Monday, May 12, 2014

St. Pope Pius V and the Battle of Lepanto

Update: the Bear accidentally put down the date of another important event in October, his anniversary! The Battle of Lepanto was October 7, not 1st.

St. Pius V is beloved by bears because "he forbade the public exhibition of the sights of wild beasts, as savoring too much of inhumanity."

He lavished loving care on the poor and the sick, even to kissing the ulcers on their feet. This sight caused one English Protestant to convert on the spot. (Pope Francis is not the first pope to do things like this and were he to act within the rubrics for Holy Thursday, it would be a good witness instead of a scandal.)

Pope Pius was not naive, though. He knew the Christian West had powerful enemies. He resolved to fight the world, the flesh and the devil. The last came in the person of Suleiman, the self-styled King of Kings, the emperor of the aggressive Islamic East.

Islam had conquered the historic Christian heartland in blood and ruin. Not just Jerusalem, the very locus of our salvation, but Asia Minor (present day Turkey), where young Timothy led the second generation of Christians at Ephesus, and from where, according to tradition, the Virgin Mary was assumed into Heaven. Islam was ever the wolf, whose appetite had once led it to the very suburbs of Paris.

Always, however, there arose a hero of the West, a champion to fight the wolf.

In 1571, Pope Pius saw the Christian West once again threatened by a resurgent Islam. The West had been divided by the Protestant Rebellion this time, however. The illegitimate Don John of Austria, made immortal by Chesterton's poem, Lepanto, answered the Church's call, as a fleet was cobbled together to meet the enemy. The Christians would be outnumbered. Once again, the Church must look for a miracle

St. Pope Pius V had one: a humble string of beads. He called upon Catholics to pray the rosary for victory. This is what happened the moment the outnumbered Catholic fleet defeated the Islamic East in the battle of Lepanto.

The holy pope, from the beginning of the expedition, had ordered public prayers and fasts, and had not ceased to solicit heaven, with uplifted hands, like Moses on the mountain, besides afflicting his body by watching and fasting. At the hour of the battle, the procession of the Rosary, in the church at the Minerva, was pouring forth solemn prayers for the victory. The pope was then conversing with some cardinals on business: but, on a sudden, left them abruptly, opened the window, stood some time with his eyes fixed on the heavens, and then shutting the casement, said: “It is not now a time to talk any more upon business; but to give thanks to God for the victory he has granted to the arms of the Christians.” This fact was carefully attested, and authentically recorded both at that time, and again in the process for the saint’s canonization. In consequence of this miraculous victory, the pope ordered the festival of the Rosary to be kept on the first Sunday of October, in perpetual thanksgiving to God, and in the litany of our Lady inserted those words: succor of Christians.

Butler, A. (1903). The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints (Vol. 2, pp. 244–245). New York: P. J. Kenedy.

Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria! 135
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain, 140
Up which a lean and foolish knight for ever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade....
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)

In the woodlands and meadows of Zoar, the Bear and his family celebrate The Battle of Lepanto Day with fireworks to the neighbors' wonder, every October 1st. Some things should not be forgotten.


  1. Excellent post!...and certainly relevant to today. Good for you guys....I think I'll ask Mr. Badger to light up a few fireworks on that day also....great tradition to start, and a great conversation starter.

    btw, have you heard Christopher Check's CD series on Lepanto? It is MAGNIFICENT! I think it's available from Angelus Press and Catholic Answers. If you get it, get the 3 cd set (not the single cd). WELL worth the listening time.

    And another really great work on the subject is Louis de Wohl's "The Last Crusader"...EXCELLLENT!...will make you a fan of de Wohl and spark a raging interest in Lepanto. I especially loved the part where divine inspiration breaks thru the fog of St. Pius V's dilemma on who to chose to lead the Holy League.

  2. Humbling and inspiring. Thank you for reminding us of this battle.

    1. There is more to life than pope-watching, however entertaining. ;-)

  3. I'll check it out, thanks. I am currently reading Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley. When I'm not of on some research tangent. Last night seemed as good a time as ever to tackle the subject of predestination. So I read St. Thomas Aquinas' eight articles on Question XXIII, and tried to explain it to my longsuffering wife.

  4. Eeeeesh! Just another night in the bear's den, eh?

  5. Great article! Save the date and celebrate! Susan,I will check out "The Last Crusader". I too share a love for the works of Louis de Wohl. "Lay Siege to Heaven" about Catherine of Sienna is a wonderful read as well..

  6. I have it in my queue Kathryn...thanks for the good review of it...I'll move it up in line.


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