This is an exciting, swashbuckling and breezy panoramic history of the Catholic Church by a convert from Anglicanism, who is a former journalist, speechwriter and book editor and who is presently the executive editor of Regnery Publishing. As today's liberals and secularists and their sympathizers in the Church continue to mount their various attacks on the Church's leadership and its faithful, our author has seized the timely opportunity to defend the truths of the Catholic Faith and its long historical record of evangelizing peoples and nations and promoting and fostering Western civilization and human dignity. As the publisher aptly describes the tenor of this remarkable book:
"Triumph is the story of kings, queens, soldiers, saints, priests, and popes who fought for the Catholic faith – the largest religion in the world, and the largest denomination in the United States. Triumph is a must-read for every loyal Catholic and everyone interested in the primary source of western civilization."
Crocker's book is the product of widespread reading, and gives a sometimes refreshing view of the history of the Church, warts and all, that seeks not only to correct gross calumnies against the Popes and some of the great Catholic rulers of the past but to vindicate the Church's fidelity to its mission from Christ to teach all nations amidst all the conflicts with error and sin that would mark the oft-bloody pilgrimage of the Catholic People of God. The identity of today's Catholic Church with the primitive Church is clearly manifest in the continuity of doctrines marking early Catholicism and its perduring hierarchical structure rooted in the Primacy of Peter's See. There is a gripping account of the Early Church's struggle against persecuting Emperors, holier-than-thou schismatics, and bizarre heresies which "although defeated, have never gone away." Crocker notes:
"Common to every heresy is the assertion of private judgment, revelation, and choice against the Catholic Church's adherence to the authoritative tradition of Apostolic Christianity."
He recounts with candor both the glories and horrors found in the historical record of the Church across the centuries, and does not cover up the sins of Popes, bishops, aberrant theologians, power-mad Emperors, lustful kings, and those rapacious knights and soldiers who disgraced their calling to fight for Cross and Christendom.
The true visage of the Church is seen in the witness and heroic deeds of such Saints as Athanasius, Ambrose, Augustine, Patrick, Benedict, Ignatius of Loyola, the British Martyrs of the Reformation, and the many Popes who never forgot their mission to preserve the Church from the heresies of Eastern patriarchs and to safeguard the spiritual freedom and independence of the Church from both Caesaro-papist Byzantine and Western emperors as well as greedy feudal lords and kings. Special delight is taken by the author to puncture the Whig or modern Liberal myth of the evolutionary "progress" of mankind, and to present a more objective account of incidents which have fueled hatred and animosity towards the Church. Thus, he notes the exaggerations of the extent of the Church's "corruption" in the medieval and Renaissance periods and how the Spanish Inquisition, for example, was "dramatically overblown by a torrent of Protestant and secularist propaganda." Readers are reminded that:
"True terror was to be found less in the inquisitorial courts of Spain than wherever Protestant reformers did their work."
Terrible religious wars destroying the unity of Western Christendom and the rise of Royal Absolutism were to follow the alleged "religious progress" of Protestant Revolutionists. After pungent sketches of Luther and Calvin, Crocker notes the especially tragic consequence the spread of Protestantism would have in corroding the very idea of religious truth..
"Doctrinally subjective Protestant thought [was] an intellectual development that has been the major factor in secularizing the Western world... It became one of the main solvents for scrubbing any faith that went beyond a general social gospel of good intentions."
Having survived the Byzantine Greek Schism, the Protestant Revolution, the French Revolution, and a totalitarian Liberalism seeking to privatize or even strangle religion expression, the Catholic Church is shown to have been the real defender of freedom and the liberties of the people. It has proved the great and unrelenting opponent of modern Statism wherein totalitarian Caesars (and even liberal democratic Caesars) attempt to usurp the prerogatives of God. Our author has some precious comments regarding the nature of contemporary Liberalism as the enemy of the Church, Lord Acton's moral absolutism, the encyclical "Humanae Vitae", and on the moral relativists who have made sex "a form of class struggle" and who have produced:
"the sweeping chaos of the sex, drugs and rock and roll society."
Crocker is up to date with modern literature and fashions:
"In the world of modern psychobabble, if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Ignatius of Loyola was from Christendom and modern man is from commercial television."
He pointedly responds to the current vicious attacks on Pope Pius XII:
"If the accusations against Pius XII are despicable, they are also ludicrous coming from liberals or secularists, who for hundreds of years pressed for the destruction of the Catholic Church as a temporal power – until it exists on a mere postage stamp of real estate – and the stripping of all conceivable authority from the institution."
Our author's sympathies are evident. He admirably refutes and corrects some historical misconceptions concerning the role the Church has played in complex events and movements. But he is an incurable romanticist who longs for the restoration of medieval Christendom when warrior-Crusaders and Knights Templars served to uphold the temporal power of the Popes. He is nostalgic for such warriors as Constantine and Charlemagne and a St. Louis IX who protected the Papacy and the Church from political and ideological enemies and who fostered that unity of altar and throne which characterized an "Age of Faith". As the Church today is faced with the prospect of powerful forces seeking to extinguish the historical Christian Faith, he clearly would welcome the emergence of another Constantine the Great to do contemporary battle for the Church faced with future persecutions.
In longing for the "grand old days of the Crusades and French Byzantium", he fails to do justice to the grievances of the Byzantines against Latin military aggressors and the trauma done the hoped-for Reunion of the dissident Eastern Churches by the 1204 sacking of Constantinople. He would have profited from the better historians dealing with Byzantine church history. The famous patriarch Photius did not formally deny papal supremacy as alleged (page 115), and there was no "second Photian Schism". The patriarch Michael Cerularius did not "excommunicate the Holy See" in 1054, but only the Roman legates who were, in fact, accused by him of not representing or coming "from the elder Rome".
In concluding his fascinating work, our author observes:
"The triumph of the Catholic Church, from its beginnings... is the most extraordinary story in the world. The Church is a great force, and perhaps through it – indeed, only through it, Christendom will rise again."
His judgment concerning the Church is correct. However, if a new Christendom does arise, it may do so not from a new sword-swinging Constantine or Charlemagne but rather from the efforts of an informed Catholic laity implementing in their nations the decrees and declarations of the Second Vatican Council dealing with political, economic, social, and cultural life.