Skip to comments.Civilization in the Balance: The Battle of Lepanto and Election ‘08
Posted on 10/27/2008 8:05:57 AM PDT by NYer
In 1571, the future of Christian Europe was very precarious. Once united in faith, “Christendom” had become splintered with heresy, dissent and a rising nationalism that placed country over religious duty. Luther’s seed had produced countless weeds sprouting up uncontrollably. Nothing was certain anymore, as everything — all the achievements of previous generations, from Thucydides to Heraclitus, Augustine and Thomas Aquinas — seemed ready to slip away into oblivion. What had changed? A people, a civilization, that carried the pride and tradition of the Roman Empire, a culture long since purified by the Gospel message, now faced annihilation at the hands of a new and aggressive world power. The threat posed by the new enemy was, to be sure, a political one but, deeper still, it represented a religious and cultural alternative. The onslaught of a young and seemingly invincible foe, an eastern tribal people that had united under the teaching of the Koran, was pressing harder than ever against the gates of an older divided and enfeebled Europe.
The Ottoman Turks had, within a relatively short period of time, swallowed up entire Christian civilizations in the east, culminating in the capture of Constantinople in 1453. The city, known throughout Europe as the “Queen of Cities” for its beauty, was the beating heart of the Eastern Orthodox Church and had stood since the days of the Roman Emperor Constantine as the “New Rome,” intended as an everlasting Christian rebuttal to the old empire’s pagan past. The city was a bulwark of Christian faith, learning and culture for over a millennium but, in the fifteenth century, its famed walls crumbled under relentless cannon barrage and gave way as the empire finally succumbed to the Turkish fury. Its countless churches were gradually converted into mosques and its native population was whittled down after waves of forced Turkish resettlement initiatives overwhelmed them.
It was the prized desideratum of every Sultan of the Ottoman Empire to march his vast army to Rome itself and repeat the same victory there. Were they to succeed, Saint Peter’s Basilica was sure to become a mosque, yet another trophy in the growing collection of great, fallen Christian churches, and Rome would be reduced to a satellite city of the triumphant Muslim power. Conquest of Rome would be the apotheosis of the triumph of Islam over Christendom. If this were to happen, the fate of the Western World would be doomed and life today would be very different.
To the Turkish Empire, capturing Constantinople represented the fifty-percent mark: one down, one to go. And the Turks were, by all accounts, invincible. The capture of Constantinople only added to their might and prestige. Europe was consumed with inner strife, pestilence, and rival rulers, some great and some perfidious. To make matters worse, and in stark contrast to the European powers, the Turks were united, fueled by the desire for conquest and were hyper-aggressive in their religious zeal to subjugate the entire world to Islam. How did Rome and the West overcome these bleak odds?
A beleaguered yet determined Pope Pius V summoned forth all his diplomatic skills and authority as Holy Father to call leaders of Europe together to make a last stand against the mighty Turkish power in the name of Christendom. When all was said and done, Spain, the Republic of Venice, Genoa, Savoy and the Knights of Malta formed a Holy League with the Papal States. For once, the powerful and headstrong seafaring power of Venice put aside its economic concerns and signed on with the Holy Father. Venetian aid in the endeavor was essential given their mastery of the seas. Commanding the Holy League was the brilliant and dashing Don Juan of Austria. Incredibly, he was only 24. On his shoulders rested the survival of the collected achievements of his ancestors, the hopes of a pope and the future of a civilization. Pius V requested that all Europe join in praying the rosary for success in the campaign. He led a procession around St. Peter’s Square for this intention, calling upon the Virgin Mary to deliver Christendom from the Turkish menace by granting victory at the Mediterranean naval outpost named Lepanto.
The Holy League’s fleet, at about two-hundred galleys, was large, but still outnumbered by the Turkish fleet having about 60 more ships. Both sides knew that the outcome of the encounter would have repercussions for centuries. Prior to the battle, Masses were offered on the ships and last-minute confessions heard. Silence reigned onboard as prayers, ancient chants and incense rose to the heavens. In stark contrast to the serenity of the Christian fleet, the approaching Turkish force was bellowing with battle cries and the deafening sound of war drums. Don Juan knelt on the deck, offered a brief prayer and took up his sword. Both sides engaged one another as the epic battle for the future of Europe commenced. The two forces clashed in fierce combat, some of it hand-to-hand, for four hours and losses on both sides were heavy but at the end of the day, victory resided with the Don Juan and the Christian forces. The Turks lost nearly their entire fleet and suffered over 30,000 dead or wounded, including the commanding general and many of their finest military men. The victory was made even sweeter with the release of thousands of enslaved Christians. For once the arrogant Turks, who afterward contemptuously referred to the debacle simply as “the rout,” demonstrated that they were not invincible and were not destined for inevitable global dominion. They learned the hard way that Christendom would not fold before Islam without a fight. Upon learning the news, Pope Pius was jubilant and dedicated the day, October 7, to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Victory. Now, her title is known as Our Lady of the Rosary and the feast is still commemorated today, while the particulars of the battle, or even knowledge of it all together, are sadly forgotten. The battle was a great accomplishment for the Church and Europe and must never be forgotten by Catholics.
At first glance, there does not seem to be any commonality between the 1571 Battle of Lepanto and the presidential election of 2008. But there is an unmistakable link rooted in our history, our culture and in our shared Western Civilization. Though we are separated by generations from our ancestors who fought in the Mediterranean, the ideals and core beliefs that inspired Don Juan of Austria should impel Catholics today to martial and spiritual battle.
Two vastly differing ideas and world views are represented by the two leading candidates. Senator John McCain represents the noble idea of American exceptionalism: the belief that America is the inheritor of the best pearls of Western Civilization. America stands today as the most virile representative of that tradition, Europe having long since been rendered weak and bewildered after devastating wars and poisonous ideologies led her astray. America, while tolerant of and welcoming to all law-abiding peoples of any creed or none at all, is nevertheless a Christian nation. Even a superficial familiarity with the writings and intentions of our founding fathers reveal this fact. Furthermore, most of the founders were well-versed and steeped in the wisdom of the classics — what is sometime called the “Canon of Western Civilization.” John McCain will defend this tradition against the onslaught of relativism brought on by Senator Barack Obama.
In Obama, we see a man who, for decades, marinated his mind in the angry screeds and tracks of numerous radicals hostile to Western Civilization. Obama is a paragon of the multi-culturalist apostle wrapped in deceptive “rhetorical flourishes.” As Michael Knox Beran recently observed in National Review: “In Berlin, [Obama] spoke of tearing down the walls that separate Western nations from the rest of the world…This wall-wrecking sentiment is in some ways admirable, but those with a heritage as unique as ours can consent to such a demolition only if we are certain that the culture that has made us what we are will afterwards be safe.” With his relentless dabbling in moral relativism (the answer to when life begins as being “above my pay grade,” etc.) and multi-culturalism, Obama offers us few assurances that he cares a wit about the fate of Western Civilization, a civilization that has some very clear, unequivocal things to say about Truth and real culture.
No, this is not a military battle we face in the days leading up to November 4. But that hard-fought sea battle of 1571 and the political battle of ideas we face today are, mutatis mutandis, one and the same because our way of life, our Western heritage of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London and yes, Philadelphia, are at stake, just as it was when Don Juan took up his charge centuries ago aboard a ship under the banner of the Holy League.
How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and swept along by every wind of teaching, looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to todays standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal ones own ego and ones own desires.
I felt led by the Holy Spirit to pray in this way the last couple of weeks.
I am praying with you to Our Lord!
Let’s do get a grip. First of all, the history - let’s not forget that the Byzantine Empire, which was the remnant of the Roman Empire, itself pretty corrupt and decadent, was mortally wounded when it was sacked and conquered by Christian crusaders.
Let us also not forget how corrupt the Catholic Church had become by the mid 16th century, which was why the heresies started in the first place. Then there was the Inquisition, under which innocent people suffered horribly.
There were two evil political structures at each others’ throats. It all worked out OK, because, as a result of the Turks closing off the Mediterranean to Christian traffic, Columbus discovered America, and it was gold from the New World that helped finance the Christian fleet at Lepanto.
Eventually, America, specifically, the United States of American, became a beacon of morality and of liberty, which led much of the world to freedom.
Back to your metaphor, if Obama is the Turks, does McCain represent the Inquisition?
Let’s do get a grip.
May I suggest we spend our time in Eucharistic adoration while O is mesmerizing the world with his half hour speech?
That is a superb idea. When is Hussein making his speech?
Pray the Rosary... Our Lady’s intervention is our best and last hope in these times. Immaculate Heart of Mary, Pray for us.
O sanctissima, O piissima,
Dulcis Virgo Maria.
Mater amata, intemerata,
Ora, ora pro nobis
Tota pulchra es, O Maria
Et macula non est in te
Mater amata, intemerata,
Ora, ora pro nobis.
Sicut lilium inter spinas,
Sic Maria inter filias
Mater amata, intemerata,
Ora, ora pro nobis.
In miseria in angustia
Ora Virgo pro nobis
Pro nobis ora in mortis hora
Ora ora pro nobis.
“The Holy Leagues fleet, at about two-hundred galleys, was large, but still outnumbered by the Turkish fleet having about 60 more ships.”
The Holy League had six huge Venetian Galeass’ amongst their 200 ships which collectively carried close to 480 cannons which gave the Holy League nearly a 2:1 firepower advantage over the Turks. A typical Mediterranean shallow draft war galley carried two forward mounted cannons. Ali Pasha’s ships carried roughy 520 guns whereas Don Juan D’Austria had nearly 870 guns. Nonetheless this victory was still miraculous as the Holy League’s rout of the Ottoman Fleet was so complete with far fewer losses and caualties of their own. God blessed the outnumbered Holy League forces leaders with confidence and a superior strategy which caused great confusion among the enemy and put them in postions where the Holy Leagues forces were able to inflict the maximum damage quickly where their numerical advantage was not able to come into play. Lepanto is one of the greatest naval battles of all time.
I replied to a post that compares an election between two liberals to a naval battle between two evil empires, and you call ME a drama queen?
I saw that last night. Thanks for posting it!
Excellent suggestion for Halloween evening — I believe that’s the time, correct?
I read Oct. 29th-primetime. I haven’t seen it firmed up yet.
Most people don’t know a darn thing about the Inquistion or the Church, it’s a handy, quick way to bash Catholicism, the stories of it have become so twisted as to be about as accurate as “The Da Vinci Code.” Which Inquisition? There were two, one led by the Church which was extremely benign (accused criminals would beg to be tried by a Church Court rather than the Civil Courts because they knew they would get a less severe sentence), and the later one, led by the State, the government of Spain, which is the one notorious for torture. Of course, because there was not separation of Church and State as we have today, I’m not completely exonerating the Church from cooperation with the Spanish authorities, and there were evil bishops then just like now, and also many who would not participate in evil.
I’m a Jew. I should mourn the Turkish loss at Lepanto. Spain, and rest of Catholic Western Europe threw us out, while the Ottoman Empire welcomed us with open arms. Furthermore, since the Spanish Inquisition was the bad one, and it was Spain that led the Naval coalition at Lepant, I should wish for the destruction of the Spanish fleet, as we did when reading about the battle in the English Channel in 1588. But it was what it was. Two civilizations, both of which would be considered monstrous evils by the standards of the USA of our lifetimes, fought a decisive battle. It was not the high water mark of the Ottoman Empire, the siege of Vienna perhaps marked that, it may have been the high water mark of the Spanish Empire.
To celebrate the victory of one side, because it labeled itself with a C, while the defeated side labeled itself with an M, is to place a moral superiority of the C over the M, which, at the time, it did not have.
Then to say that the election of 2008 is our modern day equivalent is to denigrate all the sacrifices in the real, shooting wars of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, in which we turned back real evils.
If there is any historical comparison of the 2008 election to Lepanto, it is that we have an evil candidate facing an even more evil candidate. At Lepanto, take your choice, in 2008, I don’t think you have any doubt.
I guess, then, it would be sort of pointless to say to you that it is a popular Catholic belief that the victory at Lepanto was won due to the power of God through the intercession of Our Lady of Rosary. But that’s what I personally believe, and I also believe that that the Catholic side WAS morally superior to that of the evil of Mohammedanism.