A Life of Orestes Brownson in Five Parts: Part Two
Premonitions of Conversion
“Take care how you examine the Catholic Church, unless you are willing to become a Catholic, for Catholic doctrines are logical.” Daniel Webster
Although Brownson hadn’t given any serious thought about Catholicism until the 1840s, it would be wrong to suppose that he hadn’t made any progress toward the Church earlier. Throughout his life, little things had nudged him toward Rome.
When he was twelve, for instance, he found himself confused about religion, so he consulted a devout and respected Congregationalist neighbor. Brownson told the elderly woman that he was inclining toward Methodism. She told him not to join the Methodists because they were too new. Rather, he must join a church “that began with Christ and his Apostles and has continued to subsist the same without change of doctrine or worship down to our own times.” Brownson said these words, by a sincere Congregationalist, prevented him in later years from “ever being a genuine, hearty Protestant.”[i]
Because Brownson was too clearheaded to adopt the anti-Catholic bigotry of his days, he was able to see virtue in the Church throughout his adult life. As a young man, he saw that the scorn heaped upon the Church for the abuses of the Middle Ages was wrong; such hostility is not properly directed against Catholicism, he determined, but rather at the abuses that go under its name. As a reader of Saint-Simon and his theory of a pyramid of classes, he had also come to accept the idea that society needs a hierarchy, which would later translate well into his acceptance of the Catholic hierarchy that starts with the Holy Father. To objections that Catholicism is ridiculous superstition, Brownson could recall the words of Daniel Webster who, upon seeing Brownson flipping through Catholic materials in a book store, said “Take care how you examine the Catholic Church, unless you are willing to become a Catholic, for Catholic doctrines are logical.”[ii]
When Brownson started taking concrete steps toward Rome, it was philosophy that…