What Can Unite Us Catholics?
SUNDAY, JULY 21, 2019
Amidst our unfortunate and time-bound divisions as regards partisan politics, I wonder whether it is possible to come up with a set of fundamentals that all Catholics can agree upon. Here is my attempt:
1. All the tenets of the Nicene Creed are true, without reservation or equivocation. The Father is the Father, from whom all fatherhood derives as from its originating fountain. It is no mere customary name. Human fatherhood is merely analogical by comparison. The Son is the co-eternal Word “through whom all things were made.” The Holy Spirit proceeds co-eternally from the Father and the Son. The Word was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and made man, to suffer and die for us, and for our sins, and he rose again, as all flesh will rise again.
2. The words of Jesus are prescriptive forever. They are never to be made merely relative to his place and time. When it comes to God, faith, good and evil, and man and his destiny, we are never to suppose that we know better than the Lord. For He is Our Lord. He is not to be patronized or demoted to historical greatness. He alone has “the words of everlasting life.”
3. It is not impossible that Christ, who has flocks we may not know of, will save those who do not know they are being saved through the agency of His Church. It is not, however, to be presumed in the case of individuals or peoples. Evangelizing is imperative. “Go forth,” says the Lord, “and make disciples of all nations.”
4. The Lord has willed that we come to knowledge of Him by means of other human beings in general, and by the Church specifically. Therefore we must resist all temptations to place the words and example of the Lord on one side, and the teachings of the apostles and of the Church on the other, as if in opposition, or as if the letters of Saint Paul or the other apostolic writers might be denigrated or ignored.
5. The Church’s teachings regarding sex, marriage, and family life are true, salutary, and liberating. They are discoverable by natural reason and by an unconstrained reading of Scripture and of the words of the Lord Himself. Sins against them are destructive of the person, the family, and the common good, and cause especially serious harm, material, social, and spiritual, to children and to the poor. Separation of husband from wife may in some cases be a necessary evil, as the amputation of a gangrenous limb may be, but it is nevertheless a great social evil even when it is morally permissible.
6. The command to assist the poor is absolute and personal. Every Catholic must be engaged in it. Material poverty may be first in the order of urgency, as a man dying of thirst needs a drink of water before he needs a sermon. But as the soul is greater than the body, so also moral, intellectual, and spiritual poverty is more dreadful than material poverty, and these too we are commanded to alleviate or remedy.
7. Human life is sacred. Innocent human life must never be taken intentionally. That includes our own lives. We are made in the image of God, and therefore, when we encounter any human life, we are on holy ground: we stand in the light of one for whom God made the world. Nor may we stand idly by while the sick and the hungry need our care, for what we do to “the least of these,” the sick, the dying, the homeless, the unborn child, we do to Christ Himself.
8. All that we possess comes from God and is meant to serve and glorify Him. Our bodies are not our own to dispense with as we please. Our material wealth is not our own to dispense with as we please. That is a fact of our existence: we are creatures. Such sinners as we are must never forget it, for we have been “purchased at a price.”
9. As the Sabbath is the crown of the week, so all of our work should be oriented toward the Sabbath, its joy and its rest, the glory we give to God, and our coming together with other human beings for the common good on earth and for a foretaste of the eternal good to come. Work for work’s sake is a form of that spiritual sluggishness known as acedia.
10. The world of remunerative labor should be organized so as to provide gainful employment to able-bodied or able-minded men, with wages sufficient to support their wives and children in a becoming way. This does not mean that women do not work. It does mean that the first aim of a just social policy regarding work and wages is the health of the household, for that is what the very word economy implies.
11. As the yeast leavens the whole of the dough, so the Catholic faith should leaven every feature of the Catholic school: as to what is taught, how it is taught, and who teaches it. Catholic teachers must in their public lives be witnesses to the truths of the faith.
12. Worship is the solemn and joyful duty we owe to God. All features of the Mass must be oriented ad Deum: Patrem et Filium et Spiritum Sanctum. Worship that turns a congregation inward upon itself is deficient at least, even when undertaken with good intent. Mass must not be demoted to a social. “Seek first the kingdom of God,” says the Lord. If we do not, we will be like those who have little, “and even the little they have will be taken away.” For man is that sort of creature who is united only from above: our brotherhood depends upon our acknowledging the Fatherhood of God.
What about it, my fellow Catholics? Can we agree at least to these?
*Image: The Communion of the Apostles (La communion des apôtres) by James J. Tissot, c. 1890 [Brooklyn Museum]
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Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World. He is a professor and writer in residence at Northeast Catholic College, in Warner, New Hampshire.