On April 25, 1970, almost 18 months before Thomas Aquinas College opened for its first academic year, its founders staged a major promotional dinner at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. Some 450 guests attended the event, at which the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen served as the keynote speaker.
Below is the audio of the remarks that the College’s founding president, Dr. Ronald P. McArthur, gave that evening:
And below is the audio and the text of Archbishop Sheen’s remarks:
“The Restoration of the Catholic College”
By Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Kick-Off Dinner for Thomas Aquinas College
Fairmont Hotel, San Francisco
Your Excellency Archbishop McGucken, Your Honor Mayor Alioto, Dr. McArthur, fathers, sisters, and all distinguished friends. I want to thank you Mr. Bacarri for that brief introduction. Generally I am introduced at such length that I wonder if I’m the next speaker.
I am reminded of Judge Dunne in New York City who was presiding at a case when there was a particularly stupid witness on the stand. Not all stupid witnesses come from Brooklyn, but this one was; and the prosecuting attorney said to him, “Were you at the corner of 12th and Elm on the day of the accident?” “Who, me?” “Yes, you. Did you notice whether the woman was seriously injured?” “Who, me?” “Yes, you. Did you notice whether or not the ambulance came to care for the wounded woman?” “Who, me?” Well, by that time the prosecuting attorney was exasperated and he said, “Certainly, you. Why do you think you’re here?” He said, “I’m here to see justice done.” Judge Dunne says, “Who, me?”
I was asked to say a few kind words about education. Every time I am asked to say a few kind words about education, I recall going into the Grand Central Station one morning for breakfast, and I said to the waitress. “I want a cup of coffee, a boiled egg, some toast, and a few kind words.” When she brought me coffee, the toast, the egg — and the check. I said, “Don’t you have a few kind words?” She said, “Don’t eat the egg.”
I had a taxi driver not very long ago in New York who said, “I never had an education. I never went beyond the third grade. But I pick up educated people and I learn a lot of big words.” And from that time on he proceeded to use only polysyllables — and all out of context. When I finally left the cab, he said, “I love to hear you on television. You have such a wonderful voice. It has so much animosity in it.”
Well, you’re a very kind audience. Evidently, I won’t run up against anyone like I did not very long ago in a university audience. Someone heckled me and said, “How was Jonah in the belly of the whale for three days?” I said, “I really don’t know.” But I said, “When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah.” He said, “Suppose Jonah isn’t there.” I said, “Well then, you ask him.”
I would go anywhere in the United States to talk about the necessity of a new kind of Catholic college. Re-examine our whole mission. One of the reasons why I believe we have been failing lately is because since the Vatican Council, we went into the world and the world also came into the Church. This has created a tremendous problem as to how the Church is related to the world.
The answer is quite clear in the Gospels, but we have not altogether followed it. The first word of Our Lord’s public life was “Come.” “Come to me, learn, absorb.” The last word of Our Lord’s public life was, “Go.” “Go into the world.”
First, we become completely absorbed with Him. Then he may send us on a mission. But today, since the Vatican Council, we’re the Church made up only of “go, goes” without any “come, comes.” We’re losing our faith, and our fire, and our zeal.
The world is made up of three kinds of people: wise men, knaves, and fools. Wise men aim to do what is right and do it. Knaves mean to do what is wrong, and do it. And the fools are willing to do either right or wrong depending upon which is the more popular: The white fools would rather do what is right than what is wrong, but they’ll do the wrong if it’s popular. The black fools would rather do the wrong, but will do right if it’s popular.
So we’ve been following very much the world, and it is fitting then, that we talk about the kind of education that we would have in the future. And I’m going to mention three basic ideas. They are derived in great part from the moods, the spirit, and the movements of our times. For after all, you have the violence, the drug addiction, the pornography, even the crudities of our modern times, it must be that the world is trying to tell us something. It may not know what is right, but it certainly knows what is wrong.
The very first suggestion we have for the regeneration of the Catholic college is the return to the will. We have been concerned principally with education — the training of the mind — but we have neglected almost entirely the training of the will. Why has the will been abandoned, and why must we again take it up? Whenever we drop anything in the Church, the world picks it up. When the nuns take off long habits, the girls put on maxi skirts. When we drop our Rosaries, the hippies put them around their necks. And when we began to drop discipline — the training of the will — the world picked it up.
Where is our society violent today? Our Blessed Lord commanded violence. The kingdom of heaven is won by violence. “Only the violent will bear it away” (Mt 11:12). In other words [inaudible] the door. “I’ve come not to bring peace but the sword” (Mt 10:34). Just as soon as we dropped violence to self, the world began to pick it up. There was no longer discipline, no longer character training, no longer any kind of cutting away at the seven concupiscences inside of the soul. So the world picked it up and turned violence against neighbor, against institutions, against government, against all of our traditions. This is one of the reasons why we have violence in society. About the only place that discipline is left in our American life is at West Point, Annapolis, the American Air Force Academy, and the professional football field.
This is the state of character. The will is not the intellect. You see it even in our CCD training, we call it, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. See how it emphasized the doctrine? But is that what Our Lord said? “Doctrine?” Our Lord said, “If you do my will …” you will know my doctrines (cf. Jn. 14:23). He didn’t say, “If you know my doctrine, you will do my will.”
So I say that Christian education will have to begin to try to restore the training of the will and to reintroduce again into education some kind of discipline which is the foundation of Christian character. That is our first requirement of a reborn Catholic education.
With permissiveness, we have the problem of identity. It is a terrible tragedy that we should have young men and women — 19 and 20, even seminarians, 23 years of age — having problems with their own identity. Once upon a time there was a fish on top of the Empire State Building, and the fish said, “I wonder what I’m supposed to be doing up here?”
How do we know the identity of anything? We knew our identity by boundaries, by limits. How do I know the identity of the state of California? By its boundaries. How do I know a baseball diamond? By its foul lines. How do we know a basketball court? How do we know ourselves? By limits. By boundaries. We know a man is drawn inside himself by a kind of self-limitation, and then he begins to know really who he is.
Our blessed Lord did not bring a cheap peace. As a matter of fact, God hates peace in those who are destined for war. That is why He said, “I came to bring a sword.” Not the sword that swings outward, like the sword that Peter used in the garden when the best that he could do as a swordsman was to prove that he was an excellent fisherman by hacking off the ear of the servant of the high priest. The sword that the Lord brought is the sword that is pierced inward, against ourselves. This was the sword He brought. This is the essence of Christianity. And we are leaving it out of our schools? By just simply training in doctrine and education we are raising a lot of clever devils instead of stupid ones.
So, one, discipline. The second has to do with a strange phenomenon that is in our “God is Dead” theology. This is merely a repetition of what Nietzsche said years ago. Nietzsche said, “Why is God dead?” Nietzsche said, “Because we killed him.” Seated at the piano, playing it, which he could do well, he went mad, shouting against Christ, and was a raving maniac for 11 years. But in our present order of our present literature that God is dead, we have men like Paul Van Buren who say that we must have Jesus. He is not God. He is only a “word symbol.” So that there is a revival in the theatre, in literature, even in pornographic literature, a great interest in Jesus, the word symbol, started in part by Paul Van Buren. So that, you read, it is alright for a boy and girl to sleep together any time they want because this is Jesus’s love. Your revolutionists here, in this state, and in our own back east, argue that all revolt, all revolution, all destruction of property is justified by Jesus, the revolutionist. There is no Jesus of history; there is only the word symbol.
Now this is what is going on in the world. If we are going to have a new Catholic college, then we are going to have to restore the training of the will as well as of the intellect, but I believe we will have to rediscover Christ. We are taking down the symbols of the Crucifixion in classrooms, and as we dropped Him, they picked up this Jesus, the word symbol. It is interesting that the former editor of Punch, Muggeridge, has written a book, Jesus Rediscovered.
I believe that the Catholic education that will meet the crisis of our time and will enlighten those who believe only in word symbols, will be one in which we will very closely combine philosophy and theology and not keep them as separate as we have kept them for centuries, because when we kept the two separate, it began to be increasingly hard to get up to the second floor. And we will unite [inaudible] the East and the West by talking about Christ because in the Western world, man does everything and God does nothing and in the Eastern world, God does everything and man does nothing. Christ is the intersection of the two.
And how will He be presented? I think that we will present Him almost in the light of the word “transference,” which is taken out of psychiatry. That in our education, we will speak of Christ in terms of physical transference, moral transference, mental transference. And we begin to see, first of all, physical transference. He was one, to quote from Isaiah, who took upon Himself all sicknesses and illnesses (cf: Isiah 53:4). Yet we have no text to justify the fact that He was ever sick. But evidently He had such an empathy for the sick that He must have gone into temporary blindness whenever He cured the blind. He probably became as deaf as Beethoven when He cured the deaf man. And we know that the Evangelist speaks of Him as sighing and groaning. Groaning. There is a Christ who is not just a revolutionist but is taking on all of the ills of the world. This is the pattern for Christian living.
Not only the physical transference of pain, but also moral transference of guilt. Imagine a judge on a bench. He has his son before him who is guilty of murder. He sentences the son to death. That is justice. Then the judge steps down and says to his son, “I will take that punishment on myself.” That is the moral transference that Christ does for all of the guilt of mankind.
And then thirdly we will present Him against all who are using the “Jesus symbol” — we will present Him in mental transference. We have today a world of darkness. He took that darkness onto Himself. We had to have somebody who would understand Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche — all the agnostics, all the skeptics, and all the people who have lost their faith. And He allowed all of these clouds to pass over Him in crying out, “My God, my God, why, why has Thou abandoned me?” There was a moment when God was almost an atheist — when God asked “why” of God.
This is the Christ who has to be re-presented to the people today who have reduced Him to a symbol. This is our second mission. That was brought home to me very much about four or five years ago. I was in Africa, visiting a leper colony, and I brought with me about 500 silver crucifixes about 1½ inches high. I was going to give one to each leper. The first one came up to me had his left arm off at the elbow; and he held up his stump and he had a Rosary around the stump. And he held out his right hand to me and it was the most vile, fetid, noisome mass of corruption I ever saw. And I held a crucifix above it, and I dropped it. And it was swallowed up in that volcano of white leprosy. All of a sudden there were 501 lepers in that camp — and I was the 501st, because I had taken that symbol of God’s identification with man and refused to identify myself with someone who was 1,000 times better than I was on the inside. And the terrible thought came to me, what I had done, and I dug my fingers into his leper’s hand and pulled the cross out and then pressed it to his hand. And so on for the other 500 lepers. It was simply identification with humanity because Someone else had identified Himself with humanity.
This is the approach that the new schools in education have to take instead of the sociological approach in which we are counting the number of people who ride through red traffic lights, and because 51 percent drive through we say, “Driving through red traffic lights is moral.”
There is one other. It is our relationship to the past. After all, we are not to be adorers of the past. Horace said that one of the marks of the old man was he was a laudator temporis acti. He praised the things that were gone by. But nevertheless, we have a memory, and it is a terrible thing for any man to suffer from amnesia. It is an awful thing for the human race to suffer amnesia. There is a heritage, and the new college pledges to talk and develop that heritage.
I would tell all of the young people under 21 years of age, oh, yes. One day Our blessed Lord — He had spent the night in prayer —and He gathered all the Apostles, called them to Himself. And when he had finally named the 12 of them, they went off into a corner and huddled together. And do you know what they told one another? “Don’t trust Him; He’s only 30.”
So let me tell all of the young people who believe that the past has nothing to offer, that the Church is past, that its morality is past, that virtue is past, that when they undress themselves tonight to look and see if they have a navel. And if they have, they are tied up to the past. Let them stop talking about the generation gap if they’ve got a belly button. This is their bond to the past, and we have a bond to the past. And it behooves us in this day and age to go back to the past and make us wonder, “What’s going to happen to us all?”
I was reading in Newsweek this afternoon — if I can find it here. (This is the only thing I’m going to read to you.) The only reason I don’t read speeches is because a bishop was once reading a speech, and a woman said, “Glory be to God! If he can’t remember it, how does he expect us to?”
Now history changes about every 500 years. You just take a quick glance back into history and you will see that there’s been a crisis every 500 years, a great crisis. You will learn the thought and history of the Christian period.
Now this article in Newsweek, which was written by the general editor, Marvin Stern — it is two pages. I’ll just read one paragraph of it.
“Movies are onto something big: the end of the world. They have examined the matter previously to be sure. Stanley Kubrick ended the world with rich humor and a big bang and Dr. Strangelove. Stanley Kramer ended it with a wheeze in On the Beach. Never before have the makers of movies been so absorbed with the details of impending apocalypse. Never before have the merchandizers of movies been so high from the commercial potential of extinction. We know as well as they do that things cannot go on much longer. They are going. The prospect of applying this to the whole human drama has its own deadly fascination. The most downbeat of endings can be thrilling if the big boom is big enough.”
It doesn’t take much to get with the spirit of the Apocalypse these days. Even the Metropolitan Museum of Art has gotten into the act: “The 1970 Engagement Calendar with 40 Fantastical Paintings from 14th Century Apocalyptic Manuscripts.” The concern about the end of civilization in the movies. T. S. Elliot: “The world will end not with a bang.”
Look at the rapidity of war, great wars, that have changed the world and our modern history: The interval between the Napoleonic and the Franco-Prussian War was 55 years. Between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I was 43. Between World War I and World War II was 21. Fifty-five, 43, 21 — and at a time when man had all the material conditions for happiness. And there are 40 minor wars going on in the world at the present time. And it costs so much more to kill a man than it used to. It took only a club when Cain killed Abel. Lamech, who was the first sword-maker and the first polygamist — it would have cost him a sword. It has been figured out that Julius Caesar spent 75 cents to kill a man on his campaigns; Napoleon, $7,000. World War I, $21,000; World War II, $210,000. And the Vietnam War, changing the unit, cost $1 million an hour. And the present expenditure on war, among all the nations of the world — all the nations of the world — is $516 per man, woman, and child.
So we just cannot be too concerned with the present without looking back into the past.
I’ve never heard anyone quote, though I quote it occasionally, the statement that Pius XII made on February 11, 1941, two years before the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He was addressing the Pontifical Academy of Science, and he gave the exact explosive power of one ounce of uranium. He went on to say, “I hope that this energy will always be used peacefully. If it is not, it will bring great harm wherever it is used, and eventually to the planet itself.” Then he repeated that in his Advent address two years later.
So our world is simply in danger from man. And if we are just going to be concerned with sociological currents, we are going to miss the fact that we can be under the wrath of God. And it seems that that is part of the business of a Christian education. The [inaudible] in the face of it we become apathetic and indifferent. Some men, as Abrahams said, some men perish by the sword and others “go down in flames, but most men perish inch by inch in play at little games.”
Remember, there was a poem written by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy about Christ coming to God but then Christ coming to Birmingham. He said,
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they nailed Him on a tree.
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns; red were His wounds, and deep.
For, those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They never hurt a hair of Him; they only let Him die.
For, men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain.
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through.
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see.
Then Jesus crouched against a wall and sighed for Calvary.
It was more endurable than the indifference of men.
And so my good people, I am very serious about the subject of education. I was a professor for 25 years. I know something about it. I’ve seen the cards, and I believe if we are going to save ourselves, we must train the whole man, not only his intellect, but also his will.
Secondly, we must get back to the only subject that there is in all the world that can give us peace and that is Christ, and to make Him the center of our training, which it is not even in our parochial schools.
Thirdly, you will have an education that will bring to us the rich heritage of the past and a reminder that there was such a thing in history as a crisis, which Greek means “judgment.” If I don’t eat, I get a headache; when we disobey God’s laws, a crisis comes. He doesn’t send it; we just produce it.
So when you think about a new college (and we even ought to be renovating the old ones), as we think about it, we do not know what the future holds — whether the battle will bloody or unbloody. We only know that the world is beginning to polarize, and the good are becoming better and the bad are becoming worse. Whether swords will be used we do not know, and whether they will be sheathed or unsheathed we do not know.
There is only one thing that we do know: That is, that if truth wins, we win! And if truth … Ah, but truth can’t lose!