Among other spectacular features of his reign Innocent founded the Inquisition, and thus formally divorced the Church from its earlier preaching of universal peace and love. Moreover, he attempted a diversion of the tremendous, wasted power of the crusades. He wanted holy wars fought nearer home, and preached a crusade against John of England. The mere threat brought John to his knees; and Innocent then turned his newfound weapon against the heretics of southern France, the Albigenses. These unfortunate people, having a certain religious firmness wholly incomprehensible to John, refused submission.
The crusade against them became an actual and awful reality. In the name of Christ, men devastated a Christian country. The spirit of persecution thus aroused became rampant in religion and remained so for over half a thousand years. Rebels against the Church accepted its most evil teaching, and in their brief periods of power became torturers and executioners in their turn.
This first of the “religious wars” achieved its purpose. It exterminated or at least suppressed the heresy by exterminating every heretic who dared assert himself. Vast numbers of wholly orthodox Christians perished also, since even they fought against the “crusaders” in defending their homes. War did not change its hideous face because man had presumed to place a blessing on it. Next to Italy, Southern France had been the most cultured land of Europe. The crusaders left it almost a desert. It had been practically independent of the kings at Paris, henceforth it offered them no resistance.
A more excusable direction given by Innocent to the crusading enthusiasm was against the Saracens in Spain. A new and tremendous army of these had come over from Africa to reenforce their brethren, who shared the peninsula with the Spaniards. The Pope’s preaching sent sixty thousand crusaders to help the Spaniards against this swarm of invaders, and the Saracens were completely defeated. The battle of Navas de Tolosa, in 1212, settled that Spain was to be Christian instead of Mahometan.
Against the Saracens of the East, however, crusades grew less and less effective. “Geography explains much of history.” In Spain the Saracens were weak because far from the centre of their power. In the East the Europeans were at the same disadvantage. For one man who fell in battle in the Holy Land, twenty perished of starvation or disease upon the journey thither. Europe began to realize this. The East no longer lured men with the golden glamour that it held for an earlier generation. Kings had the contrasted examples of Philip Augustus and the heroic Richard to teach them the value of staying at home.