Most of our freedoms today are as a direct, or indirect, result of actions by the Christian church, specifically, by the Pope. At least two, and possibly all three, of the decisive battles fought by Europeans to defend our civilization were either organized, or supported, by the Vatican.
First let’s look at the list: Frankish King Charles Martel defeated Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi at the battle of Tours in 732, John of Austria led the combined fleet of the Holy League against the Ottoman navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, and Polish King John III Sobieski lifted the siege of Vienna in 1683.
Charles’s victory stopped the northward advance of Umayyad forces from the Iberian Peninsula and preserved Christianity in Europe during a period when Muslim rule was overrunning the remains of the Byzantine and Persian Empires. The victory of the Holy League marked the turning point of Ottoman military expansion into the Mediterranean. The Battle of Vienna, the first time the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Holy Roman Empire cooperated militarily, put the Ottomans permanently on the defensive.
Now, look at what the Pope had to do with it. In the case of the sea battle of Lepanto, the Holy League was a coalition of European Catholic maritime states which was arranged by Pope Pius V (illustrated above) and led by John of Austria. The league was largely financed by Philip II of Spain and the Venetian Republic was the main contributor of ships. The key factor was that the states were Christian and the organizer was the Pope.
Let’s move on to the Battle of Vienna in 1683. This life-and-death struggle had been going on for two months when a mixed force of Bavarian, Austrian and Polish troops charged out of the surrounding mountains and put the Muslim armies to rout. The force was put together by Leopold I, the Holy Roman Emperor, in an alliance with Poland, Venice and Pope Innocent XI.
Today’s Pope would be wringing his hands and calling for a cease-fire; yesterday’s Pope was busy organizing Christian Europe to smash the invaders. Quite a different approach.
The Papacy had its reasons. In 846 Muslim pirates raided Rome, killed defenders outside the Aurelian Wall and made off with considerable booty. As a result, Pope Leo IV built a strong wall on the right bank of the Tiber, in order to protect the Church of St. Peter. This three-kilometre wall completely encircled the Vatican Hill for the first time in its history.
In short, the Vatican believed, as did all Christians at the time, armed violence was essential to preserve the West, and strong walls were necessary to protect the Church.
Nothing really has changed with the outside world. It is now as it was then; dangerous, aggressive, persistent. What’s changed is our own attitude. Many of us are no longer religious, and our churches no longer believe in self-preservation.
As mentioned in an earlier post, both God and Christ were armed, as was the Church. It would be well if we remembered why this was necessary and what we need to do about it today.