In the Gospels Jesus often depicts the Church as a boat threatened by bad weather and stormy seas. After Vatican Council II many Catholics felt the Church was no longer in such a situation and that relations with the world had become peaceful. In fact, however, the Church has never ceased to be offended and persecuted by forces outside it, and, unfortunately, has never ceased to suffer internal contrasts going all the way to schisms and heresies. Benedict XVI, has at times used very stark language to describe “the often dramatic situation of the Church today” (5 April 2012).
Mr. de Mattei describes the main crises lived by the Church during the first millennium: persecutions, heresies, barbarian invasions, the collapse of the Roman empire, the wounds of simony and concubinage in the XI century. He also shows two things. The first is that “even during periods of doctrinal and moral crisis in the Church, the truth of Christ and His law remain unchanged, and the Church continues to be holy in her dogma, her sacraments, and in the souls whom the Holy Spirit fills with His grace (pg. 135). The second is that during each epoch marked by the crisis and misery of the Church the Holy Spirit brings forth faithful of great and sterling faith, who, battling both inside and outside the Church, remain resolute in the truth of the things believed and in fidelity to tradition. These are the persons Divine Providence uses so the Church may surmount difficulties, remain faithful to herself as her Lord so wishes, and continue to evangelise the world. Consider the martyrs who shed their blood, St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Jerome, St. Benedict, Gregory the Great, St. Patrick and St. Boniface, Gregory VII, the holy abbots of Cluny, St. Romualdo and Pier Daminai, just to mention a few.
Side by side with the many rulers who played a fundamental role for the creation of the Christian civilization and its protection during the first millennium – from Constantine to Clovis, from Charlemagne to Henry II, from Ethelbert of Kent to Stephan of Hungary – Mr. De Mattei also evokes the many women who converted their reigning husbands to the faith of Christ: St. Clotilda, the wife of Clovis king of the Franks, Inonda, the wife of the Visigoth king Leandro, the Merovingian princess Bertha, the Visigoth princess Brunhilda, Theodelinda of Bavaria, who married the Lombard king Agilulf, and Adelaide of Burgundy, who was the wife of Emperor Otto I. Many indeed were the women who helped make Europe Christian.
It is hard to put this book down once you begin reading it and in that sense it is much like an enthralling movie. Remaining, however, is an underlying sense of concern about today. Mr. de Mattei quotes the words Benedict XVI used to compare our times to the age of the decline of the Roman Empire. But “the Roman empire collapsed because people disobeyed the moral and divine law. This is what history testifies for us, and what comes down to us through history as an admonition” (pg. 89).
Roberto de Mattei, La Chiesa fra le tempeste. Il primo millennio della storia della Chiesa nelle conversazioni a Radio Maria, [The Church Amidst Storms. The first millennium of the history of the Church in conversations on Radio Maria] Sugarco edizioni, Milan 2012, pgs. 176, € 16,00.