Forty years ago Paul VI was in the final stages of developing his revolutionary "New Mass" to be forever lamented as the Novus Ordo Missae. Unsuspecting souls the world over had no idea, but several leaks from Curia personnel and others had predicted such. Many stated unequivocally that hell would freeze over before Rome would abandon the Latin tongue in her liturgy and Divine Office. Alas, we know the former has not happened, but we do know sadly that the latter has. The results have been devastating.
As we commemorate during Advent the four thousand years in waiting for the promised Messiah Jesus Christ, the number four takes on more significance because for four hundred years the Spanish King Philip II had been badly maligned by revisionist historians, greatly prejudiced by Protestant accounts. I have been reading of late the excellent book Philip II by William Thomas Walsh from TAN Books. I recommend it highly. This book fills the gap in all the revisionist history taught to us. The TAN description says it all, "This
book covers the birth of Protestantism and the secret efforts to undermine Catholic unity, the Huguenot wars in France, the Sack of Rome, Great Siege, Battle of Lepanto, Spanish Armada, Council of Trent, etc.; and, King Charles V, (Carlos V), Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I, St. Pius V, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola," as they relate in the life of Philip II. "It reads fast; never bogs down. Probably the greatest historical biography ever!"
The sixteenth century was indeed a turbulent time with many sorrows and many triumphs. This particular event I want to share is one of those triumphs, a miraculous one at that which few have ever heard of. This period of history has been greatly misrepresented by those who would rather eliminate the Catholic influence in the 1500's, which turned out to be one of the most volatile in Church history. It began and ended with the Protestant Reformation. That's a mild term. In reality it was a Revolution, a bloody Rebellion. You won't hear that in today's politically correct world for history has been greatly twisted by the revisionists. The truth of the matter is that God the Father did not and could not favor those who had bolted from the Faith established by His only-begotten Son fifteen hundred years prior to Luther's defiance. Thus you will not read of "miracles" in non-Catholic annals. But in Catholic chronicles there are many. The following then is just one of those miracles, and one that preserved the Faith for Spain.
With the onslaught on the Catholic Church in full swing Protestant Armies were outfitted and supported by people such as William of Orange with the aid of Elizabeth I of England, Cecil, and other disaffected non-Christian financiers. Many churches and tabernacles had been desecrated. Henry VIII had some forty years prior declared the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Henry's second oldest daughter Elizabeth, albeit illegitimate by Anne Bolynn, had been more barbaric against Catholics than her father. Many of the Holy relics had been defiled. Committed Catholics throughout
the British Isles and Northern Europe were scurrying for cover, driven into the catacombs to avoid persecution and execution.
Despite the fact Don Juan of Austria's Catholic troops had defeated the Turks on the Bay of Lepanto fourteen years earlier, the Catholic troops had been depleted. The dogmatic decrees of the Council of Trent, while great in the eyes of traditional Catholics today, took time to be disseminated for communications at that time...well, there was no mailman, no internet, no phones, no Pony Express. Therefore not all knew of the counter-reformation, nor were those who heard bits and pieces initially that receptive. This makes sense considering the messengers would, at times, compromise the message. Often times the Protestants would have great anger with Rome and would do all in their power to sabotage efforts to spread the message, let alone the Faith.
The devout Catholic King Philip II of Spain had sent his armies north to the Netherlands to protect his estates and more importantly to safeguard Catholicism at the crossroads of heresies between Germany and England. He had selected the noble forty-year old Alexander Farnese, who was the Duke of Parma, to commandeer a platoon of the Spanish Army in the Netherlands. Farnese had fought valiantly aside Don Juan at Lepanto and for his efforts in succeeding successful theaters of battle, had been rewarded the governorship of the southern part of the Netherlands in 1577. Through his efforts Spain established a substantial existence north of Calais.
Pope Pius had passed a year after Lepanto and his successor Pope Gregory VIII had updated the calendar to bring the lunar cycles into harmony with the days. Lopping off fourteen days, the new Gregorian Calendar was introduced. In April of the same year that Philip's Army was scurrying to build the fortress in Bomel, Gregory died. It would take months for word to reach Fernase and the troops of that as well as Gregory's successor, the Roman Pope Sixtus V, the third Franciscan to be elevated to the Throne of Peter. But the Roman Pontiffs could not help Philip for they were embroiled in their own skirmishes in Italy and France, and elsewhere. On the eastern front, though the Saracens had been turned back, they were still a threat. Philip's men were on their own. On the northern and western fronts, the Protestant armies were a formidable foe. They were bloodthirsty in their hatred for the Papists and would go to any lengths to bring the Roman Faith down.
Realizing the dangers, Philip's strategy following his Army's success at Antwerp, was to order the Duke of Parma to command a multitude of his troops to garrison on Bomel in the southernly peninsula of the Netherlands, stretching northwest into the North Sea. The Catholic Army believed that Bomel was safe and by commandeering this position they could have available access to both land and sea. Thus they began building a fort to protect themselves from possible attack from the Protestants, especially during the winter months.
Though the Spanish garrison thought they were secure, the Dutch Protestant Naval forces, who were much more familiar with the terrain of the country, had a plan to destroy the Christian army. With the help of the English Navy they had confounded the larger Spanish Armada ships. The former were lighter and faster. They could maneuver in shallow waters whereas Philip's Navy needed deeper waters to navigate more smoothly. The English used every tactic in trying to defeat the mighty Spanish Armada. They would cram their ships with gunpowder and, in kamikaze fashion, ram the ships into the mightier galleons of Spain. Soon the Spanish galleys would be ablaze. Such were the no-holds barred rules of the sea in the 1580's. Through the efforts of Sir Francis Drake they would effect the decline of the once mighty Spanish Armada and the rise of English supremacy on the seven seas. The tactics used by the Brits would influence the increase of piracy on the high seas. But back to Bomel.
Owing to the Netherlands' reliance on dykes to keep water out of their fertile farm lands, the areas around Bomel had been drained of water. It turned out that the land the Spaniards thought was safe was actually below sea level.
As the Autumn turned, the Calvinists plotted a plan to destroy the dykes and flood out the Spanish Army. Once the dykes were destroyed the Calvinist Navy would wait in anxious anticipation for the water to rise and engulf the unsuspecting Catholic troops. Anxiously they would await the glorious drowning of the majority trapped in the Bomel fortress. Those who were not swallowed up would be annihilated once the Protestant fleets sailed in. They planned on beheading many Catholics, a custom carried on for centuries by victors in brandishing the heads on pikes to intimidate the captured citizenry of their supremacy. A victory over the Catholics would solidify this.
As the winter solstice neared, the Calvinists held true to their treachery. The dykes were bludgeoned with gaping holes and the water flowed forth, inundating everything in its path. Soon the sea was surging, overlapping the land. That night, as the water rose the once dry terrain around Bomel became the Island of Bomel. The Catholics had become completely surrounded by water. The Spanish had no means of escape, no means of re-supply of food, water, arms or reinforcements. No communications.
Hope seemed lost. What would they do? When push comes to shove Catholics always have an answer: Prayer! Thus the entire Spanish Army, in this time of peril, knelt down and gave thanks to our Lord and besought protection from our Lady of Victory. Confidently they prayed for their Catholic heritage was built on crisis after crisis in turning the Spanish Kingdom into a thriving Catholic culture because Spaniards had cherished and preserved the true Faith of Jesus Christ and the holy sacraments.
No pain, no gain. Now the Spanish army was feeling the pain of the inevitable. There is the familiar lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of how one prays governs the law of how one believes. For the Spanish that was a given. Now they relied on lex credendi, lex orandi: The law of how you believe will show in how you pray. The Spanish believed and they prayed! Oh, did they pray!!! To a man the entire Spanish Army dropped to their knees in imploring our Lady of Victory to intercede before the God above and preserve them from certain death. The roaring sea grew louder, more menacing as it heaved and swelled, surging closer to where they were assembled in prayer. Shivering to the bone, but warmed by faith they knelt en masse as the rushing waters edged closer.
Off shore, tossing in the waves, the Calvinist galleons waited for the signal to move in. Shrieks of impatience flooded the decks. Those shrieks turned to shock as suddenly the waves began to slow, the sound of the swells grew dimmer, and then, as if in a whisper no longer could anyone hear the waves. The water no longer moved, paralyzed as if in suspended animation.
The sound of silence alerted Philip's men. The grateful, astonished Spanish troops rose to their feet, knowing that this was truly the miracle God had wrought. Like parting the Red Sea, He had not forsaken His children in their time of peril. Their prayers had been answered. Deo gratias. Then and there, in great joy and relief, the Catholic Army raised a Te Deum and a Vivo Christo Rey for their deliverance from certain death: Miraculously, the roaring sea had frozen solid! It was indeed a miracle on ice.
It was a far different emotion felt by the Protestant Navy anchored off shore. Disappointment soon turned to terror as the Calvinist's desperately rowed, trying to steer their frigates away from the ice as sharp shards of ice began crystalizing the hulls. Retreat! They had to navigate out to sea, away from their intended target. For this night, their appointed destiny was no longer slaying Catholics but survival of their very lives. Most managed to sail as far away as they could to where the ice finally had broken up well out of range of Philip's Army.
The sight of the heretics fleeing rejuvenated the Spanish garrisons. Our Lady had heard the pleas of her Christian soldiers. The ice held firm long enough for the entire Spanish Army to cross the sea on foot to dry land! They would live to fight another day.
What day was this, you ask? December 7, 1585, the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception.
Do you think that once the Catholic troops had crossed to safety that they didn't celebrate her Solemnity the next day with festive joy and reverent gratitude with Holy Mass? Can hell freeze over? No, but the North Sea surely did a little over 422 years ago. As noted earlier, you won't read about this historical event in secular journals or books. You may not hear of it in the Novus Ordo circles, but to traditional Catholics we will always remember how faith and prayer convinced our Lady of Victory to intercede in an encore to Lepanto with her wonderful miracle on ice!