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Crusade sermons, Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther: What does it mean to take up the cross? – Ida Glaser

Ida Glaser

Crusade sermons, Francis of Assisi and Martin Luther:

What does it mean to take up the cross?

ISBN: 9780 8527 3103 1

CMS, 2012, 34 pp, £2.50

This booklet has ample historical references, and very perceptive theological assertions for our time. Ida Glaser is now the Academic Director of the Oxford Centre for Muslim/Christian Studies, and the reprinting of her study of preaching at the time of the Crusades notices the different approaches of Jacques de Vitry (1160-1240), and Francis. Both were at the siege of Damietta in 1219, but Jacques, Bishop of Acre understood taking up the cross and wearing the sign of the cross on their clothing, as physical conflict with Muslim enemies; and the giving up of life in battle so that afterwards crusaders may be carried up to heaven by the cross. It was at Damietta that Francis went without weapons across the battle lines seeking dialogue with the Sultan. He was ready for martyrdom, but proactive in love for the Muslims. He did not concur with Pope Urban II’s plenary indulgence: forgive-ness of sins for Crusaders.

Three centuries later, belief in taking up the cross in battle as the way to earn salvation was undermined by Luther who also strenuously opposed indulgences.  This was the time of Ottoman Turks pushing into Europe. Luther opposed the Church’s crusade because ‘our suffering is to be distinguished from Christ’s redemptive suffering, which has won our salvation.’  However, he distinguishes the Church’s eirenic duty of prayer and repentance, from the citizen’s duty to the state, and supported the emperor’s army in fighting against the Turks.

Glaser rejects Luther’s support for warfare in favour of Francis’ gospel initiative in taking up the cross in obedience to Christ who sent out his disciples with the greeting of peace. She surmises that Francis would have greeted Muslim soldiers with ‘as-Salaamu alaykum’. In contrast with Luther and Crusaders, Francis loved his enemies. Stating the importance of a right theology of what Jesus was doing on the cross, Glaser notes Francis being subject to Islam, as Christ was subject to the powers in his time. She maintains that the agenda of God’s kingdom means that we need to go the second mile to trump the choice between resisting the powers or collaborating with them. Good evangelistic theology for any time and especially appropriate today.

Donald Reece