Because Dracula was Catholic? Oh My!

Originally published on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in December of last year, it seems fitting, what with Halloween coming up, to run it again.

Yesterday, I did something that I can only explain by pointing to the fact that I am a Catholic. I said a prayer for the soul of Dracula. No, not for Bram Stoker’s fictional vampyre version of him, but for the real Dracula. That’s right, Vlad “the Impaler.” For all we really now, he died a hero and a good Catholic.

Bear with me for a second.

I loved listening to Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story radio show when I was growing up. Though admittedly I never really made a conscious effort to tune in regularly, I can remember being mesmerized by Harvey’s story telling abilities whenever I happened to hear his show on the radio.

He told interesting tales about the lives of famous people you had heard of, and of those whom you had never heard of too. The main thing is that these people had an unknown side to their story. I bet your own story twists and turns as well. Perhaps what follows is one of these twisted tales too.

Now, I’m no Paul Harvey, and there is no sense in trying to sugarcoat the fact that the fellow I’m writing about is renowned for being blood thirsty and downright evil. Vlad Tepes (pronounced te-pesh) is his name and he is more famously known as Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Dracul III, or simply Dracula.

Everyone knows that Bram Stoker used Vlad’s name for the protagonist in his novel Dracula, published in 1897. Vlad is said to have been responsible for the deaths of upwards of 40,000 people. Yikes! But as any cursory reading of the Bible would show, the drama of life on earth is full of train wrecks. Death and destruction. What’s it all mean? Well, let’s just say that God writes straight with crooked lines, and you and I are those zig-zags.

Frank, you’re probably yelling now, don’t you know today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception? To which I say, why yes I do, and I thank God that it is too. And I’m thanking Him for the fact that the Word became Flesh and came into the world to save sinners like me and Vlad.

You may be asking yourself, so what is the point of this post? Recognizing a blood-thirsty killer who was a Catholic (though some say Orthodox) Christian surely doesn’t help the cause of gaining more members to the Church, or help the cause of organized religion. Because, you may argue, from every possible angle, that Vlad is the very personification of evil. Think of Charles Manson in the 1400′s and you’ve got Vlad pegged. Hitler or Mussolini in the 1940′s? Ditto.

Even artists of that time period inserted Vlad in all sorts of scene’s like the one you see above. That’s Vlad in a portrait painted in 1463 playing the role of Pontius Pilate asking questions of our Lord such as “what is truth?” Or like this one below that was painted between 1470-1480 which has our man Vlad looking on as St. Andrew, the patron of our Christmas Novena, is being crucified on a big “X” that marks the spot.

You could blame G.K. Chesterton for my wandering mind possibly. I was just reading over chapter six of Orthodoxy and I re-read the following lines that led me to consider praying a prayer for Vlad’s soul,

I felt that a strong case against Christianity lay in the charge that there is something timid, monkish, and unmanly about all that is called “Christian,” especially in its attitude towards resistance and fighting. The great sceptics of the nineteenth century were largely virile. Bradlaugh in an expansive way, Huxley, in a reticent way, were decidedly men. In comparison, it did seem tenable that there was something weak and over patient about Christian counsels.

The Gospel paradox about the other cheek, the fact that priests never fought, a hundred things made plausible the accusation that Christianity was an attempt to make a man too like a sheep. I read it and believed it, and if I had read nothing different, I should have gone on believing it. But I read something very different. I turned the next page in my agnostic manual, and my brain turned up-side down. Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much. Christianity, it seemed, was the mother of wars. Christianity had deluged the world with blood. I had got thoroughly angry with the Christian, because he never was angry. And now I was told to be angry with him because his anger had been the most huge and horrible thing in human history; because his anger had soaked the earth and smoked to the sun. The very people who reproached Christianity with the meekness and non-resistance of the monasteries were the very people who reproached it also with the violence and valour of the Crusades. It was the fault of poor old Christianity (somehow or other) both that Edward the Confessor did not fight and that Richard Coeur de Leon did. The Quakers (we were told) were the only characteristic Christians; and yet the massacres of Cromwell and Alva were characteristic Christian crimes.

What could it all mean? What was this Christianity which always forbade war and always produced wars? What could be the nature of the thing which one could abuse first because it would not fight, and second because it was always fighting? In what world of riddles was born this monstrous murder and this monstrous meekness? The shape of Christianity grew a queerer shape every instant.

Again, you may believe that I have lost it and completely gone off the deep end, but I ask you to consider the fact that Vlad didn’t live in your comfortable little suburban world, or in your supposedly tame modern time.

Your experience has been colored by the fact that by the grace of God, and sheer happenstance, you were born in a country that stands on the principles of Classical Liberalism, where the rule of law is the norm. But to understand the actions of a warlord like Vlad, you would have to be a Somalian of today to appreciate it. Or a Kurd, or perhaps a modern day Christian in Iraq, who as we well know, are being hunted down and killed like prey right up until 15 seconds ago.

Do you, gentle reader know that Vlad Dracul III, died on the field of battle in Transylvania fighting the advancing Muslim armies of the Ottoman Empire? I’m not saying that is a good thing, but it is a fact.

Full disclosure time, I’m no expert on Dracula’s life story. Head to your library, or for the Cliff’s Notes version, read about him here, here, and here. Prepare yourself for gruesome details, though.

And know this: what I write next is nothing more than historical fiction, nay, shear speculation. Because I cannot prove that the following narrative ever actually took place! I only ask you to consider the ramifications if it did.

I’ve read a little bit about the Crusades, and the Battle of Lepanto, and of the Siege of Vienna Austria, too. The victory on that last battle took place on September 11, 1683. As a Marine, I am a student of military history. As a Christian, I have faith that when I die, my soul lives on. As a Catholic, I believe in the particular judgement, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. I also believe in the Second Coming and the Final Judgement too. So, in my mind, Vlad is in one of the three places I just mentioned, and awaits the end of time too. Savvy?

So here is a scenario for you. What if before the battle with the Muslim Turks, who were invading the Wallachian ruler’s homeland, what if Vlad and his army was blessed by the Church? I don’t mean to imply an official sanction from Rome, but from the local bishop instead.

For example, at the Battle of Lepanto, I’ve seen a portrait of the troops being blessed and being given absolution before the battle took place. Here is one of St. Bernard of Clairvaux blessing King Louis VII in just such a manner. It would not be unheard of, then, if this happened before Vlad last took to the field of battle on a cold day in December of the year 1476.

It might even have been this day, or Christmas Day, even. We do not know. History, admittedly, what little that I’ve read, shows that Vlad was a Catholic, and he died protecting his lands from invasion. Defending his homeland, Vlad fights back.

Look up “just war” in the Catechism and you will see that defense is a legitimate reason for prosecuting a war. But what of the upwards of 40,000 people he killed?! He is a mass murderer, Frank, don’t you see that?

Painful as that is, how can I not?

What if, though, as he lay dying on the battlefield, he confessed his sins to a priest before he died of his wounds, gentle reader?

What if, while choking on his own blood, he begged our Lord for mercy, and was given extreme unction by a priest as he lay dying?

As far as I know, nothing like this has been written about him or his death. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Vlad was the prince and lord of his domain, and it’s likely that these blessings before the battle took place, and that a priest or even  the bishop himself was in Vlad’s train. So thinking on this possible scenario, I said a little prayer for his soul, see? Because the words of Our Lord, from His Sermon on the Mount ring clearly in my head,

You have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.

So on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, this Holy Day of Obligation when we celebrate the Mystery of the Ark of the New Convenant, the creation of the Mother of our King and Savior who,

…without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it (John 1:3-5.),

I said a prayer for a Christian soul named Dracula. Because even with Our Lord’s light unveiled, and shining forth, the world is a dark, and dangerous place.May the Peace of the Lord be upon us all. And now you know…the rest of the story (maybe!).

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Update: Julie at Happy Catholic on Praying for the Forgotten Souls in Purgatory.

Update II: Marc at Bad Catholic spills the beans on why you should Go Hard.

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  • Lisa Julia Photography

    Wow…this was so interesting that Fr Steve has it on his FB page =)

  • Webster

    I gotta say, brother, that ever since we "met" (in virtual reality, never in time and space) you have consistently stretched my thinking about Catholic faith and experience. But this do beat all! :-) Good, provocative post!

  • Thy Handmaid’s son

    Frank!It's not so hard as all that. A lot of what is said about Vlad isn't so.Vlad, as you said, died defending his homeland from invaders and treasonous usurpers who had overrun it and were re-invading it after being repelled from it. These invaders were not Nice People. They were very, very truly Bad People. They made plunder, rape, and murder into bloodsports and they understood three things: money, fear, and power.Many of the slanders uttered against Vlad originate in the west of Europe, which never (until now) knew oppression by the Turk, or Saracen, or Moor. In Italy, they were difficult to manage raiders and marauders, but not conquerors and masters. So why would Venetian merchants make Vlad into a bloodthirsty tyrant and butcher?Because they loved money. And the Turks had gobs of it. The Turks traded with people. The chief difficulties in repelling the Turks during the 16th century were that (1) Christianity was fracturing; and (2) the Turks were loaded and everyone wanted to do business with them.Vlad, like the few heroes of the perennial Western conflict with the Muslim, didn't give a crap. He wanted them out of his country. And he fought back. Hard. He took kept prisoners because the Turks took no prisoners – only slaves. He made a public spectacle of his prisoners' deaths because the Turks understood terror (and it wasn't that rare at the time – impaling folks along the sides of roads, etc – death-penalty-as-private-affair is a very new phenomenon). He used sneak attacks, night time raids, and savage violence because he knew that his enemies would spare nothing to beat him and to enslave his people in the most brutal ways imaginable because that is what they did wherever they went.Vlad was fighting for the life, culture, liberty, and religion of his people. This was no Franco-Prussian War about who would have Alsace's tax revenues. This was for keeps. The Turks, let's not forget, are cousins of the Mongols.Good article, Frank. It was fun to read. I give someone massive credit for defending Vlad. Only, you might not have gone far enough.I'm pretty sure he was Orthodox, though, but it is hard to say because various local and national churches in the East were in-and-out of communion with Rome all the time back then.

  • Frank

    @ Lisa, Huh? Who is Father Steve?@Webster, thanks so much for stopping by! I really enjoyed your post on "Weapons of Mass Destruction too, and I embedded it in the post (see, are being hunted down for Webster's latest.)

  • Lisa Graas

    Awesome. I'm definitely adding you to my blogroll. Nicely done.

  • george dimen


  • Frank

    @Ryan, thanks for reading and for your comment. I literally stumbled upon Vlad and, as I stated, I haven't had time to do much in-depth research on him. The Catholicity claim is based on his father having been a member of The Order of the Dragon,Defenders of the Cross, etc, etc. And you are correct in that there are two sides of his story, and they are basically mirror images of one another.

  • Frank

    @George, Thanks for stopping by! I love pithy comments too. Excellent. ;-P

  • John Médaille

    I had a wonderful lunch at an Orthodox monastery in Romania last year, under a painting of Vlad Tsepich, also known as Vlad the Impaler and Dracula, "Son of the Dragon." Vlad is a hero to the Romanians, for fighting not only the Turks, but the "Boyars," the oppressive upper class that was quite content to cooperate with the Turk against the peasant.

  • bt

    Nice to get some information on Vlad from a non-Hollywood perspective.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl

    Have I said I liked the end of Bram Stokers novel?Unexpected salvation is … well the opposite of dismal: Dismas. If you know what I mean.

  • Frank

    @John, that sounds like a neat trip!@bt, thank you kindly, it is my pleasure.@Hans-Georg, stop…thief! And I want to thank you for stopping by. You have a great double-barreled name, brother. Sheesh!

  • Anonymous

    There's a wonderful book by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally called "Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times" (1989). It confirms that, under pressure, Vlad did convert from Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism about 1475. He died by treachery — a Turkish spy had been paid to assassinate him — but his ally at the time was Stephen the Great of Moldavia (declared a saint by the Romanian Orthodox Church), so he was keeping good company. His head was posted on the walls of Constantinople by the Sultan, but his body was carefully buried by local monks. Can you tell I have a soft spot for this fierce, complicated, brave man?

  • Ismael

    I knew that Vlad Tepes 'Dracul' is a national here in Romania (I have many Romanian friends who often are offended if someone speaks ill for Count Vlad).Yet I always thought he was Greek-Orthodox. I guess I learn something new everyday :)Although greatly exagerated by German, Hungarian and Russian propaganda, Vlad method's were somewhat cruel.A defender of Christianity yes, a Hero perhaps, a Christian model: not really…

    • NEannalina

      ISMEAL Please tell me that you mean a Prince, Saying “count ” brings Vlad down three levels. Count as many confuse with Count Dracula of the fictatious book by Bram Stoker is demeaning to a Prince who ruled over a country… its like saying Vlad rulled Orange county instead of all of the United States. And Dracul was Vlad’s father. Hero yes, if anyone bothered to account for the Propaganda that was spread about him, (just look at the years of the paintings) and the Pamphlets were produced to cover a Smear Campaign. Mathias Corvinus, the Hungarian King took the crusading funds that were supposed to help Vlad in the war with the TUrks. THen, because the King had signed an armistice with the Turks and agreed to put Radu (Vlads Brother) on the throne, he needed to get rid of Vlad, but Vlad would not just step down and let the Turks into his lands, so he continued to fight. Since the king needed him gone, these PROPAGANDIST pamphlets were made to help arrest Vlad. But, as many documents prove, no one knew the reason. Many of their STORIES can be shown as fasle. Populations at the time show it would be impossible as well as the impaling process itself. Mathmatically it is impossible. These pamphlets were produced to help the king in a Smear Campaign against Vlad. In Archives they show Vlad constantly asked for peace with Brasov, but Brasov and SIbiu, both Transylvanian towns stole, impaled merchants, and harbored enemies of the Prince. Even Mathias told both of his towns, that if they continue their greedy ways and Prince Vlad comes against them, the hungarian kingdom will not come to their aid. Archives prove that the pamphlets were only propaganda.

  • Frank

    @Ismael, I never claimed he was a model of Christianity. Just sayin'.

  • Frank

    @Thy Handmaid's Son, Great, informative comment. There is a lot I don't know, but priests in "the field" I do know. And thanks to "Anon 6:02PM" for the book recommendation.@Lisa Graas, added us to your blogroll now? Thank you kindly!

  • Anonymous

    Great post! We should all pray for the souls of "bad guys", and add them onto the lists of our dearly departed relatives.

  • Anonymous

    Are you on crack?Vlad used to have dinner, watching his victims scream slowly to death with their last breath. A guy who ate dinner with Vlad once complained that he was not able to eat, due to the stench and possibly the screams of the dying, whom Vlad had impaled all around his dinner table.Vlad then asked his guest if he wanted some fresh air.The guest said yes, and Vlad cut off his nose, impaled him high upon a pole, and then kept on eating.What is there left to forgive then?

  • Anonymous

    Do not confuse Christianity and Nationalism.

  • Sandy

    Glad someone mentioned the Florescu book… there's a lot of mythology surrounding Vlad, and I don't dismiss the theories out of hand by any means.

  • Frank

    @Anon 1:35, No, but you "crack" me up. =)‎"If you believe what you like in the Gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself."~ St. Augustine@Anon 1:39, Noted. But don't forget to defend yourself either. Semper Fidelis@Sandy, there's a lot of mythology surrounding Vlad…you got that right!

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl

    Yes, I did stop by! Thank you for reminding me!"peto quod petivit latro pænitens"I was nearly going to name a son Latro-Penitens, until I found out it is Dismas. Fortunately well before as yet having any son to name.

  • Frank

    A thief is, as a thief does. St. Dismas, though, had the grace to defend God at the proper time. And he was rewarded that which he did not earn. Amen to that.

  • Frank

    @ Hans-Georg, you should comb through the archives to see what John Wu says about the Little Flower. She said, "How willingly would I help the 'Divine Thief' to come and steal me. I see him in the distance, and I take good care not to cry out, 'Stop, Thief!' On the contrary, I call Him, saying 'This way, this way!'"No need for Latin there. =)

  • micah

    I would think the best way to respond to Anon @1:35 would be to hope that that is one of those apocryphal stories that someone made up, not to laugh it off like it's no big deal.OR, to be consistent with your stated hope in this post that Vlad repented at the end of his life of his evils, you could soberly agree, yes that is horrible, and the Church has the means to forgive even him should he have repented.This is why I find this post terribly confusing and not a little disturbing: I can't tell whether you think Vlad's despicable actions fall in line with the heroic kind of fighting that Chesterton is talking about (if you thought that, I would agree with Anon @1:35 that you were "on crack", or at least would hope that that is not your normal sober self talking), or that you hope that he repented and converted at the end of his life of his horrific violence. The post overwhelmingly gives the impression of the former, and that his evidently violent nature was a good thing all things considered, but then you end by hoping that he repented of all his violence. Maybe you want to be able to say both, but it's not consistent.

  • Anthony S. Layne

    @ micah: If you read Florescu, you find out that Vlad's heroic and horrific acts were usually separate occasions. Besides, on the battlefield, the heroic and the horrific often exist side by side, sometimes in the same soldier. One tale that Florescu tells is of a merchant at the Impaler's court who expressed fear of his merchandise being stolen. Vlad ordered him to leave it all overnight in the middle of a square. The next morning, the merchant found every item exactly where he'd left it. While his methods could be vicious, they apparently got results—crime became virtually unknown near the end of his last reign.

  • Kaylan

    Excellent article! Wow, really made me think about the "evil men do". It reminds me of a tv show I watched recently where a police officer was talking to a doctor about the soul of a recently deceased criminal (who was quite evil). The officer was hoping the dead criminal got what he deserved in hell but the doctor said, "hold on there.. we have to remember that the darkness often drags the good down with it." Meaning… of course, that good people often become (or do) bad and there are many factors to consider. Having studied the effects of environment, psychology and other elements in our lifetime, it is entirely logical that NO ONE can judge the soul of another or determine whether or not they are in heaven or hell. Indeed, good people can do very bad things and vice versa. We have to trust in God's Mercy, I believe, because that is really the only way to heaven. Peace!

  • Mutnodjmet

    As an American of Romanian heritage, and a newbie Catholic, I really enjoyed this article very much. It is especially meaningful as we look at the chaos of the "Arab Spring 2011".

  • Howard

    There are all kinds of pleasant stories about Bishop Hatto of Mainz, too, who supposedly burned the poor of his diocese alive in a barn, after which “mice” (perhaps their ghosts) ate him alive in the Mouse Tower in the Rhine. We know that the stories about the bishop are false, though; we should bear in mind that the our Medieval ancestors were at least as creative in slander as we are today.

    As for Vlad’s appearance in these unpleasant roles, it might be worthwhile to find out if he didn’t have those commissioned himself. Maybe everyone likes to think they would have been St. John at the foot of the Cross, but more likely, we would have been St. Peter denying Christ, or indeed Pontius Pilate taking the easy way out and passing the unjust sentence. At one point, still rulers remembered that they needed to remind themselves of this fact.

  • BHG

    No man can know the state of any man’s soul, even his own. Enough said. Continue to pray for Vlad.

  • Fuquay Steve

    If Mark Shea reads this, his head would explode!

    • Frank Weathers


    • Mark Shea

      Why? It didn’t explode the first time I read it. I agree with every word Frank wrote. Merely because you might damn somebody to hell because of their grave intrinsic sins, I think it is our duty to pray for such folk and hope that they repented them.