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78 of 83 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Napoleon, read this book! . . . (if circumstances allow), June 23, 2003
This review is from: Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000-Year History (Hardcover)
Critical reviews of this book rightly point out that it's not a dry, exhaustive analysis of all issues related to the Catholic Church over 2000 years. It is not written for a handful of other professional historians tucked away in academia somewhere. The book is not an autopsy.
But frankly, it's high time someone wrote a book like Crocker's.
First, by any neutral criteria, the Catholic Church is the most interesting institution that has ever existed (see below) and as such it deserves a treatment like Crocker's written with the attitude that people might actually find the subject interesting.
Second, it is remarkable how ignorant most of us are about the Catholic Church, even though it is clearly the most important human institution in the history of the world.
Third, the vast majority of stuff one hears about the role of the Church in history is complete myth. (Tiny example I hear constantly, exploded admirably by Crocker: "The Church led those nasty crusades trying to stamp out Islam"--completely wrong. The crusades (a)came along many centuries after Islam arrived on the scene--the Muslims were left in peace for 500 years, (b) were not against Islam, but against the blood-thirsy Ottoman Empire, a bunch that slaughtered babies on bayonets before their mothers' eyes and beheaded infidels for sport (and as such was completely deserving of the crudades) (c) were not all led by the Church (indeed, e.g., the ridiculous Children's Crusade was condemned by the Church).
So Crocker is right to have a somewhat polemical attitude here, as there is much to be corrected. And his lack of sympathy for certain acts and attitudes attributable to Protestantism is appropriate in the context of his historical narrative. Crocker recognizes that ideas have consequences, even religious ideas, and one cannot write history without thinking critically about ideas. He brings to life how certain Protestant institutions have strenuously endeavored to exaggerate the foibles of the Church or even create myths to justify their rejection of the Church and their own claims to authority (which can be a bit thin, depending upon the brand of Protestantism). (See, e.g., history according to the Brits: Henry VIII literally murders a whole bunch of his wives, lots of respected members of his court, thousands of Catholics, some of them, including middle-aged women, being slowly crushed alive to serve as particularly nasty examples to others who dare remain true to their beliefs . . . but it's the Pope, any Pope, that's a power-hungry despot, while the great patriot Henry is honored as the founder of the dear ol' Church of England. Talk about your revisionist history!)
Crocker's account vividly portrays an amazing story that should astound anyone with a brain, no matter what they think about God, Jesus, religion or Catholicism. The Church is the most long-lived institution the world has ever known, and there is no close second. It survived the persecution of Rome, the embrace of Rome (worse), the fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment (so called), the Age of Revolution, and the Age of Totalitarianism. Almost every age was dominated by smart and powerful folks that predicted the prompt demise of the Church and worked to hasten it.
Crocker's history is all the more important in light of the current role of the Church. It might shock most Americans to know that today the Catholic Church is larger and stronger today than it has ever been. (American Catholics only make up about 6% or the Church.) It is far and away the largest religious institution in the world (with no close second). It is the largest charitable institution in the world (with no close second), the largest educator of people in the world (with no close second), the largest provider of health care in the world (with no close second), the largest and most vigorous defender of human rights in the world (with no close second)--every year dozens of nuns and priests are martyred in places like Liberian, Sierra Leone, Colombia, and East Timor for standing up to government and/or rebel thugs. The Church has fostered the most fertile intellectual tradition the world has ever known-from Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, and Bonaventure, to Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O'Conner, Graham Greene, Jacques Maritain, and Etienne Gilson.
Crocker is right to reflect in his narrative that this ought to astound people--if the Church were tops in only 2 of these categories, it would still be the most amazing institution around. The Church's growth, vigor, vitality and strength continue to confound those in every age who either pledge to destroy it (as did Napoleon and Hitler, for example) or confidently predict its extinction if it doesn't change with the times (i.e., lighten up and say it's okay if folks sleep around).
Regardless of what one believes, that is a truely astounding story, and an immense story. Crocker has done an very admirable job of capturing most of this story in one very readable volume. It's quite a remarkable accomplishment.
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