Sunday, July 30, 2017

Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council was the most significant religious event in the 20th century, each person reading it differently. To many Catholics the council launched the Mass in the local language with the priest facing the people and lots more singing by the congregation, got nuns to swap habits for dowdy street clothes, gave a sudden new prominence to the Bible and effectively opened anything and everything to questioning. Protestants I have known, even clerics, remember it for ecumenism.

For most Catholics, the 1962-65 period of Vatican II is the dividing line between a “before” picture of the Church and an “after” that endures today. I was 10 years old when it started, barely aware of the issues, and by the time it ended I was an adolescent rocking and rolling to the changes, and I finally understood what was going on in church.

Vatican II was unquestionably the largest ecumenical (or general) council of the Church. Attendance varied from 2,100 to nearly 2,400 voting bishops. This does not count the phalanx of periti (Latin for “experts”) nor the observers from 17 Orthodox churches and Protestant denominations—nearly 100 by the end of the last session. Among those who took part, four became pope: Giovanni Battista Cardinal Montini succeeded John XXIII as Paul VI and saw the council to its conclusion; Bishop Albino Luciani became John Paul I; Bishop Karol Wojtyła became John Paul II; and Joseph Ratzinger, a peritus, became Benedict XVI. The experts included a star-studded cast of theologians, including Karl Rahner, John Courtney Murray, Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac.

Still, the council’s enduring significance was not about size or star power but about its content, which was not primarily dogmatic or doctrinal. The council reviewed the Church in its role as the keeper of the one, true and complete Christian faith. It also tackled its relations with other Christian churches through ecumenism and with other religions, its place in the modern world and, consequently, the renewal of clerical and consecrated roles, liturgy, disciplines and much more.

It was all put into 16 documents (four constitutions, three declarations and nine decrees)—the formal legacy of the council. They are, in order of adoption (Latin title first):

1. Sacrosanctum concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 1963.
2. Inter Mirifica, Decree on the Means of Social Communication, 1963.
3. Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 1964.
4. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite, 1964.
5. Unitatis Redintegratio, Decree on Ecumenism, 1964.
6. Christus Dominus, Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, 1965.
7. Perfectae Caritatis, Decree on Renewal of Religious Life, 1965.
8. Optatam Totius, Decree on Priestly Training, 1965.
9. Gravissimum Educationis, Declaration on Christian Education, 1965.
10. Nostra Aetate, Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, 1965.
11. Dei Verbum, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, 1965.
12. Apostolicam Actuositatem, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, 1965.
13. Dignitatis Humanae, Declaration on Religious Freedom, 1965.
14. Ad Gentes, Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, 1965.
15. Presbyterorum Ordinis, Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, 1965.
16. Gaudium et Spes, Pastoral Constitution on the Church In the Modern World,1965.

They can be read at the Vatican website under Documents of The Second Vatican Council.

“The Church is not a museum,” Pope John XXIII advised the periti. In opening the council, he explained what he meant: “The Church should never depart from the sacred treasure of truth inherited from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and the new forms of life introduced into the modern world.”

Why was this necessary? The Catholic Church was almost 2,000 years old, had survived centuries of (sometimes self-inflicted) turmoil and there was no indication that it was on the wane.

What changed was the world. A third of humanity remained Christian, as was true in 1900. But the majority, which had been in Europe, shifted mostly to developing countries. A third to nearly half of all Christians now lived in overwhelmingly Catholic Latin America.  Conversions surged in Africa, now home to the majority of Anglicans. Moreover, two world wars had directly and indirectly called nearly every human hope into question.

Given this setting it is not difficult to see the council’s conclusions as pointing in two directions, one inward, touching on doctrine (lightly) and disciplines (in somewhat greater depth), and another outward looking at other churches, religions and institutions, then finally placing the Church within that world.

Among the inward-looking documents, perhaps the most significant is Dei Verbum. Since Trent, Catholic popular teaching had deemphasized the Bible in favor of dogma from the hierarchy; Catholic biblical theology was almost nonexistent. Dei Verbum was remarkable because it treated Scripture as the result of tradition, but noted that tradition feeds on Scripture, so that both are a single vehicle for the revelation of God. This is the only expressly doctrinal document.

Next in importance is, probably, Sacrosanctum concilium. It dealt with worship and revised the rules to emphasize “the whole People of God,” common prayer and singing. It expanded Scripture readings, introduced the vernacular (the language of the people) as an allowed replacement of Latin and called for greater inclusion of laypeople. This is what all Catholics noticed right away.

These were the girders that underpinned decrees and declarations about members of religious orders and priests, the role of the laity and, more significantly, greater collegiality among bishops. Many of these rules were externally put into practice, even though the substance did not always change.

Looking outward, the council fathers examined Christianity in Unitatis Redintegratio (literally, “restoring unity”) the decree on ecumenism, which openly declares:

“Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided. Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.” (UR, 1)

The document calls for efforts to restate beliefs and enter into dialogue in the interest of greater understanding and eventual unity. It is accompanied by several others. Especially notable is Nostra Aetate (“our times”), which deals primarily with Judaism and antisemitism. It also opens a door for non-Christian religions by asserting that even though the Church received the fullness of revelation, other faiths also reflect divine interaction with humanity.

Another notable outward-looking document, Dignitatis Humanae, was influenced by an American, John Courtney Murray, S.J., who urged consideration of freedom of thought, particularly when it came to the relationship between church and state.

At the time, the council fathers who opposed it (it garnered one of the highest number of “no” votes, 77, of any document) argued that “error has no rights.” In opposition, they preferred the model of Spanish-speaking countries where the Catholic Church was officially recognized and protected by the state and had veto power on social policy, with relations between the government and the Vatican regulated by a concordat or agreement.

Murray persuaded a majority to accept that “the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” (DH, 2) The deist Thomas Jefferson would have endorsed such a view.

Catholics remain deeply divided about Vatican II, especially in the United States, where Catholics tend to be legalistic—less so in Latin America and Europe. Two popes tried to bridge the divide by taking the name John Paul from the two conciliar popes, one seen as more “liberal” (John) and the other more “conservative” (Paul), possibly because of his 1967 encyclical against birth control. Popes John and Paul, however, were not notably different in theology.

The council inspired many Protestant denominations to hold similar meetings. The 1968 Anglican Lambeth Conference, for example, dropped the requirement that priests assent to the doctrinal Thirty-Nine Articles of 1571 and allowed open communion, meaning that anyone in attendance could receive the Eucharist.

Ecumenical dialogue resulted in the common lectionary or Sunday readings and the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification in December 1999. Because this coming November will be celebrated as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, a follow-up joint document, Declaration on the Way, was issued in preparation.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Inspired by the Holy Spirit

Any illusion of Christian societies in Europe and its colonies died in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Critiques based on Freud, Darwin and Marx, industrialized murder in two world wars, a worldwide clamor for justice and a world order led by an accidental world power sustained by nuclear weaponry all put the lie to Christendom. Yet the intuitive soul of Christian faith survived, awaiting a better day.

This is about that interim period, from roughly 1891 to 1962, that set the stage for our modern day expressions of faith. At this point almost all the ideas of our time were on the table.

History sped up. My grandparents were born in the mid-to-late 19th century to a life that had changed little since Jesus’ day: people used animals and wind power to travel, candles to see at night, speech or handwriting to convey ideas. Social order was prescribed by institutions that seemed built for the ages. There may have been a faraway glimmer or a faint rumor of changes still deemed the stuff of fantasy. By the time the last of them died, there was a realistic aim for men to set foot on the Moon.

During this period, the Christian faith, for most churchgoing Christians in the pews, changed little. Almost everywhere, except in certain tyrannized societies, up to four-tenths of society observed weekly Christian rituals of their local church, the rest pretending to assent and showing up on feast days for family outings. Sincere believers made a mildly heroic effort to live out some semblance of the gospel message while watching horrified as everything they thought they stood for was disregarded in public.

Meanwhile, the clergy, theologians and scholars made a quiet attempt to defend the Christian faith from outright annihilation in the gears of the modern machine. In 1913, the Catholic Encyclopedia was published. In 1919, Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth published his Commentary on Romans, responding to Liberal Protestantism and beginning the Protestant neo-orthodox movement.

In the 1926-1929 Cristero War in Mexico, Catholics rebelled against persecution and anticlerical laws (and the expulsion and assassination of some 4,000 Catholic priests), and many laypeople fled to the United States. Popular piety’s last gasp was the 1917 apparition of Our Lady of Fatima to three young people, in Fatima, Portugal, which included the October 13 “Miracle of the Sun” witnessed by about 100,000 people in the Cova da Iria fields near Fatima. The Catholic Church anticipated the late 20th century and early 21st century emphasis on spirituality by canonizing a modern mystic, Therese of Lisieux in 1925.

A series of conferences attempted to begin shoring up the institutions that proclaimed the faith by beginning talk of common action. One example was the 1910 World Missionary Conference, a primarily evangelical event. Another is the 1920 encyclical of the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Germanos of Constantinople suggesting a “fellowship of churches” similar to the League of Nations. The key event for mainline Protestant denominations was the Lutheran-led World Conference of Life and Work in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1925, which gathered Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, with the much regretted absence of the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, in Rome, there was also quiet ferment. Much as he had responded to socioeconomic developments, Pope Leo XIII also cautiously opened the door to modern historical and textual criticism of the Bible in his 1893 encyclical Providentissimus Deus. Leo’s step followed bubbling from below: Fr. Joseph-Marie Lagrange, O.P., founded the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem in 1890 and the Revue Biblique in 1892, which eventually led to the modern Jerusalem Bible translation.

This bud was nipped by Leo’s two successors. Pius X launched an antimodernist crusade, which also had the influence of Freud and Darwin in its sights, and his Pontifical Biblical Commission demanded the most traditionalist interpretations. After him came Benedict XV, who opposed all efforts to incorporate modernism and condemned them under the forbidden doctrine of “integrism.”

Quietly, quietly, some pressed on, despite Vatican thunder. Throughout the 19th century scholars at the Catholic Tubingen school timidly attempted to incorporate some of the insights of the new methods and engage in dialogue with their more advanced Protestant colleagues, who enjoyed greater freedom.

It was not until the early 1940s, when a series of anonymous pamphlets against modernism in biblical scholarship—possibly inspired by the Fascist regime—was sent to Italian bishops, the the policy was reviewed.. The Pontifical Biblical Commission wrote what some deem a draft of Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu (Inspired by the Holy Spirit), issued on the 50th anniversary of Leo’s letter.

Pius wrote that biblical texts should be interpreted according to “the literal meaning of the words, intended and expressed by the sacred writer,” supported by efforts to “determine the peculiar character and circumstances of the sacred writer, the age in which he lived, the sources written or oral to which he had recourse and the forms of expression he employed.” The document ushered in a springtime of Catholic biblical scholarship that has not abated to this day.

In countries such as the United States, the opening led to unparalleled new scholarly dialogue between Protestant and Catholic scholars to the point that a Catholic was elected president of the Society of Biblical Literature, which was by custom Protestant. Similarly, Protestants were admitted as leading members of the Catholic Biblical Association. As a result, U.S. Catholic scholars such as the late Raymond Brown and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza became widely recognized across denominations and internationally as legitimate and leading scholars.

It was not entirely accidental that the new freedom in biblical scholarship occurred beginning in the early 1940s, nor that, well under the surface of conventional Catholic parish life, similar experimentation and a new sense of freedom began to be felt in the Catholic Church. The proximate cause, in my opinion, was the Nazi attack on the cultural foundations of Christian institutions.

The Christian martyrs of the era all died in concentration camps, two in Auschwitz one in Flossenburg: Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, OCD, was a German Jewish philosopher who converted to Catholicism and became a Discalced Carmelite nun; Maximilian Maria Kolbe, O.F.M. Conv., was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in place of a stranger; Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, spy, anti-Nazi dissident and key founding member of the Confessing Church.

Tertullian said that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” In a French missionary initiative, priests worked in factories to experience the life of the largely unchurched and secularized working class. Fr. Jacques Loew, who began working on the docks of Marseille in 1941, effectively started the movement. When France was liberated in 1944, there were missions in Paris, Lyons and Marseille where the clergy hoped to win over an urban working class lost since the French Revolution at least.

It was a short-lived effort, as in the new Cold War era the Vatican became nervous about political repercussions, particularly links to the Communist Party, for which French workers voted massively. In 1954 Loew disbanded the effort, established the Saints Peter and Paul Mission to Workers, then went off on foreign missions to Africa and the shantytowns of São Paulo, Brazil. Missionaries such as these brought new ideas to the Catholic clergy in the developing nations, particularly of Latin America, where a third of all Catholics live.

Two notable postwar voices of the time were Henri de Lubac (1896-1991) and Bernard Häring (1912-1998).

Lubac, a Jesuit, spent years in the French Resistance alongside Communists and became instrumental in launching the nouvelle théologie (New Theology), which drew on new insight from scriptural reinterpretation. He was named one of the few nonepiscopal cardinals—technically, even a layman can be named a cardinal, whose main job is to elect a pope—in his later years; his best known work is Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man.

Häring, a Redemptorist priest, was a missionary in Brazil, drafted into the German army and served as a medic, but the Nazis barred him from acting as a priest. After the war, he became a moral theologian and came to fame with his three-volume The Law of Christ, which is a personalist and scripture-based approach to the treatment of ethics.

These are only two of many who prepared the way for a son of sharecroppers, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, to open the Church’s windows for the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

New Things

When I was growing up, the world was in a Cold War between the capitalist West led by the United States and Soviet Communism led by the Soviet Union, both armed to the teeth with weapons capable of wiping out all life from the planet. I first was taught that Christianity was anti-Communist (although what was opposed most was the atheism of Marxism-Leninism). Only later did I learn that the Christian faith points to a third way that is neither capitalist nor Communist and resembles what I know as democratic socialism. This came from (mostly papal) social teachings of the Catholic Church.

Catholic social teaching arose just about parallel to the Protestant social gospel movement and in response to more or less the same phenomenon—the appearance in 1848 of a broad socialist labor movement reacting to harsh early industrialization and very savage capitalism. In 1891, taking notice of the ferment of about a half century, Pope Leo XIII issued an encyclical titled Rerum Novarum.

Papal encyclicals, or circulars, grew out of the early custom of bishops sending a letter to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Church. The word encyclical is a Latinized form of the Greek enkyklios, meaning “circular,” “in a circle,” or “all around.” Papal encyclicals, issued in Latin, which is still the official language of the Holy See, are usually named after the first two or three words of the document. “Rerum novarum” means literally “of new things,” although in the official English translation it is “revolutionary change”—for many complicated reasons an acceptable rendition.

In this document, Leo takes stock of new things in the political, economic and social spheres and sets out some principles he thought were appropriate applications of the gospel, in particular the subject of his subtitle, Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor. Leo first describes the situation like this:

“... the ancient workingmen’s guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.” (RN, 3)

However, Leo is no firebrand. He states that socialists “would rob the lawful possessor, distort the functions of the State, and create utter confusion in the community” and affirms a right to private property, but he limits that right with a reminder that all things in creation were given to humanity as a whole rather than to particular people. He favors a society of harmony and mutual respect between labor and capital, with rights and obligations, and rejects class warfare.

“The proletarian and the worker,” Leo declares, must do a good job, respect the property and person of the employer, refrain from violence and disorder and stay away from “men of evil principles.”

The “wealthy owner and the employer” have many more responsibilities. They must respect workers as people of dignity, not “bondsmen” (unfree servants). Employers must acknowledge that “working for gain is creditable, not shameful” and the source of “an honorable livelihood.” Leo calls it “shameful and inhuman” to “misuse men as though they were things” to be used for profit and valued only for “their physical powers.” Employers are urged to respect workers’ souls and  allow them time to fulfill religious duties. They should protect their workers from corruption, from leaving their families or squandering their earnings, and not overburden them or demand work “unsuited to their sex and age.”

On wages, Leo goes on at length, stating first that “to exercise pressure upon the indigent and the destitute for the sake of gain” is condemned by human and divine law. “To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven,” he writes. “The rich must religiously refrain from cutting down the workmen’s earnings, whether by force, by fraud, or by usurious dealing.”

Leo directs the government to look after the common good, especially the greater needs of the working class, in what he calls “distributive” justice.

He recognized the need for associations that “opportune aid to those who are in distress, and which draw the two classes more closely” and was the first pope to support one kind of association, stating, “The most important of all are workingmen’s unions.” He saw them as similar to medieval guilds and declared, “It is gratifying to know that there are actually in existence not a few associations of this nature, consisting either of workmen alone, or of workmen and employers together, but it were greatly to be desired that they should become more numerous and more efficient.”

The encyclical was just the beginning of the development of a broad body of social teaching dealing with people, systems and structures to promote justice and peace, which began to be seen as part and parcel of the Church’s mission. This body of teaching is now vast and has prompted the development of crusades such as the Catholic Worker movement in the United States, begun in 1933 by Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker newspaper. It grew into some 240 communities committed to “nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken.”

The development of such teaching was not in a straight line nor particularly well understood by all.

In 1931, on the 40th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, Pope Pius XI issued Quadragesimo Anno. Pius was most concerned with totalitarian political doctrines that led to atheist Communism in Russia and Fascism in Italy.

Pius XI wrote that “The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands. Therefore, those in power should be sure that the more perfectly a graduated order is kept among the various associations, in observance of the principle of ‘subsidiary function,’ the stronger social authority and effectiveness will be the happier and more prosperous the condition of the State.” (QA, 80)

In one major unintended effect, the encyclical spurred some members of the hierarchy and well-to-do Catholics to invoke “subsidiarity,” a word the pope never used, as a catch-all prescription for achieving social justice—usually as a pretext for supporting conservative, laissez-faire policies that relieve government of responsibility for social problems. In fact, Quadragesimo Anno was a direct strike at the one-size-fits-all policies of an all-encompassing dictatorial state such as the Soviet Union and Fascist Italy. The encyclical proposed that, rather than a super-state charged with every minute thing in the nation, economic, social and political problems should be dealt with at the most immediate level of government that is consistent with a suitable solution. It is not a papal ban on regulatory government action nor on national antipoverty programs.

For good measure, Pope John Paul II, who lived under Soviet Communism and understood Leninist Marxism well, proposed a balance. In two of his social teaching encyclicals, the 1981 Laborem Excercens, and Centessimo Anno, issued on the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, he made a point of balancing subsidiarity, which he supported in its proper understanding, against solidarity, the notion that we are all responsible for one another.

Separately, and particularly addressing the threat of global war and the worldwide turmoil brought about by vast economic disparity between rich and poor nations, Pope John XXIII in 1963 issued Pacem in Terris. His successor, Pope Paul VI, drew on this letter when he told the United Nations, “the new name for peace is justice.” In 1965 the Second Vatican Council, presided over by popes John and Paul, approved Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), a broad statement of economic, social and political questions from the Christian point of view.

Those who are interested in pursuing the study of Catholic social teaching should check out the 2004 Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

British and U.S. 19th Century Protestant Effervescence

A scholarly controversial third awakening movement—said by some to span from the late 1850s to the early 20th century in Britain and the United States—was really a period of effervescence within evangelical Protestantism. It touched on slavery, temperance and reacted against science, while spawning denominations whose Christian credentials remain questionable. The period still affects Christian religious discourse.

Slavery and Civil War

U.S. Protestant churches were growing rapidly and adopting a “muscular” Christianity of manliness, athleticism, teamwork, discipline, self-sacrifice and as one writer put it “the expulsion of all that is effeminate” that also sought to reach the unchurched, nationally and around the globe. However, the storm clouds of the U.S. Civil War split them.

In the North, most mainline Protestant denominations touched by Pietism—a German movement that emphasized personal transformation through spiritual rebirth and renewal, individual devotion and piety—supported Abraham Lincoln’s Republican Party and urged prohibition of alcohol and social reforms. Revivals were halted during the war in the North, but in the South they flourished, especially within the Confederate Army.

Slavery supporters pointed to the New Testament Letter to Philemon, which Paul addressed to a Christian slave owner. The letter was carried by Onesimus, a runaway baptized by Paul and persuaded to return to slavery. Christians of the 19th century Confederacy saw this as biblical evidence of God’s approval of slavery. But U.S. slavery was unlike any slave system of antiquity or even the 19th century, particularly in the degree of dehumanization of Africans kidnapped and sold as property on U.S. shores.

Moreover, Onesimus’ initiation into the faith strongly suggests he was an unusual individual. The early Christians gathered in small secret cells under the pressure of persecution rarely welcomed slaves, for fear that they were spies. The letter makes plain that Philemon is to treat Onesimus like a brother in the faith; within the Church, Onesimus became a bishop, died a martyr and is revered as a saint in Orthodox Christianity. The epistle’s message is clearly that the faith welcomes people of all stations, even slaves, as an extension of the Beatitudes’ “blessed are the poor.”

The Social Gospel

The social gospel movement applied Christian ethics to economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tension, slums, poor sanitation, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools and war. The term was first used by Charles Oliver Brown (1848-1941), who was a bugler in Sherman’s army and later became a minister, but the movement’s leading figures were Richard T. Ely, Josiah Strong, Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch. Toward the end of his life Rauschenbusch wrote A Theology for the Social Gospel, which sums up the broad ideas of the movement. He argued that a focus on personal sinfulness “has not evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion.”

By the 1870s women were leading figures, and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union mobilized a social crusade against liquor, pornography and prostitution and sparked the demand for woman suffrage. The WTCU, by the way, still exists.

The movement also gave rise to “settlement houses,” such as Hull House in Chicago, run by Jane Addams, which helped the poor and immigrants with such services as day care, education and health care. The Young Men’s Christian Association was started in the 1880s to help rural youth adjust to city life without losing their religion. It quickly became an institution of the social gospel movement, serving all needy youth and inspired such groups as the Methodist Epworth League and Lutheran Walther League.

A parallel 1880s offshoot, the Salvation Army, was founded in London’s East End in 1865 by formerly Methodist Reform Church minister William Booth and his wife and rapidly crossed the Atlantic. It was modeled after the military, with its own flag and hymns whose words were often set to popular pub tunes. The evangelical London Missionary Society brought together Anglicans and Nonconformists for outreach to Africa and the South Pacific and inspired similar efforts across the Atlantic.

New religions

The period’s religious effervescence also spawned unquestionably new religions that, like Mormonism, took Christianity as a starting point but wandered far afield.

The earliest of these and most closely related to Protestantism is the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which grew out of the Millerite, or Adventist, movement of the Second Awakening and was established in 1863. The denomination observes Saturday instead of Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection, as the Sabbath, believes the Second Coming (or advent) of Jesus Christ is imminent and interprets the book of Revelation in a fairly rigid and unorthodox way. Particularly controversial is the place of founder Ellen G. White, who claimed visionary experiences and the role of prophet. Her Conflict of the Ages is essentially a paraphrase of the Bible in the purple prose typical of 19th century romanticism.

A similar group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, drew from the Second Awakening’s millenarian leanings. It was founded in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell. The Witnesses reject the trinity, immortality of the soul and eternal punishment, which they consider unscriptural. They pointedly reject celebrations of Christmas, Easter, birthdays and occasions they deem pagan and incompatible with their view of Christianity. They believe that the destruction of the present world, or Armageddon, is imminent and that only Revelation’s 144,000 saved will survive final judgment—yet they have 8.3 million members worldwide today. Jehovah’s Witnesses are best known for their door-to-door preaching, distribution of literature such as The Watchtower and Awake! and refusing military service and blood transfusions.

Other new religions of the period drew from the writings of Phineas Quimby (1802-1866), a philosopher, mesmerist and healer. He originated “New Thought” or “Higher Thought,” which holds that an “Infinite Intelligence” (God) is everywhere, spirit is the totality of real things, true human selfhood is divine, divine thought is a force for good, sickness originates in the mind and “right thinking” has a healing effect.

Yes, you guessed it: New Thought inspired Mary Baker Eddy (1821-1910) to found Christian Science, which gained a national following. Through the sale of her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures as a holy book parallel to the Bible, Eddy became a multimillionaire.

Charles Fillmore (1854-1948) took a page from Eddy’s playbook. After the alleged spiritually healing of his wife of then-incurable tuberculosis, the couple launched Unity, known informally as Unity Church. Their followers believe in the divinity of Jesus, but only in the sense that all humans are the children of God and share divine potential.


While all these effective departures from Christianity via Protestantism were taking place, a cross-denominational evangelical theological movement emerged in response to scientific developments that put to the test biblical passages concerning the origin of the world—humans in particular—and miracles. It adopted a literal and very strict reading of the Bible. While Liberal Protestantism and the modernists attempted to adapt, this new movement, which took some ideas from the First and Second Awakenings, fought back with new doctrinal interpretations of its own.

What came to be called Princeton Theology responded to modern criticism of the Bible by developing the doctrine of inerrancy starting in mid-century. Princeton Seminary theology professor Charles Hodge (1797-1878), among others, argued that the Bible was factual because God inspired or “breathed” exact thoughts into the biblical writers, citing 2 Timothy 3:16. Late in his career, his massive Systematic Theology explained that the Bible was divinely inspired, religiously authoritative and without error.

At more or less the same time, Dwight L. Moody made revivalism the centerpiece of his activities in Chicago by founding the Moody Bible Institute in the 1880s. With it began a series of Protestant evangelical nondenominational institutions that propounded similar methods and advanced similar ideas, as yet unsystematized.

The movement got its name well after the initial excitement died down. In 1910, the Bible Institute of Los Angeles began to publish a series of 90 essays written by 64 different authors, originally in a 12-volume set, called The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth, later known as The Fundamentals. Sponsors subsidized free distribution of over 3 million volumes to clergy, laymen and libraries.

The work affirmed core conservative Protestant beliefs, particularly of the Reformed tradition, and defended against ideas deemed to oppose them. It is widely considered the foundation of modern Christian fundamentalism and the source of its most commonly cited beliefs:
  • inerrancy of the Bible;
  • literal truth of biblical accounts (especially miracles and creation);
  • the virgin birth of Jesus;
  • the bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ; and
  • Christ’s total atonement for others on the cross.
While these beliefs echo elements of the faith since apostolic times, the literalist and proof-texting way in which they are expressed, brooking no questioning or reasoning, makes them fundamentalist.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Oxford Movement

In the early 19th century, at the learned core of England, Oxford University, there arose a movement that eventually became both the Anglo-Catholic (or “high church”) wing of the Church of England and the source of converts—or from another perspective, returnees—to the mother church of Rome.

Originally known as Tractarianism after its series of Tracts for the Times, published from 1833 to 1841, its members began by arguing for reinstatement of older Christian beliefs and practices in Anglican liturgy and theology. Before 1845 their adversaries called them Newmanites, after John Henry Newman, later as Puseyites after Edward Bouverie Pusey.

At the time, the Church of England clergy was mostly evangelical, almost Methodist. The country was molded by Whigs such as Thomas Macauley who viewed Britain as moving inevitably toward greater liberty, enlightenment, liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. English liberals of the era abhorred the violence of the Reformation and in 1828 repealed laws against Protestant Dissenters. In 1829 they approved Catholic Emancipation, effectively legalizing Catholicism for the first time since Queen Elizabeth.

The spark that set off the movement was an 1833 bill dealing with Irish ecclesiastical property. This was a bit of delayed housekeeping, but it reminded some of the closing and expropriation of monasteries. In 1801, when Ireland was incorporated into the new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the United Church of England and Ireland was established under the Anglican see of Canterbury. Parliament was now merely dotting a few i’s and crossing t’s.

In a sermon preached by John Keble (1792-1866) on July 14, 1833, titled “The National Apostasy,” he called these moves Britain’s “apostasy.” In the controversy that followed several Oxford churchmen defended Keble.

That was how a series of tracts was launched, eventually 90 in total, monographs by Newman, Keble, Pusey and others. They also translated writings of the Church Fathers and collected them in 48 volumes.

Drawing on writings of the first three centuries of Christianity, these Tractarians criticized both evangelicals and liberal Protestants and proposed Anglicanism as one of three branches (along with Catholicism and Orthodoxy) of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of the Nicene Creed—the so-called Branch Theory. The famous Via Media (or Middle Way) between Protestantism and Catholicism was born.

Via Media was the title of a series of the tracts that was written by Newman around 1834. He paid homage to the the Elizabethan Thirty-Nine Articles that defined Church of England doctrine, but proposed, along with his fellow Tractarians, that the Elizabethan Settlement of Anglicanism should be reinterpreted it as a compromise between Rome and Reform.

The Oxford Movement resulted in Anglican religious orders of men and of women and incorporated ideas and more powerful emotional symbolism in the liturgy. The Eucharist gradually became more central to worship, vestments became common and Catholic practices were reintroduced. Controversy followed and sometimes wound up in court.

Anglican bishops refused to post Tractarian priests to regular parishes, so many began working in slums. What they saw led them to criticize British social policy, both local and national. They launched the Christian Social Union, and many bishops eventually joined. Just wages, questions about the nobility’s income from rents, infant mortality and industrial working conditions were among their concerns.

John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was a popular Oxford priest. After writing his final tract, Tract 90, he came to see the Branch Theory as inadequate. He could not accept separation between Catholicism and Anglicanism. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1845. Several years later he was ordained a priest and then named a cardinal, although not a bishop. He was a prolific and eloquent writer, and his legacy is rich.

He wrote the poem “Lead, Kindly Light” while crossing the English Channel at night in a storm. He drew hope when he saw a light from the coast, which he interpreted as a divine beacon. This is the opening verse:
Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
Apologia Pro Vita Sua is Newman’s careful chronicle of the development of his religious thinking, published serially between 1865 and 1866, in response to public criticism by Church of England cleric Charles Kingsley after Newman’s resignation as Anglican vicar of St. Mary’s, Oxford. His 1870 Grammar of Assent, written for a nonbelieving friend, articulates the reasoning he thought could lead a person to belief.

Newman influenced a vast legion of Anglicans to convert to Catholicism. Among the best known are the poet and eventual Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), the eventual Msgr. Ronald Knox (1888-1957), whose English version of the Vulgate Bible is exceedingly poetic, and poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist and novelist Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), popularly known for his Father Brown mysteries, which always feature within them a religious theme.

Edward Pusey (1800-1882), also an Anglican cleric at Oxford, carried on the movement after 1845. He remained a lifelong Anglican fighting to revive pre-Reformation teachings and practice. His sermon before the university in May 1843, “The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent,” got him suspended for two years from preaching, but the condemned sermon became an overnight bestseller.

Pusey engaged behind the scenes in several theological and academic controversies, through articles, letters, treatises and sermons. The Church of England was the established church, so these issues straddled the religious and political spheres. His most notable books, on the subject in which he was most influential are Eucharist, The Doctrine of the Real Presence (1855) and The Real Presence ... the Doctrine of the English Church (1857); he also wrote The Eirenicon, an effort to find a basis for union between the Church of England and the Catholic Church. He was accused of ritualism, but Pusey didn’t cotton much to lovers of bells and smells. He defended them, though, when they were accused of breaking the law; however they returned the favor by shutting the Puseyites out.

Perhaps the most notable figure influenced indirectly by Pusey was the 1948 Nobel Prize winner T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), who renounced his native-born U.S. citizenship to become a British subject in 1927, the year he also converted to Anglicanism from Unitarianism. He became a warden of his parish church, Saint Stephen's, Gloucester Road, London, and a lifetime member of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. He identified “classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion” and 30 years later summarized his views as having “a Catholic cast of mind, a Calvinist heritage, and a Puritanical temperament.” His most noted work with a religious theme is his 1935 play Murder in the Cathedral, concerning the assassination of St. Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.