John Vidmar, OP wrote a good summary of the History of the Catholic Church which helps readers who are interested to have a clear view of c. 2,000 years of Catholic History. Father Vidmar used Christopher Dawson's format of dividing Catholic History into six ages. Father Vidmar's book titled CATHOLIC HISTORY THROUGH the AGES is clearly written and is an honest attempt to give readers an honest history of Catholic Church History.
Father Vidmar began this book with a good explation of the early Church Fathers. He compared Tertullian (c.160-220) with St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 140-215) who held different views re Ancient Greek thought in that Tertullian opposed Greek thought while St. Clement argued that Ancient Greek thought was a blessing from God. Father Vidmar clearly explained the thinking of St. Augustine (354-430 AD), who wrote the CITY OF GOD, and St. Jerome (346-420) who translated the VULGATE BIBLE. Father Vidmar's explanation of St. Athanasius (296-373) and the Nicene Creed was well done. Later Church councils amplified the Creed. A good assessment of Catholic creeds was that the Catholic Church "did not make it up while it went along." The point was the creeds already in place were explained and defended once they were challenged.
Father Vidmar's explanation of early monasticism undermined the popular notions of early Medieval monks and nuns. He credited St. Pachomius (287-356)for pioneering monasticism which quickly spread in Ireland and the rest of Europe. St. Anothony (251-356)was also an early pioneer who venerated St. Athanasius. Father Vidmar included the disputes between the Byzantine Church and the Roman Latin Catholic Church. To "outiders,"these disputes appear trivial and confusing. However, Father Vidmar clearly explained the "fine points" of these disputes such as the veneration of the saints and icons.
Anyone familiar with Catholic Church History is aware of the political forces that threatened the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church barely survived the "barbarians," and when Clovis (480-52O) who ruled Gaul or modern France converted to the Catholic Faith in 496 AD, the Catholic Church was well rooted in Europe. Later, Charles Martel's (688-741)victory over the Moslems at the Battle of Tours (732)gave the Catholic Church a respite from Moslems.
Another problem the Catholic Church repeatedly faced was that of scandal such as simony, nepotism, and greed. The Cluniac Reform which began in 910 helped resolve these issues. Pope Leo IX (1049-1054)and Pope Gregory VII (1073-1085)both enhanced reform. As readers may know, Pope Gregory VII was chased out of Rome in 1083 and died a bitter disappointed man who did not realize that he started the Papal Revolution which helped the Catholic Church wrest independence from German rulers.
The Catholic Church also went on the offensive against Islam via the Crusades. Father Vidmar did a credible job explaining that the Crusades were of defensive military operations espeically when viewed by Islamic massacres of European pilgrams. While the European crusades ended in 1291 in defeat, the Europeans faced Turkish invasions when the Catholic authorties and some of the Europeans stopped them at the Battle of Lepanto in 1572 and again in 1683. There was also a tough battle at Malta in 1565.
The intellectual prowess of Catholics was enhanced beginning in the 11th. century (1000s). St. Anselm (1035-1109)revived reason as a means to explain the Faith. He was preceded by Erigena (815-877)who used reason as an explanation of the Catholic Faith. Some of the Catholic authorities were concerned that the revival would undermine the Faith rather than enhance it. For example, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1053)had a bitter dispute with Peter Abelard (1043-1142)who wrote SIC ET NON which was a text which taught students to resolve apparent contradictions of the Bible, Church Fathers, etc. Father Vidmar's study of Peter Lombard (1100-1160) whose FOUR BOOKS OF SENTENCES was well done and was the standard text of Medieval theology students. The treatment of the Friars was well done, and Father Vidmar explained the difference between cloistered monks and nuns and travelling Friars such as the Franciscans and Dominicans. These friars were major influences in the Medieval universities such as St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and St. Bonaventure (1217-1274).
Father Vidmar then did a careful study of the Inquisition. St. John Chrysostom (349-407)argued that the execution of a heretic was a crime, and "the name of the game" was to convert or reintegrate heretics to the Faith. The Albigensians raised the ante in the early 13th. century (1200s)when the Albigensians murdered Catholics who tried to reconcile with them. Catholic authorities were senstive to the fact that secular rulers could pervert the Inquisition, and there were abuses. However, over zealous inquisitors were severely penalized for abuses, and these penalities included life prison sentences. Readers may be interested that in 1994, the BBC did a presentation that clearly explained the exaggerations and false assumptions of the Inquisition. Sadly a college history "teacher" who taught for the State University of New York tried to explain that no matter how much evidence there was to the contrary, he still wanted to believe the false exaggerations and lies because it confirmed his bias and the refusal to examine sources and documents.
Father Vidmar then clarified the History of the Catholic Church during the period of the Avignon Papacy (1314-1377) and Schism (1377-1417). Father Vidmar sorted "the players" and the issues to help readers to more clearly understand. These events overlapped the Renaissance History of the Catholic Church. Father Vidmar did not hide the character flaws and the flaws of some of the Renaissance Popes and authorities. Father Vidmar presented charts and tables of Popes during the Schims and the Renaissance to help readers know who were actually involved.
The problems of the Catholic Church and the Renaissance scholarship served as a good background. Father Vidmar informed readers of the political factors and religious disputes that led to the Reformation. He gave a good precise of the origins of the Reformation in Germany. He exlained the concepts of Luther (1483-1546) and Calvin (1509-1564). Father Vidmar treated the events in England re Henry VIII (1509-1547), Edward (1547-1553), Mary (1553-1558),and Elizabeth (1558-1603).
Father Vidmar further explained the success of the Catholic Counter Reformation beginning with the Council(s) of Trent (1545-1563). The reaffirmation of the Faith and the reforms were long overdue, and Father Vidmar dissects these reforms. He also gave readers the rise of the new religious orders such as the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) started by St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556). The Counter Reformation expanded into new missionary zeal which extended to the Americas, Asia, and parts of Africa. The success of the Catholic Counter Reformation showed that careful planning and zeal paid dividends.
The last section of this book dealt with the "Sixth Age" of Catholic Church History beginning with the French Revolution. Father Vidmar explained why Catholic clergy were massacred in 1792 because of their refusal to adhere to the Civil Constitution of the Clergy (1790). Napolean (1769-1821)used the conflict between the Catholic Church and civil authorities to his own political advantage which was clear. These events were followed by the Revolutions of 1830 and the big European revolutions of 1848. These revolutions were often violent and destructive which alarmed Catholic authorities. Some historians have critisized the Syllabus of Errors (1864), Father Vidmar explained that the Syllabus was meant for specific situtations, but the apparent universal character of the document made Pope Pius IX (1846-1878)and other Catholics looked reactionary and, at times, rediculous.
The advent of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903)made changes in spite of his concept of Papal Infallibility which was misunderstood. The concept only applied to "Matters of Faith and Morals." Pope Leo XIII also revived Thomism or the revival of Scholastic Philosophy and reason as the buttress for the Faith. Pope Pius X (1903-1914)and Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922)both tried to prevent W.W. I. The effects of W.W. I was viewed by Catholic authorities as a disaster which led to the rise of Fascism and Big Communism.
Father Vidmar had a good section of Catholcism in the U.S. He cited St. Katharine Drexel (1858-1955)who did outstanding work in helping the poor attend school and learn. Father Vidmar also hadhigh praise of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917) who was the first American to be canonized as a saint and who also did outstanding work re teaching/learning among the poor. Dorothy Day (1897-1980)started the publication of THE CATHOLIC WORKER on behalf of the working poor.
Father Vidmar concluded this book with a brief but effective history of the heroic efforts of Catholics before, during, and after W.W. II. He explained the changes via Vatican II (1962-1965). Those who are confused by recent changes re the Catholic Church will benefit from the latter parts of this book.
Father Vidmar wrote a readable account and a solid concise history. The book has a solid bibliography which can help readers "fill the gaps" in this book. Father Vidmar wrote a good book which gives careful balance of the History and ideas of the Catholic Church. The book is useful to those not familiar with Catholic Histroy and is a useful guide for those more knowledgeable about Catholic History.
James E. Egolf
May 2, 2011