success stories

Posted March 31, 2004

Book: A Concise History of the Catholic Church
Author: Thomas Bokenkotter
Doubleday, New York, pp. 607

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

My intent in this revised edition of “A Concise History of the Catholic Church” is to provide a guide for Catholics who want to know more about the complex history of their two-thousand-year-old Church, to provide some perspective for those confused by all the changes brought on by the Second Vatican Council, and to show how change has been a constant in the history of the Church. In doing so I have focused on the main events and personalities that have made the Roman Catholic Church what it is today. There is no need to dwell on the obvious limitations inherent in this type of book. To try and condense two millennia of history into one volume means that much of even real importance will be left out . . .

The crisis engendered by Vatican II still continues as the Church seeks to incorporate the new insights of the Council into its life and thought: collegiality, ecumenism, religious freedom, theological and cultural pluralism, a pluralist approach to moral issues, dialogue, and use of biblical and historical criticism. . . . Just how these new insights could be fitted into the ancient, rock-ribbed structure of Catholic doctrine and tradition was not, and could not, be spelled out in the few short years of the Second Vatican Council. It is no wonder that fur is still flying as work continues of reconciling new insights with the ancient tradition, especially as defined so rigidly by the Council of Trent.

An Excerpt from the Book:

An oft-debated issue is the extent of secularization, a loss of the sense of the sacred, in the world today. There is no doubt that organized religion has lost ground in many parts of the world, but this does not necessarily mean that secularization has increased. The Jesuit sociologist John Coleman argues that we simply can’t say whether there has been a diminution of a sense of the sacred in modern society. Moreover, even though the decline of the influence of the Church on morality and political, social, and economic behavior is a fact, this does not mean that religion has lost its indirect influence on individuals. It is clear, however, that, as Coleman says, “authoritarian religion based on rigid doctrinal or moral orthodoxy finds an inhospitable climate in the modern situation.”

One country where the decline of religion is most obvious is England, which has often been called the most secularized country in Western Europe. The status of the Catholic Church reflects this picture clearly. According to the Catholic Directory statistics for the Church in England and Wales published in 1999, the Church’s membership reached its peak in the mid-sixties and has declined ever since. One might think this was due to the influence of the Second Vatican Council, but since membership in other churches also declined in this period, there must be other reasons. Nevertheless, the Catholics have suffered the highest rate of decline of any religious group in the United Kingdom in the period since 1985. Only the Charismatic Evangelicals registered growth. No doubt, the decline can be traced in part to the onset in the sixties of an individualism spurred by the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” culture. The number of ordinations, Communions, and baptisms as well as the figures on attendance at Mass have declined by nearly 50 percent in England and Wales. At the same time, the number of marriages within the Catholic Church has slumped much more disastrously, from 45,592 in 1964 to 14,705 by 1997.

. . .As to the situation in the United States, where alienated Catholics are numerous, Andrew Greeley maintains that at least 85 percent of those who are born Catholics remain committed to the Church. He believes the reason is in the way the Catholic religious sensibility appeals powerfully to the whole person. Other statistics bear up Greeley’s contention, showing that Church attendance has held steady over the last decades after a drop of nearly one third in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The rite of Christian initiation [RCIA] for adults has proved very effective in drawing converts to the Church, as many thousands yearly complete their conversion to Roman Catholicism through the rite.

The communal approach has enabled the Church to market itself more effectively to Americans, who shop around and tend to change their religion easily. In the 90 (of 189) U.S. dioceses for which figures were available, 63,000 people became Catholics on April 22, 2002, during the solemn Easter vigil, the holiest time of the Church’s liturgical year. Catholic membership patterns more closely resemble the gains of Evangelical churches, which gained 6.4 million new adherents between 1970 and 1997. The nine major Protestant denominations, however, lost 22 percent of their membership between 1970 and 1997, a decline of 5.8 million.

Table of Contents:

Part One
The Church triumphs over paganism A.D. 30-600

1. Jesus

2. The Church spreads across the empire

3. A Church with authority

4. Constantine favors the Christians and inaugurates a new era of church history

5. Worship, faith, and life in the early chruch

6. The final victory over paganism

7. Jerome

8. Augustine

9. Pope Leo I wins a great victory for papal primacy at Chalcedon

Part Two
The Making of Christendom A.D. 600-1300

10. The popes and Franks join forces to create a new unity: Christendom

11. Hildebrand’s revolution makes the popes supreme in Christendom

12. The papal monarchy at its zenith

13. The eastern schism

14. Church and society in western Christendom

15. The Aristotelian invasion

Part Three
The Unmaking of Christendom A.D. 1300- 1650

16. The decline of the papal monarchy

17. The papacy survives the great schism and puts down Conciliarism

18. The Church fails to reform itself in time

19. Luther splits Christendom

20. Calvin make Protestantism an international movement

21. The Catholic Church recovers its spiritual elan

Part Four
The Church in a state of siege A.D. 1650-1891

22. The challenge of the new thought

23. The Church torn by internal strife: Jansenism and Gallicanism

24. The French Revolution shatters the Church and the old order

25. Pius IX says no to the liberal Catholics

26. The Syllabus of Errors squelches the liberal Catholics

27. Pio Nono carries Ultramontanism to a grand triumph at Vatican I

Part Five
The state of siege is slowly lifted A.D. 1891-

28. Social Catholicism and Christian democracy

29. The modernist debacle

30. The Church moves out to the whole world

31. The American Church

32. The popes of the twentieth century

33. The resurgent liberal Catholics ring down the curtain on the post-Trent church at Second Vatican Council

34. The sound and fury of renewal

35. The bark of Peter in stormy seas (1976-1989)

36. On the threshold of the third millennium