The Catholic Church In Perspective

I found this wonderful excerpt in the Fall 2003 issue of Communio. This excerpt actually comes third hand from a correspondence between Patricia Buckley Bozell (sister of William F. Buckley Jr.) and Herbert Kenny (former writer and editor for the Boston Globe), reprinted in Communio. The excerpt in question is from Thomas Macaulay, a 19th century politician, historian, and poet. I’m not sure what work of his this is from, but it’s a great perspective on the Catholic Church.

There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilisation. No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheatre. The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable. The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigour. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustin, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila. The number of her children is greater than in any former age. Her acquisitions in the New World have more than compensated for what she has lost in the Old. Her spiritual ascendency extends over the vast countries which lie between the plains of the Missouri and Cape Horn, countries which a century hence, may not improbably contain a population as large as that which now inhabits Europe. The members of her communion are certainly not fewer than a hundred and fifty millions; and it will be difficult to show that all other Christian sects united amount to a hundred and twenty millions. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca. And she may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul’s.

To be sure, there are some points of historical contention in the quoted excerpt, but the point remains the same. The Catholic Church has outlasted all human empires and institutions, and we have every indication that she will outlast many more. It is within this institution we call the Catholic Church, whose history spans the many great eras of the last 2,000 years – from the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, to the rise and fall of the Ottoman empire, to the great upheaval of the Reformation, through the age of reason and the age of decadence, and on to our current epoc – that great wisdom is stored. Whether you agree or disagree with this or that particular doctrine or teaching of the Catholic Church, she is an institution whose opinion is to be listened to, charitably. With such a vast storehouse of experience and a history that spans the ages, what has she not seen, and on what can she not offer a profitable insight? She knows humanity better than we do because she has seen much more of it than we have. To ignore the Catholic Church because she is old and (apparently) thus outdated, is like despising the advice of your grandfather on the grounds that he has lived for too many years to possibly know what he is talking about!

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