Sunday 12 September 2010

Holy Name of Mary, the Battle of Vienna and the real significance of 9/11

After the loss of the Holy Land, the Eastern Roman Empire and control of the Mediterranean, Christendom was in constant danger of being overwhelmed by the Muslim Ottoman Turks and the Protestant Reformation further weakened the defences.

Moreover, Catholic Christendom was fighting, now, on two fronts against both Muslim and Protestant and might, at any time, be swept away altogether.

Particular determination, tenacity and courage were now needed more than ever from the defenders of Christendom.

Fortunately, courage was not lacking.

In September 1529, after defeating the Hungarians at the Battle of Mohacs, the Ottoman Turks and their allies laid siege to Vienna – the famous Siege of Vienna of 1529. After a tremendous struggle the Austrians, under the 70-year-old Count Nicholas von Salm, were finally victorious, although Salm himself was killed during the siege.

On 7 October 1571, the Ottoman Turks had seized the opportunity to launch a vast fleet to conquer as much of Christendom as they could conquer. Almost miraculously, they were defeated at the Battle of Lepanto by the combined Christian fleets under the command of Grand Admiral Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of the Roman Emperor, Charles V.

To these were added the prayers of Christendom since the pope, St Pius V, had ordered a Christendom-wide Rosary prayer campaign for victory.

Moreover, a copy of the miraculous image of our Lady of Guadalupe sat in the cabin of Don John throughout the battle. The victory of Lepanto was commemorated by a new Feast, that of our Lady of Victory (or Victories) which was later made universal and later still re-named the Feast of our Lady of the Rosary.

In 1716, Clement XI inscribed the Feast of our Lady of the Holy Rosary on the universal calendar in gratitude for the victory gained by Prince Eugene of Savoy, commander of the Imperial forces of the Habsburg Roman Emperor, on 5 August at Peterwardein in Vojvodina, in Serbia.

Later, however, on 11 September 1683 – 9/11 no less – came the Battle of Vienna of 1683, when King Jan (John) III Sobieski of Poland-Lithuania, also accompanied by Christendom-wide praying of the Rosary, delivered Vienna and Christendom once again from the Muslim Ottoman Turks and protected the Holy Roman Empire of Emperor Leopold I from imminent destruction.

Emperor Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor at the Battle of Vienna

After the victory of Sobieski over the Turks, Venerable Pope Innocent XI, extended the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary to the whole Church to be celebrated on 12 September in memory of the deliverance of Christendom. The feast was extended to the universal Church and assigned to the Sunday after the Nativity of Mary by a Decree of 25 November 1683, or, if that was not possible, then it had to be kept on 12 September.

12 September had also been the day of the Battle of Muret 1213, when Count Simon de Montfort (father of the founder of the English parliament) and 700 knights had defeated the Albigensian army of some 50,000, whilst St Dominic and his friars were praying the Rosary in the church of Muret.

But 9/11 was the day that the battles began in each case.

The Battle of Vienna took place on 11 September and 12 September 12, 1683 after Vienna had been besieged by the Ottoman Empire for two months. The battle broke the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Europe, and marked the political hegemony of the Habsburg dynasty and the beginning of the end of the Ottoman Muslim Empire.The battle was won by Polish-Austrian-German forces led by King Jan against the Ottoman Empire army commanded by Grand Vizier Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha.

King Jan III Sobieski of Poland -Lithuania

The siege itself began on 14 July 1683 with an the Ottoman Empire army of approximately 138,000 men. The decisive battle took place on 12 September, after the united relief army of 70,000 men had arrived, pitted against the Ottoman army.

The battle marked the turning point in the 300-year struggle between Roman Christendom and the Ottoman Empire.

The siege before the Battle of Vienna (1683)

The capture of the city of Vienna had long been a strategic aspiration of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman Empire had even been providing military assistance to dissident Hungarians and to anti-Catholic minorities in Habsburg-occupied portions of Hungary. There, in the years preceding the siege, widespread unrest had become open rebellion upon Leopold I's pursuit of Catholic Counter-Reformation principles.

King Jan Sobieski salutes the Roman Emperor Leopold I

In 1681, Protestants and other anti-Habsburg forces, led by Imre Thököly, were reinforced with a significant force from the Ottoman Muslims, who recognized Imre as King of "Upper Hungary". This support went so far as explicitly promising the "Kingdom of Vienna" to the disloyal and treacherous Hungarians if it fell into Ottoman hands.

In 1681 and 1682, clashes between the forces of Imre Thököly and the Habsburgs' military frontier forces intensified, which was used as a casus belli by Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha in convincing the Sultan Mehmet IV and his Divan, to allow the movement of the Ottoman Army. Mehmet IV authorized Kara Mustafa Pasha to operate as far as Győr and Komarom castles, both in northwestern Hungary, and to besiege them. The Ottoman Army was mobilized on 21 January 1682, and war was declared on 6 August 1682.

Sultan Mehmet IV

The wording of this declaration left no room for doubt what would be in store after a Turkish success. Mehmet IV wrote to Leopold I thus, verbatim:

"We order You to await Us in Your residence city of Vienna so that We can decapitate you... (...) We will exterminate You and all Your followers... (...) Children and adults will be equally exposed to the most atrocious tortures before being finished off in the most ignominious way imaginable..."

During the winter, the Habsburgs and Poland concluded a treaty in which Leopold would support Sobieski if the Turks attacked Kraków; in return, the Polish Army would come to the relief of Vienna, if attacked.

The King of Poland prepared a relief expedition to Vienna during the summer of 1683, honouring his obligations to the treaty. He went so far as to leave his own nation virtually undefended when departing from Kraków on 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption of our Lady. Sobieski covered this with a stern warning to Imre Thököly, the rebellious Hungarian Protestant leader, whom he threatened with severity if he tried to take advantage of the situation — which, nevertheless, the treacherous Thököly did.

The main Turkish army finally invested Vienna on 14 July. Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, leader of the remaining 11,000 troops and 5,000 citizens and volunteers, refused to capitulate.

Count Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg, commander of the Vienna garrison

The Turks dug tunnels under the massive city walls to blow them up with explosives, using sapping mines.

The Ottoman siege cut virtually every means of food supply into Vienna, and the garrison and civilian volunteers suffered extreme casualties. Fatigue became such a problem that Count von Starhemberg ordered any soldier found asleep on watch to be shot. Increasingly desperate, the forces holding Vienna were on their last legs when in August, Imperial forces under Charles, Duke of Lorraine, beat Imre Thököly of Hungary at Bisamberg, 5km northeast of Vienna.

On 6 September, the Poles crossed the Danube 30km north west of Vienna at Tulln, to unite with the Imperial forces and additional troops from Saxony, Bavaria, Baden, Franconia and Swabia who had answered the call for a Holy League that was supported by Pope Innocent XI.

The devious King Louis XIV of France declined to help and instead used the opportunity to attack cities in Alsace and other parts of southern Germany. Anyone who thinks Louis XIV a good Catholic king really needs to think again.

During early September, the experienced 5,000 Turkish sappers repeatedly blew up large portions of the walls, the Burg bastion, the Löbel bastion and the Burg ravelin in between, creating gaps of about 12m in width. The Austrians tried to counter by digging their own tunnels, to intercept the depositing of large amounts of gunpowder in subterranean caverns. The Turks finally managed to occupy the Burg ravelin and the Nieder wall in that area on 8 September. Anticipating a breach in the city walls, the remaining Austrians prepared to fight in Vienna itself.

The relief army had to act quickly to save the city from the Turks and to prevent another long siege in case they would take it. Despite the international composition of the Army and the short time of only six days in which to organise, an effective leadership structure was established. This was largely the work of the extraordinary and holy Austrian Chaplain-General, Blessed Marco d'Aviano, Emperor Leopold's privy counsellor.

Blessed Marco d'Aviano, OFMCap, Imperial Chaplain-General

The Holy League forces arrived on the Kahlenberg (bare hill) above Vienna, signalling their arrival with bonfires. In the early morning hours of 12 September, before the battle, King Jan served a Solemn High Mass.

While the Turks hastily finished their mining work and sealed the tunnel to make the explosion more effective, the Austrian "moles" detected the cavern in the afternoon and one brave man entered and defused the mines just in time.

At the same time, the Polish infantry had launched a massive assault upon the Turkish right flank.

After 12 hours of fighting, Sobieski's Polish force held the high ground on the right. At about 5pm, after watching the ongoing infantry battle from the hills for the whole day, four cavalry groups, one of them Austrian-German, and the other three Polish, totalling 20,000 men, charged down the hills. The attack was led by the Polish king himself in front of a spearhead of 3000 heavily wing-armoured Polish lancer-hussars. This charge thoroughly broke the lines of the Ottoman troops. Seizing the initiative, Starhemberg led the Vienna garrison in sallying out of its defences to join the assault.

The massive charge of the Polish winged lancer-hussars which terrified the Ottoman troops and decided the Battle of Vienna. The wings made a terrifying sound as the Polish hussars came charging down the mountainside.

In less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian Imperial forces had won the battle, saved Vienna from capture and rescued Christendom from the Turks.

One may recall the decisive charge of the Rohirrim from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, to get a flavour of what it must have been like, King Jan Sobieski leading his Polish hussars just as King Theoden led his Riders of Rohan.

After the battle, Sobieski paraphrased Julius Caesar's famous quote by saying "veni, vidi, Deus vicit" - "I came, I saw, God conquered".

King Jan Sobieski receives the standards of the fallen Turks

The Turks lost about 15,000 men in the fighting, compared to approximately 4,000 for the Habsburg-Polish forces. Though routed and in full retreat, the Turkish troops had found time to slaughter all their Austrian prisoners, with the exception of those few of nobility which they took with them for ransoming.

King Jan vividly described events in a letter to his wife a few days after the battle:

“Ours are treasures unheard of ... tents, sheep, cattle and no small number of camels ... it is victory as nobody ever knew of, the enemy now completely ruined, everything lost for them. They must run for their sheer lives ... Commander Starhemberg hugged and kissed me and called me his saviour.”

The victory at Vienna set the stage for Prince Eugene of Savoy's reconquest of Hungary and the Balkans within the following years.

Long before that, the Turkish Sultan had disposed of his defeated commander. On 25 December 1683, Kara Mustafa Pasha was executed in Belgrade.

However, it was the end for the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans fought on for another 16 years but lost control of Hungary and Transylvania and capitulated finally by the Treaty of Karlowitz.

Christendom was once again safe.

Because Sobieski had entrusted his kingdom to the protection of the our Lady of Czestochowa before the battle, Blessed Pope Innocent XI commemorated his victory by extending the feast of the Holy Name of Mary to the universal Church.

The croissants signify the Turkish crescent

The Battle of Vienna was marked by culinary inventions:

1. The croissant was invented in Vienna to celebrate the defeat as a reference to the crescents on the Turkish flags.

2. The bagel was made as a gift to King Jan Sobieski to commemorate the victory, being fashioned in the form of a stirrup, to commemorate the victorious charge by the Polish cavalry.

3. After the battle, the Austrians discovered many bags of coffee in the abandoned Turkish encampment. Using this captured stock, Franciszek Jerzy Kulczycki opened the third coffee house in Europe and the first in Vienna, where, Kulczycki and Marco d'Aviano adding milk and honey to sweeten the bitter coffee, thereby invented the cappuccino, so named after Blessed Marco because of the Capuchin’s brown hood.

Our Lady of Czestochowa, pray for us!
Blessed Marco d'Aviano, pray for us!
Holy Name of Mary, protect us!


Our Lady's Nativity and the Great Siege of Malta of 1565: "Victoria Day" of the Knights of Malta

8 September is the Feast of our Lady's nativity but it is also Victoria Day for the Knights of Malta, the day when, with our Lady's help, they defeated the Ottoman Turkish invasion of their home and headquarters on the island of Malta.

8 September is also "Malta Day" for the same reason.

The Knights Hospitaller (also known as the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta; the Knights of Malta; the Knights of Rhodes; and Les Chevaliers de Malte) is an organization that began as an Amalfitan hospital founded in Jerusalem in 1080 to provide care for poor and sick pilgrims to the Holy Land.

After the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 during the First Crusade it became a religious/military order under its own charter, and was charged with the care and defence of pilgrims to the Holy Land.

Following the loss of Christian territory in the Holy Land, the Order operated from Rhodes, over which it was sovereign, and later from Malta under the grand magistry of the renowned religious, soldier and defender of Malta from the Turks, Prince and Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Valette, after whom Valetta in Malta is named.

After the loss of the Holy Land and years of moving from place to place in Europe, the Knights were established on Malta in 1530, when the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, as King of Sicily, gave them Malta, Gozo and the North African port of Tripoli in perpetual fiefdom in exchange for an annual fee of a single Maltese falcon, which they were to send on All Souls Day to the Viceroy of Sicily, who acted as the King's representative. (This historical fact was used in Dashiell Hammett's famous book The Maltese Falcon).

It was from here that the Hospitallers continued their actions against the marauding Muslims and especially the savage Barbary pirates.

The Muslim Ottomans were less than happy to see the Order resettled, even though they had only a small number of ships.

Accordingly, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent assembled another massive invasion force in order to dislodge the Knights from Malta, and in 1565 invaded, starting the Great Siege of Malta.This siege proved one of the great victories of history for an undermanned and vastly outnumbered defence force, numbering some 700 knights and about 8000 soldiers defeated a far greater Ottoman invasion force.

At first the battle looked to be a repeat of the earlier defeat of the Knights at Rhodes. Most of the cities were destroyed and about half the Knights died in battle. On 18 August the position of the besieged was becoming desperate: dwindling daily in numbers, they were becoming too feeble to hold the long line of fortifications. But when his council suggested the abandonment of Il Borgo and Senglea and withdrawal to Fort St Angelo, Grand Master La Valette remained fiercely obdurate.

The Viceroy of Sicily had not brought help. Possibly the orders of his master, King Philip II of Spain, were so obscurely worded as to put on his own shoulders the burden of a decision – a responsibility which he was unwilling to discharge because defeat would mean exposing Sicily to the Turks.

Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, the Turkish sovereign

Whatever may have been the cause of his delay, the Viceroy hesitated until the indignation of his own officers forced him to move, and then the battle had almost been won by the unaided efforts of the Knights.

On 23 August came yet another grand assault, the last serious effort, as it proved, of the besiegers. It was thrown back with the greatest difficulty, even the wounded taking part in the defence. The plight of the Turkish forces, however, was now desperate. With the exception of Fort St Elmo, the fortifications were still intact. Working night and day, the garrison had repaired the breaches, and the capture of Malta seemed more and more impossible. The terrible summer months had laid many of the troops low with sickness in their crowded quarters. Ammunition and food were beginning to run short, and the Turkish troops were becoming more and more dispirited at the failure of their numerous attacks and the unending toll of lives.

The death of Dragut, a corsair and admiral of the Ottoman fleet and skilled commander, on 23 June, had proved an incalculable loss. The Turkish commanders, Piyale Pasha and Mustafa Pasha, took few precautions, and, though they had a huge fleet, they never used it with any effect except on one solitary occasion. They neglected their communications with the African coast and made no attempt to watch and intercept Sicilian reinforcements.

On 1 September they made their last effort, but all threats and cajoleries had little effect on dispirited Turkish troops, who refused any longer to believe in the possibility of capturing those terrible fortresses. The feebleness of the attack was a great encouragement to the besieged, who now began to see hopes of deliverance. Perplexity and indecision of the Turks were cut short by the news of the arrival of Sicilian reinforcements in Mellieħa Bay. Unaware of the small size of this new force, they hastily evacuated and sailed away on 8 September, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, ever after celebrated by the Order of Malta as "Victoria Day".

At the moment of the Turkish departure the Order had left to it only 600 men capable of bearing arms, but the losses of the Ottomans had been yet more fearful. The most reliable estimate puts the number of the Turkish army at its height at some 40,000 men, of which but 15,000 returned to Constantinople. The siege is portrayed vividly in the frescoes of Matteo Perez d'Aleccio in the Hall of St Michael and St George, also known as the Throne Room, in the Grand Master's Palace in Valletta. Four of the original modellos, painted in oils by Perez d'Aleccio between 1576 and 1581, can be found in the Cube Room of the Queen's House at Greenwich, London. After the siege a new city had to be built – the present city of Valletta, so named in memory of the Grand Master who had sustained this siege.

Fort Sant' Angelo, seen from Valetta, with Birgu in the background, where the battle was nearly lost but then, with extraordinary courage, finally won

In 1607, the Head of the Order, the Grand Master, was granted the rank of Reichsfürst (Prince of the Holy Roman Empire).

In 1630 the Grand Master was awarded ecclesiastic equality with the Cardinals and the uniquely hybrid style "His Most Eminent Highness", reflecting both the qualities of ruling temporal prince and religious, on the one hand, and cardinal prince of the Church, on the other, expresses his dignity well.

Following the Christian victory over the Ottoman fleet in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, the Knights continued to defend Christendom from Barbary pirates and Muslim raiders and the Turks began to think again of trying to invade Christendom by land.

The Patron Saint of the Order is our Lady of Philermo whose image was first acquired when the Knights were still settled on the island of Rhodes. The icon, depicted below, is ancient and famous.

Our Lady of Philermo, pray for us!


Wednesday 1 September 2010

On the Queen's constitutional powers: replying to Fr Francis Marsden

I received the following post from Fr Francis Marsden, esteemed columnist in The Catholic Times of Britain and a learned theologian and scholar.

I think it is worth re-printing and then answering, partly for the debate and partly for the eminence of its author.

I have answered all other correspondents in the combox section of my last post and those wishing to read those answers can find them there.

Here is what Fr Marsden says regarding the Queen’s Royal Assent and the Abortion Act 1967:

Dear Tribunus,

Maybe she didn't have the power to veto it, but she could have still refused to sign, because signing it was a form of cooperation in grave evil, and a betrayal of the rights of her unborn subjects.

If the Abortion Act would still have gone through without her signature, then she need not have signed. She could have explained that she was not trying to usurp any power which she did not enjoy constitutionally, but that she wasn't prepared to go against her own conscience.

Her signature gave the impression that she supported this law. Any prosecutions under this law or its predecessors would have been in the form: Regina v. N. giving the impression that the Queen supported whatever law was in force.

King Baudouin of the Belgians showed far more integrity when he resigned from the monarchy for a day, rather than play any part in an abominable law.

I don't think your argument holds water. This was one case where a Christian monarch could have registered a protest. Maybe it wouldn't have made a lot of difference at the time, but it would be something forever remembered.

“To veto” is not the same as “not to sign”. You are equating the two.

best wishes
Fr Francis Marsden
Chorley, Lancs

And here is my response:

Dear Father Francis,

Unfortunately, you have either not read my previous post or else you have read it too cursorily and so not understood it.

It is curious how many people, on this subject, think themselves experts in British Constitutional law even when they are not lawyers and have never even studied the subject. Sometimes they even claim to know better than constitutional lawyers.

This is, first, an issue of British Constitutional law since we must first know what powers the Queen has before we can call her immoral for not using them. It is a commonplace of moral theology that one cannot commit sin by failing to exercise a power one does not have.

As a matter of constitutional law, the Queen does not have the right or the power to veto any Bills passed by both Houses of Parliament except, by constitutional convention, in a constitutional crisis.

Constitutional conventions are binding constitutional customs and, as St Thomas himself wrote, “custom has the force of law, abolishes law, and is the interpreter of law” (ST I- II, q. 97, a. 3).

Indeed, our Constitution, being unwritten, is made up almost entirely of conventions. That the Queen has no power meaningfully and genuinely to refuse assent (save in constitutional crisis) is affirmed by the principal authorities on constitutional conventions such as the bible of Parliamentary practice and law, Erskine May on Parliamentary Practice.

I provided other authorities. Did you trouble to read them?

Who are you to say that such authorities are wrong?

If they are right, then the Queen does not have the power that you censure her so severely for not using.

How can you censure someone for not using a power they do not have?

Nevertheless, you do – unfairly, unjustly and unreasonably.

Moreover, if the Queen were to attempt to give herself such a veto power, as you claim she ought, then what she would be doing is seizing power.

To seize power is a form of coup d’etat and is immoral.

You know – or ought to know – that one cannot do evil that good may come of it, no matter how great the good. St Paul says so in Rom 3:8. The end does not justify the means.

You thus chastise and rebuke the Queen for not doing evil that good may come. In short, you rebuke the Queen for not sinning.

That is the reductio ad absurdam of your argument.

You are thus quite wrong – as a matter of constitutional law – to say:

- She co-operated in a grave evil.

No she did not.

On the contrary, she played no morally significant part. If she had tried to play a morally significant part, by trying to veto the Bill, she would have sinned by her illegal and immoral attempted seizure of power.

- She went against her own conscience.

No, she did not.

She would have acted against her conscience if she had tried, illegally, to seize power to veto the Bill, which power she does not have any right to.

- She could have explained that she was not trying to usurp any power which she did not enjoy constitutionally.

No, she could not.

In trying to exercise a power to refuse assent, she would be trying to seize and exercise a power that she did not have. That would not have stopped the Bill but would certainly have created a constitutional crisis through an attempted, illegal seizure of power, disturbing the whole constitution for no good purpose and doing so by an immoral and illegal seizure of power.

- Her notional assent gave the impression that she supported this law.

No, it did not.

Her assent is a formality save in a constitutional crisis and thus is not a moral act. No-one can rightly blame the Queen for the Abortion Act. The blame lies with the democratically elected Members of Parliament who voted for the Bill and with those who elected them.

- Any prosecutions under this law or its predecessors give the impression that the Queen supported whatever law was in force.

No, it does not.

Prosecutions in the USA are styled “The People v X”.

Does that mean that all the people necessarily approve the law by which X is prosecuted? No, of course not.

Likewise the Queen does not have to approve, personally, all prosecutions that are styled “Regina v X” or “The Queen v X”.

This is merely a device of constitutional law similar to other devices cited by Blackstone in his Commentaries such as e.g. the Queen never dies, the Queen can do no wrong, the Queen is legally ubiquitous and so on. These are constitutional devices and refer to the Crown in its office and not in the personal capacity of the person holding the office.

I recommend reading Newman’s wonderful satire of a Russian revolutionary who read Blackstone and failed to understand it. It is in the first chapter of his Present Position of Catholics.

You are in danger of making the same comic mistake as the Russian in Newman’s satire.

- King Baudouin of the Belgians showed more integrity.

No, he did not.

He did what he was permitted under the Belgian Constitution. The Queen is not so permitted and does not have the same power. King Baudouin himself recognised this. There is no “integrity” in immorally seizing power.

- This was one case where a Christian monarch could have registered a protest.

No, it is not.

This would certainly not have been, as you term it, a mere “protest” but rather an attempted seizure of power which is both illegal and immoral because one may not do evil that good may come.

- “To veto” is not the same as “not to sign”.

No, that is wrong.

As a matter of constitutional law, to attempt to refuse assent would be the same as attempting to veto. Even if the attempted veto were non-effective in stopping the Bill, it would nevertheless be very effective in creating the very sort of constitutional crisis which the veto power of the Crown is designed to prevent.

It is ridiculous to rebuke someone for not exercising a power to create the very evil the power is designed to prevent.

You might as well blame the Pope for not attempting to start a Crusade against Afghanistan’s Taliban.

He has no practical power so to do and if he were to try he would be doing grave evil in trying to usurp a power he no longer, in practical terms, has.

It would be sin to rebuke him for not so doing, just as it is a sin to rebuke the Queen for not usurping to herself a power that the Crown no longer has.

Thus, you can see, my dear Father, that it is your argument which does not hold water.

I hope you will pray for the Queen and pray for reparation for any time that you have unjustly attacked her good name in connection with the Abortion Act or any other legislation which you might have wrongly blamed her for not vetoing.

Put the blame where it belongs: with those members of Parliament who voted in such legislation and those who voted for them.

Do not blame the innocent.

Best wishes,

St Thomas Aquinas was a great promoter of constitutional convention and custom and wrote that "custom hath the force of law, abolishes law and is the interpreter of law".