Having just returned from two weeks in Italy where I tromped around Rome, Norcia, Assisi, and more with two college-aged sons, it seemed a good time to finish Samuel Gregg’s new book Reason, Faith and the Struggle for Western Civilization. The dust and heat of summer mingled with the ruins of ancient Rome, the weight of Christian history, the echoes of popes and saints, conquerors and the conquered, sweat and sore feet.
Civilizations rise and fall, and Dr. Gregg’s book is a brilliant meditation on the reasons for the rise of Western civilization—more triumphantly known as “Christendom.”
One of the magnitudes of history hit home more than ever on my visit to Italy: that the Catholic Church embraced the inheritance of Rome. When the city of man crumbled, the city of God took its place. Christendom flowered in the Middle Ages, and by the Renaissance, the popes saw themselves and the Catholic Church as the rightful heirs to the greatness that was Rome.
Samuel Gregg is the research director at the Acton Institute. With a D.Phil from Oxford, he writes on history, politics, and economics. In this volume he has turned to a wider perspective to analyze both the amazing rise of Christendom and the challenges Western civilization faces today.
After an opening chapter which uses Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address to introduce the threats to Western civilization, Dr. Gregg goes on to explain the unique cultural chemistry that brought about the triumph of Christianity. I found this analysis most intriguing and helpful. In a nutshell, pagan religion in the ancient world had reached a dead end. Stale and superstitious, it was a religion of magic and myth that failed to keep pace with the advances of philosophy.