How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

Narrated by: Barrett Whitener
Length: 7 hrs
Categories: History, World
4.5 out of 5 stars (680 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Ask a college student today what he knows about the Catholic Church and his answer might come down to one word: "corruption". But that one word should be "civilization".

Western civilization has given us modern science, the wealth of free-market economics, the security of law, a sense of human rights and freedom, charity as a virtue, splendid art and music, philosophy grounded in reason, and innumerable other gifts we take for granted. But what is the ultimate source of these gifts? Best-selling author and professor Thomas E. Woods, Jr., provides the answer: the Catholic Church.

No institution has done more to shape Western civilization than the two-thousand-year-old Catholic Church and in ways that many of us have forgotten or never known. Woods' book is essential reading for recovering this lost truth.

©2005 Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (P)2005 Blackstone Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"I recommend Professor Woods's book not only to anyone interested in the history of the Catholic Church, but also to any student of the history and development of Western civilization." (Dr. Paul Legutko, Stanford University)

What listeners say about How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating and informative

I am a devout Catholic, but even I used to grimace a little when I would hear complaints about how the Church stifled science, condemned Galileo, held down uneducated people hundreds of years ago, etc. These are topics that are widely accepted as fact in this day and age, and rarely refuted in public, even by Catholic apologists.

In this book, however, all these topics and many, many more are discussed in great depth, and we learn about all the monumental contributions the Church made to virtually every pillar of western civilization. Science; astronomy; international law; economics; charity; etc. The list of Catholic inventions and research is truly amazing. "Who would have thought that modern economic theory began with a Franciscan friar in the 13th century?"

From an apologetics standpoint, I'd consider this book less as a Protestant vs. Catholic work. There is very little discussion of this since most of the discussions do not involve theology. Instead, I'd consider it an excellent primer for an atheist or agnostic who is of the opinion that the Catholic church has largely been a force for corruption and regression in the world.

62 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Enlightening

Got this because of all the negative arguments I've heard about Catholicism...even by Catholics. Many I heard were misstatements following popular secular, media thinking, e.g the Pope's Regensburg lecture. I couldn't figure out how the Church survived all these generations if it was/is guilty of all this (supposed) villany. The book is an advocate for the faith but I think it does it very well. In some cases it argues to forcefully and takes too much credit. Islam, China, other religions are given scant credit for scientific, literary, artistic achievements or influences. Even if half of what Woods says is true (I suspect it's much, much more) it is a much needed revelation and tonic of the good the Church has done. It doesn't proselytize and it adroitly lays out very convincing arguments and historical facts. Highly recommended for those with an open mind.

24 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Fantastically Revealing and Fascinating

I was completely amazed at the depth and breath of how much of Western Civilization owes the Catholic Church and thanks to this tremendously interesting, detailed, and substantiated book, I learned about it. From the introduction of spacing in words, lower case, the father of Aviation, Seismology, Geology, being critically involved in the written introduction of the scientific method, modern economic theory, and so on.

32 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

New insights on history

Even if you are not catholic, you must read this book. It gives a very different view of history, at least one that is not very known today. It is written for a broad audience, but with the great care of citing the right sources so that the inquirer and skeptical reader can refer.

13 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Well researched, fair, performance bland

I found much history in this book that I'd never heard before or only partly encountered little. The narrator's performance was bland to the point that I put it on to help me sleep more than once. I think the content deserved better.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Stimulated further reading

This was an excellent drive-time book. I did not particularly care that it was not rigorously impartial. I learned some things I did not know and found myself wanting to read many of his cited sources such as Hans Kung.

12 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting counterpoint

This a definitely interesting book, providing a good counterpoint to some of the common misconceptions that are constantly perpetuated by media and academia alike. I did not always find it intellectually tight but the facts and the arguments are still valid. At the very least it points out many of the ideas that set the foundations of our civilization.

10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

An Enlightening Book

This book has excellent content, although I thought the narrator gave a rather dry reading of the material. I understand that the book is informative rather than entertaining but the seemingly monotone voice took me out of it at times. Otherwise, the book does a great job of dispelling many misconceptions about the Catholic Church and its place in history.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

I didn’t even know Tom Woods was Catholic...

Last summer I took a trip to Italy and one of my stops was in Venice. One time late in the evening I walked over to Piazza San Marco when not many people were out. It wasn’t my first time walking through the piazza, but over the prior few days I had been around the city quite a bit walking through the streets and canals. I’d seen Tintoretto paintings on display in side chapels of what seemed like unremarkable churches (by the standard of the grand cathedrals I’d just seen in Rome and Florence). I’d learned about Monteverdi and his innovative composing making use of the multiple choirs in St. Mark’s Basilica. I’d learned about Vivaldi being a Priest and teaching music to young orphaned girls. I’d learned that Venice was built up in the dark ages in a lagoon that Roman Citizens would flee to in order to escape raiding barbarians that lacked a navy. That quiet evening I chanced on the Piazza I realized that the Church was not just the source of my religious beliefs, ethics, and morality, but it was also the source of the music I love, the art I admire, and the foil to the European tyrannies of not just the 19th and 20th centuries (Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany, etc), but also the European tyranny of the 1st and 2nd centuries (the Roman Empire). Of course I’d seen Notre Dame, St. Peter’s, the Duomo of Florence, St Patrick’s Cathedral (in NYC), and many others, but here at St. Mark’s was a beautiful church of nearly 1000 years I’d never even heard of prior to visiting (despite my interest in history). While churches are of course primarily religious buildings, this church (and many others throughout Europe) also served as an architectural landmark, a work of art (the mosaics on the interior were incredible), a musical center, and a civic center with the Doge’s palace adjacent.

I was already a bit familiar with Tom Woods as a political commentator — he’s a Libertarian. I didn’t even know he was Catholic until someone recommended me this book. The book itself is excellent and full of Church and European history I didn’t know about. One especially interesting anecdote was that at a certain point, the Church in France had grown remarkably unorthodox and it had to be “re-evangelized” in a certain sense with monks from Ireland. This gives me hope that perhaps even in this day and age, unorthodox priests, “Catholics for choice”, “bad Catholics”, and other ridiculous labels people give themselves may be re-evangelized by Orthodox priests and/or brothers from other parts of the world — perhaps Africa (the story someone posted here recently about the African Priest in Portland keeps popping into my mind).

Looking back on my own education (I went to public school), I wonder how I could have been so shortsighted in accepting many of the commonly held misconceptions around the “middle ages” (middle between what? Woods points out that this is an “enlightenment" term). I remember realizing our curriculum on WWII was laughably inadequate, yet at the same time I took our lessons on the reformation and enlightenment hook line and sinker. Live and learn I suppose…

One last observation I had related to the Church and Western Civilization is that I frequently see Catholicism demeaned as a Western invention (never mind the fact that Peter, Paul, Augustine, and other Church Fathers were not from Europe). People who think that have it precisely backwards. Western Civilization as we know it is a gift from the Church — perhaps even more specifically the order of Monks founded by St. Benedict.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Truly Worth Reading, and Re-Reading

Our present day society needs to reflect on the direction that current "values" are taking us before we fall prey to other belief systems that will for sure, enslave us.

1 person found this helpful