The Spirit of Lepanto

The history of the Battle of Lepanto is a parable of Marian Chivalry.  It is all about the idealism of the cross, devotion to Our Lady, and the manly translation of prayer into action for the glory of God and the salvation of men.

In the late sixteenth century Christendom faced the onslaught of the Ottoman Empire.  The Muslim armies threatened to overrun Christian Europe and establish Islam as the prevailing religion. It was a time for heroism, but there were few heroes. It was time to rally under the banner of Christ the King and His Holy Mother, but only a remnant of Christian soldiers were prepared to fight.  The two principal protagonists of the Battle of Lepanto were the Vicar of Christ, Pope St. Pius V and Don John of Austria, the bastard son of Charles V.  Both were men of prayer and action.  The one, a priest, gave witness first of all to the power of prayer.  The other, a layman, epitomized the translation of prayer into action.

The Holy League

St. Pius V, man of vision that he was, knew the peril of Christendom, and personally selected the young nobleman, Don John of Austria for his pure way of life, his unflinching courage, and his clear-sighted conviction.  The saintly pope told the young man charged with the command of the Christian forces: “Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness.”

Pius V also enlisted the help of Spain and Venice, to which he added the Knights of Malta and troops from the Papal States. This became the Holy League led by Don John. However, much the rest of Christian Europe stood by and risked the complete loss of Christendom to the Islamic invasion.  The Protestant heresy, indifferentism and politics kept France, Germany and England from participating.  Most of all there was a decadence of mind and conviction, what Chesterton called the “tangled things and texts and aching eyes,” of a spiritless Europe falling headlong into relativist philosophy, the slogan of “scripture alone,” and the rejection of the Woman whom God made worthy to be the Mother of His Son.

Only an unwavering conviction in the truth, and the unflinching willingness to die for it could match the foe that now threatened to silence the voice of the Church. The lips of Don John’s men would be sanctified and emboldened to sound the battle cry. Thus Don John ordered that blasphemy or any doubt of the faith expressed publicly by his men to be punished as sedition.  A milieu of flabby faith had not raised boys to be men, but the firm faith of a boy had made him a leader of men.

A Turn of the Wind

Mediated through the maternal Heart of Mary, providence brought the natural forces of gallant knights under the influence of supernatural direction and power. Pope St. Pius V sent Don Juan of Austria and the Holy League with rosaries into battle, and he asked all of Christendom to pray along with them and for them. He said: “I am taking up arms against the Turks, but the only thing that can help me is the prayers of priests of pure life.” An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was even sent by Philip II of Spain to Admiral Giovanni Adrea Doria, which he mounted in the cabin of his flagship and took with him into battle.

On the morning of October 7, 1571 the ships of the Holy League sailed into the Gulf of Lepanto, against the wind toward a fleet that was vastly larger.  Don John of Austria was a true knight, a man of both prayer and action. During the battle with crucifix in hand, Don John went from ship to ship calling out repeatedly to his men: “My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or victory you will win immortality.” But the good captain of the Holy League was prepared not only with prayer, but also with a plan.  His galleys were state of the art with greater firepower and defensive protection, and the enemy was not prepared to deal with them.  Still Don John was badly outnumbered.

In the end, it was God, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who indeed gave the Don John the victory. When the fleet entered the Bay of Lepanto they had the wind in their faces. The galley slaves struggled to power the fleet into battle, while the much larger Muslim fleet rested and waited with the wind in its favor. But as Don John and his officers knelt in prayer beneath the blue banner of the Holy League, the wind suddenly changed, the Christian sails filled and Our Lady’s host was now suddenly bearing down upon the Turks.  What had looked like a certain loss for Christendom suddenly turned into a rout of the Turks.  Fewer than fifty of the more than three hundred Turkish ships managed to escape and most of these were so damaged that they had to be burned.  This was not the end of conflict of Christendom with the Ottoman Empire, but it was the turning point and the end of imminent threat to the independence of Christian Europe.

New Conflicts

Just as it was in the sixteenth century, today there is more at work than militant Islam. Again the “tangled things and texts and aching eyes” have twisted the Christian mind into an unrecognizable form. The Protestantization of the Catholic mind, and worse, the utter secularization and agnosticism of the “faithful” have paralyzed an effective Catholic Action.  In the face of this danger Catholics are told to seek peace, not the peace that only the Lord can give, but the peace of compliance. As the attacks against the very name of God and against the natural law mount, we are reminded to be pluralistic and to keep our personal convictions to ourselves.

Benedict XVI, the indefatigable enemy of the “dictatorship of relativism,” has the new compromise well spotted.  In his now famous lecture to the representatives of science at the University of Regensburg, the Holy Father created quite a stir.  Effigies of the pope were burned in Islamic countries because he had pointed out the compromise of Islam with reason.  However, what went largely unnoticed by many was his suggestion that the West’s abandonment of faith is not so different from Islamic unreason. The jihadist’s faith is contrary to reason, and this leads to fanaticism. The secularist’s reason, excludes any transcendent authority, and that leads to the abandonment of the natural law. In Iran today sexual sins are punished by public stoning and lynching.  And in the West we talk about dignifying sodomy with rights and of marriage.  Neither approach is godly or reasonable.

Mary Victrix

On the day of the Battle of Lepanto back in Rome St. Pius V saw a vision out his window of the victory of the Christian fleet.  At that moment he was inspired to give thanks the Blessed Virgin who had interceded through the power of the Rosary.  So he instituted the Feast of Our Lady of Victory to be celebrated every year on the anniversary of the victory, October 7.   Eventually the feast was renamed “Our Lady of the Rosary” and October became the month the Holy Rosary.

The Holy Rosary is not just a prayer that is pleasing to God in a generic way.  The Rosary is a prayer of the mind and heart that changes lives.  It is the school of Mary where we remember Her memories and invoke Her presence.  We see through Her eyes and are allowed to pray think and act with, in and through Her, so that we might know the truth and love it with all our hearts.  Through the Rosary we learn in Mary to live and serve Christ no matter what the cost.  By means of Our Lady of the Rosary we will be victorious because through our prayer in union with Her we will learn to act decisively in an authentic spirit of zeal.

The Spirit of Lepanto

Our Lady of Victory Herself is the spirit of Lepanto.  She is the spirit of the men who fight nobly for the honor of God and the salvation of souls.  Such warriors are men of prayer and action, who live an interior life of union with Christ through Mary and who act vigorously on the inspirations given to them.

Our Lady of Victories is the Queen of Courtesy.  She conquers by means of love and mercy.  From Our Lady we will learn both courtesy and courage, both prayer and action.  To honor Our Lady as the icon, personification and presence of all that is true, good, and beautiful is necessary to the restoration of a Christian culture, masculine identity and common sense.   What is not worth fighting and dying for is not worth living for. On the other hand, only that which is beautiful and worthy can be a true motive for honorable behavior.

The clear pure atmosphere of the Immaculate Virgin’s heart, full of love and sacrifice, is the Spirit of Lepanto.  This spirit has intervened in history time and again to save us from the mystery of iniquity.  May it enliven the Church militant once again.

12 thoughts on “The Spirit of Lepanto

  1. “In Iran today sexual sins are punished by public stoning and lynching. And in the West we talk about dignifying sodomy with rights and of marriage. Neither approach is godly or reasonable.”

    Interesting. This is quite an insight. When the “enlightened” West looks with disgust at the barbaric justice of the Middle East, we are unconsciously distracted from our own sins and even consoled by the injustice. We are so in much the same way the hardened murderer is when informed that a molester of children has just arrived among the prison population. Unconsciously, the disgust and anger that wells up in the murderous inmate towards the despicable molester serves to give him (or her, sadly) the appearance of some vestige of honor or decency. The plotting and planning to do the new arrival harm gives the impression of a sort of righteousness.

  2. Amen, Father. Catholicity gives us a beautiful template for living… if only the world had eyes to see and ears to hear.
    BTW, Father, speaking of “bestowing rights”, the marriage debate is back in Rhode Island. Providence’s Bishop Tobin stepped out to oppose it today, and suggested a vote if the matter had to be addressed, and assorted christian pastors– those in favor of the proposition–began the process of countering his message by promulgating the “love is love” theory across media outlets in response (and spraying acid at the base of any Christian argument holding water on the issue)This also serves to make even Christians look like relativists to the unsuspecting. Pray for Bishop Tobin if you would. He is the only high profile Rhode Island leader willing to take heat in this fight.

  3. Father Angelo,

    Today, there is a far greater need for the ‘Spirit of Lepanto’ or ‘The Spirit of Chivalry, than at any other time in our history. It seems that everywhere that we look, we can see the ‘Evil Uncontested.’ We see the destruction caused by ‘The Dragon.’ We can feel the presence of ‘Satan.’ (I hope that I can use that word, we don’t hear it very often today.) Oh, we may not see a Devil in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork, but we cannot pick up a newspaper or watch a news broadcast on T.V. without feeling the ‘Presence of Darkness.’ Murder, rape, abortion, war, drug abuse, molestation, hopelessness, apathy, despair, and on and on it goes. However, I have not given up all Hope. Everyday, I see men and women who live faithful to our God and our Church. They live by a simple ‘Code of Honor,’ (although they may not call it that.) It is ‘Love of God & Love of Neighbor.’ It is that ‘Doulbe Edged Sword’ that will ultimately prove to be the destruction of the ‘Dragon,’ that we must all do battle against during our lifetme.

  4. Words as always you offer only words. Had it been just for words, you and our faith would not exist today. As a true original Christian of the Greek Byzantine Rite, our tribe and families as Cossacks taught us one thing back then in Eastern Eurasia as it reminds us now in the USA: Put your faith in your sword, and your sword in the infidel.

    My faith is my shield, but knowing that life goes on and on and on and not like the Roman Catholic church teachings about heaven and hell to frighten the faithful into submission, we have but the gift of life from God. What we do with it is not only in our own hands, but is a measure of whom we are before other men and before God.

    If cowering is your only answer before the infidels abroad, as well as, in our own country, then you are doomed and damned in more ways than one. This nation and the world about it is a true reflection of what we have failed to do in the face of barbarism and radical cultism – fight.

    There will be no lightning bolts or sweeping hand of God to clean up the mess we have allowed to spread across mankind. You can wait for the end, and pray if you must to make yourself seem vital and holy; but in your hands as in your hearts and minds lay the means to the end and the true test you and I must all past.

    Having lived and worked in Arabia for 8.5 years after 25 years of military service, and having and using my professional engineering degree thereafter on 3 continents, I say it is time for you to act like men and women and even Americans if you are before evoking scripture as the cheap way out of your duty to God and country and ultimately mankind. Our monks married and even rode into battle with us – and your excuse being?

    The Templars may have had mortal weaknesses, but they had one thing you all and society lacks – character. And if they were evil, then better to serve with them in hell then in heaven with those that say the least and in whispers than those who faith is put to its truest test of all – risking one’s life for that belief or a cause.

    Or is it that your faith is so weak and your character so fragile that God is your excuse rather than your shield. We all must leave this life in the end, but how we meet that end determines who we were in the eyes of those left behind.

  5. Boris,

    That is a lot of words for a man of action. And they can as easily be directed at Christ Himself as at the Western Church.

    Christ taught. He did not coerce.

    The reason our Church has survived is the force of His Word and the power of His promise. Good men need to stand up and be counted in the face of threats to the common good. But Christ never promised that the logic of power would ultimately solve our problems. He promised that the Cross would save us.

    The Church survived the Roman persecution and all the other threats to its existence when it sprung forth from the Heart of Christ, not because it was able to gain worldly power over its adversaries, but because it converted its adversaries. Those who spoke the word then , as those who speak the word today,put their lives at risk and died for it.

    God bless you for your military service–a noble avocation or which we should all be grateful.

  6. Our World today needs Marian chivalry, May our Virgin Mother be our source of strength always… Amen.

  7. Mr Boris Badenov !
    You referred to ton “The Templars” ? I asume that you is meaning Ordré du Templiérs, or Papuperes commilitones Christi Templique Salomonici as the correct name is of those dear Cristian brothers. They are after Johannes Paulus II order to bishop Ratzinger, the late pope Benedictus XVI, totally rehabilitated and stands clean from all the allegations of pope Clemens and the king Filip of France. The original-document from the Holy Inquisition´s investigation has been presented and it´s says that “The Templars where and still is without any shame and should not be found guilty of anything they have been accused of. I have seen the document with my own eyes in the Vatican archive and it is displayed as a facsimile. You can also read the original document word by word trough/at internet, i think. (It is said so to me). One of he Hochmeisters der Teutonischen Ritterorden was found guilty of stealing money from their treasure and as a punishment instead of death penalty had to join the so called Ordré du Templiérs. So hard was it in that very stringent brotherhood totally devoted to our Lord Jesus Christ and the Mary the Holy mother of God. As your remarks about where to serve in heaven or to X. None of these good brothers would see anyone to go there, to your named X place. That remark stands for you and only for you. But i tell you humbly a warning, watch out for what you wishes for there is always someone that could hear you.
    To all a send the heavenly blessing in nomine Domine Patri+et Filii Iesu Christi+ et Sancti+Spiritu Amen.

  8. Pingback: Mary Victrix, Our Fortress and Defense | Mary Victrix

  9. Brother, I hear and read much of the same of which you write. The spirit of martial stirrings and anxiety related to Islam. However, I know this. Our Father gave us simple instructions in the firm of the Ten Commandments. Just as applicable now as then. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not kill.

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