Ebookwormy's Reviews > How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization by Thomas E. Woods Jr.
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May 07, 09

bookshelves: christian-church, history, non-fiction
Recommended to Ebookwormy by: Robert Spencer, "PIG to Islam and the Crusades"
Read in May, 2009

In the interest of disclosure, I suppose I should start by saying that while I am a follower of Jesus Christ, I am not a Catholic. I have many disagreements with the Catholic Church, such as the elevation of tradition to the level of inspiration (placing the thoughts/ writings of the Church fathers and papacy on the same level with Biblical revelation), veneration of icons, required celibacy of priests, etc. However, recently, I have noticed that Catholicism has gotten two things right about which I am passionate: 1) Life issues, particularly abortion and euthanasia; and 2) Speaking out against persecution of Christians by Islamic and Communist nations. Because the Catholic Church is an international non-governmental organization, it has been able to consistently speak out about these issues without the political/ diplomatic constraints that impair our governments from promoting these ideas and maintaining an intractable focus on these concerns of life and liberty.

That said, when I heard of this book, I was interested in reading it for two reasons: 1)Seeing God's hand working in history is amazing to me; and 2) I am interested in exploration of the concept that saturation of a culture by Christianity inevitably creates benefits beyond the spiritual for both Christians and non-believers alike.

This book was informative. The main focus is the contribution of individual members of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages in both preserving the knowledge of antiquity and then building upon it pillars of thought that became the foundation of western civilization as we know it. While contributions of the papacy and the church as a centralized organization are mentioned, the focus is on individuals and monastic organizations. I found the discussions of universities, law (civil and international as well as the concept of innate human rights), economics, science and charity to be particularly strong. Manuscript preservation/ copying, architecture and morality were much as I expected, although the discussion of the arts was downright disappointing.

The book suffers from three weaknesses. One is that it's limited scope undermines it's thesis. While the author addresses some concerns head on "Was the Catholic Church anti-science? What about Galileo?", his complete silence on more complex matters, such as the debauchery of the papacy in the same time frame, leaves the reader feeling that we are getting a high-gloss perspective on the Catholic Church. Secondly, the author makes several (admittedly scattered) pejorative references about Protestantism and the Reformation which detract from his message. Most readers will be cognizant that we are not getting the entire story. Mr. Woods' affirmation of his Catholic faith and his touching dedication to passing it on to his children unfortunately serves to highlight a reader's concerns about Woods' ability to provide an objective look at the contributions of the Catholic Church he loves. Finally, non-fiction writing is going through an evolution of which Mr. Woods is either unaware or incapable of emulating. The exceptional writing of Adam Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost" or Erik Larson's "Devil in the White City" as well as captivating journalistic works like Melissa Fay Greene's "There is no me without you" and Martin Meredith's "The Fate of Africa", are changing the way we read about history. Woods' dry, text book approach, while acceptable for an academic, is not going to propel either his work or his thesis into mainstream discussion. And I think that is too bad, because his ideas warrant discussion.

These weaknesses are unfortunate, as the information the book does present is well researched and well thought through. Mr. Woods' efforts contributed significantly to my thoughts about those unexpected/ unintentional benefits of the saturation of Christianity to believers and unbelievers. I would be interested in reading more on this topic.




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message 1: by Casey (new) - added it

Casey I just want to comment that Catholics do not worship icons -- we worship God alone. (I mean, really, that's a bit absurd; I recommend simply reading a brief article about the use of icons on a reliable Catholic apologetics site.) And secondly, "forced celibacy" really doesn't do justice to the Church's disciplinary, not doctrinal, practice of priests in the West. The men who enter the seminary are perfectly aware of this discipline, and by entering the priesthood they voluntarily submit to it.


Ebookwormy Good points. I edited my review per your suggestions.


message 3: by Katya (new)

Katya Thank you for your corrections Ebookwormy!


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