- Ralliés and Réfractaires: (Anti) Inculturation in Contention
But the unsaid thought of all the destroyers of Americanism was political, much more—or at least as much—as it was religious. In going after the Americanists the intention was to strike at the Christian democrats, the Catholic republicans. . . .1
Albert Houtin began his study of Americanism by providing for his French readership something of the larger nineteenth-century context of Catholicism in the United States. In the course of this exposition he cites a letter of Bishop John England, in which a contrast is drawn between the ability of Irish clergy to adapt to American ways, to promptly become American, and the apparent inability of French clergy to do so. The bishop laments that, as a result, the Catholic religion as preached and lived by the French clergy remains something exotic, culturally foreign to Americans.2 Houtin concurs with this judgment. The seminary formation received by French priests rendered the intellectual, political, and social aspirations of their own country foreign to them. Those circumstances were but exacerbated in a democratic and new nation.3
If in England’s day French clergy could be accounted resistant to adapting to American culture, by the end of the nineteenth century that picture was changing. In his study of the priests of Saint Sulpice in the United States, Christopher Kauffman has shown the extent to which Sulpicians such as Alphonse Maignen and John Hogan shared the Americanist vision of John Ireland, John Keane, and Denis O’Connell.4 [End Page 77] Openness to Americanist ideas and ideals was also notable among French priests and laymen in France. The change in pontifical policy initiated by Pope Leo XIII under the name of the Ralliement provided papal legitimation for those who would argue for making the Church in America the paradigm for the Church in Europe.
Houtin’s concerns in studying Americanism were primarily theological. He saw in the Americanists forerunners of Modernism. As George Fonsegrive’s observation which forms the epigraph to this study suggests, those who took up an adversarial stance toward Americanism did so in significant measure out of political motives. In his own analysis of Americanism, William Portier has suggested that viewing both its theological and political dimensions in an accommodationist perspective is true, but incomplete. For that would acknowledge Catholicism’s need to change as a result of its contact with American culture, but leave unacknowledged the Americanist belief that American culture itself was in need of transformation through its contact with Catholicism. The dialectical relationship between religion and culture is better encapsulated under the rubric of inculturation.5 It may be characterized as “a dialectical interaction between Christian faith and cultures in which these cultures are challenged, affirmed, and transformed toward the reign of God, and in which Christian faith is likewise challenged, affirmed, and enhanced by this experience.”6 Adaptation is judged to be inadequate as an interpretive key to Americanism; for it one-sidedly emphasizes change on the part of Catholicism, to the relative neglect of transformation of American culture. Moreover, even in relation to change within Catholicism it is willing to allow only “extrinsic, accidental, superficial changes in ways of being Christian.”7 If inculturation better captures an important aspect of the Americanist agenda for the religious beliefs and commitments of Americans, it also is useful in appreciating resistance to Americanism on the part of its Catholic adversaries.
On one level Americanism may be viewed as a clash of theological “cultures”—a conflict of a classicist approach and a more historically conscious one.8 This may be exemplified in the differing approaches taken toward the relationship between Church and State. Charles Maignen, chief critic of Americanism, drew the contrast:
Up until the present, theologians and canonists studied the nature of the Church and deduced the nature and extent of its rights vis-à-vis the State from its end, from its supernatural origins.
Now it is necessary to proceed in the reverse order. [End Page 78]
The laic common law must be studied first, not an abstract common law, borrowed from the scholastic philosophers, but the common law currently in force in modern...