This Week in History

A Short-lived Union Broken:

December 12, 1452

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations I: The History of Christian Civilization. To peruse sample chapters of our books, go hereFor ordering information on Light to the Nations I and our other texts, please click here.

Emperor John VIII Palaiologos

The death of Murad I at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 did not end the Ottoman threat to Europe. Constantinople, completely surrounded by Muslim territory, stood in most danger of Turkish conquest. But the conquest of the Balkans showed that the Ottomans were a threat to western Christendom as well. To combat the Ottoman threat—the common enemy—the Catholic West and the Orthodox East had to join forces.

Yet, though both called on the name of Christ, the Catholics and the Orthodox believers were separated by religious and cultural differences. To bridge the gap between them, the emperor of Constantinople, John VIII Palaiologos (reigned 1425–1448), traveled in splendid attire to Italy with a delegation of nobles, bishops, and military men. The emperor’s plan was to meet with representatives of the pope to solve the theological differences separating the two branches of Christianity. If this old schism could be ended, it would make for a strong and united front of Christian nations against the invading Turks. Continue reading

by Michael Van Hecke, M.Ed.
Just after his installation as prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education for the Holy See, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi oversaw the Vatican’s World Congress on Education. I was a participant and spoke to his Eminence about the renewal of education in America—and in particular about our efforts to create textbooks once again for Catholic schools.

He lauded the good news and said of our textbooks, having perused one volume, “This is important work!” I was obviously Continue reading

This Week in History

A Week of Socialist Reverses:

December 3-10, 1905

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. See sample chapters, here. For ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other texts, please click here.

Tsar Nikolai II (right) with Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in 1905

With Liberals challenging the tsar’s autocratic government, with Marxists agitating both the city working class and the rural peasantry, and with the bulk of Russia’s military thousands of miles away, it is no wonder that revolution shook Russia in 1905. News of military disasters, such as the destruction of the Russian fleet in May 1905, only made the revolutionists bolder. Liberals, especially, thought they now could force the tsar to accept a constitutional government; but when in June a delegation of Liberal nobles demanded that Nikolai establish a constitution and a representative assembly, he refused. In August, however, he gave in so far as to allow for the formation of a duma (representative assembly); but, said Nikolai, this body would have no power to pass laws. The duma would only draw up drafts for laws; then the tsar would either approve or reject them.

The failure of the Liberals to force Tsar Nikolai to accept a constitutional government strengthened the revolutionary socialist parties in Russia. All over the Russian Empire, workers and students went on strike, and peasants staged uprisings in the rural districts. All of these people united from October 10 to 14, 1905, in a massive general strike that halted factory production, telegraph and postal services, and traffic on the Russian railroads. On October 14, 1905, Mensheviks organized a Soviet of Workers Delegates, while Liberals formed a new party, the Constitutional Democrats. Both groups called for the formation of a constituent assembly whose members would be elected by universal manhood suffrage. Continue reading

1By Michael Van Hecke, M.Ed.

Parents want to choose Catholic education for the religious and moral tethering it can provide their children in a world that often seems bereft of meaning…

A few years ago, I met Samuel Casey Carter at an event promoting a charter school network. At the time, Carter had just been hired by Archbishop Charles Chaput to join him in an effort to renew the Catholic high schools in Philadelphia, where scores of schools were closing for lack of students and money.

Carter was called in to help renew and rebuild the nation’s oldest Catholic school system that was in deep crisis, and to Continue reading

This Week in History

The Pope Crowns His Enemy:

December 2, 1804

This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. See sample chapters, here. For ordering information on Light to the Nations II and our other texts, please click here.

Pope Pius VII

Despite all the negotiations, despite the hopes and fears, despite the long journey from Rome to Paris, only a few days before it was to take place, it looked as if the coronation would not occur. As part of the ceremony the pope was to crown Josephine empress; but, Pius VII learned, Napoleon and Josephine had had only a civil marriage. They had not been married in the Church. The pope told the couple that if they did not have their marriage blessed, he would perform no coronation. Unwilling to have a public fight with the pope, Napoleon reluctantly agreed to Pius’s demand. On December 1, he and Josephine were married in a private ceremony at the palace of the Tuileries.

The next day, December 2, 1804, thousands gathered in the cathedral of Notre Dame for the great event that would make Napoleon Bonaparte the anointed of God. As the pope’s throne before the high altar was being prepared, the ancient walls (hung with rich tapestries) and vault of Notre Dame echoed to the chanting of 400 priests. Adding to the splendor were the senators, counselors of state, and tribunes of France wearing hats topped with great plumes. Bishops and priests, adorned in rich, beautiful vestments, stood in the sanctuary while a host of lovely women, dressed in exquisite gowns and adorned with jewels, lined the aisles or sat in the wings. Napoleon had seen to it that his crowning would have all the glory of the ancient regime. Continue reading