The Forgotten Man—Carl Schmitt—Part II

by Donald Powell
The Catholic Worker, December 1934

Part I

I charge flatly and bluntly that his fellow Catholics are enemies of Schmitt, his family and what he stands for. Here is my case.

Carl Schmitt, like all great artists, is primarily a religious artist. One of my friends said, “Oh, Schmitt is all right, but he paints too many holy Virgins.” He was right. Carlo is supremely happy when he is doing a Madonna or better, a mystical conception of the Beatific Vision. But although his murals are in Protestant churches and even in movie houses, where is the Catholic Church that decorates its walls with them? Where are the Catholic schools, monasteries and rectories that hang his pictures? Where is that spirit of mediaeval Catholicism that made the Church the patron of the artist? Does not the American Catholic know the difference between art and archaeology? Was Michelangelo a mere copyist? If there is, in America, a Catholic artist, with vitality, why not put him to work? And first, in the Church, where he belongs?

Jews Choose Best Work

Now Schmitt may not be a great artist, but the artist has always been given the preference over the archaeologist by anyone who knows the difference between vitality and sterility. The mediaeval Catholic had confidence in his judgment. Even the Borgian bankers had it; but the current Catholic usurer has none. The difference, of course, is one of the basic differences between the aristocrat and the plutocrat: the one does as he pleases and the other is afraid of making mistakes: the one acts as a patron of the contemporary artist and the other buys old masters.

So Carl Schmitt has never had a consistent Catholic patron. His support comes from the non-Catholics. “The Jews,” he says, “always choose my best work.” Let all the dukes and knights of the papal court stuff their over-stuffed shirts with that.

Secular Critics Kind

There is worse to come. Although Carlo’s stuff has been considered by critics in the New York Times and in the press generally, it has received no great attention from Catholic critics in Catholic publications. I recall but one notice of his work in a Catholic paper: a short article by his friend, Padraic Colum, in The Commonweal.

So we are forced to the conclusion that either Schmitt’s Protestant and Jewish supporters are devoid of taste or that the Catholic cleric or laic knows nothing about art and that the Catholic critic or editor cares less.

Fine Family Life

But besides being a creative artist, Schmitt is first of all a man with a family. The family is the foundation of the Church: no family, no communicants, no Church. It is as simple as that. The family revolves around love: love between husband and wife, between parent and child. The love within the Schmitt family is so rarely found that it is criminal, even blasphemous not to protect it. Catholics can not very well urge the desirability of a large family and sneak out of the responsibilities which such urging implies. The large family is not getting support from the sources from which it has a right to expect support. Between building a church or providing food, shelter and clothing for a communicant, the church wins. Between building a high school or a lying-in hospital, the high school wins. But where will the church get its communicants or the high school its pupils, if its communicants lack the basic necessities of life or if child-bearing is not made physically and financially easier for the Catholic mother? One Schmitt family is worth more than all the high schools Catholics can build or ever hope to build. I repeat: the Church rests on the family, not on the school; on family love and not on education. Has the surface beauty of our buildings blinded us to the inherent beauty of the family?

Bring Him Back

Each time, Catholics have, as a group, invested money in property, it has been confiscated by the State, even the Catholic State. However, money spent for the protection of the family cannot be confiscated because it represents money invested in human beings and it is not subject to the whims of the State. It is money invested in love and not in an outward show of strength.

Because Schmitt has found it difficult either to function as a creative artist or to preserve his family in America, he is on the way to Europe, where his past experience leads him to believe that both these things are possible. He told me once that he did not mind starving, but that he did care about people not understanding him and what he was trying to do. I can understand this because the artist has always been willing to starve in order to give an indifferent world his message.

Is there a Catholic in America who will bring him back?

© Copyright 2004 Carl Schmitt Foundation