Crusades III

The third question I need to address for my history class is:  How were infidels and heretics similar, and how were they different, in the minds of those who called for or went on crusades?

This is a really good question, because while there is a clear distinction between ‘infidel’ and ‘heretic’ from the Webster’s perspective, these two groups were treated very similarly.

To back up a bit, an infidel is literally defined as an unbeliever.  To a Christian, this would have been anyone who is not a Christian, and to a Muslim this would have been anyone who did not practice Islam.   An infidel is someone who doesn’t believe in deity or deities described by your religion.  In other words, the specific label is applied in a relative, not absolute, sense.

A heretic is someone who generally identifies with the religious beliefs, but whose interpretation is outside the acceptable norm.  For example, to Christians subscribing to the Roman church, Cathars were heretics; to Shi’a Muslims, Sunni Muslims were heretics.  Again, the label is applied to an individual or group in a relative, not absolute, sense.

The Roman church identified both heretics and infidels as enemies of the Church, and intended to triumph over both groups.  But the initial attempts to address these problems varied based on the group; the Pope sent emissaries to heretical groups in an effort to persuade these lost souls to mend their ways and rejoin the flock of believers.  Because a large proportion of heretics lived near and within the political regions under heavy Church influence, these attempts were convenient and an opportunity to publicly demonstrate its commitment to Christ’s pacifist teachings.

In contrast, infidels resided largely outside of the Church’s geographical sphere of influence.  The Christians in these areas were distinctly a religious minority, generally residing in discrete, isolated groups.  The Church addressed the problem of infidels as a threat to its goal of geographic dominance, and instead of playing the role of Christ’s emmissary assumed the armor of war.  When infidel Seljuk Turks became a threat to Byzantium, the Church took the opportunity to declare war against these aggressors, and called men from across Europe to join in regaining control of the Holy Land.

The Church did enjoin sanctions against both individuals identified as heretics and those identified as infidels.  Christians were instructed that any property owned by either heretics or infidels could be rightly seized by those who followed the Pope’s teachings.   And, ultimately, the Church became less interested in converting heretics, and more enamored with the idea of eliminating them.

For their part, the people who answered Pope Innocent III’s call to arms treated infidels and heretics similarly.  Several accounts recorded by scribes and nobles detail the travels of crusading armies, which included violent encounters with heretics; once identified, those who had taken up the Pope’s cause were eager to exercise their might against an enemy.  This was no accident; the cost of transporting numerous troops and the requisite supplies was an enormous burden even for the wealthy, so treasure seized after a successful battle was welcome reward for the trouble of travelling the long distance to the Holy Land.


2 responses

  1. A heretic is anyone who disagrees with me. An infidel is someone who cannot play the violin.

  2. A heretic is a software engineer who uses GOTO. An infidel is a business analyst who thinks he can write code.

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