Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Christ the King, Lord of History, by Anne Carroll

Anne Carroll, Christ the King, Lord of History: A Catholic World History from Ancient to Modern Times, 1994 TAN Books

This book is a doctrinaire history of the world, written from a Catholic perspective. This is certainly not my first experience of doctrinaire history. At the private Evangelic Christian school in which I spent my secondary education, there was an history textbook which presented the history of the world from a very conservative Evangelical perspective. It took the Young Earth Creationist view and thus began history six thousand years ago. Unlike Carroll's book, the Reformation was presented as a very good thing and the Catholic Church was seen as a distortion of Christianity.

Anne Carroll writes as though all the facts of history are known and there are no historical questions for historians to debate. There are only one or two places where Carroll admits there is some uncertainty about the facts of events. All the characters of history are either heroes or villains. There is no doubt about the causes, effects and results of events.

While this is similar to the Evangelical history textbook I mentioned above, it stands in complete contrast to the way I was taught GCSE History. The approach there was to get the pupils examining photographs and documents and getting them to offer rudimentary comments on their historical usefulness. This appalling approach to teaching history leaves pupils with the impression that nothing can be said with certainty about any historical facts.

I am in two minds about the approach of Anne Carroll to history. I don't think that one can teach the facts of history while being neutral about their value and context. Learning history should develop a Christian and Catholic worldview. Yet I am not sure that hiding away historical questions and uncertainties is a good idea. Should the young student come to learn that the interpretation placed on historical events that they were taught is unreliable, it could lead her to question her faith. I also feel that Carroll's tendency to portray the actors of history as either heroes or villains does not do justice to the complexity of these figures. I really don't think it is at all fair to portray Catherine the Great as a villain. She did great things for Russia, in spite of her secularist tendencies. Caroll portrays the Poles as victims of history. Yet she fails to mention the time when Poland was the big bully of Eastern Europe, when her Orthodox peasants had a pretty rough deal.

The reader of Christ the King will certainly learn a lot about history. This is a very useful primer on the basic events of world history. On the other hand, it does make a lot of errors about historical theology and church history.Carroll's understanding of the some of the controversies of the patristic period is simply appalling (Warning- whatever, you do, don't give this book to an Oriental Orthodox Christian!).

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