Home > History > The Popes and the Baltic Crusades 1147-1254

The Popes and the Baltic Crusades 1147-1254

BRILL | 2006 | ISBN: 9004155023 | 288 pages

The Popes and the Baltic Crusades examines the formulation of papal policy on the crusades and missions in the Baltic region in the central Middle Ages and analyses why and how the crusade concept was extended from the Holy Land to the Baltic region.

The expansion of Latin Christendom into North-East Europe entered a new phase when in 1147 Pope Eugenius III proclaimed a crusade against the pagan Slavs living in the lands along the western part of the Baltic Sea. In the following decades the peoples living further east, in Livonia, Estonia, Finland and Prussia, were targeted in a series of new missions and campaigns undertaken by the archbishops, bishops and princes of the neighbouring lands which were themselves often only recently converted to Christianity. Although theconquest and conversion of the Baltic lands often met with considerable local resistance, these ventures eventually succeeded in incorporating the eastern Baltic region into the Latin Christian Church and western European society.

This study shows how papal crusading policy in the Baltic region was formed and how it developed in its first century, from Eugenius III’s proclamation of the crusade against the pagan Slavs in 1147 to the end of Pope Innocent IV’s pontificate in 1254. Highlighting the interplay between canon law and theology, politics and the Church’s pastoral concerns, it analyses the papal stand and the causes and impetus behind the changes that occurred. It examines the papacy’s perception of the campaigns, the intentions stated, the rewards granted as well as the extent of papal involvement in the organization and implementation of the campaigns. It also discusses the character and importance the popes ascribed to the Baltic expeditions and whether the various popes considered them to be on a par with the crusades undertaken in aid of the Holy Land. The formation of papal policy on the Baltic crusades was strongly influenced by the curia’s interaction with the princes and bishops of North-Eastern Europe who were involved in the expansion of Latin Christendom. The extension of the crusade concept from the Holy Land to the Baltic region was a result of pressure from these localecclesiastical and secular leaders. At first the pressure came from members of the Church hierarchy, but from the early thirteenth century the Christian princes often approached the curia to obtain authorization of their campaigns in the region.

The period from the middle of the twelfth century to the middle of the thirteenth saw not only a geographical expansion of Christendom, but also developments in papal authority supported by a gradually evolving theory of papal monarchy. From the late eleventh century onwards the papacy began to assert its right to exercise jurisdiction throughout Christendom and to assert itself as an independent power by excluding secular influence and enforcing ecclesiastical authority.

It claimed jurisdiction in both spiritual and temporal affairs, but while it claimed full jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical world, it did not do so over the secular world. Arguing that the Roman Church had responsibility for the souls of all men, the papacy maintained that it had a right to intervene in the temporal order in circumstances, which, although defined, could be interpreted widely. The papal monarchy reached its height in the first half of the thirteenth century, when the popes exercised an unprecedented degree of control over European society, politics and institutions. Gradually secular rulers came to recognize papal intervention in an increasing number of affairs and acknowledged it by actively seeking papal involvement and support although matters such as ecclesiastical appointments, jurisdiction and eventually papal taxation could lead to conflict. The communication between the papacy and the secular rulers from the north-eastern periphery of Latin Christendom which influenced the formation of papal policy on the Baltic campaigns was part of this development of firmer ties between Rome and the Christian princes.

The greater role played by the papacy in European society meant that the popes were required to formulate policies on new issues and led to an increased amount of business being presented to the curia. The college of cardinals, led by the cardinal bishop of Ostia, became a key institution in papal government. It performed a role in many ways equivalent to contemporary royal councils. The cardinals served as the pope’s advisers, administrators of papal government, rectors of the Papal Patrimony and as legates, and their college was the Electoral College at papal elections. Most popes were elected from the body of cardinals, including those who are of particular interest for the study of the Baltic crusades. Alexander III (1159–81) had been made cardinal in 1150 by Eugenius III (1145–53); Alexander himself, exiled in France for part of his pontificate due to the papal schism of 1159–77, used the papal prerogative to appoint relatively few cardinals during his pontificate. Among his appointments was Clement III (1187–91), appointed cardinal in 1179, who in contrast to his patron carried out a large number of promotions to the cardinalate in his short reign. Clement was succeeded by the eightyfive-year-old Celestine III (1191–98) who had been made cardinal as early as 1144. Innocent III (1198–1216) had been appointed cardinal by Clement III, sometime between May 1189 and September 1190. Innocent’s successor, Honorius III (1216–27), had been close to both Clement III and Celestine III and was made cardinal by Celestine in 1193, having served as papal chamberlain since 1188. Gregory IX (1227–41) had been made cardinal deacon by Innocent III in 1198 and was in 1206 promoted to cardinal bishop of Ostia, testifying to Innocent’s trust in him. Among Gregory’s first appointments to the cardinalate was Sinibaldo Fieschi in 1227, who may have served Gregory before Gregory’s election as pope.

Sinibaldo eventually succeeded Gregory as Innocent IV (1243–54). These popes of the late twelfth and early thirteenth century had thus all served the papal government before their election and had thereby gained an intimate knowledge of the curia and papal policy. This could be expected to lead to a high degree of consistency in papal policy, but this was not always the case with regard to the Baltic crusades, as this study shows.

The extension of papal authority and its acceptance by secular rulers is one of the reasons why the papacy could undertake that most secular activity, war, in the form of the crusades. It could not force, only exhort, secular rulers to serve in its crusades, but its right to initiate and orchestrate these wars in the service of the Church was not disputed, and papal measures designed to facilitate this warfare were generally accepted even when they impinged on matters usually within the realm of royal authority.

The crusades were one form of penitential warfare, albeit the most fully developed. The idea that men could go to war as a penance, for the remission of their sins, emerged in the late eleventh century. It is important here to maintain a distinction between penitential warfare, which in this study is used as a general term denoting warfare in the service of the Church for which participants were promised remission of sins, and its more elaborated form, the crusade, which emerged in the very late eleventh century with Pope Urban II’s call for an expedition to liberate Jerusalem in 1095. Because its goal was Jerusalem, this expedition was also regarded as a pilgrimage, and privileges normally granted to pilgrims such as papal protection were granted to crusaders. Encouraged by the response to Urban’s call and by the crusade’s success in conquering Jerusalem in July 1099, new crusades were proclaimed in the following century. The core characteristics which linked them to penitential warfare and pilgrimage remained—the granting of spiritual rewards, papal protection to participants and the vow taken by participants—although they were of course subject to evolution. While the First Crusade remained the model for the subsequent crusades for both papacy and the faithful, the concept of the crusade continued to develop, for instance through the addition of more privileges to participants, the setting up of measures to finance and promote the expeditions, permission to redeem and commute the vows taken by participants, and the extension of the crusade to targets other than the Holy Land, to Spain and the Baltic as well as against heretics and the papacy’s political opponents.

In this study of the papal policy on the Baltic crusades I draw on the pluralist definition of crusades, and the parameters chosen for the analysis are inspired by the characteristics contained in this definition. The pluralist definition, as formulated by Jonathan Riley- Smith, states that a crusade was a penitential war which ranked as, and had many of the attributes of, a pilgrimage. It manifested itself in many theatres. The cause—the recovery of property or defence against injury—was just in the traditional sense, but it was related to the needs of all Christendom or the Church, rather than those of a particular nation or region. A crusade was legitimized by the pope, rather than by a temporal ruler. At least some of the participants took a vow, which subordinated them to the Church and ensured some papal control over them in matters other than the actual waging of war. Pilgrimage terminology was often used of them; and some of the privileges they enjoyed, particularly the protection of themselves, their familiae and properties, were associated with those of pilgrims. They believed themselves to be penitents and as such they were granted a full remission of sins, which after 1198 was reformulated as a plenary indulgence.

The ongoing debate about the definition and nature of crusading has led to several definitions being put forward. Besides the pluralist one, the other current definitions have recently been categorized by Giles Constable as the traditionalist, the popularist and the generalist definitions. Taking a different stand, Christopher Tyerman argued that there were no crusades in the twelfth century, and that crusades only really came into being with the crusade programme of Pope Innocent III. Those twelfth century campaigns which generally have been regarded as crusades were in Tyerman’s analysis merely the continuation of already existing ideas and practices.

However, his argument won little support. Of the four definitions currently in play, it is probably the pluralist definition which has found the most adherents. It is nevertheless under constant discussion and reassessment, a debate which recently has been analysed by Norman Housley in his book Contesting the Crusades (2006). Many historians have emphasised the changing quality and different stages of crusading, and several emphasise the innovations seen in Innocent III’s pontificate. This study of how the Baltic wars became crusades offers a contribution to the ongoing discussion about the validity of definitions of crusades in general and about the weaknesses of the pluralist definition in particular, adding to the suggestions that this definition really only applies with respect to the thirteenth century, in the case of the Baltic crusades from the pontificate of Honorius III.

In order to determine the papacy’s policy on, and perception of, the Baltic crusades, this study has particular focus on the indulgence granted to their participants. The indulgence only reached its fully developed form in the early thirteenth century after the twelfth century had seen various expressions of it. Eugenius III’s indulgences had marked a break with the older view that a crusade was a satisfactory penitential action. His thoughts, and those of Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), probably followed the idea already emerging at the end of the eleventh century that humans could not perform any action that was satisfactory to God for sin. As Christ’s representative, however, the pope could declare that a particular action would be regarded by God as being satisfactory, even if it were not. Eugenius’s views were generally not followed by his successors, who reverted to the position that the indulgence was a statement that participation in crusades constituted a satisfactory penance. It was Pope Innocent III who gave the indulgence its final form in his first call for a crusade in aid of the Holy Land, Post miserabile of August 1198. In his formulation, the indulgence was not a declaration that a penitential act would be satisfactory: it was a promise on God’s behalf of the remission of the penalties that were the consequence of sin, whether imposed by the Church itself or by God in this world or the next, in purgatory.

Indulgences were, of course, not only granted for participation in crusades. Other devotional acts, including visits to specific churches and shrines on certain feast days, merited an indulgence. These were, however, often partial, whereas participation in the crusades in aid of the Holy Land merited a full remission of sins, a plenary indulgence. The papal letters proclaiming the crusades to the Holy Land specified the plenary indulgence granted to crusaders and explicitly listed the services which warranted an indulgence. Innocent III and his successors made use of a series of standard formulations in this respect. The indulgence formula created by Innocent in Post miserabile was used, with only minor changes, in his subsequent letters on crusades to the Holy Land and was given its final form in Ad liberandam, the decree on the Fifth Crusade from the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.

In this analysis the formulations of the indulgences granted to crusaders going to the Holy Land are compared to the formulations of the indulgences granted to crusaders in the Baltic, and the differences or similarities in their characteristics, in particular whether the indulgence was plenary or partial and what kind of services merited one, are used to clarify the papal stance on the Baltic expeditions. As we shall see, in their letters on the Baltic campaigns the popes did not merely copy the indulgence formulae of their predecessors. The papal decision about whether a specific act merited an indulgence and, if so, which indulgence would be granted for the deed, was of course a deliberate one. The indulgence granted reflected the importance ascribed to the deed by the pope, and hence the significance of an act was indicated by the indulgence granted to it. The indulgence is therefore a central parameter in the analysis of the papal policy on the Baltic crusades and can be used to determine the importance given to these crusades by the papacy.

The privilege of the indulgence was not the only reward granted to crusaders. From the First Crusade onwards crusaders enjoyed the same privileges as pilgrims, most importantly papal protection not only of themselves, but also of their familiae and goods. Eventually more temporal privileges were added, designed to facilitate the crusaders’ financing of their journey and to secure their interests while they were away. They included the right to a moratorium on their debts and exemption from interest payments while they were on crusade, delays of judicial proceedings in which they were involved until their return, and quick settlement of court cases.20 Such temporal privileges were carefully listed in the papal proclamations. These privileges are also taken into account in the analysis of the papal policy on the Baltic crusades, with emphasis on the important privilege of papal protection during the crusade.  Some of the aspects included in the pluralist definition of crusades cannot be addressed because of the character and scarcity of the source material on the Baltic crusades. The evidence does not allow us to determine whether the participants in all the various Baltic campaigns in the period from the middle of the twelfth century to the middle of the thirteenth took a vow or what form such a vow may have had,21 although some certainly did so; nor do the sources allow us to describe in any detail the preaching for, and organization of, the Baltic crusades in that period. But the material does permit an analysis of the terminology employed in the papal letters on the Baltic crusades which is therefore also taken into account. It is also possible to evaluate the extent of the papacy’s involvement in the organization of these campaigns and its attempts to control them. Its stand on these issues with regard to the Baltic crusades is compared to that on crusades fought elsewhere.

Another element included here is the justification given by the papacy for the Baltic crusades. The waging of wars constituted a theological problem for the Church. The Fifth Commandment and the injunctions of Christ to seek peace obliged the Church to be committed to peace. The medieval theology of war rested on the teachings of St Augustine of Hippo (d. 430). Basing his doctrine on the classical distinction between just and unjust war, he put forward a set of criteria to distinguish a just war from an unjust one. These criteria were reduced to three by later commentators: auctoritas principis, causa iusta, and intentio recta. The principle of auctoritas principis stated that a just war must be proclaimed by a legitimate authority, ecclesiastical or secular, the decisive factor being that proclamation of war must be within the jurisdiction of this ruler. The principle of causa iusta required that the war was fought with a justifiable purpose, which according to Augustine involved an injury perpetrated by another. So a just cause included defence of one’s country, patria, and of its laws and traditional ways of life, as well as recovery of land or property unlawfully appropriated by others. Finally, the principle of intentio recta demanded that a just war did not contain any ulterior motives and that warfare was the only way to achieve the justifiable purpose put forward.

How did this apply to warfare against the pagans in the Baltic? The concept of just war meant that a defensive war against non- Christians who were the aggressors would fall within the framework of a just war. A pope could authorize the use of force against those who attacked Christians in order to protect the Christian community. War could not, however, be waged in order to bring about the conversion of non-Christians. Canonists declared that they should not be forced to accept baptism, a view put forward by among others Pope Gregory I (590–604) and the canonist Ivo of Chartres (d. 1115 or 1116) and maintained in the thirteenth century and throughout Christian history.

Missions were the instruments of conversion, but the conversion of new peoples brought with it a risk of apostasy, as soon becameclear in the Baltic region. Canon law was surprisingly reticent about warfare against apostates, that is, Christians who after having received baptism abandoned the faith, but it classed them with the worst kind of heretics, as did Thomas Aquinas. Whereas a heretic only denied one or more of the Christian doctrines, the apostate completely renounced the faith and thus denied the religion itself. Apostates, like heretics, were rebels and caused injury to the Church. The use of force against them was therefore to be justified in the same way as with heretics, against whom the use of force had long been regarded as legitimate, although it was held to be the responsibility of secularpowers. Drawing on ideas expressed already by Pope Gregory VII (1073–85) and the canonist Gratian (c. 1140), the Third Lateran Council of 1179 issued a decree exhorting all Christians to defend Christianity by fighting heresy, promising them remission of their sins in return. This laid the foundations for the proclamations of crusades against heretics which followed in the thirteenth century.

To complement the understanding of the papal policy on the Baltic crusades, this study also examines the papal stand on the conversion of the pagans of the Baltic region. It explores the character of the papal involvement in the conversion of non-Christians and the extent to which the popes assumed responsibility for this. To clarify this, some comparisons are made to the papal policy on the conversion of Muslims. The analysis thus focuses on the conversion of non-Christians living outside western Christendom, and the papal attitude towards Jews and Orthodox Christians is not taken into account. While this part of the analysis centres on the popes’ policy on conversion of non-Christians, or external mission, some references are also made to their policy on internal mission, that is, evangelizing within communities already officially or nominally Christian.

In his important study of the European approaches to Muslims in the Middle Ages Benjamin Kedar showed that mission and crusades were contemporary and complementary, rather than competitive, approaches to the Muslims in the thirteenth century. In the Baltic region mission among the pagans had predated crusades, and it was often the activities of these missionary projects which led to the proclamation of the Baltic crusades as the popes responded to the missionaries’ pleas for assistance and called for crusaders to go to that region. This has led some German scholars to coin the term ‘Missionskreuzzüge’, a somewhat confusing composite term which obscures the fact that the crusades in the Baltic region had the same key characteristics as those to the Holy Land and in the Iberian Peninsula, and that the Baltic crusades came to be regarded as being on a par with the crusades outremer. It is thus well known that mission and crusades were contemporary also in the Baltic region, but this study suggests that the change in papal policy on the Baltic crusades seen during Honorius III’s pontificate should partly be ascribed to an increased papal engagement in external mission.

An understanding of the papal policy on the Baltic crusades gives us an insight into how the papacy used penitential warfare and the crusade, some of the most powerful instruments employed by the papal monarchy, to further the causes it wished to support. Because the Baltic crusades were linked to missionary activity, it also informs us of the varying importance ascribed to mission and the expansion of Christendom by the popes of Central Middle Ages. Furthermore, a clarification of the interaction between the curia and the secular rulers of North-Eastern Europe on the matter of the Baltic campaigns offers us a case-study of the growing recognition of papal authority in these lands in the North-Eastern corner of Christendom.

To emphasise the continuous developments in the papal policy on the Baltic crusades, in the papal stand on external mission and in the relations between the curia and the northern European princes and bishops, this study is divided chronologically into four parts. Each part begins with an outline of the events surrounding the conversion, conquest and colonization of the Baltic lands. These events are only summarized briefly and can be followed in more details in works such as those by William Urban, Friedrich Benninghoven and Eric Christiansen.

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