From Columbus To John Paul Ii

Those who set out to trace the history of Catholicism from 1492 until 2000 have so much to summarize that it becomes dangerously easy to bypass or even simply avoid important questions and changes. The principle guiding our choices and emphases remains the same. We will be looking for what was distinctively, although not necessarily uniquely, Catholic in those centuries. In other words, we will ask: what has 'being

Catholic' meant at different times and in different places in that past? That could open the way to appreciate how the experience of the ages has shaped the Catholic Church we see today. These were centuries deeply marked by religious persecutions and wars. Rather than move along apportioning the blame, we will attempt to understand the processes involved. In general, faith entered so deeply into the lives and consciousness of most Catholics (and others) that they simply took it for granted that their shared religion necessarily underpinned their common social and political existence. Real differences of faith were seen as socially and politically intolerable. To organize themes, we will look in order at the expansion of Europe, the Reformation, the new learning, and the coming of the world Church.

Whatever we achieve in the closing section of this chapter, we certainly do not want to give the impression that the present Catholic Church and the pontificate of John Paul II have been the natural culmination of a whole set of attractive, progressive forces at work for centuries. Both in individual lives and in the Catholic Church at large, God often writes with crooked lines.

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