There are several essays by Father Parsons which are worthy for serious consideration in this book. That cannot be said for all of them. As a Catholic apologist, an unenviable but important position for the last 400 years or so, he does a very good job in some cases. But in others he does not fare quite so well.
Like the girl with a curl right in the middle of her forehead, when Parsons is good, he is very, very good, but when he is bad, he is horrid. The horrid chapters, Galileo, Bruno and Campenella with its Appendix, kept me from completing and even reading some of the rest of chapters for a long while.
Despite my disappointment in his failure to address the times when the Catholics have erred and excused it, or only barely hints that any error occurred, nor exhibits any sadness, he does have the honesty to include an appendix which corrects an essay he had written before new documents came to light. This appendix provides evidence of the truth of a particularly objectionable historical action of the priesthood. That is an admirable and rare demonstration of his ethics, honesty and desire for true historical writing.
The man is very eloquent, and quite funny at times, and his disparagement of sensational pseudo-historians is couched wonderfully well. I will never think of Voltaire in the same light again.
Most importantly, his stance is correct: history is frequently unfair and biased, and historians propagate less than just assessments of the past far too often. Much of the time this is done by supposedly reputable scholars.
The book is included on Elfinspell, based on two personal anecdotes:
When I lived and worked in Boston, Massachusetts for five years recently, I talked to people who were taught that the Popes were infallible. They had been told their whole lives in Catholic schools and their households since childhood that there was never a “bad” Pope, or a Pope whose actions were ever questionable, let along wrong. They believe it still as adults.
Finally, I was a long way past a lot of post-secondary education, before it occurred to me to question what I had been taught in history classes. I, too, believed that teachers and textbooks were always right. How naïve! I see that now. But this blind gullibility was limited to this one area, (usually). I had for many years never credulously accepted any political, religious, commercial and even some scientific assertions of truth without exercising skepticism. For some odd reason, I had regarded history teachers and history books as exempt.
Any book that reinforces the need for people to question, verify, double-check information and the actions of our icons is a necessary book. That is why, despite the chapters that are less pretty, this is worth putting online, although I strongly disagree with the moral stance of the author in several areas. Even in the chapters that are ugly examples of misplaced loyalty, there is information that is important as well.
The scattered, sophisticated lambasting of Voltaire adds a large dollop of enjoyment and allowed me to like and admire the author, overall, by the time I finished. As an eloquent advocate with superb, classical rhetorical style, Father Parsons is hard to top. Cicero would be proud!
My favorite chapter? The Middle Age, Not a Starless Night. All of these essays offered new information and were interesting for various reasons.
See what you think. I guarantee you will learn something from this book that you didn’t know before. Like me, you might smile at times as you become wiser, to balance the times it makes you despair. I hope so.
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