Puritan’s Empire: A Catholic Perspective on American History, by Charles Coulombe, 2008 (Tumblar House)
Reading this giant book (600+ pages) is like sitting at the dinner table while listening to the conversation of a man who knows everything. (Which is an incredible experience, as you might imagine.) Since our author, Mr. Coulombe, knows so much, this book is definitely what one might call “thorough.” The time period it covers is some of the Pre-Colombian era all the way to Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in the late 1960s. So yes, it is a mammoth book in size and scope. (But hey–if you are going to explain everything, you are going to have to write a really really big book…)
Obviously I LOVED it. It’s like what Regine Pernoud did for medieval Europe, only just for America! History by a traditional, believing Catholic for American Catholics, to help them understand what has been going on in the Church and the world since this country came on the scene, and why it matters.
There’s so much to rhapsodize about…where to start….Well, one of my favorite things about this book is the attention that Coulombe gives to American letters–literature, that is. In several sections of our American timeline he takes delightful digressions into the characters, works, and legacy of writers, such as Washington Irving and Mark Twain and Zora Neale Hurston, among many others. These literary discussions are lively and illuminating. Mr. Coulombe shows all things as interconnected in this history, a view of things which I teach and study from, so I am thrilled by this.
I also love Coulombe’s careful descriptions many different regions’ Catholic cultures, which was brought by their European settlers, and was in complete continuity with European Catholicism, because our Faith is universal. These snapshot views of Catholicism lived by communities and regions inspired me as an onlooker from the outside in these modern times. How wonderful it was that these Catholic subcultures existed just everywhere in the country! Their glory and strength and power, especially in the Southwest, must have been amazing to witness. (The fact that these strong and faithful folks of the Southwest did not convert the country amazes me. Our author hypothesizes as to the reasons for that, too–but you will have to read the book to find out what he thinks!)
Because there was so much of it, Catholic culture did somewhat to shape the United States–both through the influence that Catholic thought played out in the decisions of the more influential Catholic figures, and by the presence of the aforementioned settlements of various states and regions by communities of European Catholics. The Catholic way of life has always been a different way of life, with powerful influence and effects, even here in these once-Puritan and now godless United States.
Over the last few years, following more Traditionalist blogs and other writings, I have been ever more exposed to the diabolical arc that Freemasonry has carved into human history in the last 500 years. Mr. Coulombe is another writer that highlights the influence of this evil organization wherever it crops up in American history. (Over and over and over, by the way. You’ll see!) So it’s been good to see even more dots connected in this book as I try to understand the significance of this evil group throughout history.
During this same amount of time, I have also been exposed to the dreadful heresy of Americanism, which seems to be directly related to the above. (Yes, our country gave birth to a heresy that takes its name, oh hurrah!) Coulombe traces how the nefarious heresy spread through the USA and then made its way to Europe. As students of Vatican II know, Americanism became enshrined in the Council’s documents and became officially promoted from the top down. It’s good to have a contextual view provided, from the very beginning, of how and why this heresy came to be, connecting the dots and showing the whole picture. Spoiler alert: Priests and bishops came to settle and serve Catholic Americans from France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain–from all over Catholic Europe, of course– but it was the clergy who came from Ireland, the clergy that already spoke English before they got here, who were the ones lured into assimilating Catholics with the rest of the culture, and who were invested in “going along to get along” with the Protestants here, even though that meant sacrificing as much of Catholic identity and exclusivity as they possibly could. Tragically, Catholics became indistinguishable in their worldview from their fellow Americans because of the episcopal power and influence of these men, and rather quickly too.
This quote from the Afterword sums up the sadness of the American Catholic legacy:
American history is the tale of two simultaneous developments: the gradual weeding out of the practices and beliefs of old Christendom on the one hand, and their replacement with an ever more elaborate ethos which promised a purely secular salvation. In place of the organic national life offered by the first, America received, as it were, a simulacrum of nationhood, the artificiality of which was effectively concealed by economic prosperity.
While reading this book, it’s been sobering to face the destruction of the traditional, the good, the noble and worthy all over the world that the leadership of the United States has been intent on for two and a half centuries now. But the author does not want us to hate America–he loves this country, and wants us all to convert her. How? By being as truly Catholic as we can, and bringing many others along the way with us. The afterword to this magnificent book is an exhortation that re-inspired me “to give it all I’ve got” day by day to fight to convert my fellow citizens. Making America Catholic is the only way to save her.
Definitely get hold of this book. Tumblar House is the publisher, and I ordered mine from there. Of course it’s not a one-week read–in order to make your way through it, you will want to plan to commit to reading just 5-10 pages a day, so that you will keep up steady progress through the history. It’s going to be your favorite five pages of each day for a little while!