What the new convert sees in the Catholic Church

It is her Divinity, then, that he sees, and rightly. But, wrongly, he draws certain one-sided conclusions. If she is so perfect, he argues (at least subconsciously), she can be nothing else than perfect; if she is so Divine she can be in no sense human. Her pontiffs must all be saints, her priests shining lights, her people stars in her firmament. If she is Divine, her policy must be unerring, her acts all gracious, her lightest movements inspired. There must be no brutality anywhere, no self-seeking, no ambition, no instability. How should there be, since she is Divine?

Such are his first instincts. And then, little by little, his disillusionment begins.

For, as he studies her record more deeply, he begins to encounter evidences of her Humanity. He reads history, and he discovers here and there a pontiff who but little in his moral character resembles Him Whose Vicar he is. He meets an apostate priest; he hears of some savagery committed in Christ’s name; he talks with a convert who has returned complacently to the City of Confusion; there is gleefully related to him the history of a family who has kept the faith all through the period of persecution and lost it in the era of toleration. And he is shaken and dismayed. “How can these be in a Society that is Divine? I had trusted that it had been She who should have redeemed Israel; and now–!”

Another man approaches the record of Catholicism from the opposite direction. To him she is a human society and nothing more; and he finds, indeed, a thousand corroborations of his theory. He views her amazing success in the first ages of Christianity – the rapid propagation of her tenets and the growth of her influence – and sees behind these things nothing more than the fortunate circumstance of the existence of the Roman Empire. Or he notices the sudden and rapid rise of the power of the Roman pontiff and explains this by the happy chance that moved the centre of empire to the east and left in Rome an old prestige and an empty throne. He sees how the Church has profited by the divisions in Europe; how she has inherited the old Latin genius for law and order; and he finds in these things an explanation of her unity and of her claim to rule princes and kings. She is to him just human, and no more. There is not, at first sight, a phenomenon of her life for which he cannot find a human explanation. She is interesting, as a result of innumerable complicated forces; she is venerable, as the oldest coherent society in Europe; she has the advantage of Italian diplomacy; she has been shrewd, unweary, and persevering. But she is no more.

And then, as he goes deeper, he begins to encounter phenomena which do not fall so easily under his compact little theories. If she is merely human, why do not the laws of all other human societies appear to affect her too? Why is it that she alone shows no incline towards dissolution

and decay? Why has not she too split up into the component parts of which she is welded? How is it that she has preserved a unity of which all earthly unities are but shadows? Or he meets with the phenomena of her sanctity and begins to perceive that the difference between the character she produces in her saints and the character of the noblest of those who do not submit to her is one of kind and not merely of degree. If she is merely mediaeval, how is it that she commands such allegiance as that which is paid to her in modern America? If she is merely European, how is it that she alone can deal with the Oriental on his own terms? If she is merely the result of temporal circumstances, how is it that her spiritual influence shows no sign of waning when the forces that helped to build her are dispersed?

His theory too, then, becomes less confident. If she is Human, why is she so evidently Divine? If she is Divine, whence comes her obvious Humanity? So, years ago men asked, If Christ be God, how could He be weary by the wayside and die upon the Cross? So, men ask now, If Christ be Man, how could He cast out devils and rise from the dead?

We come back, then, to the Catholic answer. Treat the Catholic Church as Divine only and you will stumble over her scandals, her failures, and her shortcomings. Treat her as Human only and you will be silenced by her miracles, her sanctity, and her eternal resurrections. – from Paradoxes of Catholicism (1913)

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