We Catholics are less homogeneous than the Jews when our co-religionists are being persecuted. Admittedly the Catholic support for the Catholic cause in Spain was all but unanimous. When Mr. Roosevelt was proposing to lend-lease arms to Red Spain thousands of American Catholics protested to the White House and the arms were not sent. Mr. Chamberlain told a friend of mine that if it had not been for the Catholics in England he might have been forced to blockade Nationalist Spain.
There was however an important minority of Catholics who did nothing to help our efforts. I have an immense admiration for M. Maritain. On the rare occasions when we met I was captured by his charm, and I owe a great debt to his books, but I was saddened by his attitude during the Civil War. His neutralist attitude had a considerable effect on the lay professors in many of the American Catholic Universities, notably Notre Dame, where I worked as a visiting professor during the Michaelmas terms of 1936–38.
Maritain is a philosopher and was much exercised as to how the Nationalist cause could be described as a crusade. I did not care a button how we were described, provided that we won, but my crude approach is very different from that of a subtle philosopher. If I am convinced that one side is 70 % in the right, I am 100 % behind that side and prefer to postpone all discussion of rights and wrongs until the issue has been decided in our favour. All that interested me was that Catholics were free to worship in Nationalist Spain whereas in Red Spain the churches were burnt or defiled and only the priests who were in hiding escaped being shot.
I met M. Maritain in America in November 1940. He was very depressed because he could make no impression on Catholic isolationists. And this was perhaps not surprising.
“We’re prepared to provide you with a platform,” an American priest said to me in 1940, “because when you say that Hitler is an enemy of the Faith we know that you are not merely making yourself a mouthpiece of British propaganda. During the Spanish Civil War you defended the Catholic cause in spite of the fact that so many of your countrymen thought it unpatriotic to align yourself with a cause supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Now that France is in danger Maritain has no philosophical doubts about this war. It’s a crusade all right. Maritain was upset because the Catholics accepted help from Hitler, but I’m pretty sure that if Russia ever fights on your side Maritain will have no scruples about enlisting the aid of a dictator as evil as Hitler and even more hostile to the Catholic Church.”
But though M. Maritain had little influence on the Catholic isolationists, no continental Catholic has had a greater influence on American Protestants, both during and since the war. He was for years on the Faculty of Princeton, and the fact that he was not a whole-hearted partisan of the Catholic cause in Spain no doubt increased his influence in non-Catholic circles. I have mentioned his attitude during this war because it would be impossible to write about the Civil War without some reference to the divisions in our own Catholic ranks, but I hope I have made it clear that my differences from Maritain on that particular issue in no way diminish my great respect for his notable contribution to Catholic philosophy and apologetics.
Arnold Lunn (from And Yet So New, 1958)
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