A U.S. theology professor's new book seeks to revitalize society through the “integrated whole of the Catholic vision,” found in the four pillars of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Dr. Ryan Topping of Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H., said that the task of evangelizing formerly Christian societies “requires effort on all fronts.”
“Bishops have their part, as do religious, as do politicians; but it is in the field of the family that most of us need to begin our work,” he told CNA Feb. 26.
Topping's new publication, “Rebuilding Catholic Culture,” was released in January by Sophia Institute Press.
It outlines his belief is that Catholic tradition, as it is found in the Creed and in the Church's liturgy, moral teachings, and mystical practice, must be recovered if Western culture is to be shaped by Catholicism again.
The book concludes that the four practical measures which need to be taken so that Western culture can be evangelized are an end to abortion; having more children; teaching them Latin; and building beautiful churches.
The first three all concern the rearing of children and family life – the first school of prayer – to which much of Topping's thought is directed.
“The first vocation crisis is in the family,” he said. Recognizing that grace builds on nature, he pointed out that prayer before meals only makes sense when families bother to eat together. But “in many homes basic civilities – like eating together – are no longer habitual.”
Small natural acts like eating as a family are the first steps toward sanctity, and towards evangelization, he said. He highlighted the the link between culture and cult – worship. “For Catholic family life, this means that all our routines must, somehow, be ordered to or flow from the Mass,” he said.
“Each Sunday for us is to be a 'little Easter'...We need desperately to relearn the joy of leisure. After Mass, have a feast. Put away the computer. Invite someone over from church. Read to your kids. Walk with your wife. Play the piano,” offered Topping, who is a father of five.
“Since our house is full of young children, our family has grown particularly fond of the Feast of St. John Bosco,” he shared.
“Whenever his day roles around, we invite other children, tell the story of his life, then turn our house into a carnival with jumping competitions, shoot-outs, and musical chairs.”
Topping believes the recovery of Latin is important because – as mid-20th century pope John XXIII said – it unifies, stabilizes, and elevates.
“Most of the contemporary educational establishment is terrified of the classics because they breed in students a kind of independence of spirit that massive state funded institutions cannot manage,” he said.
“Places like Christendom College, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, and Thomas More College – where I happen to teach – have become islands of sanctity in part because they put students in touch with the great works of Christian civilization.”
Topping also touches on sacred architecture in his book, writing that “the recovery of beauty as a theological category has been one of the singular gains in Catholic thought in more recent reflection.”
He hopes that Catholic churches, and liturgies, will become beautiful, enchanting places and events that have an evangelizing power.
“Liturgy must seek first to show the glory of the Lord...revive cult, and culture will eventually follow,” Topping writes.
In his remarks to CNA, he noted that “enchanted liturgy...is in the first instance liturgy faithfully rendered,” adding that participants at Mass must first of all be prayerful.
“As Pope Benedict XVI has taken great pains to make clear, active participation refers primarily to an interior motion,” Topping said. “We are active at Mass not so much when we are busy, as when we are attentive.”
“If the Eucharist is the summit of the faith, then our music, posture, and dress ought to communicate devotion.”
Topping discussed how reason can reach objective artistic judgments about sacred music and art, and that such judgments are not “merely a matter of taste.”
“A long tradition of philosophical thinking – beginning with Plato – concludes that each kind of music contains its own distinct ethos, or moral character...Liturgy requires the right setting too, the right mood or feeling, which is why not any form of music will fit,” he explained.
“Rebuilding Catholic Culture” includes a foreword by Dominican theologian Father Aidan Nichols, who praises the book's compelling yet easily accessible approach.
Reflecting Topping's recognition of beauty's power to evangelize, the book includes a prominent use of poetry and visual art.
“The images in Rebuilding Catholic Culture are drawn from various countries, themes, and times, including our own,” Topping said.
“In a modest way I hope that the images and poetry can add vigor to the claim that Catholicism not only transformed our culture in the past, but can do so again.”
He is concerned to show that “Catholicism is not only true. it is beautiful.” The presentation of the faith, he added, “must not only be logically compelling, but aesthetically, and morally convincing” as well.