Lessons of the Past | William Kilpatrick | CWR
A review of Andrew Bieszad’s Lions of the Faith: Saints, Blessed, and Heroes of the Catholic Faith in the Struggle with Islam
Lions of the Faith chronicles the lives of saints, martyrs, and heroes who were caught up in the struggle between Islam and Christianity that commenced in the seventh century and continues to this day. The 800 martyrs of Otranto who were recently canonized by Pope Francis appear in these pages, as do the seven monks of Tibhirine, Algeria whose death at the hands of Islamic terrorists in 1996 is the subject of the 2010 film Of Gods and Men. The author also tells the story of many lesser-known saints, such as St. Casilda of Toledo, who was a Muslim but converted to the faith as a result of her contact with the Catholic prisoners for whom she secretly cared. In addition to saints and martyrs, Lions of the Faith also provides brief accounts of the exploits of Catholic heroes such as Charles Martel, who turned back a Muslim army in the pivotal battle of Poitiers in 732, and King John III Sobieski, whose 1683 victory over the Turks at the Gates of Vienna initiated the decline of the Ottoman Empire.
Although most of the book is concerned with the first thousand years of struggle between Islam and Christianity, it is as contemporary as today’s news. As the author observes, nothing has really changed: the basic problems and differences between Christianity and Islam remain. Chief among these is the Islamic conviction that all other religions must be subjugated under Islam. Thus, as Bieszad notes, “The reality which the seventh-century Church faced is the same in the 21st century.”
One of these realities—a reality that is still very much with us—is that Western Christians were rarely able to achieve unity in resisting Islamization. In fact, on numerous occasions Christian kingdoms allied themselves with the Muslim Ottoman Empire against other Christians. “Better a Turk than a Papist” was a popular slogan among Dutch Calvinists, and in their fight against Catholic Spain, Dutch sailors wore a crescent-shaped medal with that inscription.
Throughout much of the 16th and 17th centuries, Catholics were fighting a two-front war—against Muslims in the south and east and against Protestants in the north.