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Response to Reviewers

From: U.S. Catholic Historian
Volume 31, Number 4, Fall 2013
pp. 118-121 | 10.1353/cht.2013.0019

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

First, let me thank C.J.T. Talar, Harvey Hill, and Kevin Schmiesing for careful, appreciative, and critical readings of Divided Friends. Talar opens the symposium by identifying the book’s key concerns. I appreciate his recognition that the real theological issues at stake in the modernist crisis are sufficiently complex to justify their dramatization in the book’s two sets of intertwined biographies. He draws attention to spirituality, Joseph McSorley’s preoccupation with the interior life, and his continued commitment to the Church despite the turmoil of the modernist years.

Harvey Hill asks how it is possible to advance theological inquiry by doing critical history. He points to my own participation in the story and my identification with McSorley. Happily, he does not call these “methodological” issues. I shall reflect on them in the last part of this response and turn now to Kevin Schmiesing’s critical questions.

From reading Schmiesing’s American Catholic Intellectuals and the Dilemma of Dual Identities, 1895–1955 (2002), I know we agree that, rather than a pre-conciliar intellectual wasteland devastated by the twin condemnations of Americanism and Modernism, Catholics in the United States between the 1890s and Vatican II, inhabited a vibrant intellectual landscape that deserves more attention than scholars usually give. Nevertheless, we come down in different places on what Schmiesing calls “the theology or the prudence of the antimodernist crusade.” He asks if I have done “justice to the antimodernist side of the central controversy,” and suggests that my treatment of Catholic intellectual culture after the Great War exhibits a “not entirely fair bias against neo-Scholasticism.”

These serious questions highlight the inevitable connection between Modernism and neo-Scholasticism in Catholic thought over the last century. To begin, my treatment of post-World War I Catholic intellectual life serves primarily as context for McSorley’s path after the modernist crisis. It pushes against the pre-conciliar wasteland approach. With Jackson Lears and others, I point to strong antimodernist currents in 1920s American culture. Parallel Protestant examples of fundamentalism and the beginnings of neo-orthodoxy suggest that, even without Pascendi, Catholics could easily have gone in the intellectual directions they in fact took. No doubt Pascendi contributed. It also had tremendous effects on Catholic theology and scripture studies, but in areas where church authority had limited influence, its impact tended to be restricted.

Did the warnings of Leo XIII and Pius IX, then, serve no salutary purpose? Testem Benevolentiae and Pascendi differ strikingly. At seven strategic points in Testem, Pope Leo addresses Cardinal James Gibbons as “beloved son.” The diplomatic letter rehearses French critique of the French edition of Isaac Hecker’s biography, even as its distinction between political and religious Americanism allows Gibbons and others face-saving deniability. Testem’s shutting down jingoistic efforts to export Americanist ideas to Europe appears as a providential stay against base culture capitulation. In any case, it did not inhibit the intellectual ferment of the years between 1899 and 1907.

Pascendi is another matter. I emphasize the legitimacy and poignancy of Pascendi’s concern “for the man who wants to know above all things whether outside himself there is a God into whose hands he is one day to fall” (no. 39). I identify myself as one of those men and acknowledge that twentieth-century neo-Scholasticism can be read sympathetically (xix). I recognize Pascendi’s rightful concern “with the objective reality of God’s revelation and especially with the person of Christ as divine” (17).

Many at the time recognized a crisis and the need for the Church’s chief pastors to respond (41). Despite the encyclical’s legitimate concern to secure philosophically our ability to know God, factors such as the Roman question and the situation of the Church in France intervened. Pascendi’s shrillness and its repressive aftermath strike me as an overreaction, a tragic mistake in judgment that postponed indefinitely necessary discussions in scripture and other areas. And yet Pascendi’s neo-Scholasticism gave American Catholics during the twentieth century’s first half a working intellectual structure. Indeed, the Catholic University of America’s social scientists of this period are distinctive and interesting precisely because their approaches to social questions...

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