Civilization in the Balance: The Battle of Lepanto and Election ’08

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.

lepantol.jpgThe 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.

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  • dennisofraleigh

    Fr. John Corapi and others have also used the analogy of the Battle of Lepanto in calling on all Catholics to pray a novena to Our Lady to effect the outcome of this upcoming election. My wife and I plan to do so. Our Lady is a powerful mediatrix.

    That said, I’m afraid this 2008 presidential election is looking less like the Battle of Lepanto than the imminent sack of Hippo Regius by the (let us not forget) “Christian” Vandals that eventually took place in 430 A.D., not long after the death of St. Augustine. This Vandal horde was led by a charismatic, ruthless (and devout Arian) tribal leader by the name of Gaeseric. Certainly the ailing Saint Augustine and his fellow North African bishops and their followers were praying fervently for deliverance from the barbarian horde sweeping along the coast of northern Africa, sacking, burning, looting and killing every Catholic city and town in their wake. The eventually cut a swath of destruction from the tip of present day Morocco to Carthage. Please note that the Vandals, unlike Attila and his barbarian Huns, were “Arian” Christians, followers of the teachings of the heretic Arius. When they sacked a Catholic city they made sure that the Catholic churches within were looted and sacrileged, and the local bishop and priests rounded up and often executed, replaced by “true” Christian ministers.

    And unlike Lepanto where one would have been hard put to find a Venetian or Spanish galleon going over to the side of the Turks, this election has seen multitudes of otherwise “Christian” (even some Catholic) leaders singing the praises of “The One” (“Il Uno!”) who promises “hope” and “change” and deliverance from the stifling grasp of the so-called “extremist religious right” in order that all of America might enjoy the “reproductive” and “sexual” rights that pro-life and pro-family laws now inhibit them from exercising. One of the reasons Hippo (and other cities in coastal Africa) failed to hold out longer than they could have is that Gaelarius had significant numbers of Arian sympathizers living within the walls of those cities, all too eager to assist the “progress” of the barbarian sweep.

    There is very little “Moslem” about the rhetoric of Barack Obama and his “horde,” but his supporters are trying to sound very “Christian,” invoking Christian social justice themes and telling their follower/readers (just take a listen to what the heads of the mainline Protestant denominations and 98% of black pastors are saying about Obama when they get a microphone stuck in front of their faces) that America needs the kind of “change” promised by their leader. And then there are the multitudes of our own Catholic pastors and academics all to willing to give abortion’s best friend a pass because Sen. Obama is (or so they tell us) so committed to social and economic justice, and blah-blah-blah.

  • gk

    Christianity has lasted through worse than this. The life and breath of Christianity is not soley carried in John McCain. It is in all of Christ’s members. It is in the family. Love of God and respect of Christ’s Resurrection is in the weakest of us. Regardless of what happens next Tuesday … Christianity will go on. Eventually Christ’s Kingdom will reign supreme. I refuse to put my faith in either of the political parties. Neither Obama nor McCain carrys Christ cross with him into this battle.

  • I don’t have the author’s or Dennis’ grasp of history, but I’m with gk. We should pray, and trust that God’s will shall be done on Tuesday. The election is consequential, yes, but the Kingdom will survive whatever the outcome. Even the devil is God’s instrument, and our Lord is Lord of history.

  • Grace Harman

    Obama represents the ideology of Hitler and Margaret Sanger, an evil “change”.
    Yes, Germany “survived” Hitler, but not without a great deal of suffering,
    guilt, and much blood of innocents being shed. Obama intends to expand and perpetuate the killings, at least for decades, raise taxes to support that, and move the war back to Afghanistan or perhaps turn us over to the Muslims. True Christians should not tolerate that. We need to express “Solidarity” and throw out of government the liberals who support secularization of our society and murder of innocents.

  • stutmann9

    Everyone read this blog about McCain and the Miraculous Medal and the endorsement he received from the actor in the pro-life movie “Bella”.
    He and Cindy McCain adopted a child from Mother Theresa’s orphanage and I believe Mother Teresa is interceding for his bid for the Presidency. She was devoted to the Miraculous Medal and prayed the Memorare faithfully in her ministry. Now, this actor has endorsed him and given him a Miraculous Medal. It was like Mother Teresa making sure he got one! We should all be praying the Memorare as well as the Rosary from now until the election for John McCain.

  • stutmann9

    correction:JOHN MCCAIN and his wife Cindy adopted a child from Mother Teresa’s
    orphanage. I realize my previous comment sounded as if the actor and Cindy McCain adopted the child. Take courage! The Blessed Mother is with us and is setting us up for a Miracle!

  • Catherine

    Dear Mr.Berry,
    It is really great that you have recalled the battle of Lepanto for these days leading up to the US elections. Throughout the history of our Christian faith there are thousands of such examples–that is, where the numbers and the circumstances seemed hugely in favor of the enemy, but faith and a livley prayer obtained a breathtaking turnaround. In this present challenge, and as an answer to the first reader’s observations, I think of St. Peter walking on water: the moment his attention left Jesus to regard instead the turbulence of the water, the murkiness of the deep and the frightening strength of a wild wind, he started to sink. But as soon as he realized (maybe really for the first time) that Jesus was the Lord of all and could really command all things, St. Peter prayed a prayer that God was happy to answer–if I can put it in such a way. These elections are a great opportunity for Christians to get their faith in battle-ready shape–to make their faith capable of miracles. Because even if John McCain should win, I’m sure it will only be the beginning of many other battles. But America will never be fighting alone! And let me say, that just last night on the national Catholic radio (in Italy) listeners were invited to pray the Rosary and to fast for these elections in America–we have been invited to do so many times already, but last night during a special program dedicated to life and culture in the USA, there was a more pronounced call to do so.
    And on this note, I wish to assure you that the heart of Christianity still beats in Europe and that from this heart all the ends of the earth are nourished and shall be so to the end of time (however, it could well be in need of an American-made pacemaker). God has not repealed what He established and neither will he do so. However, it is sadly true that many European people, just like many American people, have abandoned their faith and traditions. The numbers in Europe are almost identical to the numbers in America; the stance on moral and ethical issues here in Europe produces pretty much the same percentages as in the USA.
    But how can you know these things? Very little news reaches the USA from Europe (just as very little real news gets from the USA to Europe)–and when it does get there, it is not always very well understood–and generally, it is understood only superficially and then soon cast aside, almost as if it had little or no pertinence for American Catholics. This is something which really needs to be rectified–because the Catholic faith in America would be hugely strengthened and immeasurably enriched by reconnecting in a more filial and interested way to the base, to Mother Church which is in Rome–and which cannot be, and neither desires to be, seperated from Europe. And the Church in Europe, the faith of many European people would finally be rekindled anew to see more and more of American’s profound devotion and faithfulness. Europe got a taste of it during live coverage of the Pope’s visit in the USA, and for the first time in a long time, I saw a spark in the hearts of many Catholics here.
    So let us pray with great faith, just as they did at Lepanto, and with great joy even–and thus we shall be well-armed and battle ready!
    …which reminds me of a great hymn–I put only the first verse here but it surely deserves a visit so that all the verses might be seen:

    Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
    With the cross of Jesus going on before.
    Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
    Forward into battle see His banners go!

    Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
    With the cross of Jesus going on before.

  • I am perfectly ready to stand corrected and witness a miracle next Tuesday!

  • yblegen

    I believe, that through our prayers to our Lady of Victory, as in the battle of Lepanto, their is no doubt to whom we will thank the outcome of our victory on election day.

  • DWC

    Let’s be careful not to completely over-exaggerate this coming election … for no matter the outcome, it is but a tear in the sea of saddness.

  • rakeys

    Many of the commentors do not seem to be worried if Barack Obama gets elected. The President’s main power lies in his ability to veto legilation and appoint Supreme court justices. Obama has stated that the first thing he would do in office is to sign FOCA (Freedom of Choice Act). This would remove any restriction on abortion in this country for the full nine months. Any law restricting abortion would be null and void, including parental consent, taking minors across state borders, informed consent, waiting periods, meeting health standards of any other outpatient clinic. It will start to fund abortions with your tax dollars. Pres Bush would veto this and so would President McCain.
    The next President wil also be able to appoint at least two Supreme court Justices. Barack obama has statred he will not appoint anyone who woud overturn Roe vs Wade. Abortion on demand will continue. There are currenty 4 supreme court Justices who say that Roe v wade is a bad decision and would vote to overturn it. We need at least one more Justice to support us.
    This election is crucial!! I do not want to live in a country that says it is okay for a woman to kill her unborn child! Just like the hoocaust, “Why didn’t anyone do something to stop it?” will be said of us in the future.

  • joanspage

    Take a deep breath.

    Civilization will not end no matter who ends. Abortin won’t either. Evil cannot be stopped by law, especially if the culture approves.

    No Republican president has spent much energy on outlawing abotion. They need it as an issue to run on but once they get in.

    If McCain gets in, he’ll veto FOCA and appoints justices he believes will overturm Roe. That’s all he’ll do. Granted PObama might do the opposite but FOCA has to be passed. And it very well might be watered down or struck down.

    I do not believe America is an exceptional nation. ?it has done exceptional things. It has done many evi\l things: slavery, Jim Crow, forced stelization.

    It will continue to be a mixed bag.

    Trust God.

  • goodfriend

    The author writes, ‘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.’ Wow, McCain could not have said it better.
    And the other day did not a commentator on the General Power article write that black/African Americans will sell their souls for a bowl of lentils or something to that effect?

    I have two questions for the CE community.
    First, were there such constant and vicious attacks by the CE community on the Democratic candidate during the last presidential elections? I think he was pro-abortion too.

    Secondly, could the abortion issue be a convenient excuse to bash Obama? My fellow pro-life Catholics some of the articles and comments I have been reading these days makes me wonder.

  • Cooky642

    Dear Joanspage,
    While I agree that rakeys needs to “breathe”, I disagree with your supposition that life will go on as usual, here, after next Tues. Most of us are well aware of the horrible, intrinsic evil that Mr. Obama represents, and fear the changes that could well follow his election (especially with a majority in both houses of Congress). “Civilization” as WE know it could very well end next January.

    As to the “culture” approving of abortion, I don’t know where you live, but polls taken in America show a “simple majority” are against abortion. This is exactly why the issue has been confined to the legislature: if Americans were allowed to vote on it, it would be defeated….especially if we can get a pro-life voice to articulate the “false compassion” that has been sold to most of our people.

    And, no, FOCA does NOT “have to be passed”!

    Finally, your statement that you do not believe America to be an “exceptional” nation is unfortunate. Even with all its faults and failures, WE do!

  • kel3at

    If Obama gets in we will have 4-8 more years of legal abortion. If McCain gets in we will have 4-8 more years of legal abortion. The Republicans can talk the talk good enough, but I really don’t believe a word out of there mouths anymore. Remember it was just a few months ago that McCain was considering choosing of pro-choice running mate. I’m sure his advisers straightened him out quickly enough and told him he didn’t have a chance in H E double hockey stick of winning if he didn’t have the Christains on his side. That shows us the importance he places in overturning Roe vs Wade. I believe he puts more importance in putting armies all over the world than he does in overturning Roe Vs Wade .

    Also, I don’t agree with the author that the two main parties have vastly different world views. I watched Obama’s speach in Germany, It sounded just like what we have been hearing from the Republicans but with much better use of words. The Democrats seem to be much better organized this time around than the Laurel and Hardy Republicans.

    I’m afraid that if we want to get rid of Abortion praying the rosary that McCains gets into office isn’t going to help us. We need to pray that a whole new party with a whole new set of ideas gets in.

    Yes, do pray the rosary. We have started a Novena in our family and we a praying that a Pro-Life Candidate gets into office. But I’m afraid this battle is only beginning and McCain at the controls isn’t Don Jaun but rather Beowulf.

  • SolaGratia

    Hmm, well, we have a choice between an imperfectly pro-life candidate and a blatantly pro-abortion candidate (more pro-abortion, in fact, than any other politician including Barbara Boxer — and I never would have thought that possible).

    Obama has promised to pass FOCA as one of his first acts as president. He will assuredly follow the more moderate (relatively speaking, of course) Bill Clinton by deep-sixing the Mexico City Policy, restore funding to UNFPA’s forced abortion/sterilization agenda, increase funding for sex ed while deep-sixing abstinence funding, increase funding to Planned Barrenhood, and just check with C-FAM about what it was like at the UN during the Clinton years – that time was a nightmare & this would be even worse.

    And I haven’t even gotten to the Supreme Court yet. Even other issues like stem cell research & homosexual marriage have been way more wins for us than not.

    I haven’t much enthusiasm for McCain either. If he does win, he will need heavy duty prayers from us. But as a long time follower & supporter of the pro-life movement, I am sick & tired of hearing the dismissal of conservative Republican efforts as nothing more than lip service. Have they done all they can? Likely not. But they have done a *bleep* of a lot to help our efforts.

    So, do we vote for the candidate who will support the culture of life, even if it may be imperfect, or do we vote for the candidate who has totally given his soul over to the culture of death?

    The choice couldn’t be more clear for people of life.