September 12, 2013 by lucieromarin
Tales of glorious victories against one’s historic enemy are tricky things. If the main reason you’re free to sit about pondering the ethics of glorifying war is that someone else took an arrow or a bullet for you, thereby preventing you from being overrun/enslaved/culturally erased by said enemy, then you owe the fallen man a debt – remembrance, at least, if you can’t manage gratitude. However, the same tales, told wrongly, can also lead to an exaggerated and wholly imaginary identification with the heroes of said stories (not to mention the identification of Historic Enemy’s great-grandchildren with Historic Enemy himself), so that you end up naming your little photocopied newsletter – circulation fifty – something like ‘Lepanto.’ (Seriously, if your project is going to cost you nothing more than time and money, you don’t have the spirit of Lepanto. You have to be able to stare down the barrel of a cannon for that.)
In the end, there’s a difference between loving war in general and being grateful you didn’t lose some of the particular wars of the past, and the rest of the post continues in the latter spirit.
On September 11, 1683, the Ottoman army launched an attack against Vienna – an attack that was intended to lead to the invasion of the rest of Europe. The Battle of Vienna, on September 12, was fought and won by the Polish King John III Sobieski (and his Winged Hussars). Before the battle, he placed the troops under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, today’s feast, honours that protection.
It’s not the only feast instituted in thanksgiving for success in battle. The feast of Our Lady of Victory was instituted in 1571 after the Battle of Lepanto, during which the Rosary was prayed in St Peter’s Square for the success of the battle.
Does this sound weird? The Blessed Virgin Mary is so often portrayed as a dewy-eyed, sweetly sorrowful thing, and yet here we have hardened soldiers turning to her before charging into a hail of arrows – and, after the battle, she gets another feast day, and the soldiers themselves don’t even get a memorial plaque. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive, in a way, but I’ll tell you why it also makes sense to me.
First, we have to remember that we’re not talking about rival football teams both praying to God for victory before a Grand Final match. We’re talking about men going into a battle, knowing full well that not only might they die bloody and horrible deaths in the next half hour, but that if they don’t win, they’ll lose not only their lives, but their country – and losing the country doesn’t just mean a change in postage stamps and coinage, or even a loss of the national language. It means the enslavement and/or deaths of the persons left back home, or the annihilation of national culture, or the possible annihilation of the Church, or some combination of all three.
Second, though individual acts of heroism in war can be noble, and strategy can be brilliant, war itself is still bad. We’re not supposed to have bloodlust. We’re supposed to be able to defend ourselves bravely if necessary, but we’re also supposed to want the war to end. Obviously, this is just my opinion here, but I can’t help thinking that if you’re asking Our Lady for victory, it means that a) you haven’t turned your strength, your weapons, or your tactics into a substitute God that you trust more than anything else, and b) you are, at heart, still a child asking your mother to make that horrible thing go away, which means that, whatever the war is for you, it isn’t a drug.
(Theological aside: also, consider that war is Satan’s work, and that Our Lady is completely outside of and untouched by any of his influence. Obviously you’d want her on your side. She’s not called ‘She Who Crushes the Head of the Serpent’ for nothing.)
If you’re not given to military history, but you do enjoy baked goods (and slightly politically incorrect) celebrations of liturgical feasts, then you should know that coffee and croissants are all supposed to have originated from the aftermath of the Battle of Vienna. Sacks of coffee were discovered amongst the loot, and, once the Austrians worked out what to do with it, they opened their first coffee-house. Croissants were invented to celebrate…well, you know, eating the Crescent, and all that. So, today, have a cup of coffee and a croissant (and go to Mass!) and cry, “Happy Feast!”
Also, if I ever have an all-Catholic-girl band, I’m calling it ‘The Winged Hussies.’