This article was previously published by The Lepanto Institute
The wisdom for which all philosophers are in search is the knowledge of first principles and the causes of things.” Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book I, chapter 1.
Why is the Church called “Catholic”? The usual response to that question is “Catholic means universal, the Church is neither a national church, nor some association limited in time or geographical scope.” In my view, many important parts are left out in the usual definitions. As far as time goes, the Church was founded in Calvary but was in the plan of God since eternity. The revelations about the Church given to the ancient prophets, the countless images, teachings and parables prefiguring the Church existed first in the mind of God. Under God’s direction, that idea has been entering the world gradually since the beginning. Thus the Church extends and flows from the metaphysical world we do not know into the physical world we do know.
Today, the Church is present all over the world in one form or another. (See Matthew 28:16-20) It contains all kinds of individuals, languages, races, and nationalities. Yet, the Church extends to many other realms we Catholics hardly ever mention. Look at the above quote from Aristotle. That wisdom, that knowledge that the Greek philosopher mentions is nothing more and nothing less than the treasures bequeathed by Christ to his Church. Saint Paul reveals that in Colossians 2:2-3:
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Aristotle and his predecessors had to think long and hard to merely imagine the treasure of wisdom they were seeking. That treasure of wisdom is offered to you by grace. It is all available in the person of Christ from whom we can receive it by merely asking. The Church is the vessel designed by Christ to contain those treasures for your enjoyment. From the most basic elements of wisdom to the totality of the Beatific Vision, that is Catholicity, stored there for the benefit of the elect. Aristotle and his friends could only faintly imagine that treasure that is offered openly by Christ to us. The Great Commission of the Church is to take Christ’s unfathomable offer to the whole world.
Twenty centuries ago, the first Christians took the knowledge of Christ to the known world. Many lost their lives to seed far away lands with the Good News. The Roman world and its surrounding areas were the first to be conquered by the faith. It took only a few centuries for the Church to extend throughout the Roman Empire. When the time was ripe, the husk that was Rome fell and the Western World was born as Christendom. Saints like Augustine of Hippo, or St. Isidore of Seville, both glorious doctors of the Church, did not live long enough to see the advent of the Christian West. (Matthew 13:24-30)
Christianity fed that world with Christ’s wisdom for many centuries but gradually the faith began to decay in that garden of prosperity and power. Little by little, the glories of the faith were forgotten, some were never even brought to light.
Fast forward to our times. Nature abhors a vacuum. In the beginning of the 16th century, the empty spaces in the culture where precious knowledge used to thrive were filled with a new, devilish religion they called at first Illuminism. (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) The Illuminists were the intellectual descendants of the false apostles of St. Paul’s times. Their influence grew steadily up to our days. Their most important triumph in the West was to replace the wisdom of Christ with toxic ideologies of all kinds. They grew tall like the tares of Christ’s parable. Today the cultures of the Western World are fading, filled as they are with worthless ideologies that cannot sustain life.
What is causing the crisis
That gradual loss of our Catholicity created a vacuum in the culture that the enemies of Christ used to their own advantage. Slowly through many generations, Catholics replaced the treasure they had received by trinkets without value. It was a kind of involution that transformed the traditional teaching, filling it with sweet sounding platitudes that were easy to learn but had no substantial spiritual value. Today, a Catholic can go through a decade and a half of education in Catholic learning institutions and never hear about the beatific vision, the hypostatic union, or prophetic typology. Too often the homilies we hear contain doctrinal errors, or are limited to mere exhortations to live a decent life, think of the poor, or avoid “proselytism.” We act like the sons and daughters of a long forgotten millionaire. We have neglected the great treasure we inherited. We wander around the big house looking for crumbs to eat, instead of feasting at the banquet served for us in those rooms we never visit.
That is a crying shame but is it is also a great sin.
It is a great sin because we have done this to ourselves. This negligent attitude has lasted for many generations and has caused irreparable damage to our culture. When we look around and see that millions of souls are lost, that abortion is no longer simply a sin but an industry, we should consider what is our measure of responsibility in this disaster of cosmic proportions.
First, we did not learn the faith in a Catholic way. The faith is full of marvelous things seen and unseen that were given to us for the purpose of saving souls and expand the knowledge of Christ among all men. That faith is supposed to make saints out of us, and make proselytes out of those whose lives we touch every day. If proselytism is to make proselytes, it is not a bad thing. Christ ordered us: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 This is not an option; this is the center of a well-lived Christian life.
What to do now?
It seems to me that we are living in a long dark age. We need to learn the faith first. Notice that you will never be done learning the faith. It is infinite. When St. Thomas Aquinas had a vision of the Holy Trinity and was granted the grace to contemplate Divine Wisdom, he exclaimed sadly: “All I have written is just straw.” We have to develop a thirst for divine truth and never be content with having learned a few platitudes. Learning the faith, learning about God, is what we will do for eternity if we have the great grace to be called to Heaven.
The second part is to evangelize. Again, do not let others confuse you and tell you that evangelizing is no longer needed. Jesus says we should do it and He promised to be with us until the end. No one has the authority to nullify Christ’s commandment. Giving witness of our faith and teaching it to others is not optional.
“The Church knows this. She has a vivid awareness of the fact that the Savior’s words, ‘I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God,’(Luke 4:43) apply in all truth to herself: She willingly adds with St. Paul: ‘Not that I boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty that has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it’(1 Corinthians 9:16) It is with joy and consolation that at the end of the great Assembly of 1974 we heard these illuminating words: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.’(Declaration of the Synod Fathers, 4: L’Osservatore Romano; 27 October 1974, p. 6) It is a task and mission which the vast and profound changes of present-day society make all the more urgent. Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection. (Evangelii Nuntiandi, Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Paul VI; December 8, 1975.)
The world cannot survive forever without Christ. This age of darkness will come to an end. The Christ-less world we are being proposed is pure madness, pure death. It is our duty to keep the faith and rebuild the Church when the time for reconstruction arrives. Ask God to inspire you to obey Our Lord’s command to be a witness of Him to those around you. (Revelation 19:10) Learn something every day about the true marvels of our faith and give it to others. We have received a limitless treasure that will never be spent because it comes directly from God’s wisdom.