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.
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.
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.