Spirituality of the Roman Catholic Church

Massimo Faggioli complains about Americanism among U.S. Roman Catholics (for more on why this seems odd, see this):

As the Republican Party has been radicalized in the past decade, so have more than a few bishops. During the same period, some prominent conservative intellectuals have embraced Catholicism for reasons that seem purely political. This is not a new phenomenon. It has much in common with Charles Maurras’ Action Française, a nationalist movement condemned by Pius XI in 1926. Maurras had no time for the Gospel but saw Catholicism as a useful tool for the creation of an antidemocratic social order. The new enthusiasm for an older version of Catholicism on the part of conservative intellectuals with no interest in theology also mirrors the rise of Ultramontanism in the first half of the nineteenth century. The Jesuit John O’Malley’s latest book on the theological movements that set the stage for Vatican I helps us see the many similarities between nineteenth-century Ultramontanism and early-twenty-first-century traditionalist Catholic Americanism. In both movements, the game is played mostly by journalists and other lay intellectuals whose understanding of the church is essentially political rather than spiritual.

Notice that Faggioli concedes that we have at least a “newer” version that contrasts with an “older” version of Roman Catholicism. That puts some dent in the idea that Rome is the church Jesus founded.

Even more curious is the how short the life of the newer Roman Catholicism is. Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the church was traditionalist and conservative, opposed in most cases to political and intellectual developments in the modern world. Vatican 2 opened up the church’s windows to — wait for it — modernity. For a brief time, between John XXII and John Paul I — 1959 to 1978 — the church experienced a modern Roman Catholicism, one that was more open, gracious, tolerant, forgiving (at least that is how some defenders of Vatican 2 put it). Then came the conservative crack down first with John Paul II and then his successor, Benedict XVI, which ran from 1978 to 2014, a much longer run than the liberal, open phase of “newer” Roman Catholicism. Only since 2014 has the “newer” version re-emerged as the official Roman Catholicism.

That means that, if you add 19 years to 5 years, only for 24 years has “newer” Roman Catholicism been available since the close of the Council of Trent (1563).

If I were in Faggioli’s shoes, or a defender of Pope Francis, I would not throw around words like “new” and “old.” If tradition matters to Roman Catholics, Faggioli’s version of Roman Catholicism has less antiquity than Pentecostalism.

As for Rome’s spiritual as opposed to its political character, why does Pope Francis write encyclicals about markets and the environment instead of Mary and the stations of the cross?

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More Doctrinal Evolution

If it’s wrong for Protestants to think that Calvin and Luther were simply reiterating what Paul and Peter taught, isn’t it also wrong for Roman Catholics to think that Trent was a doctrinal glimmer in the eye of the early church fathers? Merely waving the wand of doctrinal development won’t help you think historically, or understand that history is always moving, never static. And if history is fluid — which it is, as I, a licensed historian, can assure you — then what happened in the sixteenth century was not inevitable.

The way to look at it is that Luther and Calvin were in the mix of theological reflection that was going on for well over five hundred years and the Council of Trent decided to go one way and not the other. And if that is true, then Roman Catholicism as we know it (minus — ahem — Vatican I and Vatican II) started in the 1540s as much as Lutheranism started in the 1530s and Reformed Protestantism in the 1540s.

For support I appeal to Richard Muller:

The understanding of “catholic” and “schismatic” thought in the sixteenth century must be revised away from the modern denominational approach that, on the side of historians of the Roman Church, has all too willingly denied patristic and medieval roots to the Reformation and that, on the other side of older generations of Protestant historians, has tended to view the Middle Ages as harboring but few forerunners of the Reformation. The Reformers did not view themselves as schismatic; rather, they understood themselves as representative thinkers of the Catholic church. Nor can they be seen as radicals who allowed only the Bible as their foundation to the exclusion of tradition: their approach, as easily documented from their citations, was to use scripture as their ultimate norm and tradition as a subordinate, albeit fallible, support. This approach to the relation of scripture and tradition is, of course, contrary to the views of the Council of Trent, but it is surprisingly like the position of Thomas Aquinas and a great number of other major medieval thinkers. The Protestant use of patristic and medieval sources, moreover, became more explicit in the later generations of the Reformation; the nature of that reception should be a significant element of a revised historiography. (from Seeing Things Their Way)

Historians may not save us, but they can help.