The Point – May 1958

Edited Under Fr. Leonard Feeney M.I.C.M. — Saint Benedict Center

May, 1958

MONSIGNOR ELLIS IN WONDERLAND

Chapter I —

It is quite reasonable to assume that there are some of our readers who have never heard of the Right Reverend Monsignor John Tracy Ellis. This tri-nominated cleric makes his home at Caldwell Hall, Catholic University, Washington, D. C., and from a comfortable history chair at that address issues scholarly attacks on fellow Catholics.

To date, his most publicized assault has been one aimed at the American Catholic educational system. “The weakest aspect of the Church in this country,” says Monsignor Ellis, “lies in its failure to produce national leaders and to exercise commanding influence in intellectual circles.” This statement was first made three years ago and, in subsequent talks and articles, Monsignor Ellis has further indicted our schools and colleges; so that, now, nearly every Catholic educator in the country has taken sides on the matter.

Monsignor Ellis’ most outspoken allies have been Father Gustave Weigel, S. J., of Woodstock College (“The general Catholic community in America does not know what scholarship is.”) and Father John Cavanaugh, C. S. C. , lately president of Notre Dame (“Where are the Catholic Salks, Oppenheimers, Einsteins?”).

Aroused for a variety of motives, and in varying degrees of intensity, the opponents of Monsignor Ellis have far outnumbered his champions. The Archbishop of Saint Paul, for one, is quite content to forego a few Einsteins and Oppenheimers and rejoice in the knowledge that “our schools have never turned out an Alger Hiss or a Julius Rosenberg.” While, down in Manhattan, the chronically charming Park Avenue pastor, Father Robert I. Gannon, S. J., former head of Fordham, complains that his moneyed parishioners have seized upon the Ellis arguments with glee, and are now preparing, with whitened consciences, to send their boys to Saint Paul’s and Yale. Father Gannon further conjectures that “What Monsignor Ellis apparently feels we need is more Monsignor Ellises.”

An added impetus hit the controversy when Father Cavanaugh, who measures the success of Notre Dame pedagogy by the number of alumni who hit the five-figure salary brackets, complained that we do not have enough Catholics listed in Who’s Who. (Of the Big Three — Ellis, Weigel, Cavanaugh — Father Cavanaugh is himself the only one who gets a listing.)

An answer to this came from Father Hugh Halton, O. P. , the beleaguered Catholic chaplain at Princeton, who countered that, “The criticism itself reveals an appalling ignorance of the nature and administration of Who’s Who in America … ” Furthermore, Father Halton added, we should be working to turn out Catholic intellectuals — who will set their sights not so much on Who’s Who in America, but rather on Who’s Who in Heaven.”

Mindful of the query from the lady in Duluth who wrote, “Why is it that The Point is never for either side, but for some third position?” we hasten to concur that Father Halton has here begun to put the issue — Catholic education — in its true perspective.

Back in 1929, Pope Pius XI, in his encyclical on The Christian Education of Youth, wrote, “Since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and what he must do here below in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man’s last end … ” If this unanswerable reasoning of the Holy Father were ever adopted by Monsignor Ellis, and ever truly adhered to by his critics, there would indeed be some changes forthcoming in American Catholic education. The “last end” of Catholic scholarship would cease to be the admission of Catholics to learned academic societies and the acceptance of Catholic college graduates on an equal plane with those from the secular universities. We could stand free, to be a standard unto ourselves — with a two-thousand-year tradition to live up to.

To inaugurate this new program with some resounding bangs here in New England, we could promptly pull all the priests out of Harvard and Yale classrooms. We could dispatch a contingent of canonical companions to the corridors of Boston University and gather up all the Catholic Sisters who are studying there under Methodist ministers, Zionist sociologists, and Laskiite economists. We could slam our grade school doors in the face of those Anti-defamation League agents who are always turning up on the front steps, wondering how Jewish themes — and particularly the accounts of the Crucifixion — are being handled in our parochial school text-books. And if we really meant business, we could give back our federal education subsidies and our private foundation grants, thus freeing ourselves from the tangle of Masonic and Jewish strings that are attached to such hand-outs.

All these would be surface things, and just beginnings; but the spirit would be wildly contagious. We could make Catholic education the most compelling, exciting, attractive enterprise in the country. It would mean an end to the present frustration of educating for Cadillacs and winding up with Fords. We could educate for sanctity, as we are meant and equipped to, and present the Church and the nation with a New World crop of Augustines and Bedes and Bellarmines, who would be studied, and prayed to, long after Harvard has folded and Who’s Who has dropped out of print.

Chapter II —

The pique of Monsignor Ellis and his allies over the present state of Catholic mental development prompts us to have a look at the non-Catholic “intellectual leaders” whom the American faithful are being encouraged to imitate. Since these mutually acclaimed potentates are mainly men of science (“Salks, Oppenheimers, Einsteins”), we shall limit ourselves to a study of the ways and habits of this sect.

To begin with, it should be noted that modern scientists, by and large, are men of gross unintelligence. In view of the prodigies lately wrought by them, this judgment may seem a little outrageous. We can hear someone snapping at us: “Let’s see you shoot a ten-pound hunk of aluminum into outer space!” The unexpected truth, however, is that shooting a ten-pound hunk of aluminum into outer space, or devising an explosive force that could pulverize New York, or transmitting the likeness of a human face, in color, across a continent, are not necessarily the achievements of great intellects. They are the results of experimentation, of hundreds and thousands and millions of tests and re-tests. And it is not brilliance of mind that is required to produce them, but dogged patience; plus the ability to observe carefully, to measure, to count, to note what causes produce what effects, and to link one usable discovery to another, till gradually, finally, the Great Thing is arrived at.

“The conquests of physical science,” the indomitable Hilaire Belloc has written, “were due to minute and extensive observation conducted by vast numbers of men and, therefore, for the most part, by the unintelligent. Science attracted some few men of high culture and some even (much fewer) of strong reasoning power; but in themselves, mere observation and comparison, the framing of hypotheses and the testing of them by experiment, need no intellectual qualities above the lowest and are therefore an obvious occupation for those who despise or do not grasp the use of reason. It has even been maintained that the ceaseless practice of exact measurement dulls the brain.”

The scientists might have kept their intellectual deficiencies a secret, had they stayed within the protective covering of their laboratories. But the public lured them out. Dazzled by the magnitude of scientific achievement, Americans have decided that the men who can produce such marvels as atom bombs and striped toothpaste must surely be the wisest and cleverest of all men, and supremely qualified to speak on every subject. The scientists have modestly agreed, and proceeded to do so. Ranging freely over the affairs of God and man, they have regaled us with their notions on everything from United States foreign policy to the miracles at Lourdes. In most instances, when those opinions are not flagrantly anti-Christian, they are notoriously anti-American.

But still, bad as they are when prattling their opinions on matters of religion or philosophy or politics or art, the scientists are at their impossible worst when they invade such territories with the methods and tools of their profession. We are smilingly assured, for instance, by a tin-eared physicist, that the “only” difference between Mozart’s Fortieth Symphony and the Third Avenue El is in the length and frequency of the sound waves that strike the ear. Or, not content with a gratuitous denial of the Virgin Birth of Our Lord, a biologist announces that “careful and extended scientific observation” has proven that the event was impossible.

In the light of all this, no one should be surprised at the consequences suffered by those Catholics who have tried to temper their Faith and intelligence to the demands of science. For the most part, such Catholics are not scientists themselves, but scholars. That is, they do not formulate scientific hypotheses but, once formulated, they accept them gratefully. Moreover, their studies of Scripture, history, etc. are built strictly upon the scientific method.

“Science does not bow down before precedent, nor custom, nor dogma,” a University of Chicago professor has declared. Anxious to merit the regard of such men, the Catholic scholars of the moment have likewise been unbending in the face of Catholic tradition. They will not, they want it understood, be swept off their feet by the mere fact that a belief has been held or a devotion cherished in the past. If their researches turn up an adverse “authority,” nothing less than a Papal mandate can keep them from denying the belief or disparaging the devotion.

The following is a sobering instance of this scholarship. It is from the account of the Holy House of Loreto (Our Lady’s home in Nazareth; miraculously transported to Italy in 1294) given in Donald Attwater’s A Catholic Dictionary: “The tradition has been approved by many popes and saints and numerous miracles are recorded there; but the most recent research tends to show that the tradition is mistaken and rests on some unexplained misunderstanding.”

Catholic scholars have been especially zealous of late to show that the recent exposures of fake fossils (e.g., “the Piltdown Man”) have not shaken their belief in the bestial ancestry of man. These Catholic friends of evolution were recently given a calling down by His Eminence Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, in a front-page article in L’Osservatore Romano. Asking whether the evidences of science have given any good reason for abandoning the “traditional conviction” about the origin of the human body, narrated in the book of Genesis, the Cardinal answered, “We do not think so.” He asked all Catholics to hold firm to their belief in the creation of Adam from the slime of the earth, which is “the obvious sense of the Bible.”

The Bible’s “obvious sense” has no more determined American adversary than the Very Reverend Francis Connell, C.Ss.R., of Catholic University. In the modest tones of the scholarship jargon, Father Connell is currently developing an outer space “theology” which blasphemously allows for other Divine Births from other Blessed Virgins. Defiant of all previous Catholic teaching, and of an explicit condemnation by Pope Saint Zachary, Father Connell teaches the possibility of numbers of other man-inhabited worlds. And for good measure, he throws in his theories about additional races of men that may have occurred here in this world, before Adam.

Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, the founder of Father Connell’s own Redemptorist Order, has condemned at length this theory of Pre-Adamites in chapter thirteen of his History of the Heresies. And in speaking of a heretic who espoused the notion, Saint Alphonsus tells us: “He fell into this error because he rejected tradition.”

When some future saintly historian is reviewing the errors of the twentieth century, we trust that Father Connell will be dealt with as neatly and decisively.

Chapter III —

Beneath all the discussions of science and scholarship and intellectual inferiority that Monsignor Ellis and his friends have occasioned, there lies a more basic problem. It is this: that American Catholics need a clear view of their proper relation to the non-Catholic society around them.

Whenever the subject threatens, the Ellisites step forward with a loud chorus of “Let’s liberate ourselves from the Catholic ghetto we are in!” As it is well calculated to do, this cry leaves all the conservatives standing in the back row, burdened with the impossible label, “ghetto-Catholics.”

In this situation, the best answer is the disarming declaration, “Yes, we do want a Catholic ghetto.” And while the liberals are catching their breath, we will have time to explain that the kind of ghetto we want ought really to have a brand new name. For ghettos, historically speaking, are areas of enforced confinement, however extended or comfortable they may become. They were, and still would be, invaluable for keeping the Jew in his proper place in a Christian state. But they are hardly adequate situations for a community of Christians who are bound by the Gospel charge to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” It is Our Lord Himself, in fact, who defines for us what the Catholic community must be. He tells us in chapter five of Saint Matthew that we must stand out and apart like a “city built upon a mountain peak” and that from such a prominence we must let our “light shine before men.”

Clearly, this ideal was the one that set up the struggling young Church of the catacombs and saw it established on the ruins of decadent Rome. It was from this height that the Catholic community won the barbarians and lifted them to itself by preaching and example. It was a full realization of this “city on a mountain” that gave us the high Middle Ages. And it was a relaxation of our ideal, a coming down halfway to meet the pagan values of the Renaissance, that unsettled us so generally at the time of the Protestant Revolt. And we have been going downhill ever since.

We agree with Monsignor Ellis, Father Weigel, and Father Cavanaugh that our schools and colleges have fallen upon dark days. They are sharing a fate which has hit the Catholic community in every department. But the solution does not lie outside us. Association with the pitch-blackness of secular education, its norms and its methods, will not enhance our present dim achievement. We, not they, have the commission to be the light of the world. And when we begin once more to act as though we think so, we will be on our way back up the mountain.

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