My final crusades please!


Peace be with you!

Ok, so for our final paper in my “Holy War in the Middle Ages: Christian and Muslim Perspectives” class, we were given the assignment of writing a critical book review of The Invention of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman. My teacher typed me up an extra page of comments about some things I had in my paper. I’ll share those and see what suggestions you guys could give me of the best way to respond to him. I guess it would be best to explain the thesis of Tyerman’s book–he says that the crusades were not a movement, only a reflection of society (a thesis I disagreed with in my review).

Some things that I addressed in my paper were:

  1. “The chroniclers and agents of John XXIII” were cited by Tyerman. Now as we all know, this John XXIII (1410-1415) was an antipope and never validly elected. I pointed this out and stated that by Tyerman citing him it doesn’t help his thesis because that John XXIII was never actually a legitimate Church authority, therefore whatever decrees he issued were not representative of what the Church teaches.

  2. Tyerman inaccurately defines indulgences and states that they forgave sins. I pointed this out and accurately defined what they are.

  3. Tyerman cites John Wyclif, Geoffrey Chaucer, and William Langland as people who were speaking out against crusade. I pointed out that all three were extremely anti-clerical (because Tyerman a few pages earlier asserted that crusade was criticized by “some who were otherwise by no means anti-papal”…and yet he cites none of those people). And John Wyclif was, of course, a precurser to Protestantism.

My teacher said this:

“Indeed, you went out of your way to suggest he was simply giving false information about Church doctrine, esp. on your comments on p. 2 re: Pope John XXIII and the business with indulgences. Your response here also correlates to comments you occasionally made in class about Church doctrine re: the assumption of Mary and relics. As a Catholic, obviously a devout one, you seem at pains to represent Catholic doctrine and theology as they are held today. This is fine. BUT–and this is a big “but”–to assert that such doctrines are timeless (exist from the beginnings of the church), unchanging, were imparted by God, revealed by God’s grace, or the product of an infallible papal authority is a faith statement that is (a) unnecessary as far as I am concerned, unless class discussion actually is dealing with 21st century Catholic theology (which it will usually not); (b) anachronistic as far as the historical church is concerned–and that is the institution we are dealing with; and © fundamentally ahistorical.”

He uses John XXIII and indulgences as examples, stating that it was only “one side” during the Schism that viewed him as illegitimate and "that he is not on modern lists of legitimate popes has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on his legitimacy historically."
Then he says, in regards to indulgences, "if the doctrine were so crystal clear, why was there such mass confusion and debate, even among church intellectuals (ditto on confession, by the way, which was doctrinally clarified at 4 Lateran but still remained quite confusing in application)?"
He also says, “Indulgences were granted for the remissions of both guilt and penences (plenary indulgences were the full on remissions of guilt).”

What would be the best way to respond to this? He was a good teacher for the rest of the term, but all of a sudden, I get all these comments on our last paper. I know that someone has to have gone to confession before recieving an indulgence, so what does he mean by the remission of guilt? One cannot simply recieve an indulgence in the place of confession!

Thanks for any help you can give me (and sorry about the long post:))!


Since your teacher seems mostly concerned with indulgences, it would be best to clarify them for him.

An excellent source is the HOME PAGE of this web site, Catholic Answers

On the top left is a “QUICK SEARCH” box.
Type indulgences in it. Several articles from “This Rock” magazine will show up.

The article “Primer on Indulgences” is EXCELLENT.

This article and the others will give you the knowledge to help your teacher understand the correct meaning of indulgences.


Regarding indulgences in the Middle Ages, it is pretty clear in the Supplement to the Third Part of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica in the section on the Sacrament of Penance, compiled from his commentaries shortly after his death in 1274, that the guilt of sin is forgiven through contrition, confession, and absolution. It is also pretty clear in the Supplement in the section on Indulgences that indulgences remit the punishment of sin that remains after contrition, confession and absolution. This is still Catholic teaching today.

The confusion concerning indulgences during the Middle Ages was, according to Karl Adam*,* the result of “the prevailing low state of clerical education” and the use of “a misleading forumla” employed in papal decrees concerning indulgences “from the thirteenth century onwards which spoke of a remissio a poena et culpa (remission of pain and guilt) or even of a remissio peccatorum (remission of sin).” “These phrases were to refer, not only to the indulgence, but to the repentance and absolution that went before it as well. But from the Jubilee of 1390 onwards confessors and preachers of indulgences often failed entirely to refer to the necessity of repentance.” (Karl Adam, Roots of the Reformation, trans. by Cecily Hastings, pub. by Coming Home Resources, 2000, page 23-24)


It sounds like you are treating this like a Religion class, whereas your professor thinks it is a History class.

Doors to the Sacred: A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church by Joseph Martos provides a good survey of how the Church viewed the sacraments historically. Check out the chapter on Reconciliation.



As a history professor myself, I think your professor has a point about your ahistorical approach. John XXIII was regarded as a legitimate pope at the time. That’s what counts, for a historian. Your theological rejection of his legitimacy is not relevant for a historical discussion. The same with regard to the 14th-century critics of Crusading. You may see them as heretical, but they are part of the picture of 14th-century Catholicism and have to be taken into account. And with regard to indulgences, you need to address what indulgences were in the Middle Ages, using medieval sources. You can’t simply read a contemporary definition back into the Middle Ages. Certainly good Catholic theology taught then as now that guilt was removed in the sacrament of penance (and you need to show this to your professor based on Aquinas and other medieval sources). But good Catholic theology and what was practiced on the ground did not always coincide. Luther complained in his 1517 letter to the Archbishop of Mainz that people believed that indulgences forgave both penalty and guilt. I seem to recall Langland referring to a letter absolving “a poena et a culpa” (from penalty and guilt).

That being said, you have some valid points. If Tyerman claimed that people who were not “antipapal” opposed crusading, then you’re right that he needs to back this up. (I think he’s probably correct, but he should have given documentation for this claim.)

More broadly, your professor is out of line (in my opinion) in referring to your comments in class in order to make inferences about your faith and attack that faith under the guise of teaching you proper historical method. He needs to take your historical arguments seriously as historical arguments and refute them on that ground rather than trying to strike at the root of what he thinks are your mistakes. This is hard for professors–we teach folks coming from all sorts of perspectives (I find Muslims to be the most well-informed and aggressive in asserting their faith), and it’s easy to feel as if a student is using his/her faith to avoid grappling with the serious historical issues. But that’s just one of the challenges of teaching history in a pluralistic society. It’s one of the things I most enjoy about teaching, actually–but then I’m a Christian myself and a specialist in the history of Christianity!

I only wish I had more people like you in my class–I’m in New Jersey and there are usually lots of Catholics (or at least people with Catholic upbringings). But they are usually either lapsed, indifferent, or simply not very well informed.



"Down to the latter part of the thirteenth century, the theory prevailed that an indulgence dispensed with the usual works of penance by substituting some other act. Before the fourteenth century, another step was taken, and the indulgence was regarded as directly absolving from the guilt and punishment of sins, culpa et poena peccatorum. It was no longer a mitigation or abatement of imposed penance. It immediately set aside or remitted that which acts of penance had been designed to remove; namely, guilt and penalty. It is sufficient for the Church to pronounce offences remitted. Wyclif made a bold attack against the indulgence “from guilt and punishment,” a culpa et poena, in his Cruciata. Now that it is no longer possible to maintain the spuriousness of such papal indulgences, some Roman Catholic writers construe the offensive phrase to mean “from the penalty of guilt,” a poena culpae.

More here:

[]§ 118. Penance and Indulgences]([color=red). ##


Peace be with you!

Thanks for the replies, everyone! I think a few things need clearing up, though, from my original post.

I know that indulgences were being abused and that many people thought they were for the forgiveness of sins, ect. However, Tyerman defines plenery indulgence as “forgiveness of all confessed sins”–implying that after the sins were confessed an indulgence was still needed for them to be forgiven. This was what I was addressing, and only spent a couple sentances on it in my whole paper.

I’m sure that there were people who were not antipapal who criticized crusade also. The only reason I mentioned it in my paper is because the only people Tyerman cites after making that statement is people who WERE antipapal (John Wyclif set off a red light and siren for me).

And as far as my “comments” in class…what he must be talking about there is one brief comment I made one day. My teacher mentioned something about relics of Mary and all I said was that there aren’t any relics of Mary and that the Church has never been in possession of any (which is true without even mentioning the Assumption, and I never did). I guess he took that as a “faith statement”.

My point with John XXIII was that he was never validly elected as pope according to the requirments of the time. Also, there is the fact that Tyerman wrote his book in 1998, well after it had been clarified completely by the Church that John XXIII of the Middle Ages was in fact an antipope. I do understand your point about the historical approach, though, and it may have been a mistake for me to make a big deal of it in my paper. I just think Tyerman should have only cited Martin V, whom he did in the same sentence.

According to the Catholic Church, doctrine has never changed. I believe that. So for me to reference a doctrine of the Church, even if I get it from a contemporary source such as the Catholic Encyclopedia, is a historical approach because the doctrine is the same today as it was in the Middle Ages.

Anyway, thank you all for your replies!

In Christ,
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[quote=Rand Al’Thor]My teacher mentioned something about relics of Mary and all I said was that there aren’t any relics of Mary and that the Church has never been in possession of any (which is true without even mentioning the Assumption, and I never did). I guess he took that as a “faith statement”.

Check out this source about Marian relics.

Since the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into heaven we do not possess any first class relics of her with the exception perhaps of some hair. “Parts of Mary’s hair were claimed to be in the Messina Cathedral in Sicily, after being brought to Piazza, Sicily, by the Crusaders; various other places also claimed this relic.” Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) allegedly had hair of Mary and so did Pope Sergius II, which is now enshrined in Emmerich/Germany. There are still several other places where Mary’s hair is reportedly venerated: in 1148 in Saint Eucharius-Matthias and in 1209 in Saint Mary of the Martyrs in Trier as well as in 1170 in the Cistercian Abbey of Himmerode and in 1282 in the Benedictine Monastery of Prüfening; all of these sites are in Germany. In 1283 Mary’s hair has been deposited in a reliquary at the Augustinian Monastery in Ranshofen, Austria as well as in Linköping, Sweden.



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