The Church Under Attack

The Church Under Attack

The Church Under Attack:
Five Hundred Years That Split the Church and Scattered the Flock
by Diane Moczar
(Sophia Institute Press, 2013)

In this sequel to her earlier book, Moczar discusses the changes of the 16th century onwards that challenged the integrity and survival of the Church. The general pattern was that in most places, the Church was squeezed out, notably even in France, the “eldest daughter of the Church”. The biggest challenges were dealing with political and social movements throughout Europe, as well as battling the Ottoman Turks, Protestantism and the onslaught of “modern” ideas. Needless to say, the Church was not always left in the best of positions at the end.

Massive social, economic and intellectual changes also emerged and I will focus more on the “intellectual” attacks in my summary because – “Ideas Have Consequences” (one of the book’s subtitles).

As always, even in the darkest times, the Lord to provides, even though His Hand may not be recognised all the time, and perhaps some of us still struggle to see Divine Providence behind the many tragic developments of modern history.

  1. The Busy 16th Century

Protestant Reformation, Catholic Counter-Reformation, Colonialism, Struggle with the Ottoman Turks

  • flourishing of the arts
  • the Council of Trent (1545-1563) and its “great codification of Catholic doctrine”
  • Persecution in strong Protestant areas such as Northern Germany, England and Puritan America and resulting efforts to protect the faith
  • Spanish colonisation of the Americas, presenting an interesting contrast to the English and Americans as colonial masters
  1. The 17th Century

The Scientific Revolution and its consequences

  • Historical approach to science: the study of “all of reality” based on the idea of “causes” (philosophy and theology, for example, were considered sciences); recognised the “distinction” (not “conflict”) between faith and reason
  • New approach: the study of material things, resulting in the eventual denial of any “nonmaterial cause”; the “how” (descriptive) was more important than the “why”

Persecution of Catholics in England and Ireland

  • “hedge schools” which held on to and maintained Catholic life and heritage

 The “classical” period in France

  • flourishing spirituality, mirroring the artistic achievements of the time
  • Saints Vincent de Paul, Francis de Sales, John Eudes, Margaret Mary Alacoque (but the failure of King Louis XIV to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart), Joseph Cupertino, Martin de Porres, Peter Claver, (just some of the more famous ones from this era)
  1. The 18th Century

The Enlightenment

  • search for the ultimate answers to life in the “laws of nature”
  • important features: liberalism, idealism, glorification of human nature, a utopian view of the future, atheism/deism (there was great interest in the occult during this period too)
  • rise of revolutionary ideas about society and government
  1. Revolutionary Catastrophe

The French Revolution

  • political model for Christendom since the 5th century: monarchy (with general recognition of its authority and legitimacy) + self-government of towns and villages
  • traditional view of revolution against legitimate authority: “a great evil”
  • traditional view of “rights”: “rights” are “counterparts of duties”

what the French Revolution brought in (as with the American Revolution):

  • “universal” rights that were “abstract”, compared to the traditional understanding of “rights”, and de-linked from any “social context” or “obligation”
  • Christian Brother Schools founded by St. John Baptist de La Salle
  1. Napoleon and After

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic era with the new catchwords: liberty, equality and fraternity

liberty – “rights of man”

equality – became the substitute for religion in Marxism

fraternity – became the basis for nationalism and “socialist brotherhoods”

  • clampdown on religious orders, thus disrupting their contribution to society in the areas of education, healthcare, care for the poor, etc
  • rise of Romanticism: renewed interest in preserving the past
  1. The 19th Century

Industrial Revolution

– social and economic upheaval with the decline of traditional livelihoods and unprecedented migration to cities

Darwinism and Marxism, which grew out of the Enlightenment obsession with science and the prevailing idea of “determinism”

  • Both the “struggle for survival”-“survival of the fittest” and the inevitability of class struggle ideas deny the role of Divine Providence and human free will
  1. The Late 19th Century

Socialist and Communist revolutionary movements all over Europe, including in France and Germany, and the rise of modernism

  • Saints Catherine Laboure, John Bosco, Anthony Mary Claret
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Guangzhou (built in the 19th century)
  1. The Century of Total War: Part One

Modernism – “the compendium of all heresies”

  • many of these ideas were not exactly “modern” but rehashed ideas of the major heresies from the Middle Ages through the Reformation; what was “modern” was the idea that doctrine evolves (Darwin link) – what had happened with and to Protestantism had started creeping into the Catholic Church
  • Pope St. Pius X denounced this as man “substituting” himself for God
  • Fatima – Marian apparition like never before or after
  1. The Century of Total War: Part Two

Rise and spread of Communism; advocacy of eugenics and birth control even outside Germany (e.g. in the USA) and before the rise of Hitler

  • examples of perspectives of history, post World War II

initially – the term “holocaust” referred to the loss of life (about 50 million dead) caused by the Axis powers; later – the term was capitalised and referred exclusively to the killing of the Jews by Hitler

initially – it was publicly known that Jews appreciated what the Church had done to try to save them (and the chief rabbi of Rome was baptised after the war!); later (starting in the 1960s) – propaganda portrayed myths about the Church not doing what it could against Hitler or to prevent the killing of the Jews

  1. Postwar and Post-Cold War  

Persecution of Catholics in East Europe, China and other areas under the Communists, Vatican II (not covered in detail in this book)

Something interesting that I learnt was that when the old priests of the Soviet Union finally returned from prison or exile and were all ready to rebuild the Church and the faith, Vatican II had already taken place. How bewildering it must have been for them.

inside the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (Guangzhou) today

I didn’t know that many of the cherished ideas and concepts of today’s world have such an anti-Catholic history. The change in the way man viewed himself and his life, vis a vis others, the past and future, and existence, lies behind the modern world. All the major political, economic and social changes grew from there, everything “evolving” and seemingly spinning out of control.

I think that the Church and its teachings, on the other hand, need to remain a rock but being so practically invites very hard knocks (to put it mildly) and, because it is filled with human beings making choices and decisions for all sorts of reasons, the knocks have their consequences. “That is why ideas matter” (as Moczar says).

Still, God is with us. “The Church, after all, is Christ in the world, and He will not be vanquished.” (Moczar again)

Every time the Church is attacked, do we hear the Lord’s call?
Restore My Church


What Every Catholic Wants to Know: Catholic History


What Every Catholic Wants to Know: Catholic History
by Diane Moczar
(Our Sunday Visitor, 2006)

I’m sure not that everybody wants to read more about history than they have to (e.g. for school) and so I like how this title says that all Catholics want to know more about Catholic history.

Well, why should they know about the history? Here is a quotation from the book:
“… the ancients saw history as part of ethics; one learned about morality by observing how people of the past behaved. For Catholics, history is more that that: it is God’s working in the world. Our “So what?” [one of the “key questions to ask about anything in history”] will therefore always be open to seeing God’s hand in everything that happens in history. In some cases, His guidance will be easy to discern, while in others we may not see it at all. It is always, nevertheless, at work in the human affairs we study.”

That’s why.

Moczar stresses that this is neither a “textbook” nor a “scholarly book” but a “collection of evocative glimpses of the history of the Church”. At just 167 pages, it gives us a quick overview of what happened “from the catacombs to the Reformation”.

She organises the book in pairs of chapters – each pair starts with a commentary on what happened during that particular era and is followed by a chapter discussing “Catholic thought and culture” during that time. Each chapter ends with “Food for thought”, a short reflection section that links the issues of the day with issues of our day, and “Reading suggestions”, comprising her recommendations for further reading on specific topics.

These are the time periods covered and some topics and people (mostly the stout defenders of the faith and the loudest challengers of the teachings of the Church) discussed.

  1. The early Church
  • early Christian communities, persecution by the Roman empire and early martyrs (e.g. Sts. Felicity and Perpetua)
  • “synthesis” of classical learning and Christianity, early Catholic literature, Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church
  1. The Dark Ages
  • fall of Rome, attacks by “barbarians” and nomadic tribes, challenges such as Arianism and paganism, the kingdom of the Franks (“heart of the Catholic civilisation of the west”),
  • decline in learning, the few “pockets of survival” (e.g. Ireland), St. Boethius, Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. Bede
  1. End of the Dark Ages
  • Battle of Tours, the rise of Charlemagne, the Carolingian Renaissance, the challenge of the Vikings and Magyars
  • revival of learning, start of book production, new styles of writing
  1. Early Middle Ages
  • renewal of economic and social life, improvements in agriculture, the feudal system, rise of towns and kings
  • St. Peter Damian, St. Anselm, St. Wulstan
  1. High Middle Ages
  • “the high point of Christendom” – when “Christianity permeated all of society, and shaped everything from economics to politics”
  • The Crusades
  • flourishing of education, literature and the arts, the fight against “heresy, schism and false teaching”, St. Thomas Becket, Abelard, St. Bernard of Clairvaux
  1. The 13th century – “the greatest of centuries?”
  • social and economic growth, religious fervour in England and France, development of the “masterpieces of medieval thought, arts and institutions”
  • Gothic architecture, music, literature, Pope Innocent III
  1. Late Middle Ages
  • famine, the plague, the Hundred Years’ War, Turkish attacks, changing relations between Church and state
  • the Renaissance, trouble for the papacy

It may surprise some people that a book on history can be enjoyable or funny but I certainly enjoyed this book.  It was educational and written in an engaging and sometimes amusing style.  I look forward to reading her book on the later periods.

♫ Makes me want to listen to You Are Mine