(Note: this continues the series of articles by Paul Likoudis which I am publishing each Thursday.)
The Wanderer at 140....
Th Wanderer’s Defines ‘Americanism’
As “The False God of the Present Age”
by Paul Likoudis
(Sixth in a series)
The Americanist controversy, which Pope Leo XIII addressed in his 1899 encyclical Testem Benevolentiae was much more than an argument over the extent American Catholics should blend in with the dominant Protestant culture and participate in public life. For German-American Catholics especially, Americanism represented the idolatry of modern nationalism, coupled with a radical assimilationist ethic that would de-Catholicize and de-Europeanize their children and their communities.
In his study, The Conservative Reformers: German American Catholics And the Social Order (University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), historian Philip Gleason writes that German-American Catholics “had reservations about the easy compatibility of Catholicism and the American spirit. They were less impressed by the glorious opportunity open to American Catholics in reconciling the Church and modern culture than they were by the indisputable Protestantism and periodic nativism of Americans; hence they emphasized the need to maintain the traditional integrity of Catholic life and thought as the surest means of maintaining the faith in the United States.
“To men of this persuasion, the flexibility commended by the liberals [i.e. the liberal Catholics led by Archbishop John Ireland of Minneapolis/St. Paul] looked much like laxity, accommodation, suggested compromise, and adjustment to the new environment resembled capitulation before the enemy. Since the program of the liberals seemed to require departures from the traditional stance in a number of areas, the conservatives were fearful of the possible consequences of Americanization; they urged that the preservation of the faith should not be endangered by the reckless adoption of the novelties aimed at harmonizing the Church with American culture.”
The major areas of disagreements between German-American Catholics and the predominantly Americanist hierarchy were over public schools, secret societies (such as membership in Masonic lodges), ethnic parishes, the temperance movement, the right to maintain their German language, and so on. But, as Gleason observes, all these had a theological dimension: “Americanization represented a formulation, on the highest level of abstraction, of the same problem of Americanization of which the language question, the school question, and all the other specific questions were practical aspects. It is hardly surprising that after resisting Americanization in practice, the German Catholics should reject Americanism in theory.
“Testem Benevolentiae ended the period of controversy,” Gleason continues, “but it did not settle the question of Americanism. Rather, the question was left in terrible ambiguity. Something called Americanism had been condemned, but it was not a doctrine expressly formulated by the champions of Americanization. Rather, the condemned doctrines were derived for the most part from the writings of conservatives who claimed that they were simply spelling out what was implicit in the Americanists’ position....The Americanizers could argue that all they had in mind was bringing the Church into harmony with Americanism understood in precisely that fashion [i.e. participating fully in American life].
“Further analysis of the theoretical relationship between Americanism and Catholicism was postponed indefinitely after Testem Benevolentiae. Indeed, the American Church has still not confronted the task. The problem of adjusting the Church to American circumstances without sacrificing any of the essentials of Catholicity did not, of course, go away after 1899 simply because people stopped quarreling about it, but mutual exhaustion seemed to overspread both camps....”
When Joseph Matt, the longtime editor of Der Wanderer from 1899 to 1964, wrote the centennial history of the Central-Verein in 1955, Gleason reports, he looked back at the controversies surrounding Americanism, and “confessed that ‘a perusal of the documents of those bygone days always stirs my innermost soul.’”
A PROPHETIC STANCE
The concerns raised about the costs Americanism would place on Catholicity make the editorials of Der Wanderer during the Americanist controversy all the more prophetic, as this sampling indicates.
A front page editorial from March 8, 1899, “Auslegungen” (Commentaries) expressed befuddlement at the Americanist party line that Pope Leo’s encyclical was not intended to criticize any features of the American Church:
“What should we say to that?” asked the editor.
“Let us have the Holy Father answer himself. He writes a Brief on ‘Americanism.’ He addresses it to a Cardinal in America. At the same time he sends it to all bishops in the United States of America. In the introduction to his letter he says he wants to call something to the attention of the Church precisely in these United States of America which is to be avoided and improved in the future. Immediately thereafter he asserts clearly that this is a matter of certain novelties and refers to the biography of Isaac Thomas Hecker, an American priest, as his source. Then he proceeds to discuss these novelties in detail, asserts the danger of each of them and rejects each. Finally, he condemns them all wholesale which ‘taken together’ – as the Latin texts suggests – are called ‘Americanism’.…. These are the same opinions, which have been steadfastly opposed in America as theological ‘Americanism’ by the ‘conservatives’ (including our newspaper) as well as in the old world, especially by Dr. Maignen. But they are also the same opinions from which propaganda has been made unceasingly and not without success, in America, from America and by Americans in the press and on the speaker’s podium....
“Poor optimists, who believed a piece of paper from the Vatican would suffice to end all strife. We have never belonged to that group. Even less do we cast our lot with the pessimists. The voice of the Holy Father – whether it is incapable of stemming the controversy in the near time or whether the strife will even rage more fiercely for a while – has not been raised in vain. Let the confusion become even more widespread as a result, the voice of the pope will ultimately have the power to clarify the issues and call each one to make a decision. Blessed be the person who then will find himself on the right side and sees that he has always been there.”
A March 8 editorial, “Auch Msgr. Keane hat nun” (Now also Bishop Keane) reports on Richmond Bishop John Keane’s response the encyclical:
“Even Bishop Keane – according to an Associated Press dispatch from Rome – has now sent a message to the Pope in which he declares that ‘the liberal wing [sic] of the Church in America has been misrepresented and he insists that the so-called ‘Americanism’ has never subscribed to the errors now condemned by the Holy Father and that he himself has never taught them. … Both leaders of the Liberals (Archbishop Ireland and Bishop Keane) , according to the same dispatch, have proven by their clarifications that the Vatican has totally misunderstood the meaning of ‘Americanism’ by relying on the version of Father Hecker’s Commentary [?] which has appeared with a papal imprimatur ( this refers to Maignen’s book. (!) …
“If these dispatches are accurate one can only conclude that one cannot say: ‘Roma locuta causa finita.’ – Rome has spoken. Case closed.
A March 15, 1899 editorial, “Wie zu erwarten war” (What we expected) notes the irony of so many Americanist prelates denying they were ever “Americanists.”
“As was to be expected,” wrote editor Hugo Klapproth, “there is a great rush everywhere to disclaim the teachings condemned in the papal letter to Cardinal Gibbons by quickly declaring – the password is readily at hand – that the condemned Americanism never existed here. Thus the Boston Pilot writes: [Der Wanderer cites the English text]: ‘The American Catholicism which the Abbé Maignen and his followers have evolved largely from their inner consciousness is not indigenous to our soil.’ The following points can be raised in this connection. The book by Abbé Maignen: ‘Is Father Hecker a Saint?’ was translated into English from the French original. Citations from the biography of Isaac Hecker in this English translation are not taken from the French translation of Elliot’s book; rather they are taken from Father Elliot’s original English text. And the teachings condemned by the Holy Father are taken from this latter book. It follows, therefore, that the so-called Americanism is in no way a figment of Abbé Maignen’s imagination. Finally we have some questions to direct at the Pilot:
“1) In the introduction to his encyclical the Holy Father indicates that the biography of Father Hecker contains some false opinions. Does the Pilot now wish to maintain that the Holy Father is in error?
“2) The Holy Father addressed his letter to His Eminence the Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore and not to a French, Italian, or other foreign prelate. Is the Pilot ready to assert that the Holy Father had the wrong address?
“3) Right at the beginning of his letter the Holy Father says it is not his intention to praise American Catholics but rather to refer to some errors that had to be taken care of. Does the Pilot dare to suggest that these words of the Holy Father are based on an error? We are looking forward with great expectation to the Pilot’s answer.”
The controversy surrounding the acceptance of Leo’s encylical by leading American prelates continued over the months. A March 15, 1899, editorial, “Wir constatiren,” observed:
“We note that many English-language American papers are filled with factual errors in reporting on this Americanism controversy. Indeed errors creep into English Catholic papers as well...
“What can one say, for example, when at this late date (13 March) a Catholic paper can report Archbishop Ireland’s letter to the Pope and, using large print headlines, celebrates this letter as ‘an unconditional surrender’ on the part of Ireland?! Doesn’t this paper really know that Archbishop Ireland vigorously, and we might add, legitimately protests such an interpretation of his actions?”
A March 22, 1899, front page editorial, “Das Schreiben Erzbishof Ireland’s an den Hl. Vater,”
(Archbishop Ireland’s letter to the Holy Father), observes:
“This letter functions as a response to the Pope’s Brief on theological ‘Americanism.’ The full text is an exact translation into German from our copy of the French original.
[There follow here several excerpts from Archbishop’s letter]:
“Now light has been shed on the situation. The misunderstandings are at an end. We are now in a position of providing a definition of the error to which ‘some’ have delighted to confer the name of Americanism, and the true meaning of Americanism, as only the Americans can comprehend it, is made clear….
“With certitude and with all the energy of my soul I reject and condemn all the opinions which the Apostolic Brief rejects and condemns. I condemn as well those erroneous and dangerous opinions which, as the Papal Brief affirms, ‘some persons’ call Americanism....I reject and condemn these opinions literally and categorically just as Your Holiness rejects and condemns them.. And I condemn and reject them all the more readily and all the more joyfully, in as much as my Catholic faith and my understanding of the teachings and practices of holy Church have kept me from ever, even for a moment, entertaining similar wayward ways.
[letter signed and dated February 22, 1899]
Der Wanderer editor Hugo Klapproth observed:
“How a respected and otherwise sensible Catholic newspaper can look at this letter and speak of ‘unqualified submission’ is incomprehensible. It is just as clear as the day that this letter is essentially nothing but an angry protest against the assertion of ‘some,’ ‘several,’ ‘certain persons’ that the ‘opinions’ condemned by the Holy Father ever existed in America and especially that Archbishop Ireland ever fostered or promoted such ‘opinions’…
“If it were to be supposed that the Holy Father intended to use his own Apostolic Letter to
assert that such ‘opinions,’ theological ‘Americanism’ never existed in America, then he was at least mistaken. But according to the letter of Archbishop Ireland above the Holy Father didn’t intend to say that….”
A March 29, 1899 editorial, “Die Amerikanisirer,” observes:
“One after the other, the ‘Amerikanizers’ are beginning to recover from the shock they have experienced as a result of the recent lightning bolt from the Vatican. It is clear from their actions and words that they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Instead of bearing witness to the truth and admitting that they had been following a will-o-the-wisp, and that in Heckerism and ‘Americanism’ they have been worshiping the false gods of the present age – instead of doing that they deny flatly that there ever has been anything like ‘Americanism’ and declare that the Papal Brief is the latest and most dangerous product – read it and weep – of the Cahensly-conspiracy. It is seen as part of the effort to paint the Church in America with the offensive brush of ‘foreignism.’ ‘As long as foreign languages, customs, and practices are transplanted into this country and forced upon the Church, so long will her enemies treat her with scorn,’ thus writes the editor of the Catholic Union and Times in their last issue.”
An April 5, 1899 news report, “Erzbischof Corrigan an den Papst,” (Archbishop Corrigan to the Pope), informs that L’Osservatore Romano “published last week a letter of Archbishop Corrigan of New York to the Pope in which he thanks the Holy Father in the name of his suffragans for his latest communication on ‘Americanism.’ The archbishop says he accepts the Brief exactly as it stands in his own name as well as in the name of the clergy, religious orders and parishes. He adds that the question is now settled and the well-known errors under the name of Americanism are now for ever dead. (?)”
An April 5 news item, “Die Paulisten,” reports that the Paulists have withdrawn from circulation “The Life of Father Hecker,” but the Paulists’ newspaper, The Catholic World, declares that Father Hecker “is not only totally orthodox but is the best defender that the Church ever had.”
An April 12, 1899 editorial, “Es gibt keinen ‘religiösen Americanismus,” (There is no American religion) observes:
“‘There is no theological Americanism,’ exclaim our liberals. But they are the only ones who hold to that position. The Pope and the Catholic world think differently. Archbishop Bruchési of Montreal made such remarks in one of his sermons in his cathedral, as quoted in the Fall River Independent of 17 March. ‘To err is human.’ How often has that not been verified in the course of the centuries? But the infallible teaching office of the Church was always there and watched over the sacred treasure committed to her care. And to this day no one has been able to subtract from it….
“All these opinions bore a name which characterized them as a system which speaks to the needs of our time, namely ‘Americanism.’ Lively discussions followed. There was recourse to Rome. Leo XIII considered it wise to intervene. After careful review he condemned the theological novelties in a letter written to the head of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States. This letter will remain one of the most important documents of his reign. The pope has thereby called to mind the unchanging foundations of the Gospel and tradition.”
FAREWELL & WELCOME
On June 7, 1899, editor Hugo Klapproth bid farewell to his readers in a front page editorial “Zum Abschied” (A Farewell):
“In the editorial office of Der Wanderer we have always given pre-eminence to the honor of God. In dealing with the various ‘questions’ of recent years which exercised the spirits we have always positioned ourselves on that side of the issue which after careful examination seemed to us to be the right one. It was not rare to find ourselves in the painful situation of fighting against something which leading members of the hierarchy promoted or worked for....
“In those situations where we considered it to be our duty to take a particular stand which was in opposition to one taken by an ecclesiastical leader we have always, as far as possible, tried to separate the person from the issue. Each time we faced such a situation we asked ourselves before we made our decision whether and to what extent an opposing view in the question at issue might be possible. To the best of our knowledge we have never intentionally opposed an ecclesiastical superior’s legitimate commands and instructions. For that reason we found ourselves constantly in a cross fire from the side of good friends, some of whom found our ‘tone’ too sharp, while others – indeed, the majority – judged the tone not to be aggressive enough. We listened to everyone’s view and – plotted our own course. Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re. [pleasant in manner, courageous in substance.] But how difficult it was, how very difficult, for us to foster in the lay man, who was by no means a trained theologian, a conviction in these difficult issues which extend more or less deeply into the realm of theology. It was equally difficult to find the right expression. How often we felt burdened by the feeling of responsibility and the anxiety that we might be harming the very cause we were promoting rather than helping it. Did we always make the right decision? We don’t know but we lay down the editorship with a spirit of interior relief and an untroubled conscience as this mountainous burden is finally taken from us. For the rest, we can add that in all the great ecclesiastical questions that have been disputed in recent years – once Rome has made the final decision – it was clear that Der Wanderer always stood where every Catholic is supposed to stand: there ‘where Peter is.’
In his inaugural editorial the following week, June 14, 1899, 22-year-old Joseph Matt (who would eventually serve as editor for an American record-smashing 66 years), wrote, under “Mit Gott und für Gott !” (With God and for God!):
“When we come before the readers of Der Wanderer today for the first time and when they scrutinize us with a critical eye and ask us about our program it doesn’t take us long to respond: our earnest and zealous goal will be to walk in the footsteps of our mentor and predecessor. Whatever might come about in the future, the measure by which we shall judge ourselves will be: With God and for God!…”
# # # #
NEW SURVEY OF CATHOLICS REVEALS
THE TRAGIC COST OF “ASSIMILATION”
by Paul Likoudis
In the late 19th century, and early 20th, Der Wanderer’s editors Hugo Klapproth and Joseph Matt fought, and history shows they lost, a decades-long battle against “Americanism” and the assimilation of German-American Catholics into the “mainstream” of American society, as this week’s installment of “The Wanderer at 140" shows.
But a new survey conducted by a prestigious California firm, the Barna Group, describes in dramatic detail the price of Catholic assimilation: Catholics are the least likely of all self-professed Christians to profess their faith in public, to practice their faith, to share their faith with others and even to believe the basic doctrines of the faith they claim to belong to.
The president of the Barna Group, George Barna, oversaw the survey and expressed alarm at what he learned, which not only has terrible implications for the Catholic Church in the United States, but powerful social and cultural implications.
“The history of American Catholics is that of a pool of immigrants who have successfully blended into the native culture,” Barna said in releasing the survey on July 9. “They have done well at adapting to their surroundings and emerging to become a backbone of the community and the national economy. The questions raised fifty years ago about the political loyalties and social objectives of Catholics are no longer relevant in this society.
“Yet, the cost of that struggle to achieve acceptance and legitimacy is that Catholics have largely lost touch with much of their substantive spiritual heritage,” he added. “They retain an
appreciation for tradition and consistency, but have much less of a commitment to knowing and practicing the commands of Christ. For instance, the data show that some of their long-held distinctives, such as being champions of social justice, are no longer a defining facet of their community.
“The trail of Catholicism in America is a clear example of culture influencing faith more often than faith influencing culture,” Barna continued. “The faith of tens of millions of Catholics is affected by the prevailing culture more than by the central principles and teachings of the Bible. Spiritual leaders who are passionate about remaining true to the scriptures and to Catholicism’s historic commitment to Jesus Christ and the Word of God must address this spiritual drift within the body. If they fail to do so, in the next quarter century American Catholicism could well lose its ability to shape people’s minds and hearts in ways that conform to the historic teachings and purposes of Christianity.”
According to a press release announcing the results of the survey, headlined, “Catholics Have Become Mainstream America,” Catholics constitute the larges single religious denomination in the country, at 22 percent, but “they are virtually indistinguishable from people aligned with other faith groups.”
According to the press release:
“The survey explored three dimensions of people’s faith: behaviors, beliefs and attitudes. Catholics were significantly different from other Americans in each of those areas. Two out of three Catholics (68%) said their religious faith is very important in their life – the same as was true among non-Catholic adults – but how their faith is manifested is quite divergent.
“All five of the faith-related attitudes tested showed a gap between Catholics and other Americans. Among the elements tested were people’s highest priority in life (Catholics were only half as likely as others to mention their faith, and a majority identified family as their priority) and their commitment to the Christian faith (44% of Catholics claimed to be ‘absolutely committed’ compared to 54% of the entire adult population).
“Further; Catholics were less likely than average to look forward to discussing their religious views with other people, to attending church services, and to reading the Bible. In fact, Catholics were only half as likely as other Americans to say they look forward ‘a lot’ to reading from the
“Of the dozen faith-oriented behaviors tested, Catholics strayed from the norm in relation to eight of the 12 items. Specifically, the typical Catholic person donated about 17% less money to churches; was 38% less likely than the average American to read the Bible; 67% less likely to attend a Sunday school class; 20% less likely to share their faith in Christ with someone who had different beliefs; 24% less likely to say their religious faith has greatly transformed their life; and were 36% less likely to have an ‘active faith,’ which Barna defined as reading the Bible, praying and attending a church service during the prior week.....
“Catholics differed from most people on seven of the 11 belief-focused questions raised. For
instance, Catholics were significantly less likely to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches and only half as likely to maintain that they have a responsibility
to share their faith with others. They were more likely than the norm to say that Satan is not real; to believe that eternal salvation is earned; and to contend that Jesus Christ sinned while on earth....
“The moral behaviors of Catholics also stood out in several areas. Among the 16 moral behaviors examined, Catholics were notably more likely to not say mean things about people behind their back, and were more likely to engage in recycling. However, they were also
twice as likely to view pornographic content on the Internet and were more likely to use profanity, to gamble, and to buy lottery tickets.
“Among the moral behaviors in which Catholics were indistinguishable from other Americans were illegally downloading copyrighted music from the Internet, stealing, engaging in physical abuse, getting drunk, using illegal, non-prescription drugs, lying, committing adultery, and seeking revenge....
“Regarding aspects of life outside of faith and morals, Catholics are strikingly similar to the rest of the public. There is less anticipation among Catholics regarding a good night of sleep or reading a good book, and slightly more excitement about spending time working on their garden and yard. But the bulk of the attitudes investigated – regarding media, consumerism, vacations, health and exercise, and even household duties – showed no difference between Catholics and other Americans....
“Years ago, politicians counted on Catholics to respond to certain cues based on the unique demographic profile of the group. That distinction has vanished. The survey explored a dozen demographic variables and discovered that Catholics are the same as the rest of the country on ten of those twelve items....”