My favorite popular Catholic historian has done it again! How does she do it? Dr. Diane Moczar seems to have a gift not only for digging up and remembering thousands of details of Catholic history throughout the ages, but she writes with a flair that grabs our interest from the very first words of her book, The Church Under Attack: Five Hundred Years That Split the Church and Scattered the Flock. Besides all that, she does it with humor and aplomb and an obvious love for the Catholic Faith. Every book of hers that I have read has been both enjoyable and educational.
Dr. Moczar, in an interview (which can be read on the Internet) describes this book as the completion of the story of her first effort, What Every Catholic Wants to Know: Catholic History from the Catacombs to the Reformation. Unfortunately, this first publication is now out of print, but it is available as a used book, and although I have not yet read this one, no doubt it is just as informative and enjoyable as all her other books.
With a scope as large as the title under consideration here, there has necessarily been left out great amount of detail about important events and characters. Dr. Moczar solves this problem for the interested reader by including a thirty-five page section titled Suggestions for Further Reading which she has arranged chapter by chapter.
Our author begins the first chapter, “The Busy Sixteenth Century,”in a light-hearted manner:
“The trouble with the sixteenth century is that the people living in it did far too much. Harried teachers faced with squeezing their doings into a tidy lecture would love to give them some advice: Stop doing things! Leave something for the next century!”
Indeed. The sixteenth century overflows with major events, such as European exploration to Africa, the Orient and the New World, with great writers such as Shakespeare and Cervantes, and with the earthshaking upheaval of the Protestant Revolt begun by “a neurotic monk with a hammer in his hand and a couple of nails between his teeth getting ready to tack a piece of paper to the door of a church.”
At the outset, the myth of the Augustinian monk being scandalized by immoral Rome is exploded. Dr. Moczar saves some of her ability as an exploder of historical myths for “good” Queen Bess as well. She references BBC historian and documentary filmmaker Michael Wood’s comparison of Elizabeth’s treatment of her Catholic subjects to the tactics of the Taliban and the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
In the next century when the so-called “Puritans” came into power under Oliver Cromwell, their hatred of all things Catholic led them to take their vengeance out on the remaining Catholics on English soil and to resort to the same brutal means when they took their forces into Scotland and Ireland. Dr. Moczar has little good to say about Cromwell, calling him a monster of history. She relates the pathetic scene that occurred on the deathbed of the “butcher of Drogheda.” As he lay dying, he inquired of a Puritan elder sitting at his bedside, “Is it possible to fall from grace?” The elder replied, “No, it is not.” “I am glad,” Cromwell said, “for I know I was in grace once.” Starkly revealed here is the erroneous “once saved, always saved” theology of the Calvinist, who, although guilty of horrendous sins in his lifetime, is denied the saving grace of a sacramental confession.
The book proceeds chronologically, century by century, with the author hitting the highlights in each country, primarily of Europe, which of course was Christendom, but going as far afield from the main action as the Americas, since the Catholic countries of Europe had great presence in the western hemisphere early on while Protestant England grabbed a foothold in North America only in the early seventeenth century. She also includes events in the Muslim world as the Turks advanced on Europe.
I particularly appreciated Dr. Moczar’s treatment of the revolutionary period in France. Didn’t most of us learn in high school that this revolution was good for the progress of man? How foolish we were to believe it! Dr. Moczar teaches us that no revolution is good, that revolution by its very nature is not a Christian concept. She is worth quoting here:
“Whenever someone says, ‘I have a right to … more money, abortion, a better job, a satisfying love affair, ‘and so on, he is echoing the revolutionary concept of rights: claims to whatever we happen to desire, regardless of any corresponding obligation or moral context… Abstract principles have a way of leading to unpleasant consequences.”
She points out that revolutions are never spontaneous; they are created by men with agendas, and she is speaking here of revolutions in general – the French, the Russian, even the American. The French Revolution had its cast of evil characters with agendas, the most important of which were to smash altar and crown – to get rid of the “infamous thing” in the words of Voltaire in speaking of the Church, and to topple the monarchy. Thousands of French citizens were martyred to the cause of Revolution, which, in the end, brought not a stable society, but more terror, a Reign of Terror. Then came Napoleon who literally crowned himself Emperor, swallowed much of Europe in his arrogant quest for more power, and had his Grand Armee defeated by that most heartless of enemies to conquering armies, the Russian winter.
Catholic thinking had always taught that the legitimate ruler – usually a king – was destined by God to rule the nation. The ideal monarch would take care of the “big things” — national defense, the administration of justice, and the rights of the Church (never was a Catholic country of Europe a theocracy as in modern Islamic states or in ancient Israel), while the people took care of their own affairs. This is based on the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, beginning with the smallest unit of the family, then the parish, the community and so on up the line. Citizens of traditional Christendom had much more freedom from government than we Americans do today. For France, kicking the priests and nuns out (or murdering them before they could leave) was an absolute disaster. Gone were the hospitals, the free schools for the poor run by religious orders and the other services that the good sisters and priests provided the citizenry, usually at no or minimal charge. There was no longer a safety net, and the poor became the positively destitute.
Because this little gem is worthy of more than one read, I will mention only a couple of other interesting tidbits which one does not usually encounter in “regular” history books. One is the heroic Catholic opposition to Nazism in Germany, fostered by the White Rose Resistance. These young Catholic and other Christian students, led by an Aristotle-quoting brother and sister (Hans and Sophie Scholl), mounted what has been called the only public political display of defiance that occurred in Nazi Germany. Their activities were quickly ended and the leaders guillotined. Giving due credit to His Holiness, Pius XII, who has been viciously and falsely accused of facilitating the extermination of the Jews, it was he who helped the plotters remain in contact in the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler’s life by the Catholic Claus von Stauffenberg. Besides this, as is now well known, Pius saved more than 800,000 Jews by hiding them within Vatican City. In addition, he kept the Roman population fed during the Nazi occupation.
One more comment: On two occasions Dr. Moczar points out that certain historical disasters could have been averted. The first: If the French King, Louis XIV, in 1689 had consecrated France to the Sacred Heart of Jesus as Our Lord requested him to do through the mediation of His servant Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, the debacle of one hundred years later would not have occurred. The second is obvious. If Russia had been consecrated to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart by 1960 as Our Lady of Fatima requested through the communication of the young Portuguese seers, Russia would not have “spread her errors.” In other words, the world could have been spared the horrors of Communism and the disaster of World War II.
This is an amazing little book, filled with history told from a Catholic perspective. I have read it twice and it could bear another couple of readings — it is that packed with information. In short, from the early days of the sixteenth century with the Protestant Revolt to the dark days of the Vatican II fallout, and lately to a more optimistic period with the freedom for the unhindered celebration of the Tridentine Mass and to the more traditional young sisters and priests entering religious life, this book covers everything Catholic that occurred in the past five hundred years. A definite must-read!