The Father of English History

Today is the feast of St. Bede and it is an important day for the Catholic Textbook Project. In 2000 at CTP’s inception, our first General Editor, Dr. Rollin Lasseter chose to put the new venture under the patronage of Venerable Bede, Doctor of the Church. Besides finding it natural to seek help from the Catholic Church’s patron saint of historians, Dr. Lasseter, as a convert from Anglicanism, wanted a bridge to the England that was once universally Catholic. He also found inspiration in St. Bede’s honoring the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, as the greatest event in human history – a theme which remains unbroken throughout the CTP history books. Dr. Lasseter and his wife, Ruth, made a pilgrimage in 2000 to Durham Cathedral in England to visit the tomb of St. Bede where they prayed for his heavenly assistance and guidance of CTP. Upon the tombstone itself is inscribed one word:  “Bede.” Above the tomb are inscribed words written by St. Bede himself:  Christ is the Morning Star, who, when the night of this world is past, brings to His saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day. Through the years that he wrote, until his death in 2008, Dr. Lasseter kept an image of Saint Bede on his computer screen and also in a small frame above his desk.

Who was this man that inspired Dr. Lasseter? In CTP’s Light to the Nations (Part I, pg. 205) is written:
“A man who was said to be the most learned man of his time was a monk who rarely left his monastery – St. Bede, the Venerable. In 679 when Bede was seven years old, his well-to-do parents entrusted him to the care of Ceolfrith, co-abbot of Jarrow Abbey in Northumbria. The boy had a talent for language and words, a fine appreciation of poetry and music, as well as a prodigious memory. Bede spent the rest of his life in the confines of Jarrow, free to study and ponder the works in the large monastic library.
Bede is mostly remembered today for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, a history of England from the landing of Julius Caesar to Bede’s own time. But Bede was more than just a historian. He wrote on many subjects, including grammar, music, and natural science. He was also a poet and a composer of hymns.”

About two centuries before Bede’s birth the Roman Empire had begun its slow decline, eventually dissolving with the dramatic invasions of the barbarian tribes from the North. Much of classical civilization and learning,  was in danger of being lost during the following chaos and social dissolution. Benedictine monasteries were invaluable in bringing peace amidst the destruction and preserving learning. St. Bede’s scholarship contributed to remaking the Dark Ages into Christendom.

In the closing chapter of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, we see the method of Bede’s historical writing: “Thus much concerning the ecclesiastical history of Britain and especially the race of the English, I, Bede, a servant of Christ and priest of the monastery of the Blessed Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul, which is at Wearmouth and at Jarrow, have with the Lord’s help composed as far as I could gather it either from ancient documents or from from the traditions of the elders or from my own knowledge.” Another of trait of his writings, which to us moderns seems common practice, was unusual in his day – the noting of the passages he borrowed from other writers or referencing his sources. 

Historical scholar and fellow Benedictine, Francis Aidan Cardinal Gasquet, wrote of St. Bede’s work:
When we compare the work done under the inspiration of Bede at Wearmouth and Jarrow with other literary efforts of the seventh and eighth centuries, one characteristic at once strikes us. The work of that northern school is what may be called ‘thorough and scholarly’… It will bear the test of examination: it carries with it evidence of wide reading and full knowledge utilized with judgement and critical tact, and for this it became a model to subsequent generations… Reflect how his great record of our own country was composed. Remember that its author was a man who lived his whole life within the narrow circuit of a few miles; remember also the difficulty of obtaining information in those days. Still, to acquire knowledge, and accurate knowledge, he went to work precisely as the historian would at the present day, never resting till he had got at the best sources of information attainable at the cost of whatever time or patience or labour it might involve. It is only now, in this age of minute criticism, that we can realize the full excellence of Bede’s historical methods
However, St. Bede’s writing is not only know for it’s scholarly quality, but also for its beauty. His history was not dry, but engaging, eloquent and at times, poetic. Dr. Lasseter hoped these qualities would also be the distinguishing marks of the CTP’s books.











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The Birth of a New Movement

“At Easter the garden of the Church is abloom with beautiful blossoms, Christians newly baptized and confirmed. By Pentecost these blossom have developed and have matured into fruit, and now hang heavily upon the trees. The Gardener who tends the trees is our Savior Jesus Christ: the Sun that ripens the fruit is the Holy Spirit.”      - Dr. Pius Parsch, A Year of Grace

This past Sunday the Church celebrated the feast of Pentecost as the finale of the Easter season; yet it also marked a great beginning – the Holy Spirit’s life in the Church on earth.

Pentecost was a Jewish feast, held fifty days after Passover. The celebration was two-fold: the commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai and a thanksgiving for the grain harvest. Fittingly, the Holy Spirit descended on this day to seal the giving of the New Law and initiate the harvest of souls.

Traditionally, we say the Church was born on Pentecost. This birth was witnessed and visible, not only to those directly visited by the Holy Spirit – those leaders of this new movement – but also to “outsiders.” Hearing the mighty roar, those many peoples gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast, rush to the site of the disturbance and become witnesses to the great marvel of fearful, simple and unimportant men made bold and zealously asking others to follow them on this new venture. Humanly inexplicable, yet undeniably evident.

From this point, the Church becomes a visible institution with leaders, a governing body, a mission – to proclaim Christ and his teachings to all people and all nations – and rules to assist that mission and assure the integrity of its mission. The new venture, spearheaded by a handful of twelve unremarkable men, takes firm hold in the world and becomes one of longest surviving and most influential in human history. It spreads without an Alexander the Great, a Genghis Khan, a Julius Caesar. How does this happen when every other empire or institution has needed a gifted leader, armies or vast wealth to last even a bare 200 years? We, of course, already know why from the words of the Pharisee Gamaliel, “ If this is man’s design or man’s undertaking, it will be overthrown; if it is God’s, you will have no power to overthrow it.” (Acts 5:39) The Church is a divine, yet a very human institution and therefore it is inextricably entwined with the history of the world and there is no good telling of history unless this is acknowledged. 




“The followers of Jesus and missionaries like St. Paul brought a new hope to the empires great and small, rich and poor. Life without fear was promised to all who believed in Jesus and accepted him as Lord… In light of this hope, civilization could follow paths of thought and invention not possible before. Individuals could develop ideas and practices that had not occured to anyone caught in the old worship of nature.” (Light to the Nations, Part One, pg 42) Follow Catholic Textbooks via Email





The following text is taken from our book, From Sea to Shining Sea: The Story of America.

The Bishop and the Men of Blood

Fray Juan de Zumárraga was troubled. Being a bishop is never easy, but being the bishop of New Spain (it seemed) was a task beyond the power of any man. Indeed, Fray Juan had not wanted to be bishop. For over 30 years he had lived the quiet life of a Franciscan friar. He had prayed and fasted; he had said Mass, administered the sacraments, and preached to the people. Then one fatal day, in 1527, King Charles I had stopped at the Franciscan convent in Valladolid (vah•yeh•duh•LEE), in Spain. The king was so impressed by Fray Juan, who directed the life of the convent, that he wanted him to serve as the first bishop of New Spain. Fray Juan, the son of poor parents, did not think himself worthy of that great office; but his religious superior told him that he had to obey King Charles. So it was that one year later, Fray Juan found himself in the city of Mexico, the bishop of pagans, new Christian converts, and half civilized Spanish adventurers. 

Read the rest of the article here.

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 With the November 2012 presidential elections lowering over us, we thought it would be interesting for our readers to take a look at another presidential election — one held almost exactly 100 years ago. The 1912 election pitted three major candidates against each other: the Republican, William Howard Taft; his immediate predecessor, President Theodore Roosevelt, who ran as a “third party” candidate on the Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party ticket; and the Democrat “progressive,” Woodrow Wilson. Though the candidates claimed to represent very different visions for America, really, there were not many profound differences between them. Even the “conservative” (as juxtaposed to Roosevelt and Wilson) candidate, President Taft, had spent his term enacting many of the same sorts of policies that the progressive President Roosevelt had put in place when in office.

The foregoing might lead one to conclude that not much has changed between 1912 and 2012. Yet, there are some striking differences — for instance, in how party conventions are conducted (the presidential candidate was not a foregone conclusion), the vibrancy of third parties (not just the Bull Moosers but the Socialists made a splash in 1912), and the three-dimensional personalities of the candidates. What’s more, these men could speak — no tired analogies, no chiding headed off by, “make no mistake…”, no hackneyed phraseology, such as “all options are on the table.” Moreover, it has been a long time since we have had such a character as Teddy Roosevelt. One may not agree with all of his policies, but who wouldn’t like to spend an afternoon over beer with the man — even if it led to a “bully” fight?

Please click here read the article. It is taken from our yet-to-be published high school history of North America, Lands of Hope and Promise.

A Rollicking Good Tale

Teaching History as Story

By Christopher Zehnder

Of the classes I can recall from high school, among the most tedious was sophomore history. History class with Mr. Faulmann (an alias) was almost invariably the same.  On an overhead projector, he would place an outline of the chapter he had assigned us to read and then proceed to read the outline aloud to us. We, the students, were required to copy the outline in our notebooks. That was all. He stuck with the book and only the book. The only variation in this routine came when Mr. Faulmann had to work on track scores (for he was the track coach.) At such times, he assigned us a chapter of our textbook to read, each to himself alone, in class.

I recall feeling a certain frustration with Mr. Faulmann’s procedure. I could not understand, having already read a chapter as homework and understood it, why I had it have it repeated to me in tedious outline form in class. But now, 30 years later, having myself taught both middle and high school history classes, I can somewhat sympathize with my erstwhile pedagogue. It is difficult to teach history, precisely because a student can simply read a good history text and understand the matter by himself. What is left for a teacher to explain in the classroom? This, of course, can make teaching history a simple affair for the pedant who is content just to “cover the material”; but for the teacher who wants history class to be something more than an exercise in the drilling in and regurgitation of facts, the teaching of history can offer a sturdy challenge.

Read the rest of the article HERE..

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