Sunday, June 3, 2012

Weigel on "Americanism" in the Catholic Church

George Weigel has a great essay on Catholic "Americanism" and the century-long tension between the Vatican and some of the more... er.. free-spirited elements in American Catholic life.


Maureen Dowd’s anti-Church rants on the New York Times op-ed page would have brought an embarrassed blush to the face of a great man (and a devoted churchman) like Isaac Hecker. But in this instance, Dowd’s invitation gave [Mario] Cuomo the opportunity to articulate with precision one facet of the down-market theology that shapes the new Americanism: the theology that sets Jesus (heavily edited down to a few verses from the Sermon on the Mount) against the Church. And when Jesus is juxtaposed to the Church rather them embraced as the Lord of the Church that is His Body in the world, the rest readily follows: Private judgment trumps authoritative Catholic teaching; the Church of social service is severed from, and then trumps, the Church of the sacraments; freedom is purely a matter of following conscience (no matter how ill-formed or erroneous that conscience may be); doctrine is an obstacle to witness; and Kathleen Sebelius, a Catholic cabinet officer who has declared her administration at “war” with the Catholic Church, addresses a commencement ceremony at Georgetown University, a hub of the new Americanism and its distortion of Catholic identity and Catholic social doctrine.
This new form of Catholicism Lite, a not-so-phantom hash of ideas that poses real problems for the integrity of the Church and its evangelical mission, breathes deeply of two winds that have long blown through American Christianity: the ancient Pelagian wind, with its emphasis on the righteousness of our works and how they will win our salvation; and the Congregationalist wind, with its deep suspicion that Catholic authority is incompatible with American democracy. As for the older Americanist controversy, I think the classic historiographers of U.S. Catholicism were largely right: The “Americanism” of which Leo XIII warned in Testem Benevolentiae was far more a phantom concocted by fevered, ancien-rĂ©gime European minds than a heresy that threatened Catholic faith in the United States. But the problems that Leo flagged are very much with us over a century later. They are at the root of the internal Catholic culture war that has intensified as religious freedom has come under concerted assault, and as the new Americanists, who form a coherent party in a way that Isaac Hecker and his friends never did, have either denied that assault — or abetted it.

The Obama administration's assault on the Church has redefined this long struggle within American Catholicism, much to the detriment of the Catholic-lite wing. The dangers of accomodation with secular liberalism and statism have been displayed for all to see.

There will be an adjustment in the American Catholic Church, with a turn toward sacramental life and genuine Catholic teaching. Defense of life, avoidance of material cooperation with evil, and respect for subsidiarity in public policy will become much more prominent in Catholic teaching.

The sorting out in American Catholicism will bring us back to the Church of the sacraments, which is the real Church.


  1. There’s no doubt that your “improved” Catholic Church will be smaller and more on the fringe that ever before.


    1. Catholic Church was small and fringe in the USA when opposed eugenics, anti-miscegenation and sterilization laws at the beginning of the 20th century.
      This is not a problem.

  2. Have you seen "For Greater Glory" yet? It's a little ragged at times, but it packs a real emotional punch.

    1. Not yet here, KT. But I will see it as soon as I get the chance. It is a story that deserves a LOT of attention in today's climate of anti-religious fanaticism.

  3. "the ancient Pelagian wind, with its emphasis on the righteousness of our works and how they will win our salvation"

    Pelagianism is the only version of Christianity that has any moral force or moral content. The rest is just passive Adam sinned and damned me, Jesus died and saved, woohoo I'm not involved at all, the whole of damnation and salvation is a drama being played AROUND me by Adam and Christ and I need not be concerned with it. Augustinianism is vapid.

    Furthermore, Augustinianism is incompatible with theistic evolution, and as society embraces evolution more and more, and Christian embrace theistic evolution more and more, Augustianism will go more and more the way of the dinosaur. Pelagianism is the salvation of Christianity. Embrace it, or have a hollow meaningless religion about two mythical being fighting over you and you doing nothing.

  4. Anon,
    Just exactly how did the dinosaur go?
    By that I mean what caused their extinction?
    What colour(s) where they? Did they have feathers?
    How did they mate? How long did they live (healthy ones, not the accidental fossils we find)? Why were they, and the later 'mega fauna' so damn big? Are there any we have no found yet that may not meet the criteria and could rewrite our understanding of this ancient form of life? WHEN did they go extinct - when was the last dinosaur born?
    You see where I am going with this?
    Probably not.
    Let me spell it out for you: You do not have anything but educated guesses (and some very creative mythology) at these questions and yet you pin a classic philosopher's work (not yet 2000 years old) to the extinction of mysterious beasts that lived millions of years ago.
    Will Augustine's works be wiped out by a meteor or subsequent (or unrelated) ice age? If so, don't you think you will be too?
    We could take your analogy further too, right?
    We could suggest you understand what the Saint is saying in his work about as much as you understand the answers to th questions above.
    The silly thing is that Augustine is FAR more accessible and practical than your fossils, even in the complex language it is written.... but people like yourself have an aversion to the past, history, tradition and anything that does not fit your transhumanist utopian agendas.
    Your 'dinosaurs' are symbols for what you WANT our way of life (or ANY way of life you do not deem to worthy) to be - relegated to fanciful (and no doubt political) museum displays for lazy minds to file safely away as 'the past' while directing them to an 'approved' future.

  5. Looks like lil' cwusader knows as much about paleontology as he does about anything else - which is nothing.

    Stick to killing people, lil' cwusader. It doesn't require much brain power.

  6. Anon (Atheist)?

    Is that the best you can do?

  7. Hey, if you want to defend moronic questions like "Did they have feathers?" -- the answer to which can be found in any number of books about the dinosaurs, as well as web pages -- feel free! The more morons, the better!

  8. Well, Anon...
    Can you answer any of those questions?
    Of course you cannot. That is why your analogy is so weak.
    Your mythology, when exposed as such, seems pretty colourful and imaginative too, eh?
    No worries. That is the way the human mind works. Science, like all manners of inquiry, is coloured by that humanity. Perhaps that is why it is both so successful and so flawed?

    "Stick to killing people, lil' cwusader. It doesn't require much brain power."
    What a bird brained response. Even for you that is real 'I am Sam' style stuff.
    Only an insulated civilian who has never seen combat service (or perhaps any sort of 2-way physical conflict), never known a veteran, never studied history, and with a very limited capacity to understand the mental processes of other humans (autism of some sort?) would make such a statement. All of the above, Anon?

    "Hey, if you want to defend moronic questions like "Did they have feathers?" -- the answer to which can be found in any number of books about the dinosaurs, as well as web pages -- feel free! The more morons, the better!"
    Is that where the science is done these days? In text-books and on the internet? WOW! I remember when palaeontologists used to work on digs and museums, and publish papers in journals! These papers were constantly challenging the understood aspects of the biology of ancient organisms. I can remember when all dinosaurs where thought to be cold blooded, then proto-birds, then contemporary with proto-birds, then AFTER the proto-birds.
    I can remember when they were slow, so slow you could kick them in the tail and walk away before they would notice (famous example) - now they are famously fast (according to Mr Spielberg's advisers). They must have found all that out in a book, or online.
    Anyway... glas it's all settled then. Glad you found the answers on the internet.
    Maybe you should email the local universities and museums - they could save a lot of $$$ on digs, field study, travel etc.

    NOTE TO ALL: Check out the reaction even mentioning the obvious questions concerning dinosaurs - even in the context of ANALOGY -draws from a die hard 'believer'.
    It is as if I had mentioned a prophet's name without blessing in a Mosque!
    Triceratops Akbar!

  9. One of the interesting things is that Weigel is himself an Americanist who submits fidelity to Church teachings (on Just War for example) to American nationalism.