In 711, a Muslim army invaded and conquered most of what is now Spain and Portugal. What followed was an intermittent and complex season of warfare and crusade known today as the Reconquest, or Reconquista as Christian Kingdoms to the north and east fought to recapture these regions. The movement spanned generations and continued even after the last Muslim kingdom fell in 1492 as the remnants of Islam were prosecuted and expelled. Despite all of its political and social underpinning, the Spanish Reconquista was equally an ideological conquest fueled by a robust crusade theology. While physical armies fought and conquered, the true crusade was one of ideology.
Folquet de Marselha (1150-1231) is a fascinating figure. Though certainly not modern in his theology and philosophy, his multifaceted professions and rise to prominence have an almost modern tenor. “A troubadour, then a Cistercian monk, and finally Archbishop of Toulouse (1205-31),”he is a fine case study of the theological perspectives of reconquest and crusade during the period. His basic message offers the pragmatic observation that fighting Muslims in Spain would spare the crusaders the risks experienced during a long, Mediterranean Sea voyage to the Holy Land. However, it is his new addition to the already familiar doctrine of earning one’s salvation through fighting for God that tells us how highly he valued the crusade in Spain.
In a bizarre hermeneutic, if also an effective sales tactic, Folquet argues that the initial Muslim conquest of Spain was actually a positive action instituted by the providence of God to bring about salvation for those who would fight in the crusade.Claiming the event was an act of greater grace than the death of Christ on the cross since it offered a means of direct salvation, the archbishop broke new ground in soteriology to be sure.While his sentiments are not widely repeated among his contemporaries, the fact that he is not criticized for this teaching and the mere fact that this idea is a possible extrapolation of the theology of the time demonstrates not only the unique interpretations of medieval theology regarding salvation but also the true belief that the Church was indeed operating as the strong right arm of the Almighty Himself.