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26Historically Speaking September/October 2004 Lonergan from Canada, Gustavo Gutiérrez from Peru, and Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) from Poland—did not always (or ever) write in English or workin the United States. At the same time, historians ofthe United States seem to have agreed with an 1861 New York Times editorial announcing that "intelligent minds in every country" thought Catholic beliefa "fast-vanishing quality."5 In contrast to colleagues studying Europe and Latin America, historians ofthe United States have evinced little interest in the ideas sustaining Catholic institutions (thousands of churches, the world's largest private school system, the nation's largest social welfare agencies, the world's largest chain ofprivate hospitals) and communicants. Mosthistorians of the United States know less about American Catholic intellectual life, even less about important figures such as Orestes Brownson and John Courtney Murray, than a "republican " tradition already in decline by the late 18th century, or a socialism distinguished in the United States byits brevity. Measuring the Catholic contribution to American intellectual life also entails assessing the role played byCatholicism (and antiCatholicism ) in the American intellectual imagination. The topic is not sufficiently studied, in part because anti-Catholicism directed against Catholic individuals declined sharply after the 1920s, even as more subtle prejudices against hierarchy and authority continued to shape American intellectual life. My hope is to capture two traditions in motion, not one: to explore American ideas about Catholicism along with the predispositions (at times blinders) framing the mental landscape ofAmerican Catholics. John T. McGreevy isprofessorofhistory and department chairat the University ofNotre Dame. In addition to Catholicism and American Freedom (Norton, 2003), he wrote Parish Boundaries: The Catholic Encounter with Race in the 20th-century Urban North (University ofChicago Press, 1996). 1 Raymond Grew terms the conflict between Catholicism and liberalism a "central theme" of 19th-century European history. See Grew, "Liberty and the Catholic Church in 19th-century Europe," in Richard Helmstadter, ed., Freedom and Religion in the 19th Century, (Stanford University Press, 1997), 197; Margaret Lavinia Anderson , "The Limits ofSecularization: On the Problem of the Catholic Revival in 19th-century Germany," HistoricalJournal 38 (1995) 647-670; and Austin Iverveigh, ed., The Politics ofReligion in anAge ofRevival: Studiesin 19th-centuryEurope and Latin America (Institute of Latin American Studies, 2000). 2 JosephA. Komonchak, "Modernityand the Construction of Roman Catholicism," Cristianesimo nellastoria 18 (1997): 353-385. 3 "The French Press and the Roman Church," New York Times (February 2, 1861), 4. The American Catholic Church and Ordered Liberty Leo P. Ribuffo For more than two centuries, harsh nativists, relatively benign critics, and reflexive Protestant celebrationists have called the Roman Catholic Church an unAmerican institution. While dispensing with the loaded term "un-American," we need to take the issue seriously. In several respects, some obvious and some harder to discern, the Catholic Church as an institution has stood apart from prevailing American attitudes. First, and most obviously, as George Marsden has observed in The Soul of the American University (1994), the United States is the "only modern nation" whose "dominant culture was substantially shaped by low-church Protestantism." Some Scots, Swiss, and Canadians might dispute the "only," but Marsden's general point is sound. Second, and less obviously at a time when scholars exaggerate American diversity past and present, the United States was conceived by leaders with an extraordinary sense of national mission. This sense of mission, which derived both from Reformation Protestantism and from Enlightenment republicanism, sometimes involved changing the rest of the world by example and sometimes involved changing the rest of the world by force of arms. Indeed, despite notable internal divisions, this sense of mission energized Americans to conquer a continent within a half century ofindependence, a conquest that in turn further energized nationalist sentiment. In this patriotic, even chauvinist climate, the Catholic Church was—and still is—an miernational organization headed by a foreigner . Not surprisingly, the Vatican classified the United States as a mission field until 1908, well after it had become the foremost economy on earth. Third, since roughly the 1840s, the United States has been a democracy. Political democracy, though limited almost entirely to white men at the outset, nonetheless went far beyond what was available...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 26-28
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
N
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