Charles Coulombe Responds

Posted by Charles A. Coulombe on

Charles Coulombe Responds

Charles responds to a recent review of his book Puritan’s Empire


I am very grateful, indeed, for Miss Balestri’s thoughtful review of Puritan’s Empire. Alas, I must take issue with a few of her points – not too surprisingly, however, where she takes issue with me. To begin with, I have to quibble about her use of ideological terminology. She writes:

“…the narrative is being told from a traditional Catholic perspective, and thus is unlikely to coincide with viewpoints espoused by mainstream Catholics and those of differing religious persuasions ... I consider myself to be a mainstream Catholic, so my commentary reflects both where we agree and disagree, with all due respect to the esteemed author.”

The problem here is one of definition. If by “traditional,” she means “trying to hold what the Mind of the Church has taught in all countries since Christ began the thing,” and by “mainstream,” she means what most American Catholics have held in the 20th and 21st centuries, then I am guilty as charged, though I cannot speak for her. If, however, by “traditional” she means “wanting to restore 1958, or 1458, or whatever year I happen to like,” and by mainstream my first definition “trying to hold what the Mind of the Church has taught in all countries since Christ began the thing,” then I reject the traditional label entirely, and claim mainstream status for myself. By their fruits you shall know them, and “mainstream” Catholicism in the first sense has produced only flaccidity in the face of evil and lukewarmness to Truth, as both Archbishop Chaput and Pope Benedict XVI have told us repeatedly.

As regards the South and the Second American Civil War (what we call the Revolution having been the first), I stand by my guns. In most of the Western Hemisphere, slavery was abolished peacefully. Only in two countries – Haiti and these United States – was it abolished through bloodshed. Comparison of the racial relations in those two countries with the rest of the Americas is very telling. Jefferson Davis had pledged to end slavery seven years after the end of the War in return for Papal recognition by Bl. Pius IX, which he achieved. As for her comment,

“However, I disagree with his glorification of the agrarian life and southern aristocracy ... I believe the romanticism for “moonlight and magnolias” is largely misplaced, and willingly overlooks the suffering of the majority who made the pleasure of the few possible.”

This last sentence is of course true of the ruling class of every society that has ever existed, to include our own – hence the need to import illegal labour. It was certainly true of the Robber Barons of the Union, whose fortunes were made by thrusting factory girls and Irish immigrants into the jaws of their factories. For myself, I prefer a ruling class in love with literature, music and religion – yes, and even moonlight and magnolias – to one such as the North had with its sweatshops, or that we enjoy to-day, with its judicially-imposed infanticide and sodomitical marriage. Two things, and two things only distinguish one society from another – its established religion and the nature and mores of its ruling class. For all their faults, the Southern Bourbons were superior to their Northern counterpart – and both were far better than what rule us to-day.

Miss Balestri goes on to say:

“I would respond that even if mainstream Catholicism backed this harsh spiritual judgment against non-Catholics, it still would never justify any physical maltreatment of the aforementioned; and secondly, over the past 60 years, Catholic teaching has embraced an ever-broadening understanding of ‘Baptism by Desire,’ and the nature of what it means to actually be a ‘member of the Church.’”

Here she touches upon a very important point. Upon until 60 years ago, there was indeed little question in this area – from, say, 33 A.D. to 1933, or thereabouts. In response to the attempts of theologians in that era to alter the Church’s teaching in this and may other areas, Ven. Pius XII issued his encyclical Humani Generis, which will repay careful reading. Therein he declares: “Some reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation.” As Miss Balestri rightly points out, despite the Pope’s efforts, over the past 60 years most Catholics have come to believe that the Church is not necessary for salvation – Neo-Pelagians, to quote Pope Francis. Pope Benedict recently described the conundrum these theologians created very well;

There is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma. While the fathers and theologians of the Middle Ages could still be of the opinion that, essentially, the whole human race had become Catholic and that paganism existed now only on the margins, the discovery of the New World at the beginning of the modern era radically changed perspectives. In the second half of the last century it has been fully affirmed the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized and that even a purely natural happiness for them does not represent a real answer to the question of human existence. If it is true that the great missionaries of the 16th century were still convinced that those who are not baptized are forever lost – and this explains their missionary commitment – in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council that conviction was finally abandoned.
From this came a deep double crisis. On the one hand this seems to remove any motivation for a future missionary commitment. Why should one try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it? But also for Christians an issue emerged: the obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals. If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated.

It becomes a pointless exercise, in point of fact – hence the flaccidity and lukewarmness earlier cited. To me, anyway, the choice is fairly obvious: the teachings of the great Missionaries, whom Pope Benedict cites; such as Bonnie Prince Charlie and Queen Isabel; the Popes and Ecumenical Councils; the Fathers and Doctors of the Church; and Christ Himself, versus those of many (though not all) of the theologians and hierarchs of the past six decades, who have brought us to our present pass. IF (and it is a big IF) the latter are “mainstream,” then I consider myself well out of it. If agreeing with the former is a crime, let me be guilty. From this point stems most of my disagreements with Miss Balestri (I agree entirely with her about the enjoyability of Jewish culture – though as a native of New York City, it is my birthright!). As she truly says: “I think much of the problem here is the assumption the author makes that ‘the primary reason for us being here is to make more Catholics.’” Here, she has nailed me to the wall. It is called “The Great Commission,” and may be found in the Gospel of St. Matthew, 28:16-18:

“And the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And seeing him they adored: but some doubted. And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”

By virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation, that Commission, as the Church has always taught – well, until the 1960s, anyway – applies to each of us. I cannot speak of anyone else, but it pains me that I have not done my own utmost to fulfill it.

It is for that reason that I wholly endorse Miss Balestri’s penultimate paragraph:

“Christ ate, drank, and made merry, as well as fasting and undergoing the ultimate suffering and sacrifice. We follow in his footsteps through these celebrations that mean so much to our life of faith. Furthermore, just as Christ sat at table with the most diverse array of people, we should let these celebrations be an opportunity to keep open our hearts and doors to our non-Catholic friends and neighbors to share the many moods of our faith with them. In the same way, we should also accept the invitations of our non-Catholic friends to partake in their celebrations in any way that is not contrary to our faith and affirming the elements of truth in their own. This enables to finding of that precious common ground on which we all can stand as spiritual beings living the human experience.”

You cannot evangelise what you do not love.


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