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T is a modern habit to talk of "
aspects." It is little more than a fashion in the clouded philosophy which insists upon the multiplicity of ways in which a thing may be regarded, and concludes that any one way, and all our ways
The way of speaking is modern and therefore ephemeral; let us not fall into it even for the space of this short article, nor talk of the Catholic "aspect" of history.
I will rather do homage to my own conscience by saying that I am profoundly convinced that there is no such thing as a Catholic "aspect" of history-I mean a Catholic "aspect" of European history. There is a Protestant aspect, a Jewish aspect, a Mohammedan aspect, a Japanese aspect, and so forth. But there is no more a Catholic "aspect" of European history than there is a Jones "aspect" of Jones. True, false philosophy does pretend that there is a Jones aspect of Jones; but in nothing does false philosophy prove itself more false. For Jones' way of looking at himself when he looks straight and true is in line with his Creator's, and therefore with reality: he looks from within.
Let me pursue this metaphor. We Catholics believe that man has in him conscience, which is the voice of God: not
Copyright. 1910. THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF ST. PAUL THE APOSTLE
only that the objective world is real, but that a personality is self-consciously real.
When Jones, flattered by the voice of another, yet says within himself, "I am a mean fellow," he has hold of reality. We believe that though Jones does not know an infinite amount about himself, yet that the finite amount he does know is all in the map; it is all part of what is really there. What he does not know about himself would, did he know it, fit in with what he does know about himself. There are aspects" of Jones to everybody else, except two, Jones and God Who made him. These two, when they regard Jones, see Jones wholly as he is: all creatures other than Jones have their aspects of Jones, and their aspects differ, but Jones' view of himself is not an aspect: it is a comprehension.
Now then, so it is with the Faith and the story of Europe. A Catholic as he reads that story understands it not from without but from within. He cannot understand it altogether, because he is a finite being; but he is also that which he has to understand. He brings to history (and when I say "history" in these pages I mean the history of Christendom) selfknowledge. As a man in the confessional accuses himself of what he knows to be true and what other people cannot judge, so a Catholic, talking of European civilization, when he blames it, blames it for motives and for acts which are his own, which he could have committed in person, and which in committing them he would have understood. He is not relatively right in his blame, he is absolutely right. As a man who is unjustly accused can testify to his own motive, not relatively but absolutely, so can the Catholic testify to unjust, irrelevant, or ignorant conceptions of the European story, for he knows why and how it proceeded, while others, not Catholic, look upon it externally. They have to deal with something which presents itself to them by its phenomena: he sees it all in its
The Catholic conscience of history is not a conscience which begins with the development of the Church in the basin of the Mediterranean; it goes back much further than that. He understands also the soil in which that plant of the Faith arose. In a way that no other man can, he understands the Roman military effort; why that effort clashed with the gross merchant empire of Carthage; what it derived from the light
of Athens; what food it found in the Celtic tribes and their dim but awful memories of immortality; what analogy it had with the ritual of false but profound religions, and even why and how the Jewish people, the little violent corporate tradition of Palestine, was so essential that he has a right to call it, in the old dispensation, divine. For the Catholic the whole perspective falls into its natural order; nothing is distorted to him, and the procession of our great story is easy, natural, and final.
This being so, the modern Catholic, especially if he is confined to the use of the English tongue, suffers from a curious, and it is to be hoped, a passing accident. No book, nor even as yet the writings of one man in that tongue, gives him a conspectus of the past; he is compelled to study authorities, North German or English copying North German, whose view is never that of the true and balanced European. He comes perpetually across phrases which he sees at once to be absurd, either in their limitations or in the things they connote, but, unless he has the leisure for an extended study, he cannot put his finger upon the precise characteristics of the absurdity. In the books he reads-if they are in the English language at least he finds things lacking which his Catholicism tells him should be there; but he cannot supply their place, because the non-Catholic who wrote those books was himself ignorant of such things, or rather could not conceive them.
Let me take a particular example to prove what I mean: to greater examples I will come in a moment.
I defy any man to read the story of Thomas à Becket in Stubbs, in Green, in Bright, in any one of the hundred handbooks to medieval history, and to make head or tail of it. It is a highly limited subject of study, it concerns only a few years, a great deal is known about it, there are many contemporary accounts, and the Catholic may well ask: "No matter who tells the story, why is it I cannot understand the story ?"
The story is briefly this (and all non-Catholic authorities of any sort of value have told it, according to their lights, quite justly and have certainly told it most amply): A certain prelate, the Primate of England at the time, was asked to admit certain changes in the administration of criminal law. The gist of these was that, men attached to the Church in
any way by minor orders (not necessarily priests) should, if they committed a crime amenable to temporal jurisdiction, be brought before the ordinary courts of the country. The claim was, at the time, a novel one. The Primate of England resisted that claim. In connection with his resistance he was subjected to many indignities, many things outrageous to custom were done against him; but the Pope doubted whether his resistance was justified, and he was finally reconciled with the civil authority; on returning to his See at Canterbury, he became at once the author of further resistance and the subject of further outrage, and within a short time he was murdered by his exasperated enemies.
This death raised a vast public outcry. His monarch did penance for it. But all the points on which he had resisted were waived by the Church, and the monarch's original claim was almost immediately recognized. To-day it appears to be plain justice.
So far so good. The non-Catholic will say, and has said in a hundred studies-from one as admirable as The Memorials of Canterbury, by Stanley, to one as worthless as England Under the Normans and Angevins, by Davis-that this resistance of St. Thomas was but an example of the resistance always offered by an old organization to a new development.
Of course it was! It is equally true to say of a man who objects to an aeroplane flying over his back garden without leave, and smashing in the top of his studio, that it is the resistance of an old organization to a new development; but such a phrase in no way explains the business; and when the Catholic begins to examine the particular case of St. Thomas, he finds a great many things to wonder at and to think about upon which non-Catholic historians are hopelessly silent.
I say "hopelessly," because their attitude is hopeless; they have to record these things, but they are bewildered by them. They can explain St. Thomas' action simply enough: too simply; yet when they are asked to explain what followed his death, they have to fall back upon the most inhuman and impossible hypotheses, that "the masses were ignorant"-that is as compared with other periods in human history; that "the Papacy engineered an outburst of popular enthusiasm," As though the Papacy were a secret society, with a machinery for "engineering" such things, as though the type of enthu