Friday, October 19, 2007

All Hallow's Eve

Here's a great article by Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) regarding the history of "All Hallow's Eve," more commonly called Halloween:

All Hallows' Eve

Issue: Is the celebration of Halloween a pagan feast? May a Catholic celebrate Halloween in good conscience? What is the history of this popular American holiday?

Response: We celebrate Halloween on the evening before All Saints Day. The word itself is a shortened form of "All Hallows’ Eve," which quite literally means "the eve of All Saints." From the earliest days of the Feast of All Saints (mid 700s A.D.), Catholics observed October 31 as the vigil of this November 1 celebration. This feast commemorates the lives of Christians who lived exemplary lives of faith. Pope Sixtus IV introduced an octave to the feast day in the 1400s, which was celebrated until 1955.

In the United States, the secular celebration of Halloween [emphasis added] combines the diverse holidays and cultural practices of the immigrants who settled here. The Church has not issued any prohibitions on celebrating Halloween, so Catholics remain free to participate in accord with their conscience. Naturally, such participation must not conflict with the faith or Christian charity.

Discussion: As noted above, "Halloween" is a shortened term for the English title "All Hallow’s Eve." A title given to the vigil celebration of the Catholic feast, All Saints Day. The secular practices in the United States associated with this night represent a mixture of practices taken from the various cultures represented in the United States. Christianity itself, Catholicism included, has contributed to these practices.

An Initial Caution

Some hold the opinion that Halloween represents an occult holiday. Catholics and other reasonable Christians should take these accusations with a grain of salt.... MORE

Monday, October 08, 2007

Knights of St. John of the Hospital and the Siege of Rhodes [1522]

Here's an example of real-life accounts that seem to me more exciting than any best-selling fiction one can find on the shelf now-a-days. The following excerpt is taken from Warren H. Carroll's A History of Christendom, Vol. 4 - The Cleaving of Christendom:

The Siege of Rhodes [1522]

… the easternmost outpost of independent Catholic Christendom, the island of Rhodes. A Greek island just off the coast of Turkey, it had been occupied for two hundred years by the crusading order of the Knights of St. John of the Hospital, founded in Jerusalem very soon after the First Crusade, whose celibate soldiers dedicated their lives to Christ through resistance to the advancing infidel. They had fought in Palestine until the last Christian stronghold there was taken, then on Cyprus, and then on Rhodes. They had withstood a mighty Turkish siege forty years before. Now they were facing another. During the seven months that the new Pope [Adrian] slowly made his way from the snowbound valleys of Alava province in Spain to Peter’s chair at Rome, the Turks had been approaching and then assaulting Rhodes under the personal command of their new and exceedingly able young sovereign, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

The new grand master of the Knights of St. John, Philippe Villiers de l’Isle Adam, 57 years old…“a stern ruler, tactful diplomat and sincere Christian”…. On Rhodes he found a letter from Suleiman awaiting him, boasting that he had just taken Christian Belgrade and killed its people or sold them into slavery. By the new year [1522] de l’Isle Adam learned that Suleiman was planning a massive assault upon the great fortress of the Knights at Rhodes. All during the winter and into the spring he gathered supplies and reviewed his troops. He had only 500 Knights and their servants and 1,500 other soldiers against at least 100,000 Turks on 400 ships.

But Philippe Villiers de l’Isle Adam was a crusader of the breed of Raymond of Toulouse and Richard the Lion-Hearted. The whole of history shows no more magnificently heroic struggle than he made at Rhodes against odds of forty to one. The Turks landed on the feast of Corpus Christi, June 26, 1522; a month later Suleiman arrived in person, and the bombardment and siege began in earnest. Emperor Charles V knew what was at stake; on August 25 he wrote:

If the Turk succeeds in making himself master of this island, the door will be open to him, and the key in his hands (after Hungary has been crippled and well-nigh ruined), to penetrate into Naples and Sicily, and right into the Church territory; and when he has traversed these districts to conquer the whole of Italy and annihilate all Christendom.

But Charles had just gone in the opposite direction from the action, returning from Germany to Spain in July, and the new Pope had still four days left before entering Rome. There was no one to act on the desperate appeals from Rhodes for help. On August 24 de l’Isle Adam’s emissary had returned with a cargo of food, a few soldiers, a handful of Knights, and many empty promises. This was all the help the Knights ever got in the final siege of Rhodes.

On September 4 the Turks exploded a large mine under the bastion of the knights of England at Rhodes, which shook the whole city and blasted a 367-foot-wide breach in the wall. The Turks rushed for it, and were met squarely in the breach by de l’Isle Adam in person and his English knights, including Henry Mansell who had carried the banner of the Crucified Christ at the Turkish siege of Rhodes in 1480. The wave of attackers rolled back, but another surged in. Mansell was killed, but another crusader picked up the standard. De l’Isle Adam survived and held fast. Five days later another mine was exploded in the same area, followed by another series of infantry attacks extending over five days. All were repulsed. Back in Rome Pope Adrian, formally consecrated August 31, on September 16 called upon Emperor Charles V to make an immediate truce with France in order to be able to give quick help to Rhodes. But it took nearly two weeks for a message to reach Charles, and even if he had been able to persuade the notoriously selfish Francis I of France to agree to a truce, there was hardly time to arrange it and then put together a relief expedition. Instant action was needed, but was not forthcoming.

On September 20 the Turks took the damaged bastion of the knights from Aragon at Rhodes and captured five Christian banners. The knights fought back with swords, pikes, cannon, muskets, crossbows, Greek fire, boiling oil and pitch, and stones, and finally regained the ruins of the bastion, inflicting ten Turkish casualties for every one of theirs. On the 24th the Turks returned to the attack, and after hours of fighting finally took the ruined bastion of Aragon again, only to see it regained once more by the Knights at dusk. De l’Isle Adam fought all day by the banner of the Crucified Christ; Rhodian civilians, even some women, joined in the battle. Suleiman, observing the whole battle in person, was so enraged by the repulse that he dismissed his army commander, Vizier Mustafa, and almost killed him on the spot.

On October 4 a ship from Naples brought the report that a relief force was assembling there, but probably would not be able to sail before the winter season closed down most sea traffic.

But even among the magnificent Knights, in this immoral age treason could still happen. On October 27 the personal servant of Chancellor Andrea d’Amaral, de l’Isle Adam’s rival in the recent election for Grand Master, was caught about to fire a crossbow into Turkish lines, with a message attached to the arrow saying that the defenders were in desperate straits and would probably be unable to repel another general assault. Under torture, the servant confessed to having carried several messages to the enemy already, which probably encouraged them to press their attacks despite their defeats. D’Amaral was executed November 8, and on November 30 another general assault by the Turks was repulsed.

But there were now only 180 out of the original 500 knights left alive, and the majority of the survivors were seriously wounded. De l’Isle Adam personally preferred for him and his Knights to die fighting to the last man, but when Suleiman offered to let the civilians of Rhodes go with the surviving Knights if they would give up the island and the fortress, he reluctantly agreed for the civilians’ sake. On January 1, 1523 they sailed away, praised by Suleiman himself for their valor, honored by all Christendom, the banner of the Crucified Christ still flying at the masthead of de l’Isle Adam’s flagship Santa Maria, to settle on Malta where a young knight on the deck of that flagship named Jean de la Valetta would command another critical siege forty years later, which that time ended in a Christian victory.

“Nothing in this world was ever so well lost as Rhodes,” Emperor Charles V said, and it was true enough; but lost it was, and Pope Adrian knew what that loss meant and why it had happened. In February he said to the Venetian ambassador, with tears in his eyes: “Alas for Christendom! I should have died happy if I had united the Christian princes to withstand our enemy.” On September 1 he received de l’Isle Adam for a personal report on the siege and its outcome—just two weeks before his death, which that report may have hastened. For the Turks had occupied Rhodes on Christmas day, and on that day of love and innocence they had desecrated and mutilated the altars, paintings and statues in the church of St. John at Rhodes, and spat on the crucifixes and dragged them in the mud.

No less were the Protestants soon to do, in Switzerland, in Germany, and at Strasbourg on the Rhine.

[Warren H. Carroll, A History of Christendom, Vol. 4, The Cleaving of Christendom, (Christendom Press, 2000), pp. 61-63]

A History of Christendom, by Warren H. Carroll

I live in an age when The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter are best-selling books. I look within these texts and I see nothing so adventurous and exciting in them as can be found in true accounts of history. For example, I really enjoy Warren H. Carrol's writing style. He seems to tell us history as though he were telling you a great story, not simply regurgitating facts and dates. He is a well-respected historian and founder of Christendom College. He authored a multi-volume series called A History of Christendom. It is outstanding.

You can purchase one or more volumes of Warren H. Carroll's A History of Christendom series online here:

A History of Christendom, Vol. 1 - The Founding of Christendom
A History of Christendom, Vol. 2 - The Building of Christendom
A History of Christendom, Vol. 3 - The Glory of Christendom
A History of Christendom, Vol. 4 - The Cleaving of Christendom
A History of Christendom, Vol. 5 - The Revolution against Christendom

God bless,