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Reviewed by:
  • Modernists & Mystics
  • Terrence W. Tilley
Modernists & Mystics. Edited by C. J. T. Talar. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press. 2009. Pp. xiv, 152. $44.95. ISBN 978-0-813-21709-3.)

If the modernist crisis is a crucial key to understanding the tensions in the Roman Catholic Church today, as the preface claims, then this collection of essays about our past sheds important light on the present situation. [End Page 840]

C. J. T. Talar and William Portier provide a useful introduction to contextualize the essays. They argue that part of the context of the modernist movement was the constriction of Catholicism exemplified in the rejection of quietism in the seventeenth century and the increasing institutionalization of propositional theology as a definitive and limiting religious norm. They also helpfully explore the historiography of "mysticism," indebted to Michel de Certeau's analysis in volume 1 of The Mystic Fable (Chicago, 1992) that shows the profound significance of the different historical understandings of the mystical, symbolized by the adjective mystical becoming the substantive mysticism.

Lawrence Barmann argues that Baron Friedrich von Hügel was a modernist because he was a mystic and vice versa. Barmann's analysis of the baron's "Official Authority and Living Religion" (1904) masterfully explicates the point. Talar exegetes Henri Bremond's Apologie pour Fénelon (Paris, 1910) to show the sympathy of Bremond in particular (and many of the modernists in general) with Fénelon over Bossuet regarding quietism, uncovering a rarely recognized context for the modernist movement. Michael Kerlin examines the mystical telos of philosophy in Maurice Blondel's work. Talar analyzes Albert Houtin's "exposé" of the alleged mysticism of Mère Cécile (1845-1909) of Solesmes as a way of highlighting the inevitable prejudice of historians; this is the least interesting essay in an otherwise enlightening volume. Harvey Hill explores Alfred Loisy's book-length response to Henri Bergson's Two Sources of Morality and Religion (Paris, 1932). Bergson contrasts static religion and closed (tribal) morality with dynamic religion and an open (universal) morality; the latter erupts (divinely) in the context of the former, as Jesus did in late-Second-Temple Judaism. Loisy finds that all religious traditions developed both patterns, that Jesus was not such an eruption, and that Bergson has tailored history to fit his philosophy. Although Hill grants points to both in their battle, today Loisy seems far more plausible, at least in method.

These essays remind us that all the major "modernists" (save George Tyrrell) did substantial work long after the movement was suppressed. It is necessary, as they remind us, to see the modernists in the full range of their work to understand their contributions. That almost all were mystics in some sense also is clear.

Yet mysticism is an essentially contested concept. That the older senses of the term did not limit mystical practice to an esoteric elite is clear. That the increasing rigidity of the Roman Catholic Church in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries made mysticism suspect and contributed both to the esotericization of mysticism and to the unbalancing of the mystical (sacramental and embodied practical), intellectual (theological), and institutional elements of religion (as von Hügel so brilliantly put it) is clear. That the solution to the present crises is not the heightening vigilance of the third element of religion, [End Page 841] but the increased vitality of the other two elements is the subtext of this fine collection of historical explorations.

Terrence W. Tilley
Fordham University


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