Robert Penn Warren


History is not melodrama, even if it usually reads like that. It was real blood, not tomato catsup or the pale ectoplasm of statistics, that wet the ground at Bloody Angle and darkened the waters of Bloody Pond. It modifies our complacency to look at the blurred and harrowing old photographs — the body of the dead sharpshooter in the Devil’s Den at Gettysburg or the tangled mass in the Bloody Lane at Antietam.

Robert Penn Warren, The Legacy of the Civil War

Christopher Johnson, a non-Catholic who has taken up the cudgels for the Church so frequently that I have called him Defender of the Faith, has a very interesting post today which combines my two passions of the Civil War and the Catholic Church:

In 1961, at the start of the United States Civil War Centennial observances, LIFE magazine asked Robert Penn Warren for an essay about the effects of that war on subsequent US history.  That essay eventually became a small book entitled The Legacy of the Civil War which is still in print and is well worth your time.

It’s slightly more than one hundred pages and if you’re not as glacially slow a reader as the Editor is, you can probably polish it off in an hour or less.  Warren, a Kentuckian, is equally harsh with both sides, as he should be.  But the curse which was laid upon the South as a result of that war was something that Warren labels the Great Alibi.  I’m transcribing directly from the book so any errors are mine:

By the Great Alibi, the South explains, condones and transmutes everything.  By a simple reference to the “War,” any Southern female could not too long ago, put on the glass slipper and be whisked away to the ball.  Any goose could dream herself (or himself) a swan– surrounded, of course, by a good many geese for contrast and devoted hand-service.  Even now, any common lyncher becomes a defender of the Southern tradition, and any rabble-rouser the gallant leader of a thin gray line of heroes, his hat on saber-point to provide reference by which to hold formation in the charge.  By the Great Alibi, pellagra, hookworm and illiteracy are all explained, or explained away, and mortgages are converted into badges of distinction.  Laziness becomes the aesthetic sense, blood-lust rising from a matrix of boredom and resentful misery becomes a high sense of honor, and ignorance becomes divine revelation.  By the Great Alibi, the Southerner makes his Big Medicine.  He turns defeat into victory, defects into virtues.  Even more pathetically, he turns his great virtues into absurdities–sometimes vicious absurdities.

It occurred to me that one of the most terrible tragedies of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals is that it granted something like Warren’s Great Alibi to the Catholic left, the Christian left and other enemies of the Gospel.

For example.  You’re a Catholic theologian of leftist leanings or a feminist nun.  You have publicly written that not only should Katharine Jefferts Schori be allowed to preach in Catholic parishes, she should also be allowed to concelebrate the Mass.

The Vatican calls you out.  How do you respond?  Easy.  You simply invoke the Great Christian Alibi in the same way as Sister Elizabeth Johnson [No relation – Ed] does here:

A nun who drew U.S. Catholic bishops’ ire with what they consider radical feminist writings fired back Friday (Aug. 15), saying their investigation of women’s orders is wasteful when financial mismanagement and sexual abuses are being covered up.

“When the moral authority of the hierarchy is hemorrhaging due to financial scandals and many bishops who … cover up sexual abuse of children, a cover up that continues in some quarters to this day, and thousands are drifting away from the church … the waste of time on this investigation is unconscionable,” Johnson said.

And debate is officially over.  Who are you, you male member of the church hierarchy, to lecture me about anything at all, considering that the MALE hierarchy of this church covered up the sexual abuse of CHILDREN?

Leaving aside the psychological trauma of the victims, the Great Alibi freely provided to the enemies of both the Catholic Church and the Gospel may actually be the single most damaging thing to emerge from the sexual abuse scandals.

Because how do you answer it?

Go here to read the comments.


“Because how do you answer it?”

By noting that the Predator Priests, and the Bishops who protected them, were betraying what the Catholic Church teaches. If they had followed what the Church teaches there would have been no scandal. It is ironic of course that this scandal is used as a club against the Church often by the very same groups and individuals who have met with great success in ensuring that kids will be subject to homosexual propaganda and images at a very young age in schools, and that predatory homosexuals often enjoy protected status in many workplaces, especially in education.  The enemies of Christ are always willing to attack the Church in reference to the sinful behavior of the clergy, but do not be confused on that score.  Such  attacks are merely tactical in nature.  The enemies of Christ hate the Church, not for the vices of its members, but for their virtues due to their embracing the teachings of Christ.  The Church, the Bride of Christ, is always a secondary foe for these enemies.  The main target is always the Bride Groom.

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  1. Elizabeth Johnson deserves harsher treatment than the Franciscan Friars of the Immauculata. She won’t get it, though. Under Pope Francis, only the FFI and the diocese of Ciudad del Este get busted.

  2. Good answer Donald.
    Also, the answer I gave my children as they excused their behavior by citing other people’s behavior was this: “When you get to the gates of Heaven, St Peter is not going to ask you what your brother did”. You are responsible for your own behavior.

  3. Laziness becomes the aesthetic sense, blood-lust rising from a matrix of boredom and resentful misery becomes a high sense of honor, and ignorance becomes divine revelation.

    Very much in the news these days.

    But, it is becoming hate-speech in America to note that man is fallen.

  4. Well, I apologize for the sentiment I am fixing’ to express to y’all–havin’ been raised in the South–however, I can’t get past the

  5. basterdized, as in illegitimate, claims and insults against those of us who live down here. I would put the character of 90% of the Southerners I know up to the the guy who wrote this book–and have very little doubt as to who would win the competition. Why it would be worth anyone’s time to read it–if that small blurb is a sample of the reasoning in it. It is the Northern -as in Yankee –members of my family who are violent rascists–and I do mean violent. And they are proud of it, too. Mr. Johnson probably has a point in regards to the Catholic Church–he usually does–I just can’t wade past the crap the author of the book wrote to get to the point Mr. Johnson is making. Southerners are the warrior class of this country. Try remaining free without our participation in the current US military, & see how long that lasts.

  6. “I would put the character of 90% of the Southerners I know up to the the guy who wrote this book–and have very little doubt as to who would win the competition. Why it would be worth anyone’s time to read it?”

    Because he was a Southerner who loved the South. His Legacy of the Civil War is by no means a one sided condemnation of the South as he is often just as scathing about the North. It is a complicated book and it rewards careful reading.

    The Treasury of Virtue, which is the psychological heritage left to the North by the Civil War, may not be as comic or vicious as the Great Alibi, but it is equally unlovely. It may even be, in the end, equally corrosive of national, and personal, integrity. If the Southerner, with his Great Alibi, feels trapped by history, the Northerner, with his Treasury of Virtue, feels redeemed by history, automatically redeemed. He has in his pocket, not a Papal indulgence peddled by some wandering pardoner of the Middle Ages, but an indulgence, a plenary indulgence, for all sins past, present and future, freely given by the hand of history.

  7. Given the ruination imposed on the South by the invading Northern armies, the war crimes committed on their populations, followed up with the social, political, and economic ruination imposed on the South by vicious and unconstitutional Reconstruction policies, I’m sympathetic to Southern complaints that much of their woes in the hundred years after the war trace to the effects of Northern conquest of their states.

    Of course, like any human, some will use wrongs against them as excuses for bad conduct; I’m sure this book, which I haven’t read, is making that point, and applying to both parties to the Late Unpleasantness.

  8. “followed up with the social, political, and economic ruination imposed on the South by vicious and unconstitutional Reconstruction policies,”

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, Tom, deterred Southern economic development more than the ultimately futile attempt to keep blacks as fifth class citizens. The entire South lost because the white South as a whole refused the Atlanta Compromise of Booker T. Washington in 1895:

    “To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my own race, “Cast down your bucket where you are.” Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes and labour wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South. Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head, hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people that the world has seen. As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, in nursing your children, watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers, and often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves, so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down our lives, if need be, in defense of yours, interlacing our industrial, commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that shall make the interests of both races one. In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.

    There is no defense or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him the most useful and intelligent citizen. Effort or means so invested will pay a thousand per cent interest. These efforts will be twice blessed—blessing him that gives and him that takes. There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable:

    The laws of changeless justice bind Oppressor with oppressed;

    And close as sin and suffering joined We march to fate abreast…

    Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward. We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime of the South, or one-third [of] its intelligence and progress; we shall contribute one-third to the business and industrial prosperity of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating, depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic.”

  9. “The Treasury of Virtue” explains to a tee what in the 1960s we knew as the Northeastern liberal. Alas, the pest’s range has since swept across the whole nation.

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