INTERVIEW: How Catholic Priests Helped Build ‒ and Can Help Rebuild ‒ Western Civilization

Fr. William J. Slattery Tells Zenit About a Lenten Resource to Deepen Catholics’ Understanding of Priests’ Contributions to World

Courtesy of Ignatius Press

Catholic Priests helped build ‒ and can help rebuild ‒ Western Civilization ….

In an interview with Zenit, Fr. William J. Slattery, PhD, STL, explored this as he reflected on his new book Heroism and Genius: How Catholic Priests Helped Build ‒ and Can Help Rebuild ‒ Western Civilization, recently published by Ignatius Press.

Courtesy of Ignatius Press

Here is our interview to better understand his research, the findings, and how it can help priests and active Catholics in their ministry and faith during Lent.


ZENIT: Father Slattery, this is your recently published work, endorsed by various cardinals such as Cardinal Sarah, as well as by The New York Times best selling author, Thomas Woods. What inspired you to write this?

To encourage and invigorate all Catholics! Especially those who want to build a new Christian civilization. The story of the struggles of  the Catholic builders of a new civilization during the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire clearly shows the power of Catholicism to change the course of history. What we Catholics did once, we can do again!

ZENIT: Why are you interested in this theme? Perhaps due to your background?

While at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, during my PhD and STL studies, I became increasingly convinced that in the clash between the now dominant “Dictatorship of Relativism,”as Benedict XVI had referred to it, and Catholicism, Catholics want priests who are leaders because they go ahead in order to show the way. And that way is the unchanging and unchangeable, ever radiant and dynamic way of Catholic Identity. This was what shaped the genius and heroism of men like Leo the Great as he rode out on horseback to confront Attila the Hun; of Ambrose as he forbade Emperor Theodosius to enter the cathedral of Milan until he did penance; of Boniface as he daringly laid the foundations of the Faith in Germany! And of all the little known heroes and sub-creators that I refer to in Heroism and Genius.

ZENIT: How are you able to assert that Catholic priests helped build Western Civilization? 

By the evidence of stubborn facts! Augustine at his desk in Hippo writing “The City of God”, the book that would become the bedside book of Emperor Charlemagne; Gregory the Great expanding the rim of the future Christendom by turning his back on Byzantium in order to dramatically turn toward the North, toward the Barbarians, sending missionaries to England and the Lombards; Bernard, the mind behind the statutes of the new ideal of warriorhood embodied in the Templars; Abbot Suger, the founder of Gothic architecture; the Spanish priests of the School of Salamanca, the founders in many ways of free enterprise economics; Alcuin of York, the man whom Charlemagne called “my mentor”, the educator of an empire’s educators, the restorer of the tools of intellectual culture, and the initiator of the first program of universal education ever in world history.

And Heroism and Genius does not forget the men who are almost always overlooked in history books – the countless anonymous parish priests of the Dark Ages!  The quiet men who “mile by mile and almost man by man”, “without political machinery or public fame, worked at deathbeds and confessionals in all the villages of Europe and the vast system of slavery vanished” (Chesterton).

ZENIT: And how can they, as you say, ‘rebuild’ Western Civilization?

Proud Catholics make strong Catholics! Catholicism has nothing to be modest about! Yes, yes, yes, of course we are all aware of the corruption, scandals, and incompetence in our history! But that is not Catholicism! That is the sorry tale of individuals who use the name of Catholic!

So, to rebuild, remember! Remember, Catholic, who you are and what you once achieved; recall the crucially important social consequences of your Catholic identity; remember that the Catholic, by being truly Catholic and living in the fierce light of Eternity, changes society and builds Christian civilization—that he simply cannot fail to change the world by being a real Catholic!

And that is why we want to read books like Heroism and Genius!

ZENIT: What is in need of being rebuilt?

Catholic identity!  I won’t state here what is obvious to all! One very concrete institution that could be immediately rebuilt in every parish, school, and training program is Catholic apologetics. What a thunderous impact Catholics would have in the culture war if firstly they were to know why they stand for what they stand for; and, secondly, if they saw themselves as called to walk in the footsteps of giants who once triumphed in a millennial long culture war! And for that they want to open the pages of the ancient saga of Catholic creativity and heroism.

ZENIT: How can this book help priests and active Catholics in their ministries?

Firstly, Heroism and Genius can be a source of encouragement for priests and committed Catholics because although written in a popular style and illustrated with 100 images and maps that make for enjoyable reading, it is carefully documented (some 500 footnotes and some 170 entries in the select bibliography).

Secondly, Heroism and Genius can be a valuable resource for RCIA programs, new converts to the Church, apologetics programs, and for men discerning a vocation to the priesthood.

ZENIT: How do you see Heroism and Genius as a good Lenten resource?

As Lenten reading it can inspire Catholics unto life-changing decisions because its pages are filled with vivid memories of the pioneering Catholics who built a new society amid debris and darkness. Such memories will strengthen our resolve through pride of fellowship, pressure of high expectations, and support through invocation.

To purchase Heroism and Genius, go to


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