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To what extent was the violence in Western society the MAIN reason for the deve1opment of the idea of Holy War?
Violence in Western society was definitely a prominent factor in the culmination of the concept of Holy War. However, it is subjective to say that it was the most prominent. The growing influence and power of the Catholic Church was possibly the most pivotal factor in its development, as-over time-it was able to channel and unify the belligerents of Western Europe against a common, somewhat faceless, enemy.
The role of the Church in the development of Holy War stretches far back before the ninth century, particularly in the writings of the celebrated scholar St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430). Augustine’s writings-which set out to articulate and understand when Christians were allowed to resort to acts of violence-came at a time when “Christian morality and doctrine were refined according to the needs and mental attitudes of the time,” particularly considering the “vacuum created by the disappearance of Roman imperial authority.”
His attempt to reconcile the violence seen in everyday life with the customary pacifism of Christianity is referred to as the concept of the “just war,” which argues that violence can be morally justified under very specific conditions. Delving into the notion of what constituted a “just war” itself, Augustine focused on the notion of charity, stating “the holy war seeks to bring back lapsed or heretical brethren into the fold of the Church, to save their souls if not their bodies.” Augustine’s definition of “just war” would set a theological standard for defining European holy wars throughout the Crusade era.
The Truce and Peace of God was also a crucial factor in the development of Holy War. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, the movements gave knights within Europe a more direct ecclesiastical purpose through the development of the idea of chivalry. By toning violence with a much more moral and defensive inflection-a war in the service of the weak-and by adding the religious oaths of fealty to the feudal act of homage, churchmen did their utmost to Christianize feudal society in general and to set limits on feudal violence in particular. The ultimate goal of the Truce and Peace of God was the creation of peace leagues, led by secular lords who would join together to maintain the peace and “punish those who contravened their oaths by engaging in violent acts outside the set terms.” Through the Peace of God movement the Church was starting to gain authority for deciding what constituted a “just war,” and is a chief example from the Church of its growing attempts to set the parameters for violence to better suit Christian ideals and purposes.
The imagery and language of the Church also changed in relation to the rise of Christian militarism. Sayings and phrases such as miles Christi (soldiers of Christ,) that had been in use since the New Testament were used to describe laymen, especially armed warriors who supported papal policies. Monks, to whom the term miles Christi was originally applied could not, even in this period, bear arms or fight.
Instead, it would be the “warriors of the First Crusade” who would adopt “many of the spiritual goals and some of the ascetic exercises characteristic of monks.” The evolution of the Church during the tenth and eleventh centuries evolved through the taking up of a more combative quality and by latching it onto a religious doctrine that was already in existence. This was an essential factor in the cultural acclimation of Europeans to a revised concept of Holy War.
As the role of the Church in society began to increase during the tenth and eleventh centuries, conceptions of Holy War changed to reflect the new aspirations of the medieval papacy. Evoking the imagery of martyrdom, the idea of suffering for one’s religion to the point of death, Pope Alexander II granted to the Christian knights in Spain a remission of the penance required for their sins. This concept of absolution for soldiers portrays a pivotal shift in papal policy, namely by the introduction of clemency for soldiers fighting in a war deemed holy or just.
In conclusion, violence in Western society was undoubtedly a contributory factor in the development of Holy War, but it was the cunning of the Catholic Church that created the final result. From successfully exploiting the contradictions found within the Old Testament, to glorifying warfare with the promise of the eternal reward, the Church tailored the concept of war in alignment with Christian tenets and ideals; an ideology that would come to form the bedrock of the Crusades.