EDITORS' NOTE: The merits of conservative and liberal approaches to the modern world were debated early this year by William F. Buckley, Jr., editor of the National Review, and William Clancy, formerly one of the editors of The Commonweal and now editor of Worldview. Response to that debate was so great that a series of three debates concerning "The Catholic in the Modern World" was initiated, with Mr. Buckley presenting the case for the conservative, Mr. Clancy for the liberal. Texts of the opening statements of the first debate follow. (Full transcripts of this debate, and the others when ready, can be obtained for fifty cents each from the sponsor: St. Leo's Church, East Paterson, N.J.)
A Conservative View
William F. Buckley, Jr.
I AM NOT aware what point of departure Mr. Clancy will take in getting into the subject of this debate, nor is he aware what will be my point of departure. We simply took it as an act of faith that we would end up disagreeing with one another, and both Mr. Clancy's faith and my own are strong; with perhaps the difference that I go so far as to have faith that Mr. Clancy will one day be liberated from the superstitions of liberalism, whereas he doesn't believe I shall ever be saved from the truths of conservatism—so that perhaps it can be said my faith is stronger than his.
We must necessarily be arbitrary. The problems of the modern world cannot be enumerated, let alone analyzed, in twenty minutes. I am the student who is asked to write a ten-minute paper on the results of the French Revolution; and must, necessarily fail the test. I can do no better, I suggest, than simply to speak out loud some of the thoughts that crowd the mind of one American Catholic conservative as he faces an evening by the fireside with Mr. Clancy.
Let us try to understand what lies behind the human and organizational associations of liberal Catholics in this country. Why is it that the liberal Catholic is on easy terms with everybody in America on his Left, saving only the Communists? Go through one hundred issues of The Commonweal—to name a single but wholly representative journal of liberal Catholic opinion—and you are not likely to find a sustained criticism of any left American or left proposal. If the figure on the Left is a Catholic, he is almost sure to be immune—as Dorothy Day, for instance, is. Bear in mind I am not suggesting that The Commonweal is secretly sympathetic to the grotesqueries that go into making up the Catholic Worker movement: but I am struck by the significance of the fact that The Commonweal does not criticize, let alone anathematize, the slovenly, reckless, intellectually chaotic, anti-Catholic doctrines of this good-hearted woman—who, did she have her way in shaping national policy, would test the promise of Christ Himself, that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us. Miss Day is off to the Left almost out of sight, granted; but between her and the editors of The Commonweal are multitudinous others who would the seas incarnadine: socialists, pacifists, fellow-travellers, secularists, utopians, positivists, freethinkers: and it is their company in which the Catholic liberal—or perhaps better, the liberal Catholic—moves with such disturbing ease.
For those on the Right it is a very different matter. I should not want to name, and perhaps embarrass, those eminent men who have suffered the smart and indignities that the disfavor of the American Catholic Left brings. I think of one man whom I cannot embarrass, for he is dead. It is well known that the liberal Catholic community is engaged in a fervent effort to forget the existence of Father James Gillis, an effort in which his own order is sedulously cooperating.
The hard opposition, the contempt, the bitterness, is directed usually covertly, sometimes openly, at members of the American Right. I think of Mr. William Shannon as an expressive symbol: here is a bright and learned and articulate Catholic who, from the togetherness of the New York Post, where he sits with secular socialists, with Freudians, determinists, and pacifists, looses his thunderbolts at the McCarthys, McCarrans and Manions of the contemporary scene. Here is a man who visits his blistering animadversions upon almost every member of the Right, while the devil's ragbaby himself, assuming he came up from the Left—which he would—could get close enough to pour sand in his typewriter, before engaging the unfriendly attention of William Shannon.
WHY? For profound reasons. I think a study of the habits and attitudes, social and polemical, of many liberal Catholic intellectuals reveals an intellectual and social insecurity; a sense of embarrassment with the insufficiency of the Church and its laity to work out an adequate social experience. That uneasiness is primarily a reflection of our society's general ignorance of the Catholic tradition. It is widely held that when the civilized world was mostly Catholic, there was only darkness. We know that is not so. But I venture to say that the devil-view of Catholic history has ended up influencing not merely fundamentalist Baptists, but also highly intelligent Catholics; who though they know themselves the raw facts of history, tend to lose their perspective, and so are conditioned to construct the facts upon an alien paradigm; just as it has become almost impossible in our own country for even those who know the facts of the controversy surrounding Senator McCarthy to escape altogether the construction of them that history is inexorably imposing upon us. I have the impression that many of my friends on the Catholic Left are worn haggard by the ghost of the Inquisition; that they cannot forget that the metaphorical meaning of such words as "jesuitical" and "inquisitorial" has now, through centuries of usage as metaphor, come to be the prime meaning of the words. These men grope for reassurance by seeking a symbiotic relationship with the Left, and by propitiating the liberals with an imprudent and incontinent enthusiasm for progressive nostrums, for radical social experimentation, of the kind that wins for them (they think) that long-sought-for recognition as men identified with the Future, not the past; with Progress, not reaction.
One has to rely very heavily of course on impression. In suggesting that typical liberal Catholic intellectuals suffer from an inferiority complex that impels them to do and say strange things, I cannot promise a case that will satisfy Mr. Clancy; any more than one can prove to the wallflower that she is not enjoying herself. In suggesting that the liberal Catholic intellectuals have surrendered the leadership of the City of God to secular milleniarists because these Catholics are ignorant of, or afraid to canvass, the great internal resources of their own Church, I say things which cannot go on a blackboard; but which are nevertheless so. About certain types of things one does not tend to talk out loud. In searching out a person's prejudices, let us cock one's ear to the casual, unguarded inflection, rather than seek out rigid externalizations. It is easier to judge whether a Catholic is ill at ease intellectually or politically or socially in a non-Catholic society by observing his mannerisms, his rhetoric, his style, than by analyzing the arguments he makes.
I suggest that leading American Catholic intellectuals are embarrassed, as I have said, by the understanding of the Church's history which is a part of the patrimony of our Protestant society; by the commonplace identification of Catholicism with reaction; by recurrent political phenomena such as the conspicuous support extended in this country by the Catholic population to such men as General MacArthur, Senator McCarthy and Senator McCarran; and by the fact that there has not developed in America a Catholic intellectual or social aristocracy influential enough to earn the admiration of the whole society. (Though we are probably not, alas, more than a few days away from the inauguration of a Catholic political aristocracy.)
This self-embarrassment manifests itself in several ways. There is the grouchy ill humor shown not only to Rightist Catholics, but also to distinctively Catholic social conventions. Members of this group shy away from many forms of organized Catholic activity, regarding some of them as totemist, and vulgar. They do not gravitate easily, for instance, to Communion breakfasts (though in all fairness, Communion breakfasts do not gravitate easily to them). Instead of attempting to enrich the cultural forms that have grown out of the experience of their religion within the American culture, they shrink from them. That insecurity manifests itself in an abrupt impatience with a particular set of political positions, most especially those that, through the facile drawing of false parallels, permit the enemies of Catholicism to emphasize the social dangers of our religion. In the years since the war, we have all been touched, in some way or other, by the controversy, sometimes violent, over the question of the national security. Opponents of a tough federal security program were quick to label virtually any effort to pursue such a program as "inquisitorial." Every time that word was used, Mr. Clancy would wince. To escape having to wince, some of our friends fell thoughtlessly into line, and began dispensing alarmist clichés about our Reign of Terror and waning liberties.
LET ME be clearly understood: there is good reason to deplore the fact of the Inquisition; but there is no reason that I can see for crediting the notion, so sedulously advanced in recent years, that there is a kinship that reaches out over the centuries to link the activities of a Torquemada with the activities of a Senator McCarran. Thus in judging the activities of Senator McCarran, it was not necessary to do so under the shadow of the Inquisition.
The complex I speak of manifests itself in a deep sensitivity to charges of social or intellectual conformity. In the light of which, sometimes almost for the sake of it, these Catholics can be seen inveighing with unsettling vehemence against any effort to exact, by the use of social or intellectual sanction, a consensus of values, a conformity however broad—even a conformity tight enough to exclude Communism.
The Catholics I speak of are, it seems to me, so frightened that the society in which they live should find ground for plausibly suggesting that the Catholics seek, ultimately, to wed Church and State that they put up, in opposition to secular education, only a token resistance. I do not know of a greater injustice than that which Catholics at large seem willing forever to tolerate: the taxation of Catholics for the support of schools in which it is not permitted, by a most tortuous judicial invention woven around the First Amendment, to teach religion. These Catholics—again, I am certain, because of their anxiety to abate the suspicions of the liberal intellectuals—are much more easily mobilized by the issue of racial segregation in the schools in the South. They are prepared to smite down Jim Crow hip and thigh—while allowing to go virtually undisputed, and certainly unresisted, the central challenge to freedom involved in forbidding a family to insist upon religious instruction for its children in a tax-supported public school.
The complex manifests itself, finally, in an inalienable fascination with "forward-looking" social schemes and grand designs for remaking the world. The uncritical acceptance, by some Catholic men and women, of the dizzier postulate of world government, the United Nations, the redistribution of wealth, sometimes appear to stem from that obsessive anxiety to please. What is more, a prodigious and perhaps even sacrilegious effort is made to bring the authority of the Church behind such programs. Father George Dunne will tell you that Leo XIII meant to condemn not programmatic socialism, but merely philosophical socialism; that the political and economic program of Christian Socialism is, mutatis mutandis, the World of the Lord. Donald MacDonald, a febrile Catholic liberal, will tell you with apodictical finality that the Church believes in World Government, and disbelieves in Senator McCarthy.
I have a feeling that in the course of uttering some of the more florid passages advocating guaranteed annual wages, and world government, and water fluoridation, and one hundred years of foreign aid, and the repeal of the Smith Act, liberal Catholic intellectuals have half an eye trained over there in the direction of Paul Blanshard, to whom they are saying, wistfully, "See, Mr. Blanshard, we're really not that bad. We are progressive liberals. We are, to be sure, fellow-communicants with the editors of the Brooklyn Tablet, but ours is necessarily a universal Church. Forgive them, for they know not what they do. And bear in mind, although we are Catholics, we are politically and socially assimilable within a democratic society. Pray, do not misunderstand us."
If what I say is true, the Catholics in question are among other things wasting a lot of time. Their first mistake stems from the notion that Paul Blanshard—I use him, of course, as a symbol—is a human being, and hence persuadable and, by the grace of God, mortal. He is not. Paul Blanshard is an institution. He is simply the latest and most talkative practitioner of the ancient profession of anti-Catholicism; the representative of the New Nativism. Anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the highbrow, Peter Viereck reminds us. Such men as Paul Blanshard are always with us. And they will not be satisfied by political or economic concessions. They are satisfied only by the surrender of dogma (and this the Catholics of whom I speak of course have no intention of doing). For them the only good Catholic is the ex-Catholic. Paul Blanshard may speak about Father Dunne with a certain tolerance he would not show in speaking of Father Gillis; but deep within him he feels that Father Dunne is as inextricably caught up in philosophical and authoritarian benightedness as is Father Gillis, and hence, when all is said and done, an enemy of a good democratic, secular society—like Father Gillis. And Blanshard is correct. Father Dunne is a learned and civilized man, and a minister of the Faith. Such a man has difficulty, at the margin, coexisting with Mr. Blanshard.
I DO NOT mean to imply that it becomes the Catholic to move about his society with a sense of personal infallibility which itself more surely than anything else would undermine the whole meaning of the Catholic faith. He must be quick to acknowledge error, and he must be personally humble, and personally kind, and personally tolerant. But he should not take up a position for any reason other than he finds the position itself valid, and compelling. And he should, I believe, train himself to show more toleration for his coreligionists than he sometimes tends to show. I have not seen more bitter criticism of certain Catholics than by other Catholics. And I don't mean criticism focussed on a Catholic's failure to do his duty as a Catholic; I mean criticism of a Catholic in his political or economic life, in an area where controversy and differences of opinion are possible within the framework of Christian principles. It is the responsibility of the Catholic, it would appear to me, to be not only tolerant toward Protestants and Jews, but also toward Catholics; even Catholics on the Right.
And so I ask:
—Do we really need to rely on the thinking of the Fund for the Republic and Arden House to guide us toward a solution to modern problems? Or can we look into our own vast resources, which reject, root and branch, the animating prejudices of our secular scholarship?
—It is suggested we must be prepared to coexist with the Soviet Union. That certainly is the position of our secular political leadership. Is it the position—to the extent there can ever be "a" position—of the Catholic laity? I say it is our principal responsibility to search out means by which to hasten the dissolution of Communist society.
—It is suggested our principal responsibility with respect to the Negro is to bring him civil rights. Should civil rights, political rights, be the object of our primary concern? I say it is not established that the promulgation of the Negro's civil rights at the recommended speed will help him to save his soul. Are the two enterprises, indeed, related? If so, how?
—Are we so sure that the free market has been anachronized by our industrialized society? It is widely held by the liberal Catholics that the concept of the just price as described by the Scholastics is the theological authority behind the welfare state. I venture to say the scholarship of those who make this contention turns out to be defective, and that it is established that the principles of the free market were endorsed by the preponderant scholarship of scholasticism.
—Are we so sure that the development of the labor union movement in the United States is in harmony with the ideal of community enunciated by the recent popes; that the labor unions are the modem counter parts of the ancient guilds which allegedly spared the middle ages the ravages of capitalism and monopoly (though in fact they served a different function entirely)? I suggest the labor union movement is nowadays feeding on the common good, that in fact there appears to be an apprehension of this in the Vatican; that labor unions, or many of them, show dehumanizing tendencies which bring into question whether, in their present form, they are a social force we should encourage.
—What is the proper authority of the popes and the bishops? Is it, as Senator Kennedy would have us believe, virtually nonexistent in political matters? The bishops of Ohio came out against right-to-work laws in 1958. Did they have the right to do so? Were they prudent in doing so? What is the force of their authority? On us—and Senator Kennedy? Were the bishops of Puerto Rico correct in coming out against the election of Muñoz Marin? Is the manifesto of the 166 American Catholic intellectuals, published some weeks ago—and in the drafting of which my learned adversary Mr. Clancy played a prominent role—correct in suggesting that interference by the Church with Senator Kennedy's freedom of movement as President is inconceivable? Is Maritain correct in saying it is intolerable for any Catholic to "claim to speak in the name of Catholicism and imply that all Catholics as such should follow their road?" Or are the writers of The Commonweal, America, and the Catholic World right in telling me, as so many of them are so fond of doing, what to think?
—Are we so certain that there is a consensus among theologians on the true nature of the state? Is it indeed primarily the seat of justice? It is held nowadays that the state must exercise almost infinite authority, that being what it takes to do the work that is needed, to cope with the problems of the day. I say in forwarding the statist solution we have not adequately reflected on the history of man's experience with the state; nor have we pondered the classic and dissenting definitions and analyses of St. Augustine and Cardinal Newman, each in his day the principal Catholic thinker of the age.
I suggest, in closing, that Mr. Clancy and the school he represents have latched on to a fundamentally alien movement. They will never Catholicize it, alas, and it remains to ask, what will it do to them? Oremus.
A Liberal View
WILLIAM BUCKLEY and I have met in debate three times this year. Each time, I have heard him describe my own "liberal" Catholic position, and have failed to recognize it. I still await some debate in which he will tell us what a "conservative" Catholic is. Because the "liberal" and "conservative" question is not one defined by the easy labeling and categorizing that are the stock in trade of many magazines—both on the left and on the right. It is a question that cannot be profitably discussed in Mr. Buckley's terms of easy blacks and whites, of "angels" and "devils."
This question of the Catholic in the modern world, of what the attitude of the Catholic should be toward problems of the modern world, is not a simple conservative question of rejecting the modern world or a simple liberal question of embracing the modern world—although, in the course of polemics, the question sometimes is reduced to this. It is not a question of being either "for" the modern world or "against" it. It is rather the complex, serious and history-laden question of the general approach of Catholics to the modern world. It is a question of attitude. And here we must begin by making some basic distinctions.
In the first place, every Catholic—and this includes every "liberal" Catholic—is in a certain sense a conservative. And this is true by definition. It would be monstrous to maintain otherwise. The Catholic accepts a Revelation that was once and for all delivered to the apostles; it is part of his patrimony to conserve this Revelation and to pass it on.
So the question here of the liberal and the conservative Catholic is not a doctrinal question. Doctrinally, every Catholic is a conservative, and is proud to be a conservative. The notion of a doctrinally liberal Catholicism, if it ever existed, was disposed of once and for all in the condemnations of Pius IX and of Pius X.
The question here then is not doctrinal. It is: given these facts, given these distinctions, what should be the attitude of Catholics toward the modern world? And it is here, in the question of attitude rather than of doctrine, that the terms liberal and conservative assume meaning—at least as descriptions if not as definitions. It is from this standpoint that I wish to consider them.
Now, this question of the approach of the believer to the "modem world" is an ancient question; it is more ancient than the Christian Church. This is the question that the psalmist asked in one of the greatest, most moving psalms of the Old Testament. The psalmist asked: "How shall I sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" And believers must repeat the psalmist's question in every age, because in every age there is a conflict between "the world" and the believer. The Prince of this World is at work through history, and any believer who thinks that he serves his faith by subjugating it to the moment, to the demands of the age or to the demands of the century, betrays his faith. The believer is always a stranger and a pilgrim; his question therefore will always be: "How shall I sing the Lord's song in a strange land?"
IN SEEKING to answer this question, the believer faces two obvious temptations. The first temptation is simply to reject the city of man; and this is the temptation to utter transcendence. Certain Christians in every age have succumbed to this temptation. It is a temptation, I think, which historically is more at home with a certain type of Calvinism than it is with Catholicism; but Catholics succumb to it, too. They reject the world as evil; they turn their backs upon it and say: "Here we have our oasis of truth—outside there is the night. Let us build our walls. Let us hold fast to the truth we have. Let us not open the doors." This is the historic temptation of the conservative.
The second temptation comes most easily to certain forms of liberal Christianity, and finds its ultimate expression, I suppose, in such a form of liberal Christianity as Unitarianism; and that is the temptation simply to embrace the "modern" world—to tailor the demands of religion to fit the contingencies of the age. But this temptation also has been felt within the household of the faith. It was yielded to in the nineteenth century by the Abbe Lamennais, and it was the basis of the Modernist movement at the beginning of the twentieth century. This is the historic temptation of the liberal.
Both temptations are a betrayal of the Church and of the world—that world which the Church strives to save. As Christians, we betray our vocation if we succumb to either.
The extreme conservative merely rejects—his answer to the world is a simple "No"; the extreme liberal merely accepts—his answer to the world is a simple "Yes." If I may make a theological analogy, I would say that the extreme conservative, who merely rejects the world, analogically commits the sin of despair; and the extreme liberal, who says a simple "Yes" to the world, analogically commits the sin of presumption. Christian wisdom rejects both. Christian wisdom demands that in our response to the world we find a middle way. The ancient adage of Christian wisdom, "Virtus stat in media," "Strength stands in the middle,'' is true here as it is true in other aspects of our vocation as Christian citizens of an earthly city.
Although this question of the relationship of the believer to the age is a perennial problem, older than the Christian Church, it is a particularly acute problem in our own age; and it promises to become even more acute in any age that we can foresee, because we live not only in a post-Christian age, but also in what is probably a post-religious age.
It is very easy, and very comforting, to talk about a "religious revival" in America—about the strength of the Church and the strength of the parishes in our land. We can take comfort in religious statistics, however, only if we fail to understand what is really happening in the world about us. Almost everywhere in the world, religion is in retreat. It is on the defensive. The world that is now being made is a world from which, tragically, religion is largely absent. And so, for the believer the question "How shall I sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" is more pressing today than it was two hundred years ago; and it will be even more pressing in the future.
THE QUESTION that Mr. Buckley and I are debating, therefore, is not an academic one; it is very real. And it is not a new one; it is very ancient. It is a question that we can ignore only at great peril for religion itself. Because, since the French Revolution of 1789 (that watershed of history) the Christian, more than at any other time, perhaps, since the fall of the Roman Empire, has been forced, if he is to survive, to make a radical reassessment of his position toward the age and of his relationship to the power structures of the world.
This is the problem of conservative and liberal Catholicism. In making this reassessment, what should the Catholic's attitude be? What should his adjustment be, if any? Should he reject out of hand? Should he embrace? Should he attempt to find a middle way?
Now, I maintain that this problem is particularly acute, and the temptations particularly strong, for those Catholics in the modern world who call themselves "conservative." They have tended toward a complete rejection of the world that comes out of the French Revolution. They have tended to view the modern age simply as the dominion of the Prince of Darkness, and to say: "We have our oasis of truth. Here we will stay, and our only contact with the outside world will be to issue an occasional communique condemning it."
Such an attitude among Catholics presents terrible problems for the Church, if only from the standpoint of the Church's evangelizing mission. And it presents terrible problems for the Christian layman whose personal vocation, even as a layman, is to save the world. In the Epistle for the Mass of the twentieth Sunday after Pentecost St. Paul tells us, "See, brethren, that you walk carefully; not as fools but as wise men, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." We note that St. Paul did not tell us to castigate the time. He told us to "redeem the time." And here, in the fifth chapter of Ephesians, St. Paul briefly summed up what is the Christian's vocation in every age—to find himself in evil times and yet not to turn his back upon them but redeem them.
This certainly is relevant to one of the really horrifying things about our modern condition—the polarity that exists in modern culture between the world and religion—between Man and God. In the words of a great contemporary Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich (Mr. Buckley, I trust, will forgive me for quoting a non-Catholic theologian) : "the modern world sees Christianity as reaction pure and simple; and Christians see the modern world as rebellion pure and simple." In this tragic situation neither can effectively address a word to the other. And so, what has actually been happening under our very eyes and what is continuing to happen, at an ever faster pace, is that the world goes on building its city, from which we, as Christians, are absent; and we Christians, smug in our own wisdom and in our own virtue, are content to let that city, quite literally, go to hell.
FATHER John Courtney Murray, one of the most distinguished contemporary Catholic theologians, addressed himself to this problem a few years ago when he asked whether, in the face of modern secular civilization, the Catholic's attitude should be to stand fast, holding out his hand in an attempt to stop this civilization's progress, all the while looking over his shoulder at the ever-diminishing figure of Isabella II of Spain. "What a peculiar stance for the universal Church," Father Murray observed.
My criticism of those Catholics who call themselves conservatives is that they do precisely this. In their major attitudes toward modern civilization, in the last one hundred and fifty years, they have been vehemently negative. And in this, I think, they have helped to create that image of the Church as a mere naysayer which pervades the modern world. This image is essentially a caricature of the Church, but it prevents modern men, almost en masse, from seeing the Church as that community of creative love and salvation which the Church really is. Historically, too many Catholic conservatives have fallen into a habit of mere nostalgia, of mere defensiveness; they have thus seemed, at least, unconcerned for any of the great battles for which the modern world has fought. With Father Murray I would say: what a peculiar stance for the universal Church!
It seems to me that the error of conservative Catholicism has been its failure to distinguish—and whatever may be the intellectual failures of Catholics, the last should be a failure to distinguish! And, because of their failure to distinguish, conservative Catholics have condemned everything for which the modern world has struggled because the reasons for which the modern world has struggled have been wrong. Who in the modern world, for example, has fought the great battles for equality and for freedom? (These are easy words, I know.) Concretely, who has fought the battles for racial justice? Was it the Catholics of Europe who stood most strongly against anti-Semitism? In this country, has it been Catholics who have led the battle for Negro rights? No, in both cases it has been the despised liberals. Who has fought the battles for freedom of the press and for freedom of conscience? Has the Catholic community either in this country or in Europe been famous for these things? I fear the answer is obvious. And again it is No.
The picture of modern history is largely the opposite. The Catholic community, on the whole, has either held back from the battles through indifference or has been content to condemn those who fought for these causes because their philosophy was a secularist, a non-Christian or even an anti-Christian philosophy. But if the modern world has fought these battles for the wrong reasons, it seems to me that in these matters the Christian's proper role should be to supply the right reasons, rather than to turn his back upon the battles themselves.
Certainly, in modern history the battleground for the major arguments between liberal and conservative Catholics has been France. It was French conservative Catholics who, through the entire nineteenth century, insisted on involving the fortunes of the Church with the fortunes of the French monarchy. And it was a great "liberal" Pope, Leo XIII, who finally ordered these conservative Catholics to cease tying the hopes of the Church to anachronistic political institutions and admonished them to come to terms with the republican institutions of their age, if they were to have any hope of speaking to their age at all.
Again, in our own century, it was another Pope, Piux XI, who condemned the conservative French political movement, L'Action Française. In this movement conservative Catholics once more sought to tie the Church to a rightist nationalism. At the cost of great bitterness among many Catholics, Pius XI demanded that they cease their efforts to involve the Church with authoritarian politics.
And we may recall the recent, poignant letter that close to two hundred Spanish priests circulated among their bishops, warning of a dark future for the Church in Spain unless, more than they had in the past, Spanish Catholics entered into and showed some concern for the causes of social justice and civil liberties—causes for which, once again, the Spanish liberals seem to be struggling alone.
IN CONSIDERING these things, in our tendency to damn causes for which we should have fought (and which should now be our causes) because they are the causes of men with whose philosophy we cannot agree, we might recall the wisdom of John Henry Newman, who once observed: "If they say to me, this cannot be Christian because it is found in paganism, I reply, this cannot be pagan because it is found in Christianity."
In these matters the Catholic liberal distinguishes. He recalls the words of the contemporary French theologian, Henri de Lubac, who has reminded us that in every age the Christian has a dual vocation. He faces two tasks: to conserve and to adapt. If he merely conserves and fails to adapt, then he has betrayed his duty as a Christian to the world. I believe it is the tragedy of conservative Catholicism that it has so completely polarized itself, and built such thick walls around itself, that it has forsaken the Christian's second vocation, which is to adapt the truths he has conserved to the unique needs of the present.
The Catholic liberal, however, believes that God's providence did not stop at some point in history—in the sixteenth century at the Reformation or in 1789 at the Revolution. He believes that God works through history. Because our God is a God of history, and He does bring good even out of evil.
It was a nineteenth century French theologian, Dupanloup, the Bishop of Orleans, who said something that I think we should remember today. He asked what Catholics should say to the men of our age—the liberals, the secularists—who accuse us of reaction and of failure to accept the facts of modem liberty. Dupanloup replied, "We must say this: we accept, we welcome the liberties for which you have fought. You made the Revolution without us. Indeed, you made it against us; but you also made it for us. In spite of you, God willed it so."
Modern liberalism has fought and won battles for which we Catholics should have fought but which, in our blindness, we too often opposed. Thus does God's providence work in man's affairs. Those Catholics who are described as "liberal"—who are "open" toward modern civilization—are at their best, I think, when they are in search for the evidences of God's providence in history, even in movements where they may least expect to find God's hand.