Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know... (A Review)

by D. Q. McInerny


Diane Mozcar's book, Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know: The Divine Surprises and Chastisements that Shaped the Church and Changed the World (Sophia Institute Press 2005), is praised in this review by D. Q. McInerny as just the tool needed to help us gain new perspectives on the history of the Church.

Larger Work

Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly


37 – 39

Publisher & Date

Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, Summer 2007

The ten dates that Diane Mozcar believes that every Catholic should know are the following: 313 A.D., the Edict of Milan; 432 A.D., Pope Leo I turns back Attila and the Huns; 496 A.D., the baptism of Clovis; 800 A.D., the coronation of Charlemagne; 910 A.D., the foundation of the Abbey of Cluny; 1000 A.D., the beginning of the Church's most glorious age; 1517 A.D., the Reformation; 1571 A.D., the Battle of Lepanto; 1789 A.D., the French revolution; 1917 A.D., Fatima and the 20th century. Each date serves as a focal point for the discussion of a particular era of Church history.

Professor Mozcar begins her history with the conversion of that multi-faceted personage who was the Emperor Constantine. Given his position and power, his acceptance of the faith was to have telling practical effects on the Church. The persecution of Christians ceased, and Christianity became an officially sanctioned religion. And then there was gradually to develop a rather too cozy relation between Church and state, a relation which was not to prove an unmitigated blessing for the Church. Constantine was to be the first, but by no means the last, civil leader who showed a penchant for interfering in ecclesiastical affairs. The deleterious results of the close relation between the secular and sacred realms were to become especially pronounced in the Eastern Empire. There a number of unfortunate precedents were set by Constantine, the adverse consequences of which, I think it can be argued, have never been completely overcome.

When the empire in the West eventually collapsed — an implosion caused by thoroughgoing internal corruption — the Church had no choice but to fend for herself in what had suddenly become a very hostile world. There were barbarians of various stripes almost constantly on the rampage, and in the East there loomed an ever menacing Islam. The Dark Ages had arrived. The Vandals provided what little external pressure was needed to hurry along Rome's final collapse. Then came the Huns, in comparison to whom the Vandals might have passed for gentlemen. But Pope Leo I's brave stand thwarted their plan to pillage the city of Rome itself. But the Dark Ages were not all dark, and one definitely luminescent event that occurred during them was the baptism of Clovis, in 496 A.D. He did not come into the Church alone, but brought the whole nation of the Franks along with him, and thus the Eldest Daughter of the Church was born. (We will pass over in silence the state of that eldest daughter today. Seniority does not imply moral superiority.) There were some great women saints in those days, such as St. Genevieve of Paris, and St. Clotilda, the wife of Clovis.

There is good reason for saying that the Dark Ages ended, or at least their end was put in sight, by the coronation of Charlemagne, by Pope Leo II, on Christmas Day, 800 A.D., for it was Charlemagne who brought about the Carolingian Renaissance. Perhaps the single most significant of his accomplishments was the institution of cathedral and monastic schools, as well as the one he established at his own court. Charlemagne thus laid the foundation for an educational system which was gradually to grow into one of the jewels of European culture. What was planted in the monastic cloister was eventually to blossom into the university. But, to back up a bit, one must not neglect to acknowledge what Europe owes to Charlemagne's grandfather, Charles Martel, who defeated the invading Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732. They had already gobbled up Spain, but France, and Western Europe as a whole, was denied them.

Professor Mozcar gives due recognition to the signal importance of the Cluniac reform. Contemporary Europeans, who cannot bring themselves to admit what they owe to Christianity, can hardly be expected even to be aware of what they owe to monasticism. There is no obtuseness more obtuse than that which denies the past. St. Benedict, the Father of Western Monasticism, had founded his order in the 6th century, and it got off to a most promising start. But, thanks in great part to the intrusive meddling of secular rulers, the once edifying institution of monasticism, was, by the 10th century, showing any number of sad signs of serious corruption. (Et corruptio optimi pessima.) But then came Cluny. The genius of this foundation lay in the wonderful foresight of its founder, the Duke of Aquitaine, who took pains to ensure that the monastery would be free from secular control. In the founding charter he wrote: "The religious will have the power to elect as abbot, according to the Rule of St. Benedict, whomever they please, without the prevention of regular election by any authority." And then the Duke had the eminent good sense to appoint a very holy man, St. Berno, as the monastery's first abbot. Happily, Cluny was to have a succession of saintly abbots, perhaps the most famous of whom was St. Odo (died in 1048), called "the greatest religious force of his generation." Daughter houses of Cluny were to proliferate across the European landscape, and with the most beneficial of consequences.

The year 1000 A.D. seems aptly described by Professor Mozcar as the gateway to the Church's most glorious age, leading up to what has been called "the thirteenth, the greatest of centuries." To call an age glorious is not to imply, as Professor Mozcar is quite aware, that it is perfect. The Middle Ages, like every other era, had its complement of sinners, and sometimes they were rather spectacular ones. But Professor Mozcar detects — correctly, I believe — an attitudinal difference, with respect to sin, that dramatically sets off that age from our own. She writes: "But unlike in our day, most sinners and villains acknowledged that that is what they were. Except in the case of some of the more extreme heretics, they did not pretend that they were some new kind of saint." Well said. How many people today, caught up in certain of the more woeful of perversions, not only want to pass themselves off as a "new kind of saint," but insist that their self-canonized status be recognized and approved by all. Aberration seeking accreditation.

But even glorious ages fade, and sometimes with astonishing rapidity. So it was with the 13th century. The great legacy left by St. Thomas Aquinas was not given the preservation it deserved, and indeed demanded, and his eminently healthy philosophy and theology was pushed off to the side in favor of the great flabby phenomenon called Nominalism, which is still with us today, although vested in modern garb. The essential flaw of Nominalism is its not according sufficient respect to the objective order of things. It is, at bottom, one of the many forms of idealism. Among its other deleterious effects, Nominalism led the way to the Reformation, which Professor Mozcar appropriately designates as the "Protestant Catastrophe." In the aftermath of that catastrophe, the days of Christendom were over.

As if the Church did not have enough to handle in the Protestant rebels, Islam was making a new concerted push into Europe, and this time it looked as if the Muslims might go all the way. But a new Charles Martel rose up to save the day, and Europe, and his name was Don Juan of Austria. The decisive event was the Battle of Lepanto, which took place in 1571. In commenting on that critically important encounter, Professor Mozcar remarks tellingly: "One might have thought at the time that any further threat to the West from Islam was a pipe dream. Instead it turned out to be a nightmare." Will Christian Europe — to the very small extent that it still deserves to be called that — finally succumb, as did the Roman Empire, not to external compulsion but to internal corruption? Europeans today would seem to be spiraling downward in a veritable moral nosedive, locked in the grips of what has all the marks of a collective death wish.

Professor Mozcar begins her account of the Reformation by dismissing the mythological version of the event, a vision which is still to be found in many of the standard history textbooks. She then sets the record straight, relying, in doing so, on the most recent scholarship. Interestingly she traces the beginnings of the catastrophe to the early 13th century, and the spiritual coldness that seemed then to have settled over Christendom, and which St. Francis had pointedly called attention to. The fact is that even by that time too many Christians had become altogether too worldly, more concerned with getting and spending than with the one thing necessary. That the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) saw fit to mandate that Catholics, under pain of serious sin, must receive Communion at least once a year is a clear indication of just how bad things were. Think of it: Catholics had to be effectively forced to receive the greatest gift that was ever given to mankind! Today Catholics do not hesitate to receive Holy Communion, but with what attitude do they approach the Holy Table? How many of them believe in the Real Presence?

The French Revolution may be regarded as the dress rehearsal for the succession of major tragic dramas which were to be played out over the next two centuries. The 20th century showed itself to be the goriest, the most grossly inhumane, in the whole of human history. Josef Stalin, one of its major monsters, wrote the epitaph for the century: "One death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic." And in 1917 Our Lady came to a little town in Portugal to try to warn her children of dire things to come if they did not amend their lives and turn toward God. What has transpired since 1917 might be taken as a fair indication of the extent to which her warning was heeded.

So, how do things stand now with the Catholic Church? Professor Mozcar assessment is not particular encouraging, but who can say that it is not accurate? She writes: "Today, in many Catholic countries in Europe, something like five percent of Catholics — the people of Charlemagne and St. Odo, of Scanderberg and Gregory VII — actually attend Mass regularly. Religious indifferentism, doctrinal confusion, and moral ambiguity have plagued the Church on many levels." What is the remedy for this lamentable situation? It is as easy to specify as it is difficult to realize: saints.

Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know is not a big book, quantitatively speaking, but it is so if regarded in qualitative terms. Professor Mozcar presents us with much more than a mere chronicle of events. The topics she deals with in the book were carefully chosen for their "landmark" character, and she explores each of them with rich and revealing results, guided by the twin notions of surprise and chastisement, which she weaves into her story with very good effect. But chastisement? Have we not been taught in recent decades not to think in those terms? Are we not now too sophisticated, too progressive in our thinking, to entertain the possibility that any historical event or state of affairs should be interpreted as a chastisement from God? If so, some serious rethinking on our part is called for, so that we might develop some new perspectives on the Church and her history. This very fine book can help us to do this.

© Fellowship of Catholic Scholars

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