Recent comments by Brad Miner, David Warren, Austin Ruse, and Joseph Wood on their conversions set me to thinking. Converts often write very insightful understandings of Catholicism. Converts usually come to the faith after some dramatic search that, in retrospect, seems, and probably is, providential. They give reasons, or at least, explanations, of what drew them to and keep them in the faith.
But Schall is a “born Catholic.” No, that is inaccurate. Schall is born of parents who were Catholic. Through baptism, we all “become” Catholic. We are not exactly “natural” sons of God, but “adopted” sons, as Paul teaches. The only “born” Catholic was Christ. Nietzsche’s “the last Christian died on the Cross” was, paradoxically, correct in that sense. By nature, the first Christian was the last Christian. Nietzsche wanted everyone to be Christ, not what he is, to wit, a finite person, a sinner redeemed by Christ.
Belloc, in the Path to Rome, said that it is a good thing never to have to return to the faith. That remark points to those who are Catholic, but who sin or otherwise lapse in their belief. They leave for a time but return. Still others never reject the Church. We recognize that it is a Church of sinners. Just because one is a sinner, he is not therefore an unbeliever.
Often, it is just the opposite. Because I sin, therefore, I believe. What other alternative is there? Where else can I find even a claim for forgiveness? People, like Nietzsche, scandalized to discover within the Church practicing sinners, do not get it. The main point of Christ’s coming in the way He did was to redeem us in our sins, if we would.
Because we sin, it does not automatically follow that we cease to believe. Chesterton, a practically sinless man if there ever was one, on being asked why he became a Catholic, answered frankly: “To get rid of my sins.” And in The Everlasting Man, we read: “The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”
Still, “born Catholics” have their reasons for not bothering to leave. The main one, I think, is intellectual. Augustine, though baptized, left the faith but came back when he had it all figured out. Aquinas never left, probably because he had it figured out in his head. Both routes are graced.
Knight, Death, and the Devil by Albrecht Dürer, 1513
The principal reason to be Catholic in the modern world is the modern world. That is, when we spell out what happens when we reject even a small element of the faith, this step begins to unravel the whole system. Once we think that no order exists in ourselves or in nature, we freely begin a logical descent. If not recognized and stopped, it will gradually overturn the human.
Born Catholics suspect these things even if they do not consciously explicate them. It does not take a genius, though it may take virtue, to see that we are busily destroying the family and with it the various human loves that develops in the human family.
We do this overturning in the name of “rights.” We begin and end with ourselves. We establish political institutions to promote our “rights,” as we define them. These civil institutions, in turn, end up by telling all of us what “rights” we can have. All this is in the name of equality and fairness. We destroy ourselves in our bodies only after we have destroyed ourselves in our minds.
The born Catholic senses that the only thing that is really and legally hated in the modern world is the Church. We might add that the only thing more dangerous is a Church that is not hated. That would mean a Church already in conformity with this world and its “rights” defining institutions. It is not that we do not try to get along peacefully.
Something more sinister is at work among us. If we look at the life issues in broad scope, it is not as if some haphazard and blind opposition has arisen. It is rather like a well-planned plot systematically to eradicate the presence of the Church is at work in our public order, among our public officials, who too often call themselves Catholics.