Staring at the Walls

Continuing from the previous blog post on the Catholic classic, the Spirit of Catholicism– we continue to look at the introductory Chapter 1.  

In the introduction to his book,The Spirit of Catholicism, Karl Adam confronts the common misunderstandings of Catholicism that are derived from the remote viewpoint of those who study comparative religion, or look at Catholicism from afar.

Just as aerial photos alone without seismological tools are insufficient for determining the  presence of precious minerals or oil on a piece of land, one cannot adequately grasp the essence of Catholicism by looking at it from the outside and trying to describe it.

For such descriptions of it’s essential nature . . . are superficial, they only touch the hem of the garment . . . Such people have not discerned the deep source which gives the whole an organic unity.

This “organic unity” is something that is very difficult to discern from the outside looking in, but I would propose that those of us who have converted to Catholicism after a time of serious study and reflection, have begun to sense the “organic” unity, for therein lies the attraction.

Only after entering the Church can one most truly appreciate the depth of the Faith, and it is at this point that one realizes how misguided and shallow the purely “descriptive” interpretations of the Church are.

For to describe a thing is not to explain it fully.

Adam elaborates,

Just as a loving child alone can truly know the character of its beloved mother . . . just as the deepest elements of that character cannot be demonstrated by argument, but only learned by experience . . . only a believing and loving Catholic can see into the heart of Catholicism.

While some are likely to dismiss this position because of its obvious lack of neutrality, I think its fair to say that anyone who is willing to examine the Church in depth will soon begin to notice that what we hear about Catholicism is  clearly just as unscientific, often derived from an uniformed and insufficient understanding of her nature.    This position is held even by many Protestant scholars including the prominent Friedrich Heiler who Adam quotes,

Generally speaking, Protestant argument sees only the outer walls of the Catholic Cathedral, with that cracks and crevices and their weather-beaten masonry; but the wondrous artistry of the interior is hidden from it.

The most vital and the purest aspects of Catholicism remain still, even in this our day, practically unknown to Protestant theology; and for that reason it is denied any complete or intimate appreciation of Catholicism.

In order to understand the Catholic faith, much less appreciate it, we need to be prepared to move beyond the simplistic, oft-repeated distortions, caricatures, and stereotypes that only misinform.

Most people are simply not willing to invest in such a journey, but that journey is what this book (and indeed life itself) are all about.

There are a few souls who have undertaken the journey to explore the heart of Catholicism.   In the next post we will explore the possible reasons for this.