Why I am a Catholic: Chesterton for Today

As a convert to the Faith since 1985, Cowboy Papist is asked on occasion what compelled our decision to convert.  I found these G.K. Chesterton excerpts  from his “Why I am a Catholic” essay to be rather fitting to the conversion question, (with some formatting adjustments on our part):

Why I am a Catholicby G.K. Chesterton, from Twelve Modern Apostles and Their Creeds (1926)

“The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.  I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, “It is the only thing that. . . .” As, for instance, (1) It is the only thing that really prevents a sin from being a secret. (2) It is the only thing in which the superior cannot be superior in the sense of supercilious. (3) It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. (4) It is the only thing that talks as if it were the truth, as if it were a real messenger refusing to tamper with a real message. (5) It is the only type of Christianity that really contains every type of man, even the respectable man. (6) It is the only large attempt to change the world from the inside, working through wills and not laws; and so on.

“Or I might treat the matter personally and describe my own conversion; but I happen to have a strong feeling that this method makes the business look much smaller than it really is.  Numbers of much better men have been sincerely converted to much worse religions.  I would much prefer to attempt to say here of the Catholic Church precisely the things that cannot be said even of its very respectable rivals.  In short, I would say chiefly of the Catholic Church that it is catholic. . .

“It is one of the notions that Catholics have to be continually refuting, because it is such a very old idea.  Indeed, those who complain that Catholicism cannot say anything new, seldom think it necessary to say anything new about Catholicism . . .

“. . . in the modern world, the Catholic Church is in fact the enemy of many influential fashions; most of which still claim to be new, though many of them are beginning to be a little stale. . . the Church often attacks what the world at any given moment supports . . . The Church does often set herself against the fashion of this world that passes away; and she has experience enough to know how very rapidly it does pass away. . .

Nine out of ten of what we call new ideas are simply old mistakes. The Catholic Church has for one of her chief duties that of preventing people from making those old mistakes; from making them over and over again forever, as people always do if they are left to themselves. . .

“The Catholic Church carries a sort of map of the mind which looks like the map of a maze, but which is in fact a guide to the maze. It has been compiled from knowledge which, even considered as human knowledge, is quite without any human parallel.  There is no other case of one continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years.  Its experience naturally covers nearly all experiences; and especially nearly all errors.  The result is a map in which all the blind alleys and bad roads are clearly marked, all the ways that have been shown to be worthless by the best of all evidence: the evidence of those who have gone down them. . .

“It knows where the Bible came from.  It also knows where most of the theories of Evolution go to.  It knows there were many other Gospels besides the Four Gospels, and that the others were only eliminated by the authority of the Catholic Church.  It knows there are many other evolutionary theories besides the Darwinian theory; and that the latter is quite likely to be eliminated by later science.  It does not, in the conventional phrase, accept the conclusions of science, for the simple reason that science has not concluded.  To conclude is to shut up; and the man of science is not at all likely to shut up. . .

“Every moment increases for us the moral necessity for such an immortal mind. . . Nothing is more likely just now than that the corruption of representative government will lead to the rich breaking loose altogether, and trampling on all the traditions of equality with mere pagan pride.  We must have the truisms everywhere recognized as true.  We must prevent mere reaction and the dreary repetition of the old mistakes.  We must make the intellectual world safe for democracy.  But in the conditions of modern mental anarchy, neither that nor any other ideal is safe.  Just as Protestants appealed from priests to the Bible, and did not realize that the Bible also could be questioned, so republicans appealed from kings to the people, and did not realize that the people also could be defied.  There is no end to the dissolution of ideas, the destruction of all tests of truth, that has become possible since men abandoned the attempt to keep a central and civilized Truth, to contain all truths and trace out and refute all errors.  Since then, each group has taken one truth at a time and spent the time in turning it into a falsehood.  We have had nothing but movements; or in other words, monomanias.  But the Church is not a movement but a meeting-place; the trysting-place of all the truths in the world.”

The “trysting-place of all the truths in the world” – trysting, to love, or agapeAgape, from the Greek, is the love of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit for all mankind.  The Church is the loving place of all the truths of the world.  When learning this very point in the early 1980’s, this is why Cowboy Papist and Herself converted to the Faith.  The fact that the Church is despised by many in today’s culture, many for good reason as the Church is made up of sinners as Christ foretold, is what makes being Catholic today difficult at times.

‘Be not afraid’ was the refrain heard in the homily today, be not afraid to live out our Catholic faith every day, not just for one hour on Sundays.  Accepting the teachings of our Faith in this sexualized and democratized culture can present daily challenges.  Blessed John Paul II challenged us to “be not afraid.”  Pray for strength and courage, and the ability to love others in charity as the shame of being Catholic confronts us.

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