Why I am a Catholic was written by Paul Van K. Thomson in 1959, a time at which the Catholic Church seriously challenged the liberal consensus. With the perspective of a former minister and convert from Anglicanism, Thomson outlines his case for Catholicism, relying on scriptural, historical, social, and subjective reasons in support.
Intellectual impoverishment in an age of information
In the words of Pope Pius XII, modern man is confronted with a “depressing contradiction.” On the one hand he has developed techniques which have led him to the attainment of knowledge so extensive and so various that no one man could, like St. Albert the Great, hope to be able to be the master of all that is known… On the other hand, however, modern man, in the midst of his technical capabilities and possessed of almost boundless information, finds himself gripped by fearful anxieties, confused as to his aims (my emphasis, page 16).
Those words were true in 1959; how truer are they today! Despite the scope of recent scientific, economic, and technological advances, for many people nowadays, the most fundamental questions remain unanswered: Why do things exist? Why is there order in the universe? What is the purpose of my life? What will happen when I die?
This is a sad yet dazzling phenomenon to reflect on: in our world, there are so many facts to be learned and truths discovered. But as regards the most fundamental questions on which all others rest, the average Australian of 2022 is unable to substantively respond beyond: “there are some things we cannot know”–in other words, a non-answer.
This intellectual impoverishment amply demonstrates, that in rejecting Christianity and its monotheistic God, our society rejected the unchanging Truth–there are no viable alternatives.
The early Church
On the old Damascus road, where he (St. Paul) had been journeying for the express purpose of persecuting the community of believers in Christ prior to his own conversion, he had heard the voice of the Risen Lord, saying “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 22:7). In just so many words had Christ identified the society of the faithful with Himself. The gloried Lord of Paul’s vision on the highway did not accuse him of persecuting individuals who, more or less like-minded, had formed an association of their own. He quite specifically said that the act of persecution was directed against Him. Since He was no longer on earth as He had been in the years before His Passion and death, it was evident that no other meaning could be attached to His words than that the community of the faithful was in some sense to be identified with the continuing presence of Christ in the world (my emphasis, page 49).
As the early Church was explicitly identified with the continuing presence of Christ in the world, the true Church must have existed from the very outset of Christianity, leaving only the Catholic Church. No other Church is acceptable because it is distinct from and therefore opposed to the Church our Lord identified Himself with. To oppose this original Church and its adherents, is the equivalent of opposing Jesus Christ Himself.
The material and spiritual aspects of reality
The Christian mind does not despise material things or, even more foolishly, attempt to deny their reality. Christianity has never claimed to be a purely spiritual religion, in the sense of opposing the “spiritual” to the “material…” Christianity, is, on the contrary, founded upon the conviction that in the Incarnation, God showed how the material rightly serves the spiritual. To bring salvation to man, God did not violate or destroy human nature, with its material limitations. Instead, He assumed it Himself and delighted in the beauty of such material objects as the flowers of the field (my emphasis, page 71).
Christianity offers a balanced explanation of reality and our place within it, man being the crown of all visible creation. On the contrary, atheism wholeheartedly denies all spiritual things: the prodigies wrought by the gods of Paganism, the reality of demonic possession, and the miracles of Christ which prompted the Apostles to die for His name. In maintaining this position, atheists must also refute the famous Pagan philosopher Porphyrus, who bemoaned the influence of Christianity on the Roman Empire: “What wonder that Rome has been for so many years ravaged by the plague? Esculapius and the other gods have left it; for, since Jesus is adored, no one anymore obtains the public assistance of the gods” (page 73 of The Devil by Father Delaporte). If there is a single phenomenon that cannot be entirely accounted for in material terms, moreover, the atheist worldview is immediately and completely discredited.
The above in mind, the reader may decide for himself which worldview–Christian or atheist–holds more explanatory value.
The pursuit of worldly ends
No goal which we attain in this life ever leaves us without some further desires. When we have knowledge and experience of some good thing, we always desire another… And faith, as we have seen, gives the Catholic hope of union with God, with Him in Whom man’s perfect happiness alone consists (my emphasis, page 112).
The enduring nature of the Catholic Church
Writing in the Edinburgh Review of October 1840, Thomas Babington Macaulay, who surely cannot be described as generally friendly to Catholicism, described the importance of the Catholic Church as a social institution in the following striking terms: “There is not, and there never was on this earth, a work of human policy so well deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church… She saw the commencement of all the governments and of all the ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world; and we feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all” (my emphasis, pages 30-31).
In the fifty-first chapter of the eighteenth book (the City of God), St. Augustine wrote: “Actually all foes of the Church, whether blinded by error or moved by malice, subserve her in some fashion. If they have power to do her physical harm, they develop her power to suffer; if they oppose her intellectually, they bring out her wisdom; since she must love even her enemies, her loving kindness is made manifest; and whether she has to deal with them in the persuasiveness of argument or the chastisement of law, they bring into play her power to do good” (my emphasis, pages 140-141).
From the Catholic perspective, the enduring nature of the Church is explained by reference to the promises of Jesus Christ: “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The Orthodox Churches
Going their separated way, identifying themselves with the destinies of some one nation or people, as in the case of Russian Orthodoxy, often unable to change or adapt their external circumstances to new times and places, the dissident Eastern churches display no universal authority that can overcome national divisions. They have neither the central unity nor the world-embracing scope of Catholicism, yet of all separated Christians they bear the most perfect witness to the ancient Faith; they therefore remain most close to the heart of Catholicism (my emphasis, page 158).
There is nothing objectionable to identifying with one’s race, ethnicity, culture, language, and heritage. In fact, to venerate one’s past and transmit what one has received, is an act of becoming loyalty.
Notwithstanding this position, with God–the author of creation and master of our eternal destiny–the truth takes precedence over all cultural considerations. Irrespective of their background, each person is called to accept and embrace God, Christianity, and the true Church–nothing is more fundamental.
The proper place of the individual
Specifically, Catholic social thinking points to the conclusion that the end and justification for civil society is to provide man with the material, intellectual, and moral conditions by which he may lead a virtuous life and attain the end which God has given him. From this point of view, man is seen as independent of society by virtue of the eternal personal destiny which is his true end but he is also seen as dependent upon society for certain of the means by which he can attain that end. Totalitarians and ultra-liberals alike fail to give the individual his place in the community, for the totalitarians would exaggerate man’s social dependence, while the liberals would lay undue stress upon his independence (pages 192-193).
This is a recurring theme throughout the book. That is, the Catholic Church represents the true middle ground amidst various opposing (and equally incorrect) perspectives, be it on the individual, reality, reason, economics, or free will. This is because, far from being “right-wing” or subject to any transitory political label, Catholicism is the “absolute and immutable truth”; it has “the marks of truth… engraven upon it” (pages 270 and 96 of The Popes Against Modern Errors).