For all the doubts that non Catholics in this country seem to inherit at birth through some inexplicable collective subconscious it is amazing there are any Catholics at all in this land.
People could be forgiven for thinking that the Catholic Church just one day decided to write down everything it believed relating to the supernatural, the spiritual, the moral and call itself a religion. The lack of historical understanding of the roots of Catholicism is in most people of this country complete.
Perhaps this has contributed to the sense of rootlessness that is widely felt in this country, perhaps this is where the bizarre urge to trace one’s family tree to the Nth degree comes from and why it is so popular. (everyone always seems to end up being a long lost relative of Napoleon, Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan or someone of such improbable ilk)
Myself, I’ve never felt the urge or need to place myself in some kind of elongated genetic context. My feeling of roots from my immediate family and my Church give me all the security I need.
Why does the Church provide that sense of security? That sense of cultural roots that the Church provides is inexhaustible because it comes from God.
Why do I think that this historical security comes from God? Because the Catholic Church has for the past 2000 years or so been mysteriously held together, despite the vast number of powerful forces arrayed against it. Heresies, invasions, schisms, anti-popes, feudal kings, the Roman empire, the ‘enlightenment’, communism. All these things come and go, yet the Catholic Church remains.
First we should look at the Roman Empire, the Roman empire tolerated Jews their strange and quixotic dedication to monotheism just so long as they paid higher taxes than everyone else. Israel had been a troublesome little backwater province of the empire ever since they had conquered it.
Christianity caused great controversy amongst the Jewish communities throughout the Empire, rioting was even involved. As an aside it often amuses me to think about how wet modern Christianity is in comparison to that which rapidly spread around Europe in the first century AD.
Very quickly the Roman empire banned it and went about ruthlessly persecuting Christianity. The Jews also persecuted Christianity for its belief that a man called Jesus was in fact the son of God, which, unless it is true is indeed blasphemy in the extreme.
So Christianity thrived, despite martyrdom being an ever present possibility until the reign of Constantine. This is very important to note. All but one of the Apostles were martyred. Would you die for something unless it were true?
This was not the type of martyrdom common within Islamic fundamentalism, where you endeavor to take as many of the heathens as you can with you. This was the simple choice often given to early Christians, denounce Jesus, accept pagan worship, or be horribly murdered.
Many chose the latter of those options, and it seemed as more and more Christians were publicly murdered the more people were amazed by this faith that defied all worldly persecution.
Even Catholics today who are born into the faith have to make a concrete choice to own and assent to that faith, converts have to go through every dogma and as many beliefs of the Church as possible before they make that final leap of faith into the waters of baptism.
But if you are in the West Christians don’t have to face the very real possibility that in doing so they may have to accept imminent death or horrific persecution. You do unfortunately have to accept ridicule, contempt and face very counter cultural life choices.
Christian converts in Islamic countries or in severe communist countries aren’t so lucky and are still persecuted viciously and frequently killed for their faith to this day.
Last night I was having a conversation with an good friend who is, I’d say an agnostic, or at least an atheist with a healthy sense of doubt. He told me that for some illogical reason he shudders when he walks past Catholic Churches.
Why? well I’ve got a number of theories. A couple of which I’ll post here.
1 It is very natural and sensible to shudder in the face of Catholicism because its claims are indeed so incredible and life changing, and things that are life changing are not without reason considered threatening. Perhaps an element of spiritual warfare is involved?
2 It is possible that the belief that Catholicism is against the national interest has become key to the national identity of England, which has seeped from the propaganda poison pens of the courts of Henry the 8th, Edward the 6th, Elizabeth the 1st, Oliver Cromwell and many others?
Does Spain, Italy, Poland or Ireland suffer because of their Catholic heritage? No, and neither would England suffer. We would still be the nation of football, of roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, fish and chips. We would still be a nation of music and wit, of good pubs and real ale.
Yet we would also be connected to that great source of civilization that is the Catholic Church, with its wealth of learning, art, philosophy and theology. To the faith that forged Europe when the Roman empire failed. To the apostles, to the Church fathers, to the Pope.
Catholics have always rejected the idea that you must choose between being English and being Catholic. Some even did so as they went to the scaffold for their faith and faced being hung drawn and quartered for it.