This was the ultimate punishment for any Catholic person or nation, excommunication was a way to restrict people from participating in the Catholic Church and being unable to receive sacraments. It wasn’t designed to punish or ban people from the church, but it was a way to make them struggle to repent from their sins.
The excommunicated were strangers to the church, and while they were still Christians, they couldn’t receive sacraments and were unable to receive any church benefits or authority, including going to heaven. However, they must show repentant behavior to the church’s satisfaction before being brought back into the fold.
In modern times, you could almost compare it to being put on probation for a job, where your boss restricts all your privileges until you prove that you have changed your lifestyle and habits.
The Fourth Crusade
With the military leader Saladin dead, Pope Innocent ordered a fourth crusade, hoping that the confusion of his successors would allow for the Crusaders to take back most of the territory lost in previous Crusades. In addition, the Crusaders planned to further confuse their foes by sailing into Egypt and attacking the Turks from there.
However, they needed aid from Venice, and when the total number of ships proved to be more money than the army had, they cut a deal. The Crusading army was much smaller than previously thought, but the Venetians wanted repayment for all the ships that they had taken the time to prepare.
Instead, they ordered the Crusaders to aid them in attacking a Hungarian city that had rebelled from Venice several years ago. Despite the Hungarian king’s involvement in the Crusade, and the fact that the city was filled with Christians and not Muslims, the crusaders agreed.
The Pope’s official veto was ignored by the desperate Crusaders, and in response he excommunicated them. The attack succeeded, however, another offer was soon given by a Byzantine prince. He offered to aid the Crusaders and help pay off the Venetian debt, if they helped him free his imprisoned father.
The Attacking (and Sacking) of Constantinople
The Crusaders agreed, once again ignoring the Pope’s protest, and placed the exiled Prince in power as the Emperor of Constantinople. However, he was unable to raise the large sum of money and was eventually imprisoned by his people when he resorted to crueler means to raise the funds.
Furious that they were unable to be paid, the Crusaders launched an attack on Constantinople and sacked the city, stealing everything they good before simply leaving and heading home. The Excommunicated Crusaders never made it to Jerusalem and instead left a massive division between the Christian west and the orthodox east.
However, Pope Innocent took the stolen items the Crusaders offered to him in payment, recognized the Catholic control over several sections of the Byzantine Empire, and eventually welcomed the Crusaders who had participated in the sack back into the church.
Excommunication had its consequences, but they weren’t enough to prevent the tragedy of the fourth crusade, as well as the wars and troubles that followed.