Tuesday, 29 October 2013
The Contempt for the Simple Believer
In the past few months I have been considering under a new light my ancestors. None of them were famous, learned or particularly significant. They simply existed. As my surname testifies, my paternal family has its origins in Ireland and therefore in Catholicism. I have come to consider my conversion to the Catholic Faith in 2008 as more of a reversion after the previous two generations unhappily abandoned it. My great grandfather, who insisted that I bear the 'traditional' male family name of Charles and soon died after he got his wish, was the last to practise and die in the Faith with a Requiem Mass and burial. Our Irish origins had no real importance to me until I started to consider the lives of my forefathers of many years ago struggling to live. Only a few members of my family are religious, none of them adhere to the Catholic Faith, so often I feel rather odd among them. My decision to convert in 2007 startled them as it seemed a rather strange step for a young man to make in today's world. At least my father now considers me as a renowned expert on matters of religion. On my father's side I am probably the most educated member we have ever had. My mother's side in the past generation has had more academic success with the earning of degrees and a cousin is currently working on her PhD. On that score I feel far more at ease in their company, as they more obviously value the importance of learning and education that my paternal family almost believes to be an aspect of snobbery at times.
However, my paternal family exerts a certain attraction on me as they lived as Catholics. In the eyes of the world, they were nobodies. Illiterate, peasants, simple. Catholics. The Catholic Faith is the greatest treasure I have and it was given to me. I did not earn it, buy it, deserve it. By divine grace it was given to me. It presents a link to me and my forefathers who practised Catholicism even after leaving Ireland, although I am not sure when that occurred. On the surface we are rather different. I value very strongly the importance of knowledge and learning. Maybe they would have too if they had the opportunity to consider anything more than surviving and working to survive. The most important knowledge that I have has been self-taught. Whether it be my knowledge of history, the perennial philosophy or theology it has come to me by my own desire to learn and improve myself. These ancestors in Ireland were completely illiterate who had to sign their name with a X, and rather curiously our surname changed from Mulligan to Milligan during the lifetime of one man. Being unlearned, he did not even notice.
I like to think of them performing their devotions, whether they be the rosary, the Angelus, the stations of the cross with a firm faith and a simple joy. The 'Traditional Latin Mass' was to them nothing other than the Mass. It is something I wish I could cultivate. Do not consider what I have written above about learning to be an idle boast. All men desire to know as they possess an intellect whose proper object is the truth. Furthermore, Aristotle, that prodigious mind, believed the first attitude of the philosopher to be wonder. I imagine my fathers possessing a great and firm hope in the promises of Christ as their earthly circumstances would have given them nothing to be glad about in that impoverished land. Although I do not wish to sin through romanticising their past. Here I come however to the point of this rambling post.
Too many self-professed intellectuals, self-appointed champions of the poor and simple have scorned the honest and decent devotion of those they claim to uphold. They believe their devotions to be childish, superstitious and a relic of an ignorant age. They write books, coining new phrases that if they were honest they would be at pains to explain. They may have the alphabet after their names, but they lack the common sense and wonder that any man could attain to, peasant or cultured. It could be that these simple ancestors had a better understanding of the Faith and creation as they cherished the significance of signs and the 'sacramental' character of the world and God's action in it. They would have possessed a sense of the Faith to a far greater degree than these 'enlightened ones' who attempt to constrain the mind of the Church into a particular system which pleases them. They trumpet the call for an authenticity in the believer which means to them the abandonment of any externals that raise the mind to God. These 'ritualisms' are a hindrance, they proclaim, to a true Christian life, as though every soul is in the illuminative state within the first instances of entering the age of reason. They do not understand the relevance of matter to the forming of a Christian spirit. It is almost as if they believe us to be angelic spirits that must flee the contamination of the physical. Are they Manicheans or mere fools?
Let us value the honest prayer of the simple ones of Christ, not disregarding the worth of learning but to recognise that the source of truth is God Himself. It is by Faith, Hope and Charity that we attain to Him.