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The Catholic Historical Review 89.1 (2003) 114-115
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The Politics of Modernism: Alfred Loisy and the Scientific Study of Religion. By Harvey Hill. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press. 2002. Pp. ix, 227. $54.95.)
One is unlikely to find in any language a clearer, better written introduction to the neuralgic career of Alfred Loisy than Harvey Hill's. In addition to its clarity, what sets it apart from the many studies of Loisy is its well-argued conception of the historical integrity of Loisy's mature modernist works as growing out of ideas he formulated in the 1870's and 1880's to which other scholars have paid scant attention. To argue this point, Hill interprets Loisy's published works within the context of his unpublished, autobiographical writings, thus conveying an authoritative, virtually first-person reading of the complex contours of Loisy's life.
Out of an artful rehearsal of the conflicts with church authorities over Loisy's historical criticism of Scripture and tradition with implications for doctrine, what emerges is a clarification of the role of Loisy's political interests—thus the book's title. Hill perceptively argues that Loisy's odyssey originated not within a nascent modernist movement, but within the context of France's Church-State conflict. This conflict contributed to Loisy's crisis of faith in the 1880's, out of which he conceived an agenda for church reform in the 1890's, the prosecution of which led to his condemnation and departure from the Church in the 1900's. Hill argues that just as Loisy, out of sympathy for "the values of enlightened and anticlerical France" (p. 11) (autonomous authority), supported the separation of Church and State, so he logically supported the separation of the scientific study of religion from theology. The Church's legitimate role in religion, Loisy argued, was to teach its adherents to be morally autonomous—a role far from the magisterium's current conception. Loisy and the magisterium were on a collision course.
Far from taking sides in the conflict between Loisy and the church authorities, Hill maintains aesthetic distance. Loisy wanted to make room in the Church for scientific history and so prove Renan wrong that it could not be done. From a laudably objective, historical vantage point, Hill takes the reader stepwise through Loisy's strategy, clarifying the influences of key figures such as Renan, Duchesne, d'Hulst, A. Sabatier, and von Hügel, as well as of various political figures and ideas, showing that the conflict with church authorities occurred as the result of two diametrically opposed ideologies. Although Loisy argued that scholarly investigations must be historically objective, Hill shows that, in fact, Loisy was blind to the nonobjectivity of the modern ideology within which and out of which he operated. Nor did Loisy fully appreciate the Vatican's stake in promoting Thomism as the instrument of instruction on the proper relationship between revelation (faith) and reason and therefore between Church and State: Thomism was to be the papal strategy to secure political influence. In the antagonistic Church-State climate of fin-de-siècle France, it was virtually impossible that Loisy could realize his aim of serving the Church with a historical method free from the pressures of doctrine. The then-irreconcilable differences [End Page 114] between Loisy's modern ideology and the Church's authoritarian ideology was unfortunate for both parties.
David G. Schultenover, S.J.