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Puzzle Pieces * The Caelum Et Terra Conversation * Heaven on Earth

Many of those who ever came across the journal Caelum Et Terra during its too-brief years of publication, from the summer of 1991 to the winter of 1996, will never forget it. In a time of massive social decline, in the midst of which were delicate hopes of a Catholic "renaissance," it was a unique voice. The editors, originally Daniel Nichols and Maclin and Karen Horton, together with a small group of like-minded friends, strove to capture Catholicism's orthodoxy and diversity, her social consciousness, her critique of mass culture, her earth-centeredness, her vibrant traditionalism in one little volume, combined with wonderful illustrations of contemporary Catholic folk art. For many people, the reaction to the journal was suspicion: is this really Catholicism? To many, the editors sounded like "aging hippies," or "communists" or "Amish wanna-bes," to enumerate some of the reactions, printed and unprinted. But as the editors would say, there was really nothing unique in what they were trying to do. G.K. Chesterton, Eric Gill, Fr. Vincent McNabb, Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, and many other known and unknown Catholics had felt the same call and spoken of the same ideas.

The journal didn't quite fit into the standard agenda of the Wanderer Catholic, nor the National Catholic Register Catholic, nor the National Catholic Reporter Catholic. It had never occurred to many that there existed a Catholic that loved the Pope and hated mass capitalism, craved beautiful music in Church yet despised lithographs of 1950's art, admired both the Byzantine liturgies and the Amish communities, felt the needs of the inner-city poor yet yearned for country living... certainly these Catholics are rare, rare enough so that they barely formed an adequate financial base, forcing the journal to close its presses after five years of publication.

Yet the rare Catholics who fitted the above description, at least instinctually, who found Caelum Et Terra found in its pages part of their heart revealed. And many of us found friends in each other. When Dan Nichols announced the journal's demise, many of us were grieved, because the ideas in C&T, as it was fondly called, had affected us. "It always makes me think," one friend told me. There was a sense that something had been found that we couldn't quite give up on.

So, recklessly, probably foolishly, began what's became known as the "Caelum Et Terra Conversation," to be resurrected soon as "Heaven on Earth," a short, non-literary newsletter primarily connected with discussing and implementing the ideas of Caelum Et Terra . We don't pretend there's much uniformity -- there's not. But most of us have at least an instinct to go in a similar direction (some of us have been dragged on board by the editor to give dissenting points of view and aren't sure why they even get this newsletter).

In fact, I would vote this hodgepodge group "least likely to become a cult," precisely because of this diversity. Most of the people involved are highly independent and suspicious of all authority not papal or episcopal in nature. Others live in structured communities. Many of us disagree on the role of technology -- we count a good handful of Luddites among us. Others are computer specialists. (The editor is neither a Luddite nor a computer specialist, witness to the fact that you are reading this on the Web on a rather poorly-designed electronic page). Some of us are very enthusiastic. Others are burnt out and ideologically-weary. But at least we're talking to each other. We could be called "Fifty Some Characters of All Ages in Search of a Plot." We're not quite sure what will happen next. Quite possibly, nothing.

This "Conversation" can't pretend to mount to the same literary heights or clarity of thought of the talented editors and authors of C&T. For this reason we are trying to post back issues of Caelum Et Terra on the web as time and energy allows. We don't pretend to be the "heirs" of the journal itself. In fact, we could probably be sued by the editors for incorporating the name of the magazine, but we chose it because a.) people kept calling it that anyhow and b.) to give credit where credit is due.

And do say a prayer for us. God bless you.

 

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