More Fundamental and More Modern: Catholic

Read this snippet from Fulton Sheen’s excellent collection of essays, Old Errors and New Labels (pages 49-50), and tell me if it isn’t extremely relevant for our time:

[The Catholic Church] prides itself on being neither Fundamentalist nor Modernist…. It is not Fundamentalist, because more fundamental than Fundamentalism; it is not Modernist, because more modern than Modernism.

Fundamentalism assumes that the Bible is fundamental. Catholicism retorts… that the Bible is not a book but a collection of books, and hence the question more fundamental than Fundamentalism is: Who gathered the books together, and declared that they would constitute the Bible, and be regarded as the revealed Word of God? To answer this question is to get to a body beyond a book, namely, a Church with a spirit; for Pentecost was not the descent of books on the heads of the Apostles but the descent of tongues. From that day on it was to be a tongue and a voice, and not a book, that would be fundamental in religion.

The Church is not only more fundamental than Fundamentalism, but she is also more modern than Modernism, because she has a memory that dates back over twenty centuries; and therefore she knows that what the world calls modern is really very ancient – that is, its modernity is only a new label for an old error. Modernism has an appeal only to minds who do not know what is ancient, or perhaps antiquated. The Church is like an old schoolmaster who has been teaching generations and generations of pupils. She has seen each new generation make the same mistakes, fall into the same errors, cultivate the same poses, each believing it has hit upon something new. But she, with her memory, which is tradition, knows that they are making the same mistakes all over again, for in the wisdom born of the centuries she knows very well that what one generation calls modern the next generation will call un-modern. She knows also that Modernism is no more logical than a sect called “Three O’Clockism,” which would adapt our gods and our morals to our moods at three o’clock. The Church knows too that to marry the present age and its spirit is to become a widow in the next. Having constantly refused to espouse the passing, she has never become a widow, but ever remains a mother to guide her children and to keep them not modern but ultra-modern, not behind the times but behind the scenes, in order that from that vantage-point they may see the curtain ring down on each passing modern fad and fancy.

There are many today who want the Church to become a widow (though they think of it more as “adapting the Church to the needs of the modern world”). What wisdom Sheen had, and well over 80 years ago! I encourage all to read this excellent book.

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