The Spirit of Catholicism

The Spirit of Catholicism by Karl Adam was reviewed by George Orwell:

This is a notable book, and well worth reading, though it contains too many sentences of this type:

Since the community and not the individual is the bearer of the spirit of Jesus, and since its visibility consists especially in the manifestation of this essential unity, therefore the visible organism of the Church postulates for its visibility a real principle of unity in which the supra-personal unity of all the faithful obtains perceptible expression and which supports, maintains and protects this unity.

It is hard work to dredge a meaning out of such morasses of words, but no one who is interested in the present revival of Catholicism will find the trouble wasted.

What distinguishes this book from the current drizzle of Catholic propaganda is that it is more or less non-controversial. Our English Catholic apologists are unrivalled masters of debate, but they are on their guard against saying anything genuinely informative. Few of them have any object beyond self-justification; their writings, therefore, are either a stream of cheery insult at biologists and Protestant historians, or an attempt to bluff the fundamental difficulties of faith out of existence. Father Adam does not proceed on these lines. He is not trying to prove any particular adversary a fool but rather to show what goes on inside the Catholic soul, and he hardly bothers to argue about the philosophical basis of faith. It is interesting to compare his book with some English book of similar tendency-for instance, with Father Martindale’s recent book, The Roman Faith. The contrast between the Catholic who simply believes, and the convert who must for ever be justifying his conversion, is like the contrast between an Buddha and a performing fakir. Father Martindale, being committed to the statement that faith is essentially reasonable, can neither stand up to his difficulties nor ignore them. Consequently he evades them, with considerable nimbleness. He sails over the theory of evolution in a sort of logical balloon-flight, with commonsense flung overboard for ballast; he dodges past the problem of evil like a man dodging past his creditor’s doorway-and so on. Father Adam, who has started by saying that faith is not to be approached in the same spirit as “the profane sciences”, has no need of these tricks. With a creed that is safe from “profane” criticism, he is in a very strong position; it gives him the chance to develop his own ideas, and to say something constructive and interesting.

What, then, can the non-Catholic learn from this book about the Catholic faith? Well, in one sense, nothing, for there can be little real contact of mind between believer and unbeliever. As Father Adam says, “the Catholic of a living faith, and he alone, can make the investigation” (into the nature of Catholicism), and the others, with their ill-will or ignorantia invincibilis or what-not, are self-excluded. Nevertheless, in any objective way, something can be learned, or rather, re-learned, namely, the Hebrew-like pride and exclusiveness of the genuine Catholic mind. When Father Adam writes of the Communion of the Saints, one gets an impression of the Church not so much as a body of thought as of a kind of glorified family bank-a limited company paying enormous dividents, with non-members rigidly excluded from benefits. Here are Father Adam’s words:

The Saints during their mortal life amassed beyond the measure of their duty a store of wealth….this wealth of the Saints is that “treasure of the Church”, that sacred family inheritance, which belongs to all members of the body of Christ, and which is at the service especially of sick and feeble members.

The smallest shareholder draws his bonus on the profits made by Augustine or Aquinas. The point is missed if one forgets that the “family” means the Church and the Church alone; the rest of humanity, stray saints apart, being so much negligible matter, for whome there can be nothing save a slightly rigid pity, for extra ecclesiam nulla salus, and “dogmatic intolerance”, as Father Adam puts it, “is a duty to the infinite truth”. Father Adam allows that non-Catholics of goodwill have been known to exist here and there; but these in reality are Catholics without knowing it, since any virtue that exists outside the Church must be held to have proceeded, “invisibly”, from the Church. And apart from special mercies, which are by no means to be counted on, “all pagans, Jews, heretics and schismatics have forfeited eternal life an dare destined to everlasting fire”.

This is quite straightforward, and much more impressive than what we get from our English Catholic apologists. These, with their public-school methods of controversy, have given so strong an impression of not being in earnest that hardly a soul in England bothers to hit back at them. Nearly all our anti-clerical feeling is directed at the poor, unoffending old Church of England. If ever a word is raised against Rome, it is only some absurd tale about Jesuit intrigues or babies’ skeletons dug up form the floors of nunneries. Very few people, apart from the Catholics themselves, seem to have grasped that the Church is to be taken seriously. Books of this kind, therefore, written with genuine learning and free from silly-cleverness, are of great value.

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One Response to The Spirit of Catholicism

  1. Pingback: Free ebook: The Spirit of Catholicism, by Karl Adam (w/ summary) « Catholic eBooks Project

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