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Seven Lies About Catholic History: Infamous Myths about the Church's Past and How to Answer Them Hardcover – September 1, 2010
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While the book is certainly not a dissertation on every lie--nor is it meant to be--it is a succinct and clear, yet scholarly, discussion of the most popular lies told about the Catholic Church. In eight short chapters, Moczar is able to dispel some of the worst, and most pervasive, myths about the Church's past. She discusses the Middle Ages, the Church vs. progress, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Galileo, Church corruption, and the Black Legend.
I especially liked the format she used to discuss each lie. Moczar begins every chapter with a blunt statement of the lie in a single sentence. She then expounds on the lie, in delightful prose, and details the historical "evidence" for the veracity of the myth. Then, in one fell swoop, she launches into her attack of the myth. "All of the above," she writes of the evidence for the lie, "of course, is hogwash" (p. 57). She follows this assertion with hard facts from copious sources, all of which are cited in the Appendix. For example, in her chapter on the Inquisition, she writes, concerning the myth that every person was seriously tortured and cruelly treated, "It turns out that torture was in fact rarely used, and even when it was, it was very limited. In one group of seven thousand accused people who came before the Inquisition in Valencia . . . only two percent were tortured, and for no more than fifteen minutes. Executions were similarly rare. Even the prisons of the Inquisition were a far cry from the dungeons of Inquisition mythology . . . Prisoners who were going to be tried in secular courts would often deliberately do something that would get them transferred to the Inquisition so that they would be better treated in jail" (p. 93-94).
Moczar's appendices are alone worth the price of the book. Appendix A, "How to Answer a Lie," provides practical suggestions for dealing with people who believe and disseminate the lies she has just disproven. Appendix 2 is much more than a bibliography and almost every book listed is now on my must-read list!
I could go on in the praise of this book, but, in sum, I highly recommend Diane Moczar's work for every reader who has any desire to learn more about history. "Seven Lies" is readily accessible to the reader with no historical background, as well as a refreser to Church history scholars. I thoroughly enjoyed this work and am looking forward to reading more by Moczar.
The beginning of the book answered the criticism that somehow Medieval men and women were "awkward minded." Moczar reported that the Medieval men and women created the Gothic Cathdral, great work by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), St. Bonaventure (1221-1274), Father Bacon (1214-1294), etc. An investigation of these men's acheivements could fill "a five foot bookshelf." Moczar effectively attacked the notion the somehow that the Renaissance was a vivid contrast to The Middle Ages. Many "Renaissance" men were actually greatly influenced by Medieval achievements. One should note that historians went through a decrepit monastary that was in existence c. 1140 whereby they found books re mathematics, Greek manuscripts as well works in Hebrew and Arabic. This undermines the notion that Medieval men were igornant of other languages and learning. One must rhetorically ask where did the Renaissance men and women learn Greek, Hebrew, etc. Within the past 50 years, such historians as Homer Haskins, Dom David Knowles, Elenor Duckett, Regine Permoud, etc. have developed books and used sources that have proven that Medieval History was interesting, intellectually stimulating, and freer than biased nonsense will admit.
G. K. Chesteton (1874-1936)wrote the Middle Ages were,"... great growth of new things produced by a living thing...(Renassaince) of old things disvocered in a dead thing..." The Renaissance supposedly had an interest in nature. So, did Medieval men and women. The stain glass windows and careful investigation of geology and nature are reflected in the written work, of Medieval men. The Renaissance men wrote about mountain climbing as though Medieval men never went mountain climbing. Petrarch (1304-1374)boasted about climbing Mt. Ventoux. What Moczar mentioned was Medieval men also climbed this mountain and accurately measured topography and altitude.
Did some of the early Christians condemn philosophy? Of course, some of them did. The Roman Emperor Tertullians (160-220 AD) did indeed condemn Greek thought and philosophy. However, St. Clement of Alexandria (150-211 AD) praised Greek thought/philosophy as a divine gift helping men to know more about God and to know be more able to defend the Faith. During the Dark Ages (c. 500-c.750 AD), monks and nuns literally saved Western Civilization via their hand copying the Classics, the Bible, etc. Modern men and women cannot underestimate achievements of these monks and nuns. The monks and nuns pioneered nursing, care of abandoned children(orphanages), etc. The Palace School at Aachen provided more learning, and Alcuin (735-804)and his scholars did incredible work re grammar, caligraphy, etc.
Later Medieval men and women produced great work re philosophy, theology, science, etc. For example, St. Anselm (1035-1109)helped reintroduce reason as a means of knowing God and defending the Faith. Moczar wrote about Abelard (1073-1142)whose book titled SIC ET NON (YES AND NO)which was a text to make students think. St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure did significant work. As Moczar noted men and women during the High Middle Ages (c.1050-c.1350)were interested in exploring every aspect of reality-or God's Creation. Attempts by local authorities to censor Medieval teachers and students were often overturned by Papal Decrees. For those who claimed that "Enlightenment" men created the concept of natural rights, overlook the fact that Medieval Canon Law jurists created such as concept which was embellished by St. Thomas Aquinas. Readers should note that Father Bacon is credited with creating the Scientific Method, and he also produced a "remarkedly accurate geography of the eye."
Medieval men not only dealt with philosophy and theology, but they dealt with politics and economics. Royalty was accepted as part of the natural order, and monarchs were restrained by contracts and Catholic authorities which lead to conflict but also stable law and order. The Catholic authorities also gradually changed views re interest rates as long as they were not excessive. Contractual law and the guilds kept ecnomic affairs fair and balenced. St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621)argued in favor of a republic as opposed to monarchy, and he became a saint in spite of the prevailing acceptance of monarchy.
Another topic that Mocar examined was the History of the Crusades. She reminded readers that the Moslems were a actual threat to Europeans. When Europeans visited Catholic shrines in the Holy Land, they were often masscred. The Moslems repeatedly invaded Europe beginning in the 600s, and the Crusades were viewed as defensive. This is not to say that later crusaders "were in it for the money" and excesses did indeed occur. Popes and other Catholic authorites condemned such outrages. The Crusaders did sack Constantinople in 1204, but the Byzantines massacred their Catholic counterparts in 1182. Later Moslems, especially the Ottoman Turks, invaded Europe in 1565 (Malta), Lepanto (1572), and Vienna (1683).
Moscar also treated the Inquisition and undermined the false myths re this institution. The earliest Popes and Catholic authorties did not want to execute "heretics." Their aim was to restore heretics to the Orthodox Faith. Excommunication did not start with Catholic authorities. One must remember that devout Jews also used excommunication. Some of the heresies that were later prosecuted were the 13th. century (1200s)Albigensians and Waldensians. These heretics preached against law and order and had dangerous concepts and practises. For example, they believed that physical reality was sinful, and they literally starved old people and children to death. When Pope Innocent III (1198-1216)first heard of these heretics, he DID NOT recommend a death penalty. He sent delgates to investigate whom these heretics murdered. However, when these heretics committed murder and got the Southern French and Northern Spanish to militarily support them, they were defeated by Catholic forces under the command Simon de Montforte (1160-1218). Moczar did a good job of underming the myths of the Spanish Inquistion. She cited Kamen's book titled THE SPANISH INQUISITION. While the Spanish monarchs abused the Inquisition, they were condemned by Popes and other Catholic authorities. One myth that was exploded was the use of The Iron Maiden. The Spanish had no such instrument, and the few that were found were located in Germany. In fact, many accused men and women wanted their cases tried in Church courts as penalities and interrogation were much more humane. Those inquisitors who exceeded their authority were immediately removed and critisized.
Another myth that Moczar exploded was that of Catholic witch craft trials. These were exceedingly rare in Catholic Europe. In most cases the Catholic authorities argued that they could not be bothered by such nonsense. A Mexican women was accused of witchcraft, and Catholic authorities rediculed the priests who brought the charges. Readers can contrast that with what happened in Puritan New England, Scotland, and England.
The accusations brought against Galileo (1564-1642)were clarified. Readers should note that Pope V (1605-1621)honored Galileo in 1610, and Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644) did the same in 1624. Catholic authorities were not upset with Galileo's theory of the heliocentric theory. But when Galilio tried to ram his theories into biblical literature and showed ingratitude toward his host, Pope Urban VIII, he got into trouble. Galileo could not prove his theories because telescopes were not advanced. St. Robert Bellarmine even stated that if Galileo were able to prove his theories, Bellarmine would petition to change interpretation of the Bible. Galileo was NEVER tortured, and he did not live in a dungeon. He live in ease at the Flortines' ambassador's residence. Galileo then turned his attention to the study of physics in which he did remarkable work. Mozcar noted that Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758)gave his imprimatur to ALL of Galileo's work.
Another "Black Legend" dealt with Catholic action in the Americas. Some of the Spanish Conquistadors did indeed mistreat Indians. However, Father Montisenos delivered a blistering sermon in 1511 in Haiti attacking such mistreatment which he did not retract when summoned to Spain. As Mozcar noted, communications between Catholic clergy and religious and the Church in Europe were estremely slow by modern standards. However, once Popes and other Catholic authorities got word of what was taking place, they immediately took action and moved to correct and eliminated abuses. As early as 1435, Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447)was clear that when the Portuguese started their explorations around Africa, that there should no enslavement of the natives. Later Popes issued several proclamations condemning slavery and abuse of those they found in newly discovered territories.
Mozcar wrote about the Reformation. She carefully noted that the "reformers" were often used as pretext to loot the Catholic Church re property and wealth. With the destruction of universities, orphanges, etc., the Europeans experienced misery and ferocious persecution. Often, the "reformers" hated each other as much or more than they hated Catholics. Erasmus (1466-1536)remarked that, "Where Lutheranism reigns, there is the end of letters." Reformers were brutal in executing Catholics. The English used the grusome method of having Catholics drawn-and-quartered." Henry VIII (1509-1547)had Friar Forest executed on a flaming gridiron.
Mozcar then undermined some modern lies re Pope Pius XII (1939-1958)who was accused of being "Hitler's Pope." Mozcar breifly demolishes this myth which others have done including Martin Gilbert and Rabbi Lapide both of whom are Jewish. Several books based on bonafide sources have destroyed this lie about Pope Piux XII.
Diane Mozcar wrote a readable account. This undersigned was impressed with her book. She could have written more about the intellectual contributions of Catholics. She should have written more the Catholic Canon Law jurists and their emphasis on Par Legum (by law or due process). However, this book is a good start to undermine lies about the Catholic Church History and is recommended.
James E. Egolf
March 27, 2011