The Spirit of Catholicism – “A Drive-By” (Pre-Introduction)

Despite the challenges that the Catholic Church experiences in the world today– including the fact that she faces an uphill battle against the current cultural climate — one thing is  certain:  she continues to survive.    And in some places, including Austin, Texas, she even thrives.

With the Church’s birthday, Pentecost, coming up this Sunday, it occurred to me that perhaps this would be an opportune time to sit back and reflect on what it really means to be Catholic.   Ah… but where to start?

As I pondered this question, it didn’t take long for me to recall that one of my favorite books, the time-tested classic,  The Spirit of Catholicism, by Karl Adam, was due a re-reading.  Coincidentally, this book, which makes the top ten “must read” list of many a Catholic educator,  happens to be one of the best places to begin that reflection.

In the spirit of G.K. Chesterton’s famous quip that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly,”  I propose to take the opportunity in a series of blogs to do a “drive-by” of this book in the hope that anyone who has not yet read it will be able to get at least get a taste.   Perhaps this “appetizer” will encourage some who have never read it to check it out.  (It will additionally provide plenty of fodder for blog topics as the year progresses).

Note that the Spirit of Catholicism, by Karl Adam:

1)   although first published in 1929 — continues to be published and is still as relevant today as ever.

2)  is legally available for free download here, or is easy to obtain both new and used.   — AND —

3)  has had an enormous impact on many new and influential converts to the Faith

Much like the new DVD series, “Catholicism” by Fr. Robert Barron, Karl Adam’s The Spirit of Catholicism, tries to answer the basic question: What is Catholicism and what makes it what it is?    What is the underlying essence and nature of this faith that has managed to survive this long despite pressures from within and without?

What is the driving force behind the Church?  How is this institution so large and full of apparent contradictions in any way related to Jesus Christ or the original primitive Church?

Such thoughts will be explored in the posts that follow. As we proceed, my intention is that each post will be able to stand on its own without nesssarily having to read the preceding posts.  For now I will leave you with a quote (from a quote) from the book that may explain why there is justifiably so much interest in the Church and I hope will inspire your curiosity.

“English historian, Macaulay, once described in the eloquent words: “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. The history of that Church joins together the two great ages of human civilization.

No other institution is left standing which carries the mind back to the times when the smoke of sacrifice rose from the Pantheon, and when camelopards and tigers bounded in the Flavian amphitheater.

The proudest royal houses are but of yesterday, when compared with the line of the Supreme Pontiffs. That line we trace back in an unbroken series, from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the nineteenth century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the eighth; and far beyond the time of Pepin the august dynasty extends, till it is lost in the twilight of fable.

The republic of Venice came next in antiquity. But the republic of Venice was modern when compared with the Papacy; and the republic of Venice is gone, and the Papacy remains. The Papacy remains, not in decay, not a mere antique, but full of life and youthful vigor.

The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustine, and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila…. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her  long dominion is approaching.

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. She was great and respected before the Saxon had set foot on Britain, before the Frank had passed the Rhine, when Grecian eloquence still flourished at Antioch, when idols were still worshipped in the temple of Mecca.

. . . We discern the immortality, the vigorous life, the eternal youth of the old, original Church. And the question rises to many lips, and to the lips of the best among us: What is the source of this strong life? And can the Church impart it, and will she impart it, to the dying western world?”

More to come . . .

  • Tom Perna

    Great to see that others have read Karl Adam’s – The Spirit of Catholicism. I promote this book every time I give a talk. I read the book in graduate school and advise all Catholics to read this text. It has brought many people to the faith, most notably, Dr. Scott Hahn.

    • Casey Truelove

      After Tom wrote about this on his blog, I told myself that I should read this book. This is just one more push to read it. I can’t wait for summer when I can get some reading done.

      • Steve Scott

        Thanks, Casey.   It’s a great read from start to finish.  Very worth the time.

    • Scscott81

       Thanks for the feedback Tom.   I think that was where I first saw the recommendation.  I would love to hear one of your talks sometime.

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