Anti-Catholic History

The following theses were proposed for discussion by Mr. Chesterton at the recent Catholic Congress at Birmingham, England. Each thesis is followed by an illustrative example:

(1) Anti-Catholic history is false, not only in the light of our Faith, but in the light of the historical science to which that history has appealed.

e.g. We do not profess to prove that the Gospels are inspired, but the attempt to prove that they were late forgeries or fictions has been abandoned.

(2) Anti-Catholic history is most false and dangerous when it is not avowedly anti-Catholic.

e.g. Protestant pamphlets are less and less read, but newspapers and popular works of reference probably more read; and they perpetuate the bad history of fifty years ago.

(3) Anti-Catholic history fails because history is a story; and here it can never give the beginning of a story.

It has to begin with the Spanish Inquisition in existence and excess; it cannot tell how it came to be there without telling a heroic story of European struggle against Islam or Oriental pessimism. Nearly all our traditions, good or bad, were born Catholic, and the truth about their birth is concealed.

(4) Anti-Catholic history is generally superficial; it depends on certain particular catchwords, cases and names, while Catholic history can handle the whole texture of the truth.

Anybody who has heard tlie word "Galileo" can say "Galileo," even if he pronounces it wrong. But nobody who has read any ordinary indifferent mass of detail about the Middle Ages or the Renaissance can continue to believe that the Church discouraged science.

(5) Anti-Catholic history is also helped largely by legend, which may be natural and even healthy, but it is not scientific.

It is legend to talk of the Elizabethan age as the unique triumph of emancipated England, on the strength of a real romance of sea-faring even more characteristic of Catholic Spain, and of one supreme poet who was almost certainly a Catholic.

(6) Anti-Catholic history constantly confesses an old error in launching a new one.

Fifty years ago a man like Mr. George Moore would deny that there was any evidence for a historical Jesus, and call him a Corn-Myth or a Sun-God. The moment a sceptic thinks of another way of evading the Resurrection—a way that allows him to treat Jesus as a historical character—he instantly treats him as a historical character.

(7) Anti-Catholic history is narrow and unimaginative, because it always conceives all men as looking forward to what did happen, instead of to the hundred things which might have happened, or which most of them wished to happen.

Anybody who may have differed from any Pope about anything (St. Francis, for instance) is made a morning star of the Reformation; though in fact the Fraticelli, who went further than St. Francis, were obviously going further and further away from the Reformation.

(8) Anti-Catholic history abounds in very casual remarks so false that they can only be contradicted by long and complicated statements.

Chambers's "Encyclopedia" speaks of "The Rosary, that somewhat mechanical devotion, which was employed by Dominic among the Albigenses." A Catholic might write pages aout that; but he would at least have to say (a) The Rosary, like the Lord's Prayer, is as freer than the Lord's Prayer, consisting of individual meditation on infinite mysteries; (c) nobody would be such a fool as to use a merely mechanical thing to convert the Albigenses.

(9) Anti-Catholic history, in so far as it is Protestant was a provincial misunderstanding of the high culture and even the intellectual liberty of Catholicism.

e.g. Protestants execrated the Jesuits for trying two hundred  years ago to do in an orderly way what Protestants' problem novels and problem plays are now doing in an anarchical way; to show some sympathy in hard cases.

(10) Anti-Catholic history, in so far as it is atheist or agnostic, has been a series of sweeping but very depressing scientific theories or generalizations, each applied rigorously to everything and each abandoned abruptly in favor of the next.

e.g. Among these were the commercial and utilitarian theories of Bentham or of Buckle, the theories that referred everything to race, especially to the triumph of a Teutonic race, the economic theory of history of Marx and other materialists. There is probably another coming into fashion by this time.

(11) Anti-Catholic history, after bringing and dropping a thousand charges, after contradicting itself a thousand times, on the subject of the Catholic Church, has never yet guessed the simplest fact about the Church, that it stands for the whole truth against every kind of error.

e.g. The Church is always treated as necessarily the ritualist or the ascetic party in any dispute; though the Church has condemned countless forms of ritual and excesses of asceticism.

(12) Anti-Catholic history is obscurantist; it is afraid of the truth.

e.g. We can easily verify this statement by challenging any of the newspapers to the free discussion of any of these theses.

~G.K. Chesterton