Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Holy Rosary and Lepanto

Today is the feast day of our Lady of the Holy Rosary, established on the day of the great naval battle and victory where the Holy League under Don John of Austria defeated the Islams/Moslems/Turks/Mohammedans in the bay of Lepanto in Greece, freeing thousands of enslaved captives. You may wish to consult Chesterton's famous poem and its annotated version available from the ACS.

Yes, the Turks (the Mohammedans, or Moslems, or forces of Islam) were the foes. It would be odd to omit such a detail. And I am not going to elaborate on the dividing issue, either of that battle or of the larger war, which (as the author Jack Beeching puts it) Don John knew was "a war of ideas, the hardest of all wars to win" - and so he, following the Pope, turned to prayer - and then to the work at hand.

But since I mentioned "fighting" a few postings ago, I think I might post something helpful for you to consider:
It is not merely true that a creed unites men. Nay, a difference of creed unites men - so long as it is a clear difference. A boundary unites. Many a magnanimous Moslem and chivalrous Crusader must have been nearer to each other, because they were both dogmatists, than any two homeless agnostics in a pew of Mr. Campbell's chapel. "I say God is One," and "I say God is One but also Three," that is the beginning of a good quarrelsome, manly friendship. But our age would turn these creeds into tendencies. It would tell the Trinitarian to follow multiplicity as such (because it was his "temperament"), and he would turn up later with three hundred and thirty-three persons in the Trinity. Meanwhile, it would turn the Moslem into a Monist: a frightful intellectual fall. It would force that previously healthy person not only to admit that there was one God, but to admit that there was nobody else. When each had, for a long enough period, followed the gleam of his own nose (like the Dong) they would appear again; the Christian a Polytheist, and the Moslem a Panegoist, both quite mad, and far more unfit to understand each other than before.
[GKC What's Wrong With the World CW4:49]
Which brings up an even more interesting issue: how would G. K. Chesterton handle an Islamist? Now I am well aware that he carried a sword-stick, but I strongly doubt that he would have wielded it, unless the other pulled his scimitar first. (Please remember GKC was friends with those whom he disagreed with, like H. G. Wells and G. B Shaw!) No, rather I think he would have tried a combination strategy, the strong dogmatic sense of St. Thomas Aquinas (with a blow on the table!) and the marvellous Christian approach used by Saint Francis, who
...arrived at the headquarters of the Crusade which was in front of the besieged city of Damietta, and went on in his rapid and solitary fashion to seek the headquarters of the Saracens. He succeeded in obtaining an interview with the Sultan; and it was at that interview that he evidently offered, and as some say proceeded, to fling himself into the fire as a divine ordeal, defying the Moslem religious teachers to do the same. It is quite certain that he would have done so at a moment's notice. Indeed throwing himself into the fire was hardly more desperate, in any case, than throwing himself among the weapons and tools of torture of a horde of fanatical Mahometans and asking them to renounce Mahomet. It is said further that the Mahometan muftis showed some coldness towards the proposed competition, and that one of them quietly withdrew while it was under discussion; which would also appear credible. But for whatever reason Francis evidently returned as freely as he came. There may be something in the story of the individual impression produced on the Sultan, which the narrator represents as a sort of secret conversion. There may be something in the suggestion that the holy man was unconsciously protected among half-barbarous Orientals by the halo of sanctity that is supposed in such places to surround an idiot. There is probably as much or more in the more generous explanation of that graceful though capricious courtesy and compassion which mingled with wilder things in the stately Soldans of the type and tradition of Saladin. Finally, there is perhaps something in the suggestion that the tale of St. Francis might be told as a sort of ironic tragedy and comedy called The Man Who Could Not Get Killed. Men liked him too much for himself to let him die for his faith; and the man was received instead of the message. But all these are only converging guesses at a great effort that is hard to judge, because it broke off short like the beginnings of a great bridge that might have united East and West, and remains one of the great might-have-beens of history.
[GKC St. Francis of Assisi CW2:111]
Indeed, if there is a solution in this world to the matter of Mohammed and his followers, I firmly believe it is a Chestertonian one, and requires the simultaneous strengths of such saints, but also an unwavering appeal to Mary the Mother of God, as Pope St. Pius V begged for - and obtained, and saw accomplished.

We are still beset by evil, which does not come with only one "religious" flavour. Let us use the Rosary, the grand prayer of the Gospels, to beg for the grace to defeat evil, to love God (Who is One but also Three) and our neighbor, yes, the Mohammedan and the Christian and the agnostic, and be willing to throw ourselves into the fire to prove it - with a blow on the table.

PS: if you already say the Rosary frequently you ought to join the Confraternity. It's been up and running for over 500 years, yes they were part of the victory of Lepanto!


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