Many Christians today, particularly Catholics, are working to build healthy local economies. This work must, of course, begin with an orthodox parish and with faith-filled families, but this work will also provide the foundation necessary to keep that orthodoxy, faith, and health sustainable. Work towards a healthy local community and economy will rebuild and foster orthodoxy and faith, and it is that orthodoxy and faith that will make the economy sustainable. They sustain each other! Many Catholics are looking for an alternative to the mainstream political dualism of today’s American society (I say “society” rather than “culture” because while people in America still associate, I’m not sure we still cultivate). Catholics longing and working for a more humane economy, for a stronger parish community identity; Catholics attempting a philosophical articulation of personal freedom and responsibility, and a politics founded on sound anthropology need to turn again to our history, our Scriptures, and our social doctrines. We need, almost from scratch, to re-learn and re-live a “Catholic Culture”.
To revive a Catholic Culture, it is necessary to first understand what a “Catholic culture” is. Let us look at what “Catholic Culture” means, and at its character. To do so, we will first look at the meaning of the word culture, in general. Then we will look at what the Scriptures reveal to us about a truly human culture. Finally we will look at what makes a Catholic Culture unique, namely, its centeredness on The Incarnation. In other words, we will see how a Catholic Culture is a culture of Sacraments, and of the sacramentality of all creatures, all work, and all worship.
To understand what “culture” is, we can begin by looking at history. Let’s take as our starting point the origin of the word itself. “Culture” is the activity of the “cult”. Perhaps it would be better to put it: “Culture” is “cult-work”. Cult is a Latin word, and has a very rich meaning. To the Latin speakers,Cultus meant “devotion”, and culture would be “the work of devotion.” But to really understand the depth of this word, you must look even further at its root. Cultus is part of the verb colere that means, “to till the soil.” Its root was an Indo-European word, qwell, which meant, “to turn around,” or “to cycle.” For those who spoke this language—from central Asia, through the Mediterranean, into Europe, qwell meant primarily the cycle of work upon the land. For nomads, this was the cyclical movement upon a particular land, moving according to the seasons, and drawing a living from this land. For settled peoples, it meant the work of drawing a living from a more specific piece of land, namely their farms. In either case, it came to mean even more: the accumulation of living that became a way of life, knowing how to live, and to live here specifically. Cultus in this fuller sense, beginning with the practical work of drawing a living from the land, came to mean “nurturing” or “serving/stewarding” this place. The families that lived from the land did not simply live on it, but in it. To continue to live there, they had to care for it, so that it would continue to provide them with food and a home.
To understand this gradual flowering-- this increasing depth of colere beginning in “tilling” and becoming “nurturing”-- it helps to look at a related Latin word, Conserere, which also means, “to till.” Conserere, like colere grew into a more complex meaning that was not merely the practical activity of plowing and sowing seeds, but the entire activity of bringing a place into harmony. Conserere came to mean “to entwine” and “to join”. It is the origin of our word, “concert.” The families in a place did not merely draw food from the land, they inhabited it, they were part of it, they joined it, just as in a concert, each sound joins, becomes enmeshed with, and is identified by the work of music. Just so, colere came to mean, “to inhabit”.
The families of this place became identified by their land—literally as they were named for this particular mountain, or river, etc., and eventually as they were named for the house from whence they came. The land, in turn, was identified, you might say, personified by them. From their long encounter with this particular place, with this particular, animal, plant, hill, tree, river, rock, etc., they drew a knowledge of its name, and, drawing out that name, gave it back to the thing. Their relationship with the things in the place, and the place as a whole, revealed the personality of the place, and the things. The struggle to extract a living from the place revealed to the families that this place had a “mind of its own”, a personality. For example, in ancient England began the tradition of wassailing, in which the family would process, carrying a bowl of hot cider, and singing, to the eldest tree in the orchard, and there make toasts to it, in gratitude for the harvest, and in hopes that it next year would be equally fruitful.
Now, psychologists of today are likely to say that humans, in a search for meaning, personified inanimate objects. Of course, many of these scientists also end up saying that we similarly personify ourselves, and at the end of the day, we’re all equally inanimate. But that’s a discussion for another day. Sufficient for our purposes here is the fact that ancient peoples did see personalities in their land, in their trees, rivers, and animals. The practical tilling and nurturing of the farm was of course the bulk of daily life. However, it was the spiritual relationship with the farm as a personality, and the nurturing of that relationship that became the center and heighth of their life. In ancient Rome, for example, each farm household had its household gods, the gods and goddesses of the hearth, of the center of the home. Household religion began with these gods. The gods, the personalities, the “souls” you might say, of this piece of land, took care of the farm. The families, in turn, took care of them. With their gods, who were the very souls of the land, farm, and home, the families colebant and conserebant; the families worked with, nurtured, and joined with the gods. Thus colere came to mean “devotion,” and cultus was the “work of devotion.” This work of devotion began in the daily life of the family with the practical, particular tasks of the household and the farm and the town, with nurturing, devoted reinvestment in the soil, plants, livestock, and people. This work was joined with the gods throughout, and culminated in a specific devotion to them.
Now in a moment we will take a deeper look at the meaning of “joining with” and “inhabiting” that can be found in cultus. In doing so we will see what is unique about a Catholic culture. But first, having taken this look at the ancient roots of “culture”, let’s take a look at what the Creation Story in the Book of Genesis tell us about culture.
Now, there is so much to the Creation story that obviously I cannot mention every point. I have chosen some points on which to focus here, but don’t think I’m intending to reduce The Story to these points. I’m not even maintaining that these points are the central points of The Story. I do think these points are there in the Creation Story, and that by looking at God’s creation of Adam, we can see what made the Hebrew, and later the Christian culture unique.
In the first creation account in Genesis, God gives the human person the name Adam. This Hebrew word has three meanings; “bloody soil,” “the first of the blood,” and, “the face of the earth.” Adam is created out from, but also with, and therefore in earth. The word Adam is composed of the lettersaleph and dam. Aleph is the first letter of the alphabet, and means “the first,” or “the head”. Dammeans blood. So its clear that blood is central to being Adam. He is animated soil. God created man by making soil come alive. Let me give you an analogy from nature that might help us understand just what God is doing here. Hopefully it helps, and isn’t just distracting!
Healthy soil is already almost an organism with a balance of bacteria, fungi, minerals, and dead organic matter. However, it awaits the light of the sun to become grass. As grass consumed by an animal, the soil becomes fully alive. It is in animals, you might say, that soil becomes alive as blood. It’s interesting that if you study soil biology you learn that the chemical balance of healthy soil is the same as that of healthy blood. Blood, as you gardeners know, is the best soil amendment because of this balance. So returning blood back to the soil makes it healthier. Also, you gardeners know that in composting, it makes for a healthier soil if you turn it over periodically to inject air into it, to let it breath, so to speak. Now this is not the same as God’s creation of Adam, but is, I think, related, and I hope as an analogy it sheds some light on God’s creation of Adam.
But back to the word Adam. God then breathes life into this soil, and Adam now exists. As “bloody soil,” Adam is the heighth of the inanimate world. Being “the head of the bloody”, Adam is the heighth of the animate, i.e. animal world. But it is in breathing into his mouth that God makes Adam, Adam. He is not merely a soul, but is spiritual, for he can now speak, and is charged with speaking the proper names of things, i.e. the truth. It is in his ability to name that Adam shows his nearness to divinity. As Psalm 8 says, God made man “little less than a god.” Adam names the animals, but they do not reveal to him his own name, and he is lonely, without an identity. So God creates the woman, and it is only then that Adam is truly Adam, i.e. can fully exercise his ability to name, and to really be living in the place, to be at home. The man and woman colebant and conserebant the Garden and the animals, i.e. they nurtured and joined-in with all of the creatures (even the soil).
It is in the meaning of Adam as “the face of the earth” that the word finds its full depth. Adam, having drawn out the personalities of the animals and named them, and in concert with them in the garden, can turn to God as the speaker for Creation. It is Adam alone who can speak to God on behalf of all creatures, and ask God to join (conserere) them, and ask that God allow all creatures to join with Him. In other words, Adam does not merely have a cultus of soil and a cultus of animals, mountains, rivers, and stars. He does not merely pray to the personalities of the animals, hills, rivers, and trees, and sun. He is not merely the head of the inanimate (the soil), and the animate (the animals). Adam’s cultus is not merely to nurture his farm into life, and to keep it living, nor is it merely to relate to the gods of earthly life, of food, and land, and constellations. Adam does not merely steward the lives of those in his care, but cultivates the truth.
Adam’s natural cultus, then, his “work of devotion,” inherently led the natural into the supernatural. As St. Thomas Aquinas says, “grace perfects nature.” Adam’s cultus was to nurture all creatures, joined with (conserere) himself, into their supernature. In naming the creatures, in speaking the truth of things, Adam continually kept present his creation by God, because the nature of his ability to speak presupposed the existence of God, whom you might say is the ultimate namer of names, the Truth. Herein lies the singular grace that distinguishes the Hebrew culture from the common culture we see in the words colere and conserere. Genesis reveals man at his very foundation equipped by God to lead all creatures into concert, through the harmony of truth, with God. He was created fundamentally able to have a cultus that succeeded in joining with God, and inhabiting (colere) his land. He would do so by nurturing the truth among creatures, by bringing them in cultus to God. In other words-- and perhaps I have postponed saying this too long—Adam’s cultus, his work in the Garden, his home-life with Eve, his making a livelihood (which was pretty easy, since he just had to pick fruit!), was naturally supernatural. You might say he was not just religious on Sundays! His cultus was also inherently liturgical. That Adam’s work was conserere, i.e. to “join” God with His creatures, and that his work was liturgical shows Adam as inherently priestly.
Now, really quickly let’s look at the word “liturgy”. It is the English form of the Greek word, leitourgeia which means a “work of devotion done on behalf of others.” Adam’s cultus was inherently liturgical because, as head of all creatures, and of his home, his work of devotion was done on behalf others. As the “face of the earth”-- speaking for all creatures, and representing them to God-- he was being asked by God to be the world’s priest, joining them with God. The Scriptures show us, then, a cultus that is liturgical, with Adam a priest. Its great distinction from the pagan cultus is that Adam’s priestly offering is his own obedience and patient shepherding. In the pagan cultus, the head of the household, or the city priests, would sacrifice the lives of animals in order to restore justice and attempt to bring things back into concert with the gods. Adam’s only sacrifice was that of a patient and obedient shepherd of creatures, who was asked to sacrifice his pride. Through humbly identifying himself with his animals, with his piece of land, they could cultivate and inhabit (colere) each other, and he could bring them into a life (a concert) with God. United by his flesh to the soil, by his blood to his animals, and by his ability to speak, to God, Adam is bonded to his world. That is to say, he is at home. Bonded to his house, he is fundamentally a husband, or as the Old English origin has it, a husbondsman. He is not just head of all creatures, but under a bond of debt not to “forget where he came from.” The cultus revealed in Genesis is one in which the priest sacrifices himself, taking the form of a servant.
In his Fall, Adam abandoned this task.. Adam’s usurpation of God’s authority and vocation introduced falsehood into a world that formerly had been united in truth. God had entrusted the truth to Adam. Instead of finding his godlike status in the careful exercise of his divine trust, Adam saw divinity “something to be grasped at.” This central perversion of his most essential task—to nurture the truth and to nurture all things with the truth—put man at war with all creatures, and with himself. Adam’s fundamental abandonment of his task to nurture the truth of things has given us all a constant tendency to see things not as they are. Adam no longer saw creatures in terms of living with them, incorporating himself into their lives. He no longer could see himself as living with God, with whom he was now at odds regarding his basic role in the world. No longer living with God, he could no longer incorporate other creatures, the natural world, into his life with God, and so fulfill his priestly and redemptive task. Rather, he tended to see himself as the measure of all things, and reduce all things to his own use, ordered around himself. Tragically, in usurping God’s authority, Adam lost what divinity he already had.
Jesus Christ, Our Lord, is the New Adam. However, while Adam was only the “first” (aleph), Our Lord is both the first, and the last (the omega). Our Lord completes what was begun in Adam, He does not replace it—He is the last and the first. He incorporates all that could be said about Adam as he was created, but rather than falling, Our Lord completes the cycle (the race, the circuit). Remember the root of the verb colere is “to turn around,” and “to cycle”. He restores all creatures, all time, all seasons toward the truth. The most beautiful thing about Him, is that because He humbled Himself to become man, in ordering all things back to the truth, He ordered all things back to man. He restored all things to Himself, but did not take them away from us. We are once more, when in Christ, equipped to be Adam. As Adam, we are the earth capable of praying. The New Adam teaches us how to pray. He explains His cultus, His work of devotion to His Father.
We hallow God’s name—we do not usurp authority over our own nature, nor over God’s. God has revealed His name, and it is Immanuel and Jesus, which means that in “inhabiting our land” and “joining with” us (conserere) God “sends salvation”, i.e. conseret ipse in nobis. He brings all things back into harmony like a farmer. As the Psalm says, God becomes our cultus, our “piece of tilled land” because He alone is our “portion and cup,” the “lot marked out for me.” As He has put down roots in us, we must put down roots in God.
Immanuel, Our Lord, is His Kingdom come, and His Will done on earth as in heaven. He is Our Daily Bread, in which soil, wheat, fruit and water are brought to their fullness in Christ’s Sacramental Body, and with which we can choose to join. The Blessed Sacrament is His Kingdom on earth because in it Jesus begins His work of cultivating the natural into the supernatural. In it soil, wheat, fruit and water find their glory in becoming the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. God humbles himself to reveal that He and bread share the same accidents.
While the work in the Kingdom is shared, the laborer’s hire, his place in the world, his personality, and the authority and responsibility proper to each person must not be trod upon. We pray, “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But Adam’s sin was to usurp what was proper to God. It was God’s responsibility; it was proper-to Him to tell man who he is. The truth is God’s property, and we must not trespass upon it, but may inhabit it, because we are invited. Adam’s responsibility was to take care of this property, to nurture and cherish it, and to bring all creatures to graze upon it. This is our proper dignity, but just as God forgave us for trespassing upon his dignity, we must forgive those who usurp what is proper-to us, and those who trample on our dignity as God’s heirs, and His brothers.
Finally, in asking to be shielded from “the test,” and from “evil,” we are not asking to be spared suffering! Rather, we are asking that Christ protect what he has restored in us: the ability to do as He does, i.e. work with the world, and for its redemption, rather than return to usurping the truth as we did with Fallen Adam.
Just as the pagans have their common culture, as seen in the words colere and conserere, and just as Adam had his even fuller culture, the New Adam, Our Lord, has His culture. Christ’s culture is a culture of Sacraments. He takes up the common culture, takes up what was neglected by Adam, and makes it bear fruit. His culture should be our culture. It is the cultus of the New Adam, rooted incolere, growing more full in Adam, and restored and brought to flower in Immanuel, who as the Psalm says is our little piece of land to be at home in, and who is, as Jesus says in the Gospel of John, the son of a farmer. God is both cultus and cultivator. We share with him the work of nurturing the world, and protecting truth. We devoutly care for Him, and He devoutly cares for us. He has been at home in the hills of Galilee, and is Sacramentally present in the hills of the Laughery Valley. This presence equips us to live in His home in the “everlasting hills.” Beginning in our homes here, in this particular place, raising our children, and growing our crops, we learn how to return to the House of God, raising the Christ Child, and growing the crop that The Body of Christ.
A Catholic cultus is centered on the Truth. This nurturing of truth is taught us in Christ’s Sacramental Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and in His primary work in the Sacrifice of The Mass. However, it is present throughout the practical life of a Catholic culture. Praying with Christ in the Mass, we return to the vocation of Adam to nurture the truth, to chase after it, to consume it with affection.
|Father Gregor Mendel|
|Dr. Louis Pasteur|
Catholic culture has always first loved learning, learning about the natural world so as to more fully love the supernatural. In a Catholic culture we will always passionately encourage and pursue learning. The greatest universities in Europe were the products of the Catholic culture and its passion for study.
This love of truth will always strengthen justice, because to know the truth about something enables us to give it its due. To know the truth about our neighbor, for example—that he too has an immortal soul—fills us with compassion for him. Knowing that he works alongside us in a common endeavor, and is a fellow sacrificer for Christ—will help motivate us to ensure that what is proper to him is respected. His responsibilities will be protected and encouraged, and the payment due him for his work will be sacred. This is the foundation for a Catholic economics.
We are motivated to learn the truth about everything, about our neighbors—although not in nosy-ness, and never in gossip, but rather by living, working, and worshipping with them.
The love of truth will inspire some to express it in art. Art is a way of taking a natural thing and showing its truth, which for fallen man can be hard to see. It can show that the mind does sense truth, even if it cannot be expressed in words. You might say that Art is proof that truth is not reducible to the five senses, and that the mind is as much a faculty for reality as any of the senses. Art draws out the goodness of things, which helps overcome our fallen temptation to doubt. Art inspires us to reverence the beauty of something, which helps heal our fallen tendency to order all things towards ourselves.
In a Catholic culture music is paramount. Our look at the word conserere should have helped us guess that! Music is part of the work of nurturing, of farming, which is the foundation of all the work men do, even if once removed. Farming, husbanding, i.e. nourishing a household in the natural and supernatural world in which it is at home, is to live in concert. To harmonize all things. In the home, far from limiting individuality and creativity, this concert creates a world in each singer, each member can excel. While this imagery has many wider applications, it is important that music be understood as central to the human being, and to the human way of life. People ought to make music! Speaking the truth in song is the highest manner in which man can use the breath given to him by God because it speaks the truth in words, but in a medium that does not diminish the wilderness that is the untamed mystery of his spiritual soul.
The purpose, the harvest, of a culture defines it. For the Catholic, it is the inviolability of each person, in other words, truth, and specifically the truth Incarnate, the Person of Jesus Christ, that defines his culture. The best of pagan cultures had as their purpose the perpetuation of the family, the farm, and the city. This they have in common with the Catholic. The modern pagan cultures have as their purpose the protection of rights, property, wealth, or people. This they have in common, too, with Catholics. However, Catholic culture does not center on these abstractions. As noble as they are, they remain abstractions. Catholic culture focuses on a person. It is the only truly person-centered culture because it is actually centered on a person, not on a concept of person, or of “human rights”, etc. To have a truly person-centered culture, you must actually center on specific persons today. You cannot do that by establishing systems that protect property rights, or common welfare and security, though these things may or may not be practical things to do. The defining focus of the Catholic culture is on the Person Jesus Christ, living with Him, and working next to Him.
As the farmer of a soul, Christ, like the household gods of the pagans, will imbue a body and soul with his personality. He will name it, as the pagan farmers named their land, their hills, their household gods. The person will become, as the Psalm says, “little less than a god,” which is to say, a saint. By making Jesus Christ the head of our work as a family and as a community, we will let Him cultivate his personality in that work. Along with him we will nurture the others in the household.
To do this, we must return to a sacramental understanding of creation. We must nourish the soil with blood, Adam with Immanuel. We must begin and end our work with the sacraments of Christ. We must cycle back and forth to them, cultivating the rest of the field, our daily life, as we go. Monastic reformers such as St. Benedict succeeded in building a humane economy because their love for the natural world was imbued with a recognition of its supernatural dignity, i.e. a recognition of its sacramentality. Modern reformers who seek a return to a culture of respect for the natural dignity of soil, water, animals, and human beings, will succeed if they remain centered on the Sacraments that are the greatest elevation of these creatures.
Sensing the sacramental character of things is to sense the supernatural life within them right now, breathed into them by their creation by God, and their redemption by Christ. This dignity is not projected by the minds of men, but is the property of the thing, rooted in the Will of God. All this is to say: truth is not the property of men, but is their responsibility. We are its stewards, not its creators. We must love truth, which in today’s world will primarily be challenged by a moral relativism that denies the very ability to speak coherently. We must always see things as Christ sees them; our fellow creatures as living beings, not machines to be manipulated; our fellow men as immortal souls, not machines or “the majority” to be manipulated; our selves as immortal souls, little gods, not machines to be manipulated; Christ as a living person, and our liturgy with him as a living relationship, not something to be manipulated.
Practically speaking, we must start living in the land, where our house is. We must, economically speaking, work as much as we can with our neighbors, rather than with indifference to them, or even against them. We must encourage these central parts of life that history and Scripture show to be essential to a healthy human life: wholesome work, learning, art, and music. But we must never kid ourselves that these humane activities are sufficient themselves to preserve and nurture culture. Without the animating Presence of Jesus Christ in our midst, our communities and culture will follow the rise-and-fall cycle of the pagan cultures before it. As the Psalm says, “If The Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor.”
One of the most important things to consider in coming to understand Catholic Culture is the profound depth of her language. Cultures accumulate great richness of words over history. The Catholic Church literally thinks and speaks in a language that is rooted in the origins of the human race that continues in the Indo-European family that spans Asia, Arabia, the Mediterranean basin, and Europe. To really think, and thus live as a Christian, is to form your mind in the atmosphere of this history. This is why the Church preserves, among other things, the Latin language.
 For example, the English word, “colony” is derived from colere
 It is clear that the pagan gods preserved man only in his physical life, by continuing to make the land produce and the sky to rain. But they were just as violent and deceitful as man himself, and did not preserve the truth for man. All the above the Hebrew revelation has in common with the pagan culture we saw in the words colere and conserere. However, it is in the meaning of Adam as the face of the earth, higher than the personas (the gods) of creation, with the ability to speak the truth, that Hebrew culture was singularly graced. The ancient Greeks knew that Truth was higher than all the gods, but did not believe that man was able to join with and be inhabited by it.
 Keep in mind that conserere, like colere initially means “to plant” or “to till”, and incorporating this, most fully means “to join with”
 the work of “joining with” is part of being a pontifex as well as a cultivator
 God had entrusted him with making a household within this land, with his animals, and his wife. God even, as Genesis says, graced the farm by visiting it every afternoon. But Adam and Eve, following Satan, judged the name God had given them, and judged the proper relations, the harmonious concert of the place. God had given them the authority over all creatures. Perhaps you could even argue that he allowed man to assist in determining the truth of the natural world (I do not, but scientists do). However, man was never capable of determining the truth about himself, and he presumed to do so, usurping an authority—nay a talent cherished by The Father—to name himself. When God asked him to tell him what the situation was, Adam did not name it as it really was. In other words, he lied. This ruptured creation in two, by placing the entire cosmos between Adam and God. Adam now lived in the shadow cast by all of creation, and a world of easy confusion and crime. This might be why veiling and unveiling were central symbols afterwards, with the first veil being over their nakedness, and circumcision being a first move towards radical unveiling, among other things.
 Contemporary pagans, at best, do not order all things towards the human person. Rather they, particularly Socialists, orient the individual towards all things. The individual finds solace in knowing that though he is fodder, it is fodder for progress. He is never justified in himself, but in the Whole, which is small consolation to a creature with a potency for eternal life that cannot be ignored.
 As in Capitalism and Socialism
 Remember that The Church in her prayers speaks of “Creature Oil”, “Creature Salt”, etc. She preserves a recognition of the humble quasi-personality of all things, a “personality” rooted in the care-taking of their “husband” Adam.