Monday, October 7, 2013

Remembering Lepanto

Very few feast days have been inspired by war; but the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is the exception. Actually, it was the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 that gave Pope St. Pius V the incentive to implore Catholics throughout Europe to pray the rosary. He had formed an alliance of European nations to push back the advances the Muslim armies were making on their soil. Christians forget that the Ottoman Empire posed a significant threat to Christendom for centuries. Yet, in from the mid-sixteenth century to the latter part of the seventeenth century, Islamic civilization and political power had begun to decline. And as for the Battle of Lepanto, Jeremiah Wells tells why it was imperative that Christians took up this military cause:

“The powerful Ottoman fleet, still intact, continued to raid Christian lands. The year after that strategic triumph, Ali Pasha, who commanded the naval forces in Malta, captured Chios, the last Genoese position in the Eastern Mediterranean and through treachery murdered the ruling Giustiniani family. Then for three days the Mohammedans roved over the island, massacred all the inhabitants and destroyed everything Catholic. Two boys in the Giustiniani family, aged ten and twelve, were martyred. The younger boy, almost cut to pieces, was told to hold up one finger if he wished to apostatize and live. He clenched his fists so tight that they could not be opened even after death.”

Wells goes on to tell us that the Christian ships which fought on behalf of the Holy Roman Empire were outnumbered 278 to 208. Initially, on October 7, 1571, the winds favored the Muslim fleet but then suddenly the winds shifted. Soon thereafter the Christian fleet was poised to make sizable gains. And to make a long story short, the Ottoman Turks were driven back.

That same day, Pope St. Pius V was in a meeting with his treasurer when he received an inspiration from God. He knew that his prayers had been answered. Suddenly, he walked over to his window and pensively stared out the window. Then he turned around with a joyful look on his face and said, “The Christian fleet is victorious.” Two weeks later, the Christian victory at Lepanto was confirmed. Saint Pius V then added the “Feast of the Holy Rosary to the Church calendar and the invocation Auxilium Christianorum to the litany of Our Lady, since the victory was due to her intercession.”

Over a century later, on September 11, 1683, the Ottoman Turks were once again driven back; this time from Vienna. It proved to be the last real attempt by the Muslims to do away with Christian civilization. However, it should be remembered that they proved to be successful in the Middle East and in northern Africa. In fact, every single city mentioned in the book of Revelation where the seven churches were situated eventually fell under the rule of Islam. For centuries, Jerusalem met this same fate. In any event, there were a lot of close calls. As the great Catholic historian Hilaire Belloc said,

“It very nearly destroyed us. It kept up the battle against Christendom actively for a thousand years, and the story is by no means over; the power of Islam may at any moment re-arise…The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralyzed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable.”

This was written in 1936 when Islamic civilization and political prowess was at its all time low. But in another fifty to sixty years, his prediction would come to pass. Islam has returned! And we might just have to rely on the Holy Rosary again for the same reason that Pope St. Pius V and Catholic Europe did in 1571.