If were to ask you what some Catholic traditionalists and some radical leftists had in common, you might be left scratching your head for a few moments. On most matters you wouldn’t expect them to agree on much of anything. But there’s one issue they do tend to converge upon, and that is their take on American history.
When I read some Catholic trad descriptions of American history and Catholicism’s place in it, I find myself wondering if I’d accidentally picked up and began reading something by Charles Beard or Howard Zinn. I’m not associating these tendencies in order to delegitimize the Catholic trad critique – which contains, as do most critiques which catch on with at least some people, elements of truth. But the trad critique, in its shrillness and its refusal to engage historical facts that may falsify or at least cast reasonable doubt upon its substantive claims, deserves to be set alongside the vulgar leftist critique of American history. And bear in mind, I say this as a Catholic trad myself, albeit one who is more of a romanticist than a true reactionary.
I also say it as someone who once bought into this whole idea. As a young man emerging from a long and involved commitment to Marxism, both academic and political, into Catholicism, a religion I had little to do with since the age of 13, I had sort of stumbled upon this narrative on my own. There was still something romantic and alluring about rejecting “Americanism”, now from a Catholic perspective.
After all, the two critiques often make use of a lot of the same themes – a rejection of individualism, of bourgeois Protestant values, a savage critique of the Enlightenment, invocations of slavery and other manifestations of racism and inequality, and perhaps more specific to the Catholic angle, reminders of Freemasonry and the Illuminati (though to be fair, Mozart was a Freemason too, back in the days when it wasn’t yet forbidden by the Church. I don’t think that’s ever stopped a trad from enjoying his Requiem, but I digress).
Now, given the popularity of this critique, not only among trads, but also among the Catholic left, the “peace and justice” crowd – of course, for much different reasons and to much different ends – one would surely expect to find a solid foundation or at least an implied resonance within Church history, tradition, and teaching.
If you hold that expectation, prepare to be utterly disappointed. Or delighted, as the case may be.
In this sermon Newman considers the City and Empire of Rome and its relation to the Anti-Christ. Many Protestant theologians since the Reformation identified the Roman Catholic Church as the Whore of Babylon and the Pope as Anti-Christ. Newman wrote a detailed attack in 1840 on this belief while he was still a Protestant. It may be read here. For Newman the Rome identified with the AntiChrist was the City and the Empire and not the Church. Newman sums up the relationship of Rome and the Anti-Christ as follows: “The question asked was, Is not (as is commonly said and believed among us) Rome mentioned in the Apocalypse, as having especial share in the events which will come at the end of the world by means or after the time of Antichrist. I answer this, that Rome’s judgments have come on her in great measure, when her empire was taken from her; that her persecutions of the Church have been in great measure judged, and the Scripture predictions concerning her fulfilled; that whether or not, she shall be further judged depends on two circumstances, first, whether “the righteous men” in the city who saved her when her judgment first came may not, through GOD’S great mercy, be allowed to save her still; next, whether the prophecy relates in its fulness to Rome or to some other object or objects of which Rome is a type. And further, I say, that if Rome is still to be judged, this must be before Antichrist comes, because Antichrist comes upon and destroys the ten kings, and lasts but a short space, but the ten kings are to destroy Rome. On the other hand, so far would seem to be clear, that the prophecy itself has not been fully accomplished, whatever we decide about Rome’s concern in it. The Roman empire has not yet been divided into ten heads, nor has it yet risen against the woman, whoever she stands for, nor has the woman yet received her ultimate judgment.”
For many Christians today, the thought that the leaders of the Protestant Reformation believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary or her bodily Assumption into heaven would seem ludicrous, even more bewildering would be the devotions many of the Reformation’s leaders had for the Blessed Mother. Believe or not it, they did. In this month of December when Catholics celebrate three feast day’s commemorating the Mother of our Lord, perhaps it is time to remind our separated brethren of the truths their founder’s believed.
Sometime ago when I was writing my book, The Tide is Turning Toward Catholicism, I showed a friend of mine, who is an Evangelical, a homily about the Virgin Mary delivered in the 1500s. I asked him who gave that homily, “probably some pope,” he exclaimed. No, I said it was Martin Luther. He replied, “Dave I trust in almost everything you say, but I am going to have to call you out on this one. I mean isn’t that what the Reformation was all about, ending superstitions like those about Mary?” His mouth dropped when I showed him the passages. I am sure many of today’s Evangelicals, especially of the Calvinist lineage, would have the same reaction.
The Anglican Bishop of Chichester John Hind has announced that he is considering converting to Catholicism based on the Anglican initiative of Pope Benedict. This is a shocker. He is one of the senior bishops of the Anglican Church and not previously identified with Anglicans who wished to break away from the Anglican Church.