Saturday, August 25, 2007

Twelve World History Dates You Should Know

History can be overwhelming: there are just so many stories that it can be difficult to keep them all in context. One date seems to dislodge another in our brains, its place in the overall picture fluctuating every time we cram our mental timelines with a new one.

Would you like to give your student a framework on which ot hand it all? These twelve dates are fundamental to the history of mankind for the phenomenal ripple effects: the foundations they laid shaped world events for centuries afterward. We know that God uses human events to realize His will for us, even when we cannot immediately see His hand. These important dates can give your history curricuum a sturdy backbone and a distinct perspective on the working out of God’s plan of salvation throughout the ages.

Children who are about third-grade age can memorize this list of dates, placing it in the context of the Bible history they already know to aid in retention. (Charting dates on a physical timeline will reinforce both context and memory too.) As your student fleshes out his lessons over the middle school years, you can discuss the events in more detail. Older students can refer back to the list of milestones as their deepening perception brings the significance of these dates into sharper relief.

1. About 1000 B.C.—David becomes the second king of Israel. In David’s reign, Israel’s history reached its pinnacle. Israel is significant in world history as an ancient civilization and as center of the first major monotheistic religion. David’s reign was the golden age of the Old Testament, a time when the Israelites were rewarded with national prosperity, political power, and military victory. God’s promise of eternal kingship to the house of David foreshadowed the coming of a kingly Messiah and thus the redemption of man from Adam’s inheritance of death.

2. 753 B.C.—Romulus founds Rome. The story of Romulus and his twin brother Remus is more than half legend, but the Eternal City he started endures as a major cultural epicenter to this day. It emerged as an important Italian political state and rose into a powerful empire that spanned most of the known world. As the Roman Empire declined, the city remained important both religiously and politically as the seat of Christianity during the turbulent Dark Ages. Rome flourished physically and culturally in theRenaissance—which began in Italy—and into the nineteenth century when the pope lost civil control of the city to Italy. It remains a religious capital today, and its longevity and importance are unparalleled in all of history.

3. 336 B.C.—Alexander the Great becomes king of Macedonia. When Alexander succeeded Philip II of Macedon, he embarked on a campaign that etended Greek civilization throughout the East. The Greek Empire flourished during his reign, from which rose the Hellenistic Age and its spread of Greek culture throughout the known world. This extension of Greek civilization had several important effects, among them the adaptation to one common and cosmopolitan culture, a sort of priming for the rise of the Roman Empire, and major advances in math and science.

4. 4 B.C.*--The Word of God becomes human and is born in the person of Jesus. When God brought His entire plan for man’s salvation to fruition, He did it by entering radically into human history: a created woman conceived the second Person of the Trinity. He lowered Himself to become human, and in doing so, He elevated us to the point that some day in eternity we shall “judge angels” (1 Corinthians 6:3, NASB).

5. A.D. 29—Jesus is crucified and rises from the dead. This is the climax of salvation history and the event that gives rise to the single most culturally influential force in the history of the world. Nothing has shaped human civilzation as extensively as Christianity has, and nothing will ever as radically transform the destiny of man again until the end times.

6. A.D. 622—Mohammed flees from Mecca to Medina. This event marks the birth of Islam Mohammed’s claims as a prophet who succeeded Jesus converted thousands and displaced Christianity in the Arab world. Islam’s effect on the sociopolitical atmosphere of the world was swift; it spread rapidly and aggressively (often by violence) into Africa and Europe in only a century. This threat to the religious, political, and social structure of Europe eventually led to the Crusades, the first one launched in 1095 in response to Muslim persecution of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land and to Turkish expansion toward Constantinople. Over Centuries of conflict, the radical spread of Islam slowed but has maintained a steady growth; today it is quickly replacing the Christian population and is possibly soon to become the majority religion in Europe.

7. A.D. 1066—William the Conquereor wins the Battle of Hastings in England. With William the Norman’s invasion of England and accession to the crown, the political system of England changed—Anglo-Saxon nobility was out and Norman-French nobility was in. The Germanic composition of English culture gave way to the Latin-based language and French culture of the invaders, and Christianity took precedence over the pagan cult religions of various tribes. The Norman Conquest permanently changed the national character of England, which over the next millennium became and remained one of the most powerful nations of the world.

8. A.D. 1215—King John sisngs the Magna Carta. Yes, this is the evil “Prince John” of Robin Hood villainy. His malignant and wasteful governance caused the English land barons to unite against him, compelling him to sign this “Great Charter.” The Magna Carta was a remedy for the abused notion of rule by divine right; it codified the concepts of personal rights and of the king’s subjection to the law of the land. It affirms the principle that all are accountable to the King of kings, and it is considered the basis for modern law and government.

9 A.D. 1492—Christopher Columbus lands in the New World. Though evidence indicates tha other explorers sailed west to the Americans well before Columbus, it was his discovery of these lands that brought them to the attention of powerful European rulers. Exploration of this uncharted area opened up entire new worlds—societies, resources, opportunities—and brought Christianity and Western civilization’s learning and culture into the New World.

10. A.D. 1776—The American colonies break away from England with the Declaration of Independence. These early Americans were rebelling against systemic tyranny under English monarchy. Their vision of a representative republic was a bold experiment in self-government, and its success influenced the world both as a model of government and in the nation it eventually produced—a major political power and a leader in the dominant Western civilization.

11. A.D. 1945—The use of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ends World War II. First, the “innovations of World War I changed warfare forever. Then, the manmade catastrophes called A-bombs demonstrated how cience had harnessed the awesome powers locked inside the building blocks of creation and how they could be put to ruinous use. The arms race that followed led to very real fears that our harness on these awesome powers and, more importantly, our civilized society was chillingly tenuous. This kind of warfare and capability for massive-scale destruction remains today and reminds us of humanity’s need for humility.

12. Fill in your birth date here! Yes, your existence is one of the most important events in history. All of time has come together to produce the unique indivudal that is you. All the civilizations, wars, inventions, and journeys of peoples past were a chain reaction to make you—specifically you—come into being. Jeremish 1:5 shows us that God has a specific plan, an appointment for each individual, and He set it into motion long ago.

*People in the sixth century determined the year of Jesus’ birth and began their calendar there, calling it anno Domini 1 (A.D.), or “in the year of our Lord.” Historians have computed that this date is a few years too late, but it was already too firmly established to change the records of history since then.

(Published in the Spring 2006 issue of Homeschooling Today.)

Ideology of a Toy

(Another article. This appeared at Catholic Exchange on February 4, 2006.)

While playing with her toddlers, a Georgia woman discovered the possibility that toy manufacturers are trying to indoctrinate children with ideology — but which ideology is up for debate.

The woman, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation from corporate powers and animal rights activists, described the toy as a “musical Noah’s ark.” The plastic, battery-powered toy is shaped like an ark and features a song button, a “Noah” button, and several animal-shaped buttons. Pressing the song button causes the toy to play one of ten well-known children’s melodies. Pressing one of the animal buttons causes that animal to “sing along” with the song.

But pressing Noah’s button produces results a bit different. “He sings the right melody,” says the woman, “but it’s in the wrong key.

“It had to be deliberate. Why would they make a toy like that?”

Several people gave opinions about what the manufacturer of the musical Noah’s ark is trying to accomplish. “They are portraying the evil humans as out of harmony with nature," said Ferris E. Bluster, president of a local splinter group formed from another splinter group of a national Christian political organization. "And they are poking fun at the first righteous father of the biblical salvation history.

"In the meantime, they make all the animals sing in perfect pitch and hit every note. It’s just another example of the liberal Left wing trying to vilify the Judeo-Christian worldview.

“It’s clear they think the world is better off without Noah,” he said.

Sophie Egeau, a professor and member of the town’s chapter of Secular Humanist Ecumenism (SHE), had a different opinion. “They are trying to tell children that we are sinners who can’t do anything good,” she said. “The Christian religion has been giving the world one great big guilt trip from the beginning. This country is still dominated by Christian patriarchal powers-that-be, no matter what they’re whining about these days.”

Catholic priest Fr. Philip Ian Sphorate was amused by the ruckus the toy has begun to cause in the area. “It’s just a charming little toy,” he said.

“I suppose you could say it illustrates that of all creatures only human beings were created with a will of their own. Only human beings can make something of their own volition, for good or ill.

“Or you could say it’s all nonsense, just a coincidence. But then you could say that with God there are no coincidences.”

And what do children think of it? “My kids love the toy,” says the woman who owns it. “I think it’s cute, and they don’t even notice that Noah sings off-key. It’s not like they sing on-key all the time anyway.”

Nicole Stallworth is a mother of five and a freelance writer from Georgia. All names, characters, and events in this satire are fictional, but her family really does have a musical Noah’s ark toy with a Noah that sings off-key.

Scandal in the Church: Tolkien's Response

(One of my early articles. This first appeared at Catholic Exchange on January 24, 2003.)

“In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love.” Sound familiar? I hope so. These words illustrate the light by which faithful Catholics will successfully navigate the current scandals. But these words weren’t written with today in mind, nor by a prophetic pope or canonized saint. J.R.R. Tolkien addressed the problems of scandal, faith and despair in both his letters and his fiction.

Loss of Faith

People, even Catholics, are still sometimes surprised to learn that Tolkien was a devout Catholic whose masterpiece Lord of the Rings was fundamentally inspired by his Catholic worldview. Tolkien struggled with the Vatican II changes in his beloved Church and yet remained a faithful and obedient Catholic, and his insights about weathering difficulties of faith are valuable still today.

In the ordinary sense of the word, scandal refers to outrageous incidents or behaviors that offend our moral sensibilities. But the Catechism defines it as any “attitude or behavior that leads others to do evil.” Scandal, then, does not depend on the sinfulness of the first behavior. For scandal to occur, there must be a second behavior which is sinful. Tolkien understood it as the Church does when he noted that “‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation…. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat.”

The “second behavior” to which Tolkien was referring is loss of faith. Tolkien’s particular challenge was the atmosphere surrounding the Second Vatican Council. He found the “trends” in the Church distressing, as he was “accustomed to find in it a solace and a “pax” in times of temporal trouble, and not just another arena of strife and change.” Our challenge today is the sexual abuse crisis and its roots.

Some of our moral teachers have betrayed the faith in their keeping; they are wolves, or have let wolves in among the flock. People throw their hands up and say, “God, this institution is beyond fixing.” They say, “You have abandoned the Church.” They say, “It’s up to us to make something new and better of it.” They despair of God’s grace. Even the people who cling to this Rock sometimes feel with Tolkien that “the Church which once felt like a refuge, now often feels like a trap. There is nowhere else to go!” He speculated about the Apostles frequently sharing this sentiment, and he does, after all, sound like Peter saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”

Remember the Good

In Lord of the Rings the characters face the same kind of choice — to maintain faith and hope, against the wisdom of the world, because they recognize that all other choices ultimately lead to defeat. The temptation to despair is a powerful theme. Each main character faces a seemingly hopeless quest. They feel too small, helpless, or otherwise inadequate to make any difference in the evil fate that seems to beset Middle Earth. Theirs — as well as ours — is a difficult task, impossible but for God. He is never named in Lord of the Rings, but make no mistake — He is known to exist, to be supreme, and to have a hand in all that comes about. When he is beyond understanding, that is when faith becomes an act of the will.

This act of the will is imperative, because despair is an instrument of the Enemy — indeed, it is his goal, because our despair is his victory. The words of Tolkien’s characters reveal this. In the last book of the trilogy, Gandalf speaks about a ruler’s death amid flames the ruler had set himself: “He was too great to be subdued to the will of the Dark Power, he saw nonetheless only those things which that Power permitted him to see. The knowledge which he obtained was, doubtless, often of service to him; yet the vision of the great might of Mordor that was shown to him fed the despair of his heart until it overthrew his mind.” Well can the scandal of despair be called spiritual suicide.

So what can be done? Tolkien said that loyalty “only becomes a virtue when one is under pressure to desert it.” He knew that to leave the Church was to leave Christ, and that if Christ is to be believed, then “this spectacle is alas! only what was to be expected: it began before the first Easter, and it does not affect faith at all…” When we are tempted to leave that faith behind because of trials, remember that the faith safeguarded by the Church is eternal truth. That is when our virtue grows.

Tolkien’s experience suggests several ideas for maintaining perspective. We have heard them before, and they bear repeating. One is to remember our own sinfulness, “associating ourselves with the scandalizers not with the saints, not crying out that we cannot ‘take’ Judas Iscariot, or even the absurd and cowardly Simon Peter, or the silly women like James’ mother, trying to push her sons.” We must not be too eager to point fingers. The abusive priest, or the bishop who chose expediency over integrity, or the women and men whose motive is ambition rather than service are no more the reason for the Cross than we are.

Remember, also, the good — the faithful priests who selflessly follow Christ’s example. “I have met snuffy, stupid, undutiful, conceited, ignorant, hypocritical, lazy, tipsy, hardhearted, cynical, mean, grasping, vulgar, snobbish, and even (at a guess) immoral priests … but for me one Fr. Francis outweighs them all,” he said of his guardian. Fr. Francis became a father to Tolkien, raising him after his mother’s death from the priest’s own private finances. Do we appreciate the lives our priests have devoted to us?

The True Answer to Crisis

But Tolkien’s true answer to the crises of the Church, wherever they appear in history, is two-pronged: the Blessed Sacrament and prayer. He recommended the Eucharist as the “only cure for sagging or fainting faith… Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.” Within the canon of the Church Triumphant are saints who lived on no other nourishment than the Eucharist. Tolkien was no doubt familiar with them (the Elvish waybread called lembas had a potency to sustain the body that grew as lembas became the only source of sustenance) but he was more likely speaking from experience — he received communion frequently, almost every day at many points in his life.

When desperate feelings encroach, he said that there is nothing to do but pray, “for the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and for ourselves.” But, then again, prayer is everything. In the midst of frustration and helplessness, prayer is our most powerful weapon. Our prayers help build the Kingdom of God, especially when they start with personal holiness.

Tolkien makes an important point in his writings. When his characters reach an apparent dead end, Gimli says, “This is a bitter end to all our toil and hope.” Aragorn responds, “To hope, maybe but not to toil.” Sam Gamgee, one of his simplest and finest characters, “did not need hope, as long as despair could be put off” by devoting himself to his task — to serve Frodo, as he had done for years. It is for this reason that Tolkien spoke of Sam as the real hero. A well-trained faith will supply us when hope seems to fail, strengthening our will and directing our steps. We must train ourselves in the faith if we want to exercise it with faithfulness.

Tolkien described faith as a permanent and indefinitely repeated act rather than a momentous, final decision. Our task is prayer, and our prayer should be to love with the love of Christ for His Bride, His Church. As Tolkien knew, “Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge)… We must therefore either believe in Him and in what he said and take the consequences; or reject him and take the consequences.”

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