September 12th marks the anniversary of the Battle of Vienna, in 1683, when the army of the Holy Roman Empire, particularly with the help of the intrepid Polish army under the command of their king, Jan Sobielski, overcame superior odds to crush the onslaught of the advancing Ottoman Turks at the very gates of the ancient city, the ‘gateway to Europe’. I heard that the Polish cavalry put ‘wings’ on its men, whose mighty ruffling sound put the fear of God into the Turkish army. That, and God was thankfully on their side.
History would have been very different had the Muslims conquered Vienna in the 17th century, and Europe would likely look a lot like northern Africa does today, at least in a cultural sense, and I don’t mean that as a compliment on the capacity of Islam to build what we think of as ‘culture’. There is a lot of immigration to Europe; to Egypt and Libya? Not that much.
One need not imagine much that the terrorists on 9-11 had that very date in mind, to strike at the very heart of the ‘Crusaders’. Although I wonder how many Polish descendants in New York on that fateful September day. Then again, terrorists don’t tend to discriminate all that much.
As it was, Europe provided a bulwark against the seemingly inexorable advance of the ‘Crescent’, at least until recently. What the Muslims could not do by warfare, seems now being accomplished by immigration and the sheer laws of demography. Europeans are not having children; Muslims are. as mentioned above, the immigration is almost all one way. There is also a dynamism and cohesion to Islam sadly lacking in most forms of European Christianity, moribund almost to the last denomination. There are pockets, one can see, of Catholic resurgence, as well as areas of Eastern Christianity making inroads. One may hope, but the road ahead will be difficult and long.
There is a story that after that September day, the bakers invent the ‘croissant’, an image of the Islamic crescent, that one could smother in butter or chocolate or, better, both, and eat in commemoration of the victory. Not very ecumenical, one might think, but the story may not be true. And croissants are delicious. So enjoy, and bring to your mind days of Catholic glory, honour and virility, which may yet be again.