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‘No Heaven for Cowards’ : Lepanto and Our Lady of Victory

December 20, 2006

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7 October 1571 was a Sunday. Mass that day was celebrated throughout the fleet with particular solemnity, since all were well aware that the testing time of battle might be close…

Crucifix in hand, Don John proceeded in a fregata along one wing, to rectify order in the line of battle and hearten the men…. To one ship’s company after another, Don John’s clear and almost boyish voice pealed out with the same assurance: ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’

From the ships of the Holy League, not a shot had been fired – this prolonged and deliberate silence was ominous. As the ships of the Holy League laboured onwards, their oars dipping and lifting, the Turks could see priests like dark-robed insects, scurrying across decks, crucifix in hand, often scrambling high into the rigging, the better to exhort that crowd of armed men waiting on deck.

All at once, the wind that morning turned right around…. While Ali’s ships visibly lost momentum, all along Don John’s battle line, lanteen sails were being shaken out along spars. They filled as if from a mighty and confident breath. As they heard or half heard the chaplains’ insistent voices, there were few in the League fleet who doubted that God had intervened.

Only a short while before, the decks of Don John’s galleys had been crowded with kneeling men, as chaplains served Mass and repeated the general absolution – indulgences in this life and a pardon in the next to steadfast soldiers. The theme that Sunday of all their sermons had been, ‘No Heaven for cowards.’ Men hitherto in their lives no more than vaguely religious waited for the onset now, rosary in one hand, weapon in the other, as if the meaning of life had mysteriously deepened…

Excerpted from The Galleys at Lepanto, Jack Beeching, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1983

* * *

Fr Ladis J. Cizik: Our Lady and Islam: Heaven’s Peace Plan:

On October 7, 1571, a great victory over the mighty Turkish fleet was won by Catholic naval forces primarily from Spain, Venice, and Genoa under the command of Don Juan of Austria. It was the last battle at sea between “oared” ships, which featured the most powerful navy in the world, a Moslem force with between 12,000 to 15,000 Christian slaves as rowers. The patchwork team of Catholic ships was powered by the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Knowing that the Christian forces were at a distinct material disadvantage, the holy pontiff, St. Pope Pius V called for all of Europe to pray the Rosary for victory. We know today that the victory was decisive, prevented the Islamic invasion of Europe, and evidenced the Hand of God working through Our Lady. At the hour of victory, St. Pope Pius V, who was hundreds of miles away at the Vatican, is said to have gotten up from a meeting, went over to a window, and exclaimed with supernatural radiance: “The Christian fleet is victorious!” and shed tears of thanksgiving to God.

What you may not know is that one of three admirals commanding the Catholic forces at Lepanto was Andrea Doria. He carried a small copy of Mexico’sOur Lady of Guadalupe into battle. This image is now enshrined in the Church of San Stefano in Aveto, Italy. Not many know that at the Monastery of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Spain, one can view a huge warship lantern that was captured from the Moslems in the Battle of Lepanto. In Rome, look up to the ceiling of S. Maria in Aracoeli and behold decorations in gold taken from the Turkish galleys. In the Doges’ Palace in Venice, Italy, one can witness a giant Islamic flag that is now a trophy from a vanquished Turkish ship from the Victory. At Saint Mary Major Basilica in Rome, close to the tomb of the great St. Pope Pius V, one was once able to view yet another Islamic flag from the Battle, until 1965, when it was returned to Istanbul in an intended friendly token of concord.

At Lepanto, the Victory over the Moslems was won by the faithful praying the Rosary. Even though they had superior numbers, the Turks really were overmatched. Blessed Padre Pio, the Spiritual Father of the Blue Army, said: “The Rosary is the weapon,” and how right he was!

The Battle of Lepanto was at first celebrated liturgically as “Our Lady of Victory.” Later, the feast of October 7th was renamed “Our Lady of the Rosary” and extended throughout the Universal Church by Pope Clement XI in 1716 (who canonized Pope Pius V in 1712).

Roberto de Mattei: Lepanto: A Category of the Spirit:

The goal of peace, explained Pius XII, is the protection of humanity’s goods insofar as they are the creature’s goods, some of which are so important for the life we share as human beings that “their defense against unjust aggression is, without doubt, completely legitimate. . . . A people that is threatened or already victimized by unjust aggression, if it wants to think and act in a Christian manner, cannot remain in a state of passive indifference.” The Christian does not fight because he loves war; he fights because he loves peace—true peace, just peace, the peace that requires in its own defense a just war in accordance with Christian moral theology. According to just-war theory, war is illicit when it is waged without just cause, but for those whose cause is just, war is not only licit but even, in certain cases, mandatory.

Today, however, an internal enemy threatens us. This enemy is first and foremost a mental attitude that surrounds us, even in Catholic circles—if not especially in Catholic circles. Radical Islam is not wrong because it professes truth; it is wrong because it professes error. If, in opposing error, we uphold relativism—a vision of the world in which there is room for every error, because the whole idea of truth is to be jettisoned—then we are committing an error even greater than that of the radical Islamicists.

This is the error of those who claim that the age of Lepanto and the Crusades is over and, with them, the spirit of Christian combat that presupposes a vision of the world based on the primacy of the absolute truth that is worth living and dying for: the truth of the Gospel. In its place, they offer a vision of the world that tells us that nothing exists that is either absolute or true, that everything is relative to the time, the place, and the circumstances.

This relativism leads us to avoid conflict and polemics at all costs—to give up testifying to what is true, good, and just. This apathy is the direct opposite of the spirit that animated the Christian martyrs, who gave us an example (in the words of Pope John Paul II) “of a life totally transfigured by the splendor of moral truth.” It is not death that makes the martyr, says Saint Augustine, but the fact that his actions are in conformity to truth, that his suffering and death are directed toward justice. Martyrdom is the highest embodiment of the virtue of fortitude, whose essence lies in the disposition to suffer in order to realize the good. “For the sake of the good,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “the brave man exposes himself to the peril of death.”

As heirs of Lepanto, we should recall the message of Christian fortitude which that name, that battle, that victory have handed down to us: Christian fortitude, which is the disposition to sacrifice the good things of this earth for the sake of higher goods—justice, truth, the glory of the Church, and the future of our civilization. Lepanto is, in this sense, a perennial category of the human spirit.

Today, the West—what was the Christian West—is undergoing an attack without precedent, not only from without but from within. What remains of Christendom deserves to be defended, because it is from this remnant that a different and better future will be constructed for the generations to come.

Additional Links:

H.W. Crocker III: Lepanto, 1571: The Battle That Saved Europe
Michael Novak: Remembering Lepanto
Robert McMullen: Remember Lepanto!
Mary Jo Anderson: Clash of civilizations: Battle of Lepanto revisited
Victor Davis Hanson: Don John of Austria Is Riding to the Sea (Review of Capponi’s The Victory of the West)

Barbara Kralis/Bishop Fulton J. Sheen: Mary and the Moslems

Lepanto” by G. K. Chesterton

The Role of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Battle of Lepanto

New Advent: Feast of the Holy Rosary

Save Venice: Crucifix Carried in the Battle of Lepanto

Other Blogs:
Roman Christendom: Our Lady Of Victory: When the Rosary Beat the Turks
Mary Victrix: The Spirit of Lepanto
in illo tempore: The Battle of Lepanto, in stucco
DhimmiWatch: Dhimmitude in the Italian Chamber of Deputies: Lepanto painting removed

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3 Comments
  1. mr Edward Dale O.P. permalink

    This is a most needed message I thank God you printed it. Please keep up the great work. I can’t thank you enough . You may be sure you and your work are in my prayers.

  2. I am an Spanish Army officer. I belongued for years to a Spanish Legion Regiment (Tercio) which name is “Don Juan de Austria” the general in command of the Christian Army who won in Lepanto. I am very proud to be Spanish because we save the West three times from the Radical Islam, Our crusade (Reconquista from 711 to 1492) in the Iberian peninsula, the siege of Vienna in 1529 and finally in Lepanto in 1571.
    I like very much your blog. Mine is: http://elbaluartedeoccidente.blogspot.com/
    Laus deo
    Luis

  3. Excellent! Thank you so much! God bless you…and PEACE of CHRIST be with your spirit! 🙂

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