November 18, 2015 The Feast of the Dedication of the Basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul
So where was Catholic Europe in the middle of the 18th century? What had happened to this continent that transformed it from the heart of Catholic civilization to the seed ground of malevolence that has borne such evil fruit throughout the world?
A little historical perspective. In our own day writers and thinkers who follow the materialist post-colonialist ideology, usually from India or Latin America, often wonder how Europe, that little peninsula jutting out from Asia, came to be master of the world by the 19th and 20th centuries. And it is a fair question. How did it happen?
The Catholic Church, and no other reason.
Because in truth Europe is nothing more than what they say it is: a little peninsula jutting out of Asia. In the days of the Roman Empire what we now call Europe was not the most important part of that empire. True the Empire was born in Italy, but the Middle East was the home of the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Babylon and Persia and the real wealth of the empire at its height came from the lands east of the Bosporus, which is why Diocletian and Constantine eventually transferred its capital to that place. What is now called Europe, the lands north of the Mediterranean Sea, was often neglected. And then that Empire fell apart.
The Western Roman Empire, the Latin speaking provinces, the bulk of which became what we now call Europe were inundated with barbarous tribes who had come off the vast plains of Asia. The Empire that had grown out of Italy was now gone. A remnant remained in Constantinople that still governed Greece, the Middle East, and Egypt, but that continent that would a millennium later come to dominate the entire globe and rule vast lands that the Romans had never even heard of was now destitute and on its knees.
But the Catholic Church remained. The miracle of Catholic civilization was created amidst the ruins of an ancient empire. Two centuries after that empire disintegrated the followers of Muhammad stormed out of the desert and ripped away the Middle East and North Africa and thus eliminated even until our own day the possibility of recreating that empire. But the Catholic Church remained.
The Catholic Church, and most especially the Church of Rome, is the light of Truth shining in the darkness of history. She gave those barbarous nations the thing they needed to build their lives around and as a result, slowly over the centuries navigating the shifting sands and tides of history, new nations were formed. France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, England, Scotland, Ireland were all born out of the cauldron of those times and they all owe their existence entirely to the Church of Rome, to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. They were formed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed to them by the Successors of Saint Peter and to the extent they have remembered that salient fact of their national lives they have prospered, and to the extent they have forgotten it they have diminished.
These nations, once formed, were able to stem the flow of the barbarous tribes of Asia and to ward off and eventually push back the followers of Muhammad. Under the guidance of the Holy Father they provided the space necessary for the development of the theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas and the great religious orders of Saint Dominic and Saint Francis of Assisi during the early part of the second millennium. This would be the foundation of their expansion across the globe.
But after these nations were formed and given the fruits and benefits of Catholic civilization it was time for their trial. Their pride was tried with the discovery of new lands populated by weaker peoples containing vast material wealth at the close of the fifteenth century, and their resolve and their loyalty to the Church of Rome was tested by the rise of a mass movement of schismatic heretics armed with the printing press at the opening of the sixteenth century.
What had once been a unified Catholic civilization, Christendom as it was pleased to call itself, was now torn asunder. Large parts of Germany split off from Rome. England and Scotland entirely abandoned the Successor of Saint Peter and the Catholic princes who remained within the fold of the Holy Father were too distracted by their own increasing flows of material wealth and their own internal rivalries to seek to restore the unity of Christendom. This led to a century of internecine warfare on the continent finally culminating in the Thirty Years War which resulted in the scandalous policy of Cardinal Richelieu, chief minister of France the eldest daughter of the Church, allying with heretical princes to keep other Catholic powers at bay.
That war ended in 1648 with the states of Europe agreeing to live and let live. And as a result of that policy peace and prosperity seemed to be reigning over Europe by the beginning of the 18th century, but it was a false peace.
In the next post I will examine what the situation of the Catholic European powers was on the eve of the Suppression, particularly their attitude toward the Pope.
Go to Confession and then please pray three Hail Marys in honor of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.