Our Lady of the Rosary and the Neglected Masculine Genius

The seventh of October is the feast of “Our Lady of the Rosary,” formerly known as “Our Lady of Victory.”  It is well to recall how and why this feast was instituted and see how the events connected with its founding still have resonance today for Christian men and women.  On 7 October 1571, the Christian Navy of the Holy League met in pitched combat the naval forces of the Ottoman Turkish emperor Selim II, for control of the Mediterranean Sea.  It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Europe and of Christendom was in the balance, and the battle itself has been called one the most significant naval engagements in history.

For 300 years the Ottoman Turks had been expanding their empire from central Asia into the Middle East and Europe.  They had succeeded the Arab Islamic empires, imposing their rule from Africa to Iran.  In 1453 they had taken the great Christian city of Istanbul, turned its great Hagia Sophia into a mosque, opened a slave market, and then turned their sights on Europe.  Their chief soldiers, the Janissaries, were kidnapped sons of Christian families, raised as Muslims and sent to fight as the vanguard of the Turkish army.  In 1480 Mehmed the Conqueror’s army had reached Italy, sacking Otranto, killing 8,000 people, and sawing its bishop in half.  In the 1520s, Suleiman the Magnificent conquered most of the Balkans, drove the Knights of St. John from Rhodes, and launched a huge invasion that threatened Vienna in 1529, before being driven back.  Suleiman’s son, Selim II — called the Drunkard — was not as honorable or well respected as his father.  His commanders tricked Cyprus into surrender, then sold all the women and children into slavery (a favorite Ottoman tactic), and then flayed the Venetian commanders, mounting the bodies to their warship’s hulls. With 37,000 Christian slaves manning the oars of their fleet, the empire of the Crescent was ready to attack. The way was open for an invasion of Europe, now riven and divided by the religious conflict of the Protestant Reformation.

Only Spain had the power to stand against the Turks.  All Christendom knew what was at stake, but the Protestants refused to negotiate a defense of Europe.  It was left to the Pope, Spain, and the maritime Republics of Italy to mount a response.  Led by Don Juan of Austria, the Christians met the Ottomans in battle near Greece and, with a loss of only 20 ships, destroyed 210 of the enemy.  Like latter-day Spartans, men of the West had once again saved Christendom and western civilization.  The Christian captives were freed, and the Ottomans (though they would menace Europe till the 1680s) never again mounted a naval offensive.  In thanksgiving St. Pius V instituted the great feast of Our Lady of Victory, won through the heroism of Christian men and the power of the rosary.

Christendom has always needed defenders.  The horror of an Ottoman victory would have seen repetitions of Cyprus and Otranto all along the Mediterranean.  We must remind ourselves of the virile Christianity of our forebears, who gave so much that we might inherit the great tradition of the Church and of the West.  We must again sing songs to honor those who bore weapons of defense, that we might have peace.  One should read G. K. Chesterton’s stirring Lepanto on the feast itself in order to capture what our sentiments should be.

We have done so much in the last 50 years to rediscover authentic Christian feminism, to celebrate “feminine genius,” and rightly so.  Without women there would be no culture at all, they are the heart and bearers of culture. Pius V’s hallowing of the victory as a Marian feast makes this plain.  I will venture to make one of the broadest generalizations you will hear today. If women are the heart and bearers of culture, then men are its elaborators and defenders.  Today this “masculine genius” has been lost in many versions of contemporary Christianity.  If we are truly to have the complementarity so vigorously called for by Bl. John Paul II, it cannot be an either/or dichotomy.  Young men, so often abandoned by our system and our society, need once again to hear stories like the salvation of Christendom at Lepanto.  They need to hear the positive Christian message about those who serve in the military and in public life (Luke 3:14, Matthew 8:5-13, and Acts 10).  They need to know both the heroism that turns the other cheek, together with the knowledge that I cannot turn anyone else’s cheek for them.  This is the message of sacrificial headship (Ephesians 5:23-29). If the weak are oppressed, they need defense.  If there are malefactors, then one can bear the sword of the state against them (Romans 13:4).  The defense of the weak and the oppressed is the holy Christian duty of the strong.  It is the antidote to Nietzsche, and the cure for the genderless pseudo-philosophies of post-modernity.   It is something to be celebrated, especially for boys and young men; it is a path to holiness, and the key to the flowering of a new Christian chivalry for our contemporary times.

Donald S. Prudlo is Associate Professor of Ancient and Medieval History at Jacksonville State University in Alabama. He is also Associate Professor of Theology and Church History at Christendom. His specialty is Saints and Sainthood in the Christian Tradition, and he is the author of The Martyred Inquisitor: The Life and Cult of Peter of Verona (+1252) (Ashgate, 2008) and has recently edited The Origin, Development, and Refinement of Medieval Religious Mendicancies (Brill, 2011).
Articles by Donald:

  • ElizabethC

    Thank you, Donald, for writing about Our Lady of the Rosary and the Battle of Lepanto. Not too many people are aware of this and the fact that October has traditionally been called the Month of the Holy Rosary.

  • FWK

    I would like to know more about the “masculine genius.” Thank you.

  • Sophia

    Uh, Professor Prudlo, I am delighted to read your comments about the Battle of Lepanto. On the subject of women, I understand what you mean to say, but I will be grateful when we can all stop using the term “feminism” to describe anything good. Definition is essential to productive discourse. Please notice that this word is rarely defined by those who use it. It is not the right word for irritation with the imperfections of one’s spouse, or annoyance with restrictions arising from traditional customs. In fact, honestly, “Christian feminism” is an oxymoron. Feminism has a real meaning: it is a hostile ideology, hatched by Frederich Engels and Karl Marx. It is designed to foment class warfare between men and women, especially between husbands and wives, in order to bring about the collapse of the family. It is the opposite of complementarity, which is the Catholic, Christian, term for the right relation between the sexes. I am happy to celebrate the valuable qualities characteristic of each sex, masculine as well as feminine. But women have been pushed into a toxic social role, victimized and exploited, and countless families have been destroyed, in the name of “feminism.” May God deliver us from this poisoned apple.

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  • Templar

    I think it is very interesting that ten year old Lucia of Fatima asked Our Lady on every visit, “Who are you?”. Our Lady’s response was always the same, “In October I will tell you who I am”. In October of 1917 came the answer, “I am Our Lady of the Rosary”. This title is very significant because Our Lady of the Rosary comes to the aid of the Church anytime there is a great battle. Unfortunately for us, none of the Popes since Pius XI have complied with Our Lady’s request. This request was given at Fatima in July right after showing the children a vision of Hell, “You have seen Hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world, devotion to My Immaculate Heart”. There is a limit to the amount of time given to the Popes to carry out the request.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tony-Esolen/1184164082 Tony Esolen

    Dear Professor Prudlo — thank you very much for this article. I’ll be telling the men’s group at Providence College to keep an eye on your writing.
    I must say I agree with Sophia below about the term “feminism.” It isn’t an admiration for femininity, or for strong and sensitive women. We find those things in the writing of Sigrid Undset, who was no shrinking violet herself, who championed such bold women as Catherine of Siena and Angela Merici and Bridget of Sweden, but who was fiercely proud of the Norwegian men who fought against the Nazi invasion — her elder son Anders was slain in the fighting. Feminism, by contrast, defines women apart from men — something that Undset, with her heart in the peasant ways of life in Norway, would never do, because it is wholly unworkable and unlovely. By definition, then, feminists are not interested in the common good. They never ask, “Will my doing this thing redound to the benefit of men and children?” They don’t care — the summum bonum is the “advancement” of women, which means, actually, the advancement of feminists into positions of wealth and power. Only that will explain their callous disregard for the welfare of real women — their suppression of the facts regarding marriage, birth control, abortion, etc.

  • MacTurk

    What sad, partial tripe. For a start, for any American historian to try to blacken another nation by invoking slavery, which was common all over that part of the world at the time, is to display a degree of arrogance and blindness which can only be described as breath-taking. When did the USA deal with its slavery issue, pray tell?

    The ‘Janissaries'(from the Turkish “Yeni Ceri”, meaning “New Troops”) were raised from Christian families. Most of these families willingly sent their sons to the service, because it offered very large career prospects to the talented. The Janissaries were the main source of Ottoman power, as they were a standing, professional army, which no other European state of the time could afford to maintain.

    Given the conditions of the time, Selim the Sot could not have exercised direct control over his commanders at the siege of Nicosia, or anywhere else. And Nicosia was taken by storm, after a siege, on September 9, 1570. Which meant, under the rules and practices of war, that it was given up to the sack, by the victorious troops. The horrors inflicted on cities which resisted sieges, and then fell, were absolutely standard for the the time, and the Turks were not at all unique in this respect. Check out the Sack of Bamberg, the sack of Magdeburg, or most recently, the horrors of the Sack of Badajoz by British and German troops in 1812.

    Your statement that “Only Spain had the power to stand against the Turks” is completely wrong. Please look at the order of battle of the Holy League;
    a) Republic of Venice; 6 galleasses and 109 galleys.

    b) Empire of Spain; 55 galleys, which included 23 galleys from Naples and 3 galleys from Savoy), so actual Spanish contribution was only 19 galleys.

    c) Republic of Genoa; 27 galleys.

    d) Knights of Malta; 3 galleys

    And please understand that while Europe went wild about Lepanto,mainly because they had very few victories to shout about, it was considered not such a major disaster by the Ottoman administration at the time. The Grand Vizier, Mehmed Sokullu, argued to the Venetian emissary Marcantonio Barbaro that the Christian triumph at Lepanto made no lasting harm to the Ottoman Empire, while the capture of Cyprus by the Ottomans in the same year was a significant blow, saying that:”You come to see how we bear our misfortune. But I would have you know the difference between your loss and ours. In wresting Cyprus from you, we deprived you of an arm; in defeating our fleet, you have only shaved our beard. An arm when cut off cannot grow again; but a shorn beard will grow all the better for the razor”.

    The Ottoman fleet was rebuilt, on the Venetian model in a very short time, and was raiding Italy’s coast six months after the battle.

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