Among the many ideals that captivated the imagination of western Christendom during the Middle Ages, no other was as dramatic, as overwhelming, or as contradictory, as was the crusading spirit. Tragically romanticized by many, the Crusades have the distinction of being one of the most blatant of the many instances in which Christianity, fueled in part by its own zeal, has contradicted its very essence—on this score, only the Inquisition can be compared with it.1
The Crusades and the Inquisitions both demonstrate the wrong thinking that had overwhelmed the church. The church in the Middle ages and the Renaissance was in desperate need of reformation; both ecclesiastic and theological reformation. This was most diffidently a destructive time in the life of Christ’s church. The Crusades which began towards the end of the 11th century had run their course by the end of the 13th century. One may speak if the crusades as first crusade, second crusade, and so on, but the reality is that they were not isolated campaigns.2
Therefore, the pope is not the head, nor are the cardinals the whole body of the holy, Catholic and universal church. Only Christ is the head, and his predestined are the body, and each is a member of that body.3
The church during this time had lost sight of the gospel. We see, what is called a pre-reformation in the likes of John Wycliffe and John Huss. These men, and men like them leading up to the reformation would be persecuted in the Inquisitions. During this time, there was a conciliar movement which formed a universal council who would use the Inquisition to demonstrate their authority. Huss a teacher in Bohemia began to follow the teachings brought by students from Oxford to Prague.4
Wycliffe taught that the scriptures were the position of the predestined body of Christ. Therefore, he taught that the Bible should be put back into their hands, and should be translated into a language that they could understand. He also taught that the church is not the pope or his visible hierarchy, but the invisible who are predestined for salvation; no one knows who they are, but there are indications in their fruit.5
The thirteenth century reached the apex of papal power under Innocent III. During the same time the mendicant monk orders were set out on a mission to bring the world to Christ. Also, universities were being developed, and Gothic art was being used to depict the gospel to the illiterate. During this time the Black Plague ravaged much of Europe.6
While there was much bleakness about the Middle Ages there are some bright spots. Anselm of Canterbury was one of those bright spots. Anselm was educated as a Benedictine monk, he was a theologian, and a scholar.7
Anselm was the first theologian to pose the satisfaction theory of atonement. He said, “To sin is to fail to render to God His due.” Anselm said that what God is due is righteousness; therefore, only a righteous being can satisfy God. God is the only righteous being, so only God can satisfy His righteousness, and since man sinned, man must die. The only way to satisfy the righteousness of God and the justice of God with the death of man is for a God/Man to take man’s place.8 This view of the atonement is the standard view among evangelical Christians today.
1 Justo L. Gonzales, The Story of Christianity, Volume I: The Early Church to the Reformation, 2nd ed., (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 371.
2 Ibid, 346-351.
3 Ibid, 406.
4 Ibid, 409.
5 Ibid, 413.
6 Ibid, 380-393.
7 “Who is Saint Anselm? S. Accessed March 4, 2017. http://www.anselm.edu/About-SaintAnselm/Who-was-Saint-Anselm.htm.
8 Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, Ed., Documents of the Christian Church, 4th ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 146-147.