The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9 – The Blessed Virgin intercedes for the Emperor

As the Christian civilization progressed its survival was threatened uninterruptedly. Were it not for ‘Divine Intervention’ the Church and its people would have been destroyed many times over. In the 430s, Salvian of Marsailles criticized severely the behavior of the Christian Romans, as opposed to the chaste behavior of the Barbarians. Regarding Carthage he commented that men put aside natural relations for unnatural ones and defiled themselves with one another. Salvian praises the Vandals, who although had conquered Christian lands, did not adopt the vices of the Roman rich and corrupt. According to Salvian: “None of them became effeminate.” Is it not an interesting way of describing the Vandals? In fairly recent times, Mr. Edward Gibbon described the Christian Roman Empire as becoming ‘effeminate,’ in his opinion this came about due to the direct influence of Christianity on the people. Mr. Gibbon blamed this ‘effeminacy’ for the Empire’s decline and eventual fall. It is an absurd notion to argue that Christianity causes an effeminacy of society more than the effects brought about by perversion and homosexuality. Contrasting greatly with what Salvian has to say, that indeed the base lusts and vices of homosexuality and prostitution which the people practiced daily, were not due to their conversion to Christianity but to their unrepentance and hard headed persistence in sin. These vices were to blame for the ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ (in North Africa) and for the effeminacy of Roman society and rather not the Christian values, such as the virtues of purity and chastity. This fact is altogether more interesting when considering that the revolutions in the sociological context of modern day societies, are once again putting aside Christian virtues, replacing such with the age old vices of homosexuality and prostitution. In fact in our modern day, apart from the legal framework enabling the possibility for gay and lesbian marriages (Romans 1:26,27), the prostitution tax levied by the ancient pagan Roman government referred to as the ‘Chrysargyrum tax’ is being reintroduced by the European Union under a different form or title. For fear of being punished by the Christian God (and the very fact that this tax offended God), Emperor Constantine condemned and removed the Chrysargyrum tax, which is our modern day equivalent of ‘VAT on income generated by sex workers and pornography.’ When considering these sociological blunders, one should keep in mind the ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ as described by Salvian and badly explained by Edward Gibbon. Saint Augustine addressed the people of Hippo during the brutal Vandal siege saying: “Enough of your weeping and wailing! Are you not yourselves responsible for this fate which is overwhelming you? ‘These are difficult and dreadful times’ the people are saying. But these times are part of us, are they not? The times are what we have made them!”(4)

The Huns were a people described in the following manner: “…the terror of their looks inspire in their enemies with no little horror by their awful aspect and by their horribly swarthy appearance. They have a sort of shapeless lump, if I may say so, not a face, and pinholes rather than eyes.”(5) A race of men who were short and bow-legged, riding their fast steppe ponies and living on their steeds terrorized Europe. They practically lived and slept on horseback, they ate half-raw meat, which was kept beneath their saddles, and shot their arrows with frightening accuracy. During the pontificate of Pope Leo I conflict between emperors attracted the attention of this mighty race from the Orient. Attila the Hun was desirous of taking as wife a European empress and with this excuse he journeyed to Europe, he plundered and subdued the region. Wherever his army proceeded it left a trail of devastation. In 441, the Huns passed through Austria, Germany and into Gaul, but were repelled by the allied force of Romans and Visigoths. In Paris France, the audacious nun, Saint Genevieve, arrested Attila’s military advances. In 452, Attila approached the ‘Eternal City’ itself. The Hun had the reputation of being a vicious killer, who launched threats of death against his own people. When he laid preparations to invade Rome, the Pope prayed ceaselessly invoking Divine aid, to protect the people and the Faith from the barbaric horde. Pope Leo himself departed to plead with Attila for peace and the cessation of war. Subsequently, after the meeting the Hun withdrew his forces and left the region. Attila himself later explained this unexpected turn of events. He implied that whilst the Pope was making his plea beside the Pontiff he beheld two shining men not of this Earth. In their hands they held flaming swords and severely charged Attila with impending death and destruction, if he were to proceed any further. The two men clad in the clothes of Bishops were described as being Saints Peter and Paul. Whilst Pope Leo politely asked the invader to retreat, the saints held flaming swords above his head. And retreat he did, he left and reached the territories behind the River Danube where from he never returned. Pope Leo was also successful, even though on a lesser scale, with Genseric the Vandal. During the sack of Rome Genseric was convinced by Leo not to harm the inhabitants. In fact the inhabitants were spared and the troops restrained themselves at simply looting the city, without destroying statues or accomplishing other acts of ‘vandalism.’ Following the grace of protection against Attila, Pope Leo had a statue of the Roman god Jupiter sculpted into the figure of Saint Peter, it presently stands in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican in Rome.

In the sixth century the menace of the Ostrogoths shadowed the events in Italy. Under King Totila the Goths laid siege to Rome three times and slaughtered its inhabitants. Emperor Flavius Anicius Julianus Justinianus was proclaimed Consul in 521 and in April 527 was made Augustus. Similarly to his predecessors Justinianus desired to reunite the Empire and regain the lost provinces of Africa and Italy, lost to the Vandal and the Goth. After waging a series of battles, he appointed General Narses to reclaim Italy from the Visigothic King Totila. Totila, whose real name was Baduila, endeavored from the beginning of his reign to restore the Gothic Kingdom in Italy. Waging a war against the Emperor of Constantinople, his strategy was to move fast and take control of the countryside, leaving the Byzantine forces in control of well defended cities and ports. When the King of Italy, Totila, asked in marriage the daughter of a Frankish King, the offer was refused. He was not worthy of carrying the authority and title of a king and was not acknowledged by the Roman people. Pope Vigilius and the Patriarch Cethegus reproached Emperor Justinianus and appeared before his throne demanding of him to resume the conquest of Italy. Justinian (Justinianus) chose General Belisarius and General Narses the Eunuch to lead his army. Narses declared that unless an adequate force was prepared he would risk neither his nor his Sovereign’s honor. In July 552, Totila marched against Narses and General Belisarius, but was defeated at the Battle of Taginae otherwise known as the Battle of Busta Gallorum.

Previous to the battle, Narses had confidently assured Belisarius of victory. His assurance was based on an apparition of the Blessed Virgin he had previously received, who promised him a victorious outcome. The two armies met at a distance of one hundred furlongs (22,000 yards or 66,000 feet) between Taginae and the sepulchres of the Gauls. Narses sent envoys with messages of pardon for the King, while Totila replied that he would die or conquer. The last 2,000 Goths arrived and the charge was soon to take place. Notwithstanding the agreement that the battle was set for the eight day, intending to surprise the Christians, Totila dishonored his word and attacked on the second day. King Totila was clad in gold and purple, he rode hurling his javelin into the air and catching it, passing the javelin rapidly from hand to hand, throwing himself backwards and recovering his seat upon his war-horse. Totila’s cavalry and infantry charged bravely without discretion and were engulfed between the horns of the right and left flanks of the Emperor’s army which was composed of Heruli, Lombards, Romans and Huns. Repeated volleys of 4,000 archers struck hard at the King’s army. Six thousand Goths fell, including Totila the King of Italy, who was not spared. His hat and bloody robe recovered as a memento of victory.

Following the battle, General Narses paid his devotions to Christianity’s God and his Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Narses then rewarded and dismissed his soldiers. Constantinople’s historian, Procopius, described the manner in which Narses eventually defeated another foe by the name of Teia. According to Procopius, it was well known the manner how Narses paid due honor to the Virgin and Mother of God, so that she distinctly announced to him the proper season for action. Narses never entered battle without a signal from the Blessed Virgin. The General also defeated Buselinus and Syndualdus, acquiring the whole Italian region for the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. At a certain critical point, Narses was resent to Italy to defend Rome from the Lombards, however he was recalled to Constantinople due to a false charge of treason. On hearing of his recall, the Lombards fell upon Rome. There was a strong party in Rome which opposed both Narses and the Pope; the eventual blame for the Lombard attack fell upon Narses. During this time Pope John III sojourned in the Catacombs of Calixtus and following the Pope’s desires, Narses remained in Italy. General Narses died there in the year 572.

Following the Ostrogothic defeat, Justinian negotiated peace with the Persians and concentrated his war efforts upon the Vandals to the south. One hundred years had passed since the Vandal had conquered the Christian areas of North Africa. The Ostrogoths allowed the Emperor to use Sicily as a base, where Justinian gathered his forces, consisting of 500 ships and 15,000 soldiers. In June 533, under the command of General Belisarius, the Christian force invaded North Africa. By December 533, Belisarius defeated the Vandal strongholds. Confiscated churches were returned to Catholic worshippers, while the Arians were excluded from public office. Procopius attributed the Vandals’ defeat to the intervention of the Christian God. The ‘Justinian Madonna of Carthage,’ was a Church built by the Emperor in honor of the miraculous intercessions the Blessed Virgin Mary had obtained for him during his North African campaign. In 562, all Italy was under the control of the Roman Emperor. In memory of these victories brought about by Our Lady, within the Christian calendar of Carthage a Feast was set for July 23 dedicated to the Madonna of Carthage. With the legal body termed “Corpus Juris Civilis,” Justinian is accredited of having formed the basis of all modern civil law. He also was the Emperor who further developed the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the founder of the ‘New Church of Our Lady’ or ‘Nea Church’ erected in the 530s and re-discovered by archeologists in the 1970s in Jerusalem.

However, Justinian was also a man who as regards to the Faith erred when he supported his wife’s Monophysite’s beliefs and Eutichian theories. Pope Saint Agapitus was poisoned in Constantinople on the eve of Saint George’s Feast on April 22, 536 by Theodora, the Emperor’s wife. The following Pope Saint Silverius died in 537, exiled on the Island of Ponza by the Byzantine forces. He was assassinated. Pope Vigilius resisted Theodora’s efforts to annul the condemnation of the Eustachian theories and during this pontificate Justinian imposed the ‘Pragmatic Sanction.’ While Pope Pelagius I and Pope John III seemed to have worked well with Emperor Justinian I there seems to have begun the age long conflicts and rivalry between Rome and Constantinople. It is an undisputed fact that under Emperor Justinian the Empire reclaimed its ancient glory and much territory, the Justinian Empire rivaled Rome of old and his memory lasted through many ages. Emperor Justinian I died in the year 565.

 

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