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Makes sense of history - everything connected with a Catholic perspective!

Christ the King, Lord of History
Catholic History Book

Chapter One
What History Is All About

History is the Japanese decision to bomb Pearl Harbor, which brought the United States into World War II. History is Robert E. Lee’s choice to command Confederate armies instead of Union armies in the Civil War, so that the Union had a much harder time winning the war. History is the settlement of New England by Pilgrims and Puritans, so that their ideas influenced the kind of government the United States eventually had. History is Christopher Columbus persuading the King and Queen of Spain to support his voyage in which he discovered the New World. History is the record of events which have made a difference in the world.

You can easily see that not all events make history. When Robert E. Lee decided to command Confederate armies, he made history. His decision made a difference in the way the Civil War was fought and the results of that war. But not everything Robert E. Lee did in his life would be written in a history book. The book would be so long and dull that not even Mrs. Robert E. Lee would want to read it. Historians were men who write history. They must make choices about the events to be included. They must decide which events have made a difference and should be recorded. Since every historian has his own ideas and views, each one will choose different events to put in his history. Nearly every historian of the Civil War will include Lee’s decision for the Confederacy. But not all of these historians will think it is important to know whether or not Lee himself owned slaves. Some historians will emphasize one battle of the war, others a different battle. Some will give credit for the North’s victory to President Lincoln, others to General Grant. There is no “perfect” history of the Civil War which includes everything that everyone thinks is important. People have too many different ideas always to agree on what is and is not important.

It is the same with the history of any war or any country or any century. Each historian will write about the events he thinks are important and will give his own point of view on these events. If he did not, history would be a boring list of dates and events, nothing more. The history in this book will cover events from about 4000 years ago up to the recent past. It obviously can’t discuss everything or you would never finish the book. Therefore it must judge which events in the history of the world have made the most difference and have had the most influence on the most people. Where can we begin in choosing these events? We can begin by asking ourselves this question: What is the most important event that has ever happened in the world, which has had the greatest impact on other events and has influenced the lives of the greatest number of people?

To answer this question, some people would choose the formation of one of the great empires of the world. An empire is a nation which rules other nations, and the greatest of these have certainly influenced history. Some of the great empires which you may know are Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Rome. But can they be the most important thing that has ever happened? They influenced many people at the time they existed, but nothing remains of them now but monuments that a tourist might visit. They all collapsed or were conquered and no longer influence history. Other people might think of some great general or great ruler: Alexander the Great, who conquered an empire against greater odds than any other conqueror ever has; Augustus Caesar, who ruled the huge Roman Empire during a time of peace and prosperity; Napoleon of France, who dominated Europe for many years. Each of these men was very powerful and dominated the world while he was alive. Even after these men died, events were still influenced for a time by the things they had done. But where are any of them now? Their empires are gone and they no longer influence history. Even when an individual influenced history after his life, we cannot find any evidence that he influenced history before he existed. Men and nations do not change the events that happened before them.

So to find the most important event in the history of the world, we must find an event that had a great influence at the time it occurred that is still influencing history at the present time, and that even made a difference in history before it occurred. There is only one event that meets all of these requirements. That event is what Christians call the Incarnation: the birth, life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was both God and man.

You will probably think that any discussion of Jesus belongs in a religious book, not in a history book. But Jesus was not only a religious figure. He was a historical figure as well. The Roman historian Tacitus writes about Jesus in his history. The Jewish historian Josephus discusses what Jesus did. But even more, we cannot really understand the history of the world unless we look at it from the standpoint of the Incarnation. Of all the nations that existed before the Incarnation, only one still exists today: the Jewish nation, the people who prepared the world for the coming of Jesus. Other nations which existed at that time have no effect on the way things are now. After the Incarnation, the most influential events had to do with the establishment and spread of the Catholic Church. The Church was the only institution which survived the collapse of Roman civilization. The civilization in which we live, western civilization, could just as easily have been called Catholic civilization. Our world was shaped by Catholicism, the religion founded by Jesus Christ. At the present time, 2000 years after Christ, the Catholic Church is still the strongest and most influential institution in the world. Many of the problems which our world presently faces are caused by its rejection of the Church and its teachings. Even historians who do not believe Jesus was God acknowledge His historical importance.

This history book, therefore, will be based on the fact that the Incarnation is the central event in history and that everything else that has happened has meaning in relationship to this event. But this is not a study of religion under another name. We will find out what happened in history, why it happened, what its results were, and what difference it made afterwards. We will study the great people who have made history and their achievements. We will meet heroes and villains. In fact, we will cover most of the events other history books present. But there will be one important difference. All history books
have a point of view, as we have already seen. Some believe that money is the most important thing in the world; some emphasize wars; some believe trading and exploration explain everything. In this book we will say that Jesus Christ is the most important person who ever lived and that history one event which has influenced every single person who ever lived—including every person reading this book. That event is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The Where of History

History is the story of events and the people who made those events. We can’t understand them fully unless we know where these events occurred. Geography can be confusing, but it is very important. It would make a big difference in your life if you were living in Africa or Asia or South America instead of the United States. The Civil War would make no sense to us if we thought it occurred in Sweden or Egypt or Japan instead of the United States. Different parts of the world have different characteristics, and these characteristics make a difference in the way things happen. Most place names have changed in the course of history. The United States was not always called the United States. The countries of Europe used to have different names. Boundaries have shifted. Nations which used to exist don’t exist now. Nevertheless, historians writing about any period of history usually locate events in relationship to the general areas of the world. So we will begin by reviewing these general areas. Then with each unit that we study, we will be able to place the events in their proper areas and find out the names given to the prominent places in that particular time.

As you already know, the globe is divided for convenience into hemispheres: sometimes we speak of the eastern and western hemispheres; other times of the northern and southern hemispheres. The great land masses of the world are the continents, of which there are seven. We will be concerned with only six, since the penguins of Antarctica have not yet made much history. Be sure that you can name and locate the six continents. You should also be able to name and locate the major oceans. Since this is a survey of world history, we cannot study in detail all of the countries in the world. Therefore we must concentrate on the areas which have produced the greatest achievements and which have ha the most effect on the rest of the world. That is why we will primarily study the history of Europe and the Middle East. This does not mean that nothing important happened anywhere else, but that we have to decide where the most important things happened.

Nor will we spend much time on American history, as significant as that is. The United States did not have a great influence on history until the 20th century. For most of the 4000 years of history that we will be studying, the United States didn’t exist. Even after our nation was founded, it was too small to make much of a difference in world events until about 1917. Study a globe or map of the world until you can easily locate the following places: North Africa, Mediterranean Sea, Arabia, Egypt, Nile River, Russia, Middle East, Israel, Spain, Portugal, British Isles, Scandinavia, Greece, Italy, France, germany, Asia Minor, Austria, Poland, Tigris and Euphrates River, Indus River, Rhine River, Red Sea, India, China.

The When of History

Dates the the when of history. It is not always necessary to know the exact date of an event, but it is important to know approximately when it happened and whether it happened before or after related events. After all, it makes a big difference whether something happened in the 1900s, the 1600s, the 1200s or the 200s.

The most obvious point about the dating system which historians use is that it is divided into two parts: B.C. and A.D. B.C. stands for "Before Christ,” referring to the years since the birth of Christ. Here is further evidence of our earlier conclusion that the most important historical event that has ever happened is the Incarnation; even our dating system is based on it. Some non-Christian or anti-Christian historians today try to avoid using “Year of our Lord” and “Before Christ,” by changing B.C. to B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and A.D. to C.E. (Common Era). But a change of designation does not change the reality that everyone in the Western world uses a dating system which counts down to and counts up from the birth of Jesus Christ. You have also probably noticed that when we speak of centuries (100-year spans of time), the number of the century does not match the date. A person living in the 20th century would write dates beginning with 19. The reason is that the first century included the years from 1 A.D. until 100 A.D. and so on. So the century’s number is always one number ahead of the actual dates that we write.

The years before Christ’s birth, or the B.C. years, may be regarded as a king of countdown to the birth of Christ. Therefore these numbers are the reverse of the A.D. numbers. The A.D. dates with the higher numbers occurred after the A.D. dates with lower numbers. The opposite is true of B.C. The higher numbers occurred earlier. The year 1900 A.D. is 100 years later than the year 1800 A.D. But the year 1900 B.C. is 100 years earlier than the year 1800 B.C. The last year dated B.C. is 1 B.C. That year was followed by 1 A.D. in our dating system.

We will begin our discussion of history around the year 2000 B.C.—two thousand years before Christ’s birth—because this was the time that God began to act directly in history in preparation for the Incarnation. Before this time some events occurred of which we have records, but their influence didn’t last and they have no significance to us now. Earlier than about 3000 B.C., we have no written historical records because writing had not been invented. The years before 3000 B.C. are known as prehistoric times and belong to the study of archeology rather than history.

The Bible Is History

One of the main reference books you will need is the Bible. The Bible is not solely history, but there is a great deal of history in it. Many people would not think of the Bible as history, but it records God’s actions in history from the earliest days up to the founding of the Church. There are also some people who say that the Bible contains very few historical facts but is mainly a collection of stories which didn’t really happen. This argument was more common in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but it is still heard. There is little excuse for this argument, however, because archeological
excavations in the Biblical lands and studies of the documents of nations which existed during Biblical times have confirmed the bible at all important points.

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. There are several different versions of the Bible based on different translations of the original languages. This means that the wording in the various passages is not identical in different versions, but the basic content is the same. The Bible is divided into the Old Testament, written before the coming of Jesus Christ, and the New Testament, written after His Ascension into Heaven. The New Testament contains 27 books; the Old Testament contains 46 books. If you use an edition of the Bible commonly used by Protestants (such as the King James version or the Revised Standard Version), its Old Testament will have fewer books because it includes only those books originally written in Hebrew, whereas the Bible used by the Catholic Church includes the books written in both Hebrew and Greek. The names of the books also vary in different versions of the Bible.

Review Questions

1. Define history.
2. Why must history be written from a certain point of view?
3. Why do we say that the Incarnation was the most important event that ever happened?
4. What part of the world will we concentrate on in this book? Why?
5. Why will we spend less time on the U.S. than on some other countries?
6. What are the two divisions into which dates are placed? Why was this division made?
7. Why is the number of the century different from the number of the year? What is the difference between the way A.D. and B.C. dates are counted?
8. Where in history does this course begin? Why? What is prehistoric time?
9. Why may the Bible be used as a history book?
10. Why are some versions of the Bible different from others?

1. List what you think are the five most important events in U.S. history. Give reasons for your choices.
2. Of events that have occurred in the past year, which do you think most deserves to be recorded in history? Why?
3. Choose a recent newsworthy event about which people disagree. Write a short history of that event from one point of view. Then write another from the opposite point of view. How do the two histories differ? Why?
4. On an outline map of the world, locate the areas listed in the chapter.
5. Tape or paste together two sheets of paper. Down the center draw a line 20 inches long. Label the top end 2000 B.C. Label the bottom 2000 A.D. Mark off each half inch on the line. Each of these marks is to represent a century. Label them accordingly. (The first mark should be 1900 B.C., the second 1800 B.C., etc.) At the point where B.C. changes to A.D., write in “the incarnation.” Then choose any 20 events of history which you think important. Write them on your line at the proper point. As you study history this year, add important events to your time line.
6. Obtain a Bible and look through it to become familiar with the books it contains.


History and the Future
AS we said in the first chapter, history is the story of events which have made a difference to the world. The writing of history requires the passage of time, so that the effect of events can be judged. Therefore, we cannot comment on current events because it is not yet possible to make historical judgments on these events.

But we can look to the future, using the knowledge we have gained of the past. Though public life in many of the countries of the world has become anti-Christian, though politics are a matter of power rather than of justice, though wars have become much more destructive of innocent persons than ever before, yet hope remains. Christianity grows rapidly in Africa, the Popes issue strong statements on doctrinal and moral questions, orthodox lay people begin initiatives in education, pro-life and other areas. The West is declining, but other areas of the world may be rising to take its place. Or new sources of strength may be found in the countries that have been the centers of Christian civilization for so long. Through it all, Christ the King, the Lord of History, will be bringing members of His Kingdom on earth to perfection. We may not always be able to understand how this is happening, but we know that it will.

So we come to the end of a story which began four thousand years ago in the plains of Sumeria when God spoke to Abraham. We have seen empires and conquerors come and go. We have seen great villains: Rameses II, Nero, Attila, Cecil, Richelieu, Robespierre, Napoleon, Lenin, Hitler, Ho Chi Minh. We have seen great heroes: Abraham, Moses, the early martyrs, Pope Leo the Great, St. Patrick, Charlemagne, Queen Isabel, Charles V, Philip II, Maria Teresa, the men and women of the Alcazar, the Hungarian Freedom Fighters. The struggle between good and evil has gone on continually; and though we know that good will triumph overall, we can never be sure of the outcome of any individual battle. But through it all, one institution has survived every crisis, weathered every storm: the Catholic Church. Nothing else comes close to equaling its record.

And probably the only safe prediction that can be made about the future is that the Church will continue to survive and provide the means of salvation until history is completed and Christ comes in glory at the end of the world.

Make a mural illustrating the most important events in history from Abraham to the present.

Taken from Christ the King, Lord of History by TAN Books & Publishers, Inc.

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