This old classic by English Catholic author/historian Hilaire Belloc provides a Catholic response to modernist and Protestant polemics against the Church. Belloc shows that the Catholic Church was essential in perserving the knowledge and greatness of pagan antiquity, insuring that after the "fall" of the Roman Empire, European civilization would have another springtime (in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance).
Another central part of Belloc's thesis is that the Roman Empire never really "fell" to "superior" barbarian hordes as it has been presented in some textbooks. In fact, the Roman Empire absorbed all tribes who came to then for the benefits of civilization. Out of this New Barbarian Order came feudal Europe, formed by classical learning and Christianized by the Catholic church. In the Dark Ages, the faith preserved this civilization while it was under attack from the Muslims, Magyars and Vikings in succession. It was in these centuries that the seeds that would later flower in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were nurtured and protected.
Belloc concludes by showing the devestating impact (personal, economic and in government) that the Reformation had on European civilization (a thesis that he explores in greater detail in How The Reformation Happened and Characters of the Reformation). He proclaims the chief of effect of the Reformation was "the isolation of the soul" and chief by-product was a progressive sense of dispair. He then boldly states that Europe's former glory will be confined exclusively to history textbooks unless the continent returns to the Faith that shepherded and nurished its greatness.
I felt that this, like all of Belloc's books, was an excellent read that boldly defends Catholic truth and explodes many of the Protestant assumptions that are still latent in American and Northern European civilization over 80 years after the book's publication.
This book is a quite old Belloc classic but nethertheless it invites new generations of readers on a historical journey full of surprises and old truths. The work is pivotal among his historical research on the ancient roots of our Christian and European civilisation as well as the causes and consequences of the Protestant revolutionary movement, known as the Reformation.
The main thesis is that in contrary to mainstream Protestant and anticlerical historians in the beginning of 20th century when Christianity was acknowledged as a factor deteriorating the glorious Roman Empire, the contrary must be said. The Christianity had the central role in transferring the high moral and cultural values of the Old, already very decaying Empire into the future. The new religion of the gospel refused all that was the decadent and fruitless in Roman culture but it rescued much of it's precious knowledge, positive elements, vitality and potentiality for future expansion, elements which would perish due to the fall of the empire. According to Belloc the main fault of modern historians not recognising this, is their lack of understanding for Christianity as well as an anti-Catholic bias among many of them. Belloc points out an oversimplification done by the scholars on the importance of the barbarian tribes affecting the Empire and their impact on the culture of it.
The next important conclusion Belloc draws from his genial analysis is that the barbarian hordes, which were believed to affect so much the dissolution of the Roman Empire where de facto "romanised" and dominated completely themselves by the Roman culture. The cause of the fall of the Empire is not to be sought in the first hand in the infiltration of these barbarians, mostly German and Slavic tribes. These tribes sought for and were admitted, dominated and adapted quickly by the Roman civilisation. They were little bit alike, in economical terms, today's refuges from the third world longing for the riches and privileges of the Western World. The causes of the fall of Rome laid deeper and showed out as the weakening of the central government, the power and initiative of the Emperor's. The puny barbarians was just an episode but no main factor and cause in the Roman decay. They neither rescued nor conveyed the rich culture of Rome in their capacity of themselves being barbarians. The work of Christianity on the roman culture created our civilisation and gave potential to all the fruitful future civilisatory enterprises of the Europe and the West.
Belloc describes further the importance of the middle ages as well as factors and causes for the protestant reformation. In this part of the book Belloc polemizes with the protestant scholars and gives credible proof for the fact that the so called protestant movement was in fact a kind of relapse into what Belloc defines German barbarism. Belloc seeks the causes of the Reformation in the inherent civilisatory weakness in the Northern German lands. This weakness was, according to Belloc, caused by the fact that the roots of the Roman-Christian culture and civilisation did not penetrate the mind and conscience of inhabitants in this area. His arguments seem to have some weakness and even a kind of anti German propaganda but there may be some truth in Belloc's conclusion.
A book worth while. Highly recommended. On the minus side is the small size and due to it a briefness in presentation of facts and arguments as well as Belloc's clear but little bit boring language. Nevertheless these obstacles are small compared to the interesting facts and revelations.