James Cardinal Gibbons (1834-1921) was twenty one when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, and died not long after World War I. He attended the first Vatican Council (1869-70) and supported the decision of Pope Pius IX to declare the doctrine of papal infallibility. His final elevation was to Archbishop of Baltimore. Among his several publications the most popular and enduring is Faith of Our Fathers, an exhaustive account of what Catholics believe and why they believe it. Another of his books, Curing Atheism, was published about the same time that Orestes Brownson, an American Catholic convert, was writing essays against atheism. Doubtless both savvy thinkers had a sense that atheism might well be the wave of the future. While Brownson analyzed the irrational aspects of atheism, Gibbons explained and treated its pathology. Gibbons divides his book into two parts: the first dealing with the historical origins of modern atheism since the Reformation; the second treating how the rise of modern atheism may be confronted and overcome. This article deals mainly with the latter theme.
In the Foreword to his book, Gibbons stresses the origin of all sin, the moment that our first parents defied the authority of God, which opened the door to all other sinning as a revolt against God’s authority to command and to be obeyed. Since that original sin, the natural tendency of humans toward sin (concupiscence) has prevailed. All God’s commands, whether against adultery or theft or homicide, etc. will now be opposed with prideful impunity. But there is one sin in particular that makes all the other sins more agreeable: atheism. For by not acknowledging the natural light of conscience that is God given, one is actually free to make up morality as one goes along. Gibbons cites the Gospel of John 3:19: “Men loved darkness rather than the light, for their works were evil. For every one that does evil hates the light, and comes not to the light, that his work may not be exposed.” Atheism is that flight from the light of which John spoke. Sin loves darkness, and there can be no darker place than wherever one finds the rejection of God’s light.
Faith and Unbelief