Writing posts to this blog, usually between 8 and 20 a month, hs been perhaps my major hobby and creative outlet for almost a decade now. Recently, the need to find some gainful employment has commandeered a large amount of my time and energy; prayers would be appreciated. (And leads – anybody need an expert in corporate return measures, equipment finance deal structuring, or – my real strength – dabbling like a boss? I’m available.) I’ve been scarce around here.
But, in an attempt to manage my sanity, such as it is, I’ve decided to dedicate 3 hours a day to ‘projects,’ chief of which is the on-going Education History Research and Book Writin’ Jamboree.
My lack of scholarly planning is going to require me to reread, or at least skim, many of the books I’ve already read, as I’ve taken few notes outside the references embedded in these blog posts. Some will be fun; many are tedium embodied. To keep my sanity, I’m going to start with a good one, Walch’s Parish School, especially since about a year ago Dr. Walch kindly sent me his most recently revised edition. It’s both a pretty quick read and very well sourced, which has pointed me to so much of the earlier work in the field.
The curse of the internet: Began to research the John Ireland/Catholic Bishops controversy of 1890, and discovered Archbishop Ireland wrote a book The Church and Modern Society. Since I’m painfully aware of the inadequacy of my knowledge of the history of American Church/State relations and the attitudes of Catholics toward the rabidly anti-Catholic Protestant establishment of 19th century America, I found a free online copy of this book and downloaded it. Another +/-500 pages to read.
It never ends. I have to remind myself of the main premise, and view potential source materials through that lens: that the largely unexamined adoption by 19th century American Catholic schools of Pestalozzi’s fragmentation and control theory of teaching, as reshaped by Fichte, conceded the war without a fight, no matter how many battles were won since.
Ireland’s thoughts seem very relevant to this main thesis. He seems, based on the little I know so far and to put it positively, to be very focused on baptising as much of American secular society and conforming the Church’s practices to it as possible. The underlying idea, as expressed most amazingly by Orestes Brownson in his The American Republic, is that the Church Herself is destined, if not already realized, to be most perfectly expressed in America. Inescapably, this requires taking a dim view of how the Church has been realized in Europe, and sows the seeds of condescension and conflict.
Here’s the witch’s brew I think I’ve sniffed: you take a few intellectual leaders like Brownson and Ireland, mix with the eagerness to fit in of the typical immigrant, add a heavy dose of the psychological as well as cultural and physical damage done to the Irish by 500 years of murderous English tyranny, and you end up with a desperation to, on the one hand, accept America as the apex of civilization and (most dangerous and least Catholic) as ‘the Future,’ and, on the other, to ignore or overlook the patent anti-Catholicism of that American vision.
This deal, whereby real Americans agree to pretend Catholics are members of the club so long as they burn just a pinch of incense to their gods, results in many bad things, from Bath House Jim Coughlin running Chicago with the tacit support of the Church while his brothels sell their daughters and his protection rackets corrupt their sons, through loyalty to the Democratic Party while that party shared leadership with the Klan over most of its range, right on down to the USCCB choosing to overlook the party’s rabid support of abortion (and, fundamentally, rabid hatred of Catholicism) in exchange for a few programs and policies that, if you squint just right, can be seen as tools of social justice instead of the naked power grabs they most clearly are.
Floating in this morass is the ready acceptance, back in the 2nd half of the 19th century, of the compulsory age-segregated graded classroom model developed and adopted specifically to destroy family and Church. That this system has since fallen under the control of Marxists and their useful idiots only makes a terrible, evil situation worse.
There are certainly a number of good scholars who have done the general work on the history of education in America and of Catholic education specifically. I can’t hope, in the decade or two of life that may be left to me, to match their lifetimes of work, but I can, I hope, lay out and document this one central thing, and, much more important, provide some guidance for Catholic educational thinking – guidance away from a model meant to turn us and our children into mindless anti-Catholics with no home other than the State.
Also, I’m working on an bibliography of my education resources, to be posted as a permanent page here. It’s a lot of tedious work, but I need to get it done.
In the comments a couple posts back, regular commenter Richard A said I should finish the nonfiction books I’ve sort of started. This is fair. So, to recap what I hope to accomplish: for many years now, I’ve wanted to address my despair over Catholic education in this country, and suggest (too mild a term) steps needed to free ourselves from this unholy thralldom to education theories and practices that are not only not Catholic, but were designed specifically to destroy the influence of Church and family on the formation of children.
In my mind, this would take the form of 2 books, which would then form the backbone of efforts to get invited to conferences, get interviewed, and whatever other forms of publicity needed to get these ideas out there.
Book 1: the popular plea. This would be a shorter, less academic book intended to be read by anybody interested in Catholic education. It would include more stories and examples, less history and quotations. It still needs to undermine the foundations of the wretched graded classroom model, and sow the seeds of a truly Catholic education model, where child, Church and family work together to put children on the road to their own unique God-given sanctity. A Catholic education should equip every child to defend the Truth and rebuild the culture (an eternal task given to every generation). It might, for example, tell the story of the early Spanish schools in Texas, as an example of how others have tried to address these issues and of a radically different model, but would not include too much detail on the evolution and promulgation of that particular model.
The goal of Book 1: to help people realize that, for Catholics, rejecting the age-graded, teacher-dominated, regurgitation model is the essential 1st step toward any Catholic education worthy of the name. I’d then present (generally much milder) criticisms of other models, and suggest alternatives, and end with a description of what I’ll call the Oratory-style Catholic school I’d like to see.
Book 2: the bomb. This book would attempt to simply detonate all the assumptions behind modern schooling, from a Catholic perspective. I’d go through each of the founding lights of modern education, from the Spartans through the ephebia, the ‘schools’ of Athens and Alexandria, on to the monasteries, the universities, Luther’s suggestion the the state seize the monasteries and turn them into compulsory schools, to Pestalozzi, Fichte, the various English schools, Dickens’ Hard Times, then on through Mann, Barnard, Cubberley, and Harris, etc.. Then on through the Catholic parish school movements, and Burns and the people at Catholic U, and Bishop Ireland and the runs-ins caused by his endorsement of public schools, the encyclicals against Modernism, discussion of Modernism and the heresy of American Catholicism (versus a Catholicism that happens to be in America), and the near-desperate desire of immigrants to be seen as good Americans and the dolorous effects this desire produced, and the persecuted Germans fleeing to America and bringing their Prussian model school system with them.
Then outline the ongoing efforts to make Catholic schools illegal, or, failing that, to put them effectively at the mercy of the state (the first failed, so far, but the second is where we are today: states will start mandating transgender sex ed, and the legal framework is in place to force Catholic schools to implement it).
Somewhere in there would be a discussion of ‘scientific’ education practices, and how, in fact, there is no scientific support for the current model, and plenty of science that argues against it. (Of course, one has to state goals first – science as science doesn’t have any goals.)
The goal of this book would simply be to provide the background detail needed to buttress the arguments in the first book.
I’ve drafted a few chapters here and there. Some of the posts on this blog are approximately rough drafts of some. But I need to get much more organized.
I need to do some outlining somewhere. Why not here? Rough draft:
Book 1: Let the Little Children Come: Towards More Catholic Schoolings
Intro: “Let the little children come to Me”
Christ is attractive: ‘let,’ not ‘make,’ the little children come.
The goal of Catholic education is not different from the goal of Catholic life: Everything flows from and is directed toward the Eucharist.
We educate our children to be more fully members of the Body of Christ;
Catholic education is not job training. Being ‘productive members of society’ is not primary – our God-given value is much more fundamental than our ability to produce, and does not depend on it.
Thus, a Catholic school and the education it provides will allow children to be welcomed by Jesus, be directed toward and flow from the Eucharist, and will see in each child as a unique child of God apart from and prior to anything they can do.
Catholic education will necessarily reject anything that interferes with any of the above.
Chapter 1: The State of Affairs
Where our current system comes from
What our current system is designed to do, in the words of the people who built it.
Our parish schools built in response to the blatant and relentless anti-Catholicism of the public schools
How the Church won battles and lost the war.
Chapter 2: Educational traditions other than the age-segregated graded classroom (touching very lightly)
The Greek ‘schools’ – Plato, Aristotle, the schools of Alexandria
The Great Universities – the Questions method, the trivium and quadrivium.
Chapter 3: Experimentation & Bad Ideas
Sparta & the Republic
Chapter 4: The Modernist Foundation
Von Humboldt & the Prussian Models
Horace Mann & the American Dilettante Invasion of Prussia
Back Rooms and the Establishment of State Education Departments
The Killing of the One Room Schools
The Frankfurt School & Critical Theory
Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed
The Mask has been dropped – this whole system must be rejected
Chapter 5: Catholic Educational Traditions
St. Jerome’s advice to a woman asking how best to educate her daughter
Waves of Sisters & the Parish School
Observation: education of the orphaned and abandoned child is different than education a child as part of a family: the former must provide the structure present in the latter before education can take place.
Dr. William Briggs, an honest-to-goodness climate scientist & Catholic, is trying to counter the nonsense of the Magisterium taking positions on ‘climate change’. He has drafted a Realist Catholic Climate Declaration and is looking for feedback. I never ask people to spread things around, but please spread this far and wide. Here’s Draft 2:
The Magisterium of the Catholic Church has no, and should not have, an official position on the earth’s optimal atmospheric mean temperature, nor on the best rate of change of this temperature. Neither optimum is known to anybody.
The earth’s climate has always changed, is changing now, and will never cease changing. There is no earthly force capable of stopping climate change.
Mankind influences the atmosphere, as does every creature and thing. The extent to which man is responsible for climate change is not known, only surmised.
Extreme caution, even skepticism, is warranted in any statement about global warming given the decades of failed and overreaching forecasts and hyperbole from official and interested sources. Beyond individual prudent stewardship, no Catholic is obligated to support any environmental measure.
There is no evidence any particular global temperature will cause fewer or more souls to descend into Hell. Pray to God and pray for your neighbor, not to the planet.
We should all support such efforts at clarity and charity. Please follow the link to check out the discussion and make suggestions. I’ve made a couple very nitpicky suggestions myself, perhaps you could do better?
The formal class part of RCIA has begun for this year. I’m the go-to guy for history & theology (how profoundly frightening this is has so far escaped our beloved DRE). All this means is that if anyone wants, or, more likely, I decide on my own that anyone needs, a more formal definition or some historical context, I’m the guy who provides it. Such as I might. This leads to me thinking about how to talk about various dogmas in a way that isn’t too hoity-toity yet gets the essential nature and purpose across.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts on Free Will. Where angels fear to tread, and all that.
While we were created in the image of God, God is still very different from us. God’s freedom is part of his eternal Being – it is not so much something He does, bit rather is a fundamental part of Who He is. Nothing outside constrains God; He freely acts in accordance with His infinite goodness and love. Every action of God is utterly free, and completely an expression of divine goodness and love.
While God is not compelled or constrained by external thing, it might be said that He just can’t contain Himself – His loving kindness boils over in His creations. All of creation is a free expression of God’s nature as a loving Father and Creator.
Creation is thus an expression of God’s life and profound joy. It is not like a clock, built once, wound up, and then left to play itself out. Rather, God loves the world into existence at every moment. In Him we live, and move, and have our being. Each of us is a unique expression of His boundless joy.
Out of this joy, God gave man and the angels freedom. This created freedom is a reflection of God’s nature, perhaps the key aspect of our being made in His image. It is a gift from God, loved into being by God, and as an aspect of God, as sacred as God Himself. As an essential aspect of this gift, God will not overrule us.
But to be free in our own little way, our acts must participate in God’s freedom. God’s freedom is always expressed through overflowing love and goodness. Thus, we can only be free when we, too, act in harmony with that divine love and goodness. Acting against God is choosing slavery; once enslaved, we have lost our freedom. Yet God, in His mercy, will always, as long as we live in this changeable world, hold out to us the opportunity to repent, to turn from the slavery of our sins back to the freedom of His will.
An example: A man on the edge of a giant cliff is free to step off the cliff. If he does so, he has lost all freedom: he is subject to the laws of physics, and will fall to his death, shattered on the rocks below. God did not give the man freedom so that he could jump off a cliff. Rather, He gave us freedom so that we, too, could share in His joy as joyful, loving creators in our own little way. Yet that freedom means that we just might choose to step off the cliff.
The moral law, another creation of God, is, in effect, a warning: don’t step off the cliff! As long as we work to avoid sin and repent of the sins we have committed, we have the freedom to act in accordance with God’s loving Will. We stay away from the cliff. Reject the law of God, and we at best court disaster. Without God’s loving guidance as expressed in His law, we will, sooner or later, fall off the cliff of our own free will!
That we are free is a gift and a miracle. The saints, who have surrendered their wills to God’s Will, who have willingly died to themselves, paradoxically enjoy complete freedom. It is when we humbly recognize that we don’t really know what’s good for us and don’t always want what’s best for us that God can show us the Way to complete, joyful freedom.
So, do you think this would be helpful to someone investigating the Catholic Faith?
Got some good feedback On Followers & Humility. Commenter Billy Jack raised some good points, and I of course have some further thoughts. So here we go:
One of the interesting wrinkles here is that the idea that it is inherently oppressive for a marriage to be chosen by fathers (or anyone else) rather than the spouses themselves comes not from “Modernity” or “Modern People” but from the Church. Trent, for example, was pretty clear on this. And I think Luther disagreed.
While it is true that the Church, in the face of Frankish and Germanic tribes that tended to treat women as disposable and in any event not fully human (1), taught that, for a marriage to be sacramental, both parties had to freely submit to it, that just gives the woman, in theory, veto power. It does not mean she was expected to go find a husband on her own. It’s a huge difference, it seems to me, to say that one cannot be forced to marry against one’s will and saying that every daughter was now a free agent who needed to find her own mate. What the Church’s teachings put a stop to, or at least slowed down a bit, was the bartering off of women. So, as I described in the last post, a Christian father, who loved his children and wife and so would not want to run roughshod over their desires, was assumed to have a heavy hand in the selection of mates for his children, for their own good. The shadow of this practice persists in the fading tradition of a suitor asking his beloved’s father for her hand.
Nothing here is meant to suggest that all arranged marriages were smooth and the process was never abused, just that the idea that a good father would arrange for the marriages of his children is not an outrageous idea. I know a couple of Indians here whose marriages were arranged, and I asked them, and they weren’t bitter about it. They felt more like Tevye and Golda in Fiddler on the Roof who grew to love each other even though they hadn’t even met before they were married.
Women gained immensely from the Church’s many-century-long efforts to protect them from being viewed as less than human and bargaining chips to be sold for political gain or to the highest bidder. It’s not for noting that all those 12th & 13th century cathedrals were named after Our Lady. Nothing in this effort contradicted or disputed the practice of fathers, in conjunction with their family and other fathers and families, from arranging the marriages of their children.
So it’s funny for progressives who are dislike the Church to pride themselves on this view as an accomplishment of secular progressives, but it’s also funny for Catholic bloggers to be down on the idea.
Up until current times, it would have been scandalous for a woman in a Catholic country to arrange her own marriage in defiance of her father. Romeo & Juliet is a cautionary tale against just such presumption. The nurse and the friar are the villains of the story, overstepping their rightful duties. Until modern times, readers of the play all understood this.
That Progressives and American Catholics (in so far as those two categories are different) don’t understand this is not surprising.
The case with religion vis-a-vis tribe or family is not identical, but it’s similar. Sure, we can point to villages and nations converting together. But while conquered pagan cities typically adopted the conquerors’ gods, conquered Christians generally didn’t, or at least knew they shouldn’t. And sometimes the leaders converted first but in other cases individuals converted first, and faced persecution and ostracism. The same goes on the family level. On the Christian view, religion is not something that a father or king has complete authority to choose on behalf of children and subjects. As Jesus said: within a family, it will be three against two, father against son, etc.
Certainly, I over-generalized quite a bit. You are correct that conquered or proselytized people responded in a variety of ways, and that Christians seem to have generally put up a better fight than most against forced conversions. My point was that, for much of mankind over much of history, it would not seem at all outlandish or unusual for a family or tribal leader to make a decision of what religion he and his would follow, and that the members of the household, village, tribe or even nation, would see that as appropriate and go along with it. That it didn’t always happen that way is not the point, really, it’s rather to highlight how we moderns tend to automatically recoil at the very thought, when, in fact, our ancestors at least for a good part didn’t.
The more general point I was trying to make: we all very much tend to overinvest in our own autonomy. We aren’t really nearly as ‘free’ as we thing we are, in the ways we think we are. And further, that this dependence on the wisdom and decisions of others is not necessarily a bad thing, especially in a family or tribe or village in which we have well understood mutual duties, rights and privileges.
More generally, sure, some of things that Catholics inveigh against about our time–and often rightfully so!–are just a return to things that were common before Christianity. Killing unwanted children, for example. But most of the unique characteristics of modernity, good or bad, would be unimaginable without the influence of Christianity, and I tend to think that much of the radical individualism that we see today falls into the category. A huge number of saints flat-out disobeyed their parents to follow their call. Did the ancient Chinese venerate that sort of thing? The Iroquois? Do any of the Bantu peoples have pantheons of people who told their parents to get lost? Well, I do think that Siddhartha Gautama did something like that, now that I think of it.
Both/and is the key Catholic teaching that is being lost. The radical part of radical individualism is placing the individual and his naked will first. The Church’s view is rather that we are each individually precious children of God AND members of the Body of Christ, and that these roles are not in conflict but rather arise one from the other. To paraphrase Paul from 1 Corinthians 12, we don’t get to choose if we are a hand or an eye or a foot. We are given those roles, and find our happiness and fulfillment in them, and should not envy any other roles. The whole point of that passage is that we do not get to be whatever we chose to be, but find ourselves when we surrender to the role we have been given.
So, I would disagree with the notion that radical individualism is a byproduct of Christianity, except in the sense in which it is a perversion of Christianity.
Right, I think the Buddha rejected his parents, I don’t know of any other such traditions.
The traditional Catholic stories in which a child defies his or her father tend to fall into 2 classes: the child having heard a call from God to a religious life, or cautionary tales. I can’t remember a single traditional story in which the defiant child is a hero, except those where that child follows a religious calling, obeying his Father over his father.
St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, a bunch of the early virgin martyrs and a scad of others – these folks defied their fathers in order to follow Christ. For a traditionally catechised Catholic, these stories are all familiar. The point of these stories is not that one should not obey one’s father, but rather that the authority of our fathers comes from the Father, of which they are only a vague, tiny shadow. It is the both/and teaching: we are virtuous to obey our fathers on earth AND our Father in Heaven, right up until that obedience conflicts – then, and only humbly and cautiously, we may defy our fathers to obey the Father.
I think part of our individualism comes from economic conditions, too, but that’s another story.
Yes, it is. I’d love to hear it. Once family, village and church are gone, what’s left but the individual? Not a happy situation, however.
See, for example, ‘Merovingian Divorce’ as described in A History of Private Life, v. I, where the Church’s teaching against divorce was taken by the Franks as mandating the murder of any undesired wife.
Further thoughts on this post, wherein the observation of Henry VIII (as imagined by Robert Bolt in A Man for All Seasons) that “…there’s a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves” is discussed.
We modern Americans think any decision made by anyone else on our behalf is at least potentially oppressive, and, more important, has no real hold over us. In its terminal form, even the ‘decisions’ of nature are felt to be subject to review. Our own will, on the other hand, is sacred. It is meaningless to consider the possibility that we might will something wrong – wrong how? According to whom?
Yet we think feel this is true while surrounded by a mass that follows this week’s herd consensus much more rigorously and with more anxiety than any slave ever worked under the lash. The slave, at least, might dream of freedom, or at least getting a break. Not so the modern American, not so! The very idea that they might differ from the herd and thus be cast into the outer darkness with The Bad People causes such distress we see weeping; anxiety leads them to not even notice how the views they are required to parrot get changed over time, without so much as an acknowledgement that they were ever different. Examples abound. We have always been at war with Eastasia.
What’s been slowly dawning on me is this: that the key getting through the Crazy Years is not to spend time arguing, trying to show the error of their ways to that great mass of people who will follow anything that moves (1), but instead coming to grips with herd behavior being the human default position – and not, in and of itself, a bad thing!
That this is true from an evolutionary perspective is obvious: we survive and breed only as members of a tribe. Taking the evidence for the argument (standard practice in evolutionary biology) we conclude that this state of affairs – tribal membership is how we live to breed, even today, for the most part, and always in history up to the last couple centuries – proves tribal behaviors have been selected for and, therefore, are hard-wired into the human brain. Be that as it may, looking at it from a more philosophically profound perspective, Aristotle’s statement that man is a political animal, and that human happiness is therefore found in what might be called our civic relationships, leads to the same conclusion: we, the products of endless generations of successful breeders, really, really want to be part of the team. We often refer to how those on the Left act like infants – they do, but the spin here is that that’s not entirely a bad thing in and of itself. Infants typically only run into problems when the adults around them have failed.
Revisiting a couple points from the previous post: Heads of households have historically had great sway over the lives of the people in the households. We moderns have no way to imagine how that might work in practice other than imagining the (usually) patriarch as Oppressy McOpressorface. Dad got to pick your spouse and pretty much otherwise decide your future for you – that has to be oppression, right? He negotiated with other families to find you a spouse! Where’s the love?
Answer: everywhere. Dad wanted his children to survive, as a condition to them being happy, since happiness in this life is pretty much over once you’re dead. Thus, he eliminated from consideration potential spouses who could not care for you or who would require too much care on your part: for his daughters, he crossed off the impoverished sons of poor or no family; for his sons, daughters who couldn’t come up with an appropriate dowery, since they (and their kids!) would immediately become his responsibility and a drain on his resources. He did all this, of course, to honor his ancestors and to ensure his line would continue. But none of those considerations contradict his main motive: he loved his children. Having a place in a family and a society of families is, he knew, the chief way we have any joy and freedom in this life. It’s why the heads of monasteries and convents were called abbot – daddy – and mother. The only way for monks and nuns to be happy was in a family, even if it were only a vague shadow of the family in which we are children of God.
Today, getting fed, clothed and housed is such a low bar that we can hardly imagine it being much of a concern; lack of food, clothing and a bed to call your own – and a cell phone, HD TV, and high speed internet – is a sure sign something is Very Wrong (and the eternal infants want the great daddy proxy The State to fix it NOW). But back in Jean Valjean’s day – and Dante’s, and Jane Austen’s and Aristotle’s and Gregory the Great’s – making as sure as you could that your baby of marrying age was going to be taken care of was Job 1. No husbands who wouldn’t or couldn’t take care of your daughters; no wives who might bleed your sons dry. Those crusty old patriarchs wanted spouses for their kids who would be there when needed, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer, in good times and bad. This mundane, feet on the ground care is the basis of love, attested to by no less an authority than Christ, who threatens to throw those who do not provide this level of care to their spiritual brothers and sisters (let alone their own children!) into the outer darkness. Feelz don’t necessarily enter into it.
The underlying assumption here, if we need to call it that, is that Daddy, having successfully married and reproduced and raised up his children to marrying age, is more wise and experienced in how all that works than his 16 year old daughter or 20 year old son. He correctly believes that he will do a better job finding and choosing a mate for his children than they are likely to do on their own. At any rate, it is his duty to do so. He would of course take his wife’s views into consideration, and even his daughter’s or son’s. Again, he does this because he loves them, and wants them to be happy.
There’s not much historical evidence that children on the whole objected much to this arrangement. Why should they? The results – not just the spouse, but the family and communal nature of the marriage, seen as uniting the destiny of two families, who thus have a huge interest in the marriage’s success – compare very favorably to today’s outcomes.
But that’s not the main point here. I here want to point out how much everyone in this picture is a follower. Not only do the children and wife and anybody else in the household follow the lead of the patriarch, the patriarch himself follows the lead of his father and the men in his life when he leads: even the leaders are essentially followers. Hope and Change are the last thing anyone involved wants: everybody want things to work out according to plan – and it’s an ancient plan.
It gets worse. History and Scripture record many incidents of entire families, tribes and nations converting as the result of their leaders converting. Sometimes, as in the case of the early Spanish missionaries in the New World, villages elders would meet them, and then send them off if they didn’t want their religion, only to later (after the Guadalupana) decide that, yes, the village would convert. There’s no reason to think the other villagers objected – that’s just the way it was done, they are the elders for a reason, they make the call. We read in Acts 16 and 1 Corinthians 1 of entire households being baptized upon the conversion of the leader. Or entire nations, conquered in war, converting en mass because their new leaders said so. Once heard a story about a Viking priest who went to preach in a remote village, and was challenged by the local chieftain. They fought to the death, the priest won, and the village converted.
We humans are followers. That’s why Christ reserved the worst opprobrium for leaders who lead others astray. This would hardly warrant a whole millstone-tied-around-the-neck, cast-into-the-sea level of hellfire and brimstone unless almost all the people, almost all the time, are followers.
In this sense, what is called Original Sin might be called the Curse of the Followers. Once a bad path has been chosen, we followers really can’t do all that much about it on our own. What we need is a new Leader, a Savior, even, to follow down a better path. But once we find Him, we go all in on the following, we become as little children, as sheep who know their Shepherd.
The point here is that not following is not an option. We will follow, the only question is whom or what? Following the right leader is a great good, just as following the wrong leaders is all too literally the road to perdition.
In his beautiful Prayer after Communion, St. Thomas prays: “May it perfect me in charity and patience; in humility and obedience; and in all other virtues.” I am struck by the inclusion of ‘obedience’ in with charity, humility, and patience. Those last three virtues are big among Christians of all denominations; I don’t think anyone but a Catholic would understand obedience as used here, either in the sense Thomas means it or why he would name it as a major grace of the Eucharist. He means it in the sense another St. Thomas – St. Thomas More – lived it. (1)
St. Thomas More died, in his own words, “the King’s good servant, and God’s first.” He, following Aquinas, saw obedience to legitimate authority as a positive virtue, a full realization of humility, patience, and love. Obedience isn’t a grim duty, to be performed under duress or threat, but rather an opportunity to be eagerly embraced to live out charity and humility.
Of course, the virtue of obedience requires prudence and the knowledge of exactly how far the proper authority of a superior goes. More struggled mightily to find a way to obey his king, and only when this proved impossible did he try to retire from public life and keep his mouth shut. He could not consent, yet to the end he tried to honor Henry and do nothing to contradict him. He expressed his love and affection for his king right up to the moment that king had his head chopped off.
Both Aquinas and More thought obedience a virtue to be actively practiced. It was a positive good to promptly obey proper authority, a step on the way to greater holiness. Put another way, these saints strongly supported active, vigorous following.
Put the other way around, thinking you have what it takes to blaze your own trail is hubris bordering on lunacy. You? Me? We don’t know nothin’! The modern phenomenon is the most slavish followers professing how independent they are, different just like everybody else. Everything from getting tats to creating your own brand new gender is imagined by the victim as declarations of unique trail blazing and laudable bravery, when a look around would show everybody doing exactly the same thing. Many seem to believe unironically that only by slavish conformity can one be unique.
The paradox: we who would restore Christendom or even just Western Civilization need to become great leaders by becoming the most humble followers on earth.
Credit must go to my younger daughter, soon off to South Sudan for a year, for much of this. She wrote a very good graduation thesis exploring what the St. Thomas’s – Aquinas and More – meant by obedience.
Social media (the tiny corner I frequent, at any rate: Twitter & some blogs) has been discussing a stupid poll (1) showing most Catholics don’t believe in the the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Well. Not to put too fine a point on it, most Catholics couldn’t pick a monstrance out of a lineup of migratory waterfowl, so I’m not real surprised here. Subtle teachings like ‘show up for Sunday Mass’ and ‘no sex outside of marriage’ seem to truly baffle your average Catholic, in my experience. Don’t let your view of the knowledge level of the faithful get skewed by hanging out with the people who actually attend Mass with you; most of the people saying they’re Catholic in this poll probably couldn’t name three dogmas of the Church to save their lives. If they even know what a dogma is. (2)
Since everybody’s got their opinion on the cause and solution to this problem, I will not offer mine so much as simply quickly review how such a stupendous and stupefying claim was communicated to the faithful over the years. Spoiler: the Church used to be wise enough not to confront the searcher or believer with a mere Wall of Words. The meaning of the word transubstantiation is not difficult to grasp, but the Reality being described by the word is truly ineffable. It would be wise to appeal to more than just the verbal intellect when trying to communicate something as profound ad the Real Presence. Consider:
This is the view you get when you walk in the main doors of Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. The art and architecture conspire to create beauty, mystery and focus. Nobody needs catechesis to understand something important is happening here, and where it is happening.
Walking down the center aisle, you get to the high altar:
There’s that Jesus fellow, front and center. Everything works together to tell you something important is here, something beautiful and mysterious.
The church in which the Blessed Sacrament is to be confected, consumed and reserved is the building in most traditional Catholic towns; in the larger towns and cities, there may be many churches, but generally, there is a main church – and no one can miss it. And in each, the art and architecture work together to draw attention to the main altar, which is what the building is built around, as it were.
And on and on. Churches were constructed, from the very earliest days, to not just hold a congregation, but to give glory to God – and to help the people understand, through beauty, that something of infinite value was here. Nor were beautiful churches limited to major cities. Here is a church from a village in Southern Poland:
If you’ve traveled to the older cities in the US much, you may have seen beautiful churches, often built by poor immigrants, all over the place. Up until maybe the 1950s, local Catholics building beautiful churches were the rule.
But this is just the start. A high mass sung in a great church is the greatest single work of art mankind has ever achieved.
Music, incense, pageantry, ritual, and the resulting solemnity all work with the building and artwork to convey one thing: this, here, is infinitely important. That’s how the Church for centuries treated the Real Presence; that’s how people came to know it and believe it. The teachings will always ring fantastical and hollow if the Church itself does not act as if it is true.
Now, if we just get the extraordinary ministers to approach the tabernacle with more reverence than if they were fetching a cup of sugar from a kitchen cabinet, that would be a start.
Pretty much all polls are stupid; Pew polls doubly so, with their air of objectivity and Science! I imagine the Pew pollsters, if confronted with their obvious biases, would either give you a deer in the headlights stare, or, if really feeling it, a Snidely Whiplash mustache twirl and cackle. Or not. Maybe I should rephrase this: anyone who takes such polls as these at face value is stupid.
As mentioned here, I’ve spent a good bit of time with the products of our local ‘Catholic’ prep schools – and, yea, well, um, not so much Catholic. OTOH, hanging out with the homeschooled Catholic crowd gives me a little hope. Leven, and all.