This is an interview with Christopher Zehnder, general editor of the Catholic Textbook Project, conducted by himself. The project publishes a history textbook series for middle and high school. Diocesan and independent Catholic schools, nationally and internationally, use these books, as do home schooling families. For more information, visit the Catholic Textbook’s website.
So, you publish Catholic textbooks?
Yes – hence the name, Catholic Textbook Project. So far, we have published textbooks in history for grades 5-8 and a high school North American history text that tells the history of the United States but continues the story of Spanish America after the 18th century by providing a concurrent history of Mexico. Our books are the first Catholic history textbooks in over 40 years. We are the Catholic alternative to secular textbooks.
Do you have plans for more volumes?
Yes. We want to fill out the history series with volumes for grades 1-4 and the remainder of high school. Then we want to move into other subjects, beginning with natural science.
Doesn’t Catholic history mean biased history?
If you mean “biased” in a pejorative sense, why should it? Everyone sees the world from a point of view. Secular historians see it from basically an agnostic and anti-supernatural point of view. A Catholic historian begins with the creed and the Church; but he does not neglect the demands the discipline of history lays on him. He gathers evidence and assesses it just like any good historian.
Then what makes Catholic history different?
It begins with some “inside information” – the revelation of God to the Church; and this provides “leads” to historical information. An example. Through the Church I have received the Gospels as witnesses to the life of Christ. As a Catholic, I believe these accounts; but as an historian, they provide me leads for investigation that follows the standards of the discipline of history. Is it historically believable that Christ did what the Gospels say he did? I test this question by historical criteria. Another example. As a Catholic, I accept the divine origins of the Church, which leads me to think that the Church has had a pivotal role in history. Can I demonstrate this from the perspective of the discipline of history? We think the answer to both inquiries is, yes.
And do all historians agree with your judgment?
Of course not. We think the Catholic Church has played a central role in history and, moreover, has been a blessing to the world – and that this is defensible as history. At the same time, we acknowledge that Catholics – popes, bishops, religious, laymen – have done stupid and bad things, and we do not hide it. Nor do we obscure the praiseworthy qualities and actions of non-Catholics, even enemies of the Church; for, as Catholics, we understand that both grace and the mystery of iniquity work in believers and unbelievers alike. This is the history we tell, and there are those who would disagree with our interpretation. But many historians would not disagree.
It sounds like you just tell Church history.
No. We tell history – the history of North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. We tend to focus on Western culture; but we tell the whole history of that culture, not just what pertains to the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, our books restore the Catholic Church to her rightful place in history.
What else makes your books unique?
First, they are beautiful to look at – their layout and their inclusion of full-color reproductions of great art works and custom maps. But what makes our books quite unique is that they tell history in the mode of story. Students don’t just learn history – they come to feel it, to taste it. Students love our books because they engage the imagination as well as the mind.
Are these books expensive to produce?
Yes, and so we welcome donations, large and small. Those who help us are lending their hand to the restoration of Catholic education – for think, Catholic schools that use what are often anti-Catholic books are sending mixed messages to students: a secular, often explicitly anti-Catholic, message and a Catholic one. We are a 501(c)3 company, so all donations are tax deductible. Donations may be made online at http://cstp.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage/products/donation, or by mail: Catholic Textbook Project, P.O. 4638 Ventura, CA 93007-0638.
Do you have a blog or Facebook page?
We have both, and on both students and adults will find articles of interest – including our weekly This Day in History. Please like us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/catholictextbooks) and visit our blog, http://catholictextbooks.blogspot.com/.