(Note: this continues the series of articles by Paul Likoudis which I am publishing each Thursday.)
Der Wanderer at 140....
SKEPTICISM OF ‘AMERICANISM’
A TRADITION AT ‘THE WANDERER’
by Paul Likoudis
fifth in a series
In his examination of the many contributions conservative German Catholics made in the “progressive” politics and social justice movements in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century, as exemplified by Frederick Kenkel and the Catholic Central Union (Central Verein) – the publisher of Der Wanderer, Joseph Matt, a major player in the Central Verein, selected his friend Kenkel to run the national organization – Notre Dame historian Philip Gleason observed that the German-Catholic “tradition was one of opposition to all forms of liberalism, ranging from the doctrinaire anticlerical variety of the German Forty-Eighters to the social and procedural liberalism of the Catholic Americanizers.”
“The German Catholics interpreted Leo XIII’s Testem Benevolentiae,” wrote Gleason in The Conservative Reformers: German American Catholics and the Social Order (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), “as vindicating their conservative religious and ideological position. While their new interest in social reform might appear to be virtually a repudiation of the German Catholics’ traditional position, in fact there is a clear continuity between their earlier conservative stance and the more progressive reform interest.”
At a time of roiling social discontent as farmers and factory workers tried to organize to defend themselves from an exploitative and protected class of “robber barons,” German Catholics, led by men such as Kenkel and Matt, worked tirelessly to build Catholic solidarity, and a major component of that work was a critique of American social and political institutions and American optimism.
In doing so, German-American Catholics found themselves in opposition to most of the American hierarchy. Dr. Gleason writes:
“....Catholic liberals like [Minneapolis/St. Paul Archbishop John] Ireland and [Richmond Bishop John] Keane held that the Church and American institutions were admirably suited to one another, and they felt the future of Catholicism was more promising here than in the tradition-bound states of Europe.
“Most of the German-American Catholics disagreed; they held less sanguine views on the excellence of American society and the easy compatibility of Catholicism and American civilization....German Catholics retained the conviction that the liberals were mistaken in their enthusiasm for American institutions. The liberals were too complacent, too satisfied with the status quo; they glossed over the defects and shortcomings of American life and were insufficiently critical of the blemishes on the American scene. The liberal Catholics, according to this interpretation, were so bedazzled by the supposed excellencies of the American way that
they believed ‘we have no Social Question.’
“If anything were needed to persuade the German-American Catholics that we most assuredly did have a social question, nothing could have served the purpose more admirably that the conviction that the Americanizers denied its existence. Thus, the Germans later took great pride in their entry into the field of social reform at a time when other Catholics were indifferent to the need for such activity.”
German-American Catholics, such as Rev. Dr. Anton Heiter, a prominent antisocialist and editor of a Catholic newspaper in Buffalo, argued forcefully, wrote Dr. Gleason, that those “who denied we had a social question [were] simply confounding sickness with health. In listing the symptoms of social sickness in America, Heiter included not only the menace of socialism, the ‘gigantic strikes’ of the recent past, and the existence of trusts and monopolies, but also several other points not usually considered part of the social question by Progressive reformers. The separation of Church and State, the reduction of religion to the sphere of private conscience and its exclusion from the realm of public affairs – these Heiter considered the most telling indications that we did indeed have a social question in the United States. Additional evidence was furnished by the irreligious public school system and the injustice of Catholics’ being forced to support schools they could not in conscience allow their children to attend.”
TAKING AIM AT
On January 22, 1899, Pope Leo XIII issued the encyclical Testem Benevolentiae. Addressed to James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, Leo condemned a number of “Americanist” propositions found in the writings of Isaac Hecker (1819-1888), the founder of the Paulists.
The core of the Americanist heresy, wrote Leo, consisted in this: “the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith. They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them.”
At least eight years before Leo issued his encyclical, the editor of Der Wanderer, Hugo Klapproth, a convert from Lutheranism and future father-in-law of his successor as editor, the recent immigrant Joseph Matt, was warning his Catholic audience of the danger of “Americanism.”
In one such editorial, headlined, “Amerikanischer Katholicismus,” (American Catholicism),
published May 21, 1891 on the front page, Klapproth endorsed and commented upon an article written for the American Catholic Quarterly Review by the vicar general for the Archdiocese of New York, a Monsignor Preston, who warned:
“It has been asserted that a unique form of Catholicism has taken shape in this country, a Catholicism which has outpaced the peoples of the old world and has taken on the trappings of progress, a Catholicism which is more congenial to the spirit of the time and has adopted a more tolerant ecumenical stance…”
The editor of Der Wanderer then summarized the position of the true Catholic: “First, we want to be true Catholics and then, in second place, a necessary corollary of the first, faithful Americans.”
On indifferentism (liberalism), Klapproth wrote:
“No rational person and none of our brothers who hold erroneous beliefs can take umbrage at this teaching [that the Catholic faith is the true path to salvation] if they take into account the clarification that the Church does not question the possibility that anyone who is invincibly ignorant can achieve salvation. God alone can judge these cases. The only teaching which the Syllabus [of Errors, published by Pope Pius IX in 1864] condemns and which every Catholic must reject is the equality of all religions with respect to their intrinsic value and their efficacy in attaining eternal salvation. Thus, a relaxation of the Catholic teaching on the unique character of the Church as the sole sanctifying institution is not possible. God after all has established only one path to salvation and this for all practical purposes is realized in the Catholic Church.
On modernism, Klapproth wrote:
“We can give the second error which Msgr.Preston’s article notes short shrift. This is the error of modernism and is of lesser interest to our readers. It suffices to say: Every educated Catholic knows there can be absolutely no contradiction between revealed truth and scientific progress: truth can not stand in contradiction to truth. And in point of fact, no scholar has as of yet verified that any specific conclusion of so called ‘science’ is contradictory to our faith.”
On the School system, Klapproth wrote:
“1) It must be clear to any thinking Catholic that this question is one which is a life or death issue for the Catholic Church, that the school question is a matter of principle.
“2) It is evident that a true ‘education,’ that is, a harmonious development and up-building of all human potentialities in connection with this world and the other-worldly domain is simply impossible in a system which is completely separate from all fundamental Christian truths....
“… As true sons of the Church we claim for our mother, which is our dearest possession on earth, that freedom which is guaranteed to every one in America, the freedom to engage in political movements and public action, the right to air, light and sunshine, which no one in the world has the right to infringe upon or to withhold from her. And even if attempts have been made here and there in recent years — even in Minnesota — to curtail our freedoms, we believe the true American spirit will not permit for long such an assault which essentially destroys freedom, the best of its gifts. We Catholics who feel ourselves first in line to be attacked, can certainly not be expected to be content with a curtailment of our freedom and a diminution of our rights. Non sumus filii ancillae, sed liberae. ‘We are not sons of the slave girl but sons of the free born daughter, our holy Roman Catholic Church’.”
On January 4, 1899, Klapproth began a ten-part examination of a critical book on Isaac Hecker by the French priest Fr. Maurice Maignen, under the headline, “Der sog. Americanismus vom theologischen Standpuncte,” (So-called Americanism from the Theological Standpoint) by a contributor known as “W.H.”
Introducing Maignen’s work, “Is Father Hecker A Saint?” and W.H.’s analysis, Klapproth wrote:
“Der Wanderer remarked once that the liberalizing trend among certain circles in America together with its principles — all of which has come to be known as “Americanism” — demands a critique by theologians. The reason for this is the fact that basic principles as they appear in the ‘new Gospel’ proposed in the book ‘Life of Father Hecker’ seem to ‘be vulnerable to attack from the religious standpoint.’
“In noting this Der Wanderer is right on the mark. In the meantime a theologian has indeed emerged who has carefully analyzed Heckerian ‘Americanism.’ Subjecting these ideas to a rigorous examination he has produced conclusions which are as interesting as they are instructive. This is even so for the lay person who is not a professional theologian. We mean Father Maignen, whose study: ‘Is Father Hecker a Saint?’ has rightly created such a sensation. Of course, we can’t be expected to cover all the points against American liberalism which Father Maignen, as ‘defensor fidei,’ illuminates with his penetrating spot light. But we would like to give closer attention to two points. They are: the passive virtues, as they are called, which Heckerian ‘Americanism’ likes to shunt off into a corner, terming them out of date and secondly the passing away or dying of the individual.
“In my opinion Father Maignen could have given more extensive treatment precisely to these two points in his otherwise excellent treatise; for it is precisely here that the ‘Achilles heel’ of American liberalism is to be found. And it is in connection with these two ‘novelties,’ that Rome will and must exercise a veto if it doesn’t want to cut off the life blood of the Church itself.
That is saying a lot but we are going to prove it too.”
On February 8, 1899, Klapproth published an editorial “Erzbischof Ireland in Rom”
(Archbishop Ireland in Rome) in which he wrote:
“Archbishop Ireland — according to the American daily press — had an audience with the Pope on the 2nd of this month.… Several Catholic newspapers are reporting the opinion that the Archbishop undertook this sudden trip to Rome in the dead of winter, in order to prevent, if possible, the condemnation of the so-called ‘Americanism’ or at least the publication of the letter which Leo XIII sent to Cardinal Gibbons on this topic.”
Klapproth also complained that “Leo XIII’s letter to Cardinal Gibbons on the topic of the so-called ‘Americanism’ has still not been made public officially, even though it arrived in Baltimore prior to the beginning of the year. …[Der Wanderer cites the Berlin Germania.]
“Of course, the Pope’s statements are couched in soothing words. Nonetheless, in the context of this controversy they signify a condemnation of every individualistic principle which Father Hecker, whose life story we have recently described in great detail, brought into the Church....
“The essays which have been appearing in Der Wanderer by Wanderer collaborator W. H. should certainly go a long way in meeting the need for enlightenment which the Pope has expressly desired.”
On March 1, 1899, Der Wanderer finally obtained the Latin edition of encyclical, which Cardinal Gibbons finally released on February 25. Klapproth translated it into German, and published it for his readers.
In an editorial in the same issue that carried the complete text, Klapproth wrote under the headline, “Glossen zu dem Breve Leo XIII,” (Comments on the Letter of Pope Leo XIII):
“Der Wanderer has for months been uttering its conviction that the Holy See will condemn theological ‘Americanism.’ The reason for this is that the teachings, principles, and practices which have been spread abroad under this name are novelties which cannot be sustained by Catholic theology. A colleague at the Wanderer, who is a trained theologian, has sought to prove this last point in detail. Now before he has been able to complete his task, the long awaited Apostolic Brief of the Holy Father has arrived from Rome condemning theologicial ‘Americanism’....
“Whoever has read the article in Der Wanderer on ‘Americanism’ and who now reads the Apostolic Brief of the Holy Father will discover that they are perfectly harmonious with each other.. In individual details their agreement in expression is downright astounding. Read, for example, what our colleague W. H. has to say about the ‘passive’ virtues and compare that with the statements of Leo XIII....
“Whoever has feared — or has hoped — that the Holy Father in his vaunted gentleness would treat ‘Americanism’ with kid gloves and would express himself with words such that no one need feel directly addressed, then that person will today be pleasantly — or unpleasantly — disappointed…. Therefore, we say: The much maligned conservatives, ultramontane adherents, old-fashioned theologians, Germans and Jesuits, etc. would now have a right to celebrate. For they have triumphed, and not for the first time….However, it would be better and more in keeping with spirit of the Holy Father if all well meaning persons would now pray, constantly and full of trust, that the intentions of the Pope in writing this message be fulfilled….”
This report on Der Wanderer & Americanism will continue next week. Again, The Wanderer thanks Fr. John Kulas, OSB, for translating these selections from Der Wanderer archives at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Mn.