An NCEA Message from 1937

The Catholic Church has the longest intellectual tradition of any institution in the contemporary world, the only uninterrupted tradition and the only explicit tradition … What I say is that this tradition must not be merely an ideal, but must be practiced.”

Robert Maynard Hutchins
So said Robert M. Hutchins, addressing the National Catholic Education Association’s Midwest Regional Meeting — in 1937. At the time of this address, Hutchins was president of the University of Chicago, where he had implemented wide-raging curricula reforms. He was not a Catholic, yet he could objectively praise the Catholic educational heritage and warn that Catholic schools were beginning “to imitate the worst features of secular education.”

Catholic identity” has been a longstanding issue in Catholic education in the United States. From the late 19th century, when American Catholics struggled over whether to establish independent, specifically Catholic parochial schools or to accept the equivalent of today’s charter schools (government-controlled but allowing after-hours religious instruction) — the question of how Catholic schools might realize their Catholic identity while offering a truly humane education has been a hot one.

Unfortunately, the assumption has sometimes been that a Catholic education is somehow opposed to a fully humane education. That to have one it is necessary to diminish the other.

Old St. Wendelin School,  Recovery Township, Ohio
History, however, tells a very different story. From the early medieval monastery and cathedral schools, to the universities of the high middle ages, to the Catholic colleges and universities of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, the Catholic educational tradition has been explicit – faith and reason are not opponents, but friends. They do not contradict one another but complete one another. The Catholic mind does not shy away from the discoveries of human reason, nor should human reason see the Faith as a restriction on its proper functioning and freedom. Both are involved in the search for truth.  

It is this truly catholic educational philosophy that inspires and directs the Catholic Textbook Project. Our history series does not accept a diminished historical research in order to salvage a Catholic understanding of the world. Nor does it reduce the Catholic faith to an exercise of mere personal piety. Catholic identity does not spell historical amnesia. 

Accurate, scholarly, well-written and beautiful – our books are fully within the rich tradition of Catholic education that Robert Hutchins praised 77 years ago.

This Day in History

April 29, 1821:
Napoleon Reconciled with God
This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here. 

Pius VII, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1819
Pope Pius VII did not forget Napoleon in his exile on the island of St. Helena. “It would be to my heart a joy like nothing else,” the pope wrote to Cardinal Consalvi in 1817, “if I could help in lessening Napoleon’s sufferings. He can no longer be dangerous to anyone. I could only wish that he may not cause anybody remorse.” Pius asked Consalvi to ask Great Britain’s prince-regent, George IV, to ease Napoleon’s sufferings. But the pope’s greatest gift to Napoleon was to send a priest, the Abbé Vignali, to Saint Helena. Pius had learned that Napoleon wanted to be reconciled to the Church.

Napoleon’s life on St. Helena had not been a happy one. The rocky, barren, wind-swept island was grim enough; but Napole-on’s residence, Longwood, was damp, unhealthy, and not shaded by any tree. Water had to be carried to the house, and the nearest water source was three miles away. Napoleon did receive visitors, and he had companions who shared his exile, but the island’s governor would not allow him to speak with the island’s inhabitants. Far worse, the British kept from him all news of his son, now named the Duke of Reichstadt, and of the former empress of France, Maria Louisa.

Yet, though he complained bitterly of the treatment he received, Napoleon did much more during his time on St. Helena. Besides writing complaining letters to British authorities, he dictated his memoirs. It is said the amount of writing he did on St. Helena between 1815 and 1821 could fill four large volumes. Napoleon also took up gardening at Longwood.

Napoleon dictating his memoirs on St. Helena
The news the pope had received that Napoleon wanted to be reconciled to the Church was true. The dreary life he led on St. Helena gave him time to turn his mind to God. He once commented to a young doctor who laughed at his growing devotion to religion, “Young man! You are perhaps too clever to believe in God; I am not so advanced as that. Not all can be atheists.” The will he wrote on St. Helena opened with strange words for a man who, most of his life, had called himself a Deist: “I die in the bosom of the Apostolic and Roman Church.” In his will, Napoleon said he wanted to be buried according to the rites of the Catholic Church.

Napoleon’s testament
In February 1821, Napo-leon’s already bad health went into a rapid decline. In March he was confined to his bed, for he could no longer stand the cold. He had set up in the room adjoining his bedroom (from where he could see it) a rude wooden altar and a cardboard tabernacle, over which hung an ebony cross with a silver Corpus Christi. Napoleon knew he was dying and only awaited the final act that would reconcile his soul to God. That came on the evening of April 29, 1821, when the pope’s representative, the Abbé Vignali, entered the sick man’s room. Napoleon confessed and received absolution. Although he did not receive Viaticum (for he could not keep his food down), his turbulent soul was now at peace.

At six in the evening on Saturday, May 5, 1821, while a tropical gale from the sea beat against the house and dimmed the sounds of the prayers for the dead said before the little wooden altar in the next room, Napoleon Bonaparte silently passed from this life.  After they had closed his eyes, which had remained open in death, those gathered around the body covered it with the cloak Napoleon had worn at the Battle of Marengo. And at the side of the body that had been Napoleon, they laid his sword. But on the breast, they placed a crucifix.

Napoleon’s death mask
Many years before, when Pope Pius VII had been his prisoner in Savona, the Emperor Napoleon had said, “The power that rules over souls has a greater sway than that which rules over bodies.” Napoleon had not been able to conquer the pope; but the pope, in a sense, had conquered Napoleon, by the hands of Abbé Vignali. It was the only conquest in which Pius himself could rejoice, for it was a conquest that benefited the conquered.

Nearly two and a half years after Napoleon’s death, Pius himself achieved his own, greater triumph. On July 6, 1823, Pope Pius VII, now 80 years old, fell in his chambers. After being taken to his bed, he lay there for the next month. He did not recover, but only grew weaker day by day. It is said that in his illness, he could not bear to hear the words, “Most Holy Father.” If anyone called him that, he would say, “No, call me ‘poor sinner.’” On August 17, Pius made his final Communion, and two days later received last rites. On August 20, 1823, while absorbed in prayer, he died.

For three nights, Cardinal Consalvi had kept vigil near the pope’s bed. Seeing that Pius had breathed his last, Consalvi knelt by the bedside. There this most faithful servant prayed for his departed sovereign and, weeping, wetted the pontiff’s feet with his tears.

This Day in History

April 22, 1839
A Brave Bishop Leaves Prison
This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here. 


Clemens August von Droste-Vischering
It was silent night, November 20, 1837. By order of the Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm III, troops surrounded the archiepiscopal palace in Köln, on the lower Rhine in Germany. Escorted by police, the governor of the province entered the palace and arrested the 64-year-old archbishop, Clemens August von Droste-Vischering. After being taken from his diocese, the archbishop was imprisoned at the fortress of Minden, about 147 miles northeast of Köln. Such was the price Clemens August had to pay for defending the rights of the Church against the Prussian government.

In Prussia, it had long been the custom in mixed marriages between Catholics and Protestants that the mother raised the daughters in her religion while the father raised the sons in his. This seemed an amicable way to deal with a rather difficult issue, but it ignored the fact that religion is about truth. The Catholic Church could not allow the children of a Catholic parent to be raised in what the Church recognized as a false religion. So it was that in 1830, Pope Pius VIII ruled that the Church would not bless any mixed marriages unless the non-Catholic spouse agreed that the children would be raised Catholic. It was because he refused to disobey the pope in this matter that Archbishop Droste-Vischering was imprisoned by the Prussian government in the fortress of Minden. By refusing to submit to the Prussian law, Droste-Vischering was defending not only Catholic marriage practice, but the right of the Church to be free from interference by the state.

Pope Pius VIII
With the pope, Archbishop Droste-Vischering had insisted that children of mixed marriages (between Catholics and Protestants) had to be raised Catholic. The Prussians, who had taken control of the very Catholic Rhineland in 1815, insisted that the Catholic Church in the Rhineland had to follow the Prussian custom. But, no matter how longstanding the custom was, it violated the law of the Catholic Church — and in a contest between the king and the Church, Archbishop Droste-Vischering knew whom he had to obey.

The imprisonment of Archbishop Droste-Vischering was an inspiration to many German Catholics. It even influenced one young nobleman to change his career plans. The 26-year-old Baron Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler had been preparing to enter the service of the Prussian government; but with the archbishop’s arrest and imprisonment, Ketteler decided he could not serve a government that committed such injustices. Instead, he ended up studying theology; and in 1844, he was ordained a priest. Later he was made bishop of Mainz and became a leading voice for social justice in Germany.

A part of the old fortress of Minden
Droste-Vischering’s example inspired courage in the hearts of the bishops of Münster and Kolberg, who had at first decided to go along with the Prussian government. They too now refused to follow the Prussian marriage custom. The archbishop of Gnesen and Posen, Martin von Dunin, directly disobeyed the wishes of the Prussian government and told his clergy to follow Catholic marriage practice. For this the government arrested, tried, and deposed him. Although told by the government to remain in Berlin, Dunin disobeyed and secretly returned to his diocese. There he was again arrested and imprisoned in the fortress of Colberg. Catholics in Germany rose up in protest against the Prussian government’s treatment of Droste-Vischering and Dunin.

It was only after it had slandered him as a traitor that the Prussian government finally released Droste-Vischering, on April 22, 1839. As for Archbishop Dunin, he remained imprisoned until a new king, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, came to the throne. Upon being freed from prison on August 3, 1840, Dunin returned to Posen and was welcomed by the rejoicing of his flock.

Easter Sunday Mass at Köln Cathedral

This video shows the 2012 Easter Sunday Mass (said in both Latin and German) in the cathedral where Archbishop Droste-Vischering once presided. The celebrant is Droste-Vischering’s successor, Archbishop Joachim Cardinal Meisner.

This Day in History

April 17, 1521
Luther Before the Diet of Worms
This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here. 

Being excommunicated, Luther was given over to the temporal power for punishment. But Luther’s prince, the Elector Frederick, had become his protector. The task of bringing Luther to justice fell, therefore, to the newly crowned German emperor, Charles V.

Emperor Charles V, 
sometime after 1515
Charles von Habsburg had become the most powerful ruler in Europe. The son of Juana, a daughter of Isabel and Fernando of Spain, Charles had become king of Spain when Fernando died in 1516. Charles, too, had inherited Flanders from his father, Prince Philip I (the “Handsome”). When Charles’s grandfather, Emperor Maximilian I von Habsburg, died in 1519, Charles was elected German emperor — even though he was not in Germany at that time. Charles V’s first journey to Germany did not occur until 1521, when he was to meet with the Imperial Diet at the city of Worms on the Rhine River.

Charles had many questions of imperial importance to address at Worms. The most important had become deciding what to do about the troublesome Augustinian monk, Martin Luther. Elector Frederick persuaded the emperor to summon Luther to Worms under a safe-conduct, for Frederick did not want Charles to condemn Luther unheard.

Martin Luther, 1520
Luther’s friends tried to dissuade him from attending the Imperial Diet. Luther, however, insisted that he had to defend himself in person before the emperor. On Luther’s journey to Worms, a crowd of university friends and a contingent of German knights accompanied him, and when he reached Worms, crowds thronged the streets to greet him as a popular hero. What the authorities intended to be the treatment of a condemned heretic had become a triumphal procession.

Luther appeared before the diet on April 17, 1521. He was unusually quiet and appeared timid; he asked for another day to consider his reply. The next day, however, Luther stood boldly before the emperor and the assembled princes. Asked to recant his errors, Luther replied, in German, “I neither can nor will recant anything, for it is neither safe nor right to act against one’s conscience.” According to an old tradition, he then added, “Hier steh ich; ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen!” (“Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”) Luther repeated his statement in Latin. Then, throwing up his arms like a victorious knight, he left the hall.

Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms, 
by Anton von Werner (1843-1915)
The next day, Charles V declared that he would not depart from the traditions of his forebears, the kings of Spain, Burgundy, and Germany who “were all faithful to the death to the Church of Rome, defending the Catholic Faith and the honor of God. A single friar who runs counter to all Christianity for a thousand years must be wrong.” The young emperor condemned Luther; but, true to his word, Charles allowed him to leave Worms in peace.

Elector Frederick the Wise,
by Albrecht Dürer, 1523
Luther left the diet on April 26, his safe-conduct good for 21 more days. On May 8, a minority of those who had attended the diet approved the Edict of Worms, which condemned Luther’s heresy and declared him an outlaw under sentence of death. Luther was to be arrested as soon as his safe-conduct expired. But the Elector Frederick intervened. By his order, a party of soldiers ambushed Luther’s party on the night of May 4. They took Luther to a castle called the Wartburg, where he went into hiding, disguised as a knight.

At the Wartburg, Luther, left to himself, underwent terrible doubts and struggles — was he alone right and the generations of Catholics wrong? He composed bitter attacks against his enemies, especially the papacy, which by then he was calling the Antichrist. Yet, in the course of the year 1522, Luther translated the whole of the New Testament into a forceful, spoken German. (He later translated the Old Testament, as well. The entire German Bible was published in 1534.) Luther’s German Bible became an important tool for carrying his reform forward among the common German people. It also became the basis for the modern German language.

Music from Luther’s Time

The film that follows depicts Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora (whom he married in 1525) performing pieces from the period in which they lived. The performance tells a story. In the first scene, Katharina von Bora and Luther enter, swathed in cloaks, reminiscent of monastic robes (she had been a nun), and they perform Arnolt Schlick’s 1512 hymn to Mary, Maria Zart. The second scene depicts Luther and Katharina’s married life, and here the music is decidedly secular in character. The third scene features a performance of Luther’s great Reformation hymn, Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God”); and while the music is sacred, the painting of Mary with the Christ child and the infant John the Baptist has given way to the rather profane Cupid Complains to Venus, by Lucas Cranach the Elder. What does it all mean? We shall let you, the viewer and listener, decide.


This Day in History

April 12, 1204:
Sack of Constantinople Begins
This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here. 

Fresco of Pope Innocent III,
13th century
Innocent III’s goal, when he became pope in 1198, was to continue the reform of the Church as begun by his predecessors on the Throne of Peter. But the failure of the Third Crusade to recover Jerusalem made another crusade to the Holy Land the pope’s first priority. In the very year he became pope, Innocent ordered another crusade. Knights from France and Germany, led by Boniface, marquis of Montferrat, pledged to take up the cross.

The crusaders’ goal was first to conquer Egypt, the center of Turkish Muslim power, and from there to move against Jerusalem. The crusader leaders came to an agreement with the Italian city-state of Venice to transport their army by ship to Egypt. The crusaders, however, could not pay the entire amount the Venetians demanded. Seeing an opportunity, the Venetians said they would forgive the amount the crusaders still owed — if they helped Venice attack the Christian city of Zara, in Dalmatia, across the Adriatic Sea from Venice. The crusaders agreed and, in November 1202, Zara fell to the combined crusader and Venetian force. Sorrowful at the news of the fall of Zara, Pope Innocent excommunicated the leaders of the crusade for turning their arms against fellow Christians. 

File:Alexius V.JPG
Byzantine Emperor Alexius V
In the end, Innocent absolved the crusaders and urged them to set out for Palestine. But the army, instead, sailed toward Constantinople.
Alexius — son of the deposed Byzantine emperor, Isaac Angelus – promised them that if they helped him regain the imperial throne, he would aid them in the crusade. The crusaders and the Venetians reached Constantinople in 1203. The usurper emperor, who had deposed Isaac, fled the city. The crusading army placed Alexius and his father on the imperial throne. 

Alexius, however, was slow in keeping his promises to the crusaders — and only seven months after he gained the throne, a revolution deposed both him and his father. The crusaders and the Venetians then laid siege to Constantinople. The nobles of Byzantium closed the great gates of the city to these threatening foreigners. The Byzantine army, under the new emperor, put up a strong resistance to the crusaders.

A Byzantine traitor, however, opened the sea-gates to the enemy. The host of crusaders and Venetians slipped into the city, storming it on April 12, 1204. For three days, the crusaders and Venetians looted and burned the ancient capital of the Eastern Christian world. Constan-tinople held the masterpieces of the ancient world. The invaders smashed the statues of the classical heroes and pagan gods and melted down bronze statues to make coins. They even pillaged the city’s churches, loading mules with the gold and jewels that adorned the sacred buildings. The plunder of the civilized world’s richest city was almost too much to believe.

Crusaders attack Constantinople, from a manuscript of The Conquest of Constantinople of Geoffrey de Villehardouin, ca. 1330
Having conquered Constantinople, the leaders of the crusade claimed the Eastern Roman Empire for their own. Fanning out from Constantinople, crusader forces looted and burned the cities of Greece, confiscated land from ancient families, and allotted territories to individual crusader leaders. Amid the ruins of Constantinople the crusaders established a French feudal state and imposed Latin Christianity on the Greeks. Baldwin, count of Flanders, was chosen as emperor of the Romans.

Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, a church
enriched by the spoils of Constantinople
Innocent III was appalled at the result of his call to crusade. Instead of delivering Jerusalem from the Muslims, the crusaders had conquered and plundered a Christian people. The papacy had, it was true, control of the Church of Constantinople, which had been in schism with the pope since 1054. But the conquest only turned the Greek people against everything having to do with Catholic western Europe, including the papacy. The Fourth Crusade made the schism of 1054 a permanent division, not only between the churches of Rome and Constantinople, but between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches in Greece, the eastern Mediterranean, Russia, and eastern Europe.

Music from East and West 

Byzantine liturgical chant from the the 13th century, performed by Capella Romana.

Cappella Romana: Alleluiarion, 13th century
Music of Bernart de Ventadorn (1130/1140-1190/1200), a troubadour of south-central France. The knights of the Fourth Crusade very likely were familiar with his music. This performance features period instruments. The male vocalist is a counter-tenor.

   Bernart de Ventadorn : Can l’erba fresch(Ensemble Céladon)