Volume > Issue > Letters to the Editor: October 1983

Letters to the Editor: October 1983

Dorothy Day or Doris Day?

You have run several pieces on the Catholic Worker Move­ment recently, and I would like to contribute my own perspec­tive on it.

The Catholic Worker has been active locally for well over a year now. Begun somewhat shakily in the back of a van, and originally serving only cheese sandwiches, this exemplary elee­mosynary operation now serves hot lunches seven days a week, provides breakfasts for children two days a week, distributes clothing two days a week, and last Christmas conducted the most successful toy giveaway in Sonoma County history. Not bad for a voluntary, non-state-sup­ported enterprise.

The doyenne of the Catho­lic Worker is, of course, Dorothy Day who, though no great fan of free enterprise, was even less sympathetic to Marxism. She ar­gued, sensibly enough, that the only true revolution was neces­sarily personal, ending in a re­newed capacity to love one’s fel­low man. In support of her very personalistic view of things, she quoted not Marx and Lenin but Dostoyevsky, John of the Cross, and Catherine of Siena.

Most of the local Catholic Worker volunteers know very lit­tle about Dorothy Day. At a re­cent meeting, one of them refer­red to her as Doris Day, and an­other said, “She was a radical, wasn’t she?” A third replied, “Yes, and in a time when it meant something to be a radi­cal.” These three remarks high­light two important facts about the Catholic Worker volunteers here. They are more interested in charitable practices than ideolog­ical inanities, and they apparent­ly are able to recognize the lat­ter.

I worked intermittently as a Catholic Worker volunteer for about six months before finally going to one of its meetings. In­deed, I went with salacious cur­iosity, confidently expecting that very few people would attend. Those I expected to attend, I was sure, would be mostly the ideo­logues and the professional prole­tariat who constitute a very small minority of the volunteers. Sally­ing forth with a warm sense of malice, I went to bear witness to their clichés.

Although I detest surprises, I was on this occasion fated to be surprised. That, as it turned out, was to be my only unpleasant ex­perience of the evening.

The co-founders’ house in an old and somewhat decrepit section of Santa Rosa, California, was scented with the aroma of pizza, warmed by the rustle and buzz of a great many people and punctuated by the pop of open­ing bottles of beer. A quick ol­factory inspection revealed the absence of more exotic intoxi­cants. A casual survey, one de­signed to satisfy the most rigor­ous canons of social science, turned up six ideologues and ap­proximately 39 avis Americanus middle classus.

I recognized almost no one, and I generally did not know the names of even those with whom I had worked on the serving line or in the kitchen. There is some­thing about noodles dried on the bottom of a 15-gallon pot or a small, bird-like, always smiling woman with four children wait­ing to be served that keeps con­versation focused on essential things. “Where’s the Brillo?” “We need more carrots on the line!” Names under such condi­tions go the way of most super­fluities, making room for the fundamentals like civility and generosity. Someone always finds the Brillo, and the carrots always come.

After being served a piece of pizza and directed to the ice­box for a beer, I returned to the living room. There, a man who occasionally had played blue grass during the Saturday evening meals wondered aloud why Christians did not take poor people into their homes. An older woman, somewhat incredulously, replied that people with families simply could not do that. Even the man who broached the mat­ter agreed that was certainly true and did not pursue the issue. The family, I thought: a radical, re­straining idea whose time has come again.

A woman sitting across from me next to her retirement-age husband took a sip of white wine and expressed the hope that it wasn’t Gallo. When no one re­sponded to this bête noire of rad­ical chic, she explained to all of us that Gallo was driving the growers out of business by fixing prices. Still no response. All the right flags were out, but no one saluted, or cheered, or said, “Amen.” As a gentleman and minor authority on Gallo wines, I cheerfully considered resolving her anxiety with a definitive taste. Instead, I went back to the kitchen to read the label on the wine jug, but I was offered an­other piece of pizza and forgot to do so. The beer, I am ashamed to say, was not Coors.

When I got back to the liv­ing room, the conversation mean­dered around a TV talk show some of the volunteers had seen. Apparently, an irate member of the cognoscenti had phoned in to denounce a black guest as a trai­tor for “wearing a designer suit.” Even the Gallo lady was embar­rassed by this story. Just think of it! Everybody understands that black men are free not to do bad imitations of Rap Brown. Why it was almost enough to make a curmudgeon happy.

When we all gathered in the den, an old man read a poem and everyone settled on the couches, chairs, and floor. In general, this mostly older, mostly Catholic, mostly female, and dominantly middle-class group handled their own first name in­troductions with great modesty. “I’m Doris,” one of them said, “and I work in the distribution of women’s clothes.” In fact, she both collects and distributes clothing, and she manages those operations with a dedication that would make Mr. J.C. Penney de­liriously happy.

When the camaraderie, warmth, and modesty of these introductions was occasionally broken by ideological overflow, people mostly looked politely embarrassed in the way they would if there had been a sudden intrusion of the rude noise that makes little boys laugh and grown men blush.

Thus the Gallo lady got no response at all when she urged us to picket a local electronics firm that does defense work. Not even when she solemnly declaimed, “The arms race is right here in Sonoma County,” did anyone follow her clarion.

Nor did the young man who said his job was “organizing round-table discussions” get one half the welcome given to even the most modest kitchen scul­lion. These people were good Americans, and they understood that it is work, not talk, that feeds the hungry.

The most embarrassing mo­ment of the evening came when a very soulful individual proudly announced that he had been ar­rested for “praying at Livermore,” and got no response what­ever. Somewhat nervously his girlfriend (or wife) whispered, “Maybe you should tell them what the Livermore Laboratory is.” “They do weapons research there,” he said. Still nothing.

Then this same young man, who had done yeoman service in organizing the Christmas toy dis­tribution, began to tell us how he was trying to “figure out” what the Catholic Worker philosophy meant. One of the local co-founders interrupted to say of him that he had also written a book on the arms race to be used in local high schools. Again the expected waves of applause did not come.

These are wise people, I thought. They know the young man was not arrested for “pray­ing at Livermore.” He was arrest­ed for blocking a road at Livermore. Safely out of the way, pre­sumably he could have prayed there until the Russians dropped a bomb on him — Livermore be­ing a likely target. Perhaps they also know, I thought, that there is nothing to “figure out” about the Catholic Worker philosophy. It is really quite clear, that phil­osophy, and it is called Christian­ity.

Prof. Harold Alderman

Dept. of Philosophy, Sonoma State University

Rohnert Park, California

“Creationism” & the Church Fathers

Regarding S.L. Varnado’s September article, “Confessions of a Lapsed Evolutionist,” I would like to say the following:

The late C.P. Snow was con­cerned in his books to build bridges between men educated in science and men educated in the humanities — the two cultures. I am more concerned with build­ing bridges between scientists and Christians, two complemen­tary aspects of the wholeness of truth. Enmity between the two, it seems to me, springs not only from too narrow a view by each of the other but from too nar­row a view by each of itself as the only way to truth.

A good many scientists ignorantly suppose that most Christians hold to that literal view of Genesis that is regretta­bly called “creationism” — re­grettably in that the name sug­gests that there is no other way to believe in divine creation. Ev­en scientists who are aware that some, more educated, Christians do accept the probable truth of evolutionary theory suppose that it is merely the irrefutable truths of modern science that have forc­ed Christians to compromise the faith of their fathers. Indeed, some Christians may themselves believe that. I have read remarks by scientists implying that a faith that has been thus compromised is on the way out, and that the final destruction of the Genesis account will leave that faith in ruins. Christians may smile, albe­it a little uneasily, yet it must be conceded that 19th-century de­bates in the time of the elder Huxley over Darwinism might appear to support the idea that orthodox Christianity must col­lapse without the prop of the seven 24-hour days of creation a mere few thousand years ago; and even more to support the idea that only the inexorable de­monstrations of modern science caused Christians to modify (we don’t care for that word “com­promise”) their faith.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The outline of history just given, pleasing to the enemies of Christianity, discom­forting to many Christians, is not the truth. The truth, in fact, is that long centuries before mod­ern science was so much as a gleam in Copernicus’s eye — in the early Church of the Fathers — there were significant views of the Genesis account of creation that hundreds of years later sci­ence was to support in perfect harmony. But — I emphasize — the Christian interpretation came first, not that of science.

The following quotation is from The Marriage of East and West (Templegate, 1982, pp. 112-113) by Dom Bede Griffiths, O.S.B. Speaking of the early Church, he describes the literal interpretation of Genesis of the school of Antioch and the sym­bolic interpretation of the school of Alexandria. He continues: “But there was another school, represented by St. Gregory of Nyssa in the East and St. Augus­tine in the West, which held with the school of Alexandria that the world was created at a moment of time by a single act of the di­vine power, but that it was pro­duced not in the form in which we know it but in its ‘potential­ity.’ According to St. Gregory of Nyssa, God created not the forms of things as they now exist but certain ‘powers’ or ‘energies’ which were destined to develop in the course of time into the present forms of nature. The sev­en days of creation were inter­preted simply as the stages in the evolution of these primordial en­ergies according to what he call­ed a ‘necessary order.’ In the same way St. Augustine spoke of the world being created in its ‘causes’ or ‘seminal principles’ (rationes seminales), that is to say that certain principles were implanted in nature from the be­ginning like seeds, which were destined to develop their specific forms according to the laws or tendencies inherent in them.”

These very great Christian thinkers lived in the late 300s when the legions of Rome still upheld the ancient order, more than a thousand years before Darwin and his followers. It is evident that enlightenment is not the exclusive province of the En­lightenment or of the brilliant scientists of today. Not only should Christians be aware of it, but it is for them to make the scientists aware of it, too.

Sheldon Vanauken

Lynchburg, Virginia

Why Pick on the Swiss?

For a magazine who’s edi­tor acknowledges “an increasing­ly Roman Catholic readership,” the September NOR is laden with good articles that appeal to evangelical Protestants like my­self. I especially appreciated S.L. Varnado’s “Confessions of a Lapsed Evolutionist.” NOR read­ers who wish to pursue the topic of evolution vs. creation further, can, at the cost of a 13 cent post card, get on the mailing list of the Institute for Creation Re­search. All they (and I) ask is that thoughtful people look at more than one side of such topics as how old our planet actually is, and whether or not the flood described in Genesis 6-8 actually took place.

I am considerably less en­thused with Arthur J. Sleight’s letter, “Usury & Morality.” The NOR has a tendency to accept the thesis of Max Weber, linking capitalism and (especially Calvinist-Reformed) Protestantism, as a given. I think there is much to the Weber Thesis, and even more to Dale Vree’s recent articles, which seem to expand on it. But when I was in college, it was at least a debatable issue.

In light of Vree’s series on what is spiritually wrong with the USA, Canada, and Western Europe, why does Sleight single out Switzerland as a “harlot na­tion”? It is my understanding of “Church history” that many of the Swiss cantons remained staunchly Roman Catholic in re­sponse to Calvin in Geneva — al­beit Swiss Roman Catholic. (I lack statistics on how many banks are located in Catholic cantons and how many in Protes­tant cantons.) I also feel that much of the neo-orthodoxy be­setting the various Churches in the USA — first Protestant, and now, apparently, Roman Catho­lic — came from Western Europe. But why pick on the Swiss?

Finally, let’s face it, capital­ism is efficient — much more so than socialism, communism, gov­ernment bureaucracy, or whatev­er. But Christians, of whatever denominational label, who are engaged in capitalism, should, when they cite, say, Ephesians 6: 5-8, also remember to include verse 9. (My New King James in­cludes 9 in the same paragraph as 5-8. So do New International and the Jerusalem Bibles.)

Bill Breckenkamp

Yosemite National Park


Ends in Themselves?

In Dale Vree’s article “On Christian Self-Indulgence” (July-Aug.), one notices a tendency to assimilate religious faith to the ideal of duty, sacrifice, and disci­pline as ends in themselves. Thus he writes that, “The only man­ageable and durable solution to decadence is, as I learned in East Germany, religious faith — which mandates the heroic life of self-discipline and sacrifice as ends in themselves.” But duty, self-disci­pline, sacrifice, and faith are not ends in themselves; they are sub­ordinate to the order of goods, whose author is the sovereign Good who is God.

John F. Maguire

Albany, California


Your point is well taken. In­deed, the sentence you quote troubled me — for the same rea­son it troubles you.

When I was going over the article manuscript for the last time, I thought of rewording that sentence in order to avoid the misunderstanding you focus up­on. But, because of a scarcity of time, I decided to “let it slide,” assuming that, because of the context, no one would take those words quite so literally. But my judgment was faulty. I gratefully accept your correc­tion.

Tears of Sadness

The Rev. Stephen W. Ro­man (letter, Jul.-Aug.) fails to understand that God only pun­ishes us for actions knowingly taken against His teachings. A tremendous amount of damage has indeed been caused by the unintentional mistakes of the now-honored Henri Cardinal DeLubac, S.J. The latter’s naïve de­fense of notorious fellow Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin was fully ex­ploited by modernists attempting to give Teilhard’s theology some respectability. But we must re­member that DeLubac was a close friend of Teilhard and only wished to believe the best. The same could be said for Thomas More’s blindness toward Eras­mus’s peculiar theological views.

It is when we observe DeLubac’s loyalty to the magisterium that we realize why he was awarded the red hat. Roman’s comparison of DeLubac to Hans Küng is outrageously misinform­ed. The former has always imme­diately given complete assent of mind and will to correction of his theories whenever the teach­ing authority of the Church has so demanded. The indirect con­demnation of his ideas regarding the Supernatural by Pius XII is an excellent example of this. It has been recorded that tears of sadness graced DeLubac’s eyes when told of the blatant disobedience of other Jesuits toward the Holy Father. One most cer­tainly cannot claim the same vir­tue for Fr. Küng!

David Thomson

Fort Worth, Texas

Desire to Become a Catholic

I have greatly enjoyed the New Oxford Review. I am enclosing a small donation for its continuance. As one who was raised in a Southern Baptist home, I have been interested in your ideas about an ecumenism centered around Christian ortho­doxy. For a very long time (pre­ceding my subscription) I have been attracted to the Catholic faith. I still attend, along with my family, an evangelical Ameri­can Baptist church. There is no question about it: in this church there is no hesitancy about preaching of Christ’s deity, His virgin birth, His death and Resur­rection, and His Coming Again. And yet it is evident that what is so glaringly absent is a doctrine of the Church, and for that mat­ter, a fully developed view of the Incarnation.

Frankly, I have met few evangelicals who would be at­tracted to the notion of some sort of Catholic-evangelical rap­prochement. I am speaking now of the “man in the pew,” as op­posed to academic types. There seems to be an ingrained feeling of hostility to the notion of creeds, Councils, or Tradition. There is a feeling of suspicion specifically reserved for the Ro­man Catholic Church. To this day, Baptist-type evangelicals usu­ally think of the average Catholic as one who is “lost,” who has never heard the Gospel. For my­self, I find I am most attracted to the Catholic Faith precisely to the extent that it still upholds the creeds and pronounces, through the magisterium, the teaching and dogmas that God wishes to convey to His people.

It is difficult to describe, in these few words, just how a Prot­estant evangelical goes through a process in which Protestantism, as a belief system, is rejected, and how, inwardly at least, it is replaced by a desire to become a Catholic.

Ron Dacus

La Verne, California

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