instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What's in a name

When I read that Jim Manney, who blogs at People of the Book, included an essay by Rod Dreher in the Best Catholic Writing 2007 anthology he edited, I was mildly appalled.

Now, I understand that "Best Catholic Writing 2007" is Publishese for "A Collection of Things Written in 2007 or Thereabouts, Which Could in Some Sense be Categorized as 'Catholic,' and Which the Editor Really Liked and Thought Would, Taken Together, Make a Fine Collection." Jim indicates one important sense in which the selections could be categorized as "Catholic":
I included several Protestant and Orthodox writers because they write superbly with a sacramental, incarnational perspective that is properly called "Catholic."
So I wasn't bothered by the idea of non-Catholic writers being represented in the anthology.

But Rod Dreher isn't merely a non-Catholic writer. He is an anti-Catholic writer who for more than five years has gone out of his way to heap abuse on the Church and on those Catholics who did not join in his abuse.

As recently as yesterday, he took the opportunity offered by a scandal in his own Church, the Orthodox Church in America, to attack Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone by means of an attack on Bishop Gerald Frey, who retired seventeen years ago and died last week.

Just an inkstained journo doing his job and going where the story takes him? No; in the very same post, Rod writes that he "made a conscious prudential decision to keep [his] involvement with and concern in [OCA] church matters at arm's length." So scandal in the OCA is out of scope for his writing; scandal in the Catholic Church is, if no longer his bread and butter, at least good for leftovers.

It would do no one, least of all Rod, any good for him to do to the OCA what he has done and continues to do to the RCC. The choice he's made is certainly the lesser of two evils.

But it's just as certainly an evil. And to recognize him as, of all things, a Catholic writer, is simply perverse.

And in thinking about this, I find that I now am... well, still not bothered by the idea of non-Catholic writers in a book titled Best Catholic Writing, but in firm disagreement with that editorial decision.

I do agree that the presence of "a sacramental, incarnational perspective" can justify calling a piece of writing "Catholic," even if it's written by a non-Catholic. But calling a piece of writing "Catholic" and putting it in a book called Best Catholic Writing are two different things.

To my mind the former implies inclusion -- the idea "Catholic" encompasses the piece in some meaningful sense -- while the latter implies exclusion -- the idea "Catholic" encompasses the piece in a way contrary ideas like "Protestant" and "Orthodox" do not. The Orthodox are no strangers to a sacramental, incarnational perspective, so I'd say there ought to be some further criteria for including a piece written by an Orthodox.

(And yes, I know the Church would say that Orthodoxy's incarnational perspective is really the Catholic perspective, but this is a collection of popular writing, not a ecclesiological treatise.)

As a final point, there is not such a dearth of great writing by Catholics that an editor would have no choice but to turn to non-Catholics to fill out the collection. There would have been no appreciable falloff in the overall quality of the book had the choice been made to limit inclusion to pieces by Catholics. Not only would that have given more meaning to the collection (always recognizing that no subjective "best of" concept is all that meaningful), but it would also have given a small boost to the additional Catholic writers who would have been included. That seems like a good thing for a Jesuit apostolate like Loyola Press to do.