Appeared in Autumn 2001, Vol. XXVI, No. 3

Probably no Pope of the nineteenth century is more relevant to twenty-first century theology than Leo XIII, whose papacy bridged the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. John Paul II often cites Leo in his own social encyclicals, especially, of course, in Centesimus Annus, which celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of “Catholic Social Thought” with Leo’s Rerum Novarum. Among the more important aspects of Leo’s thought that John Paul points out is the remarkable prescience of Rerum Novarum, as well as the encyclical’s continued relevance for theological consideration. While Leo could not have predicted the ignominy that Marxist socialism would ultimately suffer (just as he could not have predicted its remarkable political success for much of the twentieth century), his trenchant criticism of socialism as being inconsistent with the nature of the human person is still pertinent more than 100 years later.3

But for the purposes of a comparison with the great nineteenth-century ecclesiologist Johann Adam Mohler, Leo’s importance is something of an ironic one, since he represents a turn away from the idealistic tendencies of the Tubingen school, and toward a revival of Scholastic theology.4 This irony is perhaps best illustrated in a letter from Orestes Brownson to Isaac Hecker, whose biography (in French translation) signaled the height of the Americanist controversy in 1899. Hecker had secured a copy of Mohler’s Syinbolik in 1843 while at Brook Farm, and found its Romantic accent very much to his liking.5 But in 1845 Brownson, worried that his young protege was tending toward an excessive individualistic subjectivism, warned Hecker:

It is best for us to take the Church in the old way, without studying to find a philosophical basis for what it teaches. We want a logical basis rather than a philosophical basis for what it teaches…. The notion of Communion I formerly advanced and which wrought such a revolution in us both, served its purpose, but, if extended very far it is dangerous and heretical. Even Dr. Moehler’ [sic] carries it too far. Distrust all modem writers, even if Catholic. Protestant notions have affected even the ablest of our authors, & especially among the Germans.6

But even Brownson’s warning contains some irony, since Mohler’s first major work, Unity in the Church, represents an understanding of the development of doctrine and ecclesiastical authority which is compatible in many ways with Leo’s Testem Benevolentiae.7

Nonetheless, with his 1879 encyclical letter Aeterni Patris, Leo “sanctioned” a new dialectical Thomism as the philosophy of the Church, one which is considered a movement away from the idealistic methodology represented by Mohler’s more famous work.8 Leo considers Aeterni Patris to be the correction of a decline in Catholic thought (and philosophy generally) that began in the sixteenth century, and whose bitter fruits were evident in his own time.9 “To the old teaching a novel system of philosophy has succeeded here and there, in which we fail to perceive those desirable and wholesome fruits which the Church and civil society itself would prefer,” Leo complains.10

This is not to say that he rejects the legitimacy of philosophy, per se, or of the contribution that the developing history of ideas offers to the Church: “We have no intention of discountenancing the learned and able men who bring their industry and erudition, and, what is more, the wealth of new discoveries, to the service of philosophy; for, of course, we understand that this tends to the development of learning,” Leo explains. But he exhorts the Catholic philosopher to practice his craft for the good of the Church, lest his work be “exhausted . . . in mere erudition.” Similarly, sacred theology “may be assisted and illustrated by all kinds of erudition,” but the theologian must take care that his work unite reason and revelation, so that theology is not subsumed by or reduced to philosophy.11

Thus, despite the fact that such encyclicals as Immortale Dei and, perhaps, Libertas Praestantissimum are sometimes viewed as reactionary and sectarian, and despite the fact that Leo makes a deliberate move away from the idealistic theological method of the first half of the nineteenth century, Leo’s enduring legacy, for good or ill, is one in which modern modes of thought are dialectically engaged by more ancient ones. As Ernest Fortin notes, when Leo promulgated Rerum Novarum,

[he] may have felt that the time had come to abandon the intransigence of his immediate predecessors and temper their inflexible principles with a more flexible policy, even if this meant adopting a terminology that is neither native nor congenial to the older Catholic tradition. Without capitulating to modernity, Catholics had to develop attitudes that were appropriate to living in the modem world.12

Fortin is concerned that the implications of this turn might not be an unalloyed blessing for the Church (if a blessing at all), but it is important to note that Leo conscientiously attempts to reaffirm a vigorous dialectical Christianity near the turn of the twentieth century.13

Thus does Matthew L. Lamb cite the 1899 Testem Benevolentiae “as a pastoral plea for a dialectical discernment in the relations between Catholicism and American culture, rather than either an aloof separation or a wholehearted assimilation.”14 Lamb worries that contemporary Catholic thought has tended dangerously toward undifferentiated assimilation of modern liberal moral and political theory, and thus has compromised those essential aspects of Catholicism that are not reconcilable with modern political thought. It is my contention in this essay that Lamb’s concern is legitimate and serious, and that Testem Benevolentiae speaks powerfully and clearly to it. Whether or not the Americanism condemned by Leo existed in the second half of the nineteenth century (a question I will leave to the historians), Leo’s words in Testem are no less prescient about ecclesiological concerns in the late twentieth century than were his words about socialism in Rerum Novarum. And thus, the relevance of Testem to twenty-first century Catholic theology cannot be overestimated.

Of course it is well known that Leo condemns certain theological positions allegedly held by some theologians and clerics in the American Church. It is also understood that Leo’s critique can be called a prevenient criticism of Modernism, in the sense that he assails the assimilation of Catholic thinking into the contingencies of modern moral and political thought. But it is important to reaffirm Lamb’s point that Testem is not a repudiation of “new things,” but rather a careful directive about the possibilities and limitations of the new things of any era. “It is far, indeed, from Our intention to repudiate all that the genius of the time begets,” Leo assures. “Nay, rather, whatever the search for truth attains, or the effort after good achieves, will always be welcome by us, for it increases the patrimony of doctrine.”15 Leo’s effort is an attempt to establish authentic dialogue between the timeless truth of faith and the contingent signs of the times. It is the alleged failure to take this dialogue seriously at the time that made Testem necessary.

When Leo XIII sent Testem Benevolentiae to James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, in January 1899,16 it was met with a combination of indignation, relief and ostensible agreement by Cardinal Gibbons and the other principal figures involved in the so-called Americanist debate. Gibbons wrote to the Holy Father:

This extravagant and absurd doctrine as I would willingly call it, this Americanism as they have chosen to call it, has nothing in common with the views, the aspirations, the doctrines and the conduct of Americans. I do not think that in the whole country could be found a single bishop or priest or even a well instructed layman, who has ever put forward such extravagance. No, this is not, never has been and will never be our Americanism. I am deeply grateful to your Holiness for having yourself made this distinction in your Apostolic letter.17

Similarly, St. Paul Archbishop John Ireland wrote:

To-day [sic] the light has been shed abroad and misunderstandings cease. Now we can scotch the error which some have wished to cloak under the name of Americanism, and we can define the truth which alone Americans call Americanism. Moreover, so clearly and precisely are distinctions drawn and explanations made in the letter Apostolic that the peril which was not understood by everybody in the United States a peril which I must confess I thought was to be feared can no longer present itself.18

The essence of the most prominent American reaction was that the various doctrines that the pope condemned, he condemned rightly, but that no one in the American hierarchy subscribed to them. Ireland, in fact, wrote bitterly to Fr. George Deshon, the Paulist Superior General, “Fanatics conjured up an ‘Americanism’- & put such before the Pope.” And concerning the chief authors of Testem, Ireland concluded, “I cannot pray that God forgive them.”19 Similarly, Gibbons lamented those who “lie with impunity” about the existence of the heresy. “I do not see that any of the questions discussed was a living question here,” he wrote in March 1899. “But I suppose the Holy Father had to act.”20

The denial that any opinions condemned by Leo were held in the American Church was not unanimous, however. The most significant dissenter from the American disavowal of serious problems was Michael Corrigan, Archbishop of New York. “With what wisdom has your Holiness known how to write in one whole the multiplicity of fallacies and errors which it has been sought to pass as good and Catholic doctrines under the specious title, ‘Americanism,”’ Corrigan enthused in a letter to Leo.

And he congratulates the Pope for having “root[ed] out on its very appearance this cockle from the field of wheat.”21

While the variety of contemporary reaction (and non-reaction) to Testem is an important historical artifact, it is not my intention to discuss the historical details of the events leading up to the promulgation of Testem, or to its immediate aftermath.22 Nor am I concerned with making any evaluation or judgment about the positions of Ireland, Gibbons, John J. Keane (the third key American Bishop in the controversy, first rector of Catholic University of America, and then Archbishop of Dubuque), or with Isaac Hecker,23 the biography of whom was the efficient cause of the Pope’s initiative to write the letter.24 And, finally, I will not be concerned with the broader problem of alleged Americanism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.25

Rather, my purpose is to examine Testem Benevolentiae in light of some of Leo’s earlier encyclicals, and then to turn that examination to some enduring problems in the Church in the United States. As the Church enters the twenty-first century, the legacies of American liberalism and of nineteenth-century Catholic theology might find themselves to be greater rivals than many expect.26

The essential problem that Leo addresses in Testemis the alleged tendency in America to “diminish” or “pass over” certain doctrines of the Church, or, more generally, to circumvent the historic understanding of the role of the Church as guardian and interpreter of doctrine. His concern is that, in the interest either of evangelism or of making Catholicism acceptable to American political sensibilities, these new opinions tend “to pass over certain heads of doctrines, as if of lesser moment, or to so soften them that they may not have the same meaning which the Church has invariably held” (442). Leo’s worry is not necessarily about specific doctrines, but rather about the role of the Church in framing doctrine,27 and the role of the individual in affirming the teaching of the Church.

The most acute issues in the Pope’s mind are the efficacy of the sacraments for the reception of grace, the role of the Church in guarding and dispensing the sacraments, and, thus, the problem of contending that the Church can be bypassed in the reception of grace. He affirms the legitimacy of the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit, but also insists upon the necessity of the Church as the presence of the Spirit in the world. “As we know by experience these promptings and impulses of the Holy Ghost for the most part are not discerned without the help, and, as it were, without the preparation of an external guidance” (446).28 Moreover, the Pope criticizes any view that would extol so-called “active” virtues over “passive” ones, and claim that the latter have been superseded in importance by the former.29 Leo declaims the possibility of talking about “passive” virtue, and complains that the distinction is used to derogate the religious life as out of date with the needs of the present world.30

Whether Testem accurately reflects the view of Isaac Hecker in this matter, it is clear that the subject was an important problem for him even before his conversion to the Church in 1844. In an instructive letter, his good friend and mentor Orestes Brownson warned him of the problem as early as that year. Brownson worried that Hecker’s individualist interior spiritual battles at the time did not take sufficient account of the institutional structures by which grace is mediated to the individual. “My dear Isaac,” Brownson admonished,

You cannot gain this victory alone, nor by mere private meditation, and prayer. You can obtain it only through the grace of God, and the grace of God only through its appointed channels. You are wrong, you do not begin right. Do you really believe the Gospel? Do you really believe the Holy Catholic Church? If so, you must put yourself under the direction of the Church…. It is the appointed medium of salvation, and how can we hope for any good [e]xcept through it?31

The essence of Hecker’s struggle seemed not so much a distrust of the Church as the medium of grace, but rather a strongly individualistic spirituality, by which he sought spiritual enlightenment and consolation apart from any particular institution.32 This is consistent with Hecker’s association (instigated, ironically, by Brownson) with the Transcendentalist movement at the Brook Farm community in Massachusetts, which had an important impact upon his early, and perhaps abiding, thought.33

This underlying problem is also addressed forcefully by Leo in Testem, in terms of the freedom of the Church and its relation to the free conscience of the individual. For Leo, the principal agent of freedom, and thus the ultimately and divinely free institution, is the Church. Humans are given “natural” freedom, but that freedom is for the purpose of realizing the supernatural freedom that comes from being united with Christ through the Sacramental presence of the Church.34 The natural freedom of individual conscience, since it is ordered toward the supernatural freedom of the Church, is thereby delimited and defined in terms of the Church acting freely in the world. Thus, while the Church is always ready to accommodate various cultures and the philosophical or political thought that accompanies them, it must always be the Church itself which judges the proper limits of such accommodation (444-45). The ultimate location of Christian freedom is not, therefore, the individual conscience, but rather the Church, which serves the purpose of forming conscience toward the perfection of freedom.35 In Testem, the concern has less to do with dissenting conscience than it does with the idea that authentic human freedom might somehow be attained outside the sacramental presence of Christ in the Church, that human transcendence is possible without the Church.

Whether Hecker or his contemporaries believed that authentic human transcendence is available apart from the mediating presence of the Church is a debatable question. But the presence of such a notion in the American spirit, and the effect of that spirit on the Church in the late twentieth century, would be difficult to deny. The gnostic quality of much of American religiosity 36 is, if not explicitly described, at least ably predicted in Leo’s letter. Nor is this quality confined to the realm of American Protestantism. While Vatican II unquestionably (and legitimately) called for greater lay participation in the Church, greater dialogue within the Church, and a stronger role for regional Bishops’ conferences, significant voices in American Catholicism seem to tend toward by passing the Church altogether as the means through which grace is mediated.37 Of course the issue is not usually stated this baldly, and the assertion does not do justice to those theologians who have struggled to find a legitimately dialectical way of synthesizing the individu-alist impulse of the American spirit with the “organic”38 quality of the Church as the Body of Christ, extended through time, under the quickening of the Holy Spirit.

Such a tendency is not unrelated to calls for a certain kind of democratization of the Church in America, based upon a certain understanding of the Vatican II call for collegiality, and the social principle of subsidiarity.39 Dennis P. McCann, for instance, takes the principle of collegial cooperation within the Church as a call to devaluate the role of the magisterium.40 McCann approvingly asserts that American Catholics want a church that is a “self-governing association,”41 in which, quoting from Max Stackhouse’s Creed, Society and Human Rights, “‘the basic, primordial freedom of the church to order its own life is taken as the basis for the organization of political, economic, educational, familial, and other aspects of life.'” 42 Missing from McCann’s  citation, though, is the strenuous individualism of Stackhouse’s model of the Church. “Individuals,” Stackhouse continues in the passage cited by McCann, “to be faithful to Christ and to conscience and reason clarified in community, must be free to organize self-governing associations to determine their own destinies.”43 For Stackhouse, and for McCann, it is not the Church that orders its own destiny, but rather a group of autonomous, accidentally like-minded individuals, coming together in mutual cooperation to pursue a commonly-held goal or goals. But in such a system of “self-governance,” these accidental compatriots never surrender their respective democratic rights. Religious freedom is thus not situated in the Church as a divinely established society, but rather in the absolute rights of individual liberty.44 McCann claims to be invoking the memory of the Americanist bishops of the nineteenth century, and championing their cause against Leo.45 Along they way, he also confidently enlists the company of Isaac Hecker and John Courtney Murray.46

McCann acknowledges the Protestant pedigree of such a notion, but calls for Catholics to embrace it as their own, and to offer it to the Catholic Church as America’s unique gift. Formally, at least, this looks like a call for the kind of dialectic understanding of faith and culture that Leo endorsed in his papacy. Cultural or other symbolization of truth may be fitted into an authentically Catholic understanding of the Church and theology. But McCann’s call for “collegiality” in the Church resembles less a dialectical tension between American liberalism and Catholic theology than a collapse of the latter into the former.

McCann argues that this is the model of collegiality that the Americanists of the nineteenth century were moving toward which, argues McCann, Leo retarded (lamentably), but did not halt and which the Second Vatican Council approves.47 In order to embrace the bold legacy of the Americanist heresy, he explains, “we must savor once again the forbidden fruit of Vatican II. Like the tree of life [sic] in the Garden of Eden, Vatican II offered Catholics worldwide the prospect of knowing good and evil. Our eyes were opened … when the people of God tasted the forbidden fruit of collegiality.”48 Of course, to make the analogy, McCann must misread the myth of the Fall. By eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, 49 Adam and Eve did not gain some new “forbidden” knowledge. Rather, the eating was a declaration to God that knowledge would henceforth be self-invented. It was not a discovery of new knowledge, but rather a disavowal of God as the source of knowledge and Adam and Eve’s participation in that knowledge. The Fall was not  caused by Adam and Eve knowing what God knows, but rather by their assertion of themselves as the source of that knowledge. It was the ultimate act of egoism.50 They declared themselves to be the originators of wisdom, to possess knowledge rather than to participate in knowledge.51 The decision to eat was fundamentally and radically a decision against God, a turning away from true light for mere shadow of light. But, of course, they mistook the shadow for the light; this is the essence of the fall. But McCann’s misreading of the myth is important to his misreading of the principle of collegiality, in which unity is not served, but severed.52

Tellingly, it is not a text of Vatican II to which he turns as an exemplar of what he has in mind, but rather to the Federalist Papers, citing approvingly Madison’s Federalist #10 in his sympathetic treatment of “Call to Action.” “To secure the public good and private rights against the danger of… faction,” explains Madison, “and at the same time to preserve the spirit and the form of popular government, is then the great object to which our inquiries are directed.”53 Madison addresses religion in the same manner in Federalist #51: “In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests or sects.”54 While McCann concedes that the results might be “tentative,” according to the openness of the process, McCann’s “collegiality” does not serve unity, but faction. Madison’s call to celebrate and encourage political and religious faction was precisely for the purpose of diffusing and diluting the integrity of religious confessions. He recognized the strength that attends unity, and recognized the subversive potential of such unity to the sovereignty of the new regime. To tolerate many sects and factions serves the goal of weakening them all.

McCann’s factional collegiality is problematic in itself, but coupled with his approval of Stackhouse’s model of church as a “self-governing association,” it demonstrates the legacy of American Liberalism, against which Testem stands as an abiding witness. The idea of the Church as a “self-governing association” is implicitly evocative of John Locke’s understanding of a church as a “voluntary society,”55 formed not by the will of God, but rather by the will of men.56 “A church,” explains Locke, “I take to be a voluntary Society of Men, joining themselves together of their own accord, in order to the publick worshipping of God, in such a manner as they judge acceptable to him, and effectual to the Salvation of their Souls.”57 The purpose of this church is not the dispensation of grace through sacraments, nor is the end of the church the salvation of mankind. Rather, “the End of a Religious Society … is the Publick Worship of God.”58 Of course, in such an ecclesiology, no voice has any more authority than any other, which means that unity is tenuous and contingent, rather than “organic.” Moreover, a voluntary society is one created by the collective wills of those who form it. Whatever it may be, a society instituted by the will of men is not the Church.59 A voluntary, democratic church is not a reform of Catholic ecclesiology, but a revolutionary rejection of it.60

Moreover, it undermines any possibility of talking coherently about the unity of the Church. The principle of collegiality is as old as the understanding of lex orandi, lex credendi,61 which affirms that the Holy Spirit gives life to and guides the faith of the Church. But it is the Church as the Body of Christ

Which receives the blessed gift from God. That the doctrines of the Church lag behind the faith and practice of the Church is certainly not a novel idea,62 nor is it a false one.63 But such an understanding is built upon an ecclesiology which understands that faith is not something that individuals possess and bring to the Church; rather, faith is the gift of the Church, in which the faithful participate.64 McCann’s Americanist ecclesiology effectively denies that the Church has particular knowledge available only within the community, through the participation of the one in the whole.65 One need not deny the presence of grace in all created things to insist that the fullness of sacramental grace resides uniquely in the Church.

To be fair to McCann and the Americanist spirit he wishes to invoke, the legitimacy of his motives must be noted. He wants to construct a theology of the Church that is available to the mind of liberal democratic Americans; his is essentially an evangelistic impulse. But among the ironies of the legacy of liberal Catholicism in America is its tendency to argue itself into irrelevancy. In this evangelical quest, rather than making Catholicism available to Americans, Americanists make Catholicism irrelevant to Americans.66 If Catholic ecclesiology does not tell us anything different from what we can learn from John Locke and James Madison, then one wonders what is the point of Catholic ecclesiology. McCann’s Americanist ecclesiology collapses the necessary critical distance between Christianity and Liberalism that the Church needs if it is to be an effective witness against the relative falsehood mixed in with any politics. This is the concern that the legacy of Leo XIII brings to Catholic theology as we face the twenty-first century. His task (and call) was not to keep the Church from coming to terms with the signs of the times, but rather to understand the signs of the times as they exist in dialectical tension with the faith of the Church.

Moreover, as Leo predicted in Testem, the Americanist impulse has the effect of alienating the faithful from the faith of the Church:

Far be it, then, for any one to diminish or for any reason whatever to pass over anything of this divinely delivered doctrine; whosoever would do so, would rather wish to alienate Catholics from the Church than to bring over to the Church those who dissent from it. Let them return; indeed, nothing is nearer to Our heart; let all those who are wandering far from the sheepfold of Christ return; but let it not be by any other road than that which Christ has pointed out. (443)

As has been noted, this does not preclude the possibility of incorporating different cultural and political artifacts into the Church’s self-understanding. “But this is not to be determined by the will of private individuals, who are mostly deceived by the appearance of right,” says Leo, “but ought to be left to the judgment of the Church” (444). Americanists like McCann assert that American Catholics have a nearly unanimous desire to liberalize and protestantize the Church. Even apart from the fact that this is manifestly not the case, one has to consider the alienating effect that Americanism has on those who want the Church to maintain a true dialectical relationship with American culture, rather than to collapse the former into the latter.

To situate freedom primarily in the conscience of the religious believer, rather than in the Church, is to threaten the freedom of the Church, because it removes the Church’s privilege to name and define itself. It is notable that this liberal ecclesiology is consistent with recent United States Supreme Court jurisprudence, which betrays an inability to understand the kinds of demands that religious believers often feel that their faith makes upon them. Michael Sandel has recently documented this tendency in the Supreme Court, by referring to the myth of the “unencumbered self.”67 Commenting on Wallace V Jafree,68 in which Justice John Paul Stevens says that “religious beliefs worthy of respect are the product of free and voluntary choice by the faithful,” Sandel argues that the Court “does not serve religious liberty well” since “it confuses the pursuit of preference with the exercise of duties.”69 Based as it is on a liberal political anthropology, Stevens’s opinion subordinates the commands of religion to the commands of liberalism, which require respect for the absolute freedom of conscience and will. “The respect that this neutrality commands,” Sandel notes, “is not, strictly speaking, respect for religion, but respect for the self whose religion it is.”70

But this liberal democratic jurisprudence is remarkably similar to McCann’s ecclesiology, when he calls the Church to embrace the Americanist heresy. It is a respect for the freedom of the individual, but it shows, at best, indifference to the freedom of the Church.71 Leaving aside Leo XIII for the moment, such an understanding is in serious tension with the Second Vatican Council, which McCann believes sanctions his peculiar brand of collegiality.72 In the words of John Courtney Murray, S.J.,Dignitatis Humanae Personae explains that

the Catholic Church claims freedom from coercive interference in her ministry and life on grounds of the divine man date laid upon her by Christ Himself. … It is Catholic faith that no other Church or Community may claim to possess this mandate in all its fullness. In this sense, the freedom of the Church is unique, proper to herself alone, by reason of its foundation.73

There is an echo of Leo XIII here, who complained about voices that demand a wide range of tolerance, but are guilty of “refusing to allow [the Church] the liberty of being herself free.”74 Of course, any person is free to identify or not with this institution, but it is the Church as Church which claims the freedom continuously to define itself.75 The freedom of the Church’s individual members is qualified by the Church’s freedom; the freedom of the Church as the Body of Christ is unqualified.76 This is the weight of Leo’s understanding, and it is reflected consistently in Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes and Dignitatis Humanae.

Thus, to claim, as some have, that Leo XIII “was fearful of human freedom”77 does not do justice to Leo’s thought. Leo was fearful of liberalism, not liberty, because he understood that certain elements of liberalism are not compatible with the authentic freedom of the Church as the body of Christ, and thus as the guarantor of the authentic liberty of human persons. Moreover, he was fearful that incorporating liberalism into the structure of the Church was sure to have deleterious effects on the Church, and thus on the life of its members.

Nor is it just to call Leo “authoritarian,” if by that is meant a heavy-handed rejection of progress and reform in the Church. Testem goes to great length to celebrate those good things the Catholic experience in America brought to the Church, and the Americanist priests saw him as an ally.78 “It is not without significance,” Thomas E. Wangler explains, “that the central point of the Americanist movement in the 1890’s as formulated by Ireland, to unite the Church and the modem age, was first formulated by him in describing Leo XIII.”79 But he did take seriously his authoritative charism of discernment, by which the sensus fidelium is not decreed, but discovered, protected and passed on in the full visible unity of the Church.80

In large part, the problem facing the Church of the twenty-first century in this regard is the confusion of authority and power, or, perhaps more accurately, the reduction of authority to power. Richard A. McCormick, S.J. is a timely example, when he defines authority as “the right to speak and decide for a particular group, and to bind its members to the goals and methods of the group. It is the right to command and order.”81 Understood in this way, it is easy to see why many bristle at the idea of an authoritative Church.

But the Church’s authority ought to be understood as one of discernment, rather than decree, in which the magisterium has the three-fold role of prayerfully determining what the faithful hold to be true, of proclaiming that truth to the world, and of speaking that truth back to the Church.82 Authority in the Church comes from the charism given by Christ through the apostles; this is an authority of discernment, in which the magisterium speaks primarily for the Church, not to the Church.83  To do so authoritatively, the Church must vigorously maintain its freedom against those tendencies which would undermine it.

And this is perhaps the most important lasting legacy of Leo XIII’s Testem Benevolentiae: his solemn concern that the language and politics of the Gospel will be overtaken by, or reduced to, the language and politics of the times-whatever time is present. Whether in the second century of Tertullian, or the twenty-first century of the new Americanist project, the worry that the Gospel be subsumed under temporal, cultural artifacts is an abiding one.


1 It is also noteworthy that John Paul II speaks with high praise of Leo’s Libertas Praestantissimum, “which called attention to the essential bond between human freedom and truth” (Centesimus Annus, #4).

2 “The historical picture and the prognosis” which Rerum Novarum “suggests have proved to be surprisingly accurate in the light of what has happened since” he wrote in Centesimus Annus. “This is especially confirmed by the events which took place near the end of 1989 and at the beginning of 1990…. Pope Leo foresaw the negative consequences-political, social and economic of the social order proposed by ‘socialism,’ which at that time was still only a social philosophy and not yet a fully structured moment.” See John Paul II, Centesimus Annus #12 (Boston: St. Paul Books & Media)

3 But, as Ernest Fortin has pointed out, the legacy of Rerum Novarum may have presented as many problems for Catholic Social Thought as it did solutions. Leo’s invocation of a whole host of “rights,” especially the “sacred and inviolable” right to property was, at best, an innovation in Catholic moral theology, one with which the Catholic theological world was unprepared, and perhaps coherently unable, to deal. See Fortin, “‘Sacred and Inviolable’: Rerum Novarum and Natural Rights,” Theological Studies 53 (1992): 203-233. The problem of rights talk in the Church and contemporary American political life is a serious one, which lately has received a great deal of attention. See Mary Ann Glendon, Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse (New York: Free Press, 1991); Jean Bethke Elshtain, Democracy on Trial (New York: Basic, 1995).

4 This paper was originally delivered at a conference at Boston College commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the death of the nineteenth-century ecclesiologist Johann Adam Mohler. Karl Barth makes the observation that what Mohler wrought could not be expunged, even after the turn back to Thomism in the second half of the nineteenth century. After Mohler, “it was possible again to think and proceed analytically without revealing at every point the identifications made by Mohler, but with the decisive content of his views, quite independently of idealism, as the starting-point and goal. In this sense the second, modern German Catholic theologian of any size, Matthias Joseph Scheeben, who is representative of the new repristination of Thomas, of a Catholic theology of the older and strict style, stands entirely on the shoulders of Mohler” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 1/2 [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956], 564). Barth’s point is instructive, and, if he is correct, it helps to explain why Leo’s ecclesiology in Testem Benevolentiae, despite Leo’s turn to a new Thomism, is still compatible with that of Mohler.

5 See Katherine Burton, Celestial Homespun: The Life of ‘Isaac Thomas Hecker (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1943), 51; and John Farina, “General Introduction,” Isaac T Hecker: The Diary, ed. Farina (New York: Paulist, 1988), 23-24.

6 Orestes Brownson to Isaac Hecker, July 31, 1845, The Brownson-Hecker Correspondence, eds. Joseph F. Gower and Richard M. Leliaert (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), 134.

7 Johann Adam Mohler, Unity in the Church or The Principle of Catholicism: Presented in the Spirit of the Church Fathers of the First Three Centuries, tr. & ed. Peter C. Erb (Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1996). See Erb’s excellent introduction for a discussion of the relation between Mohler’s Unity and Newman’s Essay on the Development of Doctrine, as well as the importance of Mohler in the conversion of Henry Edward Cardinal Manning. While the present paper does not deal directly with Mohler’s thought, it does draw upon Mohler’s Unity for comparison and contrast with other thinkers.

8 See Alasdair Maclntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy and Tradition (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 72 ff. MacIntyre argues that Thomism had been enjoying something of a “political” revival for about 30 years before Gioacchino Pecci was elected Pope in 1878. As Pope, Leo spurred the “intellectual” development of Thomism.

9 Although, to add irony to irony, Joseph Ratzinger credits Mohler himself with being “the great reviver of Catholic theology after the ravages of the Enlightenment.” See Ratzinger, “The Ecclesiology of the Second Vatican Council,” Church, Ecumenism and Politics: New Essays in Ecclesiology (New York: Crossroad, 1988), 4.

10 Leo XIII, Aeterni Patris, promulgated August 4, 1979 (Boston: St. Paul Books & Media), 17. This edition has no section numbers; all references are to page numbers.

11 Aeterni Patris, 18. See below for a discussion of Leo’s continued worry in this regard in Testem Benevolentiae.

12 Fortin, “Sacred and Inviolable,” 229. It should be noted that Fortin is not at all confident that this is a salutary turn, since it may well have implications that are detrimental to the consistent tradition of Catholic thought. “There is … reason to suspect that Leo and his mentors were invincibly blind to the theoretical implications of some of their statements…. An age-old tradition had been broken, and we know from past experience that the restoration of a lost tradition is an uncommonly difficult task.” Alasdair MacIntyre makes a similar point by noting that, with-out intending to, Leo’s Aeterni Patris did not restore a univocal Thomism, but “many Thomisms,” mixed as Aeterni’s Thomism is with the modernism of Suarez. See Maclntyre, Three Rival Versions, 72-73.

13 Fortin does not reject the legitimacy of dialectal theology, per se. Rather, his is the more concrete concern that modernist moral and political theory might be mutually incompatible with (if not contradictory to) the ancient tradition of Catholic theology. See Fortin’s “The Trouble with Catholic Social Thought,” Boston College Magazine (Summer 1988): 37-42.

14 Matthew L. Lamb, “Modernism and Americanism Revisited Dialectically: A Challenge for Evangelization,” Communio 21 (Winter 1994): 651.

15 Pope Leo XIII, Testem Benevolentiae, in The Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII, with preface by John J. Wynne, S.J. (New York: Benziger Bros. 1903), 445. Subsequent references to Testem will be cited parenthetically in the text according to page number.

16 The letter was signed and dated by Leo on January 22, sent to Cardinal Gibbons on January 31, and published in L’Osservatore Romano on February 24.

17 James Cardinal Gibbons to Pope Leo XIII, March 17, 1899. Cited in Thomas T. McAvoy, C.S.C., The Great Crisis in American Catholic History 1895-1900 (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1957), 286. Gibbons goes on to say, “I am happy to be able to tell your Holiness that the sentiments which were manifested mixed with a certain astonishment that such doctrines would have been attributed to American Catholics were those of profound respect for the papal pronouncement, of great gratitude for the kindness that you have shown us, and of sincere appreciation of the distinction that your Holiness made so justly between the doctrines which we reprobate as you do, and those feelings of love for our country and its institutions that we share with our fellow citizens, and which are to us so powerful a help in the work that we have to accomplish for the glory of God and the honor of Holy Church” (McAvoy, 286).

18 Archbishop John Ireland to Pope Leo XIII, February 22, 1899. Cited in McAvoy, 282.

19 Ireland to V. Rev. Fr. George Deshon, February 24, 1899. Cited in McAvoy, 281. While Ireland eagerly agreed with the condemnations contained in Testem, he was far from happy to see it appear. He told Deshon that he accepted it reluctantly, “swore against all the opinions condemned in it, . . . & declared it an insult to America to have covered such extravagances with the name of Americanism.”

20 Gibbons to Bishop Denis O’Connell, March 2, 1899, cited in McAvoy, 290.

21 Archbishop Michael Corrigan to Pope Leo XIII, cited in McAvoy, 293. McAvoy (290-92) divides the American hierarchy among the partisans who denied the heresy existed (Gibbons, Ireland, &c), the neutrals who had taken no part in the debate, and those, like Corrigan, who believed the problem was real, and had made their disapproval known. Of the fourteen American Archbishops at the time, according to McAvoy, three made no public statement about Testem; four acknowledged the letter, but neither affirmed nor denied that the heresy was real; and two, Katzer of Milwaukee and Corrigan, insisted that the heresy had been real and widespread in the American Church.

22 McAvoy provides a considerable amount of documentary evidence, along with some narrative account. Abbe Felix Klein’s, Americanism: A Phantom Heresy (1951) (a translation of L Americanisme, Une Heresie Fantome (Paris: Librarie Plon, 1949) provides a first-hand account of Klein’s activity in the affair, including his introduction to the French translation of Walter Elliot’s Life of Father Hecker. See also Robert D. Cross, The Emergence of Liberal Catholicism in America (Cambridge: Harvard, 1967). And for an important historical analysis of the emergence of Americanism, see Thomas E. Wangler, “The Birth of Americanism: ‘Westward the Apocalyptic Candlestick,”’ Harvard Theological Review 65 (1972): 415-436.

23 For a discussion of the relationship of Hecker’s thought to Testem, see William Portier, “Isaac Hecker and Testem Benevolentiae,” Hecker Studies, ed. John Farina (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 11-48. Portier argues that it was the sloppy translation of Elliot’s book, more than Hecker’s real thought, that precipitated Testem. See also John Farina, An American Experience of God (New York: Paulist Press, 1981).

24 Elliot, Life of Father Hecker (New York: Columbus Press, 1891); translated by Klein as Le pere Hecker, fondateur des “Paulists” americains (Paris: Lecoffre, 1897).

25 For such a treatment, see David P. Killen, “Americanism Revisited: John Spalding and Testem Benevolentiae,” Harvard Theological Review 66 (1973): 413-454.

26 For instance, see R. Bruce Douglas, “Introduction,” Catholicism and Liberalism: Contributions to American Public Philosophy (New York: Cambridge, 1994), 9. Both liberalism and the Church “have come a long way, and in the process they have come a lot closer to one another as well. So much so, in fact, that on any number of matters that are of real consequence they now deserve to be thought of much more as allies than as adversaries.” Douglas’s comment betrays an understanding of the Church that tends to collapse it into the goals and aspirations of liberalism. To say that on matters of “real consequence” liberalism and Christianity are more allies than adversaries is to allow liberalism to define what those matters are. Certainly, liberalism is not interested in having Catholicism define what matters are of “real consequence,” except in terms that liberalism has already sanctioned.

27 The immediate context is the persistent allegation that Isaac Hecker believed that the sacraments were, at best, incidental to the reception of grace by the believer, and that, therefore, the Church could be bypassed by the individual believer. Of course, this has broader implications for the authority of the Church in other matters. On Hecker’s view, see Klein, 219 ff.; Martin J. Kirk, C.M.F., The Spirituality of Isaac Thomas Hecker: Reconciling the American Character and the Catholic Faith (New York: Garland, 1988), 267-352.

28 The sub-text here is the allegation that Hecker extolled the socalled “natural” virtues over the “supernatural” virtues, which, if true, lends itself not just to a diminution of the role of the Church in the life of the believer, but to a kind of semi-Pelagianism, as well. As Leo describes this alleged view, it also has at least a hint of Gnosticism: “The Holy Ghost, they say, pours greater and richer gifts into the hearts of the faithful now than in times past; and by a certain hidden instinct teaches and moves them with no one as an intermediary” (446).

29 For a contemporary call to replace the classical virtues with active “commercial” virtues, see Michael Novak, Free Persons and the Common Good (Lanham: MD, 1989), This Hemisphere of Liberty (Washington: American Enterprise Institute Press, 1990), The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Free Press, 1993), and Business as a Calling: Work and the Examined Life (New York: Free Press, 1996).

30 In commenting on these passages, Klein tries to deflect the criticism from Hecker, by suggesting that Walter Elliot and he (Klein) might have confused the issue by their use of the phrase “passive virtue” to describe what they really meant as “pseudo-virtue,” by which, he explains, “We were thinking of a pattern of ‘piety’ which seems to exclude consideration of the second commandment…. Assuredly, we had not the least idea of departing from the sound doctrine that virtue is always active.” See Klein, 223.

31 Brownson to Hecker, June 6, 1844, The Brownson-Hecker Correspondence, 103.

32 It is important to note, however, that Hecker soon was received into the Church, preceding even Brownson’s own conversion. See Hecker’s letter to Brownson of August 2, 1844, Correspondence, 109; and Brownson’s reply of September 24, 1844 (ibid., 115).

33 See Kirk, Spirituality of Isaac Thomas Hecker 47 ff.; Vincent R. Holden, C.S.P., The Yankee Paul: Isaac Thomas Hecker (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1958), 35 ff.; and Isaac T Hecker: The Diary, 88 ff.

34 See Leo XIII, Immortale Dei (1885) #10-11; 15; and Libertas Praestantissimum (1888) #3-5; 21; 23.

35 This does not, of course, deny the freedom (or capacity) of the conscience to dissent from the Church’s teaching. Nor, moreover does it violate the venerable Catholic tradition that conscience is the “proximate” norm of religious and moral decision-making. But this freedom – of conscience is transcended by the supernatural freedom of the Church, in which true ultimate freedom of conscience is secured. See Carlo Caffarra, Living in Christ: Fundamental Principles of Catholic Moral Teaching, tr. Christopher Ruff (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987), partIiI, ch. 1, 131-158.

36 See Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992); Philip J. Lee, Against the Protestant Gnostics (New York: Oxford, 1987).

37 See, for instance, Bernard J. Lee, ed., Alternative Futures for Worship, 7 volumes (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1987); and note the emergence of groups such as “Call to Action,” “Catholics Speak Out,” and others, which tend toward a desacralization of the Church, rather than dialogue about the meaning of sacramentality within the Church. A recent petition has been circulated by a coalition of such groups, which alleges that sweeping changes are “necessary for the Gospel message to be heard by the whole people of God as we enter the new Millennium.” This group wants a church which believes in, among other things, “the primacy of conscience in deciding issues of sexual morality (for example: birth control),” and in which “the gulf between laity and clergy is bridged.” (See Origins 26:3 [June 6, 1996]: 37-38.) A perusal of the literature of “Call to Action,” though, shows not that these groups want to bridge gaps between clergy and laity, but to collapse the former into the latter. Nor do these groups seem very interested in dialogue; the shrill tone of their assertions of what American Catholics want the Church to look like are not conducive to authentic dialogue.

38 See Mohler, Unity §35, 166 ff; and “Appendix 1: Pragmatic Glimpses,” 327 ff.

39 For an example of using the principle of subsidiarity to declericalize the Church, see Charles Curran, “What Catholic Ecclesiology Can Learn from Official Catholic Social Teaching,” A Democratic Catholic Church: The Reconstruction of Roman Catholicism, eds. Eugene C. Bianchi and Rosemary Radford Ruether (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 94-112. For a more balanced and dialectically critical point of view, see Joseph A. Komonchak, “Subsidiarity in the Church: The State of the Question,” The Nature and Future of Episcopal Conferences, eds. Herve Legrand, et al. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1988), 298-349.

The principle of subsidiarity in the Church is stated at least implicitly as early as A.D. 95, in the Letter from Rome to Corinth (I Clement). “For to the high priest the proper services have been given, and to the priests the proper office has been assigned, and upon the Levites the proper ministries have been imposed. The layman is bound by the layman’s rules” (§40, cited in The Apostolic Fathers, trs. J.B. Lightfoot and JR. Harmer, ed., Michael W. Holmes [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989] 50). Of course it is noteworthy both that the church in Corinth thought it proper to appeal to Rome, and that Clement thought it appropriate to respond to address the problem.

40 Dennis P. McCann, New Experiment in Democracy: The Challenge for American Catholicism (Kansas City: Sliced & Ward, 1987). “Clergy and laity will no longer relate to each other as shepherds and sheep, despite the weight of these images in traditional Christian iconography” (27).

41 Thomas E. Wangler rightly notes the high implausibility of such an assertion. “It should be pointed out that in none in none of the Americanists can one find ideas remotely connected with creating a ‘self-governing association,’ as Dennis P. McCann … has claimed as the key to the American Catholic tradition, and especially the Americanist heresy. One has to stretch things considerably to believe that a church which was subjected to considerable persecution, economic discrimination, violence and murder, for the most part because of its hierarchical structure, really wanted ‘self-governing association’ all along.” Wangler, “Americanist Beliefs and Papal Orthodoxy,” U.S. Catholic Historian XI(Summer 1993): 47.

42 McCann 13, quoting from Max L. Stackhouse, Creeds, Society, and Human Rights: A Study in Three Civilizations(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 57.

43 Stackhouse, Creed, Society and Human Rights, 57.

44 To his credit, McCann is clear about his own embrace of the Americanist heresy, and his call for the Church in America to embrace it as its own story. “American Catholicism is fortunate in having once been innovative enough and daring enough to choose its own past as a guide to its future. After spending so many years trying to live down the Americanist heresy, perhaps it is time for American Catholics to begin living up to it,” he exhorts (27).

45 Nor is McCann alone in this view, of course. For a collection of sympathetic points of view, see Bianchi and Ruether, eds., A Democratic Catholic Church. Of special significance in this context is the essay by Bianchi, “A Democratic Church: Task for the Twenty-First Century.” What is most striking about McCann’s book, as well as of the many essays in the Bianchi and Ruether book, is the authors’ absolute certainty that American Catholics are groaning as one for the democratization of the Church. Evidence for such certainty is scanty at best, notwithstanding Jay P. Dolan’s essay, “The Desire for Democracy in the American Catholic Church” (Bianchi and Ruether, ch. 6). To be sure, a broad swath of Catholicism has been heavily influenced by the moral and political epistemology of American liberalism. But the assurance of the new Americanists remains questionable.

46 Murray’s place in this discussion is important, if confusing. Murray is invoked both by liberal democrats who think that democracy must be incorporated into the Church’s own structure (such as, inter alia, McCann), as well as those who think that democracy ought and can be kept out of the Church’s structure. For an example of the latter, see George Weigel, Catholicism and the Renewal of American Democracy (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989). Joseph A. Komonchak has recently pointed out that the struggle over Murray’s legacy has even distorted the way his unpublished and out-of-print work is being collected and published. See his review of J. Leon Hooper, ed., Bridging the Sacred and the Secular: Selected Writings of Tohn Courtney Murray in First Things 65 (August/September 1996). Komonchak complains that Hooper’s selection and very extensive editing of these collected essays (as well as an earlier volume, Religious Liberty: Catholic Struggles with Pluralism) is a questionable (if not tendentious) use of the material, based upon Hooper’s own highly debatable agenda. For the best disinterested discussion of Murray’s political relevance, see Keith J. Pavlischek, John Courtney Murray and the Dilemma of Religious Toleration (Lanham, MD: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1994), 83-98.

47 Michael Novak saw the Vatican Council in much the same way: “To a great extent we [Catholics] must embrace the ‘Protestant principle’: reliance on the fidelity of the individual conscience, assisted by the Holy Spirit, for the ability of Catholics to take their due place in the secular world.” Novak, “Diversity of Structures and Freedom Within Structures of the Church,” Concilium I (New York: Paulist Press, 1965), 112-113.

48McCann, 37.

49 Inexplicably, McCann refers to the “tree of life.”

50 See Mohler, Unity § 31, 153: “To set oneself above one’s position in pride is to set aside the whole, a member of which we are designated to be. We do not thus lift ourselves to the All, but narrow-heartedly draw it down to us and see of God only as much as we are, the many parts of the whole. Although we thus wish to be the whole, we know only what a part knows. With the detraction of the whole, God too is detracted, that is, our consciousness of God is darkened, and the fall from God is effected. When sin, which this is, separates itself from God and egotistically places itself as the center of everything, and instead of seeing the whole only in itself, sees itself in the whole, God is set aside, is detracted until, as history teaches us, he is equated with humanity or humanity with him.”

51 For an excellent discussion of this text, see Patrick Downey, Comedy and Tragedy and Their Central Importance to Philosophy and Theology (Ph.D. diss. Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, 1994).

52 See Mohler, Unity §27, 144: “All individual, separated separatistic essence must therefore be in opposition to the Church at her very foundation…. In a word: If the new life arises in us only from the community of believers, it must necessarily be lost with division from that community.”

53 Clinton Rossiter, ed., The Federalist Papers (New York: New American Library, 1961) #10, 80.

54 Federalist Papers, 324.

55 McCann and Stackhouse are usually considered religious “liberals,” but the notion of Church as a voluntary society is also present in so-called “conservative” authors. See, for instance, George Weigel, Freedom and Its Discontents: Catholicism Confronts Modernity (Washington: Ethics & Public Policy Center, 1991), 147. Weigel calls the Catholic Church “the largest voluntary association in the country.” Weigel’s project is a more hopeful one for contributing to a dialectical relationship of Church and American liberalism, but it suffers from granting too many of the presuppositions that McCann and other Americanists (perhaps rightly) think necessarily lead one to embrace the moral imperative of the Americanization of the Church.

56 Thomas E. Wangler notes Archbishop Keane’s explicit invocation of the relationship of Americanism and the rights theory of Locke. See “Americanist Beliefs and Papal Orthodoxy,” 43-44.

57 John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, ed. James H. Tully (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983), 28.

58 Locke, Letter, 30.

59 “The test of orthodoxy is whether it is able to build a church rather than a club or school or a sect, or merely a series of concerned religious individuals.” Helmut Koester, “The Structure of Early Christian Beliefs,” Trajectories Through Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971), 231.

60 See Mohler: ‘Because of misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the principle many have charged the Catholic Church with opposing freedom of conscience, introducing human premises as divine commands in the place of the gospel…. One sees that earlier propositions are purely evangelical. By submitting to them the Catholic is using free acts of will and is following inner conviction. In this way Christ is concerned for the Church and it can be demonstrated that no church is possible in any other way.” “Appendix 3: Selections from the Lectures on Canon Law (1823),” Unity, 353.

61 Attributed to Pope Celestine I(422-32).

62 See John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989).

63 See Mohler, Unity, “Addendum 6: Augustine’s Answer to the Statement of the Heretics that in the Catholic Church There is Only a Faith in Authority and a Constrained Faith,” 281-288.

64 This makes troubling McCann’s glib demurral that “whatever [Leo XIII] may have feared in this ‘certain liberty,’ would-be Americanists continue to embrace it, not as a pretext for doing your own thing, but as in invitation to do the Catholic thing without being coerced” (27). Are Catholics who affirm the legitimate charism of the magisterium authoritatively to interpret the sensus fidelium coerced? Or rather do they understand that the genius of the Catholic understanding of Church is that collegiality does not equal liberal democracy?

65 See Mohler, Unity in the Church, 166 ff, “Unity in Diversity.”

66 Stanley Hauerwas has made this criticism of contemporary moral theology, which, he contends, mistakes apologetics for theology, and thus renders itself unable to make any unique contribution to a critique of American culture. See his “Aslan and the New Morality,” Vision and Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 1974), 93- 110.

67 Michael Sandel, “Freedom of Conscience or Freedom of Choice?” Articles of Faith, Articles of Peace, ed. Os Guinness (Washington, DC: Brookings, 1990), 74-92.

68 Wallace v. Jaffree, 105 S.Ct. 2479, 2487, 2488 (1985). Sandel quotes a key paragraph of the opinion, authored by Justice John Paul Stevens: “The individual’s freedom to choose his own creed is the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority. The Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. This conclusion derives support not only from the interest in respecting the individual’s freedom of conscience, but also from the conviction that religious beliefs worthy of respect are the product of free and voluntary choice by the faithful” (Sandel 86).

69 Sandel, “Freedom of Conscience or Freedom of Choice?” 91.

70 Sandel, 86.

71On the other hand, McCann is certainly correct to criticize Michael Novak for thinking that he can enthusiastically embrace liberal democracy as the only decent and moral form of government, but then try to keep its principles out of the Church. See New Experiment in Democracy, 75 ff. See also Peter Steinfels, “The Failed Encounter: the Catholic Church and Liberalism in the Nineteenth Century,” in Catholicism and Liberalism, 36. “Catholic liberals generally tried to minimize the implications of their attitudes for the interior life of the Church,” says Steinfels, “but these could not be avoided.”

72 In the words of Matthew Lamb, “Modernism and Americanism,” 649-50, “There has been a theologically undifferentiated tendency to claim that modernism and Americanism were basically legitimated by Vatican II and that there ought to be a thorough reconstruction of Roman Catholicism along the lines of liberal democracy.”

73 John Courtney Murray, S.J., “Religious Liberty,” The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott, S.J. (New York: American Press, 1966), 682.

74 Libertas § 23.

75 See Mohler, Unity § 49, 210: “The formation of the visible Church is, therefore, the greatest act of believers. A Christian merely appears to be passive when entering the great common life and is then being immediately determined by the totality of believers. In this passivity, the greatest activity is contained, the greatest possible independence and freedom. The opposing point of view rests on a one-sided determination of what independence is; it holds that we are capable of giving and begetting but not that we receive and take.”

76 For a fuller discussion of Dignitatis, see Kenneth R. Craycraft Jr., “Religion as Moral Duty and Civic Right,”Catholicism, Liberalism & Communitarianism, Kenneth L. Grasso, Gerard V. Bradley and Ropbert P. Hunt, eds. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995), 59-80.

77 Charles Curran, “The Changing Anthropological Bases of Catholic Social Ethics,” Readings in Moral TheologyNo. 5: Official Catholic Social Teaching, eds. Charles Curran and Richard McCormick (New York: Paulist, 1986), 188-218. Moreover, it is astonishing that Curran could claim that Leo’s “only solution” to liberalism “was to turn his back totally on all the developments which were then taking place in the modem world” (192). See Fortin, “‘Sacred and Inviolable.”’

78 As Thomas E. Wangler points out, Ireland and Keane came back from a visit to Rome fully convinced that Leo was strongly in support of their understanding of the relationship of Catholicism to the American experience. ‘Both Ireland and Keane returned to the United States in 1887 with glowing words for Leo. They portrayed him to the American public as the great champion of the modern age, the ‘Pontiff of the age.’ Ireland insisted that it was Leo’s task or providential mission to ‘marry in bonds indissoluble the Catholic church to the actualities of the present time.’ For Keane it was Leo’s vocation to inaugurate the ‘adjustment of the Church to the new circumstances of the world”’ (“Birth of Americanism,” 431).

79 Wangler, “Birth of Americanism,” 431.

80 See Mohler, Unity § § 49 ff. “When Paul admonishes the Ephesians to preserve unity of faith (Eph. 4:5), his words would be robbed of all true meaning if he were speaking of an invisible Church in which it would be unnecessary as well as impossible to protect such unity, and therefore also peculiar to require it” (211).

81Richard A. McCormick, “Authority and Leadership: The Moral Challenge,” America 175:2 (July 20-27, 1996):13.

82 See Stanley Hauerwas, “Aslan and the New Morality,” 107.

83 See Mohler, Unity §§ 64, 247: “The Church itself is the real, realized reconciliation of human beings with God through Christ. Because of this, individuals are reconciled with one another through Christ and through love in him as a unity with him. Thus they are and manifest a unity among themselves; this is the inner essence of the Catholic Church. The episcopate, the constitution of the Church, is only the external expression of its essence, not the essence itself. … External unity in the episcopate flows out from the internal.”

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