Thursday, September 22, 2022

"The Invincible Spirit, Rising Again from the Midst of the Flames" — The gruesome death of the Iroquois Christian, Pierre Ononelwaia

Torture of a captive in the Eastern Woodands. Detail of a woodcut from
Mason: True Stories of Our Pioneers, 1904. 

In my previous review of the novel Joseph the Huron by Antoinette Bosco, I mentioned briefly a scene in the book describing the capture and torture of an Iroquois prisoner by the Hurons. The details of this scene were drawn from the true story which appeared in the Jesuit Relations. Of course, Mrs. Bosco softened the story somewhat to make it more suitable for her audience of younger readers. 

When writing the review, I revisited the original account of this prisoner in the Relations. Written in 1639 by an eye-witness—Jesuit Fr. Jerome Lalemant—I recalled the impression the account had made on me when I first read it some 20 years ago. Beyond the sheer cruelty and brutality of the scene, what strikes the reader most forcefully is the victim's supernatural courage in the face of certain death. 

I post Fr. Lalemant's account here in part so I should not lose it again within the vast gulf of the internet. But I also post it so that those Catholics, who lack even a fraction of the fortitude of their forebears and who would apologize for their audacious missionary work among the indigenous tribes, may think twice. Indeed, may they shrink from such pusillanimous apologies once, twice, and every time they are tempted to offer them.

Without further ado, here is Fr. Lalemant's description of the death of the Iroquois convert Pierre Ononelwaia:

The first one baptized in this village was a poor unfortunate Hiroquois, a prisoner of war, who was taken to another village, near this, to be given as a recompense to the relatives of that brave Taratwane who was captured during these last years by the enemy, as has been mentioned in previous Relations. I do not know if I should not tarry for a moment to consider and admire the adorable Providence of God towards this poor wretch, and his fellow prisoners, to the number of 12 or 13, baptized by the Fathers of this Residence; but I prefer to leave these reflections to those who shall cast their eyes over this Narrative, and to stop only to observe some circumstances of these events which render them more important.

For a long time, the Hurons had no more good fortune or advantage over their enemies until last year. Having gone to war, together with some Algonquains, their neighbors, they captured at one stroke about eighty of their enemies, whom they brought home alive. Besides this victory, the most notable of all, they had others of less importance, which in all gave them more than a hundred prisoners.

All those who were assigned to the villages where we have residences, or which are near these, were, thank God, instructed and baptized, and hardly one without circumstances so peculiar that there is reason to believe that there was, in their cases, some special guidance of divine Providence and of their predestination. In many instances, we had only the exact time necessary for their instruction and baptism; others, after having been baptized, were so comforted that they could not refrain from putting into song the cause of their consolation, — that thenceforward, at least, they were sure of going to Heaven. Others nobly refused to imitate foul and immodest actions to which their captors tried to incite them. Others afterward displayed so much fortitude in their torments that our barbarians resolved no longer to allow us to baptize these poor unfortunates, reckoning  it a misfortune to their country when those whom they torment shriek not at all, or very little.

Indeed, this has given us so much trouble since then, that there has not been one of these for whose baptism we have not been obliged to give battle to those who are their Masters and Guardians; and sometimes it has been necessary to atone for this violence by some present.

Among those who showed most fortitude, and most appreciation of their good fortune, was one Ononelwaia, in baptism named Pierre, who was one of the prisoners at that principal defeat of which we have just spoken, a Captain of the Oneiouchronons [Oneidas], a nation of the Hiroquois. This man, being fastened to a stake upon a platform, not very far from his companion fastened to another — where our barbarians, every one according to his pleasure, tormented them, by the application of flames, firebrands, and glowing irons, in ways cruel beyond all power of description, and beyond all imagination of those who have not seen it — Pierre, I say, seeing this companion of his lose patience in the midst of these torments, comforted and encouraged him  by representing the blessedness they had found in their misfortune, and that which was prepared for them after this life. Finally seeing him dead, “ Ah, my poor comrade,” said he, “ didst thou ask pardon of God before dying? “ — fearing that the evidence of suffering he had given was some grievous sin.

This brave spirit, who merited a better fate, was more tormented than ever by our barbarians after the death of his companion; for, the latter having died sooner than they expected, they all wreaked the rest of their fury upon him who remained. Accordingly, the first thing they did to him afterward was that one of them cut with a knife around his scalp, which he stripped off in order to carry away the hair, and, according to their custom, to preserve it as very precious.

After such treatment one would hardly believe that there could remain any sensation of life in a body so worn out with tortures. But lo! He suddenly rises, and, seeing upon the scaffold only the corpse of his dear companion, he takes in his hands, which were all in shreds, a firebrand, that he might not die as a captive, and that he might defend the brief liberty he had recovered a little while before death. The rage and the cries of his enemies redouble at this sight; they rush towards him with pieces of red-hot iron in their hands. His courage gives him strength; he puts himself on the defensive; he hurls his firebrands upon those who come nearest him; he throws down the ladders, to cut off their way, and avails himself of the fire and flame, the severity of which he has just experienced, to repel their attack vigorously. The blood that streamed down from his head over his entire body would have rent with pity a heart which had any remnant of humanity; but the fury of our barbarians found therein its satisfaction. 

Some throw upon him coals and burning cinders; others underneath the scaffold find open places for their firebrands. He sees on all sides almost as many butchers as spectators; when he escapes one fire, he encounters another, and takes not one step without falling into the evil that he flees.

While defending himself thus for a long time, a false step causes him to fall backward to the ground. At the same time, his enemies pounce upon him, burn him anew, then throw him upon the fire. This invincible spirit, rising again from the midst of the flames — all covered with cinders that were imbued in his blood, two flaming firebrands in his hands — turns towards the mass of his enemies, to inspire them with fear once more before he dies. Not one is so hardy as to touch him; he makes a way for himself, and walks towards the village, as if to set it on fire.

He advances about a hundred paces, when some one throws a club which fells him to the ground; before he can rise again, they are upon him; they cut off his feet and hands, and, having seized the rest of this mangled body, they turn it round and round over nine different fires, which he almost entirely extinguished with his blood. Finally they thrust him under an overturned tree-trunk, all on fire, so that, at the same time, there may be no part of his body which is not cruelly burned. It was then that nature, before yielding to the cruelty of these torments, made one last effort, that could never have been expected. For, having neither feet nor hands, he rolled over in the flames, and, having fallen outside of them, he moved more than ten paces, upon his elbows and knees, in the direction of his enemies, who fled from him, dreading the approach of a man to whom nothing remained but courage, of which they could not deprive him except by wresting away his life.

This they finally did, one of them cutting off his head with a knife. Happy stroke which gave him freedom! For we have reason to believe that this brave spirit is now enjoying in Heaven the freedom of the children of God, since even his enemies loudly exclaimed that there was something more than human within him, and that without doubt baptism had given him his strength and courage, which surpassed all that they had ever seen.

Several Savages have reported with wonder, and a sort of conviction of the truths that we preach to them, that, shortly before he received the last blow which caused his death, he raised his eyes to Heaven and cried out joyfully, “ Let us go, then, let us go,” as if he were answering a voice that invited him. [Thwaites: Jesuit Relations, Volume 17]

The common reaction of modern secular scholars to these types of accounts is as facile as it is dishonest. The claim is advanced that this and similar accounts were "fictionalized" or "exaggerated" by the Jesuit fathers. It is noteworthy that the one thing these critics often don't do in their long-winded attempts to excuse this type of grotesque brutality is quote liberally from the accounts themselves. 

Which is another reason I have done that here.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Book Review: "Joseph the Huron" by Antoinette Bosco

Years ago, I read the first 30 or so volumes of the Jesuit Relations—that vast treasure house of historical and ecclesiastical data on the eastern woodlands peoples and the early colonization of Canada, New England and New York. This was part of a very rewarding project called Iroquois Wars, Volume 1: Extracts from the Jesuit Relations and Primary Sources from 1535 to 1650. While pouring over the multitude of reports and letters written by intrepid and saintly men with names like Brebeuf, Jogues, and Lallemant, one also runs across numerous intriguing native people with names like Taratwane, Atironta, and Ondaaiondiont. But perhaps the one that stands out most vividly is Chiwatenhwa. 

This man of the Huron nation, called Joseph Chiwatenhwa after his baptism, lived that most remarkable of lives. Even before the Jesuits arrived, his existence had been markedly different from most of his people. He was an independent thinker, who did not participate thoughtlessly in some of the more ignoble aspects of Huron life. Whereas the French missionaries were often horrified at the grotesque behaviors of some whom they termed "savages" (meaning, literally, "people of the woods"), they soon came to admire Chiwatenhwa as a different sort of man. Writing of events that occurred in the Huron country in AD 1638, Father Fra├žois le Mercier offers the following summary of Chiwatenhwa's character even before the time of his baptism: 

This brave Neophyte is thirty-five years old, or thereabout, and has almost nothing of the Savage, except his birth. Now, although he is not one of the most prosperous men of this village, he belongs, nevertheless, to one of the most notable families, being the nephew of the captain of this Nation. He is a man of superior mind, not only as compared with his countrymen, but even, in our judgment, he would pass as such in France. As for his memory, we have often wondered at it, for he forgets nothing of what we teach him, and it is a satisfaction to hear him discourse upon our Holy Mysteries. 

He has been married since his youth, and has never had more than one wife,—contrary to the ordinary practice of the Savages, who are accustomed at that age to change wives at almost every season of the year. He does not gamble, not even knowing how to handle the straws, which are the cards of the country. He does not use tobacco, which is, as it were, the wine and the intoxication of the country. If he annually makes a small garden near his cabin, it is only for pastime, he says, or to give to his friends, or to buy some little conveniences for his family. He has never made use of a charm to be successful. [See Jesuit Relations, Volume 15.]

Following his baptism, Chiwatenwha and his family would be ostracized by his fellow Hurons, many of whom viewed the Jesuit Blackrobes as men of ill omen who would bring destruction upon the nation.

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This is the setting for a remarkable book for younger readers entitled: Joseph the Huron by Antoinette Bosco. I recently discovered this short work, put back into publication by Bethlehem Books in 2017, and my interest in those heady years of extreme zeal and extreme danger in the forests of 17th century North America came flooding back. Originally written in 1961, the book remains faithful to the true history as I recalled it, softening the more awful parts, but only a little. Indeed, the author included a scene that had remained in my memory from reading the Relations twenty years ago thanks to the sheer dreadfulness of it. The incident followed the capture of an Iroquois warrior who was put to a day-long torturous death by the Hurons that was the equivalent of a town-wide festival in those evil days. As the man was literally being burnt alive, bit-by-bit, the Jesuit fathers, unable to restrain the fury of the pre-Christian Hurons, were able to console the victim with the solace of Christ's suffering and the promise of eternal life. Before being literally torn apart, scalped and decapitated, the Iroquois accepted baptism, and the Jesuit father who witnessed this atrocity, remarked afterwards, "that this brave spirit is now enjoying in Heaven the freedom of the children of God, since even his enemies loudly exclaimed that there was something more than human within him."

But incidents like this form only the briefest of interludes within Joseph the Huron. Most of the book concerns the man's journey of faith, from a virtuous pagan to a wondering if impatient neophyte, and finally into a thoughtful Christian who, at times, seemed to eclipse the piety of even the saintly future martyrs who were his mentors and friends. The faith of Joseph Chiwatenwha is not that of the comfortable Christians of our own time. It is a faith constantly challenged by the omnipresent reality of struggle, hunger, disease, and death. Living during a time when Huron culture and behavior was often governed by the precise fulfillment of dreams—often quite ludicrous in nature—Joseph struggled with his own dreams, sometimes wondering whether they were tricks of the demon or visions from God. It may be remembered from a previous post that "abandoning their belief in dreams" was one of the commandments that St. Jean de Brebeuf enjoined upon the Hurons who would become Christians.

The characters of his immediate family also loom large in Joseph the Huron. In particular, the author explores Joseph's relationship with his beloved wife, Marie Aonetta, who would suffer much for her Christian faith. Similarly, the book shows the often contentious relationship between Chiwatenwha and his elder brother, Teondechoren, one of those among the Hurons who was deeply skeptical of anything have to do with Christianity. But the most vividly drawn character aside from Chiwatenwha himself is the man known as Echon—St. Jean de Brebeuf. Echon is accurately presented as Chiwatenwha's friend, teacher, spiritual father, and collaborator. 

As a novel, Joseph the Huron is a fast-paced and beautiful vignette of one man's life during a time of great strife and struggle, particularly well-suited for readers ages 12 and up. Unlike most books written for young readers, the main protagonist is not a young person but a fully grown man grappling with spiritual revelations and cultural differences. As a fully grown man myself, I enjoyed it thoroughly. By pulling the details of this saintly man's life out of the history books, the author has done the world a great favor.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

"I am tossed with the waves of this wicked world" ~ Pope Saint Gregory the Great and Christian endurance during times of worldly distress

Pope St. Gregory the Great in marble as executed by Nicholas Cordier in AD 1602.
This work resides in the Oratory of Saint Barbara which is part of the church of Saint Gregory
on the Caelian Hill in Rome. This church was built on the site of Gregory's boyhood home
and also contains a statue by the same artist of Gregory's mother, Saint Silvia

September 3 is the feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great. This most significant of popes lived during a time of societal dissolution, when the Roman Empire in the West was in its final death agony. Though the Eastern Empire had re-established dominion in Africa and Italy in the 550s AD under Justinian, the invasion of the brutal Lombards in AD 568 proved unstoppable, leaving Italy in a state of perpetual fracture and chaos that would last centuries.

Following is the opening to Gregory's work, The Dialogues. This great work was written during a period of brief respite, when Gregory had the opportunity to look back on the decades of tumult, death and destruction that he and all of Italy had managed to endure. Even over 1,400 years later, the Dialogues continue to resonate with modern readers, offering a glimpse into a period when it seemed to many that everything good in the world was going to pieces, while cruelty and brutality reigned supreme.

In the Dialogues, Gregory begins by setting a gloomy tone, lamenting that his life of spiritual contemplation had been interrupted and overwhelmed with the care of temporal affairs:

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Being upon a certain day too much over-charged with the troubles of worldly business, in which oftentimes men are enforced to do more than of duty they are bound, I retired myself into a solitary place, very fit for a sad and melancholy disposition—where each discontentment and dislike concerning such secular affairs might plainly show themselves, and all things that usually bring grief, mustered together, might freely be presented before mine eyes. In which place after that I had sat a long while, in much silence and great sorrow of soul, at length Peter, my dear son and deacon, came unto me—a man whom, from his younger years, I had always loved most entirely, and used him for my companion in the study of sacred scripture: who, seeing me drowned in such a dump of sorrow, spake unto me in this manner:

"What is the matter? Or what bad news have you heard? For certain I am, that some extraordinary sadness doth now afflict your mind."

To whom I returned this answer: "O Peter, the grief which continually 1 endure is unto me both old and new: old through common use, and new by daily increasing. For mine unhappy soul, wounded with worldly business, doth now call to mind in what state it was, when I lived in mine Abbey, and how then it was superior to all earthly matters, far above all transitory and corruptible pelf, how it did usually think upon nothing but heavenly things....For do you not behold at this present, how I am tossed with the waves of this wicked world, and see the ship of my soul beaten with the storms of a terrible tempest? and therefore, when I remember my former state of life, I cannot but sigh to look back, and cast mine eyes upon the forsaken shore.

But Gregory doesn't remain in this state of gloom, and instead suggests that Peter ask him questions. Peter gamely takes up the challenge. When Peter relates that he's never heard of anyone in Italy famous for living virtuously, Gregory sets him straight, offering a series of tales meant to demonstrate how even during times of severe tribulation, the hope of Christ shines forth through the works of the virtuous. He tells numerous stories of saints, heroes and villains from his own lifetime, the most substantial among them is the longest extant biography of the famous Saint Benedict of Nursia. 

Though occasionally considered folk-history similar to the stories in the Golden Legend, the Dialogues served a higher function than simple history—they were meant to be a spiritual exhortation to Gregory’s worn and weary countrymen. To modern readers, these tales of visions, miracles, virtue rewarded and wickedness punished paint a vivid portrait of daily life amid the wreckage of once-prosperous Roman Italy as the region lurched painfully into the so-called Dark Ages. 

Many of the stories in the Dialogues have been featured on this blog, including the following:

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The Four Things I Posted that Got Me Sent to the Digital Gulag


Just to create a public record of the absolute stupidity of the people who are moderators at F-Book—assuming they are people at all—I am going to share my history of posts over the past year that resulted in my account being restricted. 

Here's the first one, posted September 29, 2021, during the height of the COVID vaccine mandate foolishness: 


Want to know what this video is? See below. It's an undercover video from Project Veritas showing two employees from Johnson & Johnson expressing doubts about their company's vaccine. 


If anything, the supposed "false information" on this video is being provided by employees of Johnson & Johnson. So are we to assume that 60 Minutes-style undercover reporting is now considered against F-Book's community standards? Or only if they don't like what is revealed?

The next one is this, also posted on September 29, 2021:


No idea what this is about. Given the date, it may be another posting of the same video. The funny thing is -- I don't remember F-Book restricting my account on either of these occasions. They may have given me hidden demerits for my bad behavior retroactively and not informed me. 

The next one requires a little context. This was posted on October 5, 2021 in response to something I read on the Amanpour and Company F-Book page. Don't ask me what I was doing there. I'm guessing the post showed up in my feed because F-Book likes to give their favored narrative-builders additional free play. In any event, the original post was one of those disgraceful elitist feeding-frenzies from last fall calling for all sorts of exotic, unconstitutional punishments to be meted out to the most wicked pariahs among us, the vaccine hesitant—otherwise known as independent thinkers. I posted this as an absurd, sarcastic rebuttal to one of the more egregious of these comments:

 But of course, the F-Book bot-mods don't understand sarcasm. 

And apparently, they don't understand colloquial usage of certain terms between friends. Just today, I got 24 hours in the cooler for this terrifying post:

Did you catch that? Do you understand why this post violates F-Book's community standards? I had to read it through three or four times before I got it. Yes, someone (or something) at F-Book interpreted my invitation for my friend's son to come visit my boys as a terroristic threat.

If the soulless morons running Big Tech have their way, this is the world we're headed for: 

No humor allowed. 

Absolutely no sarcasm allowed. 

No unapproved opinions allowed—and we won't apologize to you if said opinions turn out to be facts later on. 

You will be told how you may use language. 

If you use unapproved words (even ones that were fine for centuries), you will be punished.

You are guilty until proven innocent. 

We will track all your sins (and anything we say is a sin, but isn't) and keep a record of them.

Your punishment starts immediately, but your appeal will be heard in 2-3 weeks. 

Maybe. 

If we feel like it. 

Probably not. 

Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Destruction of Fort Drum, the Famous Concrete Battleship of Manila Bay

Broadside view of Fort Drum guarding Manila Bay during the interwar years. 

The United States is credited with building a battleship that, to this day, is certified as completely unsinkable. It sported four 14-inch naval rifles in two turrets with impressive arcs of fire, along with a variety of smaller guns in casemates along the sides. 

Though completely unsinkable, this battleship had one major drawback — it could not move. In fact, it was fixed in place in Manila Bay in the Philippines. 

It was also made of concrete.

The name of this battleship was not New Jersey, or Missouri, or North Carolina. 

It was Fort Drum.

If you visit the Philippines today, you will find the burnt-out hulk of the unsinkable concrete battleship silently rusting away in Manila Bay. 

Fort Drum was originally the island of El Fraile, one of the smallest islands of the Philippine archipelago. Meaning “The Friar” in Spanish, the island’s peaceful moniker would become ironic when the Spanish added gun emplacements prior to the Spanish-American War. Though these weapons proved ineffective at stopping Admiral Dewey's squadron from penetrating Manila Bay on May 1 of 1898 to engage the Spanish fleet, the Americans did not forget the strategic placement of El Fraile once they had taken the Philippine archipelago for themselves.

Beginning in 1909, the US flattened the craggy heights of El Fraile and completely reconstructed the small island using steel and concrete. They reshaped the island completely until it resembled the oblong shape of a ship’s hull. At 350 feet wide and 144 feet at the beam, Fort Drum had the rough dimensions of a battleship of the time. The addition of two main gun turrets, casemated secondary armament and a lattice-work mast and spotting top completed the illusion.

Bow view of Fort Drum's cage-style mast and "B" turret, compared with
that of its rough contemporary, the battleship USS Delaware.

When the Japanese invaded the Philippines in late 1941, Fort Drum proved a thorn in the invaders' side, firing effectively on troop transports attempting to land on Corregidor. When defeat became inevitable, Fort Drum was the last American outpost in the Philippines to surrender. Before departing, however, the Americans spiked the fort's main guns, leaving them inoperable.

The situation was turned on its head in April of 1945 when Fort Drum became one of the last outposts held by the Japanese in Manila Bay. But much like their fanatical late-war defense of such island fortresses as Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the Japanese defenders of Fort Drum refused to surrender. What happened next forms one of the most memorable vignettes from Phillip Campbell's new text for young readers, The Story of the Philippines: God's Rampart in Asia:

While American soldiers were already overrunning Manila, the concrete fortress of Fort Drum defied all U.S. attempts at taking it. U.S. army Lieutenant Miles Schafer and Captain Benny Biancho of the 38th Infantry Regiment scratched their heads.

“It’s like a concrete battleship,” said Lieutenant Schafer.

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“Correction, it is a concrete battleship—with four massive 14-inch guns in two turrets,” responded Captain Biancho.

“Poor fellas don’t realize the battle is already lost for them,” said

Schafer, shaking his head. “If only they’d just surrender.”

Rata-tat. Rata-tata!

Machine-gun fire erupted from Fort Drum. Schafer and Biancho took cover. The bullets sailed harmlessly overhead and plinked into the water.

“The Japs won’t surrender. For them, it’s a matter of honor. They would rather die,” said Biancho. “We’re going to have to force them out somehow. It’s gonna be tough because that entire island is one concrete block.

“We’ve come up with a solution for that,” chimed in a third man. It was Major General William Chase, commander of the 38th Infantry Division. Schafer and Biancho stood at attention. “At ease men,” said the Major General. “The top brass has a plan for breaking the Japs out of Fort Drum. We tried it at Fort Hughes back in March and it worked like a charm. It’s a doozey, but it sure does the trick.”

“We’re all ears, sir,” said Biancho.

Rata-tata! Another volley of machine-gun fire exploded from Fort Drum. The three men huddled and listened to General Chase’s plan, struggling to hear over the mortar rounds that also flew out of the embattled fort.

The next day everything was in position to carry out the plan. A landing ship medium—a type of troop transport ship used for amphibious landings—moved into position near Fort Drum. It had been modified with a large bridge structure. On board were Captain Biancho, Lieutenant Schafer, and a hundred men of the 38th. When the ship got close enough, Biancho called out, “Lower bridge!”

“Lower bridge!” Schafer echoed. A team of men scrambled into action, working pulleys and cranks to lower the bridge. It landed on the concrete deck of Fort Drum with a heavy thud. Another team of several dozen men stormed across the bridge and on to the deck. The huge 14-inch cannons of Fort Drum had been spiked and rendered useless by the Americans when they surrendered in 1942, but the men were wary of a suicidal ambush by the Japanese defenders using small arms and grenades. However, the Japanese had retreated into the assumed security of the fort’s lower decks, waiting to attack the Americans when they attempted to enter.

“The deck is secure, sir!” called Lieutenant Schafer.

“Excellent!” cried Biancho from the landing ship. Then, turning to his crew: “Fuel team, move!” Another team of soldiers came running from the ship to the bridge, dragging a large, long hose. The hose was connected to a tank on board the landing ship that was filled with 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel mixed with gasoline.

“Find the air vents!” ordered Schafer. The first team had already located the air vents, the small two square-foot openings atop the deck that provided access to the interior of the fort. The soldiers broke the vent coverings off the opening while the fuel team shoved the hose into the duct. The hose being in place, the team leader gave a thumbs up. Schafer saw the thumbs up and gave a thumbs up to Biancho. Biancho nodded, and turning to one of his officers on the Landing Ship, gave him the signal to turn on the pump. The man cranked a large wheel, opening the valves of the tank and sending gallons of the diesel fuel through the hose.

The hose began belching out hundreds of gallons of fuel down into the darkness of the ventilation duct. Within a few moments the fuel team could hear the panicked cries of the Japanese soldiers within echoing up the duct. They must have realized what was about to happen when they saw their command station being flooded with fuel. The U.S. soldiers did not waver though—they stood stoically atop the deck, holding the hose firm until all 2,500 gallons had been evacuated into the vent.

“Clear deck!” shouted Lieutenant Schafer. In an instant, all the soldiers upon the deck of Fort Drum retreated back across the bridge onto the landing ship. Lieutenant Schafer was the last man to leave the deck. In his hands he dragged a massive wooden spool threaded with copper wire. As he retreated, he unwound the spool. The wire was connected to a timed detonator that had been lowered down the ventilation shaft. He hopped back into the landing ship.

“How much wire do you have left?” said Biancho.

“I’d say 400 yards,” replied Schafer. Captain Biancho nodded. “Move us out about 400 yards!” he called to the ship pilot. When the ship had moved off 400 yards, the spool was almost completely unwound. A pair of soldiers took the wire from the spool and fused it into a detonator, a metallic black box with an ominous red button. It only took a moment to splice the wire into the detonator.

Schafer handed Captain Biancho the box. “Care to do the honors?” he said to the captain.

Biancho took the box. “Here’s a present from Uncle Sam!” he yelled towards Fort Drum. Then he pressed the red button with his thumb.

Fort Drum rumbled and exploded in a blast of destruction that shocked even Biancho and Schafer. The concrete deck of the fortress fragmented into thousands of pieces and was flung hundreds of feet into the air by the force of the explosion. Smoke and flame engulfed the entire concrete island.

Footage of Fort Drum exploding, April 13, 1945.

“Cover!” shouted Schafer. The men on the landing ship covered their heads. Moments later a shower of dirt and pebbles rained down upon them. Fortunately, the heavier pieces of concrete had not fallen so far out, or the landing ship could have been severely damaged.

The men uncovered their heads and looked at the hell they had made of Fort Drum: wreathed in flame, smoke pouring from every opening, the 14-inch gun turrets charred and useless, metal glowing orange, crumbling pieces of concrete deck falling into the orange inferno that had once been the command station.

Captain Biancho grinned. “Schafer, send a message to Major General Chase. Tell him Fort Drum has fallen. Manila is ours.”

* * *

The destruction of Fort Drum was total. Every single one of the sixty-eight Japanese soldiers inside was killed, obliterated in the explosion.

The capture of Fort Drum marked the end of major U.S. operations in Manila, although the city was not completely cleared of Japanese troops until early March. The invasion of Luzon was the largest American operation in the Pacific War, involving more U.S. troops than had fought in North Africa, France, or Italy.

If you enjoyed this vignette, check out Phillip Campbell's The Story of the Philippines: God's Rampart in Asia. While the book is an outstanding introduction for young readers (ages 12-18) to the history of the Philippine archipelago from earliest times right up through the the 2020s, even an old guy like me learned a tremendous amount reading it!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Speaking Boldly of the Past ~ Phillip Campbell's Power from On High: Theocratic Kingship from Constantine to the Reformation


As an aficionado of Phillip Campbell’s books for younger readers (The Story of Civilization, The Story of the Philippines, etc.), I am used to his more informal, witty, slightly chatty style, interspersed with sometimes comical vignettes. Power from On High: Theocratic Kingship from Constantine to the Reformation is a very different type of book. It is a more scholarly tome exploring the evolution of the role of Christian monarch from its inception during the later Roman Empire through a millennium of the Middle Ages until the retirement of Emperor Charles V in AD 1556.

Given the renewed interest in Christian monarchy among some in traditional Catholic circles, this is a timely study. Reading Power from On High reminded me somewhat of Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy in that it is an attempt by a contemporary scholar to ponder antique forms of government. Of course, Machiavelli was attempting to inform and influence the political thought of his own day with examples from antiquity. Though Campbell is attempting nothing so overt with this work, it is interesting to note that he begins his preface with an example of how modern politicians utilize propaganda to project an image of themselves for public consumption. Just so, Campbell argues, did the Christian kings of the Medieval period advertise their allegiance to the Catholic Church as a means of legitimizing their rule.

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Power from on High is a deep, insightful and thought-provoking book which should be read by anyone with an interest in political history, the political present, or the political future. We live in an era which I suspect future historians will refer to as the twilight of the Democratic age—when the great liberal democracies of Europe and the Americas grew hoary, bloated, arthritic and corrupt to the core, leaving their citizens frustrated, disillusioned and oppressed. In such a context, it is well to think about what came before so that we may begin thinking in terms of what may follow.

Of course, the piece of this book that I found the most fascinating was the first third or so which dealt with the emergence of Christian kingship. This section begins with pre-Christian concepts of kingship and how these merged with and mutated Greco-Roman democratic and republican ideals, culminating with the emergence of the Roman dominate monarchy of Diocletian and Constantine. Campbell doesn't quite get down to the granular level of Elizabeth Digeser in her outstanding work, The Making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius and Rome. What this section does do very effectively is set the stage for the core of the book which covers Medieval kingship.

I particularly enjoyed the segment on parrhesia which, I am embarrassed to say, is a term had not encountered before. Derived from ancient Greek, parrhesia refers to "freedom of speech," or more precisely, the ability to speak the truth to power boldly. The word is used to describe how Jesus spoke to the Pharisees as well as how Peter and John would later address the council of princes, priests and scribes in Jerusalem in Acts of the Apostles. Campbell provides several noteworthy examples of parrhesia among Christian religious leaders who had the audacity to confront and even rebuke Christian political figures. Saint Athanasisus is shown confronting Constantine the Great regarding false accusations made against him in a way that would have been unthinkable for any common citizen. Examples of of Saint Ambrose doing the same with Theodosius I are also offered. 

The only passage in this section that could have used a bit more elucidation was an anecdote in which the same Saint Ambrose boldly confronted the usurper, Eugenius, in a letter explaining why the former had failed to meet the latter in Milan. In this circumstance, it was most likely not a Christian bishop reproving a Christian emperor. Eugenius had taken the throne through the machinations of the Frankish general, Arbogast, and it was widely believed that Arbogast had arranged the murder of the rightful Western emperor, Valentinian II. Worse, Eugenius was viewed as potentially being a second Julian the Apostate, having removed the Christian courtiers of Valentinian II and replaced them with pagans, and restored the pagan Altar of Victory to the Senate House in Rome. Christian historians of the era considered Eugenius a lukewarm Christian at best, a "sacrilegious man" at worst. Ambrose's letter of rebuke was probably meant for public consumption as a stroke against Eugenius to weaken the resolve of his Christian Roman followers. The great saint likely had little hope that Eugenius would have his very unchristian behavior curbed by bold remonstrance. Indeed, Eugenius's ally, Arbogast, is said to have quipped upon leaving Milan that when he and Eugenius returned victorious, they would make a stable in the basilica of the church of Milan and would review the clergy under arms. Fortunately for Ambrose and the Christian Empire, Eugenius and Arbogast were defeated by Theodosius at the Battle of the Frigidus River

Returning to Power from On High, the majority of the book covers in some detail the Medieval ideal of kingship and the frequent squabbles between kings and princes on one side, and popes and bishops on the other, to define the boundaries between ecclesiastical and temporal authority. Campbell's discussions of the ebb and flow of this battle over the course of centuries—from Charlemagne the Great, the archetypal Christian Emperor crowned by the Pope in Rome, to Otto the Great who deposed two popes and imposed one of his own. Though my knowledge of the history of this era is pretty shallow, I enjoyed learning about the various conflicts and how they impacted political and religious events downstream from them.

The centerpiece of the book is the chapter on the Investiture Controversy. For me, the Investiture Controversy was one of those items in a history textbook that I knew were important, but for what reason, I could not say. This chapter helped put the controversy into sharper focus. I had not appreciated that medieval Christian kingship was often thought of as a type of priesthood by virtue of the anointing that the king commonly received upon taking the throne. This priesthood, at least at first, was thought to encompass only the priest's function as preacher. Later, this sacred function would extend to the Christian monarch's supposed prerogative to create bishops in his own realm. It was over this function that the Investiture Controversy would be fought. Campbell does a nice job putting the controversy into its historical context, explaining why investiture was such a furiously contentious issue, especially in Germany, during the high Middle Ages.

For those who are troubled by how the Church functions in our own time and who are at a loss to understand how and why certain men get appointed bishop and others who are seemingly more worthy are neglected, this look at history is enlightening. It gives modern readers a sense of what the modern Church has lost since the abolition of Christian monarchs in the early 20th century. With a secular state that is often hostile to Christianity ruling all formerly Christian nations, the Church is always forced into a defensive posture. We end up in a situation like Saint Ambrose as he rebuked the semi-pagan Eugenius, striving to jog his nominally Christian conscience with little hope of success. But, sadly, very few of our modern bishops have the divinely-inspired courage of Ambrose. 

To conclude, if you are a modern Catholic who is curious about how Christian kings once interacted with the Church, you should read Phillip Campbell's Power from On High. If you are a curious reader looking for insight into intractable modern political dilemmas, you should read this book. If you are an informed general reader seeking to learn about the political history of the Christian West, you should read this book. And finally, if you are a traditional Catholic who yearns for the re-establishment of Christian monarchies, you should read this book.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Telling the Story of the Philippines ~ Eastern History for the Catholic Student


A unique new book is about to release this month: Phillip Campbell's Story of the Philippines: God's Rampart in Asia.

If you are a Catholic homeschooling family like we are, you probably know Mr. Campbell's work quite well. Beyond his numerous student-friendly classes at Homeschool Connections, he is also the author of the very popular Story of Civilization series published by TAN. If you are not familiar with these excellent books and their associated resources, and you have kids ages 8-18, check them out. Our kids have read and re-read the books, and the audio books have accompanied us on many a long car ride.

In The Story of the Philippines, Campbell once again employs the formula he used so effectively in The Story of Civilization, combining straight-up history with clever and often amusing vignettes. The vignettes help bring the history to life, allowing the reader to witness events through the eyes of those who experienced them, whether Butuanese ambassadors to the court of Song Dynasty China, merchants from the kingdom of Tondo attacked by Japanese pirates, or Moro rebels deciding whether or not to make peace with the Spaniards. We even get a glimpse of the Battle of Manila Bay through the eyes of our old friend, John B. Tisdale

In one of my favorite vignettes from the book, we meet one of the first native Filipino saints, Pedro Calungsod, and Blessed Father San Vitores who were missionaries among the Chomorro people of Guam in the 1660s. With permission from the publisher, I offer this vignette below to give you a sense of how good this book is. Enjoy!

Taken from: The Story of the Philippines: God's Rampart in Asia, by Phillip Campbell, Chapter 15:

The lay catechist Pedro Calungsod and the Jesuit Father Diego Luis de San Vitores were walking up the road from the village of Tumon. After baptizing Mata’pang’s daughter, the two men had spent a good part of the day speaking with the Chamorro villagers and teaching the boys of the village to use the Rosary. The prayer beads of the missionaries were particularly popular among the Chamorro. The two exhausted men trudged up the dusty road wearily. They were looking forward to returning to their mission, but Pedro was a bit worried. 
    “Those medicine men did not look very happy to see us,” said Pedro. “Do you suppose they will give us any trouble when Mata’pang returns?” 
    “It’s hard to say,” said Father San Vitores. “I know they are threatened by us, but I don’t think they mean us any harm. So far the people here have given us a warm welcome.” 
    “True, but have you heard the rumors this Choco fellow is spreading?” said Pedro with a look of concern. 
    Father San Vitores nodded. “I have indeed. He is trying to make the people doubt the sacraments. Make them afraid of us.” 
    Some distance behind the men, towards the village, there was a great rustling noise. 
    “What is that sound, Father?” said Pedro, turning back. He squinted, looking back down the road towards the village, sheltering his eyes from the setting sun with his hand. “It sounds like a celebration.” 
    “Not a celebration, my son,” said Father San Vitores. “It’s an angry mob.” 
    Indeed, moments later a mob of Chamorro from the village came running up the road and overtook the two men. At their head was Mata’pang, their powerful chieftain. He was shirtless, as most of the Chamorro went about. His face was red, the veins on the side of his head bulging. In his hand he clutched several spears. Several macanjas flanked Mata’pang, shouting with their faces contorted in anger. 
    “This looks bad, Father!” exclaimed Pedro. 
    “Stand steadfast, Pedro,” said Father San Vitores. “The peace of Christ will strengthen us.” 
St. Pedro Calungsod and
Bl. Diego Luis de San Vitores
from The Story of the Philippines
    “You, priest!” Mata’pang shouted as he approached the men. Father San Vitores stepped forward calmly to try to reason with Mata’pang. He held out a large crucifix in a gesture of blessing. “Mata’pang, peace be with you. Tell me, why have you—” but Mata’pang was in no mood to talk. As soon as he was close enough, he lifted one of the spears and hurled it at the priest. Father San Vitores ducked quickly and the spear passed over him. Mata’pang then threw one at Pedro. A young, athletic man, Pedro was easily able to dodge the cast. 
    “Run, Pedro!” called out Father San Vitores. 
    “I will not abandon you, father!” Pedro yelled, stepping forward to protect the priest. At that moment Mata’pang cast another spear. This one struck Pedro squarely in the chest. He fell to the ground, clutching his bleeding breast with the spear still protruding. “Christ, save me!” he called out as he tumbled into the dust. 
    Immediately one of the Chamorro who was with Mata’pang fell upon Pedro and struck his head with a machete, splitting his skull. Pedro groaned. “My son!” Father San Vitores called out. The priest knelt beside Pedro and absolved him quickly before the young man’s eyes rolled up into his head. “May Christ receive your soul!” he murmured, holding the crucifix before the eyes of his dying companion. 
    Almost as soon as he did, the priest felt a searing pain in his gut. He looked down and saw a bloody spearhead protruding from his belly. Did that come out of me? He thought to himself in shock. He reached around behind himself. His fingers touched the solid wooden shaft protruding from his back. The blood ran down the tip of the spearhead and dripped into the dust. Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit, he prayed silently before collapsing.
Following the vignette is a brief note describing what happened next:
Mata’pang and his men stripped the bodies of the two men, tied heavy stones to their feet, and sank them in the ocean. Then Mata’pang took the crucifix of Father San Vitores and smashed it with a rock while blaspheming God. Pedro Calungsod and Father Diego Luis de San Vitores would both be revered as martyrs. Pedro was canonized in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI and is now honored as a saint. His feast day is April 2. Father San Vitores was beatified in 1985 by John Paul II.
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While the book is definitely written for a younger audience, I freely admit that I learned a tremendous amount from reading it. My own very expensive education in the 1970s through 1990s contained almost nothing about the history of the East in general or the Philippines in particular. One of the prime virtues of this book is that it does a great job placing the story of the Philippines within the context of world history, as players from Brunei, China, Japan, Spain, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States all show up as characters in the Story.

For Americans of Filipino heritage, this book will provide a great introduction to the land of their heritage that they are unlikely to encounter in US public or even Catholic schools. If you are an American with Filipino family members (as many of us are), this book will give you insights into the fascinating cultural background of your aunts, uncles and cousins. Finally, if you are an American Catholic who knows many Filipino-Americans from church—and really, who doesn't?—won't they be surprised when you start asking them about Lapu Lapu, or La Naval de Manila, or the People Power Revolution, or the Bojinka Plot?

To find out more about The Story of the Philippines: God's Rampart in Asia by Phillip Campbell, or to order a copy of your own, visit the Arx Publishing website.