Lepanto – Non Nobis Domine
It was in the year 1571. St. Pius V. sat in the chair of St. Peter, and with a gentle firmness ruled the Christian world. The aim of his life as Pope had been to promote peace and harmony among Christian princes and to spread the kingdom of God on earth. He well knew the dangers to which the Church was exposed, and hence, like a faithful shepherd, he kept constant watch lest the wolf should enter the fold. And he had good reason to be on the alert. As he stood in the watch tower of the Vatican, his vigilant eye scanning the horizon, he beheld in alarm and almost dismay a dense cloud appearing. As it drew nearer and nearer it grew in density till it well nigh obscured the light of the sun, and threatened to burst and deluge the earth with another flood.
Selim the Second, the conqueror of the unruly Turks, was in the noon-day splendor of a victorious reign. His onward march had suffered no serious check, and the dead lay strewn in his wake like the wheat that the scythe of the reaper has laid low. And now he turned his haughty eye towards Christendom, and he swore a terrible oath. He swore to subjugate the Christian world —dethrone its Christ and place Mohammed in His stead: “The cross shall fall, and in its place the crescent shall proclaim that Christ is dead and Allah is our God.” Onward he rushed with his Moslem host like a cloud that portends a deadly and destructive storm. The Mediterranean Sea was covered with his fleet. Greece and Hungary had capitulated, and he descended upon the Island of Malta. But his first attempt was defeated by the heroism of the Grand Master of the Knights, La Valette. Enraged at this defeat and mad with the desire of revenge, the Turks attacked the Island of Cypress and sated their fiendish rage in torrents of human blood. A Christian legate was sent to treat with their commander. He was spurned and spat upon and taunted with the words: “Where is now your Christ, and why does He not free you from our hands?” They treated him with a cruelty too barbarous to describe, until death came to his relief. The last words on his dying lips were: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lu. xxiii, 24).
And now Pius V. sounded the note of alarm. He called upon the princes of the Christian world to rally round the standard of the cross and fight to save their altars and their homes. But, sad to say, there were but few who volunteered to stem the tide of Moslem invasion and save the Christian world. Only the Venetians and the Spaniards came and joined their forces with the little army of the Pope. Don Juan of Austria was placed in chief command. Prayer and fasting were prescribed throughout the world, and the Sovereign Pontiff himself, like another Moses on the mount, stretched out his arms in fervent supplication that God might lend His aid to those who were battling in a righteous cause.
At sunrise, on the 7th of October, 1571, the Turkish fleet was drawn up in battle array in the form of a crescent, the emblem of Mohammed. They numbered in all 254 galleys and 84 ships of every class. At the sight of this terrible array the commander of the Christian forces raised his standard aloft and displayed a picture of the Redeemer of the world. “Christian soldiers,” he cried out, “you are come to fight the battle of the cross, to conquer or to die. But be the issue victory or death, do your duty well and win a glorious immortality.” Then, falling on their knees, they begged the God of armies to assist them and crown their efforts with success. They closed in on the Turks, and the terrible battle began. For six long hours it raged with fury and with dreadful loss. For a time it looked as though the Turks would win. The left wing of the Christians began to yield; eight galleys of Venetians were sunk, and the right wing was in imminent danger. But suddenly the tide of victory turned. In the very heat of the conflict the two flagships were engaged in a fierce encounter. Twice the Christians were driven back, but in a third attempt, the Turkish commander fell. Ali Pasha was slain and his head raised aloft on a Christian galley. The defeat of the Turks was complete and the power of Mohammed broken. Two hundred and ten Turkish galleys were either captured or sunk. Twenty-five thousand infidels were slain and twelve thousand Christian slaves were freed from the Turkish galleys. The Christians had lost fifteen galleys and eight thousand men.
On the very day of the famous battle Pope Pius was holding a council with his advisers in Rome. Suddenly he rose up, went to the window and gazed intently toward the sky. Then closing the window he turned towards the Cardinals and said: “This is no time to talk of business; let us go and give thanks to God in His temple; our arms have just been blest with victory.” And the Holy Pontiff, shedding tears of joy, fell on his knees in his oratory and poured forth the gratitude of his heart to his good and bountiful Lord. A few days later it was learned that at the very same hour the Christians had defeated the Turks and the cross of Christ had triumphed over the crescent of Mohammed in the Gulf of Lepanto. In gratitude for this signal victory Pope Pius decreed that throughout the Christian world the Feast of the Holy Rosary should be solemnized on the first Sunday of October, and to the litany of the Blessed Virgin he added the invocation: “Help of Christians, pray for us.”
Christian reader, this remarkable incident speaks for itself. It were superfluous to point out the lessons it should teach. But while wreathing the garland of roses for the fair brow of the Mother of God, for this we do when we “tell our beads,” remember that “the arm of God is not shortened”; it is as strong to-day as in the days of long ago, and
When clouds of adversity gather,
And hope to all seeming has fled,
Pray God with more earnest pleading,
He will help you, for so He has said.
THE LOYAL CATHOLIC -SOME TOPICS OF INTEREST
TO THE DEVOTED SONS AND DAUGHTERS
OF HOLY MOTHER CHURCH
By the Rev. Cornelius J. Warren, C SS. R.(1912)