History and the Catholic Church

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Jeffrey
Rubin, editor of the Conservative Book Club, interviews H.W. Crocker
III, author of the LRC bestseller, Triumph:
The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000-Year History

(Prima/Forum, 2002, $29.95)

Q.
Why the title? I don’t know many Catholics who are feeling triumphant
right now – except, perhaps, liberals who think that recent
scandals will force more of the changes they’ve been advocating.

A:
History tells us that the liberals will be disappointed; just as
they have been disappointed by the failure of the Reformation, Revolution,
Statism, and Secularism to eradicate the Church. For 2,000 years
the gates of Hell have not prevailed – and they will not. The
Church militant will become the Church triumphant. And that's true
with this latest round of sex scandals, too.

Q.
How so?

A:
Because the Vatican knows that if this scandal were reported accurately
the headlines would read: u201CChurch Experience with Homosexual Priests
Confirms Boy Scout Fears.u201D That's why the Vatican has already directed
the American Church to purge itself of homosexuals. And that's why
next on the chopping block will be the morally lax liberalism that
allowed this happen. So the inevitable long-term result will be
a rejuvenated, more conservative Church full of orthodox celibate
priests – exactly the reverse of what the media is predicting.
But the media is too blinkered by liberal prejudice and superficiality
to understand this.

Q.
Near the end of the book you quote Cardinal Newman’s remark that
"to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant."
That’s a key theme in the book, which constitutes a kind of "argument
from history" for the Faith. Can you expand on that?

A:
Newman goes even farther, saying that Protestantism understands
this, which is why it created a religion based solely on the Bible.
I think Newman is absolutely right. The argument from history is
virtually irrefutable — it is in fact what brought Newman into the
Church. In the book, I rely heavily on secular and even liberal
sources to make the case — not only to Catholic readers, but to
Protestants and secularists as well — that objective history is
Catholic history. Indeed, we now know for a fact — from secular
historians — that the u201Cblack legendsu201D of the Church, are just that:
myths. Triumph does a lot of myth-busting: about the Spanish
Inquisition, about the Renaissance popes….

Q.
Let's stop there for a minute. Many Catholic historians have seen
the Renaissance as the tipping point into secularization. Yet you're
a fan of the Renaissance, and even of the Renaissance popes.

A:
Yes. When it comes to the debate between Alexander VI and Savonarola
or between Pope Leo X and Luther, I happily take the ultramontane
position. I see the Renaissance as the culmination of the Church's
arduous rebuilding effort after the fall of Rome. Catholicism is
naturally the religion of high civilization, of art, learning, and
beauty, and of understanding that everything's not in the Bible
and that the classical world had virtues worth preserving and building
on. St. Augustine recognized that pagan Rome had great virtues.
Dante's guide in the Divine
Comedy
is the pagan poet Virgil. Aquinas built on Aristotle.
The Church incorporates everything. It truly is universal, and that
is one of its great glories.

Q.
You also show affection for some of the barbarians.

A.
Well, yes, I do think that the Christianized-barbarian West
had many redeeming qualities. I do like the Heliand, the
Saxon New Testament — it's a sort of The Bible Meets Beowulf.
I admire the vigor, the loyalty, and the rough-hewn honor of these
tribes. It was the Church's genius to marry their virtues with the
virtues of high Roman civilization and incorporate both within the
Church, consecrating formerly barbarian swords for Christian ends,
reconciling barbarian concepts of honor and loyalty with Catholic
concepts of faith and fidelity. In the book, I refer to the Dark
Age newly Catholic tribes as u201CBikers for the Bishop of Rome.u201D I
find them much better company than the perfervid, oft-schismatic
Eastern church

Q.
Indeed, your book is very western, very Roman — u201CEurocentric,u201D the
multiculturalists might say.

A.
Yes, Triumph has been compared to the works of Hilaire Belloc
— the Belloc who said that Europe is the faith and the faith is
Europe. No institution has had a great shaping influence on the
Western world than has the Catholic Church. And I happen to think
that the West is a great thing. In fact, the end of the book is
a call for the Catholic West to rise again. I've also come to realize
that – though I didn't see the movie Gladiator until
after I'd finished writing Triumph – that Triumph
really is the history of the Catholic Church as seen through the
eyes of that movie's hero, Maximus. Like Maximus, Triumph upholds
Rome as u201Cthe light.u201D And like Maximus, the book is very martially
minded. Triumph is probably the only Catholic history you'll
find with five or so books in the bibliography devoted to the French
Foreign Legion — a great Catholic institution.

Q.
You have no qualms about being a Crusader.

A.
No. Pat Buchanan has talked about the u201Cmilquetoast Christianityu201D
we have on offer today. Well Triumph is the pure, unadulterated
fighting faith. In hoc signo vinces is the spirit of the
book. Constantine, the Crusades, the Monastic Military Orders, the
Conquistadors — when Christendom was Christendom it rightly turned
swords on the faith's behalf, just as Peter had leapt for his scabbard
to defend his Lord. It was the Church that gave us chivalry, turning
barbarian high spirits to useful ends. It was one of the great historic
tragedies of Reformation Protestantism that it broke this Church
check and guide on the martial spirit by saying that the power of
the state was scriptural and that the power of the Church was not.

That
was a terrible regression. It sanctified the idea that might makes
right, and the idea that the Church was of marginal importance to
society, civilization, and politics. It undid the work of centuries.
Where once the Roman emperor, commander of all Rome's legions, could
be forced to do penance by the Bishop of Milan, as the Emperor Theodosius
was compelled to do by St. Ambrose, after the Reformation the Church's
check on state power was abolished. If any institution was not surprised
by the twentieth century being a century of genocide and two world
wars, it was the Church. The Church predicted that this was the
path that was being laid by the Reformation, Revolution, Liberalism,
Secularism, and Statism, all of which inevitably followed one after
the other, as the Church saw they would.

Q.
There's not a lot of apologizing in your book for the u201Csins of the
Church.u201D

A.
I think there's plenty of criticism where criticism is called for.
I think the popes have not always been as politically astute as
would have been good for the faith. Indeed, I charge the papacy
with wrongly fearing the power of the Holy Roman Empire more than
the Protestants whom the empire was at the brink of bringing to
heel. But the fact is that this flood of books with titles like
Papal
Sin
, Hitler's
Pope
, and worse to come, all alleging institutional anti-Semitism
and a variety of other crimes against the Church are just more u201Cblack
legendu201D mythologizing that needs to be called to task.

The
Church rarely responds to its critics. Triumph is meant to
be that response — because the truth is on our side. And these myths
take pernicious root. How many people have any idea that the Spanish
Inquisition was responsible for executing fewer people per year,
on an average year, than the state of Texas — and that it was among
the most lenient and fair-minded courts of its time? That's established
secular history now. But I'm sure to most everyone, the words Spanish
Inquisition still dredge up images of horror beyond compare. Just
as now the word u201Cpriestu201D is immediately linked to u201Cpedophileu201D when
we know, as far as we have factual data, that Catholic priests are
no more likely — in fact, they are probably less likely —
to be pedophiles than anyone else.

And
then there's the smear campaign against Pope Pius XII, which would
be absurd if it weren't so evil — trying to erase the testimony
of the Jews who survived the Holocaust and praised Pope Pius XII.
And it's all done for partisan political ends. The Communists did
that of course; they began this big lie about Pius XII. Now it's
liberals who have picked up Voltaire's battle standard of ecrasez
l'infame and made Pius one of their targets. But as I
point out in the book, no institution — save the Allied Armies —
rescued more Jews during the Second World War than did the Catholic
Church. Pope Pius XII had a long history of battling the Nazis,
going back at least to 1921. But by the twentieth century of course,
the Church didn't have armies of its own to command any more, unless
one counts the Swiss Guards — who were rather weak on heavy weapons,
tanks, and air support.

The
really extraordinary thing is that if you talk to most people about
Catholic history, this is what you get — a lot of unexamined, scandal
buzzwords: Hitler's Pope, deal-cutters with Mussolini; sexual depravity
in monasteries and nunneries; decadent Renaissance popes; the Spanish
Inquisition; the sacking of Constantinople; and so on. The Church,
to its credit, has never tried to deny bloody history — it doesn't
opt out of history the way Protestantism does; and it doesn't nurture
historical grudges like the Eastern Orthodox. The Church accepts
that it operates in a sinful world with fallible human beings. But
what is always missing among the buzzword droppers is any sense
of historical context or understanding that would lead a fair-minded
observer to see that in many cases the charges leveled against various
aspects of Church history are sheer propaganda or even the very
reverse of the truth.

It
might be too much to hope for, given u201Cthe closing of the American
mind,u201D but I do hope that Triumph will remind Catholics just
how great the Church's gifts to the world have been. And I do sincerely
hope that it will bring fallen away Catholics back to the fold and
bring many others now outside into full communion with the one,
holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of the Creed. A tall order,
I know. But if I have succeeded — as I hope I have — in giving Catholics
the first affirmative, accessible, one volume history of their Church
in at least fifty years…. Well, I like to think that a drought has
been ended, and that Triumph might bring refreshing water
to those thirsting after righteousness. Or at least give them an
entertaining read, with a bit of humor between the battles. I'll
settle for either.

(Excerpted
from an interview that appeared in the April 18, 2002, issue of
The Wanderer.)

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