What Is Catholic Opinion?
THE discussion stirred by the Atlantic’s series upon ‘The Catholic Church and the Modern Mind’ has roused a correspondence wide as the nation and of deep interest. Letters of moment have come to us in such numbers that it is physically impossible to do them even scanty justice by quotation in the magazine. In making our selection we have in general passed over those communications from earnest Catholics which insist that no priest in good standing could have written the articles. With absolute proof in our possession, and having talked face to face with the author, we cannot deny the evidence of our own senses. Likewise we have naturally omitted the extravagant statements and intemperate opinions which mark the fringe of all controversy, and which in this instance come to us from extremists of all sorts and kinds, Catholic and Protestant alike. It is a satisfaction to add that from the Klan we have heard not one syllable. Evidently it feeds on other meat than the Atlantic.
First, we are glad to print this note regarding a good man’s reputation: —
In the preface to the article on ‘The Catholic Church and the Modern Mind ’ in the January Atlantic the statement occurs, ‘They [certain “Catholic clergymen.”] recalled the late Archbishop Ireland’s opposition to the existing parochial-school system and declared that time had “ proved Ireland right.” ’ As this statement involves very grave injustice to the memory of one of the most illustrious prelates of the Catholic Church in America, it should not be allowed to pass without comment.
It is difficult to surmise what could have misled the ‘ Catholic clergymen ’ quoted by the sponsor of the article. Probably it was the so-called Faribault School Plan, a plan which had been, substantially at least, in operation in various dioceses at home and in various countries abroad before Archbishop Ireland, casting about for a solution of the school question, experimented with it. It proposed that during school hours the State should rent denominational schools, pay for the secular instruction given in them, and leave them free to impart religious instruction at other hours. So far from displacing the parish school, it was meant to strengthen its position and enhance its efficacy by relieving struggling parishes of the heavy pecuniary burden entailed by the erection and maintenance of schools. However, for reasons familiar to all who are conversant with the circumstances of the time, it aroused a storm of controversy, which raged, with all the passion and prejudice incident to polemics, until Rome’s ‘ Tolerari Potest ’ vindicated the Archbishop, and definitely put out of court any imputation on his loyalty to one of the essential institutions of the Church.
If Rome’s impartial decision be not enough, the unbroken stream of Archbishop Ireland’s own pronouncements on parish schools should have left no room for even the possibility of misunderstanding his educational policy. Among these I may single out as especially worthy of study his striking address on ‘ Public Schools and Parish Schools’ before the general convention of the National Educational Association assembled in St. Paul in 1890. With the fairness that characterized all his utterances, he rendered due meed of praise to the public-school system of America, but also, with his customary candor, he arraigned its fatal flaw — lack of provision for religious instruction — and made a powerful plea for the right of Catholic schools to exist side by side with public schools (see Ireland: The Church and Modern Society, vol. I). The Catholic school he made the theme of discourses without number in the churches of his diocese; indeed, he never allowed an opportunity to pass without urging its claims to support and approval upon all classes of people. If no word of his can be adduced which, under the most skillful exegesis, can justify the hoary libel of ‘opposition to the existing parochial-school system,’ the reason simply is that never in this country has the cause of Catholic education had a more staunch or more consistent advocate than Archbishop Ireland.
If Archbishop Ireland was opposed to parochial schools, how is it that in the Archdiocese of St. Paul a Catholic school is found in every parish capable of maintaining it? The history of the Diocese of St. Paul is, in large part, the history of Archbishop Ireland’s life. During forty-three years he was Bishop in St. Paul — from 1875 to 1918; during thirty-four years, from 1884 until his demise nine years ago, the reins of administration were entirely in his hands. In the really formative period of a comparatively new diocese, he fostered a system of schools that remains a monument to his devotion to Catholic education — a monument which, one might think, would have rendered impossible the stupid slur foisted on him by the ‘Catholic clergymen ’ of the Atlantic article.
HUMPHREY MOYNIHAN Some of the statements interest me, even though I recognize my limitations as a critic of them. For I have passed through the complete ecclesiastical school curriculum, from parochial school to seminary, and after my ordination was in different years ‘indoctrinated’ at such orthodox centres as the Catholic University of Washington, the International Benedictine College at Rome, and the Institut Supérieur de Philosophic at Louvain. If the effect of two summer sessions at Columbia might be a partial offset, this is more than counterbalanced by my membership in the Benedictine Order, which makes me, I suppose, a mediæval monk par excellence. My pastoral experience has covered only the
From a letter which we wish it were possible to print in full, from the Reverend Virgil Michel, O.S.B., of St. John’s Abbey, Minnesota: —
Middle West and a few parishes in New York City. I cannot therefore speak directly for the Catholic world at large, but only for what I have learned in the schools, especially in the school of my experience.
I have always been interested in the question of how vocations are fostered or encouraged. When I applied for membership in our abbey the late abbot of that time asked me one question: whether I had been influenced in my choice by any person. Within my experience it is entirely false that ‘ most priests have made their decision to renounce the world and its pleasures . . . when they were as yet children’; also that ‘ it is the custom to seek out likely boys who manifest signs of piety and to convince them that they have a vocation to the priesthood.’ It may possibly happen in individual cases, and it is exactly what nonCatholics say does happen, but the generality of priests with whom I am acquainted would deprecate such a practice in the strongest terms. Often the attitude of the priest toward youthful candidates seems to many rather like a rebuff than a coaxing enticement; prospective converts applying for admission to the Church have often undergone the same experience. My official contacts with college and seminary life since my ordination have shown only that, as the average candidate for the priesthood grows older, he thinks more and more seriously about the pros and cons of his vocation, until the final decision is reached before acceptance of major orders. As to the segregation of youthful candidates from worldly contacts, I know of no protests in my community against the fact that candidates for the Order are entirely out of contact with us during all the vacations, and that some in the summer months join student tours to Europe, necessarily including Paris (horrors!).
I have taught scholastic philosophy in a seminary for some years and am amazed at the statement that ‘modern philosophy, psychology, and the infinite research of the last two or three centuries find little place’ there, if by the latter phrase one means ‘are not mentioned and discussed, or made to contribute to class contents.’ As to textbooks, many seminary philosophy professors use their own notes and compilations in their work, just as do all other professors in higher education. The educated Catholic cannot ignore and cannot avoid nonCatholic thought, while the educated nonCatholic often has no direct acquaintance with Catholic thought. In my experience the average seminary philosophy student knows more about Kant, James, Dewey, or Bergson than the average university professor does about Thomas Aquinas; and he has had more direct acquaintance, say, with some of James’s writings than the average university philosophy professor has had with the Angelic Doctor. Again, all my experiences and contacts belie the statement that ‘in all these studies’ (theology, Scripture, church history, canon law, and liturgy) the students ‘are simply supposed to memorize the ideas handed down by great minds which have gone before’; as well as the assertion that ‘solutions’ and ‘interpretations’ are simply to be memorized mechanically and then automatically given forth in examinations. All of this, as almost everything else in the article, is precisely the description of Catholicism given by non-Catholics.
If the educational situation were as described in the article, then there should be no wonder at its results as revealed in the mentality of the priests, according to the article. It must be left to all who have had contacts with priests to judge whether as a class ‘ they grow impatient when confronted with the opinions of those who have not been trained in sacred science’; or whether the typical priest is a ‘zealot for the honor of the priesthood which is in him’; or does not ‘fail to chide them [his people] bitterly when he finds them recreant to his mandates.’ All of this is quite contrary to my experience.
I shall say nothing about celibacy or the universal language of Latin, since just in our own day prominent non-Catholic divines have envied and have spoken of emulating these features. There is another point, however, which I ‘ do not choose’ to pass by.
Much of the article deals with the ‘routine’ and ‘formalism’ of Catholic religious life. Thus we read that ‘to be saved, it suffices for the people to follow the routine mapped out by the priest.’ This is news to me, and I do not recollect having seen anything of this kind among the conditions of salvation in Catholic books. Again we read: ‘The law which makes it a mortal sin to miss Mass on the days appointed does not call for any intelligent attention. Physical presence fulfills the precept.’ This is so false that I cannot suppress the impulse to express my suspicion of bad faith in the writer. If it is not that, it is the grossest ignorance.
Regarding the matter of grace and the sacraments, the writer stresses the automatic efficacy of grace in producing holiness and says, ‘ The mere worthy reception of a sacrament sufficed, even though it were a perfunctory act.’ For the Catholic the two words ‘mere’ and ‘worthy’ are here incompatible. A ‘worthy’ reception cannot possibly be a ‘mere’ reception in the sense implied. The worthiness of the recipient is a prior disposition to the reception of the sacrament, not its effect, and is the result of internal, intelligent, and sincere acts on the part of the recipient, including a sincere purpose of amendment where necessary. Once that disposition is effected, the sacrament confers added spiritual power by virtue of the priesthood of Christ transmitted through the ages in the Church. Thereby the sacrament is the means of contact with the divine, and the source of or means of the increase of spiritual life. Without the worthy disposition of the recipient, this grace is not received. This being understood, we readily say with the writer, ‘Hence the desire on the part of priests to have their people receive the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and penance frequently.’
But alas for the formalism of my educational training! I forget that I am lecturing to a Catholic priest!
From an American priest: —
How eagerly, how enthusiastically, I can endorse that far-sighted article you have published in your January issue on the Roman Church.
And how hungry I am to shout it from the hilltops — yet I must remain silent, or else betray myself and my associates before we are ready.
For, you see, I am of the younger clergy so taught by the American spirit to think for ourselves that we unanimously look forward to the time when, by virtue of our maturity, we can guide our people to the American Catholic Church we so earnestly pray for.
Could you — or even the most casual observer — know the extent of this feeling, even your greatest expectations would be overwhelmed. Everywhere thought, reverent but independent, is speeding the day when ancient blindness will be met and overcome by the true spirit of Christ, His simple message, His lack of earthly pomp, and real instruction and application of the Golden Rule in place of a stupid and bigoted intolerance practised in the guise of sanctimony.
Even now all we await is the leader. Give us the man — one like that wonderful, God-inspired soul at St. Bartholomew’s, Robert Norwood — and that great dream of ours, a modern but no less sincere worship in the American Catholic Church, shall become a reality.
Nor is this the ravings of the afflicted, the persecuted. It is cold, sombre fact written by one who can no longer restrain himself— and who speaks for many, many others.
God speed the day — and bless you for your courage in presenting a fact.
From a Paulist father: —
I see no reason for the cautious anonymity of the author of ‘The Catholic Church and the Modern Mind’ in the Atlantic Monthly for January. The writer says nothing dangerous, for he says little that is new. I must confess a sense of disappointment that his article was so rambling. One likes a taste of logic; and one admires a sharpened and true blade.
To begin with his beginning: the question of celibacy. I venture that I have met more priests than Anonymous, and can honestly say that the burden of celibacy is the last thing on their minds. Their major difficulty is in securing a good housekeeper, who can cook and at the same time close her ears and shut her mouth to parish gossip. Are priests the only celibates? Is n’t the world half filled with bachelors? And they walk in every field of life’s activity. Anonymous asks, How can an unmarried man advise a husband and wife on the delicate problems of sex? Decent people need no advisor. Must a specialist in obstetrics be a husband? Must a doctor of venereal diseases be a married man? Must a lawyer whose specialty is the divorce court have a wife or keep a mistress?
Take the question of the piety of the multitude. The Catholic Church must be concerned with the multitude. The multitude wears down its thresholds every Sunday. There are no cushioned pews for a select coterie. A parish may harbor one millionaire and a thousand who are dodging poverty.
What is wrong with going to confession when one has no sins to tell? Is n’t it frequent confession that prevents frequent sins? What keeps the conscience clean and the life right? Why object to a crowd at the altar rail for Communion every first Friday or third Sunday? ‘Blessed are the clean of heart.’
The writer makes a fair point about Latinity in our seminaries. He could have done it better had he read or quoted the Reminiscences of a Maynooth Professor. But when he drags his thesis into church, he fails. For Catholics the Mass is not a language, but an act, a sacrifice, surrounded by certain ceremonies. Its tongue means nothing to the people. It might be in Hebrew or Syriac. Its quiet, its silence, mean something to their souls, even when no prayer book is in their hands.
Most of our churches are big auditoriums. Imagine the priest at the altar shouting his ‘Orate Fratres,’ even in English, in order to be heard at the front door. Acoustics are the curse of architects. Why should the celebrant at Mass howl like a fishmonger in the street?
Israel Zangwill in his Italian Fantasies wrote a few paragraphs on the Mass. To my thinking they are as fine as Newman’s in his Loss and Gain. Zangwill compares the Mass to the cataract of Niagara. Anyone speaking any tongue can understand Niagara. Its language is universal. It sends solemnity to the soul; silent yet thunderful, mighty and majestic, its torrent falls through day and night.
From a Catholic professor in a Western college: —
The policy which the Atlantic has apparently been pursuing with respect to Catholic questions is characterized by unusually sound and well-balanced judgment. With regard to Catholic questions nothing in American periodical literature has approached the sanity governing the introduction of such articles as those by Hilaire Belloc and his opponent, W. R. Inge, the distinguished Dean of St. Paul’s; those by Governor Smith of New York and his opponent; and lastly, the article in the January issue.
I do not, of course, ascribe to the Atlantic the convictions voiced in any of these articles, for it is not in this direction that the great service which you are doing for liberal thinking people lies. With respect to such questions we have already in the field two classes of periodicals: those fostered by the Church, and having for their sole purpose the propagation and defense of the Faith and the strengthening of the ecclesiastical institution; and those devoting themselves solely to attacks upon it. The former cannot and do not publish anything that cannot receive the official imprimatur. These publications are characterized by an utter and willful neglect, if not of current social and religious problems, at least of the comprehensive nature of such problems. The Church has always and still does maintain that in questions touching it, religious or political, it is not only advocate, but also judge. We cannot always expect justice where the judge is also party to the controversy. Even in periodical literature, by virtue of Church authority, this is the status of all Catholic publications.
Nor are the latter class of publications any more commendatory; they publish little that exhibits the slightest sympathy for the Church, or the slightest understanding of its problems. It is not in these opposing camps that we find an intelligent ‘pursuit of sweetness and light,’ nor will their efforts, if directed as they are now directed, make ‘reason and the will of God prevail.’
Such articles as you are now printing ought, to the unthinking Catholic, bring home some conception of the enormous responsibility to mankind which rests upon the Church by virtue of the relations it sustains to the social fabric. To the Protestant, who in general (contrary to the Church’s expressed opinion) is more enlightened in such matters, it will bring home the fact that there are still great men in the Church who have pledged themselves to see that the obligations which the Church owes mankind will be discharged.
From the Bishop of the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota; —
Allow me to make a few remarks in answer to your letter of January 6.
I. You claim: ‘The discussion in these articles is not a question of dogma, but of policies and methods.’ Very well. But why does your advertisement sent to me December 29. 1927, state that the title of the February article will be ‘The Heresy of the Parochial School’? Heresies concern Christian dogmas. Are all the ecclesiastical documents which teach the necessity of parochial schools — for example, the frequent documents of the Apostolic See on this subject, the teachings of the general councils of Baltimore regarding the duty of maintaining parochial schools — mere matters of policy? A priest who publishes said article and who states, ‘Her schools are probably the most destructive influence the Catholic Church has ever experienced,’ is, if not a heretic in the strictest sense, at least more or less shipwrecked in his faith.
II. You write: ‘We believe the subject is of the deepest interest to thoughtful people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.’ Very well. But is it a subject that any fair-minded and just publisher should bring before the public? Undoubtedly the subject will be ‘of deepest interest’ to all enemies of the Catholic Church; they are pleased that a Catholic priest goes openly before the public, not as a faithful son of the Church, but as her opponent; they are glad that he uses his talents for the purpose of spreading prejudice and errors against the Church that has raised him to the dignity of the priesthood. They rejoice that there are plenty of indications that before long he will march over into the field of her avowed enemies. Surely this is interesting to them. It may also be ‘of deep interest to thoughtful Catholics.’ Yes, their hearts will with sorrowful interest watch how a priest squanders his talents and throws away the first principles of Catholic thinking and acting. Such reformers act usually according to the fashion of the so-called reformers of the sixteenth century, who have caused such a reform that their followers have now not more than shreds of Christianity.
I ask once more: Is it the business of a just and fair-minded publisher to publish these articles? Can a just and fair-minded publisher advertise the writer of these articles as ‘a Roman Catholic clergyman, renowned for his intellectual attainments, and holding a high and responsible position in his Church’?
III. You state in your letter: ‘The writer cannot give his name at this time, — to do so would be to make the debate intensely personal, — but it is known to me and will be divulged at the proper time.’
May I ask: Since when has the forum of the Atlantic Monthly become the proper place where religious questions are to be debated and, perhaps, decided? Our Catholic Church has her diocesan synods, her provincial councils, and, most of all, has the Holy See — that is, the Pope with his counselors — to discuss and decide matters of religion. But to cause discussions on matters of our holy Catholic Church, even if they were only ‘on policies and methods,’ in the Atlantic Monthly is about as wise and appropriate as having such debates in an old-fashioned saloon, the debaters fortified by jugs of beer or something stronger.
I suspect every secular paper that adopts such methods as being guided by commercial or sensational or antichristian motives. You assert you are not guided by commercial or sensational motives; I suppose you will also protest against the charge of unchristian motives. But the fact is, there is only one true Church founded by Christ, — that is, the Catholic Church, — and opposition to her is antichristian. Your advertisement of these two articles shows clearly that the writer is not only opposed to faults of members of the Catholic Church, but is really opposing some of her teaching.
IV. I may add: The reason which you give for not publishing the name of the writer at this time is extremely weak. You claim: ‘To do so would make the debate intensely personal.’ This is an insult to his fellow Catholics, as if they were unable to treat his articles with justice and fairness if his name were known to them. A man who has something worthy to say, who has a real message for the public, does not hide his name, nor act as players in a show or theatre who are masked but sometimes lift the mask after the play.
From a New York critic: —
Course of studies. Naturally the priest’s course of studies is devoted primarily to those subjects which pertain to his calling, as is also the case in law, medicine, and every other profession. To say that modern questions and sciences are not considered in the priest’s course is an unwarranted calumny, since every pertinent question, ancient or modern, is brought up and viewed in the light of the perennial truth of faith and sound reason as taught by revelation, and by Aristotle and right philosophy. No individual thought or questions allowed in the seminary? Why, every student and professor with a little experience knows that a great part of the class time, day by day, is taken up with the consideration of difficulties made by the student body.
The use of Latin. It is mere claptrap to be objecting to the use of Latin at Mass. In ninety-nine churches out of one hundred the people could n’t understand the priest at Mass no matter what language he used. Let the lazy priests explain the Mass to the people and exhort them to use the fine missals and prayer books in which they have the whole Mass and liturgy explained, and there will be no trouble about the priest using Latin when he says Mass.
There is no reason why the sacraments of Baptism, Matrimony, Extreme Unction, as well as the service for the dead, should not be given in the vernacular; and this is why they are printed both in Latin and in the vernacular in all ritual books, as your correspondent ought to know.
To say that the people ‘need not bother their heads about what is going on’ at Mass is not only to be ignorant of Catholic teaching, but seems to border on the dishonest.
From a Catholic priest: —
Permit me to express my heartiest appreciation and sympathy for your January article on conditions within the Catholic Church. As a minor clergyman within that organization, I can not only testify to the correctness of this article, but also to the fact that there is coming within the Church what most of us hope will be a peaceful but none the less thorough housecleaning which possibly may result in the organization of an American Church — but which certainly will put our Faith on a modern basis of applied Christianity.
Most certainly I am not alone in this crusade — on every hand I have companions who agree and who work and pray for the speeding of the day when, without injury to the people we love, we may be able to lead them directly to Him.
In the meantime we are preparing for the exodus — and mayhap await the modern Moses who shall become our leader. Some think we have already found him.
But, be that as it may, those who are not blind — who do not refuse to see the truth — are preparing. Perhaps it may take us a decade — or a generation — before we feel our time has come.
From Miss Ellen Gates Starr, of Hull House, we can unfortunately quote but a paragraph or two of a most interesting discussion:—
The readers of our despondent priest should not lose sight of the fact that the Catholic Church is not dealing with little handfuls of artists and intellectuals, carefully selected groups, but with great, mixed masses. There must necessarily be a certain amount of formalization to find time for the personal sacramental ministrations to souls which is felt by Catholics to be the most precious part of the gift of the Church. One who does not feel it to be so can hardly be called a Catholic.
Scarcely any ignorance, misconception, or misuse of a law, custom, or tradition is so gross as to be impossible. But one wonders how a person who regards, as does this author, the general practice of his Church as perfunctory, rigid, and spiritless, devoid of spontaneity, joy, and freedom, can account for the numbers of converts flowing into the Catholic Church from nonCatholic bodies, especially the Anglican, in England and the United States — these largely from educated classes. This has been going on ever since Newman, with his at once logical and mystical mind, opened the door, removing many old misconceptions. One’s own acquaintance furnishes many recent examples: a member of a wellknown law firm, several writers of some repute, teachers of the classics; and the press from time to time gives notice, without much stir or scandal, such as that of a member of the faculty of one of our oldest universities leaving it for the priesthood of the Catholic Church, to endure that long and, as this so otherwise-minded man would have us believe, deadening process. Why should these free beings voluntarily and needlessly put their necks under a yoke so galling? As to those born to the Catholic Faith and remaining true to it, who will pity or condescend to Paul Claudel or Baron Friedrich von Hügel?
From the Reverend James H. Cotter, a parish priest of Ohio: —
In priestly education he would violate one of the very first principles, ‘thought begets thought,’ for he would throw overboard the great kings of thought and have the pupils follow their own raw thinking. This is tantamount to saying that students of music can learn nothing from the great music masters, that artists should not study Phidias or Michelangelo.
Though ‘order is Heaven’s first law,’ he holds that order in our seminaries destroys ‘individuality.’
In the unbalanced prominence which he gives to his invectives against the use of Latin, he seems to betray more interest in London than in Rome. As a dead language, Latin suits the expression of an unchanged and unchangeable doctrine, and its logical sequence in prayers and ceremonies. He holds, substantially, that the people would have to be linguists in order to pray properly and understand the priest’s prayers. This is absurd. Even the dumb can pray. He gravely errs when he says that no attention or devotion is required to hear Mass, but merely the ‘physical presence’ of the attendant.
He declares that the priest makes a mistake when ‘he rates the spirituality of his parish, not by the lives of his people, but by the attendance at Mass and the number of Communions and confessions.’ The iconoclastic scribe puts the cart before the horse, for the good lives of the people are begotten from these very sources, — Mass and the Sacraments,— otherwise he would belittle the efficacy of Christ’s institution. No priest has warrant for the queer statement that ‘the people are urged to go to Communion daily and to confess their sins weekly.’ Any Catholic knows that to receive Communion he must be free from mortal sin; hence, if need be, he must go daily to confession if he communicates daily. He strangely declares that in the judgment of the sincerity of a penitent the priest has ‘but the teaching of the old Scholastics’ to help him. Why, no — he has, as in any other serious business, common sense alone.
The oddest of all is his wonderment that the priest, ‘a celibate, must solve the intricate problems of sex.’ Is it not a question of applying principles to facts, and do not education and zeal for souls assist him as much in this as in solving any other problem?
The human side is the inspiration of many letters. One woman writes: —
If the practices of the Catholic Church were as exterior and meaningless as they are here pictured, I should long ago have abandoned such hypocrisy. However, one need only be present, not on a Sunday, when it is required, but at a five o’clock Mass on some dark First Friday morning, to be convinced otherwise. I invite him to watch the silent devotion of some poor old workingman, or some beautiful little girl.
If ‘physical presence fulfills the precept,’ then is not the central fact of Catholic doctrine — that is, the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament — ignored?
I have no fear that the Church will be modernized to an unrecognizable degree in the dry-docking process.
A hundred more press for quotation, but our space is at an end. In considering the points at issue, we suggest that our readers keep steadfastly in mind the facts. This is not a discussion of the sanctions of religion, but of the human prudence and wisdom of certain policies of the Roman Catholic Church. If it is wrong to discuss them, then as certainly it is wrong to discuss the policies of other churches. Much can be said for parochial schools. Much may be said against them. The point we wish to make is simply this: Should a topic vital to education in our country be immune to discussion ? If that be so, we must not allude to Methodist interference with schools where evolution is taught, or to public dangers involved through lack of religious instruction in our public schools. All alike are American problems. Their implications are immense. Shall we leave them to the malice of whispering tongues, or shall we discuss them aloud, temperately and with good will?