Christendom and the West: Essays on Culture, Society and History
By Thomas Storck
Publisher: Four Faces Press (P.O. Box 834, Springfield VA 22150)
Review Author: David Arias Jr.
In the May 2000 NOR, I reviewed Thomas Storck’s Foundations of a Catholic Political Order. That work is a must read for anyone interested in the proper relation between the true Faith and the ways it is expressed in the cultural and political orders. And the same is true, I am happy to say, about Storck’s new book, Christendom and the West.
In his preface Storck notes that most of these 14 concise and revised essays previously appeared in such periodicals as Caelum et Terra, Faith & Reason, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, and the NOR. Far from being haphazardly assembled, these essays revolve around a common subject matter: “the Faith and the culture that it has created…in its first homeland, Europe, and in Europe’s extensions overseas, especially the United States.” In part, these reflections were occasioned by the heated debates of the late 1980s regarding multiculturalism, wherein both the Faith and Western culture were brutally and maliciously attacked. For Storck these attacks served as an occasion to articulate the essence of Western culture and its value and significance both presently and historically. In doing so Storck takes up such topics as: the God-given vocation of Europe and Western civilization, the relationship between culture and the Faith, the place of Latin in the revival of Catholic culture, the nature and purpose of art, Catholic culture and America’s multiculture, Western culture and the American university curriculum, and the meaning of the Catholic intellectual revival. In each instance his discussion is unusually informed and clear.
To provide a taste of Storck’s work I will identify some of his keenest insights on the nature of Western culture. We might begin by asking, as he does, what is meant by “the West”? Does this term denominate nothing more than a mere group of nations whose political structures and economic systems resemble one another? Storck answers with a resounding no!
Rather, following Jacques Maritain, Storck maintains that the West is essentially “a rich fusion of the word of God and the word of man, all that our culture has received by way of revelation and all that we have received by way of the exercise of reason.” The word of God refers, of course, to God’s revelation of Himself and His plan for mankind, first to the Chosen People of the Old Testament and then to the world as a whole through the God-Man, Jesus Christ, and presently through the one Church that Christ personally founded. The word of man, on the other hand, refers to the philosophical achievements of the ancient Greeks, especially Plato and Aristotle, and by extension to the Roman application of Greek philosophy to juridical matters, constituting Roman law. That is, the word of man can be seen as God’s revelation of many sublime truths to mankind through reason. Thus, the fusion of the word of God and the word of man, wherein is constituted the true West and wherefrom true Western culture proceeds, is the most significant fusion of the most important and essential truths God has revealed to man. Indeed, God providentially provided the West to mankind both for His glory and for the sanctification of His rational creatures.
Such a view of the nature of the West, which Storck magnificently explains, begins to spell out the unique significance of the culture the West has produced for mankind as a whole. It also allows us to see just how far the current concept of “the West,” together with the culture which today embodies it, has strayed not only from its origin, but from its God-given vocation of bringing the Catholic Faith to all men in and through all aspects of their lives.
Indeed, Storck argues, true Western culture, insofar as it has as its principle the fusion of the word of God and the word of man, is, objectively speaking, superior to all other cultures that the world has ever known. For a culture only fulfills its raison d’être, and is thus a good culture, insofar as it helps man to live a life wherein he will become good according to his nature and, by grace, a child of God. Thus far in history only the culture of the West has achieved its raison d’être in a pre-eminent fashion. Storck holds that “Western culture cultivates man better than any other culture does, because, historically speaking, it is based on truth, both divine and human, and surely man cannot be perfected according to anything except the truth.”
However, as I noted, anyone with a pair of eyes can recognize that the West of today is but a shadow — and a distorted shadow at that — of the true West which was for centuries more or less faithful to its God-given vocation to make men good, to make men holy. Throughout his essays, though, Storck not only details various and sundry ways in which the West, together with its culture, has abandoned its own vocation, but he also suggests some ways in which the average Catholic can help re-Westernize and re-Catholicize his own personal, familial, and perhaps small community environment. These suggestions include various options, from small study groups to genuinely observing the liturgical calendar in one’s home.
But the first step in re-Westernizing and re-Catholicizing one’s self and environment is to understand what one has lost and why one should attempt to regain it. In order to achieve this end, study is needed. Where to start? Not surprisingly, I nominate Storck’s Foundations of a Catholic Political Order and Christendom and the West.
Catholic Thought Since the Enlightenment: A Survey
By Aidan Nichols, O.P
Publisher: Gracewing Publishing (2 Southern Ave., Leominster, Herefordshire, HR6 0QF, United Kingdom)
Review Author: John M. Vella
Nearly a decade ago, my alma mater inaugurated a faculty exchange program with the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. The program advanced learning. Yet it did not recommend itself when a visiting professor recounted with approval how Louvain faculty members publicly protested Pope John Paul II’s insistence upon orthodox teaching in the theology departments of Catholic universities. He reported this story at a state university to show the predominantly non-Catholic audience how progressive his colleagues were for refusing to conform to religious beliefs deemed intellectually suspect.
By attempting to counter a common stereotype about the intellectual failings of Catholic educators, our guest speaker reinforced another equally doubtful one: that the intellectual life of the Church is crippled when theologians are required to believe Catholic teachings. But does religious faith really interfere with the mind’s search for truth? An examination of the theological history of the Catholic Church can help answer this question.
In this book by Fr. Nichols, prior of the Dominican house at Cambridge University, we learn that a rebellion against unorthodox professors by Catholic students took place at Louvain in 1789, which helped ignite a Church-wide revival of the study of St. Thomas Aquinas. When official teaching is challenged, faithful and learned Catholics rally to the defense of their Church. There will always be Catholic theologians who run afoul of Church authorities. What is remarkable about the period covered by Fr. Nichols is the large number of Catholic writers who advance the Gospel message within the parameters of orthodox Catholic faith.
Only rarely do Church authorities come across as ill-informed and overzealous. The papal condemnation of (theologicabpModernism is not one of those cases. While critics characterize as overreaction Vatican efforts to eradicate the influence of a small group of Modernist scholars, Nichols defends the official justification for doing so on the grounds that this group intended to influence the entire Church with ideas correctly judged to be erroneous and harmful.
Even in those rare cases when the work of a gifted scholar is, in retrospect, judged too harshly by his superiors, good often comes of it. This was true in the case of the Dominican biblical scholar and suspected Modernist Père Marie-Joseph Lagrange (1855-1938), who was advised to abandon Old Testament exegesis because his use of the new historical-critical method produced interpretations that strayed too far from approved ones. His abandonment of Old Testament study, however, was “providential” says Nichols, because Lagrange went on to write a “great quartet of commentaries” on the gospels of the New Testament.
Nichols’s book records the three-hundred-year search for an effective Christian response to the Modern challenge to faith. Over centuries, with failures and triumphs along the way, faithful theologians have met this challenge so that the Catholic Church arrived at the millennium’s end “with its intellectual house relatively in order — at any rate at the level of theory.” While there is still much to do, the book helps us see how far we have come.
Divided into many sections roughly two and one-half pages long, the text appears easy to read at first glance. Yet this book is no cakewalk. There are chapters that will challenge those who lack theological or philosophical training. Nichols often writes in an uneven style, discussing subjects with great clarity in one section, then changing gears in the very next by using language only professional theologians could understand with ease. Explaining complex ideas to readers who lack specialized knowledge is not easy; still, Nichols could have used his considerable talents to produce a survey more accessible to the general reader.
Although he admits that “constraints of length” require him to be “selective” about who is discussed, Nichols gives no criteria for choosing the figures he does. If this study is a “theological history of Catholicism,” why is the historian Christopher Dawson given a section while the Thomistic philosopher Josef Pieper receives only one sentence? Certainly, it is difficult to do justice to everyone; however, does the discredited Darwinian archeologist-priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who is now experiencing a much-deserved obscurity, warrant an entire section when Romano Guardini, who is currently enjoying a revival of interest here and abroad, gets only two paragraphs?
Despite these reservations, this accurate and informative overview of Catholic intellectual history can be used to great effect in classrooms and by individuals with some theological or philosophical background.
Search and Rescue
By Patrick Madrid
Publisher: Sophia Institute Press
Review Author: John Y. Hoffman
Looking for a practical apologetics guide for approaching fallen-away relatives or non-Catholic friends? This book will help. It differs from many other guides in that Madrid stresses the spiritual aspect of evangelization.
Madrid reminds us that we minister to Christ whenever we reach out to others. Remember the Lord’s words: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.” Consider the angry young man in jail who was baptized a Catholic but never really met Christ. Those of us who have had the privilege of doing jail ministry know him well. Think of the sick and lonely widow who has lost her faith. Those of us who have had the privilege of working with the Legion of Mary know her well. Madrid’s book will be a welcome friend in both ministries and many others as well.
Legion of Mary members, in particular, who read Search and Rescue will want to share with Madrid at least a part of the prayer that has so often inspired their own traditional apostolate: “Confer, O Lord, on us, who serve beneath the standard of Mary, that fullness of faith in You and trust in her, to which it is given to conquer the world. Grant us a lively faith, animated by charity, which will enable us to perform all our actions from the motive of pure love of You, and…a courageous faith which will inspire us to undertake and carry out without hesitation great things for Your glory and for the salvation of souls….”
Each chapter addresses a real-life subject. Our effort is for God rather than “making points” for us. We must understand our faith very well. We need to approach people with an awareness of their specific situation. Once we’ve made our best effort, God will continue the work.
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