Category Archives: History

Interview 024 – Constantine Molitor on the Persecution of the Church in Germany under the Third Reich

Download [Right Click]          Play in New Window

Priests lined up in Dachau, with the triangle denoting they are clergy.

Priests lined up in Dachau, with the triangle denoting they are clergy.

Today we are joined from Germany by Constantine Mollitor who gives the real story of the persecution of the Catholic Church by the Third Reich. In great detail, Constantine dispels the myth of “Hitler’s Pope” and other assorted nonsense with the real details of the Church’s resistance to, as well as persecution by the Nazi regime. Apart from the political and historical details of how the Nazi state broke up Catholic life in Germany, Constantine also shares the many stories of German priests sent to Dachau or other labor camps for upholding the Catholic Faith.

If you like this or any of our podcasts, interviews, etc., which are provided for free, please consider donating as little as a $1. God bless you. paypal_btn_donateCC_LG


The Kings Depart: The Tragedy of Germany, Versailles and the German Revolution
Hitler’s War by David Irving (NB: Constantine did not recommend this book, but I did because of its erudition. You can ignore that Irving is a famous holocaust denier [though he was walked some of that back], because none of that is taken up in the book which was written before he went down that path and is only based on primary sources).
The Myth of Hitler’s Pope by Rabbi David Dahlan
Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau

German Books:

Kreuz und Hakenkreuz by Fr. Neuhaeusler
Erich Klausner (by Walter Adolph)
Geheime Aufzeichnungen (by Walter Adolph)


NB: Some links are to wikipedia, which is provided as a basis for research and acquiring more info, not as an end all and be all source of information, usually because it was one of the only pages available in English.
Jewish Groups oppose the Beatification and Canonization of Pius XII
860,000 Jews saved by Pius XII
Rosa Luxemburg
Karl Liebknecht
Bolshevik takeover
Dietrich Eckart – Thule Society
Munich Putsch, 9 November 1923/ Beer Hall Putsch
Quote from Mit Brennender Sorge:
“When, in 1933, We consented, Venerable Brethren, to open negotiations for a concordat, which the Reich Government proposed on the basis of a scheme of several years’ standing; and when, to your unanimous satisfaction, We concluded the negotiations by a solemn treaty, We were prompted by the desire, as it behooved Us, to secure for Germany the freedom of the Church’s beneficent mission and the salvation of the souls in her care, as well as by the sincere wish to render the German people a service essential for its peaceful development and prosperity. Hence, despite many and grave misgivings, We then decided not to withhold Our consent for We wished to spare the Faithful of Germany, as far as it was humanly possible, the trials and difficulties they would have had to face, given the circumstances, had the negotiations fallen through. It was by acts that We wished to make it plain, Christ’s interests being Our sole object, that the pacific and maternal hand of the Church would be extended to anyone who did not actually refuse it.
If, then, the tree of peace, which we planted on German soil with the purest intention, has not brought forth the fruit, which in the interest of your people, We had fondly hoped, no one in the world who has eyes to see and ears to hear will be able to lay the blame on the Church and on her Head. The experiences of these last years have fixed responsibilities and laid bare intrigues, which from the outset only aimed at a war of extermination. In the furrows, where We tried to sow the seed of a sincere peace, other men — the “enemy” of Holy Scripture — oversowed the cockle of distrust, unrest, hatred, defamation, of a determined hostility overt or veiled, fed from many sources and wielding many tools, against Christ and His Church. They, and they alone with their accomplices, silent or vociferous, are today responsible, should the storm of religious war, instead of the rainbow of peace, blacken the German skies.” nos. 3-4

Cardinal Schulte, Bishop Klein, Archbishop Bertram condemned Nazi brutality in 1933
Cardinal Bertram (German, but readable with Google Translate)
Cardinal Faulhalber Archbishop of Munich-Freising, asked Hitler to release political prisoners in Dachau.
Catholic priests in Dachau.
SS members required to defend their honor in a duel
Nazi harassment of the Church: forbidding sermons, restricting processions, restriction of Masses
Anti-Catholic propaganda in SS Weekly newspaper Das Schwarze Korps
Der Stürmer, published by Julius Streicher.

Alleged alliance of Jews, Jesuits and Freemasons
Nazicartoons copy

Anti-Pacelli (Pius XII) political cartoons

Push for pan-denominational secular schools by the Nazis
Nazis eliminated Catholic schools by decree
Expropriations of Religious Houses
Nazi destruction of the Catholic press in Germany
Mitt Brennender Sorge
Nazi reaction to the encyclical
Maronite Catholic filmmaker jailed for making movie critical of Islam (in the US)
Nazis always hostile to Cardinal Pacelli
Praise for Pius XII by Jewish groups immediately following his election
Dutch Bishops condemned persecution of the Jews in Holland, and Nazis responded by deporting more Jews as well as Catholics of Jewish decent.
SS paratroopers planned to kidnap Pius XII in 1945.
Erich Klausner, killed for being a political Catholic
Blessed Jakob Gapp, Priest tricked by Nazis pretending to be Jews in need sent to concentration camp
Fr. Neururer martyr for marriage; warned a woman from marrying a local Nazi boss in Tyrol because he was divorced with no annulment. Died at Buchenwald: German; English
Fr. Häfner priest in Bavaria, made a Nazi party member publicly condemn his own divorce
Ordination of Blessed Karl Leisner in Dachau.
Carmelite convent removed from Auschwitz after protest from Israel
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Bl. Titus Brandsma (pg. 3 of the document)
Other Jewish-Catholic Martyrs of the concentration camps
Beatified martyrs of the Communist persecution in Spain (in Spanish)
Lubeck Martyrs (Lutheran pastor was not beatified).
St. Maximillian Kolbe
St. Maximillian Kolbe accused of Anti-semitism for preaching Catholic teaching on Jewish conversion
The Play the “Deputy” shaped the negative perception of Pius XII, supported by the Soviets.

Review: The Rending of Christendom from Cruachan Hill Press

Presbyterians reject the book of Common Prayer in the Kirk, 1636

Presbyterians reject the book of Common Prayer in the Kirk, 1636

What is History? This is actually a more difficult and debated question than it would first seem. To the average mind, particularly having gone through public education, history is what the textbook said and what the teacher tested me on. Boring dates and battles memorized by rote or movies we watched while the teacher was busy. The more banal rendering would be these guys did this to those guys.

In reality history is much more than this. History relies on collecting written documents, archeology, use and nuance of language, art and poetry and weaving it into a narrative of a given people or culture. But how do we know that? For example, have you ever stopped and asked: “How do we know what we’re told about ‘x’ is true?” This is a far more complicated question. When you look at an artist’s conception of what Ancient Rome looked like, how do you know it really looked this way? While it might not be hard to figure out what the Flavian Ampitheatre (Coliseum) looked like, what about a street model or plan of Ancient Rome? In reality these are guesses based on archeology or what few monuments survive form the period. In the end we don’t really know that. So what can we know about history?

Continue reading

St. John Fisher: Resistance to Tyranny

St.JohnFisher2Today is the feast of the twin martyrs, St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More. There are books yet to be written on both, for all that have been written, but since so many more have been written on the latter I wish to write more on the former.

Now, in the first place, Fisher was a far greater theologian than St. Thomas More, who was a rhetorician and a lawyer, though no less devout a layman than Fisher was a bishop. Fisher established the seminary system in all but name, and made sure good preaching was the norm. This is rather an interesting thing.  In the late Renaissance, patronage, which was designed to move ahead those who were worthy had become instead a way of rewarding friends and picking favorites. Men became pastors and bishops solely due to royal favor, and the Popes tended not to care because they received the first year’s income of that diocese, a sort of Church tax called the Annates. Suffice it to say the whole thing had gone very wrong in the fifteenth century, and now preaching was a rarity. Some Bishops did not preach a sermon in their lives. Many bishops lived elsewhere, and would attempt to have other dioceses consecrated under them, or when those had been exhausted abbeys, so they could live it up in Paris or Rome or some other large city, and appoint a vicar for low pay to administer his diocese. These often did not do so well, particularly since they were not paid for the job. At the time St. Charles Borromeo entered Milan as its Archbishop, there had not been a Bishop who actually resided in Milan for 125 years! Yet that holy reforming bishop had a portrait of two saints in his room, one of St. Ambrose, and the other of St. John Fisher.

Continue reading

The Glory of St. Patrick and the Tragedy of Ireland

The 17th of March as most know is the feast of St. Patrick in the Catholic Church. The story is well known, that Patrick was a Roman in Britain, who did not take the faith seriously and dabbled in various adventures, which led to him being caught by slave traders and sold into slavery in Ireland. He became more devout, went back to England persevered in the faith and was made a Bishop. From there he returned to Ireland and evangelized the whole of the emerald isle. Dom Prosper Guéranger has this to say about St. Patrick:

There are some who have been entrusted with a small tract of the Gentile world; they had to sow the divine seed there, and it yielded fruit more or less according to the dispositions of the people that received it: there are others, again, whose mission is like a rapid conquest, that subdues a whole nation, and brings it into subjection to the Gospel. St. Patrick belongs to this second class; and in him we recognize one of the most successful instruments of God’s mercy to mankind. Continue reading

Put an end to BCE and CE

Originally Published 7 May 2010 on the old Athanasius Contra Mundum

The Annunciation -Fra Angelico

The Annunciation
-Fra Angelico

I’ve been searching through a lot of historical documentaries lately, and I’ve been noticing some still use the dating “B.C.” and “A.D.” (Before Christ and Anno Domini), while others have switched over completely to the politically correct “B.C.E.” and “C.E.” (Before the Common Era and Common Era respectively).

One of the reasons I detest this change is not because some people are not Christian and don’t want reminders of the Church even in their dates, nor is it because some people think it shortchanges other religions. It is for the simple reason that it is dishonest. Continue reading

The Battle of Lepanto

The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin.  -Peter Paul Rubens

The Coronation of the Blessed Virgin.
-Peter Paul Rubens

For the great feast celebrating Our Lady’s intercession at Lepanto, I offer the following:

This is a good talk on the battle.

Then there is dramatic video, which starts slow but gets better.

Lastly, here is a talk on G.K. Chesterton’s poem Lepanto. None of it produced by me. I would do more, but I have too much on my plate to do this topic justice. Please pray for me and my family.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross


The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, by Antioniazzo Romano, Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme

Rewritten from a post by the same title on the Old Athanasius Contra Mundum, 14 September 2009.

Today is the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is a distinct feast from the finding of the true Cross by St. Helena, which is commemorated in March. This feast, commemorates the victory of the Eastern Roman Empire over the Persians in the 7th century, and the recovery and return of the cross to Jerusalem. In most Traditional Missals there will be a short description of the event, that Heraclius, the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, could not enter the city with the cross because of some spiritual force which stopped him. When he asked the bishop, he was told that it was because he was dressed in kingly robes. To enter, he had to dress in rags, so as to not carry the cross into Jerusalem in a manner above our Lord who carried it in rags. After that he was able to carry the cross in.

However there is much more to this story, and the background history deserves to be told. In the year 570, the Roman Emperor in Constantinople, Maurice, supported Khusru, or Khusroes II (sometimes written Chosroes in western history books) to the throne in Persia, and gave Roman aid to his cause. (Roman here refers to what scholars call the “Byzantine empire”, but I use Roman generally speaking since it was the accepted term by which the Byzantines called themselves as well as what their enemies called them). Khusroes showed his gratitude by ending the war with Constantinople, and ceded to the Eastern Empire half of Armenia, which had long been disputed. After hundreds of years there was peace between Rome and Persia.

Then something else happened. In the year 602, The emperor Maurice was overthrown, and replaced by Phocas, a centurion who was selected by the troops present. He was little more than a monster, who murdered all of Maurice’s family save a few, was a rapist and a completely inept leader. He was entirely ineffectual against incursions by Avars, Slavs and assorted steppe peoples, emptied the treasury and brought the Eastern Empire to near destruction. He was unable to restore order when Monophysite mobs rose all over Syria and Egypt and killed orthodox bishops, replacing them with heretics.

Theodosius, a surviving member of Maurice’s family, escaped to Persia to Maurice’s friend and ally, Khusroes. What landed in his lap was a sequence of events few leaders could hope for. Politically, he could march on the Eastern Empire as Theodosius’ champion, much as Maurice had done for him. He could also use it to take control of a good chunk of territory, if not destroy the Roman Empire for good and reestablish ancient Persia, and on top of that Phocas was a murderer and a barbarous tyrant which appeared to give him the moral right. Best of all he had a pretender he could place on the throne loyal to him.

Though slow to get started, under Khusroes the Persians invaded the Levant and took every city from Antioch to Alexandria, including Jerusalem in 608. They took the true Cross from the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, and brought it back with them to Persia, and were prepared to march on Constantinople. It appeared as if the Eastern Empire was to be destroyed. However, there was Africa, where St. Augustine lived and preached and which Justinian’s able general, Belisarius, had recovered a century earlier. Its general, Heraclius was a pious man, fully orthodox, and in 610 he set sail for Constantinople with an army, and an icon of Our Lady on the masthead of his flag ship. The coup was almost instant, everyone wanted Phocas gone, and he was killed by a mob.

The reverse of a coin commemorating the Emperor Heraclius

The reverse of a coin commemorating the Emperor Heraclius

Heraclius was crowned in the Church of St. Stephen and could now set on the task of saving the Empire. Phocas had ruined the treasury, and sunk the last gold in the Bosphorus to keep Heraclius from getting it. To fight the Persians, who now marched on Constantinople after three years of unbroken victory, Heraclius needed an army. The loss of Jerusalem had inspired temporary reunion of the Monphyistes, and inspired the Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople to offer to Heraclius all the gold available at that time in the Churches for equipping, feeding and transporting an army. For two years the emperor raised this army. Then in 622, he prayed at Hagia Sophia on Easter Monday then embarked with his troops and an image of Jesus Christ as the army’s banner to Asia Minor, where he won victory after victory and drove the Persians back. He made straight for Persia, preparing to devastate it. He made an alliance with a Mongol people, the Khazars, and with their troops and his own (plus reinforcements of troops which had broken a Persian siege of Constantinople when he was away) he swept into Mesopotamia with a huge force, and smashed Khusroes near the ruins of Nineveh. The latter fled and was killed in an uprising while hiding in the mountains. Peace was made with Persia, and the true cross was returned to Jerusalem, which Heraclius brought to Jerusalem himself. That is the principle event which is commemorated in the liturgy today.

It is worth noting, that in 625, while Heraclius was pursuing his strategy of going straight at the enemy to draw them off from the difficult to defend heart land of Anatolia, the Persians and a Steppe tribe called the Avars, jointly besieged Constantinople. With the army away in Persia, it looked disastrous, and the people prayed to the Blessed Virgin, carrying on vigils and prayers, Liturgies, and processions, and composing a hymn which remains in the Eastern Tradition even today, the Akathistos (Akathist) hymn. Suddenly a hurricane appeared and scattered the Persian fleet, while at the same time creating havoc in the Avar camp and led to their retreat. With the siege being broken, more Roman troops could join Heraclius in the East.

The Tradition is that the Emperor, upon arriving with the cross at Jerusalem, attempted to enter but found himself prevented by an invisible force. He could not enter the city. St. Zacharias, the patriarch of Jerusalem, informed him that he could not carry the cross which the king of kings carried in rags, while he wore kingly robes. Therefore Heraclius divested himself of his royal garments, and wearing a simple tunic he was able to bring the true cross into Jerusalem without any further obstruction.

Pope St. Leo the Great, in a sermon, wrote a marvelous Latin prose which is used in the Breviary today:

O admirabilis potentia Crucis! o ineffabilis gloria passionis, in qua et tribunal Domini, et judicium mundi, et potestas est Crucifixi! Traxisti enim, Domine, omnia ad te, et cum expandisses tota die manus tuas ad populum non credentem et contradicentem tibi, confitendae majestatis tuae sensum totus mundus accepit. Traxisti, Domine, omnia ad te, cum in exsecrationem Judaici sceleris, unam protulerunt omnia elementa sententiam, cum, obscuratis luminaribus coeli, et converso in noctem die, terra quoque motibus quateretur insolitis, universaque creatura impiorum usui se negaret. Traxisti, Domine, omnia ad te, quoniam scisso templi velo, Sancta sanctorum ab indignis pontificibus recesserunt, ut figura in veritatem, prophetia in manifestationem et lex in Evangelium verteretur.

If your Latin is a bit week I have rendered it here:

How amazing is the power of the Cross! O how unutterable is the glory of the Passion, in which is the Lord’s judgment-seat, and the judgment of the world, and the might of the Crucified one! You have drawn all things to yourself, o Lord! and although you spread out your Hands all the day unto an unbelieving and opposing people, nevertheless, the world has felt and owned your Majesty! Lord! You drew all things unto yourself when all the elements advanced one opinion on the curse of the Judaic crime, when the lights of the firmament were darkened, day turned into night, earth quaked with strange tremblings, and all God’s work refused itself to be of use to the impious. You drawn all things unto thee O Lord, because the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, the Holy of Holies itself slipped away from unworthy Priests, that the figure might be changed into truth, prophecy into realization, and the Law into the Gospel.


However, there is one more important facet to this story. Heraclius had returned to Constantinople, and the patriarch Sergius, bowing to pressure from those who thought Church riches ought not to have been given for worldly ends (no matter how necessary), demanded repayment of all the Church’s wealth in full. No man could have seen the firestorm about to come from Arabia, it appeared as if no enemy remained for the Romans to fight, with Persia having been completely laid low and reduced to a conquered nation which sent tributes to Constantinople. Thus it seemed wise to reduce the military apparatus to the same level of weakness it had prior to the Persian assault. There is a tradition, which the Muslims have preserved in the Al-Hadith, that Mohamed had written to Heraclius encouraging him to make the Romans subject to Islam, but all historians, including Islamic ones, agree that it post dates Mohamed and could not be genuine. Whatever the truth of that, no one expected the Arabs to break out of Arabia, and when they did do so, the Eastern Roman Empire was woefully unprepared. To make things worse, Heraclius in later life developed a phobia for water, and refused to cross the Bosphorus, but he did send a decent army to Syria which was subsequently defeated by the Arabs, when a sandstorm rose up. The rest, is another story.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart: A historical perspective

For those familiar with the question of the third/fourth secret of Fatima, it is well known that the message of Our Lady to the Fatima children explicitly included a reference to the Kings of France, who refused to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart, and warned that if the Popes followed their example, terrible wars and destruction would afflict humanity. We are only a few years away from the 100 year anniversary of the Fatima message, and those who hold, in my view correctly, that the Consecration was not in fact done, have pointed to this as a warning for what is to come. It is best then if we understand what it is Our Lady was referring to when she referenced the kings of France.


St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

This centers around the revelations of the Sacred Heart to Margaret Mary Alacoque, beginning in the 1650’s. Now, although devotion to the Sacred Heart certainly preceded St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Our Lord used her to popularize the devotion. The means he chose to popularize it, however, were not only apostolates, and the first Fridays, but also a king.

In 1689, St. Margaret Mary went to Versailles to see King Louis XIV, who at the time was the greatest Monarch in Europe. France had never seemed more glorious, and it was at the cusp of innovating its culture, technology and industry. It had the highest population in Europe (therefore the largest armies), and was undefeated on the battlefield. It had also solidified its Catholic identity, and escaped the Gallicanist heresy (Jansenism was not to come about publicly until 1725). What St. Margaret Mary came to present to Louis XIV was simple: that he consecrate the whole nation of France to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and build a chapel so that the Sacred Heart could be adored, and France’s glory would be magnified even more for the Catholic faith.

King Louis XIV

King Louis XIV

Many of Louis’ advisers warned, however, that if he did it and France suffered at all, it would not only be bad for him, but for religion also (note this point, it ties in with more modern events with Fatima). Moreover, Louis XIV, a well educated monarch who possessed untrammeled power, perhaps wondered why Christ would appear to this uneducated nun of low birth, rather than to him. Pius XI said the same thing when he refused to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart. So, the Rois-Soleil, the Sun King, flat out refused the request from heaven. Previously the very same year, when adjusted for calendar differences, a revolution rocked England.

James II, the last Catholic Stuart to sit on the throne, had an event which usually signifies the strength of a royal house, but in this case led to its downfall. It was the birth of his son, James Francis Edward, who was then baptized Catholic. James’ position as the Catholic king of Protestant England was tenuous, but he was a good administrator and at first he was able to maintain his position. For all that, he was a poor leader and not very astute about judging the political climate. The Seclusion Crisis in the last years of the reign of his brother, Charles II, was settled by the latter’s excellent sense of the political wind. He took advantage of the increasingly radical language of the faction that wanted James secluded from the succession on account of being Catholic, and the mood of the populace which was fearful of another civil war. Putting on his royal robes, Charles declared seclusion, and whigism, to be treasonous, and most of the country supported him, being willing to accept a Catholic monarch over a new war.

King James II, the last Catholic King of England

King James II, the last Catholic King of England

James when on the throne was less impressive than his brother, or than his heirs might have been if they had actually ruled (namely James III and Charles III, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie). The worldly suggest this is because he wasn’t willing to compromise his religion, or because he wasn’t as duplicitous as he might be. The real reason, however, is that he wasn’t very Catholic in practice (his affairs were as famous as his brothers’) and he was a poor leader. He picked his battles very poorly, and alienated his major support base, the Tories, over issues of law, and kept a standing army. Now his brother also had a standing army, with 20,000 Scots that could be called up at any time, but this was necessary on account of the fact that the restored Stuart Monarchy needed support, coming back after a major civil war which ended in their Father’s execution (Charles I). This in itself wouldn’t have raised any more eyebrows than it did for Charles II, except that he filled command positions with Irish Catholics, and he was formally Catholic (whereas Charles II was a secret Catholic who converted on his deathbed). So the Protestants “whigged out” (pun intended), with the old propaganda of a Jesuit conspiracy to take over England and forcibly convert the country. James certainly was trying to liberate Catholicism in England, but he certainly had no program in mind to forcibly return Englishman to the faith. As poor a politician as he was, he was realistic.

Nevertheless, at the birth of his son, it was no longer a matter of biding time until James II’s daughter, Mary (a protestant and married William of Orange, the protestant champion of Holland), would reign as queen. Now the Protestants in the government and the London establishment faced the prospect of a long lived Catholic dynasty. So they decided to reach out to William of Orange, offering him the crown if he would invade England and depose James. Historians debate whether at this time William had any interest in the crown or simply wanted James to change his policy from French alliance to a Dutch alliance.

Dutch ships invade England in 1689.

Dutch ships invade England in 1689.

Either way, Louis XIV undertook a military campaign in the Holy Roman Empire, and as a result his troops were not available to assist James against the invasion. Thus commenced the so-called “Glorious Revolution”, where the Dutch, with the assistance of several Protestants in the Navy who cleared the channel for them, invaded England, and James, rather than leading his troops, escaped.

Historically this is curious. While, on the one hand, James had good reason to fear treachery in the army (as he had seen it in the Navy), he had two things at his disposal. Irish troops who were in positions of authority, and the natural English Xenophobia and loathing for the Dutch (England had fought 3 wars with the Dutch since Cromwell’s time, and though they were seen as co-religionists, it was largely felt that the Dutch had usurped English rights in the new world and the East Indies). If James had lead his army in person, he might have won the day and kept his throne. These might have been graces flowing to him from the consecration of the Sacred Heart, but it was not done. As a side note, St. Claude de la Colombiere, St. Margaret Mary’s confessor, was a preacher in England for James II’s wife, Mary of Modena, and at one point was imprisoned for missionary activity and ministering to Catholics in the north. He was spared execution because of his position in the Duchess of York’s household, but was exiled.

William of Orange, later King William III of England

William of Orange, later King William III of England

James fled England, and William, along with his wife Mary, were made joint monarchs. Now, William was related to the Stuarts, but through Charles and James II’s sister Mary, making the former a nephew of the latter. In the succession, however, he would have had to wait for James Francis Edward (an infant) and both of James daughters, Mary and Anne, to reign before he could have been considered for the succession, and that is if the former all died with no issue. Nevertheless, this is the only time England’s monarchy became elective, with parliament and the new William III and Mary II affirming that James was dead (which he wasn’t) and that he had no heirs (which he did). It was a total usurpation of common law, but it is endemic of the changes that the Glorious Revolution brought to English law. Parliament became supreme in its laws, which meant that the Constitution comprised of a series of parliamentary decisions. For instance, the right to gun ownership for Protestants, guaranteed by the Bill of Rights which was issued at William and Mary’s accession to the throne, was revoked by Parliament in 1998, because Parliament had given the right, and now it could be taken away without any reference to common law or natural law.

The Effects of this were at first a minor setback for Louis XIV. He lost a few thousand troops in Ireland at the battle of the Boyne, where James tried to raise support for himself, but all seemed well. He gave James and his family his summer palace of St. Germaine for their court in exile, and busied himself with other matters. Then came Margaret Mary Alacoque and the request to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart. As we noted, he rejected it firmly out of hand. What did he have to fear after all? The situation in England, however, soon turned into a major headache. William III, as king of England and the Staatholder of Holland, effected an alliance of England, Holland, Sweden, and the Hapsburgs against Louis XIV, in which France suffered its first major defeat. The ink was barely dry on the peace treaty, when a new war raised its head, over the Spanish Succession. Charles II, the last Hapsburg ruler of Spain, was dying with no heir, and his will, ratified by the Cortes, called for Louis XIV’s grandson, the count of Anjou, to ascend the throne of Spain, with the promise that France and Spain would not be united under one crown. The Hapsburgs would not tolerate losing the Spanish possessions from the family, and the Protestants of England and Holland would not tolerate the Bourbons jointly holding France and Spain, along with Spain’s vast new world possessions. All sides threatened war. Again the revelations of Christ to St. Margaret Mary were brought to Louis XIV, promising victory if he would consecrate France to the Sacred Heart. One can imagine that Louis XIV took this a little more seriously after the war of the first coalition, but in the end he refused to do it. Charles II of Spain died, and Louis XIV decided he was in trouble no matter which way he went, so he decided on allowing his grandson to take the Spanish throne, beginning the war of the Spanish succession. Previous to this, James II died and France, Spain and the Pope all recognized his 18 year old son, James Francis Edward, as James III of England (though living in exile at Louis XIV’s palace of Saint Germaine, where an Elderflower liquor was concocted which today we know by the same name!). This made William even angrier, and greased the wheels for a new war.

Battle of Blenheim, one of the decisive victories of the War of Spanish Succession

Battle of Blenheim, one of the decisive victories of the War of Spanish Succession

Mary II died tragically young in 1693, and William III died just before the war got started, but Anne, James II’s other protestant daughter and the last protestant Stuart, carried out the war with the aid of good politicians and a gifted general in the person of Lord Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough (Winston Churchill’s ancestor). In a series of astounding victories by Marlborough, the Allied coalition had smashed the French, though they suffered major setbacks in Spain. The war, however, was bloodier and more horrendous than any seen in European history to that point save the Thirty Years war, and can properly be considered a World War, being fought at sea all over the world as well as on the European continent. The war waged on for 12 years, depleting France of resources, population, money and in general devastating the country. The debts from this war were still unpaid when Louis XVI came to the throne two generations later. It was an absolute disaster, and at the end of the war, all the issues over which it was fought came to pass anyway; Philip V (Louis XIV’s grandson) was acknowledged as King of Spain, and both France and Spain promised the crowns of the two countries would not be united in one sovereign. So hundreds of thousands of lives were lost for nothing, livelihoods were destroyed and millions impoverished: for nothing! And the consecration was still not done.

Interestingly, while in England it was 1688, on the continent it was already 1689, due to the fact that England was still on the Julian Calendar. 100 years after St. Margaret Mary first brought the request from heaven to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart, the French Revolution began with the assault on the Bastille in 1789. Death, famine, poverty, war, and a revolution which effaced tradition and the faith from the country. What will October 13 2017 bring us? The signs are there to be read, and they’re not good.

The Growth and Decline of the Roman Economy

Originally Published on the Distributist Review, 7 March 2011

Ancient_Roman_market_place_and_Serapis_temple_-_Pozzuoli_-_Campania_-_Italy_-_July_11th_2013_-_02When one harkens back to Rome he is usually met with consistent comparisons to political ideals, military glory, or the decadence and immorality of the upper classes in the late republican and imperial periods. Very rarely however, is the economy that made the wealth of the Roman Republic possible in the third century B.C.

Rome is traditionally said to have been founded approximately in 753 B.C. by Romulus, its first king. It was essentially a collection of farmers who had consolidated their lands and resources around the Tiber river, and defended it with fortified hills called an arx.[1] The entire basis of the city (which was little more than a backwater at this time) was its agricultural output. As the city grew it found a major benefit in being by the Tiber allowed it to trade by river with Magna Graecia to the south, and the Etruscan and Gallic tribes to the north. Trade by roads was scarcely possible over long distances even when the roads themselves were built in the later period. Trade by boat was much easier. Yet the wealth which enabled trade in various goods came not from military conquest or a city of shopkeepers, but rather a city of farmers whose lands gave them goods worth trading.

The importance of agriculture to the foundation of the Roman state is seen also in their mythology and calendar. In Roman mythology Saturn was the god who ruled heaven, until his son Jupiter displaced him. Saturn was cast onto the earth where he found uncultured nomads living in Italy, and taught them how to farm and was thus the god of all farmers and fields. The Roman calendar with its timetable of festivals, was originally a marker of agricultural seasons and agricultural gods. Juno was the goddess of the moon, by which the Roman calendar before Julius Caesar was based. In fact, most of the festivals of Mars fall within March, which the Romans counted as the first month of the year because it prepared for spring and the agricultural cycle. The Calendar being denoted not by sequential days but rather by the Kalendae, nonae and idus, were based on the phases of the moon by which the field was regulated. As Stuart Perowne notes “The calendar thus shows the agenda, as it were, of a state still founded on agriculture, but already developing into a community which has legal and political business to transact and wars to wage.”[2]

Sometime in the early period of the Republic, after the expulsion of the last King Tarquin the proud, the Romans adopted a Greek style Hoplite army, the name coming from the shield they carried: the o`plon. In Greece this consisted of tenant farmers, who tilled their fields and when they were called to battle would take up whatever arms their wealth allowed them to afford to fight for the city state. Rome would adopt this same model and maintain it even to the end of the conflict with Carthage in spite of the change face of its military design. These farmers who grew crops for themselves and sold them to the cities were also the milita which would defend the state, so that, as their forerunners in the Greek city-state, they had a vested interest in victory in order to preserve their families and lands.

As Rome fought numerous conflicts in Italy with various Italian tribes, their cities were absorbed into a network of alliances, whose population continued to till its fields and then would take up arms for the Republic when called. This militia army had been able to overcome a far superior modern Hellenistic army lead by Pyrrhus from Epirus in the early third century B.C. Again they returned to their fields. The victory was won not even so much by particular tactics, but by the overwhelming manpower which Rome had. Pyrrhus was supposed to have said: “With soldiers such as these, in a short time I could have conquered the whole world.”[3] This would later be true, but not under his leadership.

Nevertheless, the first strain on this agricultural system came during the Punic wars. The three separate Punic wars fought more or less from 261 B.C. until 147 B.C. and were the bloodiest and longest lasting conflicts in the ancient world. The first war, caused when the city of Messina in Sicily called for aid from both Rome and Carthage, lasted over 20 years. This was a new kind of war for Rome, not only because it had to copy Carthage’s naval technology to challenge it at sea, but because it meant soldiers campaigning outside of Italy, something which the legions had never done before. As a result of this, the citizens of Rome and her allies were away from their fields for a very long time. Yet, most of the casualties were at sea, of which the Romans only lost one major battle in spite of Carthage’s long standing naval dominance, and on land it only had two significant defeats, one in Sicily and one in North Africa. The overall casualties were among rowers in the fleets, not so much among the citizen class, so the effects of lengthy campaigning were not felt on the agrarian economy. This changed dramatically during the Second Punic war. In this conflict, Hannibal, who had consolidated his father’s victories in Spain and formed one of the best armies of the day, decided the only way to defeat Rome was to do it on her own soil. He resolved to break up the network of alliances which made up the Roman Republic. The best way to do this was to burn the fields. Apart from foraging, which was necessary to feed his army, Hannibal burnt a massive portion of northern and central Italy, to the point, as the Romans watched almost helplessly. Hannibal campaigned in Italy from 218-202 B.C., undefeated on Italian soil, and at last was recalled to Carthage where he was defeated at the battle of Zama. Interestingly, Hannibal would later be elected the suffete (king, or in Punic, a judge) of Carthage and focused on rebuilding the city’s agricultural foundations in order to provide the money and prosperity to pay the war debt imposed by the Romans.

After nearly twenty years of constant skirmishing, raids and battles, Italy’s agricultural economy was in shambles. It would not be rebuilt. Instead Rome continued to levy more troops and fight abroad, getting involved with Greek politics, fighting in Macedonia as revenge for their alliance with Hannibal, even in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) with the Hellenistic kingdoms of the east which employed Hannibal as a mercenary. Also in Spain, where significant territory had been taken from Carthage, Rome now went to war with the Spanish Celts to attain more territory. The result furthered the damage done by Hannibal’s campaign. Farms fell to disrepair, woman and children could not manage farms with the fathers away at constant war, so to manage the dearth of farmers, the upper crust of Roman society bought up the land. The conquests abroad between North Africa, Greece and Spain had flooded the market with slaves, and they could be bought for nearly nothing. With more and more land becoming available, large farming estates could be set up, called latifundia, the agribusiness of its day. Marcus Porcius Cato, who pushed for Carthage’s destruction and uttered the famous phrase “Delenda est Cathago,” wrote several books which summarize the attitude of the new owners of the fields: “Sell worn out oxen, blemished cattle, blemished sheep, wool, old tools, and old slaves, sickly slaves and whatever else is superfluous.”

The continuing consolidation of estates lead to decreasing opportunities for Roman citizens fighting for the Republic, who fled to the cities and found no work. This is the first major appearance of a proletariat in Rome, which could not provide anything other than their proles (children) to the state. According to Plutarch, the reformer Tiberius Gracchus noticed the level of change in the countryside on his way to Spain with an army, noting that barbarian slave and beast has a place to lay its head, but not a Roman citizen. When Gracchus returned from Spain, a treaty he made with a local people, the Numantines, was shamefully broken by the Senate. The economic situation was hitting a boiling point with the average Roman citizen who had no means of attaining land, especially with such massive estates to compete against, and land not being available. Gracchus proposed to run as a tribune well below his class and in contempt of the Senate, drawing much support from the families of the 20,000 citizens in his army he saved in Spain. He pushed for a new law to open up opportunities for Roman citizens to own land, the lex sempronia. Falsely characterized as Communism, the lex sempronia called for enforcement of an ancient law limiting the amount of land any one person could possess. The state would then provide land, which technically belonged to it anyway by tradition. Far from socialist legislation, the proposal of Tiberius Gracchus was meant to open the way for enfranchising the large proletariat which flooded the cities and especially Rome. The Senate however, filled with upper and lesser nobility who had benefited largely from the land grab, paid one of the tribunes to oppose the legislation. Gracchus was eventually successful in passing it by removing the tribune and forcing the law passed. The story of Gracchus and his brother Gaius is a fascinating one, but takes us too far afield. Tiberius Gracchus’ reforms were necessary, but he tried to enact them by breaking not the letter, but the spirit and tradition of the Roman constitution. He was eventually killed, as his brother who also took up the same reform. At this point Rome divided itself into two factions, the optimates (great ones) and the populares. The optimates annulled the lex sempronia, leading the two factions to entrench themselves over the issues of agricultural reform and finally they fought each other at different periods through different politicians, who used them for their own ends. Thus began the civil wars which culminated in the victory of Augustus over Mark Antony in 31 B.C. and the beginning of the Principate, otherwise known as the Imperial period. The Principate would last until Diocletian set up the Tetrarchy in 293 A.D.

In the series of wars and reforms leading up to Julius and later Augustus Caesar, there was a reform of the Roman army which helped alleviate employment problems. Gaius Marius, a famous general in the early first century B.C., reformed the army eliminating the property requirement, and forcing the state to supply weapons and armor to the legions. The troops would also be paid regular wages for their service. This meant that the army changed from a militia army to a paid professional army. This had significant consequences for the later empire with respect to loyalty, but that is for another place. In the long run what Marius’ reform of the army did accomplish was the crystallizing of the latifundia, the massive landed agricultural estate worked by slaves as the norm. These were not only in Italy, but established likewise by coloni in North Africa, and later Egypt. By the time of Augustus, North Africa and Egypt were supplying most of the grain that the empire consumed, with farms in Italy selling only a marginal amount. In other words, instead of a fertile citizen population tilling the fields and sustaining the state locally, the Romans outsourced their agricultural production to feed their cities across the Mediterranean. Agriculture was truly the center of the Roman economy in this period as it was in the early Republic, but now it depended not on its citizens, but on trade ships constantly sailing through the Mediterranean with crops harvested from slaves and sometimes tenants of rich estate holders. It is important to understand that production in this period of the empire was not a mark of private enterprise, but was largely a state affair. Currency, which in reality is only a symbol of wealth, was dependent upon the most important things it represented: food, clothing, and raw materials. Agriculture provided not only food but also the cloth used to make the garments, the olives for oil and the vineyards for the wine which was such a highly consumed commodity. At least three quarters of all of the goods of Roman trade had something to do with agricultural output. Yet a good portion of the city of Rome could not afford to feed itself, which is why a dole of grain (possibly equivalent to today’s food stamps) was provided by the state.

The consequences for the later empire could not be any more grave. The personality of the emperor was what held the empire together, but after Marcus Aurelius in 180A.D., this began to wane. Soldiers were now more loyal to their commanders than to the state or the emperor. Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, and the next emperor Pertinax were murdered. After Septemius Severus not a single emperor would die again of natural causes until Diocletian. Severus made the famous plea to his sons Caracalla and Geta “Live in harmony, enrich the soldiers, and despise everyone else.”[4] The constant civil war which afflicted the empire did not affect the agricultural seen very much, but it did strain the resources available as well as the increased costs of paying soldiers to keep them loyal.

What did this do for the agricultural state? Apart from putting strain on the system it did not do much. The life of cities began to break down. With more troops drawn away for civil wars, raids of tribes across the Rhine increased deep into Gaul and occasionally to Italy, so that cities which were once sprawling and without walls were now contracted and made defensible. The civic life started to evaporate, as governors and prefects were no longer wealthy enough to endow a city with entertainment, games, civic works and the like. The cities became a hole for starving masses, disease and death as early as the 3rd century. In fact, we have this glowing image of everyone living in stone marble apartments, with mosaic tiles, but that was only the social elite. In reality, even in the golden age of Augustus, most people lived in stinking hovels with no plumbing that could easily fall apart and were prone to fire. This was little different in the 3rd century. Thus the wealthy permanently retired to their villas, paying their own troops to protect them from raids, with walls, and depending upon the mass of slaves to work in their fields. By commanding troops, many of these lords would take the military title of dux.[5] Thus early in the breakdown of the empire the origins of medieval feudalism were already being laid, since many of these arrangements would be taken up and honored by the Goths and Franks when they would come into possession of large swaths of the former empire. Yet so long as Rome and Constantinople would maintain control of the shipping from Carthage and Egypt, they could still remain fed. This changed after Alaric’s sack of Rome in 410 A.D. Though he died a few years later, the Vandals would continue moving to North Africa, and eventually took over Carthage, ending the supply of grain being shipped to Rome. This meant functionally that the city could scarcely feed itself, and it began emptying out. The same became true for much of Italy. Grain would be requisitioned from the Latifundia, which began producing more since the prices went up, yet again it was insufficient. People still had few occupations or ownership over the means of production. Technologies that the medievals would develop to great affect such as water power and horsepower were known in the Roman world but not used because the large number of slaves meant there was no market for the technology.

In the end, the thing that hastened the fall of the Western Empire was the loss of its outsourced grain production in Carthage. It was already dying a slow death from increasing bureaucracies, inflation from the devaluation of the currency, mutual distrust in government, civil war, the Goths, Persians and Huns, as well as declining birth rates. Yet the empire had survived this for some time because it had not come to the end of its resources. The loss of its supply of food is the very thing that brought the western empire to the end of its resources. The Eastern Empire by contrast, with its capitol in Constantinople received its grain from Egypt which was by and large still safe, and by the time of the Arab conquest, the land in Greece and Asia Minor had become populated with farming communities which could now support the agricultural needs, something that did not take place in the Western Empire. This enabled it to last for nearly another thousand years.

In the classical world, agriculture was indeed the center of all economy, it was the source of wealth since, no matter what, people need to eat. It also produced rents and income from tenants, it produced commodity and luxury goods. When these things were more widely diffused and held more commonly, it was at that point that the Roman Republic had the population of hardy citizens which defeated the professional armies of the greatest general of the age (Hannibal) and the greatest empires of the age (Macedon and the Seleukeis). It was the army of farmers that won what would become the Roman Empire, it was the professional troops loyal to their generals and not the state who eventually lead to its disintegration. The loss of the land and the greater concentration into cities lead to a decline in the births of Roman citizens, while the slave class and foreign tenants continued to grow. The Roman Empire in the 3rd century could never have survived a defeat the scale of which Hannibal inflicted at Cannae, where he surrounded a superior force with an inferior force and annihilated 70,000 Romans. Yet the Romans of the 3rd century had a vast supply of men to draw on for their armies, as farming families tend to produce more children by greater health and greater need for helping hands. What we see in this is that culture, society and civilization are necessarily tied not merely to the land, but the stability of the land. The stability of the land is achieved when numerous people till it, somewhere between 35% and 45% of the population. In that way there is more security against a dearth of crops, but there are also smaller individual family units that not only provide for the state, but also for themselves. This ensures the stability of a polity which has direct control over its food supply. Disastrous examples as the loss of Carthage to the Vandals should be a reminder to a nation which today depends on food traveling on trucks for thousands of miles before hitting a store shelf.

[1] arx, arcis (f) essentially means “box”, and hence our term in English for such things as Noah’s “ark” and the “ark” of the covenant.

[2] Perowne, Roman Mythology, pg. 39.

[3] “Ego, talibus militibus brevi orbem terrarum subigere potuissem.” –Liber de Viris Illustribus Urbis Romae.

[4] Dio, 77. 15. 2-4; quoted in A. Goldsworthy, How Rome Fell, pg. 68.

[5] Dux, ducis (m), a leader, or a commander of troops, hence the word “Duke” in medieval parlance.