[Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know: The Divine Surprises and Chastisements that Shaped the Church and Changed the World by Diane Moczar, Ph D. Sophia Institute Press, 2005]
Please pardon my enthusiasm, but I loved this book! It was a great read the first time around, and even more exciting and interesting the second. In just 174 pages, Dr. Diane Moczar encapsulates more than 1900 years of Catholic history, not only touching on and emphasizing the crucial high points, but also including some fascinating and little-known details that give the reader many “WOW! I didn’t know that!” moments. These details help to flesh out the events and characters of the story.
More importantly, she does all this through the eyes of Faith, seeing God’s hand in the timing and events of history. Her writing style is logical and fast-moving, touched here and there with humor, all the while giving the reader the correct impression that he is immersed in the most exciting and important story ever told.
In selecting the “ten dates,” of the title, Dr. Moczar explains that she is using a tried and true educational tool — that of using dates as “pegs” upon which to “hang” the facts, events and people as a cluster in the mind of the learner. Some of the dates are singular, such as Constantine’s “divine surprise” of his conversion to Christianity in the year 313 A.D. and the subsequent Christianizing of the Roman Empire. Others are over a period of time, months or even years, the “chastisements” — the Protestant Catastrophe of the sixteenth century and the French Revolution of 1789 — which happened because Catholic hearts had grown cold and indifferent to God. Dr. Moczar teaches us that we must look for the hand of God in every single event.
Let us take a brief look at some of my favorite highlights: In the year 800 Pope Leo III crowned Charles the Great (Charlemagne) Emperor of the restored western Roman empire, which by then included Italy as well as Germany. It was Charles’ father, Pepin the Short, who convinced the Pope that the actual ruler (who was merely “mayor of the palace” in name) should wear the crown. When the Holy Father consented, the empire was placed in his capable hands. A holy and just man inherited the empire when Pepin died. His son continued Pepin’s work by promoting education, reforming the monasteries, and insisting that monks and clergy be not only pious, but learned. In His Providence, God sent Charlemagne a learned Irish monk, whose name was Alcuin. He put into effect Charlemagne’s plan for the education of both religious and laity. A great renaissance ensued with schools being founded throughout the Empire — and for both sexes. The great king himself — between wars and battles — found the time to teach in some of the schools. One of the most valuable accomplishments of the time was the invention of a new kind of writing, Carolingian miniscule, which separated words from each other, using lower case letters and retaining the capitals only for the beginning of sentences and proper words, just as we do now. (Previously, the Old Roman script was all in capitals with no separation between words — very difficult to read.) Charlemagne was truly a Renaissance Man, dedicated to God, His Church, and the betterment of his empire through proper education — all this from a man who lever learned to write himself!
Scanderbeg the Janissary
One of the most fascinating episodes is the story of the Turkish Janissaries and of Scanderbeg. This is one of those “little details” which fleshes out the larger events leading up to and including the Battle of Lepanto, which Dr. Moczar calls “Our Lady’s Naval Victory.”
When the Ottoman Turks came to power in the fourteenth century, they acquired a small foothold in Europe by way of the Balkan Peninsula. Their talented rulers created a tight and effective administrative system. One of their strokes of brilliance was the practice of kidnapping young Christian boys in their raids into eastern Europe. These children were then raised in the Sultan’s court as dedicated Muslims. Their purpose in life was the protection of the Sultan and the Turkish Empire and the acquisition of new lands for Allah. They were a fourteenth century fighting machine!
In 1423, in a raid into what is now Albania, then called Epirus, the ruler of that land was forced to send his four young sons as hostages to the Ottoman court. Nothing is known what happened to three of the brothers, but the fourth, George, proved to be a mighty warrior winning battles and leading the Muslim troops to many victories. He was so impressive that the Turks called him Iskander beg, “Alexander the Great.” He is known to history as Scanderbeg.
Details of his return to his Catholic roots are unknown, but at some point this brave young man abandoned Islam and the Ottomans and returned to Albania to fight on the Christian side. He became the Albanian national champion and held off the Turks at every invasion until his death in 1468. Pope Callixtus considered him to be, after John Hunyadi, the greatest of warriors in the fight for Christendom against the Turks. At Scanderbeg’s death the Sultan is said to have shouted, “At last Europe and Asia are mine. Woe to Christendom! She has lost her sword and her shield!”
A Family Tragedy
The chapter “The Age of Revolution” which we would think begins with the awful happenings of 1789, actually begins one hundred years earlier with the request of Our Blessed Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque to have the king of France consecrate the nation to His Sacred Heart. We all know what happened: the reigning monarch, Louis XIV, the “Sun King” refused the request. Again, as in the Protestant Catastrophe, Catholic hearts had grown cold, thereby setting the scene for the enemies of the Church to gain a foothold in the country that was the Eldest Daughter of the Church. Leading those enemies were the Gallican Catholics (who believed that the French Church could be independent of Rome) and Freemasonic lodges where the leading Enlightenment thinkers plotted the destruction of altar and throne.
Not too much is known about the maltreatment of the royal family of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, after their imprisonment in 1791. Their children (the oldest son had died earlier of tuberculosis) were imprisoned with them in Temple Prison where the king attempted to keep up a normal life for his wife, daughter, little son, the Dauphin, and his wife’s sister, who had voluntarily joined them. Prior to being sent to Temple Prison, while under house arrest and near death from an illness, Louis XVI finally fulfilled Our Lord’s request of one hundred years before by signing a royal consecration of France to the Sacred Heart. After the execution of the king, Louis-Charles, the Dauphin, was separated from his family and kept in filthy conditions where his jailers made him drunk and goaded him to say terrible lies about his mother. He was ill with the same sickness that killed his older brother. Although so horribly tormented by his jailers, he was all the while ready to forgive them, as his father had constantly taught him. The poor little boy died in this setting at ten years old, his body thrown into a common grave. Unbeknownst to the government officials, however, the brave doctor who performed the autopsy on the child took the heart and preserved it in alcohol. It survived being passed around for more than two hundred years, and after DNA testing, which proved it to be the heart of King Louis XVII, it was given a solemn burial in the Basilica of St. Denis in Paris in June of 2004. The only survivor of this carnage was the daughter, Marie-Therese, who was sent to her mother’s family in Austria. NOTHING about the French Revolution was good, absolutely nothing!
It Fits Right In!
These are just three small examples of the fascinating things you will read in this little gem of a book. Additionally, the book’s presentation fits neatly into the method of study given to us by Brother Francis in the St. Augustine Institute of Studies — studying major happenings in the Church by learning important dates and the events and people surrounding them. With this gem of a book, Diane Moczar has given us a politically incorrect, but factually correct, introduction to the whole of Catholic history, even taking us into modern times with the Fatima apparitions. Highly recommended reading!
Buy Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know now!