The Catholic Thing Print
By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Why he entitled this web site precisely The Catholic Thing, I have never asked its insightful editor, Robert Royal. The reason may be found somewhere in early TCT filings. Though I suspect Royal has a lucid explanation for his choice, sometimes it is more fun, if less accurate, to speculate.          

One possibility for the name comes from the expression: “What’s your thing?” Generally, such a question wants to know: What is someone about? What does he hold? Why is he doing the things that he does? What is he trying to sell us? Is there any explanation for his madness?

Some people just dislike Catholicism. Others think it is stupid, curious, or weird. Still others claim that it is old-hat, not modern. But when something seems odd or difficult to get a handle on, most people credit it for standing for something, even if they do not know what it is.

Of course, the Church does not try to hide what it stands for. The basics of Catholicism have been “on-line,” as it were, practically from its beginning with the Apostles. These twelve gentlemen were told to “go forth and teach all nations,” which they and their successors promptly did, however unqualified to perform this service their resumes seemed.

The point of the Church is in fact, that She is “ever ancient, ever new,” to recall a phrase of Augustine’s. If anyone can show that Catholicism is not now teaching what it taught from the beginning, and many have tried, well, we can all pack up our bags and go on our way. The intellectual history of the Church has to do with its dealings with thinkers, religions, and governments which have sought to make it into something it was not intended to be by its initial foundation in Christ.

          Part of the Collected Works of GKC, vol. III (order here)

Thus, early on, it was clear that not everyone, when he once got wind of what the Catholics were talking about, wanted to hear anything further. Drastic steps were (and still are) often taken, to prevent what Catholics maintain and recommended from being known or practiced in peace. Curious that. Others, like Paul of Tarsus, simply put his hands over his ears so he would not hear what Steven, while being stoned, was saying about who Jesus was.

Yet, from the first time I saw the name, The Catholic Thing, I associated it with Chesterton’s 1929 book, The Thing: Why I Am a Catholic. This remarkable book was written seven years after his conversion from Anglicanism, in 1922. In Chesterton’s explanation, “The Thing” was the Church. Why on earth was this “Thing” still around?

Since my very first reading of the book, I have remained amused at one of Chesterton’s reasons. Those were the days when we were more concerned with what are now called mainline Protestant churches.

Chesterton investigated the matter. He found that really none of these churches still believed in practice the theology their founders used to separate themselves from Rome. In one way or another, they accommodated themselves to the world or rejected it. This caused him to wonder why the Catholic Church did not likewise go in these directions. The obvious, yet extraordinary, answer seemed to be the papacy.

Hadley Arkes mentioned last week that we have reintroduced a child-sacrifice rite into our public life with the legalization of abortion. Chesterton wrote in 1929:

But for Catholics it is a fundamental dogma of the Faith that all human beings, without any exception whatever, were specially made, were shaped and pointed like shining arrows for the end of hitting the mark of Beatitude. It is true that the shafts are feathered with free will, with therefore the shadow of all the tragic possibilities of free will; and that the Church (having always for ages known that darker side of truth, which the new skeptics have just discovered) does also draw attention to that potential tragedy. But that does not make any difference to the gloriousness of the potential glory. In one sense it is even a part of it, since the freedom is itself a glory.

This is what the Catholic Thing is about.

G.K. Chesterton at work

I am perversely fond of listening to earnest scholars explaining to me “the way it is”: “Men are no exceptions. They have no free will. What they do makes no ultimate difference. They have no final personal end for whose achievement they are responsible. They have no tragedies. Sin is an illusion.”

Advocates of such dull views are already found in the Old and New Testaments, in Augustine and Aquinas, in Plato and Aristotle. All such are formulae for despair, as any sensible skeptic will acknowledge.

Look, the Catholic Thing is about this glory, this freedom, this truth, this dignity with which we are endowed, given as a gift, not something we concoct by ourselves. 

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent book is The Mind That Is Catholic.

The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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