A Chronicle of Christendom’s Decline
The Crisis of Christendom: 1815-2005: A History of Christendom, Vol. 6
By Warren H. Carroll
Publisher: Christendom Press
Pages: 895 pages
Review Author: Frederick W. Marks
Warren H. Carroll’s monumental history of Christendom is, at last, complete. The posthumously published sixth volume, The Crisis of Christendom, takes the reader from Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815 all the way to the present. As in the preceding volumes, the author’s power as a storyteller can bring tears to one’s eyes; but the merit of the work extends far beyond rhetoric. Carroll is, first and foremost, an eloquent exponent of Judeo-Christian values who puts character delineation front and center. His villains are villains; his heroes, heroes.
Although this is “broad brush” history, nothing of importance is passed over. Graphic accounts of Civil War battles, moving stories of parliamentary maneuver, fascinating details of scientific discovery — they are all here. Additionally, as a long-time student of communism, Carroll is particularly well equipped to portray the likes of Rasputin, Lenin, and Trotsky. Marx’s “hate-filled fantasies” are palpable.
The author does not hide his conservatism; yet an ideologue he is not. On the one hand, he condemns unbridled capitalism, citing Pope Leo XIII’s defense of the rights of the laborer, and observes that “it is very much the duty of the state in a just social order to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a few, however successful economically.” On the other hand, he refuses to be drawn into a knee-jerk condemnation of the so-called robber barons of the Gilded Age: “It is time to pull the great entrepreneurs of the age of enterprise off the rubbish and the dung heaps of history and return them to their rightful place as pathfinders and champions of freedom — where almost all Americans used to put them before we were taught by ideology and envy in the generation of Marxist writers to see them as villains and tyrants.” Carroll continues, “Despite all the blackening of legend,” the titans of industry were, in the main, “honest and strictly moral,” and many of them were “deeply religious.”
Although Carroll excoriates Nazism, he recognizes communism as the greater evil, responsible as it was for the death of scores of millions. He has high praise for Jefferson, Lincoln, and England’s Wilberforce, all three liberals by the standards of the day. At the same time, he not only sides with Spain’s Carlists, who were traditionalist to the core, but goes on to commend Louis Veuillot, the French journalist who campaigned in 1839 for a revival of the Roman Inquisition to combat heresy, insisting that “it would be better to tolerate in the bosom of a nation poisoners and murderers, better to bring war, pestilence, and famine than to let heresy enter.”
Today in the democratic West, heresy has entered big time, and Carroll is keenly aware of what happens when advocates of sexual promiscuity are free to peddle their wares wherever they please, when words such as heresy and censorship are taboo, and when nominally Catholic politicians receive Holy Communion while appropriating tax money for abortion.
Returning to the theme of ideological balance, leftists are not the only ones who break their word in The Crisis of Christendom. Nor are Protestants and atheists the only ones guilty of wartime atrocities, though they are responsible for the lion’s share. The papacy comes in for both praise and criticism: praise for its stance on social and moral issues, criticism for its failure to support a single Latin American independence movement and for refusing to ordain South American natives to the priesthood. In like vein, Carroll applauds Spain’s Franco for ushering in a period of economic and religious freedom while conceding that the caudillo did not establish a representative government. Finally, even though Carroll abhors Chinese communism, he can still marvel at the tactical brilliance of party members who overcame great odds on the battlefield to survive “the longest and fastest sustained march ever made by an army of foot troops,” the so-called Long March.
Expect the unexpected. Venezuela’s Simón Bolívar, widely known as the liberator of Latin America from Spanish colonialism, is found wanting on moral grounds and compared unfavorably with Argentina’s José de San Martín. U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, routinely roasted by liberals for his supposed exaggeration of the menace of American communism, emerges as a man not entirely without fault but with his feet planted firmly on the ground. By the same token, Chiang Kai-shek, normally portrayed as a blundering reactionary, looks very different in the eyes of Carroll.
Who ever heard of Pedro II, Marshal Radetzky, Emperor Karl, or Archbishop Agafangel? These and others who played pivotal roles on the conservative side of things have their place in the sun alongside Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, who saved his native Finland from a communist takeover by twice defeating Soviet armies. “No man ever did that, anywhere in the world,” observes Carroll. We learn too of the courage with which Patriarch Tikhon of the Russian Orthodox Church addressed his Stalinist foes: “Come to your senses, ye madmen, and stop your bloody actions. For what you are doing is not only a cruel deed; it is in truth a Satanic act, for which you shall suffer the fire of hell in the life to come beyond the grave, and the terrible curses of posterity in the present, earthly life. By the authority given us by God we forbid you to present yourselves for the sacraments of Christ and anathematize you, if you still bear the name of Christians.”
In Carroll’s view, Tikhon “stood in the cockpit of the crisis of Christendom and, first in all the world, named the enemy. He looked Satan in the face, knowing that the Devil had just captured his beloved homeland, Holy Mother Russia, mat’ye Rossiya, and was to turn it into his instrument for evil in the demonic twentieth century, as the Blessed Virgin Mary predicted at Fátima.”
There is a cosmopolitan flavor to Carroll’s work that marks it as unique. He credits nineteenth-century China, for example, with being a civilization in many ways superior to that of the West, and he laments the contempt and condescension with which Westerners treated it. Generously ecumenical, the author tips his hat to John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie for being men of character and industry while identifying one as “an active member of the Baptist Church” and the other as a follower of the Protestant Emanuel Swedenborg.
Carroll’s personal background as a convert to Catholicism, coupled with his experience as a writer, makes for an amazing breadth of scope. Thus, England is not simply England but rather the “first urbanized society in history” as well as the seat of “the most fundamental transformation of economic life…since the neolithic agricultural revolution.” The French Revolution is “the first intellectual and armed challenge to Christianity since the great persecution launched by Roman Emperor Diocletian.” Taking the long view, Carroll tags Soviet communism as “the most evil system of government ever devised by man.” Of the horrific resemblance between the legalization of abortion by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade (1973) and the earlier definition of human beings as property in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) the reader is duly apprised, and the slaughter of forty million American children in a mere forty years stares him full in the face.
Kudos to Carroll’s devoted wife and editor, Anne, who has appended her husband’s essay on principles for the Catholic writing of history. It is well worth reading, and the author practices what he preaches, paying attention to encyclicals such as Humanae Vitae and laying out the evidence for Marian apparitions. Where the conventional historian would turn a blind eye to the miraculous events of Lourdes and Fátima, dismissing them out of hand as “popular religion,” Carroll showcases them as proof for the existence of a personal God.
No American-born author has ever chronicled the history of Western civilization quite this way. Will and Ariel Durant’s bestselling Story of Civilization in eleven volumes comes closest in terms of coverage, but Carroll has the entire story. No “general practitioner” historian is going to appear perfect in the eyes of every reader, and Carroll is no exception. Based on extensive research in the field of American foreign policy, I do not share his distaste for the diplomacy of Theodore Roosevelt. Nor would I give his distant cousin Franklin a free pass for his role in the lead-up to World War II. But this is small change.
In his closing statement, the author says of Christendom, “I watched that glorious word disappear from the English language. Now maybe a new generation will live to see it restored to its rightful place of honor.” Just so. The Crisis of Christendom is must reading for all who take their faith seriously. Along with the rest of Carroll’s six-volume set, it will contribute handsomely to a new springtime of evangelization because those who read it will know why Christendom should be restored.
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