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Why Caelum et Terra?
by Dan Nichols and editors

This essay is originally appeared in the flagship issue of Caelum Et Terra in 1991. It appears here with the permission of the authors. To obtain permission to reprint this article in any other form, click here to contact the authors.

Post-Christian. Post-Modern. Post-industrial. Post-historical. As journalists and intellectuals fumble to label the state of the West in these waning days of the twentieth century, perhaps no description has been as prophetically succinct as that of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who has said that we live in "an anti-culture of death."

Indeed, the shadow of death looms starkly over this society, where few can remember a time when the innocent have not been targeted by the arsenals of mass destruction or the more selective weapon of the suction machine. And this shadow also extends its reach in more subtle and even seductive ways into all our lives: in the frenzy of consumerism, in the hurried pace which robs us of reflection, in the soul-numbing artificiality of the technological hum which pervades our days.

Yet, paradoxically, the moment seems one of promise. There is a hunger in the heart of humanity and we as Catholics are heirs of the Wisdom and sharers in the Grace which humanity seeks-though most of us have proven unworthy servants.

We, the founders of this journal, are deeply dissatisfied with the current state of the Church. And if you are like us you share this dissatisfaction: with the watered-down faith found in many of our parishes and schools as well as with the reaction, which seems to see the 1940s and '50s as the golden age of Catholicism. We are appalled, too, by the domination of faith by politics, whether of the left or the right, and are weary of watching the struggle of a joyless "ain't it awful" orthodoxy against a heterodoxy which seems intent not only on throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater but on smashing the bathtub as well. We are tired of these selective approaches to the Faith, both of which strike us as fundamentally assimilationist in nature. The whole Catholic, it seems to us, would not be a creature of the "right" or the "left" or even of the "center" but of the Transcendent, and would not consider the terms Catholic and radical or orthodox and prophetic to be mutually exclusive. Orthodoxy should be liberating, merely setting the limits within which vision and creativity can flourish. Like a wall around a garden (Chesterton's image) it is not an end in itself but rather the condition for fruition.

But this wholeness is not often found in the contemporary Catholic community. Instead the factions battle away, while the Gospel and its implications lie buried like a treasure in a field. If you are like us, you have the map but have scarcely begun to dig.

Out of our belief that we are not alone and out of our desire to serve the Church, we announce the birth of Caelum et Terra, a new periodical dedicated to personal, familial, and cultural transformation.

Caelum et Terra: Heaven and Earth. The name has all the right connotations: Grace and Nature, God and Man, contemplation and action, the suggestion of a broadness of vision beyond the tired dichotomies that are so often presented as the only options. What we hope for, ultimately, is nothing less than the transformation of society. We yearn to help build a culture which nurtures a more reflective life, which encourages heart and mind to open in contemplation of God and the sacramentality of creation, where justice and moral truth again inform the economic and political spheres. Yes, these aging idealists still want to save the world. Whether the world wants to be saved is a matter of grave doubt, but as the evidence mounts that the American experiment of a pluralistic society devoid of moral authority is unworkable and ultimately nightmarish, surely there must be voices proclaiming a true vision of man, one capable not only of describing the symptoms of the world's disease but of diagnosing its causes and prescribing its cure. This vision, rooted in Christ, and with ramifications at once earthy and mystical, has long been articulated by the teaching Church and proclaimed by the personalist and distributist thinkers, saints, artists, poets and activists formed by Her.

We see ourselves in creative continuity with this tradition, applying its radical critique to this at once frightening and exciting age. But lofty as this goal is, we expect that Caelum et Terra will have a definite practical tone. We believe that the long-term goal of societal renewal is best served by the building of community and the strengthening of family and must rest on the irreplaceable foundation of personal conversion. The new Christian culture will not come by Church proclamation or political action. It will arise when enough of us begin building it in our lives, in our families, and among our friends. We can and we must build the culture of life in the midst of the land of death. We therefore hope to provide something in the way of practical suggestions for deepening our own lives and those around us. To this end we hope to publish articles on home schooling, family prayer and ritual, gardening, cooperative enterprise, and other very down-to-earth matters.

We hope also to lessen the isolation many of us feel, to work to build community. We can do this by providing a locus of conversation and encouragement in hope that many friendships will form through our little journal.

A particular focus of Caelum et Terra will be what may be called the "re-naturing" of our lives. The great Catholic principle is that "grace builds on nature" but our society has become so artificial and so cut off from primal human contact with creation that it can't make a very fertile soil for the seed of divine life.

We are, accordingly, inclined to believe that agriculture is the best and most natural foundation for a Christian society. We expect that the magazine will show a deep interest in the agrarianism which was prophetically recommended by Catholic and other thinkers in the earlier part of this century and which re-emerged as a conscious and practicing movement in the 1960s. At the same time, we believe that a well-ordered commonwealth includes both town and country and want to explore means of humanizing city life.

We would also like to affirm the worth and examine the present state of that often-mocked but very valuable part of American life, the small town. Though we are interested in offering a critique of the contemporary world, our greatest emphasis will be on building the new culture here and now in whatever small ways we can. And while there is room for political commentary, in truth the musings of communitarians, monarchists or anarchists would be more welcome than the "conservative" and "liberal" views which monopolize political discussion in America and which are both offshoots of the so-called Enlightenment. We are particularily interested in exploring possible affinities between disparate voices (Catholic Worker radicals, traditionalist conservatives, Greens) which, consciously or not, affirm Catholic social principles.

As should be obvious, all of this leaves considerable room for debate, which we hope to encourage. We want to provide an ongoing discussion on a variety of topics. What we are not interested in is debate about doctrinal orthodoxy or personal morality. The Church, in spite of the weakness of Her human members, is our Mother and Teacher. An attitude of fidelity will permeate these pages, but religious infighting is not the purpose of the magazine. To one side of the squabble we say: "on what foundation are you building?" and to the other: "So you're orthodox. Now what?"

And while unapologetically Catholic, we welcome readers and writers of other faiths and in fact hope to publish articles on other faith communities from whom there is much to learn (the Bruderhof and Mennonite communities come to mind).

We also hope to publish excerpts from our great and often neglected heritage, from the writings of Church Fathers, popes, and saints and from writers like Peter Maurin, Eric Gill, E.F. Schumacher, Fr. Vincent McNabb, Fr. Conrad Pepler and of course Chesterton and Belloc.

We may have miscalculated. There may not be much of an audience for this venture. We hope the response to our initiative is encouraging. If you have received this issue it is because someone has recommended you as a kindred spirit. If you like what you see, we need to know that you are supportive.

First, we ask for your prayers. Second, we hope Caelum et Terra will be an experiment in "participatory journalism" so we need your essays, reviews, and artwork. The journal could provide a sort of extended community bulletin board or round table discussion, so the "letters" section of each issue should be a sizeable one. Third, we ask you to pass this issue on to friends, to spread the word. Fourth, we ask for your financial support. While juggling full-time work schedules, family, gardens, etc., we don't think quarterly issues are an unrealistic goal. We are asking $12.00 for four issues. Without advertising this is about what we need to break even. If you cannot afford this, send what you can. Of course, if you are enthused about this venture and want to send more, we would be grateful. If we don't hear from you, we will assume a lack of interest and will not send the next issue.

We have taken the first step in faith and in hope. Will you join us?

In Christ,

Daniel Nichols
Maclin and Karen Horton
1991

 

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