Historical Sketches: Volumes 1 To 3 -Blessed John Henry Newman

The Pope and the Turk


AND now, having dwelt upon the broad contrast which exists between Christendom and Turkey, I proceed to give you some general idea of the Ottoman Turks, who are at present in power, as I have already sketched the history of the Seljukian. We left off with the Crusaders victorious in the Holy Land, and the Seljukian Sultan, the cousin of Malek Shah, driven back from his capital over against Constantinople, to an obscure town on the Cilician border of Asia Minor. This is that Sultan Soliman, who plays so conspicuous a part in Tasso’s celebrated Poem of “Jerusalem Delivered,”—

That Solyman, than whom there was not any

Of all God’s foes more rebel an offender;

Nay, nor a giant such, among the many

Whom earth once bore, and might again engender;

The Turkish Prince, who first the Greeks expelling,

Fixed at Nicæa his imperial dwelling.

And then he made his infidel advances

From Phrygian Sangar to Meander’s river;

Lydia and Mysia, humbled in war’s chances,

Bithynia, Pontus, hymned the Arch-deceiver;

But when to Asia passed the Christian lances,

To battle with the Turk and misbeliever,

He, in two fields, encountered two disasters,

And so he fled, and the vexed land changed masters.

Two centuries of military effort followed, and then the contest seemed over; the barbarians of the North destroyed, and Europe free. It seemed as though the Turks had come to their end and were dying out, as the Saracens had died out before them, when Suddenly, when the breath of the last Seljukian Sultan was flitting at Iconium, and the Crusaders had broken their last lance for the Holy Sepulchre, on the 27th of July, 1301, the rule and dynasty of the Ottomans rose up from his death-bed.


Othman, the founder of the line and people, who take from him the name of Ottoman or Osmanli, was the grandson of a nomad Turk, or Turcoman, who, descending from the North by Sogdiana and the Oxus, took the prescriptive course (as I may call it) towards social and political improvement. His son, Othman’s father, came into the service of the last Sultan of the Seljukian line, and governed for fifty-two years a horde of 400 families. That line of sovereigns had been for a time in alliance with the Greek Emperors; but Othman inherited the fanaticism of the desert, and, when he succeeded to his father’s power, he proclaimed a gazi, or holy war, against the professors of Christianity. Suddenly, like some beast of prey, he managed to leap the mountain heights which separated the Greek Province from the Mahomedan conquests, and he pitched himself in Broussa, in Bithynia, which remained from that time the Turkish capital, till it was exchanged for Adrianople and Constantinople. This was the beginning of a long series of conquests lasting about 270 years, till the Ottomans became one of the first, if not the first power, not only of Asia, but of the world.

These conquests were achieved during the reigns of ten great Sultans, the average length of whose reigns is as countrymen would be anything else, as long as they were still in war and in subordinate posts. Peace must precede the enjoyment, and power the arts of government; and the very readiness with which his followers left their nomad life, as soon as they had the opportunity; shows that the means of civilization which they had enjoyed, had not been thrown away on them. The soldiers of Zingis, when laden with booty, and not till then, cried out to he led back, and would fight no more; Tamerlane, at the end of fifty years, began to be a magnificent king. In like manner, Othman observed the life of a Turcoman, till he became a conqueror; but, as soon as he had crossed Mount Olympus, and found himself in the Greek territory as a master, he was both willing and able to accommodate himself to a pomp and luxury to which a mere Turcoman was unequal. He bade adieu to his fastnesses in the heights, and he began to fortify the towns and castles which he had heretofore pillaged. Conquest and civilization went hand in hand; his successor, Orchan, selected a capital, which he ornamented with a mosque, a hospital, a mint, and a college; he introduced professors of the sciences, and, what was as great a departure from Tartar habits, he raised a force of infantry, among his captives (in anticipation of the Janizaries, formed soon after), and he furnished himself with a train of battering engines. More strange still, he gained the Greek Emperor’s daughter in marriage, a Christian princess; and lastly, he crossed over into Europe under cover of friendship to the court of Constantinople, and possessed himself of Gallipoli, the key of the Hellespont. His successors gained first Roumelia, that is, the country round Constantinople, as far as the Balkan, with Adrianople for a capital; then they successively swept over Moldavia, Servia, Bulgaria, Greece, and the Morea. Then they gained a portion of Hungary; then they took Constantinople, just 400 years ago this very year. Meanwhile they had extended their empire into Syria, Egypt, and along the coast of Africa. And thus at length they more than half encompassed the Mediterranean, from the straits of Gibraltar to the Gulf of Venice, and reigned in three quarters of the world line, as a soldier of fortune in the Seljukian service; and, in spite of the civilizing influences of the country, the people, and the religion, to which he had attached himself, he had not as yet laid aside the habits of his ancestors, but was half shepherd, half freebooter. Nor is it likely that any of his countrymen would be anything else, as long as they were still in war and in subordinate posts. Peace must precede the enjoyment, and power the arts of government; and the very readiness with which his followers left their nomad life, as soon as they had the opportunity, shows that the means of civilization which they had enjoyed, had not been thrown away on them. The soldiers of Zingis, when laden with booty, and not till then, cried out to be led back, and would fight no more; Tamerlane, at the end of fifty years, began to be a magnificent king. In like manner, Othman observed the life of a Turcoman, till he became a conqueror; but, as soon as he had crossed Mount Olympus, and found himself in the Greek territory as a master, he was both willing and able to accommodate himself to a pomp and luxury to which a mere Turcoman was unequal. He bade adieu to his fastnesses in the heights, and he began to fortify the towns and castles which he had heretofore pillaged. Conquest and civilization went hand in hand; his successor, Orchan, selected a capital, which he ornamented with a mosque, a hospital, a mint, and a college; he introduced professors of the sciences, and, what was as great a departure from Tartar habits, he raised a force of infantry, among his captives (in anticipation of the Janizaries, formed soon after), and he furnished himself with a train of battering engines. More strange still, he gained the Greek Emperor’s daughter in marriage, a Christian princess; and lastly, he crossed over into Europe under cover of friendship to the court of Constantinople, and possessed himself of Gallipoli, the key of the Hellespont. His successors gained first Roumelia, that is, the country round Constantinople, as far as the Balkan, with Adrianople for a capital; then they successively swept over Moldavia, Servia, Bulgaria, Greece, and the Morea. Then they gained a portion of Hungary; then they took Constantinople, just 400 years ago this very year. Meanwhile they had extended their empire into Syria, Egypt, and along the coast of Africa. And thus at length they more than half encompassed the Mediterranean, from the straits of Gibraltar to the Gulf of Venice, and reigned in three quarters of the world.


Now you may ask me, what were Christians doing in Europe all this while? What was the Holy Father about at Rome, if he did not turn his eyes, as heretofore, on the suffering state of his Asiatic provinces, and oppose some rampart to the advance of the enemy upon Constantinople? and how has he been the enduring enemy of the Turk, if he acquiesced in the Turk’s long course of victories? Alas! he often looked towards the East, and often raised the alarm, and often, as I have said, attempted by means of the powers of Christendom, what his mission did not give him arms to do himself. But he was impeded and embarrassed by so many and such various difficulties, that, if I proposed to go through them, I should find myself engaged in a history of Europe during those centuries. I will suggest some of them, though I can do no more.

1. First of all, then, I observe generally, that the Pope, in attempting to save Constantinople and its Empire, was attempting to save a fanatical people, who had for ages set themselves against the Holy See and the Latin world, and who had for centuries been under a sentence of excommunication. They hated and feared the Catholics, as much as they hated and feared the Turks, and they contemned them too, for their comparative rudeness and ignorance of literature; and this hatred and fear and contempt were grafted on a cowardly, crafty, insincere, and fickle character of mind, for which they had been notorious from time immemorial. It was impossible to save them without their own cordial coöperation; it was impossible to save them in spite of themselves.

These odious traits and dispositions had, in the course of the two hundred years during which the Crusades lasted, borne abundant fruits and exhibited themselves in results intolerable to the warlike multitudes who had come to their assistance. For two hundred years “each spring and summer had produced a new emigration of pilgrim warriors for the defence of the Holy Land;” and what had been the effect upon the Greeks of such prodigality of succour? what satisfaction, what gratitude had they shown for an undertaking on the part of the West, which ought properly to have been their own, and which the West commenced, because the East asked it? When the celebrated Peter the Hermit was in Constantinople, he would have addressed himself first of all to its imperial master; and not till the Patriarch of the day showed the hopelessness of seeking help from a vicious and imbecile court, did he cry out: “I will rouse the nations of Europe in your cause.” The Emperors sought help themselves instead of lending it. Again and again, in the course of the Holy Wars, did they selfishly betake themselves to the European capitals; and they made their gain of the successes of the Crusaders, as far as they had opportunity, as the jackal follows the lion; but from the very first, their pride was wounded, and their cowardice alarmed, at the sight of their protectors in their city and provinces, and they took every means to weaken and annoy the very men whom they had invited. In the great council of Placentia, summoned by Urban the Second, before the Crusades were yet begun, in the presence of 200 Latin Bishops, 4,000 inferior clergy, and 30,000 laity, the ambassadors of the Greek Emperor had been introduced, and they pleaded the distress of their sovereign and the danger of their city, which the misbelievers already were threatening. They insisted on its being the policy of the Latin princes to repel the barbarian in Asia rather than when he was in the heart of Europe, and drew such a picture of their own miseries, that the vast assembly burst into tears, and dismissed them with the assurance of their most zealous coöperation.

Yet what, I say, was the reception which the cowardly suppliants had given to their avengers and protectors? From the very first, they threw difficulties in the way of their undertaking. When the heroic Godfrey and his companions in arms arrived in the neighbourhood of Constantinople, they found themselves all but betrayed into a dangerous position, where they might either have been starved, or been easily attacked. When at length they had crossed over into Asia, the Crusaders found themselves without the means of sustenance. They had bargained for a fair market in the Greek territories; but the Imperial Court allowed the cities which they passed by to close their gates upon them, to let down to them from the wall an insufficient supply of food, to mix poisonous ingredients in their bread, to give them base coin, to break down the bridges before them, and to fortify the passes, and to mislead them by their guides, to give information of their movements to the Turk, to pillage and murder the stragglers, and to hang up their dead bodies on gibbets along the highway. The Greek clergy preached against them as heretics and schismatics and dogs; the Patriarch and the Bishops spoke of their extermination as a merit, and their priests washed and purified the altars where the Latin priests had said mass. Nay, the Emperors formed a secret alliance with Turks and Saracens against them, and the price at which they obtained it, was the permission of erecting a mosque in Constantinople.

As time went on, they did not stop even here. A number of Latin merchants had settled at Constantinople, as our own merchants now are planted all over the cities of the Continent. The Greek populace rose against them; and the Emperor did not scruple to send his own troops to aid the rioters. The Latins were slaughtered in their own homes and in the streets; their clergy were burned in the churches, their sick in the hospitals, and their whole quarter reduced to ashes; nay, 4,000 of the survivors were sold into perpetual slavery to the Turks. They cut off the head of the Cardinal Legate, and tied it to the tail of a dog, and then chanted a Te Deum. What could be said to such a people? What could be made of them? The Turks might be a more powerful and energetic, but could not be a more virulent, a more unscrupulous foe. It did not seem to matter much to the Latin whether Turk or Greek was lord of Constantinople; and the Greek justified the indifference of the Latin by declaring that he would rather have the Turban in Constantinople than the Tiara.

2. It is the nature of crime to perpetuate itself, and the atrocities of the Greeks brought about a retaliation from the Latins. Twenty years after the events I have been relating, the Crusading hosts turned their arms against the Greeks, and besieged and gained possession of Constantinople; and, though their excesses seem to have been inferior to those which provoked them, it is not to be supposed that a city could be taken by a rude and angry multitude, without the occurrence of innumerable outrages. It was pillaged and disfigured; and the Pope had to publish an indignant protest against the work of his own adherents and followers. He might well be alarmed and distressed, not only for the crime itself, but for its bearing on the general course of the Crusades; for, if it was difficult under any circumstances to keep the Greeks in a right course, it was doubly difficult, when they had been injured, even though they were the original offenders.


3. But there were other causes, still less satisfactory than those I have mentioned, tending to nullify all the Pope’s efforts to make head against the barbarian power. I have said that the period of the Ottoman growth was about 270 years; and this period, viz., the fourteenth and fifteenth and first half of the sixteenth centuries, was the most disastrous and melancholy in the internal history of the Church of any that can be named. It was that miserable period, which directly prepared the way for Protestantism. The resistance to the Pope’s authority, on the part of the states of Europe generally, is pretty nearly coincident with the rise of the Ottomans. Heresy followed; in the middle of the fourteenth century, the teaching of Wickliffe gained ground in England; Huss and others followed on the Continent; and they were succeeded by Luther. That energy of Popes, those intercessions of holy men, which hitherto had found matter in the affairs of the East, now found a more urgent incentive in the troubles which were taking place at home.

4. The increase of national prosperity and strength, to which the alienation of kings and states from the Holy See must be ascribed, in various ways indisposed them to the continuance of the war against the misbelievers. Rulers and people, who were increasing in wealth, did not like to spend their substance on objects both distant and spiritual. Wealth is a present good, and has a tendency to fix the mind on the visible and tangible, to the prejudice of both faith and secular policy. The rich and happy will not go to war, if they can help it; and trade, of course, does not care for the religious tenets of those who offer to enter into relations with it, whether of interchange or of purchase. Nor was this all; when nations began to know their own strength, they had a tendency to be jealous of each other, as well as to be indifferent to the interests of religion; and the two most valiant nations of Europe, France and England, gave up the Holy Wars, only to go to war one with another. As in the twelfth century, we read of Cœur de Lion in Palestine, and in the thirteenth, of St. Louis in Egypt, so in the fourteenth do we read the sad tale of Poitiers and Cressy, and in the fifteenth of Agincourt. People are apt to ask what good came of the prowess shown at Ascalon or Damietta; forgetting that they should rather ask themselves what good came of the conquests of our Edwards and Henries, of which they are so proud. If Richard’s prowess ended in his imprisonment in Germany, and St. Louis died in Africa, yet there is another history which ends as ingloriously in the Maid of Orleans, and the expulsion of tyrants from a soil they had usurped. In vain did the Popes attempt to turn the restless destructiveness of the European commonwealth into a safer channel. In vain did the Legates of the Holy See interpose Between Edward of England and the French king; in their very presence was a French town delivered over by the English conqueror to a three days’ pillage. In vain did one Pope take a vow of never-dying hostility to the Turks; in vain did another, close upon his end, repair to the fleet, that “he might, like Moses, raise his hands to God during the battle;” Christian was to war with Christian, not with infidel.

The suppliant Greek Emperor in one of his begging missions, as they may be called, came to England: it was in the reign of Henry the Fourth, but Henry could do nothing for him. He had usurped the English Crown, and could not afford to rescue the Holy Sepulchre, with so precarious a position at home. However, he was under some kind of promise to take the Cross, which is signified in the popular story, that he had expected to die at Jerusalem, whereas he died in his palace at Westminster instead, in the Jerusalem chamber. It is said, too, that he was actually meditating a Crusade, and had ordered galleys to be prepared, when he came to his end. His son, Henry the Fifth, crossed the Channel to conquer France, just at the very, the only time, when the Ottoman reverses gave a fair hope of the success of Christendom. When premature death overtook him, and he had but two hours to live, he ordered his confessor to recite the Seven Penitential Psalms; and, when the verse was read about building the walls of Jerusalem, the word caught his ear; he stopped the reader, and observed that he had proposed to conquer Jerusalem, and to have rebuilt it, had God granted him life. Indeed, he had already sent a knight to take a survey of the towns and country of Syria, which is still extant. Alas, that good intentions should only become strong in moments of sickness or of death!

A like necessary or unnecessary attention, as the case might be, to national concerns and private interests, prevailed all over Europe. In the same century Charles the Seventh of France forbade the preaching of a Crusade in his dominions, lest it should lay him open to the attacks of the English. Alfonso of Portugal promised to join in a Holy War, and retracted. Alfonso of Arragon and Sicily took the Cross, and used the men and money raised for its objects in a war against the Genoese. The Bohemians would not fight, unless they were paid; and the Germans affected or felt a fear that the Pope would apply the sums they contributed for some other purpose.

5. Alas! more must be said; it seldom happens that the people go wrong, without the rulers being somewhere in fault, nor is the portion of history to which I am referring an exception. It must be confessed that, at the very time the Turks were making progress, the Christian world was in a more melancholy state than it had ever been either before or since. The sins of nations were accumulating that heavy judgment which fell upon them in the Ottoman conquests and the Reformation. There were great scandals among Bishops and Priests, as well as heresy and insubordination. As to the Pontiffs who filled the Holy See during that period, I will say no more than this, that it did not please the good Providence of God to raise up for His Church such heroic men as St. Leo, of the fifth, and St. Gregory, of the eleventh century. For a time the Popes removed from Italy to France; then, when they returned to Rome, there was a schism in the Papacy for nearly forty years, during which time the populations of Europe were perplexed to find the real successor of St. Peter, or even took the pretended Pope for the true one.


Such was the condition of Christendom, thus destitute of resources, thus weakened by internal quarrels, thus bribed and retained (so to speak) by the temptations of the world, at the very time when the Ottomans were pressing on its outposts. One moment occurred, and just one, in their history, when they might have been resisted with success. You will recollect that the Seljukians were broken, not simply by the Crusaders, but also, though not so early, by the terrible Zingis. What Zingis was to the Seljukians, such, and more than such, was Timour to the Ottomans. It was in their full career of victory, and when everything seemed in their power, when they had gained the whole province of Roumelia, which is round about Constantinople, that a terrible reverse befell them. The Sultan then on the throne was Bajazet, surnamed Ilderim, or the Lightning, from the rapidity of his movements. He had extended his empire, or his sensible influence, from the Carpathians to the Euphrates; he had destroyed the remains of rival dynasties in Asia Minor, had carried his arms down to the Morea, and utterly routed an allied Christian army in Hungary. Elated with these successes he put on bounds to his pride and ambition. He vaunted that has would subdue, not Hungary only, but Germany and Italy besides; and that he would feed his horse with a bushel of oats on the altar of St. Peter’s, at Rome. The Apostle heard the blasphemy; and this mighty conqueror was not suffered to leave this world for his eternal habitation without Divine infliction in evidence that He who made him, could unmake him at His will. The Disposer of all things sent against him the fierce Timour, of whom I have already said so much. One would have thought the two conquerors could not possibly have come into collision—Timour, the Lord of Persia, Khorasan, Sogdiana, and Hindostan, and Bajazet, the Sultan of Syria, Asia Minor, and Greece. They were both Mahomedans; they might have turned their backs on each other, if they were jealous of each other, and might have divided the world between them. Bajazet might have gone forward towards Germany and Italy, and Timour might have stretched his conquests into China.

But ambition is a spirit of envy as well as of covetousness; neither of them could brook a rival greatness. Timour was on the Ganges, and Bajazet was besieging Constantinople, when they interchanged the words of hatred and defiance. Timour called Bajazet a pismire, whom he would crush with his elephants; and Bajazet retaliated with a worse insult on Timour, by promising that he would capture his retinue of wives. The foes met at Angora in Asia Minor; Bajazet was defeated and captured in the battle, and Timour secured him in an iron-barred apartment or cage, which, according to Tartar custom, was on wheels, and he carried him about, as some wild beast, on his march through Asia. Can imagination invent a more intolerable punishment upon pride? is it not wonderful that the victim of it was able to live as many as nine months under such a visitation?

This was at the beginning of the fifteenth century, shortly before young Harry of Monmouth, the idol of English poetry and loyalty, crossed the sea to kill the French at Agincourt; and an opportunity was offered to Christendom to destroy an enemy, who never before or since has been in such extremity of peril. For fourteen years a state of interregnum, or civil war, lasted in the Ottoman empire; and the capture of Constantinople, which was imminent at the time of Bajazet’s downfall, was anyhow delayed for full fifty years. Had a crusade been attempted with the matured experience and subdued enthusiasm, which the trials of three hundred years had given to the European nations, the Ottomans, according to all human probability, would have perished, as the Seljukians before them. But, in the inscrutable decree of Heaven, no such attempt was made; one attempt indeed was made too soon, and a second attempt was made too late, but none at the time.

1. The first of these two was set on foot when Bajazet was in the full tide of his victories; and he was able, not only to defeat it, but, by defeating, to damp the hopes, and by anticipation, to stifle the efforts, which might have been used against him with better effect in the day of his reverses. In the year 1394, eight years before Bajazet’s misfortunes, Pope Boniface the Ninth proclaimed a Crusade, with ample indulgences for those who engaged in it, to the countries which were especially open to the Ottoman attack. In his Bull, he bewails the sins of Christendom, which had brought upon them that scourge which was the occasion of his invitation. He speaks of the massacres, the tortures, and slavery which had been inflicted on multitudes of the faithful. “The mind is horrified,” he says, “at the very mention of these miseries; but it crowns our anguish to reflect, that the whole of Christendom, which, if in concord, might put an end to these and even greater evils, is either in open war, country with country, or, if in apparent peace, is secretly wasted by mutual jealousies and animosities.”

The Pontiff’s voice, aided by the imminent peril of Hungary and its neighbouring kingdoms, was successful. Not only from Germany, but even from France, the bravest knights, each a fortress in himself, or a man-of-war on land (as he may be called), came forward in answer to his call, and boasted that, even were the sky to fall, they would uphold its canopy upon the points of their lances. They formed the flower of the army of 100,000 men, who rallied round the King of Hungary in the great battle of Nicopolis. The Turk was victorious; the greater part of the Christian army were slain or driven into the Danube; and a part of the French chivalry of the highest rank were made prisoners. Among these were the son of the Duke of Burgundy; the Sire de Coucy, who had great possessions in France and England; the Marshal of France (Boucicault), who afterwards fell on the field of Agincourt; and four French princes of the blood. Bajazet spared twenty-five of his noblest prisoners, whom their wealth and station made it politic to except; then, summoning the rest before his throne, he offered them the famous choice of the Koran or the sword. As they came up one by one, they one by one professed their faith in Christ, and were beheaded in the Sultan’s presence. His royal and noble captives he carried about with him in his march through Europe and Asia, as he himself was soon to grace the retinue of Timour. Two of the most illustrious of them died in prison in Asia. As to the rest, he exacted a heavy ransom from them; but, before he sent them away, he gave them a grand entertainment, which displayed both the barbarism and the magnificence of the Asiatic. He exhibited before them his hunting and hawking equipage, amounting to seven thousand huntsmen and as many falconers; and, when one of his chamberlains was accused before him of drinking a poor woman’s goat’s milk, he literally fulfilled the “castigat auditque” of the poet, by having the unhappy man ripped open, in order to find in his inside the evidence of the charge.

Such was the disastrous issue of the battle of Nicopolis; nor is it wonderful that it should damp the zeal of the Christians and weaken the influence of the Pope, for a long time to come; anyhow, it had this effect till the critical moment of the Turkish misfortunes was over, and the race of Othman was recovering itself after the captivity and death of its Sultan. “Whereas the Turks might have been expelled from Greece on the loss of their Sultan,” says Rainaldus, “Christians, torn to pieces by their quarrels and by schism, lost a fit and sufficient opportunity. Whence it followed, that the wound inflicted upon the beast was not unto death, but he revived more ferocious for the devouring of the faithful.”

2. However, Christendom made a second attempt still, but when it was too late. The grandson of Bajazet was then on the throne, one of the ablest of the Sultans; and, though the allied Christian army had considerable success against him at first, in vain was the bravery of Hunniades, and the preaching of St. John Capistran: the Turk managed to negotiate with its leaders, to put them in the wrong, to charge them with perjury, and then to beat them in the fatal battle of Varna, in which the King of Hungary and Poland and the Pope’s Legate were killed, with 10,000 men. In vain after this was any attempt to make head against the enemy; in vain did Pope after Pope raise his warning voice and point to the judgment which hung over Christendom; Constantinople fell.


Thus things did but go on worse and worse for the interest of Christendom. Even the taking of Constantinople was not the limit of the Ottoman successes. Mahomet the Conqueror, as he is called, was but the seventh of the great Sultans, who carried on the fortunes of the barbarian empire. An eighth, a ninth followed. The ninth, Selim, returned from his Eastern conquests with the last of the Caliphs in his company, and made him resign to himself the high prerogatives of Pontiff and Lawgiver, which he inherited from Mahomet. Then came a tenth, the greatest perhaps of all, Soliman the Magnificent, the contemporary of the Emperor Charles, Francis the First of France, and Henry the Eighth of England. And an eleventh might have been expected, and a twelfth, and the power of the enemy would have become greater and greater, and would have afflicted the Church more and more heavily; and what was to be the end of these things? What was to be the end? why, not a Christian only, but any philosopher of this world would have known what was to be the end, in spite of existing appearances. All earthly power has an end; it rises to fall, it grows to die; and the depth of its humiliation issues out of the pride of its lifting up. This is what even a philosopher would say; he would not know whether Soliman, the tenth conqueror, was also to be the last; but if not the tenth, he would be bold to say it would be the twelfth, who would close their victories, or the fifteenth, or the twentieth. But what a philosopher could not say, what a Christian knows and enjoys, is this, that one earthly power there is which is something more than earthly, and which, while it dies in the individual, for he is human, is immortal in its succession, for it is divine.

It was a remarkable question addressed by the savage Tartars of Zingis to the missionaries whom the Pope sent them in the thirteenth century: “Who was the Pope?” they asked; “was he not an old man, five hundred years of age?” It was their one instinctive notion of the religion of the West; and the Turks in their own history have often had cause to lament over its truth. Togrul Beg first looked towards the West, in the year 1048; twenty years later, between the years 1068 and 1074, his successor, Malek Shah, attracted the attention of the great St. Gregory the Seventh. Time went on; they were thrown back by the impetuosity of the Crusaders; they returned to the attack. Fresh and fresh multitudes poured down from Turkistan; the furious deluge of the Tartars under Zingis spread itself and disappeared; the Turks sunk in it, but emerged; the race seemed indestructible; then Othman began a new career of victory, as if there had never been an old one, and founded an empire, more stable, more coherent than any Turkish rule before it. Then followed Sultan after Sultan, each greater than his predecessor, while the line of Popes had indeed many bright names to show, Pontiffs of learning, and of piety, and of genius, and of zeal and energy; but still where was the destined champion of Christendom, the holy, the inflexible, the lion-hearted, the successor of St. Gregory, who in a luxurious and a self-willed age, among his other high duties and achievements, had the mission, by his prayers and by his efforts, of stopping the enemy in his full career, and of rescuing Catholicism from the pollution of the blasphemer? The five hundred years were not yet completed.

But the five hundred years at length were run out; the long-expected champion was at hand. He appeared at the very time when the Ottoman crescent had passed its zenith and was beginning to descend the sky. The Turkish successes began in the middle of the eleventh century; they ended in the middle of the sixteenth; in the middle of the sixteenth century, just five hundred years after St. Gregory and Malek Shah, Selim the Sot came to the throne of Othman, and St. Pius the Fifth to the throne of the Apostle; Pius became Pope in 1566, and Selim became Sultan in that very same year.

O what a strange contrast, Gentlemen, did Rome and Constantinople present at that era! Neither was what it had been, but they had changed in opposite directions. Both had been the seat of Imperial Power; Rome, where heresy never throve, had exchanged its Emperors for the succession of St. Peter and St. Paul; Constantinople had passed from secular supremacy into schism, and thence into a blasphemous apostasy. The unhappy city, which with its subject provinces had been successively the seat of Arianism, of Nestorianism, of Photianism, now had become the metropolis of the false Prophet; and, while in the West the great edifice of the Vatican Basilica was rising anew in its wonderful proportions and its costly materials, the Temple of St. Sophia in the East was degraded into a Mosque! O the strange contrast in the state of the inhabitants of each place! Here in the city of Constantine a God-denying misbelief was accompanied by an impure, man-degrading rule of life, by the slavery of woman, and the corruption of youth. But there, in the city which Apostles had consecrated with their blood, the great and true reformation of the age was in full progress. There the determinations in doctrine and discipline of the great Council of Trent had lately been promulgated. There for twenty years past had laboured our own dear saint, St. Philip, till he earned the title of Apostle of Rome, and yet had still nearly thirty years of life and work in him. There, too, the romantic royal-minded saint, Ignatius Loyola, had but lately died. And there, when the Holy See fell vacant, and a Pope had to be appointed in the great need of the Church, a saint was present in the conclave to find in it a brother saint, and to recommend him for the Chair of St. Peter, to the suffrages of the Fathers and Princes of the Church.


St. Carlo Borromeo, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, was the nephew of the Pope who was just dead, and though he was only twenty-five years of age at the time, nevertheless, by the various influences arising out of the position which he held, and from the weight attached to his personal character, he might be considered to sway the votes of the College of Cardinals, and to determine the election of a new Pontiff. It is remarkable that Cardinal Alessandrino, as St. Pius was then called, (from Alexandria, in North Italy, near which he was born,) was not the first object of his choice. His eyes were first turned on Cardinal Morone, who was in many respects the most illustrious of the Sacred College, and had served the Church on various occasions with great devotion, and with distinguished success. From his youth he had been reared up in public affairs, he had held many public offices, he had great influence with the German Emperor, he had been Apostolical Legate at the Council of Trent. He had great virtue, judgment, experience, and sagacity. Such, then, was the choice of St. Carlo, and the votes were taken; but it seemed otherwise to the Holy Ghost. He wanted four to make up the sufficient number of votes. St. Carlo had to begin again; and again, strange to say, the Cardinal Alessandrino still was not his choice. He chose Cardinal Sirleto, a man most opposite in character and history to Morone. He was not nobly born, he was no man of the world, he had ever been urgent with the late Pope not to make him Cardinal. He was a first-rate scholar in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin; versed in the Scriptures, ready as a theologian. Moreover, he was of a character most unblemished, of most innocent life, and of manners most popular and winning. St. Pius as well as St. Carlo advocated the cause of Cardinal Sirleto, and the votes were given a second time; a second time they came short. It was like holy Samuel choosing Eliab instead of David. Then matters were in confusion; one name and another were mentioned, and no progress was made.

At length and at last, and not till all others were thought of who could enter into the minds of the electors, the Cardinal Alessandrino himself began to attract attention. He seems not to have been known to the Fathers of the conclave in general; a Dominican Friar, of humble rank, ever taken up in the duties of his rule and his special employments, living in his cell, knowing little or nothing of mankind—such a one St. Carlo, the son of a prince and the nephew of a Pope, had no means of knowing; and the intimacy, consequent on their coöperation in behalf of Cardinal Sirleto, was the first real introduction which the one Saint had to the other. It was just at this moment that our own St. Philip was in his small room at St. Girolamo, with Marcello Ferro, one of his spiritual children, when, lifting up his eyes to heaven, and going almost into an ecstasy, he said: “The Pope will be elected on Monday.” On one of the following days, as they were walking together, Marcello asked him who was to be Pope. Philip answered, “Come, I will tell you; the Pope will be one whom you have never thought of, and whom no one has spoken of as likely; and that is Cardinal Alessandrino; and he will be elected on Monday evening without fail.” The event accomplished the prediction; the statesman and the man of the world, the accomplished and exemplary and amiable scholar, were put aside to make way for the Saint. He took the name of Pius.

I am far from denying that St. Pius was stern and severe, as far as a heart burning within and melting with the fulness of divine love could be so; and this was the reason that the conclave was so slow in electing him. Yet such energy and vigour as his was necessary for his times. He was emphatically a soldier of Christ in a time of insurrection and rebellion, when, in a spiritual sense, martial law was proclaimed. St. Philip, a private priest, might follow his bent, in casting his net for souls, as he expressed himself, and enticing them to the truth; but the Vicar of Christ had to right and to steer the vessel, when it was in rough waters, and among breakers. A Protestant historian on this point does justice to him. “When Pope,” he says, “he lived in all the austerity of his monastic life, fasted with the utmost rigour and punctuality, would wear no finer garments than before … arose at an extremely early hour in the morning, and took no siesta. If we doubted the depth of his religious earnestness, we may find a proof of it in his declaration, that the Papacy was unfavourable to his advance in piety; that it did not contribute to his salvation and to his attainment of Paradise; and that, but for prayer, the burden had been too heavy for him. The happiness of a fervent devotion, which often moved him to tears, was granted him to the end of his life. The people were excited to enthusiasm, when they saw him walking in procession, barefooted and bareheaded, with the expression of unaffected piety in his countenance, and with his long snow-white beard falling on his breast. They thought there had never been so pious a Pope; they told each other how his very look had converted heretics. Pius was kind, too, and affable; his intercourse with his old servants was of the most confidential kind. At a former period, before he was Pope, the Count della Trinità had threatened to have him thrown into a well, and he had replied, that it must be as God pleased. How beautiful was his greeting to this same Count, who was now sent as ambassador to his court! ‘See,’ said he, when he recognized him, ‘how God preserves the innocent.’ This was the only way in which he made him feel that he recollected his enmity. He had ever been most charitable and bounteous; he kept a list of the poor of Rome, whom he regularly assisted according to their station and their wants.” The writer, after proceeding to condemn what he considers his severity, ends thus: “It is certain that his deportment and mode of thinking exercised an incalculable influence on his contemporaries, and on the general development of the Church of which he was the head. After so many circumstances had concurred to excite and foster a religious spirit, after so many resolutions and measures had been taken to exalt it to universal dominion, a Pope like this was needed, not only to proclaim it to the world, but also to reduce it to practice; his zeal and his example combined produced the most powerful effect.”


It is not to be supposed that a Saint on whom lay the “solicitude of all the churches,” should neglect the tradition, which his predecessors of so many centuries had bequeathed to him, of zeal and hostility against the Turkish power. He was only six years on the Pontifical throne; and the achievement of which I am going to speak was among his last; he died the following year. At this time the Ottoman armies were continuing their course of victory; they had just taken Cyprus, with the active coöperation of the Greek population of the island, and were massacring the Latin nobility and clergy, and mutilating and flaying alive the Venetian governor. Yet the Saint found it impossible to move Christendom to its own defence. How, indeed, was that to be done, when half Christendom had become Protestant, and secretly perhaps felt as the Greeks felt, that the Turk was its friend and ally? In such a quarrel England, France, and Germany were out of the question. At length, however, with great effort, he succeeded in forming a holy league between himself, King Philip of Spain, and the Venetians. Don John, of Austria, King Philip’s half brother, was appointed commander-in-chief of the forces, and Colonna admiral. The treaty was signed on the 24th of May; but such was the cowardice and jealousy of the parties concerned, that the autumn had arrived, and nothing of importance was accomplished. With difficulty were the armies united; with difficulty were the dissensions of the commanders brought to a settlement. Meanwhile, the Ottomans were scouring the Gulf of Venice, blockading the ports, and terrifying the city itself.

But the holy Pope was securing the success of his cause by arms of his own, which the Turks understood not. He had been appointing a Triduo of supplication at Rome, and had taken part in the procession himself. He had proclaimed a jubilee to the whole Christian world, for the happy issue of the war. He had been interesting the Holy Virgin in his cause. He presented to his admiral, after High Mass in his chapel, a standard of red damask, embroidered with a crucifix, and with the figures of St. Peter and St. Paul, and the legend, “In hoc signo vinces.” Next, sending to Messina, where the allied fleet lay, he assured the general-in-chief and the armament, that “if, relying on divine, rather than on human help, they attacked the enemy, God would not be wanting to His own cause. He augured a prosperous and happy issue; not on any light or random hope, but on a divine guidance, and by the anticipations of many holy men.” Moreover, he enjoined the officers to look to the good conduct of their troops; to repress swearing, gaming, riot, and plunder, and thereby to render them more deserving of victory. Accordingly, a fast of three days was proclaimed for the fleet, beginning with the Nativity of our Lady; all the men went to confession and communion, and appropriated to themselves the plentiful indulgences which the Pope attached to the expedition. Then they moved across the foot of Italy to Corfu, with the intention of presenting themselves at once to the enemy; being disappointed in their expectations, they turned back to the Gulf of Corinth; and there at length, on the 7th of October, they found the Turkish fleet, half way between Lepanto and the Echinades on the North, and Patras, in the Morea, on the South; and, though it was towards evening, strong in faith and zeal, they at once commenced the engagement.

The night before the battle, and the day itself, aged as he was, and broken with a cruel malady, the Saint had passed in the Vatican in fasting and prayer. All through the Holy City the monasteries and the colleges were in prayer too. As the evening advanced, the Pontifical treasurer asked an audience of the Sovereign Pontiff on an important matter. Pius was in his bedroom, and began to converse with him; when suddenly he stopped the conversation, left him, threw open the window, and gazed up into heaven. Then closing it again, he looked gravely at his official, and said, “This is no time for business; go, return thanks to the Lord God. In this very hour our fleet has engaged the Turkish, and is victorious.” As the treasurer went out, he saw him fall on his knees before the altar in thankfulness and joy.

And a most memorable victory it was: upwards of 30,000 Turks are said to have lost their lives in the engagement, and 3,500 were made prisoners. Almost their whole fleet was taken. I quote from Protestant authorities when I say that the Sultan, on the news of the calamity, neither ate, nor drank, nor showed himself, nor saw any one for three days; that it was the greatest blow which the Ottomans had had since Timour’s victory over Bajazet, a century and a half before; nay, that it was the turning-point in the Turkish history; and that, though the Sultans have had isolated successes since, yet from that day they undeniably and constantly declined, that they have lost their prestige and their self-confidence, and that the victories gained over them since are but the complements and the reverberations of the overthrow at Lepanto.

Such was the catastrophe of this long and anxious drama; the hosts of Turkistan and Tartary had poured down from their wildernesses through ages, to be withstood, and foiled, and reversed by an old man. It was a repetition, though under different circumstances, of the history of Leo and the Hun. In the contrast between the combatants we see the contrast of the histories of good and evil. The Enemy, as the Turks in this battle, rushing forward with the terrible fury of wild beasts; and the Church, ever combating with the energetic perseverance and the heroic obstinacy of St. Pius.

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