500 Hundred Years That Split the Church and Scattered the Flock

By Diane Moczar

Sophia Institute Press, 2013

256 pages, $18.95

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Blessed John Henry Newman once famously wrote, “To go deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” Similarly, I would say that to read about the never-ending persecution of the Catholic Church over the last 500 years should convince any sincere seeker of religious truth that if Christ founded a Church, then it surely is the Catholic Church. Even today, Catholics are martyred every day because they refuse to deny their faith.

Historian Diane Moczar has come out with another interesting contribution to popular Church history: The Church Under Attack: 500 Hundred Years That Split the Church and Scattered the Flock. Her previous books on this topic include Islam at the Gates and Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know.

Moczar’s latest book first recounts that great tragedy of the 16th century, misnamed the Protestant Reformation, in which men such as the German Martin Luther, the English Henry VIII and the French John Calvin all in one way or another used the power of the state to persecute the Church and wage bloody wars, rending Christendom.

For each of the centuries discussed in the book, Moczar examines the major historical developments, including the wars, economic growth and major cultural and political events of concern to the people then living. Naturally, she also discusses the condition of the Church in each period, including the kings, explorers, adventurers and (most importantly) the male and female saints of the times and the apparitions of Our Lady.

Here is a summary of her approach in the first chapter (which is then replicated in the rest):

Catholic thought in the 16th century was dominated by the idea of reform long before Luther got going and even more as the Counter-Reformation was in full swing. Once the Counter-Reformation moved into high gear in the latter half of the century, it triggered a spectacular cultural movement in which new forms of art and music were placed at the service of the faith.

The 16th and 17th centuries ushered in new styles of painting, architecture, sculpture and music. The Baroque masterpieces are as lavish as the Calvinist churches were prim and plain. Catholic writings of the period are among the classics of Western civilization: The mystical poetry of St. John of the Cross, the works of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thomas More’s Utopia and St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life are among many that reflect the energy of a revitalized Church. It now seems that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic living during the Elizabethan persecution in England (in which, it seems, some of his relatives were hanged, drawn and quartered), and, certainly, Catholic themes and veiled criticisms of tyranny occur in his plays.

Studying the Catholic history of the last several centuries can enlighten and inspire us as we struggle with brave hearts through the challenges our own era of Catholic history places before us: the “culture of death” and the taking away of our religious liberties. 

Whether we are entering into a new civilization of love and truth or tumbling into a dark age of persecution, only God knows. 

Either way, you will be well prepared, thanks to this book.

Father C. John McCloskey is a Church historian and research fellow

at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington.