Year’s End

With this issue we complete the first volume of Catholicism in Crisis, and I use the ordinal adjective in the conviction that there will be many more.

Terry Hall will be moving his family to Notre Dame and take over as managing editor toward the beginning of December. Terry has been involved with the journal from the outset in his capacity as assistant to Michael Novak at the American Enterprise Institute. When he settles in as managing editor we expect to make a quantum jump forward. The past year has been marked by all the enthusiasm and flaws of the novice. With Terry at the quotidian helm we expect to take on a more professional look, to expand our readership and to move rapidly toward the weightier role we believe to be our destiny.

The twelve issues that make up volume one speak for themselves. We feel that they are an impressive first step toward the objectives we set down in November, 1982. There has been principled variety in our offerings; we have sought to show a range of Catholic opinion which avoids extremes. We continue to note that the established Catholic periodicals have as a rule drifted to the left, so much so that they seem blithely unaware of their philosophical cast.

As a Catholic journal we look ahead to publishing a series of explanations and defenses of the teachings of Pope John Paul II. The condescension of some theologians to the Holy Father became open during John Paul’s visit to this country. Recently the stridency of women religious (the Old Nuns) has evoked thoughts of Xanthippe and other harridans. Convinced as we are that the election of this pope was one of the greatest acts of mercy God has shown this benighted generation, we shall raise our own lance in his defense against the aging misconstruers of Vatican II.

It is gratifying to see our bishops responding ever more impressively to the Pope’s exhortations and example. We long to see them lead us by their own grace and charism, rather than by acting as retailers of the opinions of “experts” to which we have independent access in any case. Wasn’t it St. Ambrose who said that God did not become man in order that men might become theologians? Presumably men are not consecrated bishops in order to be tutored by advisors.

Michael Novak’s Moral Clarity in the Nuclear Age has had an interesting career since first appearing in these pages. It was reprinted in its entirety in National Review and has been reissued in paperback by Thomas Nelson Publishers, with additional chapters, a foreword by Billy Graham and an introduction by William F. Buckley, Jr. Bulk orders continue to come in and it is good to know that many groups studying the bishops’ letter are doing so with Novak at hand. Thus is the wish of the bishops fulfilled.

I sent copies of the Nelson edition of Michael’s letter to all the bishops of the United States with a covering letter. Because of the Synod I have not heard from all of them but a gratifying number acknowledged receipt either personally or through an aide. Some did more than that. Among the longer letters there are some whose tone is truly surprising. Here is an exemplum horrible. “Although I have not had the opportunity to read it yet, I am hopeful that this Novak edition is absent his usual strident tone and accusatory style. I do not find his particular style of authorship to be helpful for building up the Body of Christ, His Church. Maybe this time we have a happy exception.”

I suppose rhetoricians have a label for a charge that exemplifies the crime it is inveighing against. Of course no one is obliged to warm to Michael Novak’s style. But more than one bishop has a style that puts me off. Particularly when it seems motivated by annoyance that a lay person should have the audacity to question a prelate’s judgment on contingent and debatable matters.

Civility in debate is a virtue of the intellectual life very difficult to come by, of course. We set it before us as an ideal when we founded this journal. Doubtless we have sometimes fallen far short of that ideal ourselves, though one’s ability to espy shortcomings gains with the distance from home. Crabbiness is everywhere unattractive but among Christians it approaches sin. But there is the vice Pius XII labeled false eirenism, and that must be avoided too.

One of the phrases that became familiar during the Council was “our separated brethren.” Reflection on it can deliver up needed light on how believers should regard the faith they have been given. As a gift. As an entree to truths they do not own, truths which are addressed to everyone. These must be presented and discussed, and defended in such a way that we do not become obstacles to all those others who have an equal right to the truth. St. Augustine liked to use truth as a privileged example of a common good. It is something that clearly cannot be mine as opposed to yours. I do not own it. I must hold it as shareable.

Most of the matters discussed in these pages deal with possible implications of the truths of faith. Believers consider matters like national defense and Latin America and social programs and on and on within the ambience of the faith. The relation between such discussions and truths of the faith is not one the logician would call necessary. That is, those who share the faith can disagree quite definitively on social and political matters. One of the purposes of Catholicism in Crisis is to emphasize this and to provide constant illustrations of it in what we publish.

We do not think that the views of Walter Mondale are entailed by the teachings of the Catholic Church. No more are those of Ronald Reagan. This in turn does not entail that one should therefore be indifferent to both. But in espousing the one or the other we should take care not to equate the contingent with the necessary. The point is simply stated. Observing it is hard.

We hope to be engaged in that difficult task for many years to come.

  • Ralph McInerny

    Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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