The Corner


Remembering Lepanto — and How Far the Barque of Peter Has Drifted

On this date 444 years ago, the Holy League defeated the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto, a Greek town in the Gulf of Corinth, halting the Muslim incursion into Christian Europe from the eastern Mediterranean, at least for a while. The defeat of the Ottomans by the Holy Roman Empire at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 put a full stop to that sentence about Muslim designs on that region of Christendom. But the paragraph continues. Europeans today, with no Holy League or Holy Roman Empire or any secular equivalent to defend them, watch in consternation as the migrant crisis crashes on their shores and promises to advance the Islamization of post-Christian Europe by other means.

Secularism and Islam can coexist, at least for a while, as regimes in Turkey, Egypt, and other Muslim-majority nations have demonstrated over the years, but the tension between the two worldviews is constant and may be inevitable. In 2015 the challenge that secularism in Europe faces from Islam is far more immediate and serious than the one it faces from Christianity, and yet Europeans focus their nervous negative energy on the latter, out of habit but also self-hatred.

Pope Benedict XVI back in 2006 diagnosed the illness with his signature lucidity. Hailing the virtue of “respect for that which another group holds sacred, especially respect for the sacred in the highest sense, for God, which one can reasonably expect to find even among those who are not willing to believe in God,” he observed the following about post-Christian Europe:

When this respect is violated in a society, something essential is lost. In European society today, thank goodness, anyone who dishonors the faith of Israel, its image of God, or its great figures must pay a fine. The same holds true for anyone who dishonors the Koran and the convictions of Islam. But when it comes to Jesus Christ and that which is sacred to Christians, freedom of speech becomes the supreme good.

This case illustrates a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. . . .

Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can do this only if we ourselves are not estranged from the sacred, from God.

The West values its secular values. Does it value them enough to fight for them? It’s being tested.

Obviously it no longer values Christianity enough to fight for that. The faith is being extirpated from the Middle East as Western powers look on and then look away. Churches have been demolished, Christians crucified. Most Christians either have fled or are trying to. God bless the lonely Christian militia in northern Iraq, but the consensus among Christians on the ground and among their advocates here in the West is that “forting up,” as Walter Russell Meade called it in his talk at a Hudson Institute event earlier this year, is a losing strategy.

The sole alternative for Middle Eastern Christians is to flee, but neither the United States nor the United Kingdom will give them refuge. Both nations have committed to receiving a limited number of refugees exclusively from U.N.-sponosred camps, which Christians will no longer enter because they get attacked there. In the larger migrant crisis facing the West, they have been shoved to “the bottom of the heap,” as George Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, notes in the Telegraph.

Churchill rallied his people to fight for “the survival of Christian civilization” not a century ago. Times have changed. “We don’t do God,” Tony Blair’s communications director blurted out at a press conference in 2003, intercepting a question addressed to the prime minister about his Christian faith.

Pope Pius V organized the Holy League, a coalition of navies from Christian maritime powers, not half a millennium ago. At Lepanto, the Christians were outnumbered in sailors, soldiers, and vessels but had more guns.

Times have changed. Pope Francis in June, in what Reuters described as a “long, rambling talk” in Turin, said that Christians who were weapons manufacturers or invested in the weapons industry were hypocrites. In the next breath he criticized the Allies for not bombing the train tracks to Auschwitz in World War II. The common thread tying together the two apparently contradictory statements was not that hard to discern: Our grandparents were war criminals, we have no right to defend ourselves.

Pius V called on Catholic Europe to pray the rosary for the victory of the Christian navies in the Balkans and led that effort personally. The resolve and focus of a holy man in a position of power stopped the forefathers of the Islamic State from narrowing the distance between themselves and Rome. Would that Pius’s current successor followed his lead.

Instead, Francis has called bishops to the Eternal City for what by all indications is the purpose of creating an appearance of consensus on a series of propitiatory gestures that he already determined he would make, in the name of the Catholic Church, toward the secular West’s preoccupation with issues relating to sex and sexual identity; you would have to stretch a great deal to explain how the debate over whether women should be ordained to the diaconate is germane to a synod on the family. The Church today faces war on several fronts. The bishop of Rome is tied up negotiating terms of surrender on one of them.


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