What Is a Catholic Worldview?

This fall, Saint Benedict Center’s annual Conference will have as its theme, “Cultivating and Passing on a Catholic Worldview.” It is my purpose in this Ad Rem to outline some key elements of a Catholic worldview, without trying to be comprehensive.

One of the downsides of living in a modern pluralistic society is that life tends to be “cubby-holed” in such a way that the various aspects of our life tend to be disconnected, separated, and atomized: Church from State, professional life from domestic life, worship of God from our outlook on politics and current events, faith from reason, science from the pursuit of virtue, etc. The effect of this is to make our lives into a succession of thoughts and actions that are not properly integrated into a unified and cogent whole, but rather scattered and fragmented. We who love the faith rightly complain about the failure of churchmen to rein in pro-abortion politicians whose forked tongues profess the Creed of the Church and speak in favor of infanticide (with all other manner of moral abomination) — epitomizing the terrifying words of Saint James, who calls the tongue “…an unquiet evil, full of deadly poison …. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be” (James 3:8-10; see larger context). God help them, many of these same politicians receive Holy Communion on those same tongues!

Here the contradiction is evident, but let us not be smug in our self-contentment. Sure, most people reading this can boast that they are not promoting child murder while professing to be Catholics. But that is a very low bar! How many of us have a complete Catholic outlook on all of reality, one that embraces every aspect of our lives, and — here is the hard part — how many of us live accordingly? To do so is to be completely Christian, to live a life that is centered on Jesus Christ, a life whose every aspect is integrated in Him. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Cor. 10:31).

Before proceeding to our small outline — partial, at least — of what it looks like to have a Catholic worldview, it is necessary to define “worldview.” It is a German import, or, rather, a literal translation of the older German word, “Weltanschauung, from welt ‘world’ (see world) + anschauung ‘perception’ (related to English show) [Etymonline.com].” We can define it, with Merriam Webster, as “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint.” If we were to baptize that definition to make it Christian, we can define a Catholic worldview as “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world from the perspective of divine revelation as infallibly taught by the Catholic Church.”

The definition now being settled, let us proceed.

I. God First. Any effort at a Catholic worldview must begin with God and not with man. A challenging book that I am currently reading, Lived Christianity by Dom François de Sales Pollien, is a call to live an integrated Catholic life that puts God first. (I’m hoping to carry the book in our own bookstore after we find an American distributor. Ordering it from Europe is costly, and ordering it from Amazon is just wrong.) The theologian, Father Serafino Lanzetta, describes Dom François’ book in words that summarize the fundamental predisposition of a Christian worldview — “God’s rights come first”:

You will never be a man if you are not “one,” if you do not have integrity, says Dom Pollien in this precious book…. To be “one” is to be understood in a metaphysical sense: one cannot be but oneself, undivided in oneself and divided from all others. On this principle Christian life is harmoniously built. Be only a Christian, always a Christian, absolutely, integrally, says Dom Pollien. You must be a saint and you will find that essential unity in the unity of Christ: true God and true Man.

Our Lord put it succinctly in the Gospel: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).

II. The Church Necessary. In our Creed, alongside belief in the Trinity and the Incarnate Logos, we profess to believe in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church,” which is identified as “the communion of saints.” This Church is not something on the sidelines of a “mere Christianity”; Jesus Christ and His Church form but one mystery, for the Church is His Mystical Body. By the revealed will of her divine Founder, His one, spotless, and unique Church is absolutely necessary for salvation. The sacred liturgy is that Church at prayer; evangelism is that Church incorporating men into herself so that they can be saved.

III. Origins. “Where wast thou when I laid up the foundations of the earth? tell me if thou hast understanding” (Job 38:4). With these words, God rebukes Job and his “friends,” showing them that they are hardly qualified to probe His ineffable ways. The same words can be addressed to any who presume to speak of the origins of the universe, of life, or of man in any way that differs from what God has revealed to us in the book of Genesis. And yes, that includes the gurus in white lab coats who are the priests and prophets of our faithless day. Too many Catholics have fallen for the modern myth of evolution, which Brother Thomas Mary Sennott once aptly called, “Satan’s creation story.” We are not “unscientific” or “anti-scientific” for believing in God’s revelation, for truth cannot contradict truth. But we bend the knee to a false god when we accept — contrary to the only reliable account we have of the origins of the universe — the unproven hypotheses of a collective of “experts,” most of whom displayed through the COVID nonsense (and the climate-change foolishness, and the overpopulation myth) how beholden they are to anti-human and unscientific agendas.

IV. Destiny. To speak of final causality is to probe the most important mystery of life. What is our purpose? When we learn, in the catechisms that we use to teach children, that our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with Him forever, we have learned a wisdom that no philosopher qua philosopher can tell us. The reason is that, just as the origins of the universe, of life, and of intelligence were not the results of mere natural causality, neither is our ultimate destiny to be found in nature. Here, once again, we are radically dependent upon divine revelation. While that truth humbles us (or ought to humble us), it also supplies us with the highest degree of certitude we can possibly have. Our ultimate end is found in the supernatural order. To achieve it requires that we be elevated into the supernatural order in this life by sanctifying grace and the theological virtues. This ties back to the question of origins, for to achieve His own glory in the blessed was God’s intention in creating in the first place. The “final cause” is, as the philosophers say, “the first in intention and the last in execution.”

V. The True Progress of History. Brother Francis said that “history is the laboratory of wisdom.” This is so because the achievement of salvation is the highest wisdom, and history presents us with the drama of salvation accepted and rejected. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that the Christian historian is not “satisfied with establishing the facts and ascertaining the internal relation of cause and effect; he also estimates the value and importance of the events in their relation to the object of the Church, whose sole Christ-given aim is to realize the Divine economy of salvation for the individual as well as for the whole race and its particular groups. … In his judgment on such events, the Christian historian keeps in view the fact that the founder of the Church is the Son of God, and that the Church was instituted by Him in order to communicate to the whole human race, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, its salvation through Christ” (my emphasis). A robust exposition and defense of the Catholic approach to the study of history may be found in excellent essay, The Christian Sense of History, by Dom Prosper Guéranger. Our only alternatives are to approach history as if we were atheists, humanists, or naturalists — or to see no rhyme or reason at all in history, only, in the ironic words of British historian Arnold Toynbee, “just one damned thing after another.”

VI. Life’s Existential Questions. What is happiness? What is my purpose? What is the purpose of human society? What constitutes the standard of right and wrong? Many of the baptized, sadly, consult a confused array of New York Times bestsellers or “YouTube influencers” for answers to life’s most pressing questions. While one might find practical answers to an impressive array of utilitarian questions on YouTube and similar platforms, such venues are not unlike the Areopagus as Saint Luke described it: “Now all the Athenians, and strangers that were there, employed themselves in nothing else, but either in telling or in hearing some new thing” (Acts 17:19). Holy Scripture and Apostolic tradition, as mediated by the Magisterium and illuminated by the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church have given us the authoritative answers to these questions. Their answers are accessible to all of us.

VII. Marriage. “Three things are too wonderful for me, yes, four I cannot understand: the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden” (Prov. 30: 18-19). Much of the world’s literature and music touches upon the affairs of the heart that Solomon the Wise found so very incomprehensible. When man and maiden enter into the permanent contract that produces a family, we call it “marriage” (whether or not it is sacramental).The often mystifying nature of male-female relations, noted by Solomon, do not necessarily become simpler for their having been thus formalized. The purpose and nature of marriage need to be clearly understood and courageously accepted if the contracting parties are to avoid misery for themselves and their offspring. For all of humanity, marriage was instituted to be what God established in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Even among God’s chosen people, the pristine purity of this was lost, and polygamy and divorce were allowed. Jesus Christ did two things to remedy this: He restored matrimony to its original Edenic purity and then elevated it to a sacramental bond by making it one of the seven sacraments of the New Law. Considering that the vast majority of people will enter into the married state rather than the priesthood or religious state, and that future generations of humans and Christians will issue from those unions, getting this thing right is of grave existential importance.

VIII. Science. We tend to speak of “science” today as if it is one thing — as in, “follow the science,” which apparently means following whatever the expert-in-the-white-lab-coat du jour says. But there are numerous sciences, some of them empirical, some of them philosophical, etc. (Scientia — which simply means knowledge — is defined scholastically as cognitio certa per causas: “certain knowledge through causes.”) Each science is an ordered body of knowledge with its own principles and matter. Each has its own competence. There is a hierarchy to them, and ruling over them all is a queen: Theology. Until Theology is restored to her role as queen, the sciences will be disordered and the respective disciplines will not stay within their limits. Keeping Theology in this regal role is necessary for a Catholic worldview.

IX. Art. Art is defined scholastically as recta ratio factibilium (right reason in the domain of making). Anything that implies a skill of making something — as is the case with many traditional trades — would have been considered an art in earlier ages. But if by art we mean the visual arts, the performing arts, or literary arts — what is most often called “art” today — we should know that these have purposes, too: First, God’s glory; second, man’s edification, contemplation, pleasure, and authentic leisure. The Catholic view is not “art for art’s sake,” which is a corruption.

X. Law. Saint Thomas defined law as “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.” Today, it is generally viewed as the diktat of those in authority, which includes only half of the notes Saint Thomas included in his definition. I have written on the subject before, so I will not put down much here. An authentic Catholic worldview will have a proper conception of law, extending both to civil and ecclesiastical law, that is neither antinomian nor positivist.

A true worldview allows us to see all reality as it is sub specie aeternitatis — under the perspective of eternity — and to accommodate new knowledge and experiences into it without substantially altering that view. In other words, an authentic Catholic worldview will only be deepened, broadened, and sharpened — not contradicted — by the accumulation of truth.

Please consider joining us as we ponder these things and engage in fortifying Catholic fellowship this October.