- The Catholic Revolution. New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council
Intending to reprise much of his work on the development of Catholicism in the United States since the Second Vatican Council, the author succinctly charts the "demolition of the structure that said that the Catholic Church would not, could not ever change"(p. 70). Following an introduction which attempts to justify the use of "revolution,"chapter two outlines features of the law-dominated Church of the 1950's, later described as "sin-oriented and focused on a blind obedience relationship between the lay Catholic and the Church leadership"(p. 192). This neatly sets up the argument for "revolution" in chapter three, a summary of Greeley's own research into the standard sociological markers indicating the "drastic change in Catholic attitude and behavior"(p. 38) between 1963 and 1974. Chapters four and five, the most creative of the book, make good use of William Sewell, Jr.'s theory of structural change and Melissa Jo Wilde's use of Durkheim's notion of "collective effervescence"to describe the collapse of inherited structures, the "event"of the Council, and the spread of euphoric change among the laity. The argument is a helpful move beyond Greeley's standard focus on the impact of Humanae Vitae (see [End Page 363] page 43). Chapter six easily joins with nine to reiterate Greeley's insights into the Catholic "religious sensibility,"its sacramentalism and communalism. This approach is set over against the description in chapter seven of the elite managerial cadre of liturgists, ecumenists, catechists, and feminists who "take control of the direction of change in their own areas of concern and impose their views on many parishes, usually without consulting the membership"(p. 83). Next, the author includes a very helpful review of data related to international Catholicism (chapter 8). As Greeley has argued before, the creators of "beige Catholicism" joined with the failure of episcopal leaders at almost every level to cause the current malaise in the Church. His research on the priests, delineated in outline form in chapter ten, describes their behavior as a key indicator in the development of all three dimensions of the revolution:structural collapse and the spread of conciliar effervescence among the laity, the emergence of a Catholicism without metaphor or story, and, in response to change, the development of the "new authoritarian pragmatism."Greeley returns to his commitment to the recovery of the aesthetic sensibility as the central key to the reconstruction of contemporary Catholicism in the final four essays in the book on cultural heritage, the role of beauty in religious education, the importance of "charm"in the exercise of authority, and the need for professional liturgists to listen to the laity. The book concludes with a helpful summary, ten pages of notes, bibliography, and index.
An overview of Greeley's provocative insights, The Catholic Revolution is a good book and most helpful in pushing historians to develop a theory of change. Generally uncomfortable with the notion of revolution, most would probably be cautious with respect to the author's over-generalizations and his failure to differentiate in the areas of leadership, episcopal and managerial, and the always "wise" but rather vague "laity." The sociology and theology point in a significant and fruitful direction. In an historical journal it should also be noted that these reflections on ecclesial change take place outside of the context of the civil rights movement, Vietnam, broader political and economic developments, and the culture wars, all of which would locate the "revolution" in the Church within a broader trajectory of change and encourage more sensitive readings of its flawed participants.