An introduction to Catholic culture
The restoration of Catholic culture has become a popular concept among Catholics, but only a few people have an understanding of the nature of Catholic culture. This confusion is due to culture being a particularly tricky term to define, and some scholars even favor abandoning the term due to its ambiguity.
As a historian, I find it helpful to review the development of a word to uncover its meaning. Culture originated from the Latin word cultura, which means to cultivate the land, and thus, English has the words agriculture and horticulture. In the early modern period, culture expanded to mean the cultivation of individuals mentally through education and the arts. Today, this definition of culture is referred to as high culture.
The revival of Catholic culture is often called for on the level of high culture. That is to say, individuals need to produce more Catholic paintings, music, poetry and books to counterbalance secular ones. If teen bands are popular, then we need to create a Catholic teen band that promotes positive themes. While this restoration of Catholic culture is significant, it is also limited.
In the 20th century, anthropologists further extended the definition of culture to include all shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices of a group. Within this web of significance, cultural entities acquire their meanings. This concept is best understood with an example. Imagine two people: one burning a white piece of cloth and one burning an America flag. On the one hand, an alien from outer space would claim that they are doing the same thing. On the other hand, an American would not be bothered with someone burning a white piece of cloth, but terribly disturbed with one burning the flag. Why? An American is immersed in his culture, and for him, the flag is not just a piece of cloth. It is a symbol of freedom, the history of the United States, the people that died for the country, and so on. Culture, therefore, reveals what a society values and holds as important. Using this view of culture, Catholics are not attempting to replace individual elements of secular culture, but reexamine the entire collection of attitudes, values, goals and practices.
In future posts, I plan to continue this discussion of Catholic culture, elaborating on the concept of Catholic culture and conversing on ways to revive it. I will also review the current, secular culture of the United States and how it impacts us. I look forward to your questions and observations.
3/14/2012 12:01:29 PM
By Dr. H. P. Bianchi