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The Publisher's Desk

The Publisher's Desk


The Lamp was founded in 1846 by Thomas Earnshaw Bradley, who would go on to edit many issues of the magazine from his cell in a debtors’ prison. His was among the first Catholic magazines in the English-speaking world, and it sold for only a penny (a fifth of the price of its earliest competitor, the Tablet, which has survived). There were very few subjects on which The Lamp did not publish articles, for Bradley was of the opinion that whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report, from the invention of the telegraph to the latest fiction, really belonged to the Church.

It was later purchased by Martha Lockhart, the daughter of a Tory Member of Parliament who distinguished himself during the administration of Pitt and a relation of John Gibson Lockhart, the most amusing writer of negative book reviews in the history of our language. (Does anyone now read his Life of his father-in-law, Sir Walter Scott, a work once held in the same esteem as Boswell?) Martha, a devout Anglican who attended cathedral services twice a day, was received into the Church under the influence of her son, William, the great friend and disciple of St. John Henry Newman whose conversion would occasion the latter’s famous “Parting of Friends” sermon. William was later ordained priest and became one of the most distinguished contributors to his mother’s magazine, which employed many poor young Catholics who were trained in the art of printing and paid honorable wages. Another illustrious contributor was Wilfrid Meynell, the eccentric biographer of Disraeli and friend of Cardinal Manning whose political enthusiasms included Irish Home Rule and Georgist land reform and who had the great fortune to discover the poet Francis Thompson. Meynell and his wife, Alice, were well-known entertainers whose house guests included Robert Browning, Stevenson, William Ernest Henley, George Meredith, Yeats, and Chesterton. Alice, who as a young woman had led her parents and siblings to the faith, had the misfortune of getting to know Coventry Patmore, who became infatuated with her, leading to the end of their friendship; she nevertheless wrote the very fair-minded entry on Patmore that appears in the old Catholic Encyclopedia. An anthology of her verse and prose writings was edited and introduced by (of all people) Vita Sackville-West. Their daughter Viola, one of eight, would later found the Nonesuch Press.

We cannot claim similarly interesting connections or antecedents. One of us is a journalist, the other a business professional. What we share is an admixture of curiosity and horror at the idea that in a country of some seventy million Catholics—numbers that would have terrified the Thomas Nashes of the second-to-last century, who believed the republic was only a few Irish immigrants away from papal despotism—there are no Catholic magazines. This statement of fact will come as a surprise to some. We acknowledge that there exist diocesan bulletins which are bound in a tabloid format, various newspapers and agencies that report on ecclesiastical goings-on, and a handful of ostensibly Catholic periodicals that routinely publish screeds in favor of women’s “ordination,” apologias for abortion, and other subjects that cannot accurately be discussed in polite company. But this is not what we mean by a Catholic magazine.

What we mean instead is something that is Catholic, which is to say unabashedly orthodox, and a magazine in the old-fashioned sense: witty, urbane, not pompous or shrill, full of serious reporting, insightful opinions, and worthwhile coverage of art and literature.

We are as bored of Catholic defenses of Hayek and anti-papal ranting as we are of Thomas Merton and worker priests. We reject the progressive left, the libertarian-conservative right, and the neoliberal consensus of atomization, spoliation, rootlessness, and mindless entertainment into which both of the former are rapidly being subsumed. We are not nostalgists hankering over a mythical “moment before” when it was supposedly possible to reconcile the Church to the world. (We aren’t wacky neo-medievalists dreaming of the Shire either!) Nor, finally, are we calling for a “retreat” from politics, an idea we consider incoherent. We are concerned with the world as it exists now and with the future that lies before us. We are attempting something at once radical and painfully obvious: to approach questions of public import as if what the Church has consistently taught were actually true. We do not pretend to know what an authentically Catholic response to the crises of postmodern liberalism would look like. But we do know the following:

  • Catholics are no longer faced, as we were during the Cold War, with a choice in world affairs between a liberal democratic capitalism that tolerates the exercise of faith and an authoritarian atheistic communism.
  • Faith in the Cold War-era Western liberal consensus and its global post-1989 neoliberal successor is crumbling around the world.
  • The post-war conservative movement in the United States has not turned back the clock a single minute and has succeeded only in gradually lowering marginal tax rates as same-sex marriage became law in all fifty states.
  • Proceduralist arguments about freedom of worship, expression, and assembly and originalist constitutional gambits have been of no avail to social conservatives faced with a progressive opposition playing by a different set of rules.
  • Business interests have aided and abetted the decline of morals and the rise of obscenity and irreligion at every turn. This is not incidental or accidental but integral to the operation of globalized capitalism, which is oriented toward an endless cycle of innovation, disruption, destruction, and replacement.
  • Neither major political party in the United States even attempts to speak to the full range of Catholic teaching on issues ranging from the just wage and the harmonious cooperation of classes to the rights of the unborn and the evil of contraception.

As if all of that were not gloomy enough, we observe that that it comes amid the worst crisis in the modern history of the Church, the heresy, apostasy, and indifferentism of the last half century. Strange to say, we feel more sanguine about the latter than we do concerning the related but ultimately less consequential crisis of the American Catholic political and social imagination. Our Lord promised St. Peter that the gates of hell would never ultimately prevail against His Church; He issued, so far as we are aware, no similar guarantee that an alliance of sophists, economists, and calculators with antinomians and dilettantes would not all but destroy American Catholic intellectual life, which indeed has already happened. It is, in fact, likely in the foreseeable future that Catholic discourse in this country will continue to decline in spite—or rather more likely—because of our efforts.

Who knows? In any case, we are delighted to publish an inaugural issue that features everything from Brandon McGinley’s profile of a man who spent thirty years serving an unjust prison sentence (pg. 9) and J. D. Vance’s moving account of his conversion (pg. 14) to our editor’s musings about giant squids (pg. 35) and a reflection by Susannah Black on the coronavirus epidemic (pg. 48). Our contributors include Catholics of all ages, political views, and backgrounds, with a wide range of opinions (and even liturgical preferences)—that is to say, men and women who differ in everything save for their fidelity to the immutable Deposit of the Faith handed down to us by the Holy Apostles—and one pillar of the Church of England.

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