The Five Most Important Battles in Catholic History

In America, we are all blessed with the freedom to practice our religious beliefs, not only in the secret depths of our hearts but fully and openly in the public square. Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims have fought side-by-side in our wars. Memorial Day is a celebration of those brave men and women who died securing that freedom for us so that our biggest worry this weekend will be accidentally burning hot dogs on the grill or getting sunburn at the beach, not having our children abducted by terrorists and forced into slavery. America is an exceptional nation because in the history of the world, such freedom has never come so easily as it does for us. Indeed, as Catholics, we owe an eternal debt of gratitude to all those who went before us in the centuries before the United States even existed. As we honor America’s fallen heroes this weekend, let us also keep in our prayers all those who died so that we might practice our faith.

The Lion of Lucerne

The Lion of Lucerne

5) 10 August – 1792

During the French Revolution, the 10th of August 1792 marked the last stand of the Bourbon monarchy before the Jacobin reign of terror took control from the more moderate bourgeoisie and slightly less radical Girondins. During the insurrection, the Sans-Culottes stormed the Tuileries Palace in what might be called the Alamo of Catholicism. The Swiss Guards and Royal Musketeers either died where they stood defending the king, or were surrounded, captured, and then massacred in the ensuing weeks along with hundreds of priests and thousands more who refused to submit to the new revolutionary and rabidly atheist government. The sacrifice of the Swiss Guards is memorialized at the Lion Monument in Lucerne.

Jan Sobieski Sending the Message of Victory to the Pope After the Battle of Vienna by Jan Matejko, 1882-1883

Jan III Sobieski Sending the Message of Victory to the Pope After the Battle of Vienna by Jan Matejko, 1882-1883

4) Battle of Vienna – 1683

Undeterred by their earlier defeat in 1529, the Ottomans once again attacked Vienna with the aim of subjugating the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Just as in the earlier siege, the Catholic armies were once again victorious and the city of Vienna was spared from the rapine and pillage of the Turks. Ottoman forces would continue to harass the Habsburgs for more than two centuries until both dynasties collapsed in the aftermath of the First World War, but this marked the last time a Muslim army would invade deep into central Europe. The Pope and other foreign dignitaries hailed the King of Poland, Jan III Sobieski, as the “Savior of Vienna and Western European civilization.”

Icon of the Virgin Nicopeia

Icon of the Virgin Nicopeia

3) Battle of Lepanto – 1571

Despite the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula, the Muslims still posed a grave threat to Christendom throughout the 16th century. As the Ottomans advanced into Greece and were poised to completely conquer Cyprus, a coalition of Spaniards and Italians joined the Pope and the Knights of Malta in repulsing the Turkish fleet. Numerous historians argue that this battle turned back an existential threat to Western European civilization at a time when the seeds of the Enlightenment, classical liberalism, and scientific inquiry were just beginning to take root. Not only Catholics, but all Americans should be thankful that the West was victorious. A 9th century Byzantine icon carried aboard a ship in the victorious Catholic fleet is now on display at the Basilica San Marco in Venice.

Coat of Arms of Pope Francis

Coat of Arms of Pope Francis

2) Battle of the Milvian Bridge – 312

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. may have had a dream, but so did Emperor Constantine.  On the night before he would fight for his life with his back to the River Tiber, then-pagan Constantine dreamt that his soldiers were carrying strange shields with the Chi and Rho superimposed on their front—the symbol for Christ which continues to this day. By other accounts, the Emperor and all his troops beheld a cross breaking through the clouds. As a result of Constantine’s victory and eventual conversion later in life, the words In Hoc Signo Vinces are now memorialized in the common liturgical abbreviation for the Holy Name of Jesus, IHS, which appears everywhere from the priest’s stole to the emblem of the Jesuits and, by extension, the coat of arms of Pope Francis.

The Meeting Between Leo the Great and Attila by Raphael, 1514

The Meeting Between Leo the Great and Attila by Raphael, 1514

1) Embassy of Leo the Great – 451

The name Attila the Hun still strikes fear into our hearts today. Nevertheless, faced with the barbarian hordes eager to plunder the riches of ancient Rome, Pope Leo the Great stayed calm and rode out to meet the nomadic warrior-king. Whatever Pope Leo said, it convinced Attila to turn back his army,  never to return and this greatest of all victories was won by not fighting at all.  Sadly, Leo was unable to repeat this astounding feat when the Vandals sacked the eternal city in the year 455, although the first pope to be called “The Great” did succeed in preventing the murder of its inhabitants and the torching of the city which was then customary for those unfortunate enough to be conquered by barbarian hordes.

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Categories:Pope Francis Religious Liberty

17 thoughts on “The Five Most Important Battles in Catholic History

  1. DoubtingThomas says:

    A few things on the Battle of Milvian Bridge.
    1) It’s “In HOC signo vinces”
    2) Constantine may have fighting with his back to the Tiber, but it is a fairly significant historical debate as to whether Constantine or Maxentius actually had the advantage in the battle.
    3) Three: This is a biggie. The symbol was the CROSS not the chi-ro. It has been argued that the chi-ro was adopted as a standard later, and that Lactantius later assumed that this had been the sign which Constantine saw. Eusebius mentions a cross in the sky.
    4) Similarly, the dream was after Constantine saw the cross in the sky, and one version of the tradition, Christ Himself explained to Constantine what the cross was and told him to paint it on the shields of his troops.

  2. MrSammo says:

    732 Battle of Tours Poitiers. Had Charles Martel fallen, Gaul likely would have been conquered by Muslim forces. No Charlemage, no Carolingian Renaissance, no Papal States, no Holy Roman Empire… Western Christendom would have been a mere shadow of what it was to become.

  3. Rich says:

    Wait a minute. Ths article purports thatthe Religious are totally free to practice their religious beliefs openly in the public square. While. I agree with you, I then have to ask, why all the fuss about religious freedom? Since you already have it, according to this author, why waste the energy?

    1. Joshua Mercer says:

      Because we’d like to keep it.

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