The Catholic Church and Russia: Popes, Patriarchs, Tsars and Commissars

By Schlafly, Daniel L., Jr. | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2005 | Go to article overview

The Catholic Church and Russia: Popes, Patriarchs, Tsars and Commissars


Schlafly, Daniel L., Jr., The Catholic Historical Review


Late Modern European The Catholic Church and Russia: Popes, Patriarchs, Tsars and Commissars. By Dennis J. Dunn. (Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate Publishing Company. 2004. Pp. xii, 260. $89.95.)

Dunn's emphasis, seven of ten chapters, is on the era since 1917. Like Petr Chaadaev, he attributes the individual liberty, limited government, and cultural achievements of the West to the Roman Catholic Church. Although Russia's tsars occasionally looked to the Catholic West for modernization, they and the Russian Orthodox Church instead chose autocracy to the detriment of their people and their neighbors. Traditional hostility to Catholicism became savage persecution under the Soviet regime, and anti-Catholicism persists less virulently today.

The Catholic model for Russia has some validity, and Dunn is right that many histories of Russia underplay religion. Parts of his narrative, particularly on the twentieth century, are coherent and convincing, and most of the relevant sources are cited. But Dunn's zeal for his thesis leads to dubious interpretations, and there are factual errors.

As an example of Russia's backwardness, Dunn says Muscovy had no schools until the eighteenth century (p. 12), ignoring Fedor Rtischev's founded in 1648, Symeon Polots'kyi's in 1665, and the Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy in 1685. There were no Catholic priests in Moscow in 1691, when Dunn claims SS. Peter and Paul Parish was founded (p. 28). The Jesuits returned to Russia in 1698, not 1702 (p. 28). The two Moravian clerics who came in 1692 were diocesan priests, not Franciscans (p. 30).

Dunn states that, starting with Peter I, Russians "opened the door partially to Catholicism, because it had a proven track record in modernization" (p. ix), but Peter looked more to Protestantism and Catherine II to enlightened despotism. The Academy of Sciences was founded in 1725, not 1726 (p. 30). Dunn says that Paul Fs reversal of Catherine II's hostility to Catholicism was "an ephemeral, if not loony, reaction to being dominated by his mother" (p. 40). But while Catherine was leery of papal authority, she established a formal Roman and Uniate hierarchy, protected the Jesuits, and recruited Catholic settlers for Russia, and Paul consciously favored the Catholic Church as an ally against atheist and revolutionary forces. …

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