December 16, 2016

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wrapping up 86 columns on the history of the Church

John F. FinkSince April 10, 2015, I’ve tried to present slices of Catholic history, from the early days of the Church through the 20th century. I’ve tried to tell the story of the Church as comprehensively as possible, 515 words at a time.

Those 86 columns were preceded by a lengthy series about the Old Testament, which became my book Introducing the Old Testament. Then I had 10 columns about the Holy Land at the time of Jesus before starting on the Church’s history. All of this is part of salvation history, the story of how God is directing the world.

Some of you have told me that they understand what I was trying to impress on my readers, that is, the history of the Church is evidence that it is more than a human institution. Considering some of its history, it would have disappeared long ago if it was guided only by humans. Clearly, it is the Holy Spirit who is in charge.

I devoted 18 columns to the early Church, from its beginnings with the Apostles to the papacy of Pope Gregory the Great at the beginning of the seventh century. Together, we covered the importance of St. Paul, the classic age of martyrs, the writing of the Bible, Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity, doctrinal disagreements and the early councils.

These were followed by 23 columns on the medieval Church, which was a turbulent period for the papacy. The Church survived because of the Franks and Charlemagne. But then it was divided by the East-West Schism of 1054. This period also covered the Crusades and such interesting characters as the remarkable St. Bernard, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart. It also included Sts. Francis and Dominic.

Then came 10 columns on the Renaissance Church, when popes became Renaissance princes, even warriors in the case of Julius II. This was the time of the building of St. Peter’s Basilica and such artists and sculptors as Rafael and Michelangelo. But it was also the time of the Protestant Reformation, when the Catholic Church lost so many members. Eventually, though later, the Council of Trent made needed reforms.

I devoted 11 columns to what I called “the imperiled Church” because it seemed certain that the Church would disappear. England became Protestant, Muslims threatened Europe, the Jesuits were suppressed, the French Revolution persecuted Catholics, Napoleon Bonaparte imprisoned two popes, and the Papal States disappeared and became part of Italy.

But the Church rebounded, and I wrote four columns about that. There was a turn-around in Great Britain and several strong popes led a more spiritual and less temporal Church.

Finally, I wrote 20 columns about the Church in the 20th century, from St. Pius X through St. John Paul II. Seven of those columns were about the Second Vatican Council.

That brings us to the present, when the Church is struggling against the secularism that has engulfed so much of the world, as well as the forces of extreme Islamism. We can be sure, though, that it will survive because it is more than a human institution. †

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