Catholicism is the primeval source of much that is good in Protestant and Western theology and philosophy. Beneath the various cultural and national differences of Catholics is a vibrant religion which has much to offer humanity. This vibrant religion has produced a river of thought and of culture which has led to some of the best things in our world today.
However, Catholicism isn’t often associated with spirituality or Christianity from the modern perspective. That is because the modern perspective is rubbish. What does the word Catholic mean?
The word Catholic comes from the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός) which means universal. The Church is universal, and is a religion for everyone. The Church was founded by God for the benefit of the universe at the center of history and geography. The founding of the Church in the first century of Judea shows that God apparently thought that this was the center of history. I personally find it interesting that the writings from this period which were included by the Church in the New Testament have continued to find universal application every century since then.
WHAT IS CATHOLICISM?
It is hard to either talk about for or even criticize what the Church is unless we know what it is. St. Thomas explained what the church was:
“We see that in a man there are one soul and one body; and of his body there are many members. So also the Catholic Church is one body and has different members. The soul which animates this body is the Holy Spirit. Hence, after confessing our faith in the Holy Spirit, we are bid to believe in the Holy Catholic Church. Thus, in the Symbol it is said, “the Holy Catholic Church.”
It must be known that “church” is the same as assembly. So, the Holy Church is the same as the assembly of the faithful, and every Christian is a member of this Church, of which it is written: “Draw near to Me, you unlearned; and gather yourselves together into the house of discipline”
And also St. Augustine said,
“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in love.”
In other words, the visible church is made up of priests and laymen, saints and sinners, men and women. God founded the visible Church which is still his creation. It is his gift to humanity even though people have separated themselves organizationally and theologically in an attempt to make their own imperfect copies of the original. God gives grace to all Christians even though there many barriers of sin and mistakes of the body and of the mind to prevent the power of God’s grace to transform both their own lives and the lives of people around them. Even with these moral and theological divisions among Christians still our God has given the grace of unity to all Christians and it is up to us all to realize it.
I shall be expanding the definition of Mere Catholicism to include a look at both the national and historical, personal, liturgical, and cultural variations which are integral to the experience of Catholicism wherever you are. This is something I will talk about in the future.
HOW IMPORTANT IS CATHOLICISM?
Catholicism is very important. The benefits of Catholicism are both personal and social. Intellectually, the Catholic Church preserved Greek philosophy during the early medieval era. Socially, the modern expectations of public health care for all has its roots in sisters and brothers caring for the sick from the early days of Christianity through the 20th century. Also socially, the modern concept of the University was founded by European Catholics. Women’s Rights first began in a Catholic Europe several centuries before now. The basis of modern science and analysis of the universe has its roots in the medieval (and Greek) concept of a rational human mind should be able to understand and analyze the creation of a rational God.
In short if you’ve ever gone to college, been to a hospital, used an invention developed by science, or have ever heard of feminism- you have been aware of a consequence of Catholicism when Catholicism was lived out by Catholics on a large scale. That a Post-Catholic society can implement many of the benefits of Catholicism which it inherited historically and socially should not surprise us as it is readily apparent that the fruit does not fall far from the tree. Regardless it is the tree which is the source of the fruit. Or to use another metaphor- salt makes all things salty and was once even used historically in the absence of refrigeration to preserve meat from corruption. Salt can be placed on many things even if those things are not salt themselves they are still changed by the addition of salt to them.
On the family level, the teaching of Catholicism on the importance of monogamy, chastity, and the value of the lives of children and women was a massively powerful engine that helped European Catholicism break free of the historical barriers of corruption and immorality that characterized Pagan Roman life.
On a personal level, the spirituality of Catholicism is an essential heritage of the Western World. Prayer with the heart is an essential part of Catholic spirituality. Meditation on the mysteries of the incarnation of God as Christ Jesus is an integral part of the most Catholic prayer of the Rosary. And the ascetic practice of fasting began in the historical era in the first and second centuries. The personal experience of both Mass attendance and of monthly Confession gives a religious rhythm to the seasons which can help lead one to an experience of religious fulfillment. That this potential of faith and practice has in some peoples and with some customs has become encrusted with apathy and apostasy does not remove the fact that Catholicism is a deep well of grace which was made universally for all.
John Paul II the Great talks about this,
“God’s promise in Christ now became a universal offer: no longer limited to one particular people, its language and its customs, but extended to all as a heritage from which each might freely draw. From their different locations and traditions all are called in Christ to share in the unity of the family of God’s children.”
CHOOSING TO LIVE OUT CATHOLICISM
That is to say if Catholics live out their lives spiritually and religiously as well as socially, then we can be the salt of the world that both preserves and uplifts the conditions of people around us . If we aren’t however, then we are living out worthless lives.
Worthless is a strong blunt word. But bluntness is an Israeli virtue (as well as a German one) which can help us realize the importance of a fact. And the fact is that lives disconnected from our spiritual and religious heritage will never find authentic meaning in life. We will never find that meaning regardless of how many wonderful experiences we encounter, or of how deeply we delve into other religious traditions.
That is because our souls are like plants. And like a plant if the roots of our soul to put down into a rock instead of good dirt our souls will die.
Mere Catholicism is not only merely the best Church from a theological understanding and sacramental life, it is also the best Church for living out personal spirituality.
And to you my reader, have you thought about the importance of spirituality and religion in your life? Perhaps if you are Protestant have you ever thought of how the founders of your denomination were either once Catholic or are descended from those who were? Please give me the pleasure of hearing your heartfelt response in the comment section of this post.