Last week, Pew released a survey showing that fewer than one-third of American Catholics believe that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during Communion. You’ve got to take such surveys with a grain of salt; people can misunderstand what’s being asked. And I wonder what percentage of adherents in any religion in America today really knows the religion’s core doctrines. Still, the results are striking. The belief that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood is a major doctrine of the Catholic Church–the Reformation was fought over it, in part.
On Twitter, there was a lot of discussion about the role Vatican II had in encouraging ignorance of Church teaching. Moving to a more modern, accessible liturgy was supposed to increase religious participation and knowledge, after all. Perhaps, by encouraging an informality and lack of seriousness in the liturgy, it has led to the opposite? I’m a liturgical traditionalist, myself (though not a Catholic), so I’d like to believe liturgical modernization is a mistake. But maybe Vatican II can’t be blamed on its own–perhaps other factors played more of a role. A new book from Oxford, Mass Exodus: Catholic Disaffiliation in Britain and America Since Vatican II, addresses the general fall-off in observance among Catholics since the Council and suggests the Council was actually more successful than critics allege. The author is theologian and sociologist Stephen Bullivant (St. Mary’s University-London). Here is the description from the Oxford website:
In 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with the prophecy that ‘a new day is dawning on the Church, bathing her in radiant splendour’. Desiring ‘to impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful’, the Council Fathers devoted particular attention to the laity, and set in motion a series of sweeping reforms. The most significant of these centred on refashioning the Church’s liturgy–‘the source and summit of the Christian life’–in order to make ‘it pastorally efficacious to the fullest degree’.
Over fifty years on, however, the statistics speak for themselves. In America, only 15% of cradle Catholics say that they attend Mass on a weekly basis; meanwhile, 35% no longer even tick the ‘Catholic box’ on surveys. In Britain, the signs are direr still. Of those raised Catholic, just 13% still attend Mass weekly, and 37% say they have ‘no religion’. But is this all the fault of Vatican II, and its runaway reforms? Or are wider social, cultural, and moral forces primarily to blame? Catholicism is not the only Christian group to have suffered serious declines since the 1960s. If anything Catholics exhibit higher church attendance, and better retention, than most Protestant churches do. If Vatican II is not the cause of Catholicism’s crisis, might it instead be the secret to its comparative success?
Mass Exodus is the first serious historical and sociological study of Catholic lapsation and disaffiliation. Drawing on a wide range of theological, historical, and sociological sources, Stephen Bullivant offers a comparative study of secularization across two famously contrasting religious cultures: Britain and the USA.
This new book from the University of Toronto Press caught my eye for something it doesn’t address, at least judging from the publisher’s description. Quebec in a Global Light: Reaching for the Common Ground, by Robert Calderisi, purports to be a survey of Quebecois society–its commitments and values. Conspicuously absent from those commitments and values is religion, specifically, Catholicism. Quebec went through a Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, after which the Catholic Church, once so important, became something of an afterthought, at best–a phenomenon captured brilliantly by films like The Barbarian Invasions. I have no reason to think the author is wrong in leaving Catholicism off the list. But his doing so suggests how profoundly secular Quebec has become in a short time. Perhaps a similar process is taking place in Ireland today. Here’s the publisher’s description:
To the outside world, Quebec is Canada’s most distinctive province. To many Canadians, it has sometimes seemed the most troublesome. But, over the last quarter century, quietly but steadily, it has wrestled successfully with two of the West’s most daunting challenges: protecting national values in the face of mass immigration and striking a proper balance between economic efficiency and a sound social safety net. Quebec has also taken a lead in fighting climate change. Yet, many people – including many Quebeckers – are unaware of this progress and much remains to be done. These achievements, and the tenacity that made them possible, are rooted in centuries of adversity and struggle.
In this masterful survey of the major social and economic issues facing Quebec, Robert Calderisi offers an intimate look into the sensitivities and strengths of a society that has grown accustomed to being misunderstood. In doing so, he argues that the values uniting Quebeckers – their common sense, courtesy, concern for the downtrodden, aversion to conflict, and mild form of nationalism, linked to a firm refusal to be homogenized by globalization – make them the most “Canadian” of all Canadians.
Several years ago, at a Forum 2000 Conference in Prague, I had the honor to meet Fr. Tomas Halik. An underground Catholic priest and member of the Czech resistance, Halik was important in bringing down the communist regime in that country. My impression is that Halik’s progressive theology and politics have made him somewhat controversial in the Czech Republic and in some Catholic circles today. Whatever one thinks about all that, one has to admire his great courage and contribution to the end of totalitarianism in his country.
This fall, Notre Dame will release a new memoir by Halik of his days in the resistance, From the Underground Church to Freedom. Here’s the description of the book from the press’s website:
International best-selling author and theologian Tomáš Halík shares for the first time the dramatic story of his life as a secretly ordained priest in Communist Czechoslovakia. Inspired by Augustine’s candid presentation of his own life, Halík writes about his spiritual journey within a framework of philosophical theology; his work has been compared to that of C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and Henri Nouwen. Born in Prague in 1948, Halík spent his childhood under Stalinism. He describes his conversion to Christianity during the time of communist persecution of the church, his secret study of theology, and secret priesthood ordination in East Germany (even his mother was not allowed to know that her son was a priest). Halík speaks candidly of his doubts and crises of faith as well as of his conflicts within the church. He worked as a psychotherapist for over a decade and, at the same time, was active in the underground church and in the dissident movement with the legendary Cardinal Tomášek and Václav Havel, who proposed Halík as his successor to the Czech presidency. Since the fall of the regime, Halík has served as general secretary to the Czech Conference of Bishops and was an advisor to John Paul II and Václav Havel.
Woven throughout Halík’s story is the turbulent history of the church and society in the heart of Europe: the 1968 Prague Spring, the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the self-immolation of his classmate Jan Palach, the “flying university,” the 1989 Velvet Revolution, and the difficult transition from totalitarian communist regime to democracy. Thomas Halík was a direct witness to many of these events, and he provides valuable testimony about the backdrop of political events and personal memories of the key figures of that time. This volume is a must-read for anyone interested in Halík and the church as it was behind the Iron Curtain, as well as in where the church as a whole is headed today.
The importance of Thomism for Catholic legal theory goes without saying. This week, we highlight two new books that explore the relevance of Aquinas for other Christian communions. In a book to be released by Baylor University Press next month, Never Doubt Thomas: The Catholic Aquinas as Evangelical and Protestant, our friend Frank Beckwith (Baylor) argues that Aquinas is an important resource for Evangelicals. Here’s the description of the book from the publisher’s website:
Theologian, philosopher, teacher. There are few religious figures more Catholic than Saint Thomas Aquinas, a man credited with helping to shape Catholicism of the second millennium. In Never Doubt Thomas, Francis J. Beckwith employs his own spiritual journey from Catholicism to Evangelicalism and then back to Catholicism to reveal the signal importance of Aquinas not only for Catholics but also for Protestants.
Beckwith begins by outlining Aquinas’ history and philosophy, noting misconceptions and inaccurate caricatures of Thomist traditions. He explores the legitimacy of a “Protestant” Aquinas by examining Aquinas’ views on natural law and natural theology in light of several Protestant critiques. Not only did Aquinas’ presentation of natural law assume some of the very inadequacies Protestant critics have leveled against it, Aquinas did not, as is often supposed, believe that one must first prove God’s existence through human reasoning before having faith in God. Rather, Aquinas held that one may know God through reason and employ it to understand more fully the truths of faith. Beckwith also uses Aquinas’ preambles of faith—what a person can know about God before fully believing in Him—to argue for a pluralist Aquinas, explaining how followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam can all worship the same God, yet adhere to different faiths.
Beckwith turns to Aquinas’ doctrine of creation to question theories of Intelligent Design, before, finally, coming to the heart of the matter: in what sense can Aquinas be considered an Evangelical? Aquinas’ views on justification are often depicted by some Evangelicals as discontinuous with those articulated in the Council of Trent. Beckwith counters this assessment, revealing not only that Aquinas’ doctrine fully aligns with the tenets laid out by the Council, but also that this doctrine is more Evangelical than critics care to admit.
Beckwith’s careful reading makes it hard to doubt that Thomas Aquinas is a theologian, philosopher, and teacher for the universal church—Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical.
From Harvard, here is a new survey of recent–“recent” being a comparative term–ecumenical councils in the Catholic Church, When Bishops Meet: An Essay Comparing Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II, by Georgetown University scholar John O’Malley, whose work we have noted before. The book looks like it would be especially helpful for people who need an introduction to the subject. The publisher’s description follows:
From one of our foremost church historians comes an overarching analysis of the three modern Catholic councils—an assessment of what Catholicism was and has become today.
Catholic councils are meetings of bishops. In this unprecedented comparison of the three most recent meetings, John O’Malley traverses more than 450 years of Catholic history and examines the councils’ most pressing and consistent concerns: questions of purpose, power, and relevance in a changing world. By offering new, sometimes radical, even troubling perspectives on these convocations, When Bishops Meet analyzes the evolution of the church itself.
The Catholic Church today is shaped by the historical arc starting from Trent in the sixteenth century to Vatican II. The roles of popes, the laity, theologians, and others have varied from the bishop-centered Trent, to Vatican I’s declaration of papal infallibility, to a new balance of power in the mid-twentieth century. At Trent, lay people had direct influence on proceedings. By Vatican II, their presence was token. At each gathering, fundamental issues recurred: the relationship between bishops and the papacy, the very purpose of a council, and doctrinal change. Can the teachings of the church, by definition a conservative institution, change over time?
Councils, being ecclesiastical as well as cultural institutions, have always reflected and profoundly influenced their times. Readers familiar with John O’Malley’s earlier work as well as those with no knowledge of councils will find this volume an indispensable guide for essential questions: Who is in charge of the church? What difference did the councils make, and will there be another?
Last October, I posted a new biography of Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Catholic Church’s first native-born American saint. This month, the University of North Carolina Press releases A Saint of Our Own: How the Quest for a Holy Hero Helped Catholics Become American. Judging from the publisher’s description (below), this book focuses not so much on the inner lives of Seton and other American saints, but on why American Catholics believed it so important to have the Church recognize them. American saints, the author maintains, helped American Catholics feel more at home in their culture. The author is historian Kathleen Sprows Cummings (University of Notre Dame):
What drove U.S. Catholics in their arduous quest, full of twists and turns over more than a century, to win an American saint? The absence of American names in the canon of the saints had left many of the faithful feeling spiritually unmoored. But while canonization may be fundamentally about holiness, it is never only about holiness, reveals Kathleen Sprows Cummings in this panoramic, passionate chronicle of American sanctity. Catholics had another reason for petitioning the Vatican to acknowledge an American holy hero.
A home-grown saint would serve as a mediator between heaven and earth, yes, but also between Catholicism and American culture. Throughout much of U.S. history, the making of a saint was also about the ways in which the members of a minority religious group defined, defended, and celebrated their identities as Americans. Their fascinatingly diverse causes for canonization—from Kateri Tekakwitha and Elizabeth Ann Seton to many others that are failed, forgotten, or still under way—represented evolving national values as Catholics made themselves at home. Cummings’s vision of American sanctity shows just how much Catholics had at stake in cultivating devotion to men and women perched at the nexus of holiness and American history—until they finally felt little need to prove that they belonged.