Cleansing Fire

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“Counter Reformational/Catechetical-Devotional” Catholicism no longer useful?

November 28th, 2013, Promulgated by Ben Anderson

Continuing in the series, but first some abbreviations.

  • CR = Counter Reformation
  • CD = Catechetical Devotional
  • BC = Baltimore Catechism
  • EC = Evangelical Catholicism
  • EG-PF = APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION EVANGELII GAUDIUM (added PF for Pope Francis to distinguish from EC)

1) My take on Weigel’s understanding of “Counter Reformational/Catechetical-Devotional” Catholicism (the 500 years or so which preceded V2) is that he thinks it is no longer useful. Sure, he praises it for what it accomplished in its time, but in a similar way that we might hail the steam locomotive – a great thing in its time, but something we’ve matured beyond. In contrast to his Evangelical Catholicism, CR/CD Catholicism is left seeming overly formulaic, more concerned with externals than internals, and cannot stand up to the modern world. I’m not going to attempt to make the claim that in some parts of the world at some points during this time frame, there weren’t shortcomings. However, the charges Weigel makes against this over-generalized form of Catholicism are just… well… over-generalizations. My fear is that Catholics may not tap into the amazing treasures to be found in the traditions, spiritual writings, magisterial documents, and biographies of some amazing Saints (here is but a small sampling).

Hopefully this isn’t too confusing, but I’m going to intermix quotes from Weigel’s book with Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium (note the abbreviation at the start of each quote).

EC: “lost elements of the Church’s life had been forgotten or marginalized during the Counter-Reformation” bp14

That certainly would be troubling, but I remain unconvinced.

EC: “But it [CR Catholicism] it was not a form of Catholicism that could successfully meet the full challenge of modernity, the response to which required more of Catholics than (to take American reference points) memorizing the Baltimore Catechism and wearing the Miraculous Medal.” bp15

And yet the BC itself doesn’t even support such a claim. If you’ve memorized the BC, then you know there’s more to Catholicism than memorizing the BC and wearing a Miraculous Medal.  That’s kind of like saying that there’s more to baking a cake than memorizing the ingredients.  Really?  No kidding.  Memorizing the BC (or at least being familiar with it) is a great start for any child (or adult, really).

Pope Francis suggests the breakdown happened in the last few decades.

EG-PF: in recent decades there has been a breakdown in the way Catholics pass down the Christian faith to the young. It is undeniable that many people feel disillusioned and no longer identify with the Catholic tradition.

If there was a breakdown, then that means it must’ve been fairly functional prior to that. Back to Weigel:

EC: “Counter-Reformation Catholicism created Catholic cultures (or microculture) that transmitted the faith as if by osmosis. But when the acids of modernity hit those Catholic cultures with full force – especially in the turbulence of the 1960s – those Catholic microcultures crumbled… Some hint of what might be necessary as an alternative to the Counter-Reformation model was emerging at the same time – a deeply biblical and sacramental Catholicism that displayed enormous growth in Africa. But the evangelical alternative to Counter-Reformation Catholicism remains to be fully described for the Church in the West, where for cultural reasons that have now become clear, the Counter-Refomation model ran aground and shattered.” p16

There’s a lot packed in there and this is a pretty good microcosm of the jumbled up over-generalizations in the book. For one thing, it’s a total fallacy to say the Church’s failures in the last few decades could be blamed on CR Catholicism. It was “the spirit of V2”, “the hermeutic of rupture”, “liberalism”, whatever-you-want-to-call-it that caused the crumbling of the Church. CR Catholicism did, in fact, stand up to modernity for quite some time. And then to continue on to compare this to what worked in Africa is just trying to connect too many dots.

EC: “religious certainty is not, and cannot be, transmitted through osmosis by the ambient culture (or microculture). Religious faith, commitment to a religious community, and a religiously informed morality can no longer be taken for granted.” p16

It’s not the ideal and we certainly shouldn’t be content with it, but osmosis certainly does help and the faith can be transmitted that way.  Pope Francis talks a great deal about the benefits of inculturation and popular peity.

EG-PF 69. It is imperative to evangelize cultures in order to inculturate the Gospel. In countries of Catholic tradition, this means encouraging, fostering and reinforcing a richness which already exists.

The evangelizing power of popular piety
I think of the steadfast faith of those mothers tending their sick children who, though perhaps barely familiar with the articles of the creed, cling to a rosary; or of all the hope poured into a candle lighted in a humble home with a prayer for help from Mary, or in the gaze of tender love directed to Christ crucified. No one who loves God’s holy people will view these actions as the expression of a purely human search for the divine. They are the manifestation of a theological life nourished by the working of the Holy Spirit who has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5).

Back to Weigel:

EC: “EC is in many respects far more demanding than CR, CD Catholicism. It requires more effort by priests and bishops, consecrated religious, and laity; no one gets a pass on the tongues of fire. It requires a deeper religious culture: to take one counterexample, EC is nourished not by the simple formulas of the BC, but by the mystagogical reflections of the ancient Jerusalem Catecheses, which invited Christians to immerse themselves deeply into “the mysteries” that are the sacraments, and to have the entirety of one’s life formed by them.” p20

“Far more demanding than CR, CD Catholicism”? The English Martyrs aren’t impressed. When I read the great Saints of this era, I find them rather demanding.  I’m guessing Weigel would respond by saying, “that’s not who/what I meant”.  But why, then would he bad mouth 500 years of Catholicism like this.

“CR revered the Bible, but at a distance” bp74

And yet there’s this. My feeble understanding of some of the history around why Joe Catholic might have been more biblically illiterate is simply practical. People didn’t have kindles, lots of money, or even a good sense that certain Bible translations be trusted.

It’s obvious what Weigel is trying to do with this book.  He’s trying to transcend the normal battle lines so that common ground can be found and we can work towards unity around the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.  While that’s a good intention, we need not be dishonest about the past and we certainly should not downgrade 500 years of Catholic tradition to make way for a new form of Catholicism.  I say this as someone who’s completely in favor of organic growth and development of doctrine and I have no qualms with V2, authentic liturgical reform, or the modern popes.  I think it is a good strategy to point out excesses and abuses by both sides – even if it’s nowhere near being a 50/50 blame fest (in reality the problem of liberalism is much worse than radtrad, although maybe this is particular to where we live).  I think Pope Francis does a much better job at presenting potential problems on both sides and has real potential to achieve authentic unity in line with Catholic tradition.  Here’s an example:

94. This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.

While some might think Pope Francis is basically espousing Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism, I don’t find this to be the case at all.  Pope Francis is much, much, more careful about not trashing on tradition and all the good things of our Catholic heritage.

And btw – If you only read one section of Evangelii Gaudium, make it: SPIRIT-FILLED EVANGELIZERS.

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4 Responses to ““Counter Reformational/Catechetical-Devotional” Catholicism no longer useful?”

  1. avatar annonymouse says:

    Ben, I would encourage you to attend Mr. Weigel’s lecture and have at it with him. He is, without question, one of the most (if not THE most) brilliant observers of the Church in the world in our times. And his book is, in my opinion, entirely at one with the thrust of our new Holy Father’s teachings.

    What I think you fail to grasp is that the premise of his book is that protestantism is no longer the opponent, as it has been for 500 years in a largely Christianized Europe and west. We truly are in a “post-Christian” age in which all things Christian are being attacked. The opponent now is this new secularism, humanism some will call it, and that sea change calls for a very different spirit of evangelism than when we were merely seeking to reclaim the lost protestants. And as such, we no longer have the luxury of our left v. right in-fighting, since we face an insideous enemy which requires our unity. And I certainly don’t see Weigel “trashing on tradition” at all in this book (he calls for Ad Orientam liturgy, for goodness sake!). He is happy to embrace tradition and does, but in service of a new and different mission.

    Ben, I would humbly suggest that you read it again.

  2. avatar Ben Anderson says:

    And you have no comment on the excerpts above? Have I quoted him out of context or would you care to explain how these passages are not problematic?

    He is, without question, one of the most (if not THE most) brilliant observers of the Church in the world in our times

    without question? And yet here I am questioning him (and I’m not alone).

    I’m not going to bother addressing anything in your second paragraph unless you care to address the texts I’ve already quoted (the book is littered with quotes like these). I’ve admitted there are good things in his book. Saying 9 good/true things doesn’t give you a pass to make up whatever you want for the 10th thing out of your mouth.

    If we’re giving each other reading assignments (I did, in fact, re-read most of the first half of his book), I’d suggest you read some of the CR/CD material I’ve proposed and see if Weigel’s accusations are valid.

    as to in-fighting – who is the one who wrote a book dumping on everyone who doesn’t embrace his neo-conservatism?

  3. avatar Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    Some readers really liked Weigel’s book; some readers found fault and offered criticism; some readers chose not to read it.

    I read it twice because it confirms, inspires, and encourages the evangelical catholic faith God graciously has give me. Weigel provides a blueprint for the evangelical renewal, purification and reform that each of us and the Mystical Body of Christ need; desperately need.

    For some unexplained reasons, however, Mr. Weigel offers an understanding of Vatican II implementation (labeled Evangelical Catholicism) which makes no room (nor even tolerance) for traditionalists, traditional Catholicism or Catholic traditionalists.

    In a controversial manner without naming adherents to what the author claims has no relevance in promulgating the Gospel in today’s hostile world, George Weigel refers to Catechetical Devotional Counter-Reformation Catholicism in ways which people of good will can and have taken offense.

    Describing and prescribing Vatican II implementation in “EVANGELICAL CATHOLICISM Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church” can be very helpful. Referring to brother and sister Catholics in Christ in uncomplimentary ways is not helpful but actually harmful to unity and the promotion of his insightful blueprint for the future.

    He critically describes (again without naming about whom he is writing) certain Catholics as out of touch who “imagine modernity can be rolled back and that culturally transmitted certainties can be restored” “by an impossible model for living the faith rendering itself evangelically sterile, sounding the retreat into bunkers and catacombs rather than issuing a call for witness and mission” who are “like fossils in amber…remain(g) stuck within the Counter-Reformation model.” p17

  4. avatar Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    Some one should attend the lecture on December 5 at the U of R Interfaith Chapel and look for an opportunity to ask George Weigel to explain exactly who it is that is being criticized, marginalized and refused entrance to the renewal, purification and reform that each of us and the whole Church desperately need to faithfully implement Vatican II and proclaim the Gospel in the joy of the Lord.

    Is Mr. Weigel writing critically about what Ben calls ‘radtrads”? Or can Mr. Weigel possibly be referring critically to those Catholic brothers and sisters who accept V2, the ordinary rite of the Mass and the teachings of recent Popes yet also utilize the official magisterium and saints of the 500 years before the Second Vatican Council? Is Weigel inferring those Catholics have gained no benefit from our Sacred Tradition and that what they have learned and how they have grown in the Lord plays no part in Vatican II implementation?

    My hope is that these hard questions will be asked and answered and that we will be able to extend “the right hand of fellowship” to each other joyfully recognizing each other as Catholic brethern called and equipped to do the work of the ministry.

    Come, Holy Spirit, Come….


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