Monday, January 30, 2012

19th-century forerunners of V-II neo-Cath polity

There's something humbling about carrying on one's education in public, as Hegel said of Schelling. But there it is. I'm a slow learner.

I've been reading a bit about some of the 19th-century Catholic figures who anticipate the kinds of thinking on Church-state relations here in America found in the likes of Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J., Jacques Maritain and contemporary post-Vatican II Catholics like Michael Novak, Kenneth Whitehead, George Weigel, Joseph Bottum and the late Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus on Church-state relations here in America.

This includes Irish champions of American assimilationism in the 19th-century like Archbishop Ireland of St. Paul, MN (pictured left), and the prophet of Americanism, Fr. Isaac Hecker (pictured below, right), a Catholic convert from Protestantism and one-time Transcendentalist and ex-Redemptorist who founded the Paulists, a congregation of priests without vows dedicated to working among Protestants. Henri Daniel-Rops (quoted by Geoffrey Hull in The Banished Heart) describes Hecker thus:
A strong personality, whom some regarded as a superman and a saint even during his lifetime, Father Hecker was hostile to book learning, almost impervious to logical argument, but of uncommon energy and generosity. He was, moreover, a mystic, believed himself to be guided directly by the Holy Ghost, and was therefore little inclined to attach much importance to tradition and hierarchical institutions.
Hecker was an indefatigable promoter of Americanism and the reconciliation of Catholicism with American democracy and the separation of Church and state. The American Catholic hierarchy was suspected by Rome of harboring many bishops sympathetic to these ideas, which were termed "Americanism" and condemned by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Longinqua Oceani (1895). Leo's efforts, however, were undercut by the likes of Cardinal Gibbons, who simply denied that anyone in the American Church held the condemned views.

It's instructive to see how strategies were then employed by opponents of the Vatican , which we find in abundant use today; as well as to examine the sorts of things that were being asserted by Rome. Leo XIII described both the positive (seductive) aspects of the American experiment, as well as the negative, corrosive aspects. In Longinqua Oceani, he writes:
For the Church amongst you, unopposed by the Constitution and government of your nation, fettered by no hostile legislation, protected against violence by the common laws and the impartiality of the tribunals, is free to live and act without hindrance. Yet, though all this is true, it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced.
In an Apostolic Letter to Cardinal Gibbons (January 22, 1899), Leo XIII rejected the Americanist view that
[t]hat in order the more easily to bring over to Catholic doctrine those who dissent from it, the church ought to adapt herself somewhat to our advanced [American] civilization, and, relaxing her ancient rigour, show some indulgence to modern popular theories and methods.
In the intervening years between the uncooperative clerical Irish Mafia and promoters of Americanism in the Vatican II era, however, there were decades dominated by staunchly orthodox prelates such as Archbishops Hayes and Spellman of New York, and McIntyre of Los Angeles. As Hull comments in the aforementioned work: "But like its more lethal contemporary, Modernism, Americanism hibernated for some sixty years until the American political and economic domination of Western Europe afforded it an opportunity to reassert itself with a vengeance during the Second Vatican Council."



Mercury said...

Dr. Blosser - I find the topic very interesting, but I don't understand how we, as American Catholics are supposed to understand our task at this time. Are we, like some of the more vocal online crypto-sedevacantists, supposed to have contempt for our country, for our governmental system, for our Constitution, for our founding fathers (an believe me, I know they were no saints and that some were actually quite anti-Catholic)? Are we supposed to hold out and try to set up a Catholic monarchy here, a country that has no native nobility (except for celebrity worship), or at least some sort of Francoist junta?

Or do we need to work within the framework of the system we have been given in order to reshape the nation using our constitutional system (for instance, trying to abjure constitutional protection for the unborn)? Do we have to pray for the dg when we jar an overthrow of the constitution?

I rather like our federal system, which though imperfect has so far (perhaps not much longer) has proven to be a tougher nut to crack than any European state in terms of the imposition of virulent secularism from the top down, including Catholic countries. I like the idea of limited government and local controls, of economic freedom, etc.

And while monarchy is often needlessly villified, I also have no illusions that the days of "throne and altar" were ideal either - in reality many such nations were incredibly unjust (although late Bourbon France was a sight better than early Republican France, I still wouldn't want to live there). Even modern Catholic monarchies, the one or two that still exist, have done little to check the tide of secularism (e.g. Spain). And it's also good to remember that in such systems the Church got fat and happy living from the patronage of the state.

Any thoughts?

Should I not vote in November? :)

Nick said...

Dr Blosser,

That other document you cite is available online: Testem Benevolentiae.


If I may add some thoughts. The Encyclicals Longinqua and Testem were actually not very harsh on America's founding fathers or documents. In fact, George Washington was respected by Leo (as Longinqua notes), even though they disagreed on key points.
The Church at that time never said anything about hating this nation nor that we should. Any sedition is forbidden and sinful. The Church even said democracy is a legitimate form of government.

All that said, the Church was very wise (and led by the Holy Spirit) in pointing out problematic philosophical ideas that even if kept under control now would eventually unravel into degeneracy, especially if religion was lost from the public square. For example, in regards to pornography, this was unthinkable in past generations, yet philosophically speaking, "freedom of the press" allows it to be published today and "conservatives" are powerless to stop it (for their own philosophical scheme forces them to consider it a legitimate "freedom"). As morals began to sink and religious error began to grow, more and more filth and such became more mainstream to the point there was no stopping it, and all the while it had the real protection of Constitutional law. Those Encylicals even point out that the found fathers saw religion and good morals as the only true glue of society. Thus, even back then in those Encyclicals the Church was sounding the warning alarm about certain tendencies sure to cause society to go downhill.

But as I pointed out, the issue was not just public morality, but also a problem that was rooted in philosophy, particularly incorrect understandings of "freedom" and "rights". Note the sobering words of Pope Leo to Catholics in the US:

"These dangers [of Americanism], viz.,
(1) the confounding of license with liberty,
(2) the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject,
(3) the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world,
have so wrapped minds in darkness that there is now a greater need of the Church's teaching office than ever before, lest people become unmindful both of conscience and of duty.

These "rights" are not "rights" in way most people think. They are rather limited freedoms guided by Natural Law, but not "rights". For example, you are generally free to write about any subject, but certain subjects are taboo (e.g. sex ed, porn, bad theology) and we as God's creatures have no "right" to talk about them or publish them. Yet under the banner of Constitutional law, these are technically allowed.

Our duty as Catholics is to not embrace bad philosophies but still love our country. We are to remain close to the Church and sacraments and pray and try to convince hearts to embrace Catholicism and make this a Catholic society. Goals as simple as outlawing abortion, legally banning porn, curbing divorce, and closing shop on Sunday are fantastic and can be at least promoted on the grass roots level. No nation is perfect and the Church knows that. What is more sad is nations who should have less excuse like France and Italy are in some ways more degenerate and apostate. But Providence is at work, and I believe God is fixing things.

Some of the more traddy folks would say Catholics from South of the Border are Providentially operating on the principle of Deuteronomy 9:4.

Pertinacious Papist said...


More of the American founding fathers were Christians than were deists, and one signer of the Declaration of Independence was a Catholic. Besides some of the basic questionable Enlightenment assumptions, I find many of the founding principles of the American republic admirable.

There are two caveats to that, however. (1) There is the unquestioned denominational understanding of the Christian religion; (2) the assumption that one's commitment to a specific religion is a private affair; (3) and the watered-down civil religion that occupied the public square in the past has given way to a polity increasingly hostile to any hint of residual Christianity in the public square. That is the reality with which we are unavoidably faced.

A problem with mainstream Catholic thinking about these matters in the American context is that is was shaped by seminal minds in the halcyon days of Catholic accommodation (first half of the 20th century) to the denominational model when Catholics seemed to garnering respectability by treating their religion as a private affair, which culminated in Presidential candidate Jack Kennedy's promise that his private religion would have no impact on his public policy. The mentality influential at Vatican II was that of Jacques Maritain (Man and the State) and John Courtney Murray, S.J. (We Hold These Truths), who embraced the American experiment a bit precipitously, accepting the privatization of Catholic Faith and a public "secular faith" (as Maritain called it) for the public square.

It all looked quite good back in the day when things were comparatively rosy, and it still looks good on paper, as long as we ignore what Eric Voeglin calls the dark, "gnostic" currents in our Western political thought.

I've dealt with these issues previously in "Who's Betraying Tradition: The Grand Dispute" (Musings, June 2, 2011); "George Weigel vs. pre-V2 teaching on Social Kingship of Christ" (Musings, June 16, 2011); and "Dr. Thomas Pink responds to Fr. Rhonheimer."

Pertinacious Papist said...

Sorry, that should have been "three caveats"; and the last link to Pink's response to Rhonheimer should have carried the signature: "(Musings, August 5, 2011)."

Mercury said...

Oh, and I forgot to ask, do you know if the recent book by Archbishop Chaput addressing these issues is any good?

Mercury said...

Thanks. I read some of it. A lot of it is waaay over my head philosophically.

The question is, though, how do you find a medium between "religion is a private affair and the state sees all religions as equal" to "Protestants and other religions will suffer certain social consequences, will not be allowed to prostheletyze or to build houses of worship"?

The former is about what most people in the post-Christian West believe, or at least assume, though it's obvious that the Founding Fathers and most leaders until about the 1960s, though firmly believing in a sort of denominationalism, would at least have though it absurd to consider Hinduism or Islam as on equal footing with Christianity in public life.

But the latter option does not seem to be all that different from Islam, with only the religions switched. I know some people believe this is the path to take, but how then do you cry foul when religious liberty is trampled (as HHS is doing now), yet plan to stamp out religious liberty when you take control (and yes, I know it's because our religion happens to be true, but you know what I mean)?

Btw, I have read people claiming that if the Church had full power, all books written by Protestants etc (C.S. Lewis was mentioned specifically, he seems to attract a certain level of hatred from some quarters) would have to be censored or barred from publication. Obviously you do not agree - but how would something like that even be addressed?

Mercury said...

Nick - great points. I have long believed that the freedoms we are guaranteed in the Constitution are only good insofar as the character of the nation is good.

Every one of the founding fathers would have been appalled at the obscenity that passes as "art" nowadays, or the proliferation of pornography, or publications which have no other purpose but to encourage vice. And that's not even mentioning anything like the religious belief in the goodness of sodomy and contraception espoused by our establishment.

Of course, it gets iffy when you speak of publishing "bad theology" - where would a state operating on Catholic principles draw the line? Even C.S. Lewis was Protestant, and said things that were at times at odds with the Church (though he seems more Catholic in retrospect than like any Protestant denomination - to be expected of a traditional Anglican).

But I do think the key is the fact that the country has in general become post-Christian. In that environment, the freedoms we ere guaranteed in the past serve as vehicles for evil for lots of people.

Btw, in Germany shops still close on Sundays, and I know they do in some other European countries. And even though abortion is legal, you need to get counselling and psychological evaluation before going through with it - the actively aim to reduce the numbers, which though not perfect is still a lot better than what we have here.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Americanism has always been a scandalous issue among American Catholic leaders. In the past it has been understandable (though no less scandalous), in that Roman Catholics across the fruited plain of this wondrously free country were once as likely to be mistrusted, abhorred as traitors, beaten, and lynched as blacks and Jews. The situation is far different now.

Now Catholics have become part of the establishment. They are our senators and congressmen. The Supreme Court is top heavy with them. But many of these Catholics are a lot less "Catholic" than they used to be. That is the price of their success.

So in a way, American prelates of the previous two centuries have gotten what they wanted. Be careful what you pray for.

And be careful what politicians you support. On the one hand, democrats have long been known as the party of the poor, laughable as that may sound to many of us. If we reduce things to the level of caricature, their politics have always been more supportive of the downtrodden than the capitalism "red in tooth and claw" offered by Republicans. But on the other hand, Republicans have forged an alliance with Catholics on the basis of "social values."

Personally, I have always felt that that alliance has been a mile wide and an inch deep. My feelings have been reinforced by recent statements by "conservative" commentators like Ann Coulter, who has been peddling her wares on behalf of Mitt Romney (must all these rich boys have silly preppy nicknames?). Her problem with Santorum? Too Catholic. Too nice to the poor. This is the hairline crack in the alliance Reagan forged with Catholics. Grinding one's heel in the face of the poor is fine with the Pat Robertsons of the world. But Catholics used to be another breed.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

From Ann Coulter, "Iowa Shows Republicans Determined to Beat Obama," January 4, 2012:

"Santorum is not as conservative as his social-issues credentials suggest. He is more of a Catholic than a conservative, which means he's good on 60 percent of the issues, but bad on others, such as big government social programs. He'd be Ted Kennedy if he didn't believe in God.”

Pertinacious Papist said...

Ralph, I guess that would make Ann Coulter a partisan of Trotskyite Republicanism.

Ralph Roister-Doister said...

Coulter's quote reveals a little more than she meant it to. For her, Catholics are 60 percenters. There is considerable cleavage between Catholicism and her brand of "conservatism."

Surely, the 60% agreement consists in opposition to such social innovations as gay marriage, legalized abortion, stem cell harvesting, etc. BUT – none of these positions were ever bedrock republican establishment issues. Rather, they were Catholic / Evangelical etc issues coopted by the Republican establishment to bring in votes that were not necessarily republican to begin with.

If anything, Wall Street loves abortion because it gives the drug companies and health providers new products and service lines. It prizes stem cells, harvested from the bodies of aborted children, for these could become huge moneymakers once the moral qualms are swept aside. And gay boys and girls are piggish consumers of fashion, toiletries and other flags of self-indulgence. Disrespect for life and respect for sexual perversion is good business.

Clearly then, Wall Street, and its political arm, the Republican Party, have no abiding interest in the moral values of Catholics or any other religious group. There's no money in them. The alliance between Catholics and Wall Street republicans can be regarded, within the inner sanctum, as temporary exploitation, valid only until a better deal comes along.

And that is exactly what Coulter, a journalistic strumpet of the republican establishment, reveals in her sarcastic flip-off of Santorum.

It would be nice if the democrat party had something to offer besides socialism and secularism, but it doesn't. Catholics do not have a home in either party. They should understand that, to the extent that they persist in their faith and the traditional teachings of their Church, they are pariahs in The Land of the Free.