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 A Statement of Policy - American Ecclesiastical Review 
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From The American Ecclesiastical Review, Vol. CXXI, No. 4, October 1949.


The policy of any periodical publication is something comparatively easy to discern but tremendously difficult to define. It is readily discernible even in those magazines in which, as in The American Ecclesiastical Review, a relatively small portion of the content is written by members of the staff or by regular contributors. A man who is familiar with any periodical comes to see within a fairly short time, that there are certain objectives toward which that publication tends, certain points which it consistently stresses, certain opinions towards which it constantly exhibits a determined opposition. Thus he inevitably comes to distinguish some of the phases and at least the general direction of the magazine’s policy.

Manifestly, then, any one of our brother priests who reads the Review at all frequently will necessarily come to recognize at least the broad outlines of the plan which guides the production of this periodical. He will see that this publication has sought to bring out God’s revealed teaching on the nature and the necessity of that loyalty we owe to the true Church of Jesus Christ. He will appreciate the fact that the Review has worked to foster that enthusiastic and complete solidarity with Our Lord in His Church which the Holy Father loves to designate by the consecrated phrase, sentire cum ecclesia [thinking with the Church]. He cannot help but note the fact that the Review has consistently stressed those divinely revealed truths which mark the Catholic Church alone as God’s kingdom on earth during these days of the Christian Dispensation. Furthermore the priest who is well acquainted with the Review must have appreciated the fact that it has consistently opposed, in the case of any organization or activity (like the so-called “Springfield Plan”), those features or aspects or “principles” or implications which tend to represent the Catholic Church as a religious organization similar to others in this world. (1)

In the light of these and similar attitudes and emphases the general direction and the salient features of the Review’s policy are readily apparent. The reasons which motivate and integrate this policy are by no means so easily ascertainable. Ultimately a man must know something about the background and about the immediate purpose of the Review in order to understand why the magazine takes its own stand and stresses certain definite issues today.

The American Ecclesiastical Review was founded and is still intended to perform a definite and individual function in the field of Catholic literature. Actually its fundamental and essential work is quite distinct even from that of other periodicals directed primarily to priests in the United States. It would be erroneous to evaluate the Review merely as a Catholic magazine or merely as a periodical publication addressed primarily to the sacerdotal brotherhood in this country. It is a paper with a specifically distinct objective. Its policy is and must be consonant with its individual purpose.

This definitely does not mean that the individual and distinctive purpose of the Review is in any way more perfect or more necessary than the basic and distinctive functions of the other Catholic magazines written primarily for priests in America. Every one of these publications contributes magnificently, each in its own individual way, to the sublime work of priestly instruction and edification. Thus each works effectively towards the accomplishment of the purpose of the Church militant. Any glorification of one at the expense of another would constitute an inane hindrance to that sublime and salvific fraternal effort to which all are equally consecrated.

The distinct work the Review was founded to carry on within the Church is a special and highly important development of the task to which the first magazine for priests published in the United States was essentially devoted. The Pastor, edited by Fr. W. J. Wiseman of Cranford, New Jersey, and published by the famous Barclay Street house of Pustet, began in November, 1882. Fr. Wiseman intended this publication as a professional journal for priests and stated that he meant “only to gather up and to put into a convenient form for preservation in our libraries those bits and scraps of useful professional knowledge, some part of which we each light upon from time to time, but in a form that we cannot well preserve.” (2) As a result The Pastor consisted, for the most part, of reprints of Roman documents of special interest to American priests. It also included answers to questions, discussions of cases in moral theology, and notices of books.

Fr. Wiseman did not limit his material to current pontifical documents. Among other things he printed the text of the letter Quanta cura, the statement to which the famous Syllabus of Errors had been attached, along with a translation and explanation. This letter had appeared in Dec. 1864. The Pastor insisted quite rightly that the prescriptions and teachings of this document were still valid in the “modern” world of the eighties.

The Pustet firm continued to publish The Pastor until the end of 1888. The first issue of The American Ecclesiastical Review came out in January 1889. Pustet was the publisher. Rev. Dr. Heuser made it plain that in some way at least the new magazine was a continuation of the old. After enumerating the various advantages of and reasons for Catholic literature for the clergy, he makes the following statement.

It is from motives such as are suggested by the foregoing considerations that we have accepted the trust of editing the present Review. Circumstances make it necessary that, for a time at least, we pursue the limited lines originally suggested by the publishers of The Pastor for that Monthly. But in substituting the title of American Ecclesiastical Review for the former name, we desire to indicate the purpose we have in view, under the blessing of God and the co-operation of the ecclesiastical body in this country. (3)

The Pastor resumed publication in July, 1889. Fr. Wiseman continued as editor and the periodical had a business office in New York. It did not continue long since it was almost exclusively a one-man venture. The editor acknowledged that it had suspended publication from the end of 1888 until July, 1889, because he needed a rest. Even during these last days of the magazine, however, the editor considered it as the only professional journal for priests in the United States. (4)

Fr. Wiseman seems to have based this last statement on Dr. Heuser’s intention to address The American Ecclesiastical Review “not only to the clergy, but to those, also, who more or less directly aid them in their sacred tasks, teachers, and assistant laborers in the vineyard of Christ, whether they work in Church, or school, or in the world.” (5) Despite the fact that Dr. Heuser believed himself compelled to follow for a time the lines originally laid down by the publishers of The Pastor for the older magazine, and despite the fact that the name of his periodical was substituted for that of its predecessor, his Review was never very similar to Fr. Wiseman’s.

Dr. Heuser clearly stated the immediate purpose of The American Ecclesiastical Review in its very first issue.

Our purpose, then, is, first of all, to be a help in carrying out the legislation of our holy Church, and, in particular, the decrees of the Councils of Baltimore. Our next object will be to strive for the promotion of what has been called the higher culture of the clergy. By calling attention to whatever may touch the special interests of the latter body, in the domain of ecclesiastical letters, or art, or science, it hopes to serve to the increase of knowledge unto sanctification. . . . Accordingly its province will be within the various branches of what has been aptly called Pastoral Theology. And whilst it proposes to keep alive, amidst the active ministry of the priesthood, a taste for and a habit of study, by recalling the teachings of the sacred disciplines, it will offer such information as is calculated to make the priest efficient, whether in church, or school, or the homes of his people, or the assemblies of strangers. The laws of the Church, as interpreted by her appointed guides, are to be our authority as well as our defence. The practice and approved teaching of holy men within her fold will be the pattern which we mean to propose for imitation. Polemics will not be a part of our programme. (6)

It was not long before Dr. Heuser felt himself obliged to make a definite announcement about one highly important phase of his magazine’s policy. Then, as more recently, there were some individuals who seemed to believe that the columns of a periodical for priests should be open to more or less veiled criticism of the hierarchy or of other priests. Evidently the comments of these persons irritated the genial founder of the Review, for we find this characteristically forthright statement in the last issue of the Review’s first year.

It is surely an error to think that we could ever attempt to be a censurer of Bishops, for that were interfering with the Pope; nor to be a corrector of brother priests, since, where that is necessary, it is the business of the Bishops. If our authority offend, it may be that truth offends, and that those who demur have simply judged themselves. (7)

Although Dr. Heuser had stoutly declared that polemics would not be a part of the Review’s program, the magazine very soon took a strong stand on two questions of interest and importance. Dr. Joseph Schroeder, one of the original members of the faculty of The Catholic University of America was asked for a criticism of Canon Bartolo’s unfortunate book, I criteri teologici. Dr Schroeder’s articles were discontinued after notice of the book’s condemnation in Rome had been received. In 1892 a series of articles controverting Dr. Bouquillon’s stand on the hotly contested school issue appeared in the Review.

In explaining the discontinuance of Dr. Schroeder’s writings against Canon Bartolo, Dr. Heuser set forth what has been, and what I hope always will be, the policy of the Review with reference to theological questions.

Scientific criticism, if it has any legitimate purpose, is intended to call forth the free expression of different opinions. There can be nothing but gain resulting from this exercise. If, perchance, the opponents believe their views to be absolutely correct and to admit of no just alternative, it does not hinder the unprejudiced hearer from forming his judgment on the merits of the case as presented by both sides. A magazine, such as ours, should fail its object if it were wedded only to one set of otherwise legitimate views whether in the field of scientific or that of practical theology. We espouse no side in politics or “nationalism;” are pledged to no “party” in the social or ecclesiastical sphere, not even to a “school” in theology. (8)

The founder insisted, however, that this freedom of expression was very definitely limited. The magazine would admit no statement in any way subversive of the Catholic Faith itself.

But whilst the “Review” represents no party in any of those things which admit of a liberal discussion or diversity of opinion, its boundary is unmistakably defined in matters of Catholic faith. Catholic faith means more than the exclusive adherence to the defined propositions of our creed. It implies a distinct loyalty, a natural attraction to the centre of authority in the Church, whence radiates the living force by which all parts are held together in perfect harmony. This centre is immovable, and every portion of the circle which surrounds it owes its perfection and preservation to the conformity with which it yields to the centripetal law which controls its motion. Whenever any doctrine shows a tendency to deviate from this perfect line, whether within or without, whether by maximizing or by minimizing, it must arouse the suspicion of the thoughtful teacher of Catholic truth. (9)

Dr. Heuser went on to declare that “Among the methods by which to test whether a theological proposition is within the line of Catholic teaching and sentiment, there is none—apart from divine authority, and the traditional teaching of the Church—which has proved so sure and safe a means as the scholastic method of St. Thomas.” (10) It was his contention that “If this method be applied as a touch-stone to the so-called scientific developments of philosophic or theologic thought, it will convert them, for the most part, into abstract principles which are inapplicable to the laws of revealed truth.” (11)

The same article informs the reader that both Dr. Heuser and Dr. Schroeder were perfectly willing to publish any rejoinder which might have come from Canon Bartolo prior to the condemnation of his book. It concludes with the following observation.

But our disposition to publish the two sides of an argument which was then undecided, should never have extended to the assertion of anything in theology, or under the plea of scientific thought, which would offend, even by implication, against the respect due to the Vicar of Christ, or to the sacred deposit of Catholic Faith. We glory in the fact that we do not feel the least in harmony with that liberal school of theologians, who would sacrifice, without thought, the things God has placed in their trust to the circumstances of the times. In this field we shall ever hold on to the old dictum: Nil innovetur nisi quod traditum est. (12)

The first one hundred eleven volumes of the Review carried on their title pages the words “ut ecclesia aedificationem accipiat,” [“that the church may receive edification”] (13) in the Latin or in the original Greek of the New Testament. In 1914, Mr. Edward Galbally, long the managing editor of this publication, wrote that “In that motto, as announced from the very beginning of the Review, is the end and aim, single and disinterested, of the founder of this magazine, its sole editor and conductor from that day to this.” (14)

This motto expresses what was and what we hope ever will be the immediate and proper purpose of the Review. The magazine seeks to give to its readers those items of information and statements of truth which will be useful to American priests in doing the work of God in our time. It is precisely this aspect of utility which must stand as a norm in deciding what is to be the content of our magazine.

In other words, by its essential purpose the Review must exclude certain otherwise highly valuable articles. Writings which deal, for example, with the interrelations of two somewhat obscure mediaeval philosophers are definitely worth while, but, since they convey no immediate advantage to priests as a group, they have no place in this publication. On the other hand, even those somewhat recondite articles which would aid priests in preaching about the dogmas of the Church are highly acceptable to the Review.

This same standard has always influenced the Review to disregard the attacks made against the Church by the professional Catholic-haters within the United States. Among the less valuable groups of our fellow citizens are certain publicity-loving individuals who can always be depended upon to bray and rant against every authoritative Catholic pronouncement. Occasionally some Catholic periodical will be found to devote some space to a “refutation” of these bigots. The Review has not followed this course. There is every reason for it to continue to refrain from such answers.

Actually the persons who have made a career out of vilifying the Catholic Church have placed themselves in the same position as the enemies who railed against Our Lord during the course of His public life on earth. Whether they advert to the fact or not, they have actually constituted themselves as [Greek term] or fighters against God. The charges they hurl against the Church are not chosen because there is even the slightest evidence that they are true, but apparently only because these charges are calculated to express hatred of Our Lord’s society and of its members.

When all the world can see the gold stars on the war honor rolls of the various Catholic parishes within the United States, there is no good reason to waste space in a magazine by elaborating a highly developed proof that Catholics can be good Americans, or, for that matter, a proof of the incontrovertible fact that they are far better Americans than these racketeers in the field of religion who devote their time and energy to the work of spreading dissension and discord within the nation. The task God has entrusted to a Catholic periodical, particularly to a periodical for priests, is something far more important. Hence The American Ecclesiastical Review has not carried and will not carry “replies” to men whose only claim to notoriety is to he found in the frequency and the vehemence of their outpourings against the Church of God.

The purpose of the Review, expressed in the old motto “Ut ecclesia aedificationem accipiat,” formulates the basic policy of this periodical in a negative way by excluding from its pages such material as is manifestly of no immediate use to priests in the tasks of the ministry. It also shapes this policy in a positive way by demanding the inclusion of those facts and appreciations which must enter into any effective and accurate presentation of the Christian message in our own times. The great doctrinal encyclicals of the Sovereign Pontiff and the urgent messages of our own American hierarchy constitute the best available norms for discerning the truths which Catholic teaching must stress here and now.

The editorial staff of The American Ecclesiastical Review has tried to stress upon the pages of this publication those points upon which the Holy Father and the American hierarchy have most insisted in their messages to the faithful. We shall continue to do so as long as God permits us to remain in charge of this magazine.

If there is one aspect of life in Christ which the Holy Father and the divinely authorized rulers of the Church in our own land have emphasized most powerfully in their teachings, it is the doctrine of Catholic unity. Providentially this note has been sounded ever more urgently at a time when the forces arrayed against the Church have been concentrating upon the task of trying to separate the people of Christ from the leaders God has placed in charge of them. In order to show that all the resources of the Review must be consecrated to the furtherance of this unity, the board of editors has substituted for the original motto chosen by Dr. Heuser the words from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians [Greek text - “in one spirit, with one mind labouring together for the faith of the gospel”]. The purpose of the Review remains and will remain “Ut ecclesia aedificationem accipiat.” But because this end is to be achieved only through work for the unity of the Church and of the Faith, work directed against the efforts of Christ’s enemies, the Review works most immediately that we may stand “in uno spiritu unanimes collaborantes fidei evangelii.” (15)

The men who work and write for the Review are well aware that the objectives for which it strives can and will be achieved through the powerful intercession of Our Lady. They realize that an ardent devotion to Mary on the part of our American priests will inevitably result in the successful accomplishment of those tasks to which God calls the Catholic Church of our country through the words of the Holy Father and of the American hierarchy. Therefore they have dedicated this magazine in a special way to the end of fostering an appreciation of and a love for the Blessed Mother.

The Catholic University of America Washington, D. C.


1. Cf. Dr. Benard’s article, The “Meaning” of the Springfield Plan, AER, CXIV, 1 (Jan. 1946), 1-12.
2. Fr. Wiseman, in The Pastor, I, 1 (Nov. 1882), 4.
3 AER, I, 1 (Jan. 1889), 15.
4 Cf. the advertisement for The Pastor printed on the cover of the July, 1889, issue.
5. AER, loc. cit.
6. Ibid.
7. AER, I, 11 (Nov. and Dec. 1889), 403.
8. From the article, “The ‘Ecclesiastical Review’ and Theological Discussions,” in AER, V, 1 (Jan. 1891), 48.
9. Ibid., pp. 48 f.
10. Ibid., p. 49.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid., p. 50.
13. I Cor., 14: 5.
14. AER, L., 6 (June, 1914), 649.
15. Phil., 1:27. “in one spirit, with one mind labouring together for the faith of the gospel.”

Wed Apr 09, 2008 11:26 pm
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