How the Catholics Saved Civilization

By McCloskey, Rev C. J. | The American Spectator, October 2005 | Go to article overview

How the Catholics Saved Civilization


McCloskey, Rev C. J., The American Spectator


How the Catholics Saved Civilization How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (REGNERY PUBLISHING, 256 PAGES, $29.95)

THOMAS E. WOODS, JR. HAS WRITTEN a challenging and indeed almost defiant book. A professional historian with degrees from Harvard and Columbia, he systematically explains to a reading public that has largely lost its historical memory "How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization" (the title of his new book from Regnery). In this new volume, Woods follows up on his recent bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History (2004), also available from Regnery. To a degree, he traces the footsteps of best-selling author Thomas Cahill How the Irish Saved Civilization (Doubleday, 1995, see review on my website). However, Thomas Woods's approach is both religiously orthodox and more trustworthy historically, as signaled by the excellent bibliography and ample scholarly footnotes. When a noted Stanford historian such as Dr. Paul Legutko praises publicly such a book, you know that you are not reading a biased reactionary polemic.

During the Great Jubilee year, John Paul II issued a famous "apology," or act of contrition on behalf of the entire Catholic Church for the serious sins committed by its members over almost 2000 years of history. In doing so, he wished the Church to enter the new millennium with slate wiped clean, having acknowledged in specific ways the crimes, sometimes horrendous, committed by its human elements throughout history.

That millennial apology is a perfect set-up for Professor Woods's splendid account of the many ways in which the Catholic faith created what we call Western civilization. Reaching bookstores almost simultaneously with the end of John Paul's magnificent pontificate, Woods's book establishes with sober confidence that the great majority of the institutions that define the West and that are increasingly exported throughout the world are the product of Catholicism and of believing Catholics.

Professor Woods acknowledges, "In our media and popular culture, little is off-limits when it comes to parodying the Church. Students, to the extent that they know anything at all about the Catholic Church, are typically familiar only with alleged instances of Church 'corruption.' The story of Catholicism, as far as they know it, is one of ignorance, repression, and stagnation." But Woods notes, "Western civilization stands indebted to the Church for the university system, charitable work, international law, the sciences, and, important legal principles... Western civilization owes far more to the Catholic Church than most people-Catholics included-often realize. The Church, in fact, built Western civilization."

Our world is fascinated and driven by technological progress, so readers are likely to find espedaily interesting Woods's explanation of how modern science gained its original impetus from Catholic theology. Woods convincingly argues that j modern experimental science started in the late Middle Ages due to the Christian belief that God created the world "ex nihil" and that there is an "order" in the universe that can gradually be known by men. …

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