Baldwin IV: No Misfortune Could Destroy the Vigour of his Soul

In the 12th century, when the Crusades were in their decline, Jerusalem had a king who, even though he was led to battle in a litter because he had leprosy, inspired panic among the Mohammedans: Baldwin IV.

Newsdesk (02/09/2023 10:53, Gaudium Press) The first Crusaders – says Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira – were men inspired by a great Faith. But men began to mingle with them who waged holy war preoccupied more with obtaining the honour that, in the public opinion of the West, a heroic participation in the Crusades would bring them. […]

“And it even easily promoted the individual on the ladder of nobility, which was the path of political, social and economic ascension at that time. So there was a human interest combined with a supernatural interest in being a Crusader.

“As the influence of religion waned, the self-interested Crusaders became more numerous than the authentic, legitimate ones, who were there out of the true spirit of the Faith. As a result, the Crusades became wars of conquest, so that the combatants could obtain kingdoms and fiefdoms.”[1]

Consecrated king at the age of thirteen

Baldwin IV was a man who did not allow himself to be tainted by these errors, but had only the glory of God in mind.

After his father, Amauri I, died in July 1174, he was consecrated king at the age of 13. Strong, with a handsome physiognomy and a keen intellect, he was tutored by William of Tyre, who was later Archbishop of Tyre – in present-day Lebanon – Chancellor of the realm and famous historian of the Crusades.

Twice he defeated Saladin

One day, Baldwin was playing battle with some noblemen’s sons; while they screamed when wounded, he didn’t say a word. This was repeated several times and it was realized that the young king was leprous.

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Explains Dr Plinio:

At that time, “the leper [was] considered the abomination of men. (…) Once declared leprous by the competent authority, the person was taken by the family to the church, laid in a coffin of the dead and the priest recited special prayers over him, declaring him to be removed from social contact.

“They were then led in an open coffin in a procession to the nearby leprosarium. The coffin was placed at the door of the leprosarium and everyone left. The only people who lived there were lepers and one or two priests, nuns or lay people with heroic souls, who lived there to help the unfortunates.”[2]

The ruler Raymond III of Tripoli had signed a peace treaty with Saladin, the notorious Mohammedan warrior who dominated Egypt, Syria and other regions of the East.

When he turned 15, Baldwin came of age according to the law of the time and cancelled the treaty, as he knew Saladin’s evil intentions. Soon afterwards, Saladin attacked Christian neighbourhoods. The King of Jerusalem set out against the aggressor and defeated him; this happened twice.

Prostrate before the Holy Cross

In November 1117, Saladin commanded 50,000 men with the aim of taking Jerusalem. Baldwin, with only 380 horsemen – 80 of whom were Templars led by the Grand Master – made a great circuit in order to attack the Muslim leader’s rearguard.

Arriving at Montgisard – a hill near the Holy City, on top of which stood a castle – the Catholic knights were startled to see the sheer number of their enemies.

The heroic leper king got off his horse, prostrated himself with his face in the sand before the wood of the true Cross, led by the Bishop of Bethlehem, and shedding tears began to pray. Then his soldiers vowed not to retreat and shouted that anyone who turned back was a traitor.

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Surrounding the Holy Cross, the Catholic knights, led by the Templar monks and emitting loud sounds like dogs barking, threw themselves at the Mohammedans with such force that they put them to flight; Saladin saved his own skin thanks to the speed of his horse.

An unexpected assistance completed their victory: all the prisoners the Muslims had tied up, taking advantage of the general confusion, broke their bonds and attacked their captors. The defeat of the Mohammedans was total. And Baldwin lost only five knights.

The divine help in this battle was evident. The Holy Cross took on great proportions, rose into the firmament and, during the combat under a blazing sun, protected the Catholics with its shadow. And a mysterious knight dressed in white – certainly St George – struck terrible and elegant blows against the Mohammedans with his sword.

Dr Plinio comments:

“With only three hundred combatants, with a scourged and leprous body, he [Baldwin] nevertheless had the grace to receive a breath of the Holy Spirit for himself and for his own, and to achieve this extraordinary victory. One of the most beautiful achievements of Christian civilization!”[3]

Despite the proliferation of leprosy on his body, Baldwin continued to fight heroically against the enemies of the Church. No longer able to walk, he was led around in a litter and caused panic among the pagans; then he lost his sight.

A cry for help from the West

Unable to marry due to his terrible illness, Baldwin IV was worried about who would succeed him. His sister Sibyl, who was a widow, married Guy de Lusignan in 1180, a French nobleman who lacked the necessary qualities for government.

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Having agreed that Lusignan would become regent, Baldwin removed him from office in 1183 because he refused to fight Saladin.

Shortly afterwards, in order to prevent Guy from occupying the throne after his death, Baldwin IV appointed his nephew – a boy, Sibyl’s posthumous son with her previous husband, Guillaume Longue Epée de Montferrat – as successor. Consecrated king under the title of Baldwin V, he died in 1186 at the age of nine.

Faced with the extremely serious situation of the Holy City, threatened with falling under Saladin’s iron fist, Baldwin IV sent an embassy to the West, led by the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Grand Masters of the Templars and Hospitallers, to ask for military help.

On March 16th, 1185, the heroic Baldwin IV gave his beautiful soul to God. He was 24 years old. Even the infidels paid him homage[4].

“He was a king worthy of Saint Louis, a saint, a man (…) to whom no misfortune could destroy the vigour of his soul, his convictions, his boldness, his qualities of heart, his sense of responsibility.“[5]

Let’s pray for his help in the fight against the enemies of the Church, who are much worse than those of his time.

By Paulo Francisco Martos

Noções de História da Igreja

[1] CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Balduíno IV, o protótipo do católico – I. In Dr. Plinio Magazine. São Paulo. Ano 21, n. 245 (agosto 2018), p. 15.

[2] Idem, ibidem, p. 15-16.

[3] Idem, ibidem, p. 19.

[4] Cf. BORDONOVE, Georges. Les Templiers. Paris: Arthème Fayard, 1977, p. 108-111.

[5] CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Op. cit., p. 17.

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan

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