28 October 2015

Update on a Personal Project

Right now, I have several small projects running.  I am working intermittently on a commentary on the first tract of St. Thomas's Summa Theologiae, directed at beginners.  Aside from that, I have been blogging a lot (as is evident...), re-reading Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honor, and trying to decide whether a Ph.D. in theology would be worth pursuing.

Readers of this blog may have noticed an increase in references to the Austrian Catholic historian Ludwig von Pastor in my posts lately (for example here and here).  Perhaps they even read the excellent excerpt of his work I published on the political philosophy site The Josias.  Pastor's classic History of the Popes has been out of print for the better part of a century.  Its 40 volumes cover the years 1300-1800, and give a precise chronicle of the efforts, crises and confusions of the Popes from the Babylonian Captivity at Avignon to the outbreak of the French Revolution.

Today I received the final proof copy of Volume I of Pastor's History, which I am re-publishing through Lulu.  The volume is beautiful and satisfies all my scruples as a bibliophile.  The page design has been improved, the text is crisp and clean, the binding is sturdy but flexible, and it has beautiful cover art.  This volume confirms that I have perfected the page layout and cover design for the book.  Now that everything is in place, the other volumes will follow.

The more one reads of the theological commentary and the ecclesiastical politics of today's Church, the clearer it becomes that Catholics are overwhelmingly ignorant of the history of the Church and the history of what Catholicism has meant as a practiced faith for the past two millennia.

Even among those who know a good deal about Church History, knowledge is generally limited to a few common loci: the Arian Crisis, the thought of St. Thomas, the writings of Augustine, the Saints of the Counter-Reformation.  The vitality of the Church, the lived understanding of the Faith as practiced in the vast swathes of history that separate these great figures, is left untouched, stuffed away in research libraries and rare book stores.  Without this knowledge, it is easy for us to slip into comfortable misconceptions about what Catholicism means.  We fall victim to presumption, and fuzzy spiritualism, and are susceptible to all the popular modern heresies and compromises.

Particularly neglected are the years since the Protestant Reformation, when the leaders of the Church have had to face wave after wave of confrontation and crisis, while "the ruin of the great political unity of the Middle Ages brought forth the selfish spirit of modern times".  Pastor's History of the Popes is concerned with this period above all, and through his close chronicle of events he gives us a precise sense of the conditions and struggles of the Church in the modern world.

Western Civilization today is driven by a progressive narrative: History moves forward.  The past is not as good as the present.  Everything is getting better all the time.  Catholics tend to internalize this belief, and assume that the Church must also be getting better: new superstar popes, new "relevant" theology, new evangelization, new catechesis, new liturgy.  All of this must signal improvement.  The mood of progressivism was enshrined in the tone of Vatican II's pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, the authors of which were befuddled by the hopeful rhetoric of the age.

But the authority of the Church is based on what was laid down in the past, and received through tradition.  If the Church were to give up the claim that its doctrine is the doctrine given by Christ, the Son of God, to his apostles in the first century, then would lose all divine authority.  Such a Church would become what the Holy Father has reviled from the first moments of his pontificate: just another global NGO, preaching niceness and community service for the benefit of mankind.

So, for Catholics today, there is a basic choice to be made.  We were not catechized properly in school.  Our priests were not taught sound theology.  The doctrinal identity of the Church seems (from a worldly perspective) to be up for grabs.  In the midst of this confusion, we can allow the Church to be silenced and disfigured, by subjugating its authentic doctrine it to the secular hope of comfort in a future paradise.  Or we can deepen our roots in the past, and seek out the forgotten wellsprings of Catholicism in the unceasing traditions of the Church, her moral teaching, her theology, her way of life—so that we, or our children, or theirs, can bring forth once again the ancient fruit of Christ, which was once the glory of Christendom.

Anyway, I will continue to post updates as new volumes become available.  Please consider buying a copy of the first volume.