Res Gestae

Readers of this site are by and large an unusually learned lot. But just in case your Latin is a little rusty, the title of this morning’s column means (literally) “things done.” And one of the things that is now done – today exactly as it turns out – is the first year of publication for The Catholic Thing.

There are several ways to mark such milestones.

The older Roman way, which is to say, the pagan way is to brag. The Res Gestae Divi Augusti is a collection of boasts published by the Emperor Augustus late in his life that, in retrospect, look like pretty small beer for a man who ruled the mighty Roman Empire (e.g., “No. 23. I gave the people a spectacle of a naval battle, in the place across the Tiber where the grove of the Caesars is now, with the ground excavated in length 1,800 feet, in width 1,200, in which thirty beaked ships, biremes or triremes, but many smaller, fought among themselves; in these ships about 3,000 men fought in addition to the rowers.”) I sometimes wonder whether Our Lord Himself might have come upon a copy of this sad assertion of self-importance on one of the monuments erected by the Romans in Palestine. It’s a melancholy warning about taking your achievements, as pagans are wont to do, too seriously.

The newer Roman way, which is to say, the Catholic way of marking such anniversaries, is to give thanks. To some of you, that may sound merely sentimental, but to the writers and editors who had to make sure that a reasonably lucid column appeared on every one of the 260 weekday mornings since last June 2, it represents the sheerest realism. There are any number of reasons – human, diabolic, financial, technical – why a new publication can stumble. And on more than a few days in the past year, the only plausible reason why that has not happened seems to have been the direct intervention of the Divine Mercy.

In saying this, I do not mean to belittle in the least the selfless and sometimes heroic commitment of our regular writers or my fellow editors. If I have one complaint about the comments I sometimes receive from readers, it’s that they think that busy people who are seasoned writers turn out this high level commentary without much thought or effort. But here’s the truth. Hadley Arkes went out of his way to write that wonderful piece last week about enduring untruths while correcting 250 final exams at Amherst. Austin Ruse informed us about the billionaire population controllers while recovering from jet lag after a trip to Brussels during which he was combating European Union efforts to promote abortion worldwide. I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s another. A dear friend, the editor of a journal on religion and the arts, visited on Memorial Day last week. During the course of a pleasant afternoon watching the national parade, he mentioned in passing that he didn’t understand the controversy about Obama at Notre Dame. I’ve known this man for years. He’s solidly Catholic, deeply intelligent, and dismissive of cafeteria Catholics. Yet no one ever really explained to him what was at stake.

We didn’t have a chance to pursue the subject, but it made me realize that our mission at The Catholic Thing is still in its infancy. There’s a hopeful element about people like this. Yes, they don’t immediately grasp our concerns, but not because they are indifferent or, still worse, because they are complicit in denaturing the faith. The secular analysts have not yet recognized this segment of Catholics, which is perhaps why they were surprised to find recently that majority of Americans – Catholics and others – describe themselves as pro-life. But human beings are complex, and spending some time with this friend reminded me that we still have much to do to engage even those who are largely sympathetic with our goals.

That said, people have been paying us serious attention. By clicking on the icon in the column to the right, you will find that The Catholic Thing has just been nominated in two categories for the 2009 Catholic New Media Awards: Best Overall Catholic Website and Best Group Blog. Since the results are determined by popular vote – and we still have a medium-sized though growing and passionate audience – I do not expect that we will win in either category. But the first nomination, I would argue, is only just, since the work of our writers over this first year is beyond all question without equal anywhere.

The second nomination – as I must sometimes remind even our friends – is not really accurate and in fact is misleading. We are not and have never tried to be a blog, whatever that ungainly term means, let alone a Group Blog. Since June 2, 2008, we have always said that our only goal is to provide a daily column, an old media form, via the Internet every morning to people who appreciate intelligent Catholic commentary – namely to you, our regular readers.

There seems to be no such category among the New Media awards. Our concern here, however, is and will remain not the new or the old, but the Catholic, the timeless, the universal, the true. Over the past year, we have tried in our modest way to keep alive a sense of the real things that are beyond us all. Not our own paltry ideas but the res gestae of God, to which we all, writers and readers alike, owe all that we are and do, and to which we all have a perpetual obligation to remain faithful.

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.