I was reading this book ‘How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization’ by Thomas E. Woods and I was so overwhelmed by the beauty and the influence of the Catholic faith.
Unlike other Religions, Catholicism is not just a routine but a way of life that when well lived makes life more bearable for one’s fellow human beings, a true Catholic is always outstanding as he is always looking out for the best for his fellow brothers and sisters.
The word ‘civilization’ is even built on Catholicism, loving your brother as yourself, you call someone civilized when he is able to treat people with respect and consider them even when he wants to carry out actions, unlike what Aristotle refers to as the ‘state of nature’ where man does what he wants to do because he feels like.
The Catholic faith makes you understand that you are not just a body but a soul, and both need nourishment, this explains why a Catholic understands the value of mortification. It is interesting how we are even more human when we mortify ourselves than when we give in to our excesses. Someone who says to himself ‘I have eaten enough, eating anymore is gluttony’ is acting human, acting as an intelligent being, and acting like he can reason, unlike someone who says ‘let me eat and eat there is more than enough’ who on the other hand feels he is just being human but in reality he is acting worse than an animal because even animals know when they have had enough. The Catholic faith makes you the best human being you can be!
I hear a lot of people say Catholics are too religious and that we should be spiritual. To me such people lack understanding of what it means to be spiritual in the first place. In every Practice, one reaches spirituality after taking part in a religious ritual, even Chinese philosophers believe in mortifying the flesh to master the body and the environment. It is not possible to rise to spirituality when the flesh isn’t subdued, even in everyday life you find that you think straight when you are calm and relaxed and you can barely think when you are jumping around or engaged in a lot of activity.
It is interesting to go into history and all through you find Catholics making a change, influencing lives and taking the brave step. Catholics built western civilization for sure, bringing about advancement in Agriculture, Art, Architecture and Science.
Henry Goodell, president of what was Massachusetts Agricultural College in the 20th Century, talking about the Monks and their influence over 1500 years said, ‘they saved agriculture when no one could save it; they practiced it under a new life and new conditions when no one dared to undertake it’. It is not surprising to know monks made an impact in Agriculture since the monks saw work as a channel of grace and an avenue to mortify themselves.
Another historian records, ‘by them, Germany was rendered a fruitful country’. A vivid influence can be seen in their work on the Fen district of Southampton, England. Monks where very active all over, in Parma-Cheese-making, Ireland-Salmon fisheries, in Lombardy, monks taught the inhabitants irrigation and they had the finest vineyards in many places as they needed the wine for Mass.
The discovery of Champagne can be traced to Don Perignon of Saint Peter’s Abbey, Hautvillers. He was appointed cellarer of the Abbey in 1682 and developed the champagne through experimentation with blending wines.
The Cistercian monks of twelfth century France used water-power for crushing wheat, sieving flour, fulling cloth and tanning. There were many Cistercian monasteries and technological advancement could be observed in all of them.
In the mid-thirteenth century till the seventeenth century the Cistercians were the leading iron producers in France. In order to increase their efficiency, they used slag from their furnaces as fertilizer and its concentration of phosphates made it very useful.
The Church had great influence on education. The monks had to transcribe volumes of books for people to read from various disciplines. Great bulks of Latin literature we find today were in monastic libraries and scriptoria (rooms set aside for copying texts).
Certain monasteries were known for their particular branches of knowledge. For example, lectures in medicine were given by monks of Saint Benignis at Dijon, Saint Gall’s monastery had a school of painting and engraving, and lectures in Greek, Hebrew and Arabic could be heard in certain German monasteries.
Monks were teachers; Saint Chrysostom tells us that in his day it was customary for people to send their children to monks. Saint Benedict even instructed the sons of nobles. Saint Boniface established a school in every monastery he founded in Germany. In England Saint Augustine and his monks established schools everywhere they went.
The Jesuits contributed to the development of the reflecting telescopes, barometer, pantographs, microscopes, and to scientific fields such as magnetism, optics and electricity. They had great influence in mathematics and astronomy. They opened observatories that studied astronomy, geomagnetism, meteorology, seismology, and solar physics.
The Catholic influence on art can be seen even in our day-the stained glasses, sculpture, the paintings, mosaic, all of these and much more can be seen. The desire for geometric precision and numerical meaning in their works contributes significantly to the beauty.
The buildings were designed to make meaning, for example the windows of the Gothic cathedral and its emphasis on light. The light could be seen pouring into the cathedral and it signified how God enlightened the mind with knowledge.
People like Father Vitoria were best known for his commentaries on the Spanish colonialism and Las Casas who was involved in the origins of the Natural laws.
The Church has also produced great Economists that have contributed to the field such as Jean Buridan (1300-1358) who served as a rector in the University of Paris. He made a great contribution to the modern theory of money. Also Nicolas Oresme (1325-1382), a student of Buridan who made his own contributions to the theory of money; he was a mathematician, an astronomer and a physician. He wrote A Treatise on the origin, Nature, Law and Alterations of Money, which has been described as ‘a milestone in the science of money’.
The Church also contributed largely to western laws so much that a scholar Harold Berman had to say that modern legal systems ‘are a secular residue of religious attitudes and assumptions which historically found expression first in liturgy and rituals and doctrine of the church and thereafter in the institutions and concepts and values of the law. When these historical roots are not understood, many parts of the law appear to lack any underlying source of validity’. This explains why when a person is convicted of murder and sentenced to death but goes insane between the moment of his sentencing and execution, he is kept alive to regain his sanity and only the is he executed. This makes sense as only a sane person can make a good confession, receive forgiveness for sins and hope to save his soul. There are many laws that have Catholic explanations. Professor Berman’s scholarly work, particularly his magisterial Law and Revolution: The Formation of Western Legal Tradition has documented the influence of the Church on the development of western laws, he argues that ‘western concepts are in their origins and in their nature, intimately bound up with distinctively western theological and liturgical concepts of atonement and of the sacraments.’
The teachings of the Catholic faith have influenced morality; Catholic scholars have explained and defined catholic concepts that have become moral laws. For example In ‘The City of God’ Saint Augustine dismissed the pagan belief in suicide as a noble act he said ‘greatness of spirit is not the right term to apply to one who has killed himself because he has lacked strength to endure hardships, or another’s wrong doing.’
We could on forever on the list of Catholics who contributed to civilization, whatever field you can think of Catholics were involved in developing it, therefore, it is clear that indeed the Catholic Church built Western Civilization!
How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization-Thomas E. Woods
By Jacqueline Oke