"Big Four" Highlights


Christ and Culture

New book outlines how Catholic Church has formed our moral and civic culture

Just when the times seem darkest is when the Church has been known to shine brightest with the light of Christ. So says prolific author Mike Aquilina in his latest book “Yours Is the Church: How Catholicism Shapes Our World,” which makes a compelling case for seeing the Church as the engine of humanism and advancement for civilization over the past 2,000 years.

Notice the tenses of the verbs in the title: “is” and “shapes.” For Aquilina, the glorious role of the Church is not something confined to European Christendom, but is still alive today.

Fathers for Good asked him about this viewpoint, which even some Catholics today would dispute.

FFG: The Catholic Church today is blamed today for nearly everything bad in society – sex scandals, “war on women,” “war on science” – yet you say it’s responsible for everything that we cherish and value. How’s that work out?

Mike Aquilina: The Church set the standards, and it set them high – and now the culture judges Catholics by the standards we set. Pedophilia was the old normal before the Catholic Church called it a sin. It was practiced and even praised in Greco-Roman culture. Women had no rights and were treated like property before the Church declared that in Christ they had equality with men. So the media accusations are nonsense apart from a culture formed by Catholicism. Insofar as we have failed to live up to our standards, we deserve the criticism. But then we should also get the credit for setting the moral bar high in the first place.

“War on science” is an especially ludicrous charge. As one great historian put it: science was “stillborn” until Christianity introduced the idea of a rational creator. Then the sciences took off. Chemistry rests on foundations laid by St. Albert the Great and Antoine Lavoisier, a devout layman; calculus was developed by Pascal, another devout man; logic by St. Thomas Aquinas; genetics by a monk, Gregor Mendel; geology and paleontology by a convert and a bishop, Blessed Nicholas Steno. The Big Bang theory was first formulated by a Catholic priest. The atom bomb and the computer were largely the work of a convert to the faith, John von Neumann. The list goes on. Yet the media portray us as "anti-science" when we oppose fetal stem-cell research.

Part of the problem is that non-Christians don’t understand the difference between Catholics and fundamentalists, some of whom are anti-science. But the bigger part of the problem is plain old bigotry. They've bought the anti-Catholic line of the Reformation and the Enlightenment.

FFG: What main point should readers take away from the book?

Aquilina: As St. Justin Martyr said in 150 A.D., everything that’s good is ours. If you like literature, yours is the Church of Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Graham Greene. If you’re into art, yours is the Church of Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Andy Warhol. If you love music, you can thank the Church for major developments in harmony, polyphony, notation, and performance down the years.

If you work for peace, you should know that the very idea of a “just war” would have been laughable in pre-Christian paganism. All was fair on the battlefield. Victory was meaningless without humiliation of the enemy, including civilians. Christianity made the outrageous claim that even warriors must obey the moral law. The Catholic Church made the peace movement possible.

FFG: Do you think this book can boost morale of Catholics in a secular age?

Aquilina: I hope so. Secularism doesn’t produce much in the way of culture. Ask anyone to list the ten greatest works of art, and no sane person will include the “dung madonna” or a crucifix submerged in urine. Without any transcendent reference point, art becomes mere publicity. It’s all about shock and sensation. That gets old fast. Michelangelo and Cervantes never age.

FFG: How can the Church continue to promote the “good, true and beautiful” in an age that doubts all three?

Aquilina: We need to be faithful and do our work well. If we’re artists, musicians, poets, scientists, our work will speak for itself and will speak in an enduring way. The Catholic Church will be reason's last champion, beauty’s last champion. If we are faithful we’ll prevail, because nobody’s interested in shock art once the shock passes. Nobody's interested in junk science that puts ideology ahead of truth. We’ll have the goods that last.

For more information, visit Servant Books.