How much have you analyzed watershed events in your life? Probably quite a bit. Watershed events are points in time when something happens which completely changes the way you view the world – not to mention your relationship to/with it. They become a singular point of reference for either good turning to bad or vice versa. Often we sit quietly, for even years after the event, mulling over these watershed moments. We’ll ponder things we could have done differently or daydream about what went right.
If it is a good memory it soothes our stress, if it was a bad memory we ache all over again. But the main point is that we aren’t the same after. You cannot help but be changed for the better by memories like a fateful day which leads you to what you want to do with your life, the first in-drawn breath at a beautiful sight, learning an important and meaningful lesson, meeting your life’s love, or dedicating one’s life to God. But simultaneously, deaths of loved ones, times of failure, demons in the forms of sins with which we have wrestled, never fully leave us either – even if we are freed spiritually from their eternal consequences.
Sometimes the watershed events in our life can be undone by another impact point. For example, a person who might be able to tell you the point at which they stopped believing in God, could likely just as easily tell you the point when their heart changed. Both events are powerful, wrenching the life of that person from course to course.
As in watershed events in our lives, historical examples of points of change can be either permanent or temporary. And that’s where I want to start this blog.
I decided to name this page “Deus Vincit” as a reference to one of the greatest quotes from history which I have ever read: “Venimus, Vidimus, Deus Vincit” – an obvious allusion to Julius Caesar’s famous “Veni, Vidi Vici. (I came, I saw, I conquered).” It was uttered on 12 September 1683 by the King of Poland, Jan III Sobieski. Before we get into the meaning, both then and now, here’s the background of the story to give it some teeth:
For hundreds of years political stress was developing between the Christian states of Europe and the rapidly expanding Muslim kingdoms in the Middle East. From the establishment of the first caliphate in the seventh century, through the crusades in the first centuries of the second millennium, to the expulsion of the Crusader Kingdoms, Islam had been steadily gaining the upper hand throughout the Mediterranean. Moors controlled Spain and Portugal and were barely turned back in the Battle of Tours in central France. The Italian City-States were constantly paying tribute to the Ottoman Empire in order to carry out merchant shipping. And, in the east, Ottoman Turks had been slowly inching their borders further into traditional Christendom – up the Balkans and into the lands of Royal Hungary and greater Germania.
The concerns of the Austrians in holding off the infringing Ottomans was well-founded therefore and, when the expansion of Ottoman borders up the Danube was combined with the more-powerful weapons and more-proven tactics of the Turks, the situation was even more dire. Once before, in 1529, the Ottomans had laid siege to Vienna and it seemed likely it would happen again – after 150 years of near-continual skirmishing.
To protect against this eventuality, the Holy Roman Emperor (who lived in Vienna at the time) made an alliance with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, led by Jan III Sobieski that if the Ottomans attacked Krakow, the Austrians would come in relief and if the Ottomans attacked Vienna, the Polish would come in aid. So, in mid-1683, when the Ottomans finally came forward and laid siege to Vienna the news was quickly sent to Jan, along with a request to honor his word.
It was a difficult time in Poland when the news came. The commonwealth was under extreme threat not only from the Ottomans, but also the Hungarians, who were poised to strike from the Polish southern border. But, due to the treaty which he had signed with the Austrians, Jan gathered his forces and left his country nearly undefended in order to once and for all meet the threat of Islam and throw them back from Christendom.
The siege had already been going on for two months when the Poles arrived. By then, the Ottomans, through wall-sapping, had nearly taken the city on more than one occasion. Their large siege guns pounded the Viennese walls (which amazingly stood firm) and the disciplined Janissaries controlled the land around the siege works. Meanwhile, heavily-armored Spahis (Ottoman cavalry) patrolled the out-lying areas to prevent relief to the city. But Jan Sobieski arranged his troops and began laying out his orders.
The battle began on 12 September 1683 with the largest cavalry charge in history. Over 20,000 heavy and light cavalry plunged into the Janissary line. The heavy Polish cavalry drove through to the heart of the siege cannon and the light horseman (known as Hussars) drove the Spahis off the field. It took very little time for the defenders within Vienna to exit and begin fighting in earnest alongside their relievers and the Ottomans were driven back in a matter of hours.
The pursuit of the retreating Ottomans continued nearly to the borders of the great empire itself. Annihilation was so complete that it is marked as the watershed point, the point of greatest dominance by the Ottoman Empire, from its inception to its fall at the end of the Great War. It was also a watershed moment for Western Europe, as it marked the point at which the defense of Europe was no longer the concern and the expansion of Western ideals, religion and politics could begin in earnest through colonization and trade.
Say what you will about the positives and negatives of Western worldwide expansion, the fact that this event, this overwhelming Christian victory, is a watershed in history is undeniable. Islam was halted at the gates of Vienna by a Pole, Jan III Sobieski. A man who kept his word even when it put his own country at risk, and a man who led a charge into overwhelmingly superior numbers because the expansion of Imperial Islam had to be checked. A man who was humble enough at the end of the overwhelming victory to utter the words, “Venimus, Vidimus, Deus Vincit” in reply to grateful praise of those around him.
So, what does “Venimus, Vidimus, Deus Vincit” actually mean? The words themselves are, “We came, we saw, God conquered.” But the meaning is so much bigger. We don’t defeat our foes – physical or spiritual – by ourselves, we do so with the help, grace, mercy and guidance of God almighty. Giving honor to Him is simply the outgrowth of one who understands this principle.
You see, ALL watershed moments in life can be looked at in this way – when we humble ourselves before the Lord sufficiently. We often ‘come’ to a crossroad in life without the knowledge of which way to go and we often ‘see’ the difficulties and the pain associated with the roadblocks. The big decider for determining whether the watershed moment will be a good one or a bad, is whether we allow God to conquer it for us.
All glory be to the God who conquers … not only on the battlefield, but also in the small skirmishes of everyday life.