Of Many Things

To mark America’s 5,000th issue, we reprint below a reflection by John LaFarge, S.J., our sixth editor in chief, which originally appeared in the 2,000th issue on Sept. 13, 1947. In the words of Father LaFarge, “the reader can attach to this interesting item whatever importance he wishes.”

Matt Malone, S.J.


By the help of the most recently devised electronic calculator we figured out in the sixteen-thousandth part of a second that we have put down 54,000,000 words on paper during the thirty-eight years of America’s existence. The reader can attach to this interesting item whatever importance he wishes....

America’s one-thousandth number described what was going on in that Europe: That world had only the vaguest possible inkling, if any at all, of the terrible catastrophe that in less than twelve months’ time was to engulf the whole of our Western civilization in the icy claws of the depression, and all the consequent disasters....

Those issues of November 24, 1928, were fewer and, in general, simpler and easier to handle than those of the present day. And yet those of today are somehow blended into one great issue about which we were then already warning...the issue of the Christian concept of liberty, as opposed to totalitarianism....

All this makes us very humble as we approach the issues of the present day...because we realize now something that only partly, at the very best, could be realized in 1928—the terrific responsibility of the United States for the welfare of the world—and consequently the severe obligation that rests upon us of this country today, somehow to understand the issues and look into their inner and permanent meaning.

But when we undertake to gauge these issues there are certain cautions which we need to observe....

The first caution is not to confuse the transitory with the permanent. A transitory event rouses us from our lethargy and is a challenge to our courage and intelligence. But the permanent issue remains as a subject for study and an ever-greater clarification of objectives and methods....

Our second rule is that we should not confuse various levels at which the issue is posed. It is all too easy to shift from one level to another and try to make religion do the work of politics, or make politics do the work of religion....

If I say it once more, I think that one of the outstanding weaknesses of our religious thought—or at least of our religious handling of the issues—is precisely our difficulty in reconciling ourselves to the fact that there are so many different levels on which an identical problem can be treated. Those who speak one language—whether the language of the psychologist or the political scientist or of the moralist or the theologian or of the day-to-day journalist or of the labor analyst or whatever you wish—find it difficult and almost intolerable to have to listen to the language of those who speak a different tongue. Yet we should all be working together and we should all be intelligent and broadminded enough to appreciate the contributions to the same problem which are suggested by those who enjoy another approach, another background of experience....

[W]e hope that America’s readers will be patient with us.... We know that thousands of you penetrate into secrets which we ourselves with our own limited minds and souls have not fully fathomed. We know that you can help us with your thoughts, your ideas, your prayers, your suggestions. We depend on you.... If any world at all will survive, it will be the result of our collectively envisioning the “issue”—that is to say, the consequence, the result, the unfolding of those things which have now become the “issues of decision” in the year 1947.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
5 years 11 months ago
Congratulations to AMERICA on its 5,000 issue! Congratulations to its current Editor-in-Chief Fr. Matt Malone, S.J. and all predecessors! Congratulations too, to all past and present editorial and subscribing contributors! Ad multos annos! I find it wonderful, laudable, exciting that ‘way back to Jesuit priest John LaFarge’s time as Editor-in-Chief that 54,000,000 words had already graced AMERICA’s pages, with the current number whatever it is, unquestionably cosmological! I remember reading years ago, that scientists in the field of Audiology say that sound once emitted pulsates forever throughout the incalculable depths of space, carrying the spoken word to realms unknown. They say if it were possible to manufacture a transmitting device capable of picking up sounds from the past buried deep in space, we would be able to hear the exact word of say, Jesus, spoken as he uttered them. Using the same technology just think of the preparatory chatter we might hear as AMERICA’s professionals labored around tables and desks discussing AMERICA’s issues from the very first, to the present 5,000th copy! That would be interesting! One might then speak of the “everlasting word” in lower or upper case, (right?) focusing if I may say so, on one of my favorite assumptions, that, “Whatever is possible naturally, is also possible supernaturally.” Again, to AMERICA and its Editors past and present, contributors and subscribers, CONGRATULATIONS! AMERICA is a fantastic Catholic publication, dependably discussing world and human needs and as such a useful tool in the “New Evangelization” of the already evangelized and others, to the honor and glory of God!
Christopher Rushlau
5 years 11 months ago
The Second Vatican Council didn't broach the idea of a more reasonable approach to things: it manifested, codified, celebrated the approach that had been brewing for decades (and centuries). Likewise our current return to the dark ages has not sprung out of a particular document or pronouncement. I think the great issue, even in 1947 or 1928, and even when Ignatius chose not to stab the Moor because his horse, under God's spurs, turned him away from that display of faith, is the dialogue between monotheism and we-don't-even-have-a-name-for-it: "eastern religion", which I will dare to summarize as Hinduism and its practical off-shoot, Buddhism. If you haven't read "The End of Religion" by Dom Aelred Graham, please do so at once. This Dominican cleric of some authority describes his trips: physical, spiritual, and philosophical: among Asian thought-culture (to coin a term). (I think that was where I got a thorough grounding in "tat tvam asi", "thou art that", "the law of dependent origination", which states that, whatever you try to explain, you are, or are very likely, only going to end up explaining--rationalizing--yourself and your pretensions to what I would call self-justification. And that term "pretension" also shows up in Marcel where he defines egoism as not just bound up with pretension but as consisting--this whole idea of the "I" as some defensible idea one has of oneself--of pretension.) To take a tiny example from the core of monotheism, a.k.a., Western Civilization, Aquinas says somewhere in his tractate on Boethius's tractate on the Trinity that the highest way to know God is "tanquam ignotum": "as if unknown". I just read Gabriel Marcel's "The Mystery of Being" (1950) which is a marvelously modern yet thoroughly Thomistic homily (I will call it) about not letting the modern world and its troubles get you down--to hell. Yet I gather that if you showed this most precious mystery--this idea of the tanquam ignotum, the apophatic way, etc.--to a run-of-the-mill Buddhist, she'd say, "Well, of course, although 'unknown' is a bit strong: I'd prefer to call it--wait, why do you need a term for it, anyway?" Let's leave off trying to invade Asia and talk to it, instead.
Vincent Gaitley
5 years 11 months ago
Please send me my missing 4300 missing back issues. Or, why don't you reprint the first issue and send it to us?


The latest from america

I have found that praying 15 minutes every day is an important form of self-care.
Michael R. Lovell January 16, 2019
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, Washington's retired archbishop, apologized Jan. 15 for what he called a "lapse of memory," clarifying that he knew of at least one abuse allegation against former U.S. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, but he had "forgotten" about it.
Pope Francis meets with the leadership of the Chilean bishops' conference at the Vatican on Jan. 14 to talk about the sex abuse crisis affecting the church in Chile. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
The pope wants the February summit “to be an assembly of pastors, not an academic conference—a meeting characterized by prayer and discernment, a catechetical and working gathering.”
Gerard O’ConnellJanuary 16, 2019
This week on “Inside the Vatican,” we explore the topic of women deacons.
Colleen DulleJanuary 16, 2019