Wednesday, November 20, 2013

By George 2

Leo XIII, the Pope who introduced the
Catholic Church to modernity
Weigel lays the foundation for his book by claiming—and rightly—that Leo XIII breaks the continuity of what Weigel calls “Counter-Reformation Catholicism” which he characterizes as the marriage of catechetical instruction with devotional piety.  I think this is another genius insight—both Leo’s radical turn towards modernity from the defensive-mode Catholicism that preceded him and the description of pre-Leonine Catholicism as a combination of catechism and devotions.  However, what raises my suspicions of Weigel and I seeing things very differentlyis the term “Counter –Reformation.”  Historians are very divided on the precise nature of the program of Church Reform in the sixteenth-century.  There are those Catholic historians who see Ignatius and the Society of Jesus, Philip Neri and the Oratory, the Theatines, Mary Ward, Charles Borromeo and the Council of Trent all as a reaction to Luther and Calvin—thus “Counter-Reformation.”  I belong to the other school of thought that looks through a wider lens and sees the above in the context of Ferdinand and Isabella’s Spanish Reformation, the Fifth Lateran Council, Desiderius Erasmus, Dean Colet, Teresa of Avila, the Capuchins, the Ursulines, and call it “The Catholic Reformation.”  The issue is whether sixteenth-century Reform of the Church came about only because of Luther and the Protestant Reformers or was there a genuine movement towards Reform in the Church that happened independently of—and had even begun previously to—Luther and his contemporaries?  Indeed, there is even the question whether Luther and others were even part of that same impetus for Reform and their break with the Catholic Church due to the Catholic Reform proceeding too slowly for their little patience?  This question of “Catholic Reformation” or “Counter-Reformation” has serious implications for ecclesiology and for ecumenism and while it can never be resolved one way or the other, it needs to be discussed, argued, and understood.  Weigel and I obviously see the issue of Catholic Reformation/Counter Reformation from very different perspectives and that will undoubtedly play itself out as I delve further into his book. 
That being said—and remember I think his identification of Leo XIII as the Pope who breaks the train of this Counter Reformation (or Catholic Reformation) Catholicism with its emphasis on catechism and piety, is sheer genius—I also think he is right on with the unsuitability of this catechism and rosary Catholicism for the modern age.  (Which is not to say that the catechism, much less the rosary, doesn’t have a place in contemporary Catholicism—only that we have to have a much more deeply rooted and more intellectually sophisticated faith if we are to be anything more than religious idiosyncratists.) 
Weigel makes the argument that both the “traditional Catholics” (whom I usually refer to as “neo-trads” because the traditions by which they identify themselves are not part of the Tradition/Deposit of Faith but later customs and pieties) and the “progressives” by which term he means the Catholic-Lite variety we so often find today reading the NCR or going to dour Voice of the Faithful covens held in the borrowed Presbyterian basements, cannot move beyond the “rule-based catechetical devotional Catholicism.”  Weigel claims that the one group wants to “tighten up and ratchet down the rules;” the other wants to “loosen the bolts in the name of openness or compassion.” For Weigel—and I agree—both groups are wrong because the rules-catechism-piety type religion is waiting to catch a train that left the station more than a century ago when Leo began serious engagement with the social complexities of the modern world. For the neo-trads: you can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube.  And for the happy-clappies—why remodel a house that no one is interested in living in any more?  Whichever end of the spectrum from which you are coming: we need something new.  That something new Weigel calls “Evangelical Catholicism”—a faith rooted in taking the Word of God to heart in our daily lives and nourishing ourselves with a full sacramental life in the Church.  So far I am with him.  However—as I look ahead, I see some stormy seas and realize that we have some very different ideas of how the barque of Peter should set these sails of Word and Sacrament. I also can’t help but wonder if George is doing a bait and switch—talking the new game but offering his reader the same old same old.  I am seeing hints that beneath the “Evangelical”
 language there is little more than catechism and rosary beads. 

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