Bible History for the Use of Catholic Schools - R. Gilmour

Second Period:
From the Fall of Rome to the Protestant Reformation

12.—The Conversion of the Barbarians.

[Illustration] from Bible History for Catholics by R. Gilmour


1. From the death of Christ to the fall of the Roman Empire Christianity had made great progress in Asia, Africa, and Europe. At the conversion of Constantine (312) the population of the empire appears to have been about 120,000,000, of whom 30,000,000 were Christians, leaving, as will be seen, the pagans largely in the ascendant.

2. When the barbarians came from the North and swept over Europe like an avalanche, destroying all before them, civilization seemed doomed, and would certainly have been destroyed but for the Church. But God had prepared a means of salvation, and the Church set herself to the conversion of Europe. Up to the fall of Rome, Christianity had been confined, in Europe and Africa, principally to the shores of the Mediterranean. There were flourishing churches all along the north of Africa—at Carthage, at Hippo, and in Egypt; in Europe the Faith was widespread —in Greece, in Sicily, in Italy, and in the south of France and Spain. Elsewhere in Europe Christianity was little known when Rome fell.

3. The Vandals, who settled in the north of Africa, were tainted with the Arian heresy, and long persecuted the Church there, as did the Visigoths in Spain. The Saxons destroyed almost every vestige of Christianity in Britain. From the same cause religion suffered everywhere throughout Italy and France.

4. As early as the year 241, the Franks, a German tribe, invaded France, and by degrees seized upon the greater part of the country. Clovis, their king, married Clotilda, a Christian, and a woman of great piety. She often spoke to her husband of the Christian religion, to which he became most kindly disposed. In a battle with the Germans (496), Clovis vowed that if the God of Clotilda would give him the victory, he would become a Christian. God gave him the victory, and Clovis, with more than 3000 of his army, was baptized by St. Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, being the first Catholic king of Europe. With Clovis the conversion of the whole French nation soon followed, and France has since remained one of the most faithful of the Catholic countries.

5. Shortly after the conversion of the Franks, the Suevi (562), the Visigoths (587), and (593) the Lombards of northern Italy were converted to the true Faith, but the great event of this period was the conversion of Ireland and England.

13.—The Conversion of Ireland and Scotland.

[Illustration] from Bible History for Catholics by R. Gilmour


1. To St. Patrick is due the credit of Christianizing Ireland by his missionary labors. The tradition is that he was born in Brittany in 387, and was captured and held a slave in Ireland for several years. He escaped to Rome, where he was ordained, and was sent by Pope Celestine to Ireland in 432.

2. His success was immediate and very great, although paganism existed and the Druids exercised great influence over their followers for more than two generations after. So zealous, however, were St. Patrick's successors after his death that they finally extirpated paganism from the island and when that was accomplished they extended their missionary labors to the continent of Europe, where for several centuries, amid the greatest hardships and under persecution, they evangelized the people in the territory extending from Italy to the Baltic Sea.

3. Many of those missionaries have been canonized, and indeed it may be said that the Christianization of the greater part of Europe was due to the Irish missionaries.

4. Count de Montalembert has devoted a work of seven volumes, entitled "The Monks of the `Vest," to the lives and labors of those holy men.

5. In the year 563 St. Columba, an Irish missionary, with twelve companions, founded at Iona, an island of Scotland, a monastery in which they began to preach to the Scots on the mainland and rapidly converted them, so that within forty years Scotland was almost entirely Christian. Among those missionaries were men of great erudition, so that, naturally, wherever they went on their apostolic labors they established scats of learning which became the parents of many schools and colleges and formed and preserved whatever civilization existed in Europe through the Middle Ages. They converted northern and central England, in fact, all of that country except what was then known as the Kingdom of Kent, which owes its conversion to St. Augustine.

6. Students thronged to those schools from all parts of Europe, and, returning to their native lands, preached the Gospel there. St. Boniface, trained in Ireland, converted Germany and Bavaria, and met with the crown of martyrdom in 755. So renowned were Irishmen for learning and sanctity that the country came to be known throughout Europe as the "Island of Saints and Scholars," a glorious title which she has ever since retained. "The classic tradition," says M. Darmesteter, "to all appearance dead in Europe, burst out into full flower in the Isle of Saints, and the Renaissance began in Ireland seven hundred years before it was known in Italy. During three centuries Ireland was the asylum of the higher learning which took sanctuary there from the uncultured states of Europe."

7. Among the many saints of Ireland might be mentioned St. Bridget, the daughter of a Leinster chieftain, founder of numerous communities of nuns; St. Columba of Columkille, the founder of many monasteries and churches in various parts of Ireland, and the Apostle of Scotland; St. Finnan, founder of the great school of Clonard; St. Kieran, who established the famous monastery of Clonmacnoise; St. Kevin, founder of Glendalough; St. Senan of Scattery Island; St. Comgall, founder of the college of Bangor; St. Columbanus, founder of the monasteries of Luxeuil and Fontaine, a learned writer; St. Gall, after whom St. Gall in Switzerland is named; St. Kilian of Franconia; St. Vergilius, bishop of Salzburg, a celebrated scientist; John Scotus Erigena, the most eminent philosopher and scholar in Europe during the middle of the ninth century. St. Brendan, a native of Kerry and Bishop of Clonfert, who was known as The Navigator, is said by some writers to have been the first to discover the American continent, in the sixth century.

8. The zeal of the Irish race in the cause of Christianity has always continued; wherever they settled they carried the Faith with them and spread it. In its practice they have largely overcome the prejudice of non-Catholics to the Church.

14.—The Conversion of England and Germany.

[Illustration] from Bible History for Catholics by R. Gilmour


1. At what precise period Christianity was first preached in Britain is not positively known, but it seems quite certain that at the end of the second century Lucius, a British prince, was converted, and at his petition Pope Eleutherius sent two priests, Fugatius and Damianus, who converted many. During the persecution of Diocletian (305) quite a number were put to death, among whom St. Alban is honored as the first English martyr.

2. In the second century the Saxons were a small German tribe, but by the fourth century had grown to be a powerful people. In their piratical expeditions they often invaded Britain, and when Rome withdrew her legions, the British invited the Saxons to help them repel the attacks of the Picts and Scots. For their reward the Saxons drove out the inhabitants and divided the country into seven kingdoms, at the same time almost entirely destroying Christianity in the island.

3. In the year 597 Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine, prior of a Benedictine convent in Rome, with a band of forty missionaries, to preach the Gospel in Britain. They were kindly received, and Ethelbert, King of Kent, with many of his people, was baptized. From Kent the Gospel spread rapidly through the other kingdoms. To meet the growing wants of the new church, Augustine went to France and at Arles was consecrated bishop. Returning to England he fixed his see at Canterbury. By the end of the seventh century the whole island was Christian.

4. With the Roman armies the Christian religion had been carried into Germany, but there was no general conversion of the nation till St. Boniface, an Anglo-Saxon, began the work in earnest. For more than thirty years he travelled over Germany and Bavaria. He found the country covered with idols; he left it Christian. In the year 755 he was put to death, a martyr of zeal.

5. The conversion of the Northern nations began only in the ninth century, and made but slow progress. The Saxons did not accept the Faith until after their subjection by Charlemagne. St. Ansgar, who died in 865, became the apostle of Denmark. Those Normans who settled in the northwestern part of France (Normandy) were converted in the first half of the tenth century, but the greater part of the nation, which had remained in Scandinavia, did not forsake its idols and profess Christianity until a hundred years later. Sts. Cyril and Methodius became the apostles of the Slays. The Poles were converted in the tenth century; the Hungarians received the Faith during the life of their holy King, St. Stephen (997–1038), and the Russians a hundred years later.

6. The struggle had beer. long and the resistance great, but in the end Christ had conquered. The Jews had tried persecution, and failed; Rome had for three hundred years warred against the Church, and failed; the barbarians had resisted, but in time were subdued; heresy and schism had striven to rend the seamless garment of Christ, and failed. God alone is great; God alone is eternal; and as He, so is His Church—spotless and eternal.

15.—Religious Orders—East.

1. From the beginning of the Church the most fervent and earnest devoted themselves to prayer and meditation, giving their goods to the poor and themselves to works of charity and penance. In the community of goods and the consecrated virgins spoken of in the New Testament is found the first germs of monastic life; but not till the middle of the third century was there anything like organized communities of Religious or any fixed Rule for their government. Up to that time each had been a rule to himself, living in his own family, or where convenience best suited.

2. In the year 251 St. Anthony was born in Egypt, of rich and virtuous parents. Hearing one day in the church the words, "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell all thou hast and give to the poor," he took them literally. Selling all he had, he retired to the wilderness and gave himself up to prayer and fasting.

3. His food was bread, his drink water; his bed a mat, or the bare earth; his clothing a shirt of hair and a cloak of skin. After many years thus spent in the deserts of Thebais, God gave him the gift of miracles. This drew to him many followers, whom he formed into communities, and for whom he drew up rules, including the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

4. These monks, as they were called, spent their time in fasting and prayer and labor. Their food was bread and water, of which they ate but once a day, and that not till the evening; their bed a mat, and their abode a little cell or a cave in the rocks.

5. Soon these communities spread not only through Egypt and Palestine, but also through Syria and Greece, and the whole East.

6. St. Anthony died (356) at the advanced age of one hundred and five years, leaving after him the beginning of an institution that has been one of the glories of the Church, and the most powerful of means for the sanctification of souls and the promulgation of the Gospel. The monks of the East, but more particularly of the West, have been the great missionaries, the great writers and scholars, of the world. There is nothing they have not touched and nothing they have not beautified, be it history, or science, or philosophy, or theology.

16.—Religious Orders—West.

[Illustration] from Bible History for Catholics by R. Gilmour


1. The work that St. Anthony began in the desert was continued by Pachomius on the banks of the Nile; St. Hilarion, a disciple of St. Jerome, carried the monastic rule into Palestine; while St. Basil the Great, by his learning and wisdom, gave strength and knowledge to the Order. St. Augustine, in Africa (396), organized communities of women, for whom he wrote rules, yet used as the basis of the Rules for most of all the female religious communities since his time.

2. Though much had been done, as above shown, yet much had yet to be done ere monasticism would attain its power and perfection. This came in the West with St. Benedict, who was born in Italy in 480.

3. At the age of fourteen he left Rome, where he was at school, and went secretly to Subiaco, where for three years he dwelt unknown to the world. From thence he was made abbot of a monastery at Vicovaro, but the monks becoming dissatisfied with his strictness, he left and went to Monte Cassino (529), where he established a monastery that in time became the most celebrated house of learning and religion the world has ever seen.

4. Besides prayer and penance, and the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, St. Benedict added labor—intellectual and manual. Under the hand of the Benedictines, deserts, marshes, and mountains became gardens; their monasteries became homes of learning; in them history was written, science cultivated, and religion and civilization found their great defenders. It is usual to decry the monks, but the fact must ever remain that through them whatever of classic lore or ancient or mediaeval history we have, has been preserved.

5. During the Middle Ages, the Benedictine, the Franciscan, and the Dominican Orders were the great religious power of Europe. To the Benedictines is due whatever of ancient civilization we have, and in the Franciscans and Dominicans we have the great preachers and theologians.

6. In the beginning monks were only laymen, and not till well on in the Middle Ages were priests admitted amongst them. In the twelfth century the Albigenses and Waldenses rose in the south of France to disturb society with their errors. To counteract their teachings, and to try to convert them, St. Dominic, a Spanish priest (1215), established the Religious Order known as the Dominicans, or Friar Preachers. To preaching they united great learning. The most distinguished among them is St. Thomas Aquinas.

7. Contemporary with St. Dominic was St. Francis of Assisi. He, too, established an Order (1223) whose end was also preaching. To learning he added extreme poverty in dress and food. St. Dominic, seeing the great success of the Franciscan Order, added poverty to his rule. Hence both Orders are known as Mendicant Orders, the members of both being required by their Rule to make begging a part of their religious life. The Benedictines, Dominicans, and Franciscans were the three great Orders of the Mediaeval Church. Other Orders arose, but they were but branches; such as the Cistercians by St. Bernard (1113), and the Carthusians (1101) under St. Bruno, who sought merely to revive the fervor of the Benedictine Rule, or to add greater rigor to its austerities.

17. Mohammedanism.

1. Mohammed was born at Mecca, in Arabia, in the year 569. In youth he engaged in commerce, but at the age of forty began to preach religion, giving himself out as a prophet. He promised his followers wealth and power in this world, and a paradise of sensual pleasures in the next. He also taught the doctrine of fatalism.

2. Aided, it is said, by an apostate monk, Mohammed composed a book, known as the Koran, filled with fables and maxims drawn from the Old and New Testaments. He held that Christ was a prophet, and that there was but one God. He forbade the use of pork or wine to his followers, but permitted polygamy.

3. In the year 622 Mohammed fled to Medina, where he began a war on all who would not believe in him. In 630, at the head of an army, he returned to Mecca, took it, and at once began a career of conquest seldom equaled by the most renowned.

4. At his death (632) all Arabia had accepted Mohammed, and, within twenty years after, his successors had subdued Syria and Palestine, Egypt and Persia (651). From Asia they swept along the Mediterranean, subduing Northern Africa (707), and so completely destroying Christianity that scarce a vestige remains. Thence they passed over to Spain (711) and seized upon the greater part of the country.

5. The Christians that were spared fled to the mountains. For seven hundred years war between the Mohammedans and Christians of Spain was carried on, and only ended (1492) when, under Ferdinand and Isabella, the Moorish city of Granada was taken, and the Moors finally driven out or converted.

6. In 732 a countless host of Mohammedans, or, as they were also called, Saracens, invaded the south of France, carrying destruction and ruin everywhere. Wherever they had come, so far, their power had been irresistible. Europe seemed destined to fall before them, as Asia and Africa had already done. But at this moment God raised up in France Duke Charles, surnamed Martel, who with his army met the Saracens near Poitiers, where a great battle was fought. The Saracens were defeated, and it is said three hundred thousand of them were left dead upon the field. Christendom was saved, and the further progress of the Mohammedans was forever arrested in Europe.

18.—Temporal Power of the Popes.

1. From the time of Constantine (330), the Roman emperors had gradually concentrated their power in the East, leaving Rome and the West much to itself. During the invasions of the barbarians the people began to look to the Popes for protection, so that from the necessities of the times the Popes became, to a great extent, the civil as well as the ecclesiastical rulers of Rome. This was finally and formally settled in 755 by the act of Pepin, King of France, and later in 774, by Charlemagne.

2. In 755, while Stephen II filled the pontifical chair, the Lombards, under their king, Astolphus, invaded the Roman territory and laid waste the surrounding country. Having in vain appealed to the Eastern emperor for assistance, the Pope turned to Pepin, son of Charles Martel, who crossed the Alps, drove back the Lombards, and by a solemn act gave to the Pope and his successors forever the territory of Rome and Ravenna, together with Bologna and Ferrara, and a considerable portion of the territory stretching along the Adriatic.

3. Twenty years later (774), when the Lombards a third time attacked Rome, Charlemagne crossed into Italy, and defeating them, confirmed the grant given to Pope Stephen, adding new territory to the original gift. From that time to 1870 the Popes governed Rome and the states above named. In 1870 Victor Emmanuel, King of Sardinia, invaded the states of the Church, and took Rome. The Eternal city has since been held by the Italian Government; and the Popes, in protest, have remained within the Vatican.

4. Though these temporal possessions are not essential to the existence of the Church to-day any more than they were during the first three centuries of Christianity, yet they are of immense benefit. The necessities of religion require that the Pope be independent of kings and princes, that he be free from the intrigues of courts and politicians, and that he be free to communicate with the bishops of the world. This he cannot do if he is dependent on any government for his liberty, nor can he act freely and independently with governments if he is subject to any particular government. This is well seen in the present condition of Rome, where infidels are robbing the Church and destroying religion.

19.—The Crusades.

[Illustration] from Bible History for Catholics by R. Gilmour


1. In the year 614 the Persians captured the city of Jerusalem, persecuted the people of Palestine, and carried off the true cross, which the pious queen Helena had discovered. The Greek emperor, Heraclius, freed Jerusalem and brought back the true cross in solemn procession. Twenty-four years later Jerusalem was again captured, this time by the Mohammedans, who pillaged the city and subjected the Christians to great hardships.

2. During the reign of Charlemagne the western empire assumed much of its ancient glory and power. The Mohammedans were kept in check, and the Christians in the East were to some extent protected against cruelties and persecutions. But after his death (814) persecution was renewed, and continued to the end of the eleventh century, when the first Crusade began.

3. During the eleventh century religious zeal ran very high, and many visited the Holy Land as pious pilgrims. On these pilgrimages they were subjected to great indignities, the Mohammedans robbing them and often putting them to death or reducing them to slavery.

4. The recital of these indignities and persecutions greatly excited the Christians of Europe. Popes Sylvester II and Gregory VII appealed to the Christian princes of Europe to protect the Christians in the East, and to free Jerusalem from the power of the Mussulman.

5. In the year 1094 Peter, surnamed the Hermit, visited the Holy Land, and on his return spoke to Pope Urban II of the distress of the Christians in the East, The Pope called a council at Clermont, at which it was resolved to recover Jerusalem.

6. Amid great enthusiasm large armies were raised. Cries of "God wills it" were everywhere heard. The march was begun, and soon Constantinople was reached. Nice was taken; Antioch fell into the hands of the Crusaders, and in a short time the most of Palestine was in possession of the Christians.

7. When the Crusaders first saw Jerusalem from a neighboring hill, they fell on their knees and kissed the ground, then, rising and shouting "God wills it," rushed to the attack. For five weeks the Mussulman held the walls, but on Friday, July 15, 1099, at three o'clock in the afternoon, the city was taken by assault, and the Tomb of Christ was in the hands of the Crusaders.

8. Eight days after, Godfrey of Bouillon was elected king; but, when offered a golden crown, he refused to wear it, saying "that it was not fit that he should wear a crown of gold where the King of kings had worn a crown of thorns."

9. By the battle of Ascalon, fought on the 12th of August of the same year, the whole of Palestine fell into the hands of the Crusaders. Jerusalem remained in possession of the Christians for eighty-eight years, when it was again taken by the Saracens (1187), and, with the exception of a short interval of eleven years, from 1228 to 1239, it was under the dominion of the Turks until 1917, when it was retaken by the English army operating in Palestine during the World War.

20.—The Crusades. (Concluded.)

1. In 1144 the Moslems attacked the Christians of Palestine; Edessa was taken and the inhabitants put to the sword.

When the news reached Europe St. Bernard was preaching a new Crusade. Thereupon Louis VII, King of France, and Conrad III, Emperor of Germany, raised two large armies and marched for the Holy Land. They failed; and after an ineffectual attempt to reduce Damascus, returned with but a remnant of their armies.

2. After the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, the Emperor of Germany, Frederick Barbarossa, and Philip, King of France, with Richard Coeur-de-Lion, King of England, raised each an army, and in 1189 marched for Jerusalem. Frederick died on the journey. After a siege of twenty-three months Acre was taken, when Philip returned, leaving Richard to continue the war. In 1192 Richard concluded a treaty with the Turks, by which the Christians were at liberty to visit Jerusalem and Palestine without molestation. With his return ended this third and best-equipped of all the Crusades.

3. A fourth (1203) and a fifth (1228) Crusade were undertaken for the defence of Palestine. In the former, Constantinople was taken, and for fifty-six years was held by Baldwin, Count of Flanders, and his successors; by the latter, Jerusalem was ceded to Frederick II, Emperor of Germany, but no substantial benefits remained to the Christians by either expedition.

4. In 1244 the Turks burst into Syria, and, overrunning Palestine, again took Jerusalem and pillaged it. To repel these barbarians, St. Louis, King of France, headed the sixth Crusade, but was defeated and taken prisoner (1250). On the payment of a large ransom he was set at liberty, and, with other prisoners, returned to France. Twenty years after (1270), Louis undertook still another Crusade, but his fleet was driven by adverse winds to the coast of Africa, where he landed his troops near the site of ancient Carthage. A virulent plague breaking out, his army was swept away, and he himself fell a victim.

5. Though the Crusades had failed to free the Holy Land from the power of the infidel, and had cost Europe immense loss of both men and treasure, yet they were not without benefit. By them commerce had been enlarged, knowledge increased, and the refinement of the East brought to the West. The fine arts, a wider knowledge of geography and mathematics, and the institution of chivalry, were some of the advantages derived from the Crusades, to which must be added the stop they put to Mohammedan conquest.

21.—Science and Literature during the Middle Ages.

1. In the fall of the Roman Empire and the invasion of Europe by the barbarians literature received a rude shock, and for a time science and letters seemed doomed; but God had provided a savior in the monks, with whom some of the princes and rulers co-operated.

2. Owing to the disturbed state of society occasioned by the constant wars of the barbarians and the devastations consequent thereon, for a time little could be done for the cultivation of letters. The wonder is not that so little was done, but that under the circumstances so much was done.

3. With the reorganization of the empire under Pepin, King of France (741), and its final consolidation under his son Charlemagne (800), literature began to revive. Charlemagne was a great patron of letters. Under his reign, notwithstanding his continual wars, he established schools, and gathered together the learned from his whole empire.

4. From England he invited Alcuin (804), a distinguished scholar and pupil of the Venerable Bede, under whose direction academies were established, and the sons of the more wealthy flocked to his lectures. Alcuin spoke Latin, Greek, and Hebrew; was master of philosophy, theology, history, and mathematics. Under his teaching, the schools of France soon became celebrated, and scholars from all Europe came to learn wisdom at his lips. The impulse thus given to letters by Charlemagne was continued by his successors.

5. Alfred the Great, King of England (870), after defeating the Danes and driving them out of the country, also turned his attention to the education of his people. For this purpose he in turn invited men of learning from France, founded schools, and encouraged letters, so that under his reign science and learning made great progress.

6. Otho, Emperor of Germany (973), was also a great patron of education; he established schools and patronized the learned. His example revived and infused new life into the schools of France and England. During this period the schools of Ireland were also very celebrated; so much so, that as many as twenty-five thousand scholars are said to have attended at one time the schools of Armagh.

7. In the year 529 the celebrated monastery of Monte Cassino, in Italy, was founded by St. Benedict; and by the end of the 12th century the monasteries of Cluny in France, Bee in Normandy, and the schools of Oxford and Canterbury in England had grown into great repute. Popes Sylvester II (1003) and Gregory VII (1013) were also great patrons of learning, besides being defenders of the Faith; while Lanfranc and St. Anselm, in England, had rendered illustrious the see of Canterbury, and by their learning adorned the age in which they lived.

22.—The Monks and Literature.

1. It is popular with modern historians to decry the monks, and to accuse them of laziness and ignorance. Because, forsooth, steamboats, telegraphs, and railroads were unknown to the Middle Ages, then the men of the past were ignorant, and the Church sought to keep the world in darkness. This is not correct either in fact or in reason.

2. The truth is, there was much more learning among the masses, and scholars far more profound, during the Middle Ages, than has been generally admitted. The usual mode of reasoning is to compare the past with the present, and if the present has what the past had not, then to conclude that the past was buried in darkness, and that ignorance reigned supreme. The unfairness of this reasoning is easily seen.

3. To reason justly we must consider the condition of the past—the disruption of society by the fall of Rome, the devastation of Europe by the barbarians, and the necessary reorganization of society and the formation of new governments. To these must be added the ignorance and number of the slaves, the rudeness of the barbarians, and the continual wars consequent on the rude and uncivilized state of society.

4. To overcome the above, schools and colleges had to be established, manners softened, the barbarian civilized, and slavery abolished. Yet all this was done during the Middle Ages; and, though learning was not as diffused among the people then as now, yet there were scholars not only as profound as any of to-day, but they found audiences fully as able to understand and appreciate them as any we find in modern times.

5. At first the monks were but cultivators of the soil; but as the monasteries grew in size and wealth they opened hospitals, then schools, where rich and poor were free to attend. In these schools were taught grammar and rhetoric, arithmetic and logic, Greek and Roman classics.

6. The best fitted among the monks were selected, some to teach, some to copy, some to write on history or Sacred Scripture. Others devoted themselves to science, or architecture, or the fine arts.

7. The churches and monasteries that time, fire, and the Reformation have spared show the state of perfection to which architecture was carried, as also carving and painting. To these must be added music, and the discoveries and inventions of the Middle Ages, showing not only a high degree of intelligence, but causing wonder to the honest-minded that so much could have been done in the midst of so much that was adverse.

8. The writings of Bede, Alcuin, Scotus Erigena, Ger.—bert, Anselm, Bernard, Bonaventure, St. Thomas, Dante, Petrarch, show not only men of profound minds, but men of most extensive learning. By their fruits let the past be judged, and by them it will be seen that the Middle Ages were neither so dark, nor Catholics so ignorant, as so-called history pretends to tell.

23.—Discoveries and Inventions of Catholics.

[Illustration] from Bible History for Catholics by R. Gilmour


1. A common mode of reasoning is to assume that the past is not equal to the present, or vice versa, as it best suits our vanity. So men of modern times very often assume that an improvement is a discovery. That the present age has improved on the past is not to be doubted, but that much that is really original has been either invented or discovered in the present age may be very honestly doubted, It is also commonly assumed that Catholics have done nothing for either science or art. This is a grave mistake, as will be seen by the following list of discoveries and inventions, all by Catholics, and many of them before the Protestant Reformation.

2. Architecture, music, sculpture, painting, glass-staining, and such like have been always taken as criterions of the civilization of which they were the outcome. The architectures of Rome and Greece and Babylon and Egypt are taken to-day as signs of the advanced state of civilization in those countries, when they built to the wonder of the world. So we can point to the great cathedrals of Europe, such as Cologne, Spire, Milan, Canterbury, and Winchester, that to-day are the wonder and admiration of all, as monuments of the high cultivation of the Middle Ages, when they were built.

3. Besides this may be mentioned the cultivation and manufacture of silk introduced into Europe by two monks in the year 551; the invention of water-mills (555), window-glass for churches and dwellings (601), bells for churches (605), organs (673); paper, made of cotton (706), made of linen (1270); the Gregorian Chant, by Pope Gregory the Great (600), to which was added the gamut, or scale in music, that so aids in its study; also clocks with balance and wheels (1089); glass-staining, with the art of imprinting figures upon it (1199); gunpowder (1214), watches (1306), and the mariner's compass (1310).

4. To these inventions of the Middle Ages must be added the inventions and discoveries made by Catholics before and since the Reformation. Amongst these are printing (1400), the discovery of America and its partial colonization in the 11th century, and its after discovery in 1492 by Columbus, also the doubling of the Cape of Good Hope in 1497.

5. In 1542 the Solar System was discovered by Copernicus, and in 1543 steamboat navigation was demonstrated in Spain by Blasco de Garay. The rotundity of the earth was taught by Virgilius (764), afterwards by Dante (1320) in his immortal Inferno, and in 1610 its motion was demonstrated by Galileo, as also the satellites of Jupiter discovered. In 1582 the Calendar now used was corrected by Pope Gregory.

6. In 1597 the thermometer was invented by Galileo; the telescope and microscope in 1609, and the barometer in 1643. In 1630 the art of enameling on ivory was invented, and in 1780 galvanism was discovered. The weaving of satin and broadcloth were discoveries of the Middle Ages (1189).

7. When we add to all this the abolition of slavery in Europe, the civilization of the barbarians, the softening of manners, the elevation of woman, the Magna Charta, trial by jury, the habeas corpus, the Common Law, and the sanctity of home—all the direct results of the teachings of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages—it will be seen that not only has the Church been no obstacle to progress, but her children were the pioneers of every branch of science. Yes, every branch of modern science owes, not only its origin, but the main part of its growth, to Catholic scientists, so that it can be said with sincerest truth that the scepter of Science belongs to the Church.