The Church under Attack: Five Hundred Years That Split the Church and Scattered the Flock

Article excerpt

The Church Under Attack: Five Hundred Years that Split the Church and Scattered the Flock. By Diane Moczar. Sophia Institute Press. 256pages. $18.95.

Diane Moczar has earned a reputation for being a no-nonsense Catholic historian who sets the record straight. In her newest book she tells the history of Western civilization from the dawn of the 16th century to the close of the 20th century and considers what those 500 years have meant for the Catholic Church. Modem historiography has a notoriously anti-Catholic bias that has distorted most people's impressions of the Church in this time period, yet when the historical facts are encountered, the Church is inevitably vindicated. As Pope Leo XIII once said, the Catholic Church has no reason to fear historical truth. In a conversational style colored with tasteful humor, scholarly insights, and refreshing frankness, Moczar explains what really happened during these past five centuries from a faithfully Catholic perspective.

The author argues that, at least for the purpose of this book, Western history can be divided into two periods. The first period started with Ancient Greece and Rome and lasted through the High Middle Ages - a period when the Church emerged, Catholic culture flourished, and "the general course of civilization appears to be upward." The second period, and the focus of the book, marks a dramatic shift, beginning with the Protestant Reformation, "the first of a series of great spiritual, intellectual, and cultural crises," and continuing through the post-Cold War era. In this latter period, the Church has suffered unprecedented attacks on her beliefs and unity, and the West has spiraled into chaos. Moczar examines the major developments of this period to show how and why the West took on its current shape and where the Church stands today. Since a truly comprehensive examination would take many volumes, she offers suggestions for further reading after each chapter.

Western civilization, traditionally known as Christendom, was founded on the one true Catholic faith and thrived on the labors of the faithful. Then came the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, when Martin Luther publicly professed a new set of religious doctrines of his own invention and, due in part to temporary troubles in the Church and political tensions, sparked revolts throughout Europe that led to the establishment of three new major religions: Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Anglicanism. While the Reformation had its greatest impact in the spiritual realm, it also had significant consequences in the temporal order.

Deadly conflicts quickly broke out across Europe, thanks to ideological divisions that had set in, with the most vicious persecutions of the Church occurring at the hands of militant Calvinists like England's Oliver Cromwell. These conflicts exacerbated tensions and caused wars of increasing scale. Despite the Catholic Church's best efforts to heal these divisions and regain what had been lost for Christendom, the new Protestant sects, and the cultural systems they formed, became permanent fixtures in Europe. As the great European powers - Catholic and Protestant - established colonies in the New World, their ideas went with them, entrenching these disparate religions and cultures on far-off continents. …