Friday, December 13, 2002

Boy, do I love this Brownson. He's almost as much a curmudgeon as the Old Oligarch. Here he is on the popular press.

If you ever distrust a Catholic journal at all, if published with the approbation of the ordinary, distrust it when you find it falling in with the popular doctrines of the day, and confirming the public in their prejudices or their fallacies.

And on Constitutionalism:

They held the people could be safely entrusted with the guardianship of the constitution, which was very much like locking up a man in prison, and giving him the key. But experience has proved that written constitutions, unless they are written in the sentiments, convictions, consciences, manners, customs, habits, and organization of the people, are no better than so much waste paper, and can no more restrain them than the green withes with which the Philistines bound his limbs, could restrain the mighty Samson.

There is far less equality, as well as less honesty and integrity, in American society, than there was fifty or sixty years ago. The honor paid to wealth, or what is called success in the world, is greater; people are less contented with moderate means, a moderate style of living, as well as with moderate gains, and have a much greater horror of honest labor. I remember when it was, in the country at least, regarded as an act of prudence for a young couple with little or nothing but health, industrious habits, and a willingness to earn their living by hard work, to marry and set up housekeeping for themselves. Now, except to a very limited extent, it would be regarded as the greatest imprudence.

On Catholicism in the United States:

but for the conversion of this country nothing appears to be doing. The subject is hardly thought of. There is even a feeling, not seldom expressed in words, among our Catholic population, that Americans, Yankees especially, cannot be converted, as if Christ died not for them as well as for others; and we are quite sure that the less the Catholic publicist, who wishes to stand well with his religious brethren, says about it, the better. As a body, we have no hope of converting American non-Catholics, and make not the slightest effort in that direction. We think it quite enough for us to be permitted to retain and practice our religion for ourselves, in peace and quietness. If there is any one thing among us that will bring a blight on the church, in our country, it is our lack of apostolic zeal, and our indifference to the salvation of our non-Catholic neighbors and fellow citizens. The Holy Father has written to us and admonished us again and again, but all to little purpose. Our Catholic youth seem more likely to turn their backs on their mother church, than the non-Catholic American youth are to turn their faces toward her. We throw away our advantages, and trust to immigration from abroad to keep up our numbers. Nothing, we fear, will arouse us to a sense of our duty, unite us, and quicken either our zeal or our charity, but another and a more threatening Know-nothing movement. We are too prosperous, and are contracting the vices of prosperity. A little adversity, a little real persecution, would reinvigorate us, renew our zeal, expand our charity, and hasten the conversion of the country.

On Authority and Reason:

Catholics, in fact, are the only people in the world who do, can, or dare reason in matters of religion. Indeed, they are the only people who have a reasonable faith, and who believe only what they have adequate reasons for believing. They are also the only people who recognize no human authority, not even one’s own, in matters of Christian faith and conscience. Sectarians and rationalists claim to be free, and to reason freely, because, as they pretend, they are bound by no human authority, and recognize no authority in faith but their own reason. Yet why should your reason be for you or any one else better authority for believing than ours? Your authority is as human as ours, and if ours is not a sufficient reason for our faith, how can yours suffice, which is no better, perhaps not so good? As a fact, no man is less free than he who has for his faith no authority but his own reason; for he is, if he thinks at all, necessarily always in doubt as to what he ought or ought not to believe; and no man who is in doubt, who is unable to determine what he is or is not required to believe in order to believe the truth, is or can be mentally free; for he only has the authority of God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived, for his faith.

But the Christian Quarterly is not alone in imagining a contradiction between reason and authority. The whole modern mind assumes it, and imagines a contradiction wherever it finds two extremes, or two opposites. It has lost the middle term that brings them together and unites them in a logical synthesis. To it, natural and supernatural, nature and grace, reason and faith, science and revelation, liberty and authority, church and state, heaven and earth, God and man- are irreconcilable extremes; and not two extremes only, but downright contradictions, which necessarily exclude each other. It does not, even if it accepts both terms, accept them as reconciled, or united as two parts of one whole; but each as exclusive, and warring against the other, and each doing its best to destroy the other.

Hence the modern mind is, so to speak, bisected by a painful dualism, which weakens its power, lowers its character, and destroys the unity and efficiency of intellectual life.

On American Letters, Love, and Marriage:

Nevertheless, our literary artists must not despair; they must struggle manfully against the false tastes and false tendencies of the age and the nation, not by preaching against them and scolding them, as we do in our capacity of critic, or as Cooper did in his later novels; but by laboring to produce fitting and attractive examples of what literature should be, by careful self-culture, by acquiring habits of independence, and by avoiding all servile imitation- not study- of foreign models, whether ancient or modern. No man writes well unless he writes freely from his own life. Above all, let them bear in mind that a literature destined to live, and to exert an ennobling influence on the national character, must entertain the ideal, be replete with thought, inspired by an earnest purpose, and addressed to the understanding as well as to the affections, passions, and emotions. Truth has a bottom of its own, and can stand by itself; but beauty cannot, for it exists only in the relation of the true to our sensibility or imagination, as a combination of intellect and sense.

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