June 10, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — There’s not a lot of book publishers that have a firm grip on the most pressing questions facing Catholics in the modern, post-liberal age. One that does is Arouca Press.
In my estimation, Arouca Press has taken the lead on a crucially important niche that blends political theory, Thomistic theology, and practical Catholic wisdom that can help laity save their souls from a world and Church gone mad.
One of the most unique books Arouca has released since its founding on October 13, 2018 is a reprint of an obscure, 1940s American Catholic, lay-run periodical called Integrity magazine.
The essays in Integrity are hard hitting and un-ecumenical. Any conservative or traditional Catholic living in the U.S. who has an interest in political affairs ought to read them. Read my reviews of it here and here.
Other titles Arouca has for sale include the memoirs of the late Antonio Cardinal Bacci, a long-time Vatican official who served under multiple popes in the 20th century. They have also released a book critiquing liberalism by French Cardinal Louis Billot (1846-1931) and the collected works of Carol Robinson, a lay woman who wrote for Integrity. Arouca also offers many books on spirituality.
So impressive are Arouca’s titles that Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Fr. Gerald Murray, Dr. John Rao and others have written blurbs that appear on the back of several of them.
Earlier this week I interviewed Alex Barbas, a former seminarian turned family man who lives in Ontario, Canada, to learn about why he does what he does and what he hopes to accomplish with Arouca Press.
“My goal is quite simply to publish works which will challenge Catholics to think about the Faith so that they can make a concrete application of the Faith in their daily lives,” he told me in an email (read full interview below).
Barbas, who sometimes relies on help from volunteers to transcribe manuscripts, tells me his primary aim is to re-publish out-of-print books in order to help “guide Catholics through the fog of modernity by equipping them with integrity, intelligence, true piety, and a deep love for the Faith.”
As the 21st century presses on, Catholics stand at the intersection of a changing world. Globalism itself is not only being called into question but so is the Church’s decision to make peace with liberalism.
A growing number of articles and books on topics like “integralism” and the Church’s teachings on Church-State relations are appearing. And that’s a good thing. Catholics involved in these debates, as well as those who aren’t and who simply want good, quality Catholic books on spirituality, should look to Arouca Press as a guide in the years ahead.
LifeSite: Why did you start Arouca Press and what would you like to accomplish with it?
Barbas: Ever since I received the gift of Faith over 20 years ago, I’ve had a love for books. I think this love of books stems – partly at least – from my realization at how little I really know. I remain a student of the Faith longing for greater clarity yet delighting in the mystery of faith. It is a juxtaposition which continues to grab my attention. If I may, let me quote the theologian, Matthias Scheeben: “…the truths of Christianity would not stir us as they do, nor would they draw us or hearten us, and they would not be embraced by us with such love and joy, if they contained no mysteries….A truth that is easily discovered and quickly grasped can neither enchant nor hold” (The Mysteries of Christianity, B. Herder, 1946). I am continuously stirred.
It was only in 2018 that I was able to put a dream of mine into fruition. I thought that even though there were countless Catholic publishers who were doing a wonderful job of publishing contemporary works and treasures of the past, there was still room for yet another publisher.
My goal is quite simply to publish works which will challenge Catholics to think about the Faith so that they can make a concrete application of the Faith in their daily lives. I have often reflected that there can be a danger in making piety a purely abstract concept. Piety – I think – has to flow from a robust and firm knowledge of the Faith. Good books can help with this pursuit.
Now, it would be an error to view the Faith as an intellectual plaything to be used and abused through rationalistic inquiry. The Faith is rational but to have the Faith means to fully embrace Divine Revelation without diminution with all our heart, mind, and soul (i.e., in a holistic manner). Additionally, if we read history honestly we will realize that the Catholic Church has always been an advocate of the interplay between faith and reason (e.g., St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae) avoiding the errors of rationalism and fideism.
Modernity, as a set of imbibed principles orienting all of society – the “air we breathe,” so to speak – and having roots going back centuries, does present obstacles to the Catholic who wishes to take the Faith seriously. Many of our published books, in one way or another, deal with this struggle.
We hope Arouca Press can guide Catholics through the fog of modernity by equipping them with integrity, intelligence, true piety, and a deep love for the Faith. Speaking personally, founding Arouca Press has allowed me to come into contact with ideas and thinkers who have themselves challenged me with their works and discussions and whom I think will challenge others.
What has the feedback been from other Catholics? Positive?
It has been a joy to read all the good feedback received. Many readers have expressed their appreciation for re-discovering older works or the new books we have published. It gives us encouragement that the books we are publishing are bearing some fruit and that the time invested has not been in vain! I always look forward to what the readers have to say regarding our books. I welcome all comments!
Which Arouca books are your personal favorites?
That’s a difficult question to answer! Every book we published has a special place in our apostolate. The first book we published, Meditations for Each Day by Antonio Cardinal Bacci, takes pride of place being the book that started it all. Other than all the authors (Dr. John Rao, Christian Browne, Fr. Sebastian Walshe) who have decided to publish their books through Arouca Press, I am most proud of beginning two large projects: 1) republishing all of the Integrity periodicals (1946-1956), and 2) publishing the collected works of Carol Jackson Robinson (1911-2002). These two projects reflect ideas and considerations which I think are still relevant, and as I shall explain later, strike to the heart of the clash between Modernity and Catholicism, and how Catholics, especially in the United States, have attempted to reconcile the two. It is quite the drama!
Tell me more about Carol Robinson and how her writings are relevant today…
Where do I even begin!? Due to the many gaps in my education, I cannot fully explain why I think her writings represent such an interesting and profound analysis of Modernity’s grip on the Catholic mind – for that was one of the themes the Integrity writers and Carol Robinson tried to analyze. However awkwardly, let me at least try to say a few things.
In 1941, Carol Robinson became a Catholic. There were two major influences in her life: Paul McGuire (1903-1978), an Australian diplomat, author, and Catholic Action lecturer, and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas as presented to her by the Dominican Order. Fr. Francis Wendell, the head of the Third Order Dominicans in the United States, became her mentor, and was instrumental in helping her found the intrepid Catholic periodical, Integrity. St. Thomas was always by her side, and in a personal letter from the 70s (I believe), she states that she used to wake up early in the morning to read the Summa rapt for hours in its brilliance.
She is relatively unknown as an American Catholic author but when I stumbled upon her writings years ago, I was enthralled by her ability to get to the root of the problems assailing a Catholic vision of life. She is one of the most quotable Catholic authors I have ever read combining wit and wisdom with a fierceness that is sorely needed today. She is not motivated by any sort of animus but out of a deep charity informed as she was by a profound faith. In her first article for Integrity (October 1946) she writes:
The situation is reflected in the Church by an artificial separation by the faithful of the supernatural order and the natural order; a separation of their sacramental lives from their daily lives and work. It is the true contemporary schizophrenia.
There is, I think, a tendency in the American context, to make this separation, whether consciously or not.
She was convinced that it was only through the Church’s ideals and their concrete implementation in society that any sort of restoration or return to sanity was possible. She says in a 1949 Integrity article:
It is sad, then, to observe that so many Catholics think they defend the Church by defending liberal economics departed from fundamental Christian ideas about justice, property, usury and the common good, that it has sired such an unlovely child as Marxism. To an intolerable and unstable economic situation there are two alternative answers: either supersede the errors with worse ones which look like correctives (as Marxism does), or return to Christian principles (as is the platform of Christian “radicals”).
I could quote her ad nauseam! It is all the more interesting to read these articles given the on-going debate today regarding the nature and success/failure of the liberal order in society. Carol Robinson’s analysis then becomes quite prescient! We are in the process of publishing all of these Integrity articles, book reviews, and editorials in a book titled, Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole.
Her writings not only reflect social concerns but also the necessity and duty to develop the interior life as opposed to accepting worldly principles and maxims. She writes with a charm and urgency that is remarkable to read. Let me quote her again! The following passage is from a series of essays that I unearthed on the Beatitudes and the Gifts of the Holy Ghost written between 1962 and 1963 (The Eightfold Kingdom Within):
Those who desire the things of this world are not made happy by possessing them; only unhappy by their absence. It is God who makes men happy, but even if God is present in our souls we cannot enjoy Him while we are attached to a thousand material and physical goods. So the process of detachment brings with it not only freedom but also joy, the true light-heartedness that made St. Francis sing as he walked barefoot in the snow.
In the mid-60s, when society was undergoing such changes and the Church was confronting the enormous pressure to adapt, Carol Robinson decided to pursue a Master’s degree in theology at St. John’s University. Afterwards she taught for a few years at an all-girls college in upstate New York. In 1971, she became a columnist for The Wanderer, and it was there that she tried to make sense of all the new ideas being introduced into the Church. Her Wanderer articles do retain the earlier wit and vitality from her Integrity years. However, a stronger insistence is given on the importance of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose abandonment or relegation to irrelevance, she claims, was part of the problem afflicting the clergy after the Council. Let me quote from a 1979 article:
A paralyzed cleric is one who, while himself a believer, cannot reassure his flock that the Church has not changed her essential discipline and doctrine because he cannot meet the challenges of the progressives head on – either to point out their errors or ridicule their premises. He is not sufficiently well grounded in the philosophy of St. Thomas to know why and where to go wrong. So he keeps his mouth shut. During many years we sat in the pews waiting for reassurance and it almost never came.
Readers may disagree with her insistence on the thought of St. Thomas (I know the issues are complex) but she writes as one who had studied him since the 1940s and was convinced St. Thomas couldn’t be abandoned without danger. This collection of articles has been tentatively titled, An Embattled Mind: In Defence of St. Thomas. We hope to publish this book later in the year.
All of her works do not suffer from a sort of “abstraction” but involve a real grounding in reality and hence relevance to the reader in 2020. We plan on publishing seven books as part of her collected works series. We are also in possession of many of her personal letters spanning nearly fifty years! That would be a project requiring years of planning and editing!
We think readers will come to appreciate the rigor and liveliness of her thinking which can contribute something of substance to the often sterile polemics of modern discourse.
What has been the most enlightening aspect of your work?
Another good question! The creative process of finding good books to publish (or receiving good manuscripts!) has given me a great source of joy. Carol Robinson often talked about having a vocation in the wider sense as opposed to merely working at a job. I think Providence has moved me towards this vocation. I also would add that the conversations I have had with all those who have helped me with publishing these books (there are so many to name!) have opened up areas of thought that I would have never encountered. I cannot fully express my gratitude and appreciation for all the things I have learned and continue to learn through these discussions.
What books are you working on now and what titles can we expect in the future?
We are currently working on publishing the memoirs of Antonio Cardinal Bacci which the translator, Dr. Anthony Lo Bello, first translated privately between 1989-1990 and originally published in Italian in 1964. This book gives us a tremendous insight into the Cardinal's thoughts on the Latin language and his service under four popes (Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, and Paul VI).
We are also working on publishing for the first time in English, A Pilgrimage to Jasna Góra, by Władysław St. Reymont (1867-1925), the Nobel-Prize winning Polish author, whose works are sorely unknown in the English-speaking world. The translator, Filip Mazurczak, is also slated to translate a major work on Catholic social teaching by Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński under condition that we can raise the appropriate funds. We are waiting for a decision on our grant application.
We have so many other projects in the works such as a book on the spirituality of the Premonstratensians in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a book on the priesthood, a reprint of a major work on the Sacred Liturgy, and a fascinating book on one of R.A. Lafferty's works. The list is seemingly endless. May the good Lord give us enough strength to complete all these projects!
Do you have any advice for other Catholics living through these confusing times right now?
I am not comfortable in offering any advice – who am I really? I am simply a Catholic trying to publish good books. All I can say is that it seems to be of even greater importance today to really study the faith and live it integrally in these strange times which see so many rapid changes in society and the Church. We must cling to the sacraments as much as we can (it is a great tragedy that these channels of grace are withheld from the faithful); we must pray; we must develop a deep interior life with a real and infectious joy; and we must never get disoriented.
Liberalism, as a set of ideas born in conflict with the Church, has made tremendous inroads in how Catholics view the world. The Church offers a counter-vision (see Billot's Liberalism) that is as old as the moment it was founded. This vision rises above the disagreements between “conservatives” and “liberals”; it rises above party politics; it rises above certain economic theories; it rises above ideologies serving not the common good or the supernatural end of man, but offers a comprehensive view of man and society. It is the only remedy for true peace. If only more people would realize this.
May the reader forgive such verbosity!