Weigel Chapters 7, 12 and 13

Chapter 7 - Evelyn Waugh
Mark told us about Weigel's reflections on this famous British writer. This website has an excellent commentary on the stir caused by the "ultra-modern" author's conversion to Catholicism. We discussed the "ladder of love" which is climbed by Charles, the central character in Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited (which is also a good but loooong film). From college friendships, to romance, and finally to God through the Church, Charles journey mirrors Waugh's own ascent to the highest love which encompasses all others. In a letter to a friend who became Catholic Waugh wrote this,
"Should I as Godfather warn you of probable shocks in the human aspect of Catholicism? Not all priests are as clever and kind as Father D'Arcy and Father Caramna. (The incident in my book of going to confession to a spy is a genuine experience.) But I am sure you know the world well enough to expect Catholic boors and prigs and crooks and cads. I always think to myself: 'I know I am awful. But how much more awful I should be without the faith'" (p.103).
Chapter 12 - Chartres
Laylah told us about Weigel's reflections on beauty and Catholicism, with a focus on Chartres Cathedral, including the lament that beauty is too often absent from Catholic worship today, and needs to be recovered. Writes Weigel,
"Whether it's in response to modern AmChurch ugliness or old-fashioned Catholic bad taste... Chartres is instuctive - it tells us that beauty and prayer go together. When Chartres invites us out of ourselves into a realm of luminous beauty, it's invitinig us, however gently, to pray" (p.204).
Chapter 13 - Catholicism and Democracy
This chapter focuses on the "Old Cathedral" in Baltimore, otherwise known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (not to be confused with the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary). It is from the former, much older church that we got the famous Baltimore Catechism, and it is where you can find the tomb of Bishop of John Carroll, an vital early figure in American Catholicism, close friend of Benjamin Franklin and founder of Georgetown U. Carroll thought that "Catholic ideas about freedom just might be crucial to the future of the American democratic experiment" (p. 222).

Weigel uses this famous Catholic building as a launching point to discuss the compatibility, even the necessary link, between Catholicism and Democracy. Weigel asserts that
"The Catholic Church taught European man - taught him ideas and values that would later prove crucial to the success of the democratic project in the modern world" (p. 214). These lessons included...
1."God's sovereinty transcends and stands in judgment on all worldly sovereignties. Because God is God, Caesar is not God... [his] power is limited, not absolute" (p. 214).
2."Medieval Catholic thinkers insisted on a sharp distinction between 'society' and the 'state,' they created a vaccine against absolutism in either its royal or modern (totalitarian) form" (p. 214).
3."The Church's claim to be able to judge princes, and the Catholic teaching that 'the people' have an inherent sense of justice within them, injected a crucial idea into the political-cultureal subsoil of the West - the idea that 'justice' isn't simply what those in authority say it is" (p. 215).
4. In contrast to current views, Catholicism taught that freedom is not merely about choice, but about what we choose and why. "Freedom untethered from moral truth will eventually become freedom's worst enemy" (p. 220).
In other words, it is perhaps no coincidence that Dr. Martin Luther King quoted Thomas Aquinas' statement that "An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law" in his Letter from Birminghan Jail.

Certainly Weigel admits that The Church "accommodated itself to royal absolutism in Europe" and that "several popes in the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century were deeply skeptical about democracy" (p.216), but Weigel thinks that the siting of these facts as "proof" that the Catholic Church is incompatible with democracy is wrongheaded. Vatican II of course is very much in favor of democracy. Explains Cardinal Dulles
"For a correct interpretation of the shift between the nineteenth–century popes and Vatican II, it is necessary to take account of the intervening history. In the nineteenth century the principal threat to faith came from militant secular liberalism, inspired by the slogans of the French Revolution. In the twentieth century, Christian faith was confronted by oppressive atheistic regimes, such as Soviet Communism and German National Socialism."
Incidentally, should you like to visit the "Old Cathedral," renovations will be complete in Summer 2006 - though the Immaculate Conception Basilica is open.

The "Old Cathedral" of the Assumption (top), Chartres (bottom left), the newer Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (bottom right)

UPDATE: Jacques Maritain has an interesting Catholic political philosophy that came up in our discussion as well.

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