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Posted October 5, 2005

Book: How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization
Author: Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
Regnery Publishing, Washington, DC, pp. 280

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Ask a college student today what he knows about the Catholic Church and his answer might come down to one word: “corruption.”

But that one word should be “civilization.”

Western civilization has given us the miracles of modern science, the wealth of free-market economics, the security of the rule of law, a unique sense of human rights and freedom, charity as a virtue, splendid art and music, a philosophy grounded in reason, and innumerable other gifts that we take for granted as the wealthiest and most powerful civilization in history.

But what is the ultimate source of these gifts? Bestselling author and professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr. provides the long neglected answer: The Catholic Church.

In How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, you’ll learn:

Why modern science was born in the Catholic Church

How Catholic priests developed the idea of free-market economics five hundred years before Adam Smith

How the Catholic Church invented the university

Why what you know about the Galilleo affair is wrong

How Western law grew out of Church canon law

How the Church humanized the West by insisting on the sacredness of all human life.

No institution has done more to shape Western civilization than the two-thousand-year-old Catholic Church.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Not surprisingly, Western standards of morality have been decisively shaped by the Catholic Church. Many of the most important principles of the Western moral tradition derive from the distinctly Catholic idea of the sacredness of human life. The insistence on the uniqueness and value of each person, by virtue of the immortal soul, was nowhere to be found in the ancient world. Indeed, the poor, weak, or sickly were typically treated with contempt by non-Catholics and sometimes even abandoned altogether. That, as we have seen, is what made Catholic charity so significant, and something new in the Western world.

Catholic spoke out against, and eventually abolished, the practice of infanticide, which had been considered morally acceptable even in ancient Greece and Rome. Plato, for example, had said that a poor man whose sickness made him unable to work any longer should be left to die. Seneca wrote: “We drown children who at birth are weakly and abnormal.” Deformed male children and many healthy female children (inconvenient in patriarchal societies) were simply abandoned. As a result, the male population of the ancient Roman world outnumbered the female population by some 30 percent. The Church could never accept such behavior.

We see the Church’s commitment to the sacred nature of human life in the Western condemnation of suicide, a practice that had its defenders in the ancient world. Aristotle had criticized the practice of suicide, but others among the ancients, particularly the Stoics, favored suicide as an acceptable method of escaping physical pain or emotional frustration. A number of well-known Stoics themselves committed suicide. What better proof of one’s detachment from the world than control of the moment of departure?

In The City Of God, Saint Augustine dismissed the elements of pagan antiquity that portrayed suicide as somehow noble:

Greatness of spirit is not the right term to apply to one who has killed himself because he has lacked strength to endure hardships, or another’s wrongdoing. In fact, we detect weakness in a mind which cannot bear physical oppression, or the stupid opinion of the mob; we rightly ascribe greatness to a spirit that has the strength to endure a life of misery instead of running away from it, and to despise the judgment of men . . .in comparison with the pure light of a good conscience.

Table of Contents:

The indispensable church

A light in the darkness

How the monks saved civilization

The church and the university

The church and science

Art, architecture, and the church

The origins of international law

The church and economics

How Catholic charity changed the world

The church and western law

The church and western morality

A world without God