Expert Answer Forum

Church History QUESTION from Mrs. Linda C. Sept. 25, 1999 I have a friend who is always thowing up Catholic history. All bad stuff! How do you answer someone like that? I was going to cut and paste the letter she wrote me with excerts from a book an ex priest and catholic wrote but it wouldnt work for this question box. She said pagens brought in there idol worship into the church and thats why there are veneration of statues. Constantine was corupt and the church took him in because of his power. She got these things from a book called. 'What they dont want you to know about Church history.' have you ever heard of this book? I would appreciat your insite. Linda
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin on September 30, 1999 Dear Linda
Peace be with you. I've seent his kind of thing all the time: some anti-Catholic wants to show how wrong Catholicism is, so he throws out every single bad thing any Catholic ever did as evidence, with the the necessary distortions, of course.
I haven't read the book, but the title What They Don't Want You to Know About Church History betrays a lack of seriousness and reliability. Can anyone who lives in this society seriously claim that there's a conspiracy to hide any facts from anyone? You can publish almost anything these day. That's why these facts about the church are widely known. Contrary to what your friend might think, academic historians (i.e. historians trained in universites) take these conspiracy books with a big grain of salt. If anything, academic historians try to undo some of the popular myths about the Church (e.g. millions killed in the Inquisition, etc). This is history written by people who have either little knowledge of what history is, or their logic is messed up and their interpretation of the facts is equally irrational.
As to how to answer your friend: it will depend as to the reason behind his attacks. If your friend only wants to demolish the Church, then there's nothing you can say to her to change her mind. I know that the temptation to want someone to acknowledge you're right can be very strong, but it's a futile pursuit. The eyes of the heart influence the eyes of the intellect, and if the heart doesn't only wants to see bad, it will. Withstanding these attacks and suffering the humiliation of being associated with an evil church is a great act of mortification, and the Lord did say that people would attack you because of him. If your friend wants to know what you have to say to all this, then just say I don't share your perceptions of Catholic history, and I don't find your source credible. Put the onus on her to come up with better sources: a book written by a university professor and published by a reputable press: usually one owned by a university. Some commercial houses (like Random House or Penguin) can publish good material, but since they have a profit motive, they can pander to what to the expectation that Christians in power are almost universally evil people.
When anti-Catholics attack Church history, often it's because they are trying to weaken the faith of their listeners. If that's the case, tell your friend that none of her objections undermines your faith because you solidly believe that Jesus Christ is God, Jesus Christ founded the Church and Jesus never promised the leaders of his Church would be sinless. These are facts amply supported by biblical and historical evidence. (If you are unfamiliar with the evidence, then I advise you to consult the Catholic Answers webiste at http://www.catholic.com and look at the tracts section. Last I checked, the tracts were a tad difficult to get at, but well worth the effort.). Turning the the discussion to the Bible (if your friend is a Christian) makes the discussion more theological in character rather than historical, and assuming you understand the biblical evidence for the establishment of the Catholic Church, then you are better able to deal with objections.
If you must deal with the historical objections per se, and you have the time to devote to research, try to focus your research on a single aspect. I recommend that you start with the Medieval Inquisition because by reading a decent book or tract on the subject, you can debunk a number of fairly common misconceptions, without worrying whether the author's interpretation is correct or not. I recommend historian Bernard Hamilton's The Medieval Inquisition. It has some liberal bias, but on the whole, it's a very factual work. And it's not too long, only about 127 pages. When you've conclusively shown that your friend is wrong on some issues, point out that her book is unreliable for presenting such information. Hopefully that will incite her to exercise some critical thinking and reject the book. If what your friend says does have some basis in fact (like the fact that torture was used), just say that it is true, but that it's natural for people to have committed what we think is wrong today because our moral sense evolves and every generation discovers new ideals; and that it's unfair to judge the Middle Ages by twentieth century standards.
Concerning the veneration of saints. Pagans did not bring idol-worship into the Church. This sounds like the objection of a Fundamentalist who thinks honouring our saints is saint worship. The veneration of saints is rooted in Sacred Tradition and has some biblical foundation.
About Constantine: if the Church didn't take in people who were corrupt, she would have no point. Of course the Church is in the business of taking in the corrupt: that's what Jesus sent us to do. The charge that Constantine was corrupt is a little vague. He had his good and his evil sides: he was certainly no saint. I would need to know exactly what she meant by that. But even if he was corrupt, his corruption never affected the promise from Our Lord that he would send the Spirit of Truth to teach the Church for always.
Thanks Linda, and God Bless You
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