The Greatest Writer of the 19th Century » Brownson's Writings » Catholic Magazine and Ourselves

Catholic Magazine and Ourselves

Brownson's Quarterly Review, April, 1845

ART. V.— The United States Catholic Magazine and Monthly Review. Edited by REV. CHARLES I. WHITE, and VERY REV. M. J. SPALDING, D. D. Baltimore : John Murphy. Vol. IV. No. III. March, 1845. 8vo. pp. 44.

WE notice this periodical because it is the ablest and most exclusively Catholic magazine published in this country, and one deserving to be taken by every one who wishes an excellent literary periodical devoted to the exposition and defence of the doctrines and discipline of the Church. We also notice it for the purpose of making a few remarks suggested or called for by an article which appeared in the number before us, reviewing the first volume of our own Journal. The article is written with ability, but is quite too eulogistic, and speaks of ourselves in terms quite beyond our deserts. But it is not of this we wish to speak. Most men are willing to swallow all the praise they can get. Yet Catholic writers, who may be presumed to believe and to know that the greatest enemies to our progress towards Christian perfection are pride and vainglory, ought to use some measure in their praise of a poor sinner, who probably at best finds it no easy task to practise the humility his religion demands.

The Reviewer refers to an opinion said to have been expressed of us by Lord Brougham. This opinion the newspapers friendly to us have taken considerable pains to circulate. It is a small affair, but we own that we are unwilling it should continue to be quoted ; 1. Because we have not, and never have had, any respect for Lord Brougham's opinion on any subject; and 2. Because we have good evidence that the anecdote which has circulated in the newspapers is totally false, at least so far as concerns Lord Brougham, who in all probability has never read a page of our writings, or even heard of our name. We are not quite so famous abroad as some of our friends now and then are pleased to represent.
The Reviewer, speaking of our philosophical principles, says we are "rather an Eclectic." Now, to be called an Eclectic is worse than to be commended by Lord Brougham. Some years ago we were an Eclectic, we own, as we have been in the course of our life " all things by turns and nothing long " ; but we disavowed Eclecticism in the Boston Quarterly Review for January, 1842, and have not had consciously any fellowship with it since. After disavowing Eclecticism, we undertook to excogitate a new system of philosophy of our own, which we termed synthetic philosophy, — based on principles wholly repugnant to Eclecticism. This system was our hobby during two years and a half, and it brought us, or rather was the occasion of bringing us, to the door of the Catholic Church. We say the door; for, though we thought at the time it opened into the temple itself, and led to the very sanctuary, it really led only to the door, and even that accidentally, not necessarily. The truth is, though during those two years and a half we talked much of the Church, and dogmatically too, we knew nothing of it except what we had learned from its enemies, the French Eclectics, the Saint-Simonians, and the Protestants. One year ago, we had read only two Catholic books, to wit, Milner's End of Controversy, and the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and these only partially. We had never seen and conversed with an intelligent Catholic on the subject of religion the value of one hour in our whole life, and of course could have known very little of what Catholicity really is. We guessed at its leading doctrines from our knowledge of the Protestant doctrines opposed to them ; and though we often guessed aright, we still oftener blundered. Nevertheless, we had formed to ourselves an ideal Catholicism, demanded by our philosophy and sustained by it ; and this ideal Catholicism we imagined was substantially what the Catholic Church believes, or really intends by her articles of faith. So we concluded, about as sagely as in other cases, that we were a Catholic, and had discovered a philosophy which would legitimate the Catholic Church, and give a scientific basis to all her doctrines.

Such was our belief when we commenced the first volume of this Review, and such continued to be our belief till after the publication of our number for July last. But such ceased to be our belief before the publication of the number for October. Whether the system of philosophy for which we contended, and of which we published some fragments, is or is not sound, we do not feel able now to determine. We are sure that it does not necessarily lead to Catholicism ; but whether it is necessarily opposed to it we do not know, and cannot decide for ourselves till we have had leisure to review and compare it more fully than we have yet done with what the Church teaches. Our conversion to Catholicity, which rests on other than metaphysical grounds, has so revolutionized our whole mind, presented us a world of thought so entirely new to us, and enabled us to see all things in a light so different and so much clearer, that we have very little confidence in the value or soundness of any thing we advanced on our own authority prior to its taking place. Sure we are, that the best things we wrote are mixed up with many things we should now disown. If in our philosophical writings, or in any other of our writings, any thing can be found contrary to the faith of the Catholic Church, we of course disown it; and we are far from believing that any of us have made or will make any advance in philosophy—'except perhaps in the physical sciences — on the old Catholic Schoolmen. For ourselves, we have more confidence in the conclusions of Saint Thomas than we have in our own ; and where we find our conclusions differing from his, we regard it as a strong presumption, to say the least, that ours, not his, are wrong. We lay aside, utterly renounce, all our pretensions to a philosophy of our own ; and content ourselves in this matter, as well as in others, to walk in old paths, instead of striking out new ones. We set no value on what we have done, and request our friends to set no value on it. Our life begins with our birth into the Catholic Church. We say this, because we wish no one to be led astray by any of our former writings, all of which, prior to last October, unless it be the criticisms on Kant, some political essays, and the articles in our present Review on Social Reform and the Anglican Church, we would gladly cancel if we could. We have written and published much during the last twenty years ; but a small duodecimo volume would contain all that we would not blot, published prior to last October.

We have said that we fancied our philosophy conducted necessarily to the Catholic Church. We honestly believed this for a long time, and when we commenced this Journal we had not a doubt but the Catholic Church was the true Church ; but such was the view which we then took of the Church, that we fancied we might consistently, for a time, at least, stay outside of it, and labor to bring the Protestant public to right views of the Church in general. Hence we said, " Stay where you are." We thought we could do more good out of the Church than in it; and our dream was, that we might, by working in the bosom of our Protestant Churches, prepare them to return to the bosom of Catholic unity. It was a dream, hardly an honest dream, at any rate a very foolish dream ; but it was a brief dream. Logic demanded a plain, open avowal of Catholicism, and we had always a great horror of the mortal sin of being inconsequent.     Moreover,   another question   pressed   rather hard, namely, the question of the salvation of our own soul. If the Catholic Church was the true Church, we could not be saved without being in its communion ; for, admit even that the invincibly ignorant may be saved without being actually in its communion, the plea of invincible ignorance evidently could not avail us, for we believed the Catholic Church to be the true Church. Then, again, we found ourselves in want of the helps that Church had to give. It was idle to contend for the necessity of the Church, if, standing outside of it, we could yet maintain the personal integrity, and attain to the holiness of life, for which the Church with its sacraments was especially instituted. Either, then, stop talking about the Church, or seek its communion. We resolved on the last, and rejected our own doctrine of staying where we were.

When we first applied for instructions, we supposed, in all substantial matters, we were already a very learned Catholic, and that we were so by virtue of our philosophy. Nor were we immediately undeceived. We were first undeceived by a letter from a very dear friend, who had followed us in all our wanderings for many a year, and whom we attempted to persuade to go with us into the Catholic Church. This letter placed before us in a clear and distinct light the logical results of our own philosophical speculations, and showed us that they did not require us to enter the Catholic Church. It convinced us of this fact. We then discovered, what we had not before suspected, that we had drawn our Catholic conclusions not from data furnished by our metaphysics, but from another source, which we had not distinctly considered. We found we had all along been carrying on a double train of thought, and with admirable facility, without suspecting it, concluding from one or the other as best suited our convenience. We saw, the moment our attention was directed to the point, that the two trains of thought, though accidentally connected in our own mind, and not distinguished in our reasonings, had no necessary connexion, one with the other. We were, through the aid of the friend we have mentioned, enabled to separate them, and to comprehend the process by which we had come to embrace the Catholic faith, and to see that the grounds of that faith in our own mind were quite distinct from any philosophical speculations whatever.

We have made this statement for the purpose of saving our friends the trouble of trying to discover by what process we obtained the Catholic Church from our metaphysical premises. We did not obtain it from those premises.    We were converted very much as others are, who are led to embrace the Catholic Church. We had already convinced ourselves of the insufficiency of Naturalism, Rationalism, and Transcendentalism ; we had also convinced ourselves of the necessity of Divine revelation, and of the fact that the Christian revelation was such a revelation. From this, by a process of reasoning which may be seen in the first article in this number, we arrived infallibly at the Catholic Church. The process is simple and easy. It requires no metaphysical subtilty, no long train of metaphysical reasoning. All it needs is good common-sense, a reverent spirit, and a disposition to believe on sufficient evidence. In explaining different theological doctrines metaphysics may have a place ; but in establishing faith there is no great demand for them. Earnestness and simplicity of mind are the chief requisites. It will be seen, then, that we do not place any dependence on our former metaphysical speculations, as the ground of our present faith, and do not ask our friends to seek through them a door of entrance into the Church. They, who attempt by metaphysics to find their way to belief in the supernatural revelation God has made, will most likely get bewildered and fail of the end. The truths of revelation must be taken simply, on plain, positive evidence ; they are not attained to by human wisdom alone. After twenty years and more of wandering in search of a new and better way to the truth, we have been forced to come back, to sit in all humility and docility at the feet of our blessed Saviour, and learn in the old way, as our fathers did before the experiments of Luther and Calvin. We become a fool that we may become wise, consent to know nothing that we may know all. We have found no new way, we have only found the old way. But this old way, beaten by millions of travellers for these eighteen hundred years, is sufficient for us. It is plain, straightforward, and easy ; and we do not feel equal to the windings, obscurities, and asperities of a new and unbeaten path. Bold, energetic, young men, strong minds, full of spirit, untamed by experience, buoyant, confident in themselves, may laugh at us, and say we have grown weary and faint-hearted ; but they will not move us. We have been of their number, and laughed as they laugh, as heartily, and as proudly, and we can afford to be laughed at. Alas ! we know what their laughter is worth, and — what it costs. We have said all they can say. We have eaten our own words. May they live long enough to eat theirs, and to become ashamed of their mockery, as we are of ours.