The Current

From the Shelf

The editors of The Current have devoted their entire spring issue to the problem they have, in effect, been discussing in every issue: "the experience of the Catholic student at Harvard." Their ten articles explore two implicit themes: the social and intellectual position of Catholic students as a minority group in a secular university, and the more general position of all Catholics in an age of uneasy agnosticism.

Examination of the first theme occurs in a lengthy lead editorial, which interprets a recent poll of Catholic students at Harvard. The poll, mailed to over 800 members of the University (and answered by 176), asked three questions: "I. How would you characterize your intellectual background in religion when you arrived at Harvard? II. While at Harvard, how has your religion been affected--helped or hindered... III. Conversely, how has your religion affected--helped or hindered-- your own intellectual development, social situation, and moral life?" The editors have not attempted to give a statistical breakdown of replies to the poll. Instead they have looked for "a test of attitudes, a sense of the believer's strains and his successes, an insight into things that concern him most deeply." This they do largely by giving representative quotes from the students themselves. The quotes they choose are not very helpful. Too often they simply step off the deep end philosophically ("The Catholic at Harvard runs certain risks... Harvard is really all the risks of life itself" or grammatically ("Theologically it reduces to illogism [sic] and even worse claptrap"). Their entertainment value is high--from a Radcliffe sophomore, "I was a member of a minority group for the first time, and I loved it"-- but they provide no real insight into the Catholic mind at Harvard.

The Current's examination of the problem of a Catholic at Harvard is continued in a series of a three articles by undergraduates. These pieces, by Christian Ohiri, Carla Marceau, and "Jane Wilson," though not badly written, carry with them a vague bit of embarrassment. We learn very little from such declamations as "How can a very small and insignificant soul break from a creed, which, if it does nothing else, at least proclaims consistently and vehemently and unwaveringly that it alone possess the one complete truth in the universe? I am torn." Montaigne's remark that "We must reserve a back shop all our own, entirely free, in which to establish out real liberty and out principal retreat and solitude" is good advice.

The second of themes the magazine treats--the position of Catholics in general--is handled best by Joel Porte in "A Jew Speaks to Harvard Catholics," easily the finest article in the issue. Porte begins by explaining how the Jew, also part of an ancient, historically formidable religion, can sympathize with the Catholic. But he goes on to note a possible "secret source of friction between Catholics and Jews," namely the Catholic bitterness at unbelieving Jews like Freud, Marx, and Einstein, who have fashioned so much of the modern world. His challenge to this alienated Catholic is eloquent: "After almost six thousand years of history the Jew finds himself alone in a frightening universe with nothing but his wit, his love and his courage. Is it possible for the Catholic to want join us in trying to live on these terms?"

Other such articles are disappointing. Dom Aelred Graham offers an uncomfortably disorganized, rather vague view of the Catholic philosophy of education. His writing charms occasionally, but too often his sentences say nothing at all: "Life at college is more than a matter of acquiring knowledge..." And his conclusion is inconclusive, to say the least: "Because truth is not for or against anything. Truth simply is." Father Padberg's "The Word on the Harvard Seal" demonstrates even more unhappily how Truth rarely yields to a frontal assault.


President Pusey's article, consisting of excerpts from his Baccalaureate Addresses of 1960 and 1958, discusses the broader problems which religion faces, both at Harvard and in the outside world. Like the editors of the magazine, who realize that "Perhaps the trouble is that Harvard performs its job too well," Mr. Pusey points to a serious failure in Harvard education: "It is not that you will not know enough; nor that you will have failed to gain sufficient intellectual acumen from attending Harvard. It is rather that at the end of your experience here you may believe too faintly and care less."

No one can accuse The Current of "Harvard indifference;" the magazines is too honest, too obviously concerned, for that. But we can ask that, having gotten self-examination off its editorial chest, the magazine enlarge its interests. There is room in it for fiction, more poetry like William Alfred's political articles, and reviews.

If The Current is to be read with interest outside the Harvard Catholic community, it must revise to some extent its treatment of fundamental questions--not abandon its concern with them, certainly, but find other ways of talking about them. The present Current offers a valuable appraisal of the Catholic dilemma at Harvard. But the magazine, if it does not develop other styles of answering its questions, stands in danger of becoming repetitive, too self-conscious, and dull.