passed could not, without miracles, feed the swelling and, it seemed, never-ending swarm of strangers. Hunger led to plunder, plunder to hostility, hostility hardened and inflamed to the most bitter mutual antipathy. Europe rang with denunciations of the in hospitality, the barbarity of these more than unbelievers, who were accused of secret intelligence and confederacy with the Mahommedans against the cause of Christ.


The conduct of the more regular army, which took another and less destructive course, was restrained by some discipline, and maintained at first some courtesy, yet widened rather than closed this irreparable breach. The Emperor of the East found that his Western allies conquered not for him, but for themselves. Instead of considering Syria and Palestine as parts of the Eastern empire, they created their own independent principalities, and owned no sovereignty in him who claimed to be the legitimate lord of those territories. There was a singular sort of feudal title made out to Palestine. God was the Sovereign owner. Through the Virgin-of royal descent from the house of David-it descended to our Lord. At a later period, the contempt of the Franks reached its height in their conquest of Constantinople, and the establishment of a Latin dynasty on the throne of the Eastern emperors j contempt which was amply repaid by the hatred of the Greeks, who, when they recovered the empire, were only driven by hard necessity to cultivate any friendly alliance with the West The Pope, the clergy, the monastic institutions, derived a vast accession of power, influence and wealth from the Crusades. Already Urban, by placing himself at the head of the great movement, had enshrined himself in the general reverence and to the Pope reverence was power and riches. He bequeathed this great legacy of preeminence to his successors.


The Pope was general-in-chief of the armies of the faith. He assumed from the commencement, and maintained to the end of the Crusades an enormous dispensing authority, to which no one ventured or was disposed to raise any objection not a dispensing authority only from the penalties of sin in this world or the next, a mitigation of the pains of purgatory, or a remittal of those acts of penance which the Church commuted at her will; the taking the Cross absolved, by his authority, from all temporal, civil and social obligation. It substituted a new and permanent principle of obedience for feudal subordination. The Pope became the liege lord of mankind.


The prince who took the Cross left his dominions under the protection of the Holy See; but as the more ambitious, rapacious and irreligious of the neighboring sovereigns were those who remained behind, this security was extremely precarious. But the noble became really exempt from most feudal claims he could not be summoned to the banner of his lord: even the bonds of the villein, the serf and the slave were broken or enfeebled they were free if they could extricate themselves from a power which, in the eye of the Church, as interfering with the discharge of a higher duty, was lawless, to follow the Cross. Even the creditor could not arrest the debtor. The crusader was the soldier of the Church, and this was his first allegiance, which released him from all other. The hold on the human mind which, directly or indirectly, accrued to the Pope in Europe from this right of levying war throughout Christendom against the Unbeliever, of summoning, or at least enlisting all mankind under the banner of the Cross, could not but increase in its growth as long as the crusading frenzy maintained its power.


To take the Cross was the high price which might obtain absolution for the most enormous offense and, therefore, if the Pope so willed, he would be satisfied with nothing less. There were few sovereigns so cautious, or so superior to the dominant superstition, as not, in some period of enthusiasm or disaster, of ambition or affliction, either from the worldly desire of propitiating the favor of the Pope, or under the pangs of wounded conscience, to entangle themselves with this irrevocable vow; that vow, at least, which could only be annulled by the Pope, who was in general little disposed to relax his hold on his self. fettered subject. The inexorable taskmaster, to whom the king or prince had sold himself in the hour of need, either demanded the immediate service, or held the mandate in terror over his head to keep him under subjection.


The legatine authority of the Pope expanded to a great extent in consequence of the Crusades. Before this period, all ecclesiastic, usually of high rank or fame, had been occasionally commissioned by the Pope to preside in local councils, to determine controversies, to investigate causes, to negotiate with sovereigns. As acting in the Pope's person, he assumed or exercised the right of superseding all ordinary jurisdiction that of the bishops, and even of the metropolitan. The Crusades gave an opportunity of sending legates into every country in Latin Christendom, in order to preach and to recruit for the Crusades, to urge the laity who did not take up the Cross in person to contribute to the expenses of the war, to authorize or to exact the subsidies of the clergy. The public mind became more and more habituated to the presence, as it were of the Pope, by his representative, to the superseding of all authority in his name.


Not only the secular clergy, but the monasteries, were bound to assign part of their revenues for the conquest of the Holy Land; but the vast increase in their wealth and territorial possessions more than compensated for this, at first, light taxation. There may have been few, but doubtless there were some, of all ranks up to princedoms, who, in their reckless enthusiasm, stripped themselves of all their goods, abandoned their lands and possessions, and reserved nothing but their sword, their horse, and a trifling sum for their maintenance, determined to seek either new possessions or a glorious and saintly grave in the Holy Land. But all were suddenly called upon for a large expenditure, to meet which they had made no provision. The private adventurer had to purchase his arms, his Milan or Damascus steel, his means of transport and provision i the nobles and the princes, in proportion to their rank and territory, to raise, arm and maintain their vassals. Multitudes were thus compelled to pledge or to alienate their property. Here and there, prudent nobles, or even kings, might watch this favorable opening, when estates were thrown so prodigally and abundantly on the market. So William Rufus bought his elder brother's dukedom of Normandy.


But there was one wealthy body alone which was not deeply embarked in these costly undertakings-the ·Church. The bishops who took up the Cross might possibly bur-then, they could not alienate, their estates. On the other hand, the clergy and the monasteries were everywhere on the spot to avail themselves of the embarrassments and difficulties of their neighbors. Godfrey of Boulogne alienated part of his estates to the Bishop of Verdun he pledged another part to the Bishop of Liege. For at least two centuries this traffic went silently on, the Church always receiving, rarely alienating. Whoever, during the whole period of the Crusades, sought to whom he might entrust his lands as guardian, or in perpetuity, if he should find his grave or richer possessions in the Holy Land, turned to the Church, by whose prayers he might win success, by whose masses the sin which clung to the soul even of the soldier of the Cross might be purged away. If he returned, he returned often a disappointed and melancholy man, took refuge from his despondent religious feelings in the cloister, and made over his remaining rights to his brethren. If he returned no more, the Church was in possession. Thus in every way the all-absorbing Church was still gathering in wealth, encircling new lands within her hallowed pale, the one steady merchant who, in this vast traffic and sale of personal and of landed property, never made a losing venture, but went on accumulating and still accumulating, and for the most part withdrawing the largest portion of the land in every kingdom into a separate estate, which claimed exemption from all burthens of the realm, until the realm was compelled to take measures, violent often, and iniquitous in the mode, but still inevitable. 1'he Church which had thus peaceably despoiled the world was in her turn unscrupulously despoiled.


The Crusades established in the Christian mind the justice and the piety of religious wars. The first Crusades might be in some degree vindicated as defensive. In the long and implacable contest, the Mahommedan had, no doubt, been the aggressor: Islam first declared general and irreconcilable war against all hostile forms of belief; the propagation of faith in the Koran was the avowed aim of its conquests.


Neither the secure possession of their vast Asiatic dominions of Egypt, Africa and Spain, nor their great defeat by Charles Martel, quelled their aggressive ambition. They were constantly renewing hostilities in every accessible part of the East and West, threatening, or still further driving in the frontier of the Byzantine empire, covering the Mediterranean with their fleets, subduing Sicily and making dangerous inroads and settlements in Italy. New nations or tribes from the remoter East with all the warlike propensities of the Arabs, but with the fresh and impetuous valor of young proselytes to the Koran, were constantly pouring forth from the steppes of Tartary the mountain glens of the Caucasus or the Himalaya, and infusing new life into Mahommedanism. The Turks had fully embraced its doctrines of war to all of hostile faith in their fiercest intolerance they might seem imperiously to demand a general confederacy of Christendom against this declared enemy. Even the oppressions of their Christian brethren oppressions avowedly made more cruel all account of their religion, within the dominions of the Mahommedans, might perhaps justify an armed interference.


The indignities and persecutions to which the pilgrims, who had been respected up to this period, were exposed, the wanton and insulting desecration of the holy places, were a kind of declaration of war against everything Christian. But it is more easy in theory than in fact to draw the line between wars for the defense and for the propagation of the faith. Religious war is too impetuous and eager not to become a fanaticism. From this period it was an inveterate, almost uncontested, tenet, that wars for religion were not merely justifiable, but holy and Christian, and, if holy and Christian, glorious above all other wars. The unbeliever was the natural enemy of Christ and of His Church if not to be converted, to be punished for the crime of unbelief, to be massacred, exterminated by the righteous sword.


A fourth result of the Crusades, if in its origin less completely so, and more transitory and unreal, yet in its remote influence felt and actually living in the social manners of our own time, was Chivalry, or at least the religious tone which Chivalry assumed in all its acts, language, and ceremonial. The Crusades swept away, as it were, the last impediment to the wedlock of religion with the warlike propensities of the age. All the noble sentiments which, blended together, are Chivalry-the high sense of honor, the disdain or passion for danger, the love of adventure, compassion for the weak or the oppressed, generosity, self-sacrifice, self-devotion for others-found in the Crusades their animating principle, perpetual occasion for their amplest exercise, their perfection and consummation. How could the noble Christian knight endure the insults to his Saviour and to his God, the galling shame that the place of his Redeemer's birth and death should be trampled by the scoffer, the denier of His Divinity? 'Where were adventures to be sought so stirring as in the distant, gorgeous, mysterious East, the land of fabled wealth, the birthplace of wisdom, of all the religions of the world; a land only to be approached by that which was then thought a long and perilous voyage along the Mediterranean Sea, or by land through kingdoms inhabited by unknown nations and people of strange languages through Constantinople, the traditions of whose wealth and magnificence prevailed throughout the West? For whom was the lofty mind to feel compassion, if not for the down-trodden victim of Pagan mockery and oppression, his brother-worshiper of the Cross, who for that worship was suffering cruel persecution? To what uses could wealth be so fitly or lavishly devoted as to the rescue of Christ's Sepulcher from the Infidel? To what more splendid martyrdom could the valiant man aspire than to death in the fields which Christ had watered with His own blood? What sacrifice could be too great? Not even the absolute abnegation of home, kindred, the proud castle, the host of retainers, the sumptuous fare, for the tent on the desert, the scanty subsistence, it might be though this they would disdain to contemplate the dungeon, the bondage in remote Syria.


Lastly, and above all, where would- be found braver or more worthy antagonists than among the Knights of the Crescent, the invaders-too often, it could not be denied, the conquerors-of the Christian world? Hence it was that France and Spain were pre-eminently the crusading kingdoms of Europe, and, as it were, the birthplace of Chivalry: Spain, as waging her unintermitting crusade against the Saracens of Granada and Cordova; France, as furnishing by far the most numerous and, it may be said, with the Normans, the most distinguished leaders of the Crusades, from Godfrey of Boulogne down to St. Louis so that the name of Frank and of Christian became almost equivalent in the East.-H. H. MILMAN.


Peter The Hermit

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