Summary: Was Islam the "rod of God's wrath" or the foil for the great miracle of the sixteenth century?
Feast of St. Andrew 2017
The Synoptic Gospels don’t pay a lot of attention to St. Andrew. The triad Peter, James and John is often seen–on Mt. Tabor, in the Garden of Gethsemane, and in leadership and healing roles in the early days of the Church. Andrew has more prominence in St. John’s Gospel, but still not a lot of text is there about him. After all, the main character in the drama of salvation is Our Lord. Andrew is well known in tradition. He preached all around the Black Sea, and in Greece. He was martyred in Patras, western Greece. Tradition holds that he died tied to an X-shaped cross or saltire now known as the St. Andrew’s Cross. Some of his relics ended up in Scotland, so his cross is emblematic of Scotland. He is also patron of Romania, Russia and Ukraine.
Would that we all had the spirit of St. Andrew and his companions, and when we hear the voice of Our Lord, we would instantly respond with our whole heart. “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The story we have to tell is awesome and compelling, and is backed up by the movement of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who hear it. The biggest problem we have in life is sin, and Jesus gave His Church the power to forgive sin. What a message!
Over the past few weeks we have seen how the message of Christ was blurred by the sin of high churchmen in the fourteenth and fifteenth and into the sixteenth centuries. We also know that learning was corrupted, especially in northern Europe, by the loss of so many good scholars to the Black Death. Epicurean atheism was infecting philosophy and science and corrupting both lay and clerical Europeans. But there was one more pressure–this time external–that influenced the development of the revolution and of the reformation that followed it. And we can feel very close to the Christians of that day in our day, because that pressure was from militant Islam.
These days the militancy of Islam is bad enough when it is inspired by the pseudo-nation called the Islamic state. In the middle ages, it was the Ottoman empire, and it enveloped the entire Middle East, much of Africa, and the Balkans. Time and time again the Muslim armies threatened the Holy Roman Empire–Vienna was more than once under siege, the first time just twelve years after Luther’s first attacks. So the popes were distracted from the rebellion in northern Europe by the need to put together a religious war against the increasingly aggressive forces of Islam.
Modern thought considers Islam a peaceable religion attacked in the early middle ages by the bloodthirsty Christian crusaders. But the Crusades, beginning at the end of the eleventh century, was really a minor setback in the “ongoing expansion of Islam from the time of Muhammed up until the sixteenth century.” The only reason there was a short-lived set of Christian kingdoms in the Holy Land is that in that period Islam was “absorbed in. . .warfare between the Shiite[s] and the Sunni[s].”
In fact, Luther and other Protestants considered the Muslims to be God’s tool visiting on Europe the punishment for European sin. Luther “tossed Catholics and Muslims into the same category, writing that Muslims ‘deny and ardently persecute Christ, no less than our papists deny and persecute him.’” Luther even got behind a new translation of the Quran in 1543, and wrote a preface for it. And it is a matter of historical record that when Pope St. Pius V, one of the truly good popes of the century, was trying to put together the Holy League to stop the Muslim fleet at Lepanto, the Protestant princes refused any help. Instead, the Blessed Virgin helped the outnumbered Christian fleets to overcome the Islamists and destroy their ambition to turn St. Peter’s Basilica into a mosque. From this we have the Feast of the Holy Rosary.
I believe that with all the internal and external pressures on the Church, if Christ were not actively at work to preserve His work, Catholicism would have perished. It is the miracle of God of the sixteenth century that the Church not only survived, but expanded in the decades after Luther’s revolt.