STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN COLUMN:
Are Catholics ignorant about their history? Absolutely, says Diane Moczar, a medieval history expert who teaches at Northern Virginia Community College.
“Catholic history is western civilization,” she says. “Catholics fail to appreciate the heritage of their faith and they have no notion of what is being lost.”
Additionally, “they don’t know history of the heresies, where Protestantism came from and about Islam.”
She has put together a list of “Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know.” They are:
313 A.D. - The Edict of Milan is written by the Emperor Constantine and stops the Roman Empire’s persecution of Christians.
452 A.D. - St. Leo turns back the Huns from Rome, proving to pagans that the invasions were not the fault of the Christians.
496 A.D. - Clovis, king of the Franks, is baptized, which opens up France to Christianity.
800 A.D.- Charlemagne, the father of Christendom (Christian Europe), is coronated.
910 A.D. - The monastery of Cluny is founded in southern France, kicking off a revival in religious life.
1000 - When the Last Judgment does not occur at the millennium, a new energy picks up in the West.
1517 - Martin Luther kicks off the Reformation by nailing his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg.
1571 - A league of Italian republics and Spain defeat the Ottoman Turks off the coast of Greece in the sea battle of Lepanto.
1789 - The French Revolution begins, which leads to the destruction of the Catholic Church in France.
1917 - The Russian Revolution, the birth of world communism and the visions of the Virgin Mary in Fatima, Portugal, occur, all with profound impact on the church.
“History is God working in the world,” she says. “Understanding it is absolutely necessary in understanding everything else.”
Her favorite time period? The 13th century. It was “the greatest of the centuries,” she says, and the era where the Catholic Church was at its best.
“This was a great medieval civilization that was so God-centered, so Christ-centered,” she says. “The church informed all the institutions. It championed the rights of the serfs and the rights of the poor.
“It was the most creative century and the most concentrated period of creativity since the fifth century B.C. St. Thomas Aquinas was a philosopher then, benefiting from the recent translation of the works of Aristotle into Latin. The high Gothic style flourished as the first new architectural style in 700 years.”
Saints blanketed the landscape then: St. Francis; St. John of Bonaventure; St. Elizabeth of Hungary; St. Louis, king of France; at least 20 of them.
Then came the 14th century and a series of disasters, starting with the plague in the 1340s that wiped out one third of Europe’s population. The Hundred Years War started in 1337, followed by a great schism among Catholics with the antipopes in Avignon, France.
I discovered Mrs. Moczar’s writings in the pages of the magazine Latin Mass where she tries to educate Catholics about their heritage. As for the college students she teaches, “They don’t have a clue about history,” she says.
“One colleague mentioned the Cold War and one student asked why people were so upset about communism,” she says. “So she had to explain how it was a eal issue.
“Students have no sense of time, no sense of dates. Kids don’t know whether Napoleon came before or after Columbus. You can’t start low enough, although at the college level you do have some brilliant people.”
Julia Duin’s Stairway to Heaven column runs Thursdays and Sundays. She can be reached at email@example.com.