Plinio CorrÍa de Oliveira
The Crushing of Byzantium Is
an Example for Us
Saint of the Day, Monday, February 16, 1970
At Dr. Plinioís request, Bishop Mayer picks a topic for him to comment.
(Bishop Mayer: Castelotís The Fall of Constantinople):
ďConstantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, was considered the Christian stronghold of the East, a city guarded by God and proud of its Greco-Latin tradition. In 1453, while ruled by Constantine XII, the last emperor, it was besieged by Mohammed II, a Muslim Turk for whom the cityís conquest was part of a holy war in which the East had to overcome the Cross. Despite its decadence, Byzantium was still the heart of Christís empire. With 453 ships and 500,000 infidel soldiers against only 8,000 on the Christian side, Mohammed began the fight determined to win as a matter of honor.
During the months the siege lasted, they planned the escape of Constantine XII, but he refused to abandon his clergy, churches, throne, and people in misfortune. He ordered continuous public prayers and processions, with a large crowd meeting daily in Hagia Sophia to pray and attend sacred ceremonies on May 28. However, despite heroic resistance, the enemies defeated the defenders and seized Constantinople. No tragedy will ever equal this one in horror, wrote Christobulus, a Christian who served the Turks.
It was a terrible spectacle. Unfortunate people drawn to the street by the screams were beaten and slaughtered without realizing what was happening. They were massacred inside homes where they tried to defend themselves and in churches where they took refuge. Turkish soldiers were relentless. When the massacre was over, and they no longer met with resistance, they began to loot and enrich themselves by stealing, destroying, pillaging, killing, raping, and taking captive men, women, children, monks, priests, and men of all ages and conditions.
This gang from various nations, made up of unrestrained brutes, attacked convents and dragged nuns through the streets, raping and subjecting them to most horrible outrages. Many died just predicting the fate awaiting them. Old men looking full of dignity and respect were pulled through the streets by their hair. Numerous children of the nobility, of exceptional beauty, were abducted or disappeared. Temples were profaned and looted; sacred objects were contemptuously thrown to the ground. Holy icons and sacred vessels were desecrated. Priestly ornaments were torn into pieces and burned or thrown into the street. Reliquaries of saints were violated, relics were ripped off and cast to the wind. Chalices of the Holy Sacrifice were reserved for orgies, melted, or sold. Priestsí garments embroidered in gold with pearls or precious gems were given away at the best price or cast into the fire to melt the gold.
In Saint Sofia, where the crowd prayed to the end, all Christians of mature age were killed; younger ones were imprisoned and sold as slaves. The Turks had their camels enter the basilica and ushered in prostitutes. They said Saint Sophia, still with the perfume of holy ceremonies, would now become a stable and a pleasure house.
In the meantime, Constantine, sword in hand, fought to the death. His corpse, lost among city ruins, was recognized by his purple sandals. Mohammed II had it beheaded and sent his had on a tour of Asia for several months, escorted by 40 captive boys and girls, to announce to everyone the victory of Allah over Christ.Ē
To have a lively idea of the scene described here, we need to translate it into contemporary terms. It turns out there is a shocking difference between current terms and ancient ones. Constantinople, or Byzantium, was the most beautiful, luxurious, and affluent city in antiquity. It was considered the queen of the Mediterranean, with treasures accumulated by Byzantine emperors for centuries. On the other hand, it was a center of culture, art, civilization, and the seat of emperors so sophisticated that they treated emperors of the Holy Roman Empire of the West as rednecks. They regarded all Western nobles as redneck nobility because they no longer had the luster or refinement acquired over centuries.
Imagine that city suddenly sacked the way you have seen. Consider the church of Saint Sofia, the most beautiful church on earth at that time, full of faithful praying. Outside, you can hear the rucks of Turks entering, killings, and screams, as the people inside pray to God for help. In the meantime, the Turks approached, probably broke down the doors, and killed all the faithful as they implored, with hands folded, Godís help through Our Lady. They were all killed during that ceremony.
God not only refused to help those people. After all were dead, He allowed the Muslims to bring camels and prostitutes into the building so they could claim that the most famous church consecrated to Christ on that side of the Mediterranean had been turned into a stable and a house of prostitution.
How could such a thing have happened? If God grants all requests of His faithful through the intercession of Our Lady, how can one explain that a city that gave every impression of being holy could be destroyed like that as God remained deaf to their prayers?
One would say that God rejected his people and city. How to explain that He allowed all accumulated treasures, consecrated virgins in convents, to be pulled out, dragged through the streets, desecrated hideously, mutilated, and killed amid screams and shouts within the city?
Icons, images, shrines, objects of worship, things of the imperial crown, symbols of the Christian empire, the crown, and the scepter of the Emperor of Constantinople are all sold or melted to add to the lootersí treasures. The emperor, who should be Godís right hand and is fighting bravely amid his soldiers, finds no favor with God. He is found dead in the rubble, his face no longer recognizable. They identify his body by his purple shoes--the emperorís privilege.
Even worse, the young men and women of the nobility are caught and enslaved; the women are sent to pleasure houses, and the men are employed in menial jobs. That recalls a lamentation of Jeremias recounting how city nobles were comparable to a potterís children, that is, to commoners. Even more humiliating, the impious Mohammed II enslaves many young city representatives and takes them on a tour of the Mediterranean basin.
At that time, there was no telegraph or well-organized post offices, let alone newspapers, and in that way, he wanted to announce to the Mediterranean basin and Near Eastern peoples that Byzantium had fallen. So he travels triumphally through his cities, where many Christians, reduced to captivity by previous Turkish conquests, groaned in humiliation. He walks triumphantly throughout this area and displays, as a trophy, the flower of Byzantiumís nobility, chained and serving him, the victor.
How can we explain that such a thing happened?
Naturally, a first explanation is that God is unfathomable in His designs and can permit such things to test the righteous. But this explanation does not go very far. If we take into account what Saint Augustine saidópeoples are judged on this earth, and men are judged when they die; God rewards good peoples and punishes bad ones on this earth, we can understand how the people of Byzantium, albeit waging holy war against the adversaries of the Church, were handed over to Godís enemies and decimated at the very moment they were praying and fighting.
The explanation is simple. The same historical picture was seen at the fall of Jerusalem, inhabited by the chosen people, the beloved people of God. It was a very wealthy and famous city. Its Temple was famous throughout the world for its beauty and riches. But at a particular moment, God handed it over to His adversaries. Why? Because of the infidelities of those close to Him. In Constantinople, they were schismatics, and in Jerusalem, deicides, so God delivered them up to the vengeance of His enemies.
Why were they not heeded? Because they did not pray within the true Church. They were in the state of willful, culpable, conscious, and recent apostasy from the Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. And whoever tries to please God outside the Church obtains that result. God is absent and turns a deaf ear to such prayers. God refuses such entreaties and manifests indifference in the face of torments. They failed to address Him the way He established. As a result, their prayers went unheeded, and everything was blown up and torn apart. The empire of Byzantium disappeared.
Here we also have a lesson to understand the Catholic Churchís immense passion in our day. How can wickedness prevail over the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church? How is it that the Church, which still lives and thus one can say that the gates of hell have not prevailed against it, has lost the battle of the 20th century? How is it the big loser, sustaining a tremendous defeat from the inside out, the worst defeat of all? How is it abandoned by its own? Evidently, because of a deep hollowing out, infidelities from way back, and punishments that have been accumulating for a long time.
We are witnessing this omious fact: the program of Church enemies in the last century is being carried out in this century by men of the Church. In more straightforward and direct terms: in the previous century, we heard the enemies of the Church say that the papacy was surrounded by luxury, the pope was a satrap who had excessive power, a despot of the Catholic Church. Today you see the papacy as it were agreeing with those impious criticisms and stripping itself more and more of that sacred luxury with which it was so deservedly surrounded, simplifying, proletarianizing, and plebeianizing its appearance. You see the pope, as it were, successively handing over parcels of his power.
The enemies also criticized the luxury and power of bishops. Now you see many handing over all the power, authority, and the splendor that surrounded them.
People spoke against religious orders as disguised slavery, claiming the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience reduced a man or woman religious to slaves of their superior. Now we see religious orders gradually suppressing obedience and turning into a kind of pension of prophetic groups of men and women religious without poverty and obedience, never mind chastity.
In the 19th century, people spoke against ecclesiastical celibacy; now, you see celibacy being shaken by priestly and episcopal hands, defiled by cardinals, the pope lifting it in specific cases easily expandable to have married people ordained as priests.
In the last century, people spoke against the confessional. From your history study, you remember they claimed that to go to confession was a kind of coercion of conscience. Today, you see the Church proclaim itself mature and free. Individual confession is deemed degrading and replaced by collective confession in which no one recounts his or her sins.
In sum, if you make a list of Freemasonryís demands in the last century and compare them with those of progressives in our day, you arrive at this astonishing conclusion. Everything that unbelief and Freemasonry tried to do in the last century and failed as forces extrinsic to the Church, is now being done gradually by the hands of the Church itself.
There is no telling where all this is going to end. I ask if this immense ruin of the Church in which it only does not die because it is immortal, is not very similar to the fall of Byzantium. Its treasures are sold, convents are emptied, and the faithful say prayers unpleasing to God and cannot obtain the graces needed. Isnít all this destruction one thousand times more painful than that of Byzantium not being accomplished within the sacred body of the Catholic Church itself? Is it not more painful than the horrors done to the schismatic city, Byzantium, and the deicide city, Jerusalem?
What conclusion do we draw from this? We must make a theological interpretation of events. We must not think that things happen without a profound cause. We must not believe that Godís action is not intended to make us see and feel His wrath. If this is not a manifestation of Godís wrath, then I no longer understand how God can manifest it.
Imagine a strange disease whereby all men acquired the mania of cutting open their bowels and committing suicide; all the media carried suicide propaganda, and everyone was committing suicide. Could a man in his right mind doubt it was a punishment from God? Now, are we not witnessing ecclesiastical suicide? Ecclesiastical suicide accompanied by civil suicide of the bourgeois classes? It is obvious and shows how we are seeing apocalyptic events.
Why are we considering all this? Because we must see reality as it is and not have a limited vision like any old fool around the corner reading in a newspaper that a bishop ran away, another got married, a cardinal did I-donít-know-what, one of S„o Pauloís most beautiful churches had its altar razed to the ground and its tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament placed on the floor in some corner.
Let us not look at all these things as if they have no meaning, like an ox looking at a palace or a storm. We must understand the significance of this passing hour and feel small in the face of it. Remember that all our little interests and problems are nothing compared to this and that God will ask us to account for the benefit and grace He grants us to witness this spectacular and massive manifestation of His wrath.
We must keep our eyes on His wrath, be enamored with it, enthused with it, and take a recollected attitude in the face of it. We must ask God to free us from His wrath and beseech Our Lady to obtain this grace from Him. We must ask to understand all this and acquire a more serious, real, and profound notion of what sin is, what evil is, and the abysmal boundary that separates sin from virtue, error from truth. In so doing, we will belong entirely to good and truth and be free from all remnants of error and evil. May the sin bringing Godís wrath upon the world be uprooted from us.
Here comes a mystery: Do not believe for a minute that we would be here without an entirely gratuitous and extraordinary love of Our Lady. It would be foolish, ungrateful, and perverse to imagine that we are here on our own merits. Our Lady loved us in anticipation with a love that reached us when we could have no merit.
We were loved when we were nothing and had nothing. We were called. We were preferred. What mystery of paramount love to take weaklings like us, with more than dubious gratitude, and keep us together at this time against winds and tides with the holiest obstinacy no matter what we do and despite the evil movements of our souls! What a mystery of love and kindness for us to be objects of such mercy amid such wrath! What a contrast! Here is the meaning of our life: contemplating this contrast with enlevo, recollection, full of love, confidence, respect, and veneration, and with that fear which is the beginning of wisdom.
The fall of Constantinople is nothing compared to what we are witnessing. Today, if infidels descended from flying saucers and closed all churches in S„o Paulo, we would be commenting about it in a great commotion and considering with great pity the good, virtuous, and faithful priests fleeing through the streets. We would be fighting to defend them.
Something much worse happened: the churches were not closed, but the priests stopped being good. I tell you that this is worse than having camels and prostitutes inside the church. Yet, that is what has happened to us. I repeat: having camels and public women in church is less bad than having a progressive priest who propagates the ideology of the prophetic groups, IDOC, pantheism, and all kinds of abominations.
That is what we see every day. How do we look at it? With what eyes? With what face? Who are we? What do we make of it? My dear friends, the only way to wake up a sleeper is to shake him; thereís no other way. Do not take offense; there is lethargy, and I must take advantage of every opportunity to shake it.