Every so often it is good to stand back and reflect on why I am writing this blog. I am amazed how many regular viewers we have and which sites are so popular—everyone seems interested in that site on Catholics and the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln; in fact Civil War entries seem to be particularly popular while the European entries seem less so. Be patient, however, I am going to have to go back to some of those European topics as we have left a number of strands unfinished. If you have subjects you would like addressed just make a comment on a blog suggesting a topic and I will add it to my list. I am going to finish up this series on “origins of radical Catholicism” and I think we will need about ten more entries to examine the situation at the end of the nineteenth century that is responsible for the formation of what one might call a “liberal” and a “conservative” camp in the American Church. Actually the roots go much further back into colonial Catholicism where the American tradition first began and maybe in a month or two we will look at Catholicism in colonial America and see just how different it was from the Catholicism that the immigrants of the nineteenth century brought over.
All this is why I do this blog—not to supply readers with tons of useless information but to illustrate that our Catholic Church today is affected by its history and when we know its history we can understand better who we are and why we do the things we do. History is not about the past. In history we talk about the past as a means of understanding better the present and our options for the future. When we know the history of the Catholic Church in the United States you can see that we were always different than the Church in Europe and that there have been episodes before as there are now when some in the Church are trying to make us follow a very foreign brand of Catholicism. That is only one example. We can see that the popes did not always have the power they have now. At one times bishops were elected, not appointed by the Papal Curia. We can see that some religious orders of sisters originally wore ordinary clothes and lived in rented apartments not convents. We can see that there have been times when bishops and popes abused the authority of their office. We can see that people who spoke up and against popes sometimes became saints and even doctors of the Church. We can see when some of the heroes of the conservatives—like Cardinal Newman—were actually quite liberal and some of the heroes of the liberals—like Archbishop Ireland—were quite rigid and authoritarian. We will see that there were saints who rejected the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception or purgatory. We will be able to see ideas that once were considered heretical are now part of the teaching of the Church. History is fascinating because it busts open many of the myths that we never question and it shows that beneath all the changes in the Church throughout its history are the real life needs, situations, ideas, prejudices, designs, hopes, fears and who knows what else of real people. This is not to say that God isn’t involved only that he acts not by epiphany or direct revelation but through real people and in historical situations. Well, next blog will bring us back to the liberal-conservative struggles in the American Church at the end of the nineteenth century. you may want to check out the blog-entry by the same title on February 6 2011 The image today is the reconstructed seventeenth century Catholic Church i Saint Mary's City, Maryland.