“When Catholics cut themselves adrift from their own past, they do not thereby become profound thinkers”

Today at Crisis, the esteemed Anthony Esolen offers us some gold.  After Our election, We shall appoint him as Plenipotentiary Extraordinary Minister for the Implementation of Ex corde Ecclesiae.

A sample from his latest with my patented emphases and comments:

Buying the Right Toys from Faiths R Us

A couple of weeks ago I was staying at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C., as a guest speaker for a symposium on the role of Dominicans in the life of the intellect. The eastern province is flush with vocations, as we at Providence College know well, having in recent years sent to the Dominican brothers and sisters some of our most devout and brilliant students, one of whom I caught up with there, along with several Dominican priests who had been my colleagues in Rhode Island. The province has had to build a new wing to accommodate the numbers of young men, who are all of them notable for their orthodoxy, their bold and happy faith, and their being immersed in the intellectual life. [And yet this week I heard of that in the archdiocese of a major metropolitan region – not famous for conservative bishops – not a single man will enter their seminary.]

It was not supposed to be this way, of course. The Church of the Future was going to be utterly different from the ignorant old Church of the Dark Ages, those medieval times of contrition, chastity, intact families, straightforward catechism, the building of hundreds of thousands of schools and hospitals and orphanages and old folks’ homes all over the world, Lenten fasts, and May crownings, which ended at around 1959, followed by the Renaissance, which ended in 1978 with the election of Karol Wojtyla to the papacy. Then came the Great Backsliding into orthodoxy again, so that if any priest now said that prayer was out of date or that Jesus was an inferior version of Buddha, he would be subject to public ridicule.

I like my version better.

“Oh,” says the religion consumer, looking at a table covered with religious paraphernalia—icons, rosaries, Ganesha the elephant, a “Coexist” sign, a menorah, a prayer carpet, miniatures of the Easter Island megaliths, and cards reading Angels Are Everywhere—“oh, if only there was one church that would do the work of all these religions!”

At which a very fat bishop barges through the door, stage left, [Fatty McButterpants? Bp. of Libville?] holding up a copy of National Catholic Reporter. “Oh my,” exclaims the religion consumer, “pray tell, who are you?”

“Hamahamaha Church of the Future!” he stutters, staring at the television camera.

“Are you the Church of the Future? And can you do the work of all these religions?”

“Hamahamaha Church of the Future!”

I am thinking about these things because, while I was at the House of Studies, I picked up and took home with me a free book that, in its cultural analysis, could have been written yesterday, but was published all the way back in 1979, when the rage for the Church of the Future was still storming. It is Catholicism and Modernity: Confrontation or Capitulation?, by my estimable colleague at Touchstone, James Hitchcock. Every page is stocked with diamonds. One of the most perspicacious assertions that Hitchcock makes throughout the book, and especially in a chapter with the provocative title, “The Illusion of Pluralism,” is that when Catholics cut themselves adrift from their own past, they do not thereby become profound thinkers, ready to confront with a new and distinctively Catholic voice the modern world in all its possibilities and its dangers. They become prey to advertising, in the broadest sense of the word. Or they themselves join the media, and become hucksters par excellence. Join us by midnight tonight!

“The media’s alleged commitment to pluralism,” says Hitchcock, “is at base a kind of hoax. The banner of pluralism is raised in order to win toleration for new ideas as yet unacceptable to the majority. Once toleration has been achieved, public opinion is systematically manipulated first to enforce a status of equality between the old and the new, then to assert the superiority of the new over the old. A final stage is often the total discrediting, even sometimes the banning, of what had previously been orthodox.” Hitchcock quotes T.S. Eliot, who put the matter most bluntly: “Paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space.”


Do read the rest there!

Fr. Z kudos.

Also, check out his translation of the Divine Comedy, one of the most important things every penned by man.  If you have read Dante then… well…. pffffft.


You could start with Esolen (Part 1, Inferno HERE – UK HERE) or perhaps with Dorothy Sayer’s fine version (Part 1, Inferno, HERE).  There are many renderings to choose from.  I would very much like to teach on Dante someday.  Maybe it’ll happen.

When you make the excellent choice to read the Divine Comedy, here are a couple tips.  First and foremost, make the decision that you will read the whole thing.  Don’t read just the Inferno.  The really great stuff comes in Purgatorio and Paradiso.  Also, read through a canto to get the line of thought and story and then go back over it looking at the notes in your edition.  Sayers has good notes.  Dante was, I think, the last guy who knew everything.  Each Canto is dense with references.  You will need notes to help with the history, philosophy, cosmology, poetic theory, politics, theology, etc.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Fr. Z KUDOS, Our Catholic Identity, The Coming Storm, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. jfk03 says:

    Rx for Bishop of Libville: Go on a vegan diet, one meal a day, and read the Gospels 10 times in the next 40 days. This will result in loss of weight and gain in orthodoxy.

  2. Adaquano says:

    How much influence does a vocations director have? If he is orthodox but has to deal with a plethora of entrenched pastors that go with the flow of the times can he have much impact, or does that hinge on his bishop’s support?

  3. monnica says:

    My husband and I are reading Dante together (not the first time through for either of us). We are slowing down considerably now, in the earliest Cantos of the Paradiso. Dante and Beatrice are zooming toward God and we’ve slowed to the slowest of crawls.

    I studied the poem three different times during my higher education. One of my teachers — the best of the three, for this text — was a priest. It was one of the highest points of my education, studying Dante in his class. Unforgettable.

  4. GreggW says:

    I keep telling my wife that Anthony Esolen should be required reading.

    Every high school student should be tasked with spending 15 minutes per week simply reading his Facebook posts (and comments to others’ posts). By the end of the year, they will have a decent feel for how to think, and they would have learned a great deal through those brief times of immersion in thoughtful reflection on reality.

  5. I have the Ciardi translation of Dante, and it’s marvelous. The only issue is that it has endnotes, and not footnotes, which makes the quick glance to the notes and references a huge pain. Footnotes are always better!!!

    I’m rather sure that the “man of lawlessness” of whom St. Paul speaks is the man who invented the endnote…

  6. RobW says:

    “Hamahamaha Church of the Future!”…Eolsen must be a Honeymooner’s fan. Nice. Watch the episode ‘Better Living Through TV’ and imagine Ralph wearing a bishop’s miter.

  7. Bthompson says:

    The Dominicans should share this info with their next-door neighbors at the sulpecian seminary. Their outgoing rector just gave an interview with the Fishwrap that expresses quite the opposite hope.

  8. benedetta says:

    I am a longtime Esolen appreciator and enthusiast…and, I read Dante (Ciardi translation) in…wait for it…public high school!!! And it was awesome. Therefore, Dante is on the summer reading agenda. This looks really good for others who are following along at home: http://www.holyapostles.edu/mooc/

    I think it’s really pretty much happening now that more than a few who ought to know better, who talk a grand game about how tough and manly they are, are fiddling, with tunes of pride, vanity and private lols, upon the misfortunes of people whom they were really called to protect, whilst Rome is, well…we all know the story about what Nero did. Are we right to expect better from those who spend all their waking hours studying scripture and going to daily Mass, than what occurred and is occurring? I guess they sing no. Where are the “servant’s hearts” that our evangelical friends espouse and extol? Where are the men for others? We were made to be courageous…not to just, protect and further the interests of ourselves and our little coteries. Some men can be relied upon, for that, and, quite honestly, regardless of all the fine holy appearances, some cannot.

  9. anilwang says:

    First and foremost, make the decision that you will read the whole thing. Don’t read just the Inferno.

    Definitely. Different people identify with different parts of the Divine Comedy. I personally didn’t like Paradiso for the same reasons I didn’t like Inferno; namely it appeared that Dante was trying to grasp for something that was beyond his experience and a lot of his own judgments about the fate of his friends and enemies loom too large. Purgatorio, OTOH is a masterpiece and a catechism in and of itself. It’s a must read for anyone who looks down on medieval Catholicism.

    I haven’t tried this, but I also think it’s a wonderful way to introduce Protestants to the areas where Catholics and Protestants disagree (e.g. Mary, Purgatory, penance, grace, nature, why total depravity is wrong, etc) and why they not only makes sense, it’s also a glorious part of God’s salvific plan.

  10. un-ionized says:

    Benedetta, your post is great. I have had recent experience with people who study the Gospel very intently and apparently think that is a replacement for living it. The holy appearance of a habit (either as an article of clothing or a habit of behavior) can be used as a weapon or a disguise as well as a sign of something positive.

  11. Elizabeth D says:

    Does anyone know what archdiocese in a major metropolitan area has NO new vocations for this year?

  12. Semper Gumby says:

    Mr. Esolen deploys a great quote from T.S. Eliot when discussing hostility in the media to orthodoxy: “Paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space.”

    Esolen adds that there are many who: “[lack] the strength of faith to cast a wary eye upon their own times…They show their superiority to their fellows in the pews by being attuned to signals in the media, which teach them what it is now going to mean to be “enlightened.” Then they adopt the media’s causes as they adopt a new style in hats or shoes.”

    A great example of creating a “new style” is from a Jan. 21 2016 interview in the NCRegister by Jeanette de Melo of Sue Ellen Browder, former Cosmo journalist and author of “Subverted” by Ignatius Press:

    Browder: “Well, the “Cosmo girl” is a persona. She was a deception from the beginning. In the beginning there was no “Cosmo girl”. It was just a fantasy that Helen Gurley Brown had made up as a marketing fantasy.”

    “How do you sell a young woman on beautiful clothes, all this makeup, all these things for your hair, abortions, contraceptives — all these things? You sell her on the “Cosmo girl” lifestyle. Which is sexually free, unmarried sex, sex with married men — all of these things that we were selling. You sell that, and then, pretty soon, she is automatically going to need the clothes, going to need the hair, need the makeup, and eventually she is going to need the contraception, and eventually, she is probably going to need an abortion. So you see, when people say “How did you help the sexual revolution hijack the women’s movement?” I say I sold the “Cosmo girl” lifestyle. And we made up those things.”

    These days, we are seeing how both zealotry for a “new style” and pagan propaganda are combining to produce authoritarian enforcement of what Benedict XVI referred to as the Dictatorship of Relativism. As Patti Armstrong wrote in the NCRegister on April 28:

    “Our thoughts may be our own, but the radical left wants them. Pushing agendas, whether about marriage, bathrooms, or climate, is only their first step. The second step is not allowing disagreement. Without even touching the First Amendment, our right to free speech is being bullied away.”

    “For instance, an opinion that was once mainstream not so long ago, is now grounds for firing. In 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into Law—defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman—it passed both houses of Congress by large, veto-proof majorities. Twenty years later, TV shows get canceled, Chick-fil-A gets boycotted, bakeries and wedding service businesses get shut down, adoption agencies are closed, and people are denied college degrees, if they dare to express such an opinion.”

    Great article from Mr. Esolen, thanks Fr. Z.

  13. The Mad Sicilian Geek says:

    When Catholics cut themselves adrift from their own past…

    That’s kinda hard to avoid when….

    1) For decades, there’s been a tremendous drop in the number of religious teaching at Catholic grade and high schools;

    2) Tuition, at these same institutions is skyrocketing beyond the reach of an increasing number of families;

    3) As a result of #1 and #2… more students are forced to attend public schools and get their “catechism” via CCD – which is usually watered down and incomplete;

    4) Throw in the fact that people aren’t taught how to think for themselves and, consequently, how to discern truth and meaning from what is currently taught;

    5) Supplement #3 and 4 with parents who have also received watered-down Catechesis and a poorly structured education;

    6) Add in a sexual abuse crisis (hidden for decades) to push people even farther away from the Church (sorry, there’s just no getting away from this…);

    Throw it all in a blender on “gooify” and the result is predictable…. Catholics who neither understand their faith… nor their history… nor any way to navigate and right themselves in a storm…

  14. Adaquano says:

    Arlington VA outside DC is usually pretty strong in vocations (this certainly has helped Tim increase TLM’s too.)

  15. Charivari Rob says:

    Adaquano, a diocesan vocations director is rarely the personal agent of inspiration in a vocation.

    He is, however, an agent of great influence.

    He can create a nurturing, fertile, encouraging environment for vocation – or – a discouraging, ill-prepared environment where vocations die on the vine.

    So too his bishop.

    It’s a little like one of the (Walter) O’Malley* family said talking about Dodger Stadium and keeping it painted and flowers at the end of the concourses and clean restrooms: “People don’t come for those things, they’re coming for a ballgame – but they won’t come if those things are neglected.”

    * I just quoted Walter O’Malley. My Brooklyn-educated, Dodger fan father is spinning in his grave.

  16. Dafyd says:

    Even Foucalt argues that one has to master the past, even if only to rail against it.

  17. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Lovely that Dante is always waiting there, in a number of good translations, to get acquainted, or better acquainted, with (and even lured into trying the Italian at least a bit: how melodious if you can get a native speaker to read you some or recite you some known by heart), and, as anilwang suggests, fruitfully for any- and everyone (at least potentially).

    Long may he elude censorship (and self-censorship)!

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