Many modern Catholics are extremely naive about the implications of being open to the world. In citing the examples of early theologians who welcomed Platonism or St. Thomas Aquinas daring to assimilate Aristotle, they misperceive the spirit of those historical epochs. The great philosophical theologians could make use of pagan thought without fear because they were unshakably convinced of the superiority of their own creed and thus of their ability to dominate and tame alien creeds…

What now passes for ecumenism, in the broadest sense, is often an invitation to allow oneself and one’s church to be taken up into the next great stage of the religious development of mankind, a process in which many Christians are eager to participate and a process for which the weakening of existing creeds is a necessary prerequisite. This kind of syncretism always signals the end of a religion’s vitality, the desire to receive new energy and dedication through an infusion of alien religious blood. On a global scale it is noteworthy that those who anticipate a convergence of Eastern and Western religions generally do so entirely on the East’s terms. They welcome the opportunity to jettison Western doctrinal baggage, for example, and do not ask that the East try to enter more deeply into the spirit which has characterized Western ecclesiastical Christianity.

James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)


Catholics also fail to comprehend how the attention which has been bestowed on their Church since the time of Pope John XXIII often amounts to a subtle attack on their beliefs, even when that interest appears to be complimentary. For example, a Dutch artist who did much to publicize Pope John in the pope’s own lifetime later wrote that John “had far transcended being a pope” and that “to me he was proof that enlightenment can be reached through any spiritual discipline, in his case a very conventional Catholic one,” as though there was something disreputable about being a pope and as though Catholic spirituality were suspect. […]

Virtually anything in the Catholic tradition is liable to be, at any given moment, either rejected as pernicious and irrelevant or recovered and proclaimed to have hitherto unrecognized depths of meaning. The elements of Catholic faith are handed over for secular use because no element is deemed to have validity unless it can first be given meaning in secular terms.

James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)

Those Christians so eager to approve Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar were pathetically grateful for some recognition of Christ on the part of the powerful and deeply pagan entertainment industry, without realizing how much they were being made to give up in return for this recognition…Gregory Baum was among those extravagant in praise of Godspell, noting with apparent approval that the messianic and miracle-working dimensions of Christ’s life were omitted. […]

Many Catholics wittingly or unwittingly serve this purpose, often because they are flattered that the world pays them any attention at all. Virtually anything in the Catholic tradition is liable to be, at any given moment, either rejected as pernicious and irrelevant or recovered and proclaimed to have hitherto unrecognized depths of meaning…Doctrine is rarely denied outright, but a deliberate vagueness is cultivated which is ultimately even more destructive of real belief; enormous energy is expended seeking verbal formulas which will offend or exclude none but the most uncompromising.

James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)

We find in the Ami de la Religion of the 27th of.September, an interesting article, the substance of which we lay before our readers. It will exhibit to those who peruse it, the evidence that they who in our republics would be considered saints of the highest grade, have deeply imbibed the worst spirit of the worst infidels that tortured unhappy France in the days of her wildest anarchy. The Abbe Auger, parish priest of Saint Antoine at Compiegne, has lately published a history of the Carmelite convent which formerly existed at Compiegne, and which has been restored and re-established within the last year, chiefly by the exertions of this good man who writes its history. Alter giving the account of the supposed origin of the Carmelite order, he states its reformation by St. Theresa, its introduction into France, and then enters upon the history of the convent of the Annunciation at Compeigne. This monastery was founded in 1641’by Madame de Louvancourt, widow Trudaine, and furnished many bright examples of rare piety. Compeigne being a royal residence, the nuns were frequently visited by the princes and princesses of France, as well as by the principal nobility- During the preparation of the monastery, the colony occupied the royal castle: and several young ladies of the most distinguished houses in the realm, who preferred the austerities of a cloister to the pleasures of the world, retired within its peaceful precincts, where they uninterruptedly devoted themselves to the practice of the counsels of the gospel.

When the revolutionary tempest spread so much desolation on every side, and swept, the fragments of the church of France into the surrounding regions, this house could not escape ; on the 5th of September, 1792, the good nuns were driven from their abode.—  Obliged to disperse, they still lingered with sorrowing affliction in the vicinity of their beloved home, and were received with hospitality and tenderness into the families of several of their neighbours; they endeavored, as far as circumstances would permit, to observe their rule, trusting that at no distant day they would be permitted to reassemble; they lifted their pure hands, their ardent hearts, and frequent supplications to the Father of mercies for their scourged land and their persecuted religion. Though wicked tyrants, blaspheming the sacred name of liberty, rioted in licentiousness and in blood at the head of what was called a state, yet did those dear daughters love their country, and weep over its sufferings. But they too were claled [sic] upon to suffer more. They were denounced —On the 24th of June, the festival of St. John the Baptist, who was beheaded at the request of a dancing girl, to satiate the revenge of an incestuous adultress, they were sought alter and arrested. From the prisons of Compeigne, they were handed over to the revolutionary tribunal of Paris, and by that were consigned to the scafffold and the executioner. On the 17th of July, the crowd assembled round the guillotine at the barriere du Trone, heard at a distance the voices of the Sisterhood, as surrounded by their guards, they moved in solemn procession to the gates of death! It was not the wail of lamentation, it was not the cry of distress; it was not the shriek of terror; but it was the loud and sweet and full and swelling modulation of the holy chaunt, to which the infuriated multitude, now misled, had not been always insensible- Never—O never, did finer melody issue from the choir of that holy Sisterhood than the grand Te Deum now bursting from their lips; occasionally it was relieved by the more tender touching pathos of the Salve Regina and the inviting strain of the Veni Creator Spiritus. One after another did this lovely group of victims ascend with unfaultenng alacrity to the executioner; the diminished volume of sound continually making known the increasing ravage of the axe, until the dying note of the last victim was heard upon this earth, long after her sister spirits had united their enraptured praises to the triumphant chorus of the host of heaven. Their mutilated bodies were piled around their countenances were placid even in death as the beholders of the heap of heads testify; their monastery was extinguished in their blood. But France has rekindled the torch of her Faith, and she successively relumes those beacons which guide her children in (he path to holiness on earth and to happiness in Heaven. Robespierre, eleven days after this event, fell from his power, and he is now numbered with the execrated dead, and the desolated monastery of Compiegne again inhabited by Carmelite nuns, resounds with the praises of the Lord! Perhaps before the lapse of 43 years, Mount Benedict would again smile under the cultivation of the Ursulines! Perhaps Massachusetts would yet do justice, and make a tardy atonement!

Shepherd of the Valley, Volume 4, Number 21, 19 March 1836
Access the article at the Catholic News Archive


Thomas of Aquin–thinker, poet, doctor, lover,–a huddled bulk of humble worship before his sacramental God. Thomas indeed found all delight, all knowledge, all strength in the Blessed Sacrament. With him, to say, “Omne delectamentum in Se habentem,” was to give a simple statement of his own soul, the single-phrase dissertation on his own spiritual life. “Down in adoration falling, lo! the sacred Host we hail!” Never a Benediction service, but those burning words of the Angelic Doctor are sung: And we see him living his poetry, demonstrating his theses, as he flung his massive, weakened body from the couch of death to fall down in adoration before his Eucharistic God.

The stricken warrior received his divine Master for the last time, and his limpid soul seemed to find a tongue of its own to give vigor to the faltering speech of the dying. The great voice rang out as in the days when it had thrilled the intelligentsia of Paris, Bologna, and Rome. “I receive Thee,” cried the prince of theologians, “the price of the redemption of my soul, for whom I have studied, watched, preached and taught.” Here was the epitome of all his teaching, the fine apex of all his discourses.

Sister Mary Francis, P.C., “The Silence and the Song,” Review for Religious (March 1955)

As the splendid poem, Lauda Sion, draws to its conclusion, we see demonstrated again the subtle interweaving of the masterly intellect and the ardent heart. The great doctor’s faith and conviction put out a clean sword of dogma, as he pronounces the indivisible mystery of the Blessed Sacrament in majestic metre, “Fracto demure sacramento, ne vacilles, sed memento tantum esse sub fragmento, quantum toto tegitur. Nulla rei fit scissura!’” But the poet’s love inflames the dogma with a final blaze of wondering worship, as the cry of the lover follows quickly on the grave exposition, “Ecce panis Angelorum, vere panis filiorum, non mittendus canibus.”

“Bread of children”–so indeed was the Eucharist to this royal scion of intellect who remained to the end of his life the simple child of God, one among those by whom the greatest Teacher of all times declared the kingdom of heaven to be tenanted and possessed.

Sister Mary Francis, P.C., “The Silence and the Song,” Review for Religious (March 1955)

We find the very heart of Aquinas in that sublimely simple strophe of the sequence, “Here, for empty shadows fled, is reality instead; here, instead of darkness, light.” The institution of the Blessed Sacrament brought to the world that substance of reality from which the prophetic words of Christ in His lifetime had cast long shadows incomprehensible to men.

Sister Mary Francis, P.C., “The Silence and the Song,” Review for Religious (March 1955)

Compulsive breast-beating over the “imposition” of Christianity on Third World cultures begs many questions. There is rarely a corresponding anxiety expressed over the “imposition” of other Western creeds, for example, Marxism, which has often been imposed on Asian and African societies by force. The fact that Christianity is not a native European flower but was “imposed” on Europe from the Near East is never alluded to, and by the logic of some of the new mission theories Westerners should now seek to reclaim their rightful heritage of forgotten pagan gods.

James Hitchcock, Catholicism and Modernity (1979)

It is perhaps unfortunate that the master mind of Aquinas has caused history to forget his heart. It is all too easy to think of St. Thomas as a great bulk of reason, a complete network of logic, and a superb mechanism of exposition. This is to miss the man for the mind, the saint for the intellect, the lover for the logician. It was Aquinas the genius who wrote the Summa Contra Gentiles. It was Aquinas the saint who lay sleepless in his bed the night before he was to receive his doctorate at the University of Paris, convinced that he was unworthy to bear this title, that his “meager knowledge” did not even fit him to give the expected discourse on the following day. This incomparable genius humbly cried out to God to give him a subject on which to speak to a crowd of men whom history remembers only as figures in the life of St. Thomas! And God heard, the simple cry of that pure heart which was to remain childlike to its last beat and of that magnificent mind which was to pass a final appraisal on the intellectual labors of a lifetime as, “All that I have written seems to me as a little straw.”

By force of God-given intelligence, St. Thomas might still claim title to the most competent exposition of the Holy Eucharist ever delineated. But it needed the burning heart of a lover to give us the Office and Mass of the Blessed Sacrament. The poet in Thomas drew virility from intellectual faith; conversely, the intellect of the man was warmed by the poet. It is significant that that most magnificent poem, the Sequence of Corpus Christi, begins with a burning cry of the heart, not with a thrust of logic!

If St. Thomas comprehended the mystery of the Eucharist in a measure few men have, it was because Thomas loved the Eucharist.

Sister Mary Francis, P.C., “The Silence and the Song,” Review for Religious (March 1955)