Saint Mary of Victory
The Historical Role of Our Lady in the
Armed Defense of the Faith

by Gary Potter
Published with the Generous Permission of

Taken from THE HOUSETOPS, Spring, 2003 Issue.


The Counter-Reformation

We want to give consideration now to the role of Our Lady in the armed fight against the second great historical threat to the Faith that has existed after Mohammedanism: Protestantism. In our ecumaniacal days it is not customary to speak of Protestantism in such terms---as a threat or enemy---but before these days, as recently as 1955, in a letter from Pope Pius XII to the Bishop of Augsburg, Germany, His Holiness did not hesitate to describe the Protestant Revolt as "the most baleful event which could ever have happened to Western Christendom and its civilization."

Since it is of the Blessed Virgin Mary that we speak in this article, we ought to note the unenviable uniqueness of Protestantism in her regard. Earlier heresies did not attack her in the same way the Protestants did. Scholars and theologians might attack one another furiously, but among those claiming the Christian name---even among Nestorian heretics---popular devotion (though not "true devotion") to the Blessed Virgin Mary still existed. That changed only in the 16th century with the Protestant Revolt. Almost as if in reaction, Mary became involved in the defense of Catholic Europe to a greater extent than ever.

(An illuminating little story used to be told by the late Rev. Aldo Petrini, for many years the pastor of the Church of St. Mary Mother of God, the church in downtown Washington, D.C., where the "indult Mass" has been celebrated since Advent, 1988. When it was decided the Archdiocese of Washington would
become part of a local, so-called interfaith group following Vatican II, the Archbishop of the day, Patrick O'Boyle, named Fr. Petrini to the body. A HALO OF LIGHTSThe first meeting of the group attended by Father was also the occasion of his first visit to a Protestant church. He observed immediately that there were no statues or pictures of Our Lady in the place. Then he saw that her Son was also absent. He was not even present---there was no corpus---on the one cross visible in the church. "I wasn't surprised," Father would say. "He wasn't going to stay any place where they had thrown out His Mother.")

It is interesting: If we consult an historical atlas and look at a map of Europe of the kind that shows the Catholic and Protestant parts of the Continent when the wars of religion were finally over, we see that the Catholic parts are those where devotion to Mary is known to have been the most intense. The parts that went Protestant were places ---like Prussia---where such devotion was never notably strong or had been deteriorating for a century before the "Reformation". (It is also interesting---this is a point Hilaire Belloc often made---that most of Protestant Europe consists of places---like Prussia---that lay outside the borders of the old Roman Empire.


That is with the exception of England, the only former province of the Empire that apostatized. Had she not, our part of North America would probably never have been diverted from its original Catholic destiny.)

Protestantism was the greatest threat to Europe in German-speaking lands of the Holy Roman Empire, the Habsburg Empire. Fortunately, St. Peter Canisius was on the scene. Under his inspiration, devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary became the heart of the Catholic counter-offensive against Protestantism. One of its bastions was the shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Hermits at Einsiedeln south of Zurich. In the Middle Ages this Marian shrine rivaled Compostela in the number of pilgrims it attracted. Another bastion of devotion to Mary in the Empire was the shrine of Our Lady of Mariazell in Austria. She is the Virgin of the Danubian lands. It was to Mariazell that Emperor Ferdinand II went to renew an earlier vow made to Our Lady of Loreto to restore the Catholic Faith throughout his empire. The Emperor was not alone. The prayers of hordes of pilgrims helped save the Faith in the Empire at this time.

("Helped" once again is the operative word. Battles still needed to be fought, and were. And the Faith was never "restored" in the sense that Protestantism would disappear, that there would be only the One True Church in the Empire as formerly, but it would be saved. That to the degree that when, after 1,200 years, the Empire's final dissolution was demanded by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson as a condition for peace at the end of World War I, there was no mistaking that what was being dissolved was Catholic; that it was in fact, among the family of nations, the last Catholic world power.) The time of which we are speaking is the early years of the Thirty Years' War. During this period, in 1620, there was a tremendously important victory when Catholic forces crushed the Protestant army of Frederick V, Elector Palitine and King of Bohemia, at White Mountain west of Prague. The battle cry of the Catholics at White Mountain, as it often was in the armed contests of this time, was "Sancta Maria!" Further, it was her image emblazoned on their banners.

Another shrine dedicated to Our Lady, one on the German-Dutch border, became another bastion against the Calvinists. This was Our Lady of Kavelaer [Kevelaer]. The German provinces south of there, provinces of the lower Rhine, doubtless remained faithful due to help from her. Today it is the most visited Marian shrine in Germany.
La Rochelle

Outside the Empire, the Protestant threat to Catholic Europe was most dangerous in France. She is the
Church's eldest daughter, after all. The loss of France would have been disastrous, and lost she nearly was. At one point the Protestants actually controlled physical territory---a Protestant state within the state. Their stronghold and de facto capital was La Rochelle on France's Atlantic coast.

Because it was on the coast, the Protestant English were able to provide much logistical support to the French Protestants by sea. This made besieging La Rochelle tactically difficult, but in May, 1627, King Louis XIII put his army under the protection of Our Lady, distributed 15,000 rosaries to his troops, and undertook a Campaign to bring the rebellious city back under Catholic governance. In Paris a special rosary was led by the archbishop. Present and joining in the prayers were the Queen, two cardinals and much of the rest of the French hierarchy. In October the King promised to build a chapel to Our Lady of Deliverance if she would help him by securing an end to England's support for the Protestant stronghold
When victorious loyal and Catholic troops were finally able to enter La Rochelle, they sang a hymn to Our Lady and at the head of their triumphal procession was a banner bearing the words, "Rejoice, Mary, you alone have destroyed every heresy." In December, 1629, King Louis laid the cornerstone in Paris of the Church of Notre Dame des Victoires, Our Lady of Victories, in thanksgiving for La Rochelle's deliverance. Even before then, and in view of the support the Protestants received from their English co-religionists, the faculty of the University of Paris, the Sorbonne, had proclaimed the victory to be "a miracle owed to the Rosary".

(It may well have been that, but as with the wounded Argentine soldier in the Malvinas, we have seen various acts of King Louis that "opened up" the possibility of it. Most of all, he never lifted the siege of the city. He kept pressing it. In a word, he acted as if victory depended on nothing but his generalship and the fighting skill and valor of his men. Research for this article did not disclose why Louis named the church in Paris Our Lady of Victories (plural) when it was built in thanksgiving for the outcome of a particular battle. Perhaps the King wished to hail Our Lady's role in the outcome of other battles as well as La Rochelle, like Lepanto, even as he supposed Christians might have recourse to her in future ones---unfailing recourse. In the 19th century, following the apparitions of Our Lady in the Rue du Bac, the Church of Our Lady of Victories became for a time the world center for promoting devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.)

Queen of Poland

Because French and German-speaking lands are the heart of Catholicism's heartland, Europe, it is easy to imagine the Faith might have endured nowhere if the Protestants had prevailed in them as they did in some of the German ones. Still, we must not neglect to speak of Poland, and to speak in tribute. Catholics everywhere recognize that the defense of their Faith and defense of their country have always been one and the same for the Poles, and that in fighting against the threats of Mohammedanism, Protestantism and schismatic Orthodoxy, they have been a bulwark for all Christendom.

Where did they find the strength to fight again and again and again? The late Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, another heroic Catholic prelate who suffered at the hands of Communists after World War II, provided the answer when he once said, "The strength of Poland lies in her Mother and Queen, Our Lady of Czestochowa on the Mountain of Light, Jasna Gora."

Nothing more clearly demonstrates the truth spoken by the Cardinal than what happened in December, 1655.
Laying claim to Poland's throne because he was related by blood to Poland's kings, Sweden's King Charles Gustavus had invaded the country. He was aiming at nothing less than the imposition of a Protestant regime on a Catholic nation. In December, 1655, one of his armies, a force of 3,000 men under the command of a general named Mueller, arrived at Czestochowa. Speaking of the monastery with its famous image of the Virgin and Child, the Protestant General Mueller declared, "We shall flatten this hen-house in three days."

It was not an unreasonable thing for him to say because the monastery was poorly fortified and nobody was defending it except 70 elderly monks and 170 peasant soldiers. However, after six weeks of besieging the "hen-house," Mueller gave up and marched away. What had happened? Some years later he was shown a reproduction of the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa and said, "She is not in the least like the one who appeared to me. Her face had in it something Divine, suffused in light, and it terrified me." Evidently he had seen Our Lady fighting beside the monastery's defenders---Our Lady "terrible as an army set in battle array."

Four months after the victory at Jasna Gora, King Jan Casimir consecrated Poland to the Blessed Virgin Mary. If we consider how the country would later disappear from the map of Europe, reemerge for a time after World War I, only to be submerged again by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, would then have to suffer for a half century under totalitarian Communism and Soviet military occupation, but now once again is independent, her own mistress, we probably have to agree that Mary's patronage has not failed, that she has been Poland's strength, exactly as Cardinal Wyszynski said.

We have to agree, and yet we also have to observe that at Czestochowa in 1655, motley as were the monastery's defenders, there were defenders for Our Lady to fight alongside; and in the centuries that followed, there were Poles who never stopped defending, not against the Russians or Germans or Nazis or Soviets or anyone else who thought the entire nation, compared to their power, amounted to no more than a "henhouse". Our Lady, like God Himself, does tend to help those who help themselves.
The Western Front

Earlier in this article, a letter written in 1955 by Pope Pius XII to the Bishop of Augsburg was quoted. The occasion of the letter was the millennial anniversary of the Battle of Lechfeld in which Emperor Otto I beat off an attack on Christendom by the Magyars, who had not yet been converted. Here is another passage of the letter:

"Today, when Western civilization lies under a serious threat, the memory of the Battle of Lechfeld is as appropriate and as significant for these days when we proclaim our faith in Western culture as is the memory of the battle and victory won by Charles Martel in 732 at Poitiers or the brilliant triumph in 1683 under the walls of Vienna. We cannot refrain from repeating in respect of the West what we explained three years ago about European civilization, namely, that it will be authentically Christian and Catholic or it will be devoured in the giant conflagration of that other materialist civilization that has no other values than those of mass and sheer physical power."

Two things must be remarked about this passage of a letter written less than fIfty years ago. First, Pius begins it by speaking of Western civilization as lying under a "serious threat," then goes on to pronounce himself as "proclaiming our faith in Western culture," which is the same as "European civilization". A half century later there is nobody, or nobody who matters---not the Pope in Rome or any political leader in any major capital---still proclaiming his faith in Western culture or civilization. Indeed, a mere decade after Pius's letter, the Church herself seemed to say there was not much evidence it still existed, not as it was, when she abandoned the language of the West, Latin.

The second thing to remark is Pius's reference to "that other materialist civilization." Clearly, this "other materialist civilization" was the "very serious threat" under which Western (i.e. "authentically Christian and Catholic") civilization lay in 1955. The threat of which he spoke was Communism. Of two materialist civilizations, it was the most dangerous at the time. But if it was simply one materialist civilization---the "other" one---which civilization posed an additional threat? It was the one that finally proved triumphant, the civilization of the West itself, the civilization of the West as it was then becoming and had been for nearly two centuries, to the extent it was no longer "authentically Christian and Catholic" but simply materialist.

Who would seriously contend today that there is anything "authentically Christian" about our civilization? No one who is reasonable. Yet, it is the mission of Christians, if they are mindful of Our Lord's last commandment to His followers to Baptize all nations, to work toward but one end after the salvation of their own souls. That is to make every civilization Christian, which is to speak of a civilization in which the Faith is lived. That means a civilization in which men live according to the will of God instead of their own.

We cannot hope at this point in history to Baptize all nations, to make all civilization Christian, but we can do something about own own corner of it, and we can hope to have Our Lady's assistance. On what grounds? We have looked in this article at some history. We have seen some record, briefly traced, of
Mary, in battle after battle, involved in her sons' fight against two of the Faith's greatest enemies. But they were her sons, they were warriors of a Christian civilization that already existed. The enemy today is a civilization that used to be Christian but is no longer. How can we hope Our Lady would assist us as she did John Hunyadi and John Sobieski and Don John of Austria?
Empress of the Americas

It was observed in this article that we Americans cannot have the experience of visiting a place where Mary has been because she has been no place in our country. All the places here talked about that she has graced with her presence were in lands which are Catholic, or were at the time, and America today is not. The nearest place we can go which has been visited by her is Mexico City. Let it be observed now that when Our Lady of Guadalupe made her visitation, Mexico was no more Catholic than is the United States today. It was not still entirely in the grip of demons, but it was not yet Catholic. At the same time let us remember that by virtue of a decree of Pope Pius XII, Our Lady of Guadalupe was made as much our Celestial Monarch as she is the Mexicans'. That is, he declared her Empress of All the Americas. That was especially fitting since, for a long time, we were as Catholic as Mexico. Indeed, for a long time---all during the time Mexico was still Spanish and even afterward---much of today's U.S. was part of Mexico.
A Battle Plan

With that in mind, there are some specific things for us to set about doing by way of making our civilization Christian, or Christian again. First, in our daily lives, in our work, in our relations with others, in all our behavior and all our acts---we must strive to uphold the standards of Christian civilization. This is in part a task of preservation, which by itself is noble. After all, if the standards are not upheld by men like ourselves, they will be by no one. If they are not, they will be lost forever. We must not allow that. Accordingly, we must realize we do not uphold them merely for ourselves. Upholding them also means that we insist, to the degree possible, that others in their dealings with us meet the standards. "Judaeo-Christian values" are not sufficient. Properly speaking, they do not even exist.

Besides being a task of preservation, by upholding the standards of Christian civilization we separate ourselves from civilization as it exists. In effect, we begin building another. In this way we become like our first ancestors in the Faith, the Christians of ancient Rome who could never have converted the world if they had let themselves be like it.

Second, opportunities for positively advancing the cause of Christian civilization, of moving our standards forward, are rare, but every one of them must be seized, every opening in our enemies' lines must be exploited. Most will appear suddenly, unexpectedly. This means we have to be ready. We have to do what the Argentine army did not in 1982: train.

Third, we have to go on the offensive when the time is right, but only when it is. To try to do so when it is not, or when we are not ready---to go off half-cocked like the Argentine army---will make us as deserving of rebuke from our Supreme Commander as was St. Peter when he drew his sword impetuously.

Fourth and last, if all we can do for the time being is make like the Argentine soldier---lie still with our face stuck in the mud---we can emulate him another way by praying like mad.

It should not be merely for Our Lady to deliver us that we pray. Far more important, we should pray that she obtain for us the graces necessary to live according to the will of God, for if we so live we shall become subjects worthy of her Empresship as Our Lady of Guadalupe. If we become so, it is certain, whatever our present state as citizens of a land which is not now Catholic within a civilization which is no longer Christian, that as warriors we can call with the utmost confidence on her assistance as Our Lady of Victory.


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