Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Root Of All Anti-Catholicism

There is a lot of debate over Pope Benedict's lamenting the loss of Christian faith in Europe and elsewhere, and its relationship to secularism and relativism. Many of these analyses have been insightful. Other less so. In the latter category comes an essay in the American Prospect by Adele Stan, arguing that:
"Europe's rejection of Catholicism has less to do with a loss of spirituality by the people of God (as the worldwide congregation of Catholics became known during Vatican II) than with a rejection of an authoritarian institution many regard as, at best, morally inept; at worst, morally bankrupt."
I think this mode of thinking can explain most brands of anti-Catholicism. It's loyalty to an institution, a sinister foreign one as many on the right used to believe, or a hypocritical authoritarian one, as many on the left believe today. This results from a profound misunderstanding of how the Church sees revelation, and how it sees itself. The Church sees its role as preserving the memory of Christ, the Word or Wisdom of Reason of God. Some of this memory is contained in scripture, but some of it is not. But there is a single deposit of faith that the Church holds. Sometimes, it takes the Church a while to figure this out, but we take comfort in the unbroken line of the apostolic succession from the original apostles to the bishops of today, and from the knowledge that our core beliefs have never changed. To be a bit more formal, the Church believes that the fullness of revelation subsists in the Catholic church. This is all that scary-sounding words like "infallible" actually mean; it has nothing to do with a subservient "pray, pay, and obey" attitude.

I think if people had a clearer understanding of these issues, there would be less misunderstanding. The pope and bishops are not "authoritarian"; they are as bound by tradition (the deposit of faith) as you or me. Claiming that we have the fullness of revelation is not saying we are better than anybody else (just look at the history of the papacy, for God's sake!) but merely that we believe that certain things are true. There are two key stumbling blocks: first, the idea that there are objective truths beyond the empirically falsifiable, and second, that we are part of a whole and not just individuals that can choose whatever path we feel like. The Enlightenment, for all its other benefits, challenged these principles, and I think society is worse off for it. Individualism, relativism, and utilitarianism have dangerous consequences. Getting modern society to face these issues is foremost on the agenda of Benedict.

Stan argues that the integrity of Catholicism is compromised by its own history. There is a kernel of truth in what she says. Surely, the Church lost much of its moral authority in the aftermath of the first world war after various churches identified too closely with the authorities of the particular state. I would go further and say that most of the mistakes of the Church over the past two millenia arise from an overly-close relationship with secular authorities. A key lesson for today is that the Church must eschew nationalism. It must strive for something larger, if not a latter-day Christendom, then at least something broader than the petty nation state. Here I think is the plain where the Church can meet European secular humanists (Americans are still too steeped in nationalism). But there is a long journey ahead...


scriblerus said...

I think it's much too simplistic to say that the Church identified itself too closely with national governments after WWI. Since at least the French Revolution, the Catholic Church had struggled to find some sort of modus vivendi with national governments.

During the French Revolution, the National Assembly confiscated the property of the Church. After the Restoration, the Churches across Europe received their land back from the State in the forms of grants. Especially after 1848, these sorts of arrangements associated the Church with the established regime and revolutionaries targeted the Church as well as the existing government.

So, the key moment was really the failure of the 3rd Estate and the 1st Estate to find some common ground in the French Revolution. If that had been done, we wouldn't have fallen into the extremes that have plagued the Church in Europe since then.

Antonio Manetti said...

I though the tone of the article was gentler to the institutional Church than is warranted by the historical record.

Saying that the 'Church identified itself too closely with national governments' glosses over the reality of its support for the most reactionary and authoritarian regimes in Europe and elsewhere, as well as its endorsement of fascism, tolerance (if not outright sympathy) for Nazism and centuries of institutional anti-semitism.

Morning's Minion said...

There is no evidence that the Church sympathized with Nazism, and I'm not about to buy into Hochhuth lies, which (we know now) were manufactured by the Stasi. Kind of like earlier scaremongeering about the Spanish Inquisition (as if the standards in Protestant Europe were any better at the time).

As for your comment about supporting reactionary regimes, there is some truth to that but only because of the vicious anti-clericalism that came in the wake of the French Revolution. And it's good to realize that not everything that came from the Enlightenment was good, especially when it led to the pseudo-religion of nationalism. So do I have a problem that Pope Benedict XV wished to save the multinational Austro-Hungarian empire? No.

Antonio Manetti said...

What does it mean to be anti-catholic?

Does the Church include the "People of God" or is it only synonymous with the magisteria? Does criticism of the pope or the hierarchy, therefore, make one anti-Catholic?

That aside, how are we to judge the papacy's relations with Nazism -- as cautions diplomacy, trying to make the best of a bad situation, as most of Pius XII's defenders say, or in accordance with the pope's role as the Vicar of Christ?

If the former, how does the institutional Church avoid the charges of consequentialism and utilitarianism that it often levels at secularists? If the latter, how do we come to terms with the Reichskonkordat, in which the perogatives of the institutional Church are preserved provided that bishops:

"...take an oath of fealty either to the Reich Representative of the State concerned, or to the President of the Reich, according to the following formula: "Before God and on the Holy Gospels I swear and promise as becomes a bishop, loyalty to the German Reich . . . I swear and promise to honor the legally constituted Government and to cause the clergy of my diocese to honor it. In the performance of my spiritual office and in my solicitude for the welfare and the interests of the German Reich, I will endeavor to avoid all detrimental acts which might endanger it."

Kurt said...

There is much truth to all of the previous comments (save the accusation of colaboration with Nazism). But great failure of the Church in Europe is not at the top, but the bottom. For much of the early industrial revolution, the pastoral care of workers was ignored. Whole manufacturing towns emerged with a parish church being built or a priest being sent.

Kolping in Germany and Cardijn in Belgium heroicly worked to change this. Had we Kolpings and Cardijns at an earlier stage, the results may have been quite different.