Nathan Beacon writes about Orestes Brownson, a devout Catholic and American political thinker, in The Public Discourse.
Orestes Brownson, Being Catholic, and Being American
On November 4, 1781, at Old St. Mary’s Church in Philadelphia’s old Society Hill, a solemn mass of thanksgiving was held in praise of the surrender of the British at Yorktown. Before the mass began, Washington, with his aides and generals, gathered round the altar and laid the defeated British colors on the altar steps, thanking almighty God for peace, and petitioning him for continued blessing and care.
It was to Catholic congregations like these that Washington wished “every spiritual and temporal felicity.” That warmth between the future president and Catholics was mutual; as Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore (later America’s first archbishop) said years later in his eulogy of Washington, “He was invested with a glory, that shed a lustre on all around him . . . with his [last] breath, as we may believe from knowing the ruling passion of his soul, he called to heaven to save his country.”
Some years later, at the time of the Civil War, the great American man of letters, Orestes Brownson, wrote happily that in America it was no discredit to a public man if he be a sincere and devoted Catholic. It was a proud thing for Brownson that Stephen Moylan, Charles Carroll, and Tadeusz Kościuszko—not to mention many of the ordinary volunteers who gave their lives in the late Civil War—were among the Catholics who figured integrally in our nation’s tale. His was the attitude of a great many patriotic Catholics down the generations in this country, and remains the attitude of many ordinary believers today. A growing number of Catholic thinkers, however, cannot appreciate our history in the same way, because, for them, America is rotten to the core thanks to a secular, individualist political philosophy, and an anti-Catholicism that, they suppose, is built in to its heart.
Nathan Beacom graduated with honors from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota with degrees in philosophy and Catholic Studies. During his time at the University of St. Thomas, he was awarded a grant to study the ways in which urban architecture can facilitate the flourishing of those who live with it; he served as the president of his university’s environmental conservation organization, wrote for student publications, and presented at academic conferences in the area of philosophical anthropology.
Want to help the Jack Miller Center transform higher education? Donate today.