Subsidiarity and the Social Doctrine

"The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money [to spend]." Margaret Thatcher

“Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.” G. K. Chesterton

Subsidiarity in the Gospels

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Which Founding Father was Catholic?

"Charles Carroll is relatively unknown among American Catholics, yet he was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. Why don't Catholics know about this Catholic Founding Father?

Thanks, Josh, very much for interviewing me, especially about a subject as important as Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Certainly, in his own time, Carroll was well known. John Adams even believed he would be remembered as one of the great founders, one of the greatest men of his day. Given that Adams had men such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson in mind, this is not faint praise. At the time, the Carrolls (Charles and his cousin John the first Roman Catholic bishop in America) were also regarded as the two great leaders of Roman Catholics in America.

But, I think Roman Catholics are as susceptible to memory loss as any other American. So, as with most Americans, American Catholics have unfortunately forgotten their history. A couple of excellent books on Catholic history in America exist – I think immediately of John McGreevy’s American Catholicism.

But after a while it wasn’t much of a secret that Charles Carroll was “First Citizen.”

Without question, Josh. While anti-Catholicism continued, to be sure, Carroll almost single-handedly proved to the Maryland population that a Catholic could be a good citizen, an intelligent citizen and a defender of liberty."

"Your book is called American Cicero. Why do you think this is apt title for Charles Carroll?

Throughout the entirety of Charles Carroll’s life, he regarded Cicero as one of his two closest friends. His other close friend was his father. Carroll believed himself to be in constant conversation with Cicero because of Cicero’s works, which Carroll considered the second greatest set of writings in history, bested only by the Bible. In this, Carroll – in his life, his mind, and his soul – almost perfectly blended the humane with the Christian, forming a solid Christian Humanism and offering a serious Christian Humanism to the first fifty years of American history and culture.

One can see Cicero’s influence on Carroll in the American’s defense of the republic and traditional republicanism, in his understanding of liberty and order, and in his very humane perception of the world.

Did other Founding Fathers hold Carroll in high esteem, or was he considered an outcast because of his Catholicism?

Both. The Founders, as far as I know, greatly respected Carroll. Adams called him one of the best of his generation; Washington considered him a friend and a vital political ally; Jefferson sought him out for financial advice; Madison turned to him and the Maryland Senate Carroll created as the model for the U.S. Senate; and Hamilton thought he might be the best successor to Washington as president. Regardless, it’s very difficult to find unadulterated praise of Carroll. For, no matter what Carroll’s virtues, the other Founders always had to add “... for a Papist” when describing him.

In addition to buying your book, what other ways can Catholics promote the life of this great Catholic American patriot?

Oh, I like this suggestion, Josh! Thanks.

The best way to honor Carroll, at least from my perspective, would be to honor what he believed in. Catholics should be taking the lead in a revival of the liberal arts, republican theory and constitutional reform, and ideas of order and liberty. Our Church, after all, not only sanctified the pagan world and the classical learning of antiquity, but it also reached out to the pagan cultures of the world, baptizing them, bringing them into a universal understanding of the humane and just.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of English Roman Catholicism. After all, English Roman Catholics include King Alfred, Thomas a Becket, John of Salisbury, Thomas More, John Fisher, Cardinal Newman, G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Christopher Dawson. Throw in Evelyn Waugh and Alec Guinness and the many figures Joseph Pearce has so brilliantly written about in Literary Converts, and the jaw simply drops. And why not? It seems to be a perfect combination – the Catholic traditions of education and justice mixed with the humanism, common law rights and constitutionalism of the English. For Carroll, the American Revolution reformed, purified and returned the inherited English constitution and liberties to first principles. This was our inheritance and this is our greatness. It’s a beautiful burden to carry to the modern and post-modern world."

The complete Joshua Mercer interview with American Cicero author Dr. Bradley Birzer

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