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Why European Christendom Was So Important for the Faith

Andreas Akre Solberg

Thomas Storck - Ethika Politika - published on 01/30/14

In Christian Europe there existed a succession of political powers that provided this patronage even into the 19th century, albeit less consistently as the centuries progressed:  the Roman Empire in both east and west; Charlemagne’s Frankish empire; during the Middle Ages most European kingdoms; thereafter Habsburg Spain together with the Holy Roman Empire; and lastly France.  During this time, of course, large sections of Europe were lost to the Church in the Protestant revolt, about the same time as there began a Catholic expansion into the New World and into parts of Asia and Africa.  Necessarily Catholic life in these regions was derivative of European Catholic life.  In one region, though, there was enough time and resources to permit the creation of a genuinely new province of Christendom.  This was Latin America, where a Baroque Catholic culture was created, in its main lines certainly a European transplant, but in a new environment and among new peoples.  As Christopher Dawson wrote:

"Nowhere are the vitality and fecundity of the Baroque culture better displayed than in Mexico and South America, where there was a rich flowering of regional types of art and architecture, some of which show considerable indigenous Indian influence. This power of Baroque culture to assimilate alien influences is one of its characteristic features, and distinguishes it sharply from the culture and artistic style of the Anglo-American area." [2]

This assimilating power of the Spanish Baroque was so great that, as one scholar put it with reference to music:

"It is very difficult in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador to separate the musical elements of Indian origin from those of the European tradition…. The elements of the two cultures combined to form inseparable units." [3]

But although Latin America did offer fresh space for Catholic cultural development, it, like all the newly-discovered or colonized lands, continued to depend upon Europe both politically and intellectually.

In Europe, as I noted, important and increasingly powerful states had already loosed themselves from Catholic unity.  Protestant England together with Holland and for a time Sweden became the chief loci within Europe aiming at the destruction of Catholic civilization.  These became not only political and military rivals to Catholic powers, but erected an alternative model of Western cultural life, a model which has exerted a powerful intellectual appeal on many.

Subsequently the United States became the foundation of this Protestant culture worldwide.  Speaking of this, Belloc wrote, “The strength of the Protestant culture now lies out of Europe, in the United States.”[4]  These various Protestant powers worked by seizing bits of Catholic territory all around the world, by sending out Protestant missionaries into Latin America and other Catholic lands where they have contributed to the destruction of Catholic faith and culture, but perhaps most importantly by offering an alternative model of Western culture that appeals strongly to modern materialist man.  The increasing industrial might and wealth of this model offered a kind of spurious argument in its favor, an argument summarized by Belloc as follows:

"The Catholic Church is false because nations of Catholic culture have declined steadily in temporal wealth and power as compared with the nations of an anti-Catholic culture, which, in this particular instance, means the Protestant culture." [5]

Although today neither Great Britain nor the United States as nations has any interest in Protestant theology, both of them continue to reflexively oppose Catholic interests, or any remnants of Catholic culture existing in the world today.  In fact, part of the anti-Hispanic feeling that animates so many Anglo-Americans, even Catholics, has its roots in this feeling of the cultural superiority of Protestant civilization.

Although in general Protestant civilization still exists as a power supporting (I do not say Protestantism as a religion, but Protestant culture), today there is no Catholic power.  In fact, with the partial and weak exception of a few Latin American nations,[6] the Church and Catholic culture have no true political props today.  In the late 19th century Pope Leo XIII and other far-sighted Catholic thinkers saw that the Church could no longer depend for her external support upon Catholic princes.  In both the political and the cultural realms it was now the mass of the Catholic people, more and more living in democratic regimes and possessing some voice in their governments, who would be the external support for the Church, if anyone would be.  And at first this new arrangement seemed to work tolerably well.  The last third of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries was one of the most brilliant periods in Catholic thought and letters, in philosophy, in the efforts of popes from Pius X to Pius XII to realize the liturgy’s potential as a school for Christian living.  Despite the interruptions of two world wars, Catholic thought exerted an influence on politics in more than one country; a number of official or unofficial Catholic political parties existed; and some few regimes were more or less consciously devoted to carrying out a Catholic program in their public policy, while even in Protestant countries popular Catholic life flourished in a great variety of associations and institutions, and Catholics exercised sometimes considerable influence on the political process.

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CatholicismChristians in the Middle EastFaithPolitics
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