The Original European Union

As you may have read in the news, the Pope recently traveled to Austria, a country with a long heritage of Catholic culture. One of the highlights of his trip was a Mass in Vienna (the Cathedral of which, St. Stephen’s, is pictured to the right). While not at the center of world events today, this city could be called one of the bastions of modern Western Civilization, the site of battles that rank up there with Thermopolae, Tours and Lepanto as those during which the future of Western civilization hung in the balance. Of the two battles of Vienna, those of 1529 and 1683, here I would like to focus on the latter.

To be clear, this post isn’t going to set out to argue that the West was or is “better” than other cultures; indeed, Christianity itself is an import from the Middle East. Rather, I would like here to call our attention to this event because of the way in which the different nations of Europe came together for a common cause, seeing that on the fate of one of their own rested that of all. Coming after a century in which we saw two world wars in which Europeans fought vicious battles and committed other atrocities against each other, the comparison is noteworthy.

At the Battle of Vienna in 1683, whose anniversary was a few days ago on Sept. 11-12, the Polish king Jan Sobieski, aided by a French duke and commanding a force made up of Poles, Austrians, Ukrainians, as well as large contingents from the various states that now make up Germany (both Catholic and Protestant), relieved Vienna from a Turkish siege that had surrounded the city since mid July and was by early September on the verge of defeat. With the defeat of the Turks, the threat of a major invasion of central Europe from the east, which began with the invasion of the Turkish invasion of the European part of the Byzantine Empire in the mid 1300's, was effectively ended.

To be fair, the history surrounding this battle is far more complicated than is given here; the French king took the opportunity of the Germans being in the East to invade their lands near his borders, for example. However, for all its imperfections, this coalition, formed from a wide cross-section of European nations, stands as a powerful witness of the unifying power of Europe’s Christian heritage. At the same time, though, this unification did not mean the loss of what was unique to each nation, or a reduction to the lowest common denominator between all of them. Though I’m not going to call for a revival of Christendom as the only way for a more united Europe, no good is done by those who are trying to intentionally forget the Christian heritage of this continent, without which it is questionable whether Europe as we know it would still be around today.

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    # by stpetersbasilica - September 17, 2007 at 9:32 AM

    It's great to see you guys in Rome keeping a blog. Many of us are interested in what's going on there. I'm especially interested in St Peter's, as I maintain the website

    The Battle for Vienna that you mention is the relief under the Monument of Innocent XI in St Peter's.

    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Alan Howard