Pray Brethren

Pray Brethren

Monday, October 6, 2014

Re-Posted: The Communal Loyalties that Rule Most of the World

In our opening Map on Monday post, we presented the civilizational map of Samuel Huntington. This week we examine the map printed with Dr. David Pence's editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The map (click to enlarge) is more focused than Huntington's. The multicolored key reveals the great religious identities underlying the conflicts between nations in current events. What is the gist of Professor Huntington's argument (that Dr. Pence further extends)? As the bi-polar world order of the Cold War came to an end, man's far deeper religious loyalties emerged to shape the geopolitical order in much of the world.

The most revealing combination of nations constitute the awakening Orthodox -- Russia, Greece, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. In north Africa, the Mideast, and central Asia, Sunni Islam is dominant. Israel and Iran are displayed as two minority religious islands in a Sunni sea, the former Jewish and the latter Shia Muslim. Off the map to the southeast are the nations comprising  a third of the world's population: Hindu India and Confucian-Buddhist China.

Most nations of  Europe are colored as Catholics or Protestants. They are also outlined in red and described as "the secular West" by the Star Tribune. Dr. Pence actually refers to this area as the "atheist West." Secular is a designation of time differentiated from Eternal. Secular does not mean atheist. Every nation is secular insofar as it operates in a historical era (the Latin word saeculum refers to the length of a man's general lifespan). Nations are brotherhoods of men so they are spiritual realities, but some nations, like some men, conceive of  themselves as beings without God. They are  the atheist nations. They are defined not by men sharing military duty but by individuals navigating a boundless godless sea of time and space -- the Modern West.

There are Christian nations in Europe which we do not place within the atheist boundaries. These include the Catholic nations of Ireland, Hungary, and Poland. Although the Church hierarchy in Ireland has been deeply corrupted, Catholic communal roots still run deep. Her island status has kept Ireland distinct but not immune from the increasingly atheist zeitgeist of the continent. Poland, too, is tempted by the EU/NATO alliance but we attribute this more to Poland's historical memory of Russia than their grasping a modern Western identity. Hungary is much more robust in emerging as a Catholic nation. The land of Saint Stephen -- which also had been crushed by Soviet tanks -- has welcomed the awakening Orthodox Russia as a fellow Christian brother confronting the confusions of the West.

Understanding the religious loyalties that shape nations is no longer simply a religious matter. It is a geopolitical necessity.

This article, written by A. Joseph Lynch, originally appeared on the Anthropology of Accord on September 15, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Re-Posted: Ten Most Populous Muslim Nations

The above map (click to enlarge) displays the ten most populous Muslim nations in the world. Surprisingly enough, there is only one Mideast Arab nation highlighted on this map - Egypt - and this nation is ranked only #6 on the list. In fact, the top five Muslim nations (Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria) are not even located in the Mideast. While the vast majority of Muslim nations are Sunni Muslim, Iran (ranked #7) stands apart as the one Shiite nation on this map. Turkey (ranked #8) sits astride Europe and the Mideast -- but given its status as ethnically Turkic, Turkey stands apart from the ethnically Arab Sunni nations to its south.

Maps such as this should help us begin to dispel the myth of Islam as predominantly Arab and Mideastern.

This article, written by A. Joseph Lynch, originally appeared on the Anthropology of Accord on September 8, 2014 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Re-Posted: Religious Civilizations of Samuel Huntington

In his 1996 work entitled Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, the political scientist Samuel Huntington proposed the following world map structured primarily by religious loyalties:

Huntington argued that from the bi-polar world order of the Cold War, a civilizational world order would emerge built on the foundations of religion. One clear example of this may be seen in the Islamic civilization (spreading across north Africa, through the Mideast, and on to Indonesia). Others are found in the Hindu nation of India and the emerging Orthodox civilization binding together much of the old Soviet Union.

Civilizational fault lines  divide one civilization from another. Huntington uses the term fault line here because he argues that civilizational conflict will often occur geographically where one civilization meets another. It is precisely along such a boundary that one civilization clashes with another and where local conflict may easily widen to other parts of the same fault line. Huntington applied this concept to the conflict in Yugoslavia where Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim civilizations met and the first post-Cold War European conflict broke out. We may also consider the current conflict in Ukraine in terms of Huntington's civilizational thesis.

Sometimes a civilizational fault line runs through a nation. In this case, one part of a country belongs to a civilization that the other part does not. This was exactly the situation with the nation of Sudan, which was divided into a Muslim north and a Christian south. Huntington's map above -- though made in the 1990s -- accurately predicted the 2011 emergence of South Sudan as a separate nation from the Muslim-dominated northern Sudan.

The late professor's map, however, is not without its issues. Perhaps the gravest problem is Huntington's insistence in defining western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, etc. as the non-religious secular West. Thus after treating the world in largely religious terms, Huntington fails to apply the same treatment to western Europe and those nations who have deep colonial-immigrant ties to western Europe. This is certainly a comment on the world view linking Harvard Square to European bureaucrats.

We would paint most of Europe as atheist. We would link Britain, Australia, and Canada as English-speaking atheist. We would color America as Christian -- understanding that she can be tempted into the two atheist camps. Latin America is made up of Catholic nations who are less seduced now by the Marxist siren, but falling for the atheism of the sexual revolutionaries and globalized bureaucrats. Africa below the northern Muslim belt should be painted as Christian and ethnic. We would mark Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Croatia, and Ireland as Catholic nations. We will publish our variant of this map at a later date.

Despite its limitations, Samuel Huntington's conception of the world -- and that map inspired by it -- should be familiar to all those who look at the globe and seek to better understand the nations.

This article, written by A. Joseph Lynch, originally appeared on the Anthropology of Accord on August 25, 2014 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Nations of the Buddhist World: Short Videos from Stratfor

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Of the following short (2-4 minute) videos, each provides the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries.

The Nations of Christian Africa: Short Videos from Stratfor

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Of the following short (2-4 minute) videos, each provides the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Guardini on Adoration

In his book on the Apocalypse of St. John, Romano Guardini devoted a chapter to the topic of adoration. In it he reflects on the nature of God and the act of adoration as the proper response to our Creator. Adoration becomes an act of the mind embracing truth, of the will directing us to our true beatitude, and of the body in kneeling. Adoration for Guardini establishes the true order of things.

Guardini's writes:
In adoration angels bow before their divine Lord, the creature before his Creator. But how and why? Not as a man who journeys on the sea in a frail boat and is compelled to bow before a storm. Not as a physician who has fought for the life of a man and is obliged to acknowledge himself helpless before the advance of disease. In both cases this would mean bowing to a superior force. But certainly not adoration.... The angels, the elders, the four living creatures prostrate themselves before God for a very different reason, not only because He is all-powerful, but because He is worthy.

This thought it is which determines our relation to God, and we must understand it well. We are as nothing before Him, nevertheless we have the dignity of our personality. Not from ourselves, but from Him. Yet a dignity which is really ours. And it places an obligation upon us. Before a God who were only power, we could not bow low, we could only submit. But God is not mere power, He is mind as well. As great as is God's power, just so great is His truth. As perfect as is His sovereignty, just so perfect is His justice. As truly as He is real, just as truly is He holy.... The hymn of the Mass, called the Gloria from its opening word, contains an expression which at first may appear meaningless. "We thank Thee for Thy great glory." What does that mean? Do we not thank a person for what he gives, rather than for what he is"? But the words express the thought exactly. That God exists and that He is what He is constitutes no mere necessity, or fact, but a grace and a blessing. Yes, it is true. we are permitted to thank Him for His mere being.

And here lies the root of adoration. It is the bowing down of all creation before God, not only because He is all-powerful, but because He is worthy as well.

A great and blessed mystery is adoration. In it man fulfills his ultimate obligation to God and at the same time safeguards his own soundness, for it is the instrument of truth. Adoration is not merely all act by which we reach out to the knowledge of God, but a movement of man's whole being. The very foundation, the pillar, the arch, the essence of all truth is -- God is God; man is man....

Adoration is the safeguard of our mental health, of our inmost intellectual soundness. But what do we mean by that? Can the mind of a man fall ill? It can indeed.... Illness of the spirit finds entrance only in so far as it reaches the mind's seat of health, of soundness, namely, truth and justice. A man's mind falls ill when he relinquishes his hold on truth-not by lying, though he lie often, for in that case the injury to the spirit can be repaired by contrition and the renewal of good will-but by an inward revolt from truth. True illness of the mind and spirit sets in when a man no longer cherishes truth but despises it, when he uses it as a means to his own ends, when, in the depths of his soul, truth ceases to be to him the primary, the most important concern. In such a case, a man may not appear ill, indeed he may be functioning efficiently and successfully. But the order of his being is deranged. The scales with which he measures are out of balance. He no longer distinguishes between ends and means. He can no longer tell the destination from the way. He has lost the inner certainty of direction. He lacks answers to those final questions—why? For what purpose? And his whole being is affected.

What has all this to do with adoration? In fact everything. For the man who worships God will never risk losing his balance entirely. Whoever adores God in his heart and mind and also, when the moment arises, in actual practice, is being truly protected. He may make many mistakes, he may be deeply bewildered and shaken, but in the last analysis the order and direction of his life are secure.

We do well to see this clearly and to actually act—accordingly. But our resolve to practice adoration should not be simply one among many good resolutions as, for example, to keep one's word, or to do one's work properly. For here we arc concerned with the very center and measure of being. Everything depends upon whether or not adoration has its place in our lives. Whenever we adore God, something happens within and about us. Things fall into true perspective. Vision sharpens. Much that troubles us rights itself. We will distinguish better between the essential and the nonessential. The end and the means, the destination and the way. We discriminate more clearly between good and evil. The deceptions which affect daily life, the falsifications of standards are, to some extent at least, rectified.

As has been said, we must make a practice of adoration. The important thing is not to wait until obligation requires it, which might happen seldom enough; if we limit ourselves to such occasions, they would grow less and less frequent. Religious acts must be practiced if they are to grow into strong habits. God desires our adoration and we need it for our soul's health.

Whenever possible we should kneel. Kneeling is the adoration of the body. And in kneeling, we share the posture of the four-and-twenty elders who represent all creation in adoration before God. Then we should be still, cast aside all unrest of body and mind, be quiet in our whole being.

At the moment of adoration we are there for God. And for God alone. This very detachment from the oppression of care, from the cravings of the will and from fear is in itself adoration, and floods the soul with truth. Then say: God is here. I am before Him as are those forms in the vision, bowing down before His throne. I cannot see Him, for everything here is still in the obscurity of time, still earthly. But I know by faith that He is here. He is God; I am His creature. He made me; in Him I have my being. And now there is probably no need to write further. The one concerned must look up iota the face of God—His God-and tell Him what his heart bids him say.

Then he will experience for himself how really blessed and healing adoration is. So much that has been tormenting subsides. So many anxieties show themselves to be groundless. Desires and fears become regulated. Man gathers strength to meet the demands which life imposes upon him, is fortified at the very core of his being, and takes a firmer hold upon truth.

Man's adoration of God, here and now, with the limited vision possible in time, has a beauty all its own. It anticipates that stage when all will be clear and comprehensible. For whenever man adores God, the new creation breaks through. Is this not a wonderful thing to achieve? Wonderful, too, that a man can give glory and honor to God even while that same God is permitting Himself the appearance of weakness, and that a man may keep faith with Him Who, for the sake of truth, allows Himself to be dishonored; to recognize that here and now God is worthy to receive glory and honor and power. Perhaps the greatest experience that can come to a man is that he, a transient being, still caught in the confusion of this life, can give what is due to a God who is unintruding, can erect a throne for Him in his own heart, and, for his own part at least, establish the true order of things.

The Nations of the Orthodox World: Short Videos from Stratfor

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Of the following short (2-4 minute) videos, each provides the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries.

The Nations of the Islamic World: Short Videos from Stratfor

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Of the following short (2-4 minute) videos, each provides the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries.

The Nations of the Americas: Short Videos from Stratfor

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Of the following short (2-4 minute) videos, each provides the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries.

The Nations of Catholic and Protestant Europe: Short Videos from Stratfor

Stratfor - short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. - is a private global intelligence company that offers geopolitical insight into the interplay of nations. Of the following short (2-4 minute) videos, each provides the viewer with a specific nation, along with its basic history, geography, culture, and geopolitical allies and adversaries.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Speaking to Fathers and Sons on Fatherhood, Sonship, and Brotherhood

Last weekend I was asked to deliver an address to a large group of fathers and sons regarding Jesus' instruction on the Our Father (see Matthew 6:5-13). What follows below is my address:
In the Gospel reading we just heard Jesus reveals two important truths: that God is a Father and that we are to address him in prayer as “our Father”. While the Old Testament speaks of God in fatherly terms, Jesus reveals to us that God the Father is not like a father, He is a Father. Fatherhood in God is not a psychological projection of man onto God; rather our own human fatherhood, sonship, and brotherhood is meant to be an image of the eternal Father and Son and masculine Spirit in the Trinity. In the words and deeds of Christ, God reveals to us what perfect fatherhood, sonship, and brotherhood look like. 

More incredibly, we are not to address God the Father as “the Father of Jesus” but as “our Father in heaven”. How is this so? No man is born a child of God by nature. We may call God our Father only because we have been joined to the mystical, supernatural body of His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. We are the sons of God because He allows us to share in the eternal sonship of Christ. This is why man has been raised higher than the angels, for no angel can call God “Father”. What’s more, we do not simply “call” God our Father. By sending the Holy Spirit into our souls in baptism, God places his own nature in us, truly incorporating us into His Son. You are a son of God! As Pope Leo the Great implored: “Christian, recognize your dignity!

In Jesus, the love of the Father and the Son is revealed and we are called to share in that love. While baptism binds us to the body of Christ and makes us sons of God, the sacraments are only effective because of Jesus’ obedience to his Father. As are with all things: there is no crown and no glory without a cross to bear. Indeed, the generations of American men can attest that the strongest of all brotherhoods are created when men sweat and bleed together. At Mass and in the Eucharist we men are mustered and bound together in the sacrifice of Jesus. Baptism may make us sons, but the Eucharist makes us brothers. As fathers we teach our sons to sacrifice; as sons we honor our fathers with obedience. As Catholic men we must learn to be brothers.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Road to Constantinople Passes Through Moscow

In the wake of Vladimir Putin's visit with Pope Francis last week, many were hoping Francis would be formally invited to Moscow to meet with the Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a central leader in the Orthodox world. While no such invitation was extended, it is very important for us to not overlook the checkered history between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

In 1204, Catholic crusaders sacked Constantinople and established the Latin Empire which lasted until the Byzantines recaptured the city in 1261. The Byzantine Empire, which had lasted for almost a thousand years, was now in its twilight as the Muslim Turks slowly strangled what little life the empire had left. The resulting enmity between the Orthodox and the Catholic Church festered for centuries. As historian Alan Palmer writes:
In 1452 a Byzantine official, critical of his Emperor's attempts to reunite the Eastern church with Rome, is said to have remarked, "It would be better to see the royal turban of the Turks in the midst of this city [Constantinople] that the Latin mitre."
Less than a year later the official got his way as the city capitulated to the Muslim forces of the Ottoman Empire. Many Christians, however, welcomed the Turkic invaders, finding more religious tolerance from the Turks than from their Catholic brethren. Indeed, two hundred and fifty years after the Ottoman conquest, a Holy League of Catholic powers began the liberation of the Balkans, bringing with them renewed Catholic clergy resumed imposing Latin practices upon them. After twenty-five years of liberation in southern Greece, however, the Greeks gladly welcomed the return of the Ottomans. The Muslims of 1713 were still preferable to the proselytizing Latins.

While tensions remain between the Orthodox the Catholic Church three hundred years later, there is something else which 1713 and 2013 share in common: the rise of a strong Orthodox Russia. In 1713, Russia was emerging as an international power under the leadership of Peter the Great, who officially proclaimed the Russian Empire in 1721. The new Orthodox Christian nation to the north succeeded in energizing the Orthodox Christians in Ottoman lands - which helped ensure Ottoman decline and its new status as "the sick man of Europe."

As a strong Orthodox Russia reemerges out of the ashes of atheist communism, we cannot overlook its status as a standard bearer of a renewed Christian civilization. As it renewed the vigor of Christians in Islamic lands in 1713 and sought to protect the Holy Land in the Crimea War, Orthodox Russia today is playing a central role in Middle East while building up the faithful at home. As the Catholic Church seeks a rapprochement with the Orthodox, the road to Constantinople runs again through Moscow.

Vladimir Putin and Pope Francis reverence and image of Mary. How many representatives of other major powers have you seen do this?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving: A Religious and Civic Holiday

On October 3, 1789, less than six months into his presidency, George Washington gave the new nation its first presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation. He began with these words:
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’  
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, Who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation..."
Sadly, nothing better exemplifies America's transition from being a religious and civic people to being a domestic and commercial people than the average American observance of Thanksgiving today. Rather than offering thanks to Him who has bestowed upon us blessing after blessing, our focus is upon it which we are about to eat - and thus Thanksgiving is reduced to "turkey day." But the reduction does not stop here. The elevation of "family time" - a great good to be cherished - threatens to diminish our observance of Thanksgiving when it isolates and divorces itself from the larger civic and religious character of Thanksgiving. Indeed, it is our "focus on the family" that often drives us from the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day to the shopping malls on "Black Friday" - and were  it not for the commercialization of "Black Friday," it is without a doubt that Thanksgiving would have succumbed to the same sad fate of so many other important civic holidays and found itself transferred to a Monday.

People rightly complain that "Christ" has been taken out of Christmas, but where is the religious and civic defender of Thanksgiving? Perhaps because religion and politics have become so separated in our society - which is often tacitly accepted by our religious and secular leaders alike - that there are so few defenders of a truly religious and civic holiday among either conservatives or liberals. How could a "Big Business Conservative" and a "Godless Liberal" ever agree to promote Thanksgiving as a religious and civic holiday for a people under God rather than a day of preparation for shopping sprees and sales?

It wasn't always like that, however. Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation came at a point in the Civil War where the death toll had already been catastrophic and the numbers would only climb ever higher by 1865. As then, as it always is, we seem to be more thankful when so much of the good things we have are taken away or are threatened.

Here is a thematic presentation of Lincoln's 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation worth reflecting upon today:
Lincoln sees the Providence of God despite the conflict: The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

Although the war continues, Lincoln notes the many particular blessings of God: In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

For these reasons, Americans ought to thank God for his divine mercy despite our national sins: No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

Lincoln implores us to give thanks to God, do penance, and pray for the nation's union and those who have sacrificed to uphold that union: I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
As we respond to the call of Washington and Lincoln, let us not stop at merely "counting our blessings," but rather as a civic and religious people give thanks to Almighty God. Let this day be a day of re-orientation and conversion, turning in thanks to Him from whom all blessings come while turning away from our sins and asking for forgiveness. On this day, as a people and a nation under God, let us with one voice proclaim: "Blessed be God forever!"

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Unexamined Importance and Influence of History

Michael Crichton on the unexamined importance and influence of history:
We are all ruled by the past, although no one understands it.  No one recognizes the power of past. But if you think about it, the past has always been more important than the present. The present is like a coral island that sticks above the water, but is built upon millions of dead corals under the surface, that no one sees.

In the same way, our everyday world is built upon millions and millions of events and decisions that occurred in the past...

A teenager has breakfast, then goes the store to buy the latest CD of a new band.  The kid thinks he lives in a modern moment. But who has defined what a “band” is? Who defined a “store”. Who defined a “teenager”? Or “breakfast” To say nothing of all the rest, the kid’s entire social setting: family, school, clothing, transportation and government.

None of this has been decided in the present. Most of it was decided hundreds of years ago. Five hundred years, a thousand years. This kid is sitting atop a mountain that is the past.  And he never notices it.

He is ruled by what he never sees, never thinks about, doesn’t know. It is a form of coercion that is accepted without question.  This same kid is skeptical of other forms of control: parental restrictions, commercial messages, government laws. But the invisible rule of the past, which decides nearly everything in his life, goes unquestioned. 
-From Crichton's Timeline  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Battle of Tours, 732 AD

On this day in the year 732, the century-long tidal wave of Islamic expansion came to an end at the Battle of Tours in modern day France.

Some scholars, however, downplay the significance of the battle. While it is true that the Battle of Tours was not of the same size and scope of a Gaugamela or even a Cannae, no one who honestly looks at a map of the period can deny Tour’s strategic significance at the time or its long term macrohistorical significance.

In the one hundred years following Muhammad’s death in 632, Islam stormed out of the Arabian Peninsula, conquered and converted Persia, captured the Holy Land, and seized Egypt, north Africa, Spain, and Asia Minor (what is today Turkey). Only Constantinople and the Byzantine use of Greek fire kept Islam from invading the Balkans and marching into the heart of Europe – which is precisely what happened after the fall of Constantinople to Islamic forces in 1453.

Islamic conquests from 622 through the mid-eighth century AD.

With the majority of the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic control by 717, the Pyrenees presented the only modest obstacle to Islamic conquest of what is today France. In that very year, while Muslims lais siege to Constantinople, Islamic forces began crossing the mountains along the Mediterranean coast. This area of southern France, called Septimania, spent the next fifteen years under the dominance of Islamic rule. It was only a matter of time before an advance was made across the Pyrenees along the Atlantic coast.

Image Source: Battle of Tours at Wikipedia
When the advance finally came in 732, it was aided by forces marching from the Islamic Septimanian capital of Narbonne. The local Christian lord, Odo of Aquitaine, found himself caught between two forces attacking him from two directions. His only hope was to abandon his lands and flee north with his army in hopes of finding aid from the Franks, a Germanic tribe that had settled in Gaul as the Roman Empire collapsed.

There he met with Charles, who was effectively the king of the Franks but held only the title of prime minister out of deference to the Merovingians who still held on to the throne. Long had Charles known the Islamic threat to the south, and he had prudently prepared for war by steadily strengthening the Frankish army. Odo of Aquitaine pledged Aquitaine to the Franks in return for their protection and arms. Charles agreed and the united Christian forces marched south.

On October 10, 732, Charles earned the name “Martel” (“the Hammer”) at Tours as his men dealt a stunning defeat against the invading Islamic army. It was a rare instance of medieval infantry standing victorious against cavalry. At one point Charles was nearly struck down, but his comitatus, true to the noble Germanic warrior spirit, formed a wall of men around their leader and saved his life. The same could not be said of the Islamic leader, Abd-al-Raḥmân, whose death in the battle also meant a general retreat of Islamic forces.

A new power was rising. The German warrior wielding the Christian standard finally halted the Islamic advance in western Europe and marked strengthening ties between the Franks and the Catholic Church. For his part, Charles Martel aided St. Boniface’s missionary work in what is today Germany while the Church played a pivotal role in the peaceful transition of power from the Merovingians to the descendants of Charles – the Carolingians. Charles’ son, Pippin, finished driving Muslim forces out of Septimania around 759 while Charles’ grandson, Charlemagne, helped launch the 700-year long Reconquista (“Re-conquest”) of the Iberian Peninsula.

While Charles turned the tide, his grandson Charlemagne established a Frankish foothold in Iberia and began aiding in the re-conquest of what is today Spain and Portugal. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Strategy Games: The Gateway to Culture and Geopolitics

While we live in a very complex and multifaceted world, the events that shape the world – many of them involving the use of arms – are not irrational. In the realm of geopolitics, violence is very rarely senseless. The jihadis who attacked us on 9/11, for example, were neither nihilists nor anarchists and their attack was as much grounded in their geopolitics as their personal religious beliefs.

History’s great strategy games act as a meeting place of culture and geopolitics. Their creators, having themselves been formed by their culture’s worldview, introduce the player to a manner of strategic thinking and problem solving which roughly correlates to the broader geopolitical situation of their nation or civilization.

There are three classic strategy games that all men should have at some time in their lives played; three games which introduce them to the interconnectedness of culture and geopolitics. The following is an introduction to each.

1. Chess

As most readers of this blog have undoubtedly played Chess, the game needs little introduction. What makes it culturally unique is its focus on concentration of power with the aim of eliminating the other player’s forces and ultimately checkmating his king. Chess is the game of European-style warfare in which strategic thought emphasizes decisive battle through force concentration with the ultimate goal of destroying the enemy’s armies and decapitating his leadership or seizing his capital. For an excellent analysis on this style of warfare and its interconnectedness with culture, check out Victor Davis Hanson’s book Carnage and Culture.

2. Go

The difference between the games of Go and Chess are as vast as the difference between the cultures that produced them. Indeed, perhaps the only thing the two games have in common is that both are played by two players. Unlike Chess, the pieces used in Go are not ranked in a hierarchy of points and abilities; Go uses simple white and black stones all of equal power and value. Strength is to be found not in individual stones but rather in the formations the stones can make when placed next to each other.

The strategy of Go follows the strategy of Sun Tzu, who, placing little value on attacking enemy armies and seizing enemy cities or capitals, instructed would-be generals to attack an enemy’s strategy and an enemy’s alliances. In short, Sun Tzu said fighting is a general’s last resort; his best strategy is to win without fighting. Unlike Chess, which focuses on engaging the enemy’s forces and decapitating his leadership, the masters of Go engage in limited fighting across a large grid board. Their goal is to seize as much territory of the board as possible without a great deal of fighting between formations. New Go players often treat the game like Chess, with many stones being captured on both sides – but such aggression leads only to defeat when matched against a master.

In his work, On China, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argued that modern Chinese foreign policy could only be discerned by one who knew the strategic thinking of Go along with the cultural past underlying its conceptual framework.

3. Diplomacy

While Kissinger drew heavily from the game of Go in his analysis of China, his own personal favorite board game is Diplomacy, a game also favored by President John F. Kennedy. The game's creator, a Harvard graduate who was fascinated as a child with his an old book of maps he found in the attic, died this past February.

Like Chess and Go, Diplomacy uses no dice; unlike Chess and Go, Diplomacy is a seven-player game set in the real life geopolitical climate of pre-World War I Europe. As the name suggests, Diplomacy requires the social skills needed to maintain the balance of power between other nations while finding ways to increase one’s own political and military expansion. The original title of Diplomacy was Realpolitik – and players of the game experience firsthand the international power politics that brought about the Great War and why President Washington implored future American statesmen to avoid getting entangled in a messy web of overseas alliances.

For those who play Diplomacy, the game teaches geography, history, and a hefty dose of social skills. Indeed, where an aggressive, Chess-like strategy is a no-starter in Go, the silent strategist, the Go master, and the arm chair general will all find themselves quickly behind in a game of Diplomacy where face-to-face negotiation is a prerequisite for advancement. Since the death of Allan Calhamer, the game’s creator, his daughter has received countless letters and emails from Diplomacy players and this is how she summed up their content:
“…what I'm seeing over and over again in these emails is that the recurring theme is: ‘I was a really, really nerdy awkward kid who had trouble relating to people, but because ‘Diplomacy’ required interpersonal skills and required you to get people to do what you wanted them to do, that's how I built my social skills.’”
Whether we learn decisive battle from Chess, the power of order and formation from Go, or how to negotiate international affairs and territorial boundaries from Diplomacy, these three games remain quintessential classics which introduce us to the larger world of culture, geopolitics, and strategic thought. If you haven’t played these games, it’s time for you to visit a game store and invite some friends over for a game day. You won’t regret it.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Pope of Christian Unity and the Unity of Faith

Pope Benedict XVI may well be known as the Pope of Christian Unity. In his short pontificate, he not only advanced an unparalleled dialogue with the Orthodox churches, but he also found a way for Anglicans to return to full communion without losing their rich liturgical heritage while also liberalizing the use of the Latin Mass for Catholics who wish to share in its timeless beauty and power.

In his writings, however, Pope Benedict contrasts the unitive and social character of faith with the individual character of philosophy:
“One could say epigrammatically that faith does in fact come from ‘hearing’, not – like philosophy – from reflection. Its nature lies in the fact that it is not the thinking out of something that can be thought out and that at the end of the process is then at my disposal as a result of my thought. On the contrary, it is characteristic of faith that it comes from hearing, that it is the reception of something that I have not thought out, so that in the last analysis thinking in the context of faith is always a thinking over of something previously heard and received.”

“In philosophy, the thought precedes the word; it is after all a product of the reflection that one then tries to put into words; the words always remain secondary to the thought and thus in the last resort can be replaced by other words. Faith, on the other hand, comes to man from the outside, and this very fact is fundamental to it. It is---let me repeat----not something thought up by myself; it is something said to me… and lays and obligation on me.”

Philosophy arises out of an “essentially individualistic structure” and is “by its nature the work of a solitary individual, who ponders as an individual on truth.” The philosopher’s thought or reflection “only becomes communicable later, when it is put into words, which usually make it only approximately comprehensible to others.

“In philosophy, what comes first is the private search for truth, which then, secondarily, seeks and finds a travelling companion. Faith, on the other hand, is first of all a call to community, to unity of mind through the unity of the word. Indeed, its significance is, a priori, an essentially social one: it aims at establishing unity of mind through the unity of the word. Only secondarily will it then open the way for each individual’s private venture in search of truth.”

Monday, October 7, 2013

Re-Posted: Ending Caliphate Dreams

Today marks the anniversaries of two important battles in a war against the Islamic caliphate which has long sought to rule the world. 440 years ago today, Catholics throughout the world were called to pray the Rosary as the Islamic invaders sent a massive fleet out to sea with the Italian peninsula as the immediate prize. The Protestant north was nowhere to be found among the defending Christian fleet – perhaps, they thought, the destruction of the Catholic south was well-deserved. Rome had already been ravaged by a Protestant-led army on May 6, 1527 (to this day new recruits to the Vatican’s Swiss Guard are sworn in on May 6 as a reminder of their duty to lay down their lives in defense of the Pope), and now, forty-four years later, all of Europe would see if God had finally lifted His mantle of protection from the Catholic Church.

Defeat of the Catholic fleet would mean the military decimation of Catholic Europe and an even deeper moral defeat in the eyes of the Protestant north.

The Catholics, however, had a secret weapon: the Queen Mother of God and Ark of the New Covenant. Described as “the world’s first love” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Mary is not only God’s ideal woman (He choose her as His mother after all) but she is also prefigured in the Old Testament in the figures of Israel’s queen mother and the Ark of the Covenant. In short, the kings of Israel never ruled with their wives as queen but rather with their mothers – and just as Jesus perfects God’s promise that a king will sit on David’s throne forever (Jeremiah 33:17), Mary shares in Christ’s reign as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Now the Hebrew root of Queen Mother comes from a word meaning warrior – a role which Mary played spiritually at Lepanto. Lastly, Mary is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant in her carrying of Christ (and for more on this, check out this scriptural comparison of between the Old and New Testaments on the Ark and Mary). Just as the Israelites carried the Ark into battle, so too will Catholics at Lepanto – and they did this in more ways than one!

As a prelude to the battle, Pope St. Pius V called on all Catholics to arm themselves with Mary’s intercession in spiritual warfare. The Catholic armada – largely outnumbered by the Islamic fleet – was led by a multinational, ragtag group under the command of Don Juan of Austria. If Austria provided the leader, Venice provided the six “high-tech” galleasses which proved so technologically crucial in battle. Additional spiritual warfare was brought to bear in a physical manifestation by the Knights of Malta, a group of warrior monks founded in 1023 to protect pilgrims and sacred places in the Holy Land. The biggest weapon of the fleet, however, was the Mother of God herself, provided by the Spanish via a replica of the Our Lady of Guadalupe image from the New World. Having been pressed against the original, it was brought to the Old World and mounted on Don Juan’s flagship – a ship which would soon also carry the head of the Islamic fleet’s commander mounted on a pike.

Though the feast day has been re-named a much less militaristic “Our Lady of the Rosary” (due to her victorious intercession through the Rosary), her intercession is still invoked by Catholics – especially Catholics at war on October 7.

Today, however, is also the ten year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Sadly there are Catholics using this day to pray the Rosary and march against war. If anything, we should follow the example of the early Christians who prayed for military victory even if they themselves were not on the battlefields in great numbers. Lepanto, however, was a military victory of Catholics seeking to end the caliphate dreams of the Islamic caliphate. This dream has been reawakened in the jihadists and their supporters. Instead of protesting, let us take recourse to the Rosary and pray for victory on foreign battlefields. Let us pray our civic and military leaders protect Christians overseas as much as anyone else and that they have the wisdom to outsmart those who seek to overthrow the nations under God.

This article was originally posted on October 7, 2011.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Dr. Pence's Series on the All-Male Priesthood

Below you will find a four-part video series on the Apostolic fraternity of priesthood presented by Dr. David Pence:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Orate Fratres?

To the good readers of Oratre Fratres, I must apologize for the recent lack of blogging! As the image above indicates, the author of this blog has been a bit busy getting married and settling into a new domestic life. Please bear with me in this time of personal transition, but more fresh posts are soon to come!