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Reviewed by:
  • Catholicism and Historical Narrative: A Catholic Engagement with Historical Scholarship ed. by Kevin Schmiesing
  • Glenn W. Olsen
Catholicism and Historical Narrative: A Catholic Engagement with Historical Scholarship. Edited by Kevin Schmiesing. [Catholic Social Thought, Vol. 8.] (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. 2014. Pp. x, 215. $75.00. ISBN 978-0-8180-8857-9.)

This collection of nine essays, seven of which are mainly on American history, is preceded by a brief introduction by its editor, Kevin Schmiesing. The opening essay is a thoughtful general piece by Paul Radzilowski on “Audience, Method, Subject, and Faith: Dilemmas of the Catholic Historian.” Radzilowski makes good use of some of Christopher Dawson’s writings and is also in dialogue with one of the most penetrating Catholic historians today, Christopher Shannon. Radzilowski has a number of citations and appreciations of this reviewer’s work, which in turn lists appropriate bibliography.

In a very well-done article, “The Opening of the American Mind: Protestant Scholasticism at Harvard, 1636–1700,” Scott McDermott argues that the conventional historiography on the Puritans in America fails to show the depth of their debt to medieval scholasticism. Tom Jodziewicz’s “Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, and the American Narrative” next shows how Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin are at one and the same time outliers and exemplars of basic American cultural themes. Jodziewicz contrasts the American narrative of freedom and the Catholic Worker narrative of self-imposed discipline in a community bounded by love. He makes astute comments on all the ways in which freedom has been understood in American history.

In chapter 4, “‘A Convenient Untruth’: The Pro-Choice Invention of an Era of Abortion Freedom,” Keith Cassidy attempts to correct the narrative of the history of abortion in America. Cassidy is committed to what he calls “objective history” (p. 74). It would have been preferable to distinguish between objective history, which only God can write, and fairness, which means always attempting to tell the truth.

Chapter 5, by the son of a well-known student of especially the thought of Christopher Dawson, Clement Anthony Mulloy, examines the story of Margaret Sanger: “Catholicism and Birth Control in American History: The Sanger-[James A.] Ryan Debate. This is a clear-minded and satisfying piece.

In chapter 6, “‘Where Religious Freedom Runs in the Streams’: Catholic Expansion in Antebellum Newport,” John F. Quinn shows that Newport was an exception to the common New England pattern of a Catholicism oppressed by Protestantism. Religious diversity made Newport more accepting of Catholics than most other, largely Protestant, New England cities. [End Page 147]

In chapter 7, Adam Tate, “The Power of Historical Narrative: Bishop John England, American Catholicism, and the National Jubilee of 1826,” takes up Bishop England’s Catholic narrative. The argument is that Americans from the first made up for certain deficiencies originating in the lack of a national identity—no common ancestry, no homogenous ethnicity, no long history, and so forth—by constructing historical narratives. A common nineteenth-century Protestant narrative was that the country had been founded on Protestant principles, which freed humans from superstition and made progress possible. Other narratives, some liberal, some republican, shared features or partly overlapped with the Protestant narrative, but the problem each raised for Catholics was the integration of non-Protestants into such societies. Thus John England formed his Catholic narrative as part of the 1826 celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Marynita Anderson takes up the relatively neglected story of nineteenth-century religious women in chapter 8, “Valiant Women of Faith and Action: Finding Catholic Sisters in the Story of Nineteenth-Century America.” In the last chapter, “Popes, Catholics, and Jews: É questa la maniera di fare storia?” Ernest Greco examines the controversy concerning the Catholic Church and the European Jews during World War II, sometimes called “The Pius Wars.” The bibliography on this subject is much more extensive than this essay indicates. There is a brief index.

Glenn W. Olsen
University of Utah


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pp. 147-148
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