Catholicism and the Future of Culture

Education
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Catholicism is the future of culture in America and the Western World. Why? Because Catholicism understands that humans are cultural animals and that we have a rich and splendid cultural inheritance rather than proclaiming a deracinated and orphaned inheritance or advancing an ideology of self-hatred and cultural destruction in the name of progress. 

Humans are social animals and innately want to belong to something. For a long time, religion had served this purpose of human yearning: both for something human and social but also transcendent and divine. In our current age of deracination and atomization, Catholicism not only has a two-millennia living tradition offering a rich inheritance, but it also has a rich future. We belong to something ancient but also something growing into the future.

Culture comes from the Latin word cultus, meaning care or praise. Culture is something we care about, something we grow to love and praise. One of the great treasures of Catholicism is in its recognizing truth, goodness, and beauty wherever it is found—and that this truth, goodness, and beauty belongs to God and, therefore, God’s people.

In our current deracinated world where all things that have nourished us are tossed aside, Catholicism offers a unique opportunity for nourishment from the wisdom of the past so as to grow that wisdom and love into the future as part of a millennia-long tree of life.

Consider Catholic education. Not the faux Catholic education of Notre Dame or Georgetown. Look at the classical humanities tradition within Catholicism that is burgeoning. From high school to liberal arts colleges, the Catholic safeguarding of the liberal arts and educational humanism will be the last bastion—along with some Protestant classical-education schools—in preserving the flame of the West’s artistic, cultural, and literary heritage.

While most schools indoctrinate students in the latest critical theory fads, Catholic schools will be nourishing generations to come in the insights of Plato, the logic of Aristotle, and the splendor of Homer and Virgil. Instead of hating our patrimony, Catholics will be on the front line in restoring culture—the long and arduous process of defending all that is good and true and beautiful from our past so as to inform our own love of the present. 

But it doesn’t stay with the lights of the old world. Catholic education in the classical mold will continue to nourish future saints in the greatest thoughts and insights from our own theological and literary tradition. Once-household-names, now forgotten, will be kept alive through Catholic education and shepherding: St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Gregory, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Bonaventure. The Confessions, The City of God, The Pastoral Rule, The Summa Theologiae, all will be read and serve as water for intellectual maturation in a world where the intellect is scoffed at.

More uniquely, Catholic humanism in America also embraces the uniqueness of the American experience and tradition. The great authors of the American Renaissance, and writers like Tocqueville, are read alongside the greats of the English tradition. It is only in a Catholic future that students will read Melville alongside Shakespeare, Longfellow aside Milton, and Steinbeck beside Chaucer. And not only the great writers of America and Albion will be read, but students will also be exposed to the genuinely great documents of American political thought that contributed to the making of the United States: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers.

It is perhaps ironic that it will be Catholics, going forward, who will be the guardians of all that is good, true, and beautiful in American culture and civilization. While the next generation of the scions of the founding stock of America abandon their heritage and come to scorn it, the next generation of faithful Catholics will be nourished by the beauty and wisdom of the ancient past, the American experience, and the Catholic intellectual tradition—thereby forming a potent troika for the resuscitation of culture and cultural vitality in the decades to come.

Humans are cultural animals. They seek to love and praise. We know the highest manifestation of our cultural spirit is God. Yet this doesn’t abrogate the cultural affinities that surround us: architecture, art, literature, and music. These cultural realities, when subordinated in service and love of God, also help nourish the soul to God as Augustine said in De Doctrina Christiana: “truth wherever it is found belongs to [God].”

Catholics are poised to be the future of culture because Catholics know the importance of culture to human life, society, and vitality. Instead of destroying all that is good and noble, Catholics will be the leading cohort tilling the soil of culture and nurturing and growing that culture of beauty, goodness, and truth in our current darkness. The light that will shine from this project can be, and must be, a guiding light to attract lost souls to the Church and all she has to offer.

Will Catholics, especially in the hierarchy, recognize this? A Church that follows the spirit of the woke Zeitgeist with nothing more than a sprinkling of holy water is a Church that will decay and die and be left behind in the kingdoms of clay and dust that are the cities of men. But a Church that reaches into the restless spirit of humans, directs them to the noble light above, and can do so through the ingenuity and genius of human minds and hands from thousands of years ago to the past century (Chesterton, Tolkien, Lewis, etc.) may well find itself flocked with hungry souls ready to care about and praise the things worth caring about and praising. 

Shepherding the next generation and nurturing the future of culture will be no easy task. But it is the task that Catholics are best equipped to undertake. Our souls, and our culture, need the courage and sacrifice demanded of this heroic undertaking—the truly new evangelization begins and ends with Catholics, as it always has.

[Photo Credit: Shutterstock]

By

Paul Krause a humanities teacher, classicist, and essayist. He is also a Senior Contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and Associate Editor at VoegelinView.

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