This Week in History

The Führer’s Immolation: April 30, 1945

The following comes from our text, Light to the Nations II: The Making of the Modern World. For ordering information on this text and our other books, please click here.

The Allied leaders (left to right) Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Josif Stalin at Yalta

In January 1945, the Russians began their last great offensive against the German lines in the east. On January 17, forces under the command of General Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov captured Warsaw and from there, over the next two weeks, pushed westward toward Brandenburg and Pomerania. By January 31, Zhukov’s forces were on the Oder River, only 40 miles from Berlin. Less than two weeks later, another Russian army under General Ivan Stepanovich Kunev reached Sommerfeld on the Elbe River, 80 miles from Berlin.

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Russian General Georgy Zhukov

While his Red Army moved ever closer to capturing Berlin, Josif Stalin met with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt at Yalta, a city on the Black Sea, to discuss the future of Europe after the war. Stalin had become indispensable to the Allied war effort. His army, numbering 12 million men, was three times larger than the army commanded by the American general, Dwight Eisenhower. With this army, Stalin kept 125 to 200 German divisions from fighting the Allies in the west. Churchill and Roosevelt needed Stalin, and he knew it. And because they needed him, Stalin also knew that they could not refuse to give him an important role in deciding the future of Europe.

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This Week in History

Antoine-Frédéric Accepts

the Challenge: April 23, 1833

Like all Europeans, Catholics in the 1840s were divided on how to meet the challenges of their time. The Church in Western Europe was in many ways still in a state of shock because of the French Revolution and its aftermath. It was hard for Catholics, bishops and popes included, to understand fully all that had happened. Thus, when they considered what needed to be done to bring Europe back to the Faith, Catholics came up with very different answers.

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Pope Gregory XVI

There were those Catholics who thought Europe had to return to the way things were under the ancient regime. They saw the cause of the Church as tied up with the cause of the old monarchies, such as the Bourbons or the Habsburgs. The watchword of such monarchist Catholics was “throne and altar” — the old alliance of the Catholic Church and the Catholic monarchy.

Other Catholics thought the Church had to realize that Liberal society was not going to go away and so should look for what might be good in it. They thought that the Church must not only accept republican forms of government but even the new spirit of political liberty. Such “Liberal Catholics” said the Church should allow for freedom of the press, freedom of conscience, and the toleration of non-Catholic religions in Catholic countries. It was just such ideas, however, that Pope Gregory XVI condemned in his encyclical, Mirari Vos. Despite the encyclical, Liberal Catholics continued to spread their ideas, especially in France.

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This Week in History

Death Day of a Queen

Who was Nobody’s Fool: April 1, 1204

Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, as she appeared on the obverse side of her seal

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.

At Henry I’s death, civil war engulfed England. Neither the Norman nor the English barons wanted King Henry’s chosen heir to be their king. This heir was Henry Plantagenet, the son of Matilda (King Henry I’s daughter) and Count Geoffrey Plantagenet. From Geoffrey, Henry Plantagenet inherited the French fiefs of Anjou, Touraine, and Maine, as well as Normandy. After the civil war in England ended, Henry came into his inheritance there as King Henry II. (From Henry’s family name, we call his line of English kings the Plantagenets.) He controlled not only England and a large portion of northern France, but much of southern France as well. As lord of the four French fiefs, Henry II controlled a large section of France. Before becoming king he had, in 1152, married Eleanor of Aquitaine — heiress to the French provinces of Poitou, Guienne, Gascony, and most of southern France. This marriage made Henry the most powerful man in western Europe.

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This Week in History

Lincoln Suspends Habeas Corpus:

April 27, 1862

This text comes from our book, Lands of Hope and Promise: A History of North America. Please visit our webpage to peruse sample chapters of our book. For ordering information on Lands of Hope and Promise and our other texts, please click here.

Abraham Lincoln’s first presidential portrait

Lincoln’s first task was to secure for the union the neutral border states — Maryland, Kentucky, Delaware, and Missouri. Delaware, with few slaves, had shown no signs of seceding. Kentucky, however, had a strong secessionist faction and could as easily go Confederate as remain in the union. Lincoln thought an insistence that Kentucky contribute to the war effort against the South would goad that state into secession. He thus assured Kentucky that he would respect her neutrality. No Federal troops would cross over onto Kentucky soil.

Missouri was divided between southern and union sympathizers, among the latter the numerous German population around St. Louis. Though in February 1861, a state convention voted to stay in the union, Governor Clairborne Jackson refused to send troops to Lincoln and plotted to seize the Federal arsenal in St. Louis. The commander of the arse­nal, Nathaniel Lyon, got wind of the plan and with Federal troops broke up a state militia encampment at St. Louis. Promoted to brigadier general and to the command of Federal troops around St. Louis, Lyon then marched on Governor Jackson, driving him from the state capital, Jefferson City, into the southern regions of Missouri. (more…)



This Week in History

A Pope Lays St. Peter’s Cornerstone and Undermines the Church: April 18, 1506

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

Pope Julius II, portrait by Raphael

In April 18, 1506, Pope Julius II laid the cornerstone for a new basilica church over the burial place of St. Peter the Apostle in the Vatican. A great lover of the arts and patron of artists, Pope Julius hoped to accomplish what Pope Nicholas V had begun, 50 years before: to replace the aging St. Peter’s Basilica (built by the Emperor Constantine) with a new church that would shine with all the splendor with which Renaissance architecture and art could adorn it.

A year later, Pope Julius proclaimed a jubilee indulgence to fund this great project. An indulgence is a full or partial remittance by the Church of the temporal punishment for sins (such as one suffers in Purgatory) following the forgiveness offered in the Sacrament of Penance. Julius’s indulgence did not differ from indulgences issued by earlier popes. To obtain the indulgence, one had to be truly repentant, receive the Sacrament of Penance, and perform a good work. In the case of the jubilee indulgence, the good work was contributing money to the building of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was not unusual for the Church to issue indulgences for the funding of churches—which was considered a very holy work. Yet, this jubilee indulgence, in a few short years, would have tragic results that no one, including the pope, could foresee in 1507. (more…)